451. Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State0



The current effort by the Pathet Lao, with apparent assistance from the Viet Minh, to establish control over the neutralist forces in the Plaine des Jarres, and perhaps to eliminate them, has erupted into sharp fighting which threatens to upset the peace in Laos and destroy the basis of the Geneva Agreement on Laos. Although some elements of the neutralist forces have defected to the Communists, the bulk of them, and especially their Commander, Kong Le, have stood surprisingly firm against the Communist pressures. This stand may result in large measure from the actions we have taken in the past to frustrate the original Communist effort to starve these troops into submission. After considerable vacillation, Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma has at long last appealed to the [Page 960] British and Soviet Co-Chairmen to take action, and has not only cited the Pathet Lao as the aggressors, but has stated his belief that Viet Minh forces remain in the country, contrary to the terms of the Geneva Agreement.

This situation provides us with a clear and serious test of the Geneva Agreements. The burden is now on the British and Soviet Co-Chairmen to take action responding to an obvious violation of the Geneva Agreements in circumstances which require the Soviets to exercise a restraining influence upon their friends and allies. We should mount a considerable diplomatic effort aimed at assuring that the Co-Chairmen function in the manner which the Agreements prescribe. The Secretary has discussed this with Lord Home in Paris and the British have taken certain steps. We wish to recommend for consideration certain additional steps in the event current efforts do not produce satisfactory results. Among these steps are (1) a letter from President Kennedy to Prime Minister Khrushchev, phrased as an appeal to both Co-Chairmen to prevent the collapse of the peace in Laos; and (2) a possible request from the President to Prime Minister Macmillan that Lord Home as the British Co-Chairman be sent to Moscow to seek cooperative action from his Soviet colleague Mr. Gromyko.

The International Control Commission has been asked by Souvanna Phouma to go to the Plaine des Jarres in an effort to restore the ceasefire. The Communists are currently blocking such a visit, but action may be further advanced by the time the National Security Council meets. In the event the ICC continues to be frustrated at that time, we should consider the possibility of urging the Canadian and Indian Commissioners to take action by majority decision over the objections of the Pole in order to establish an ICC presence in the Plaine des Jarres.

Against the possibility that none of the actions taken in the diplomatic field restore the situation, we have already initiated certain military preparations, largely of a covert nature, to assist the neutralists and especially to enable them to hold the airfield in the Plaine des Jarres. The measures we have already taken will be discussed at the National Security Council meeting and recommendations for certain measures plus action to be taken in developing contingencies will be proposed at that time.

Detailed papers containing the specific recommendations which will be proposed to the National Security Council will be distributed prior to the meeting of the Council.

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[Attachment 1]

Military Situation and Recommendations

With regard to the present situation in the Plain of Jars, Communist objectives are to destroy Kong Le forces as a military entity and to seize control of the strategic Plain. The Communists initially tried to eliminate Kong Le by cutting off his military and food supply. Our supply efforts prevented Communist success in this tactic. Primarily by use of dissident neutralist units, the Communists began their present outright military effort to achieve their goal.

The Plain of Jars has never been held exclusively by Kong Le. Pathet Lao forces have occupied positions there and some areas have been jointly held. Although the military situation remains confused, two major towns, Xieng Khouang and Khang Khay, are believed to have fallen to the dissident neutral/PL units supported to some extent by the Viet Minh. The two airfields are apparently still held by Kong Le and he controls immediate access thereto. Maintenance of control of the airfields is key to continued supply of Kong Le and therefore his ability to resist.

One objective is to restore the military balance in the Plain so that hostilities can be brought to an end and Kong Le’s position maintained.


We continue present supply efforts to Kong Le and to Meo units in the area surrounding the Plain.
We support present moves underway by Phoumi forces, disguised as “volunteers”, to join Kong Le in engaging Communist forces.
We sanction tactical redeployment of Meo units and their employment against Communist forces where it is deemed their attacks would have an important effect on sustaining Kong Le.
We press the French for more energetic action by the French Military Mission to strengthen both the Kong Le and Phoumi forces.1
We request Secretary Rusk to discuss the Lao situation with Thanat Khoman in Paris in terms of Thai security and to seek his reaction to the possibility of reintroduction of SEATO forces into Thailand, making clear we are not now proposing this action.
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If the foregoing measures are not effective, we will return to the President to seek sanction for overt employment of Phoumi forces with the primary objective of preventing Communist control of the airfields. (Probable results: a) enlargement of scale of hostilities; and b) Phoumi will demand some assurances of direct US materiel and moral support.)
We will wish to discuss further with the President a proposal to deploy SEATO forces (US and other) to Thailand.

[Attachment 2]

Diplomatic Action and Recommendations

A. Co-Chairmen

Souvanna has asked the Co-Chairmen through their ambassadors in Vientiane to intercede with North Viet-Nam and the PL to withdraw VM cadres and to stop PL attacks. In response to this request Lord Home has sent a message to Gromyko through Trevelyan with the aim of encouraging establishment of ICC presence on PDJ and to request ICC use of its good offices to improve relations between dissident factions. First approach by Trevelyan was unproductive and he did not see Gromyko. Home instructed Trevelyan to go back as soon as he could get hold of Gromyko and extract an immediate reply. Through our SEATO delegation now in Paris, we have urged British to enlarge their proposal to the Soviet Co-Chairmen so as to include immediate trips by the UK and Soviet ambassadors in Laos to the PDJ.

Recommended Actions

If the Soviets remain unresponsive to British proposals, urge Lord Home to fly to Moscow.
Send Presidential message to Khrushchev in form of letter to both Co-Chairmen.


The ICC has been asked by Souvanna to establish some sort of presence on the PDJ. We know that the Canadian and Indian Commissioners have been instructed to move forward quickly with this but the Pole and probably Souphanouvong is opposed.

[Page 963]


Continue urging in Ottawa and New Delhi as well as in Vientiane that the Canadians and Indians employ their majority to get the ICC to the PDJ.2

C. General Actions

The UK and US Ambassadors in Vientiane are working on the Soviet Ambassador to take some actions on the spot to stop the attacks. Unger is urging Souvanna to give Kong Le all possible support and put the blame for the fighting on the Communist side. He is also secretly working with Souvanna to increase liaison between the FAR/Meo and Kong Le and to elicit (not necessarily to be publicized at this time) a request from Souvanna for US military supplies for Kong Le.

Recommended Action

If the various measures we are taking with the Co-Chairmen, and the ICC is not successful in restoring the situation on the PDJ we should consider future political measures of an appeal to all the members of the conference to “consult jointly with the RLG and among themselves in order to consider measures which might prove to be necessary to insure the observation of the principles and the other provisions of the present declaration.”3

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 4/1/63–4/19/63. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text. Regarding attachment 3, a paper on the critical situation concerning the Counter Insurgency Piaster Fund for Vietnam, see vol. III, p. 221.
  2. On his copy of this memorandum, Vice President Johnson wrote the marginal comment, “Ineffective,” next to these four recommendations. (Johnson Library, Vice Presidential Security File, NSC Discussion of Laos, April 22, 1963)
  3. Johnson wrote, “Effect NIL,” next to this recommendation on the ICC. (Ibid.)
  4. Johnson wrote the following note next to this last recommendation: “Wholly inadequate & ineffective. Plays directly into hands of Commie obstructionists.” (Ibid.)