455. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman) and President Kennedy0

The President called Governor Harriman. He said he would be over talking with the press today1 and supposed he would get some questions [Page 970] on Laos. He said the situation doesn’t look very good does it. The Governor said the only good thing about it is Souvanna’s statement about Pathet Lao attacking his forces; that gives us a reason for now going directly to Moscow. He said this is the first time he has taken a stand publicly, he has done so privately. Governor Harriman said it looks very bad. The President said the Communists want to drive Kong Le out, is that it. Governor Harriman replied this is what they have tried to do from the beginning. They tried to persuade, to subvert and then tried to starve him out and it was only due to our getting things to him that he was able to get through that period. Then they directly attacked. PL aided and abetted by Viet Nam. PL probably couldn’t stand up to Kong Le’s people if they weren’t supported. Governor Harriman said Ed Rice is in the office with him and he double checked with him and told the President we have no indication yet that Kong Le is giving up at all. He retreated out of the Plaine des Jarres to an airfield about 8 miles west but his troops pretty much intact. The President asked are we going to the Russians. The Governor said he thinks we should. He said he would have a chance to talk to Roger Hilsman later; he is thinking of recommending that he (the Governor) go to point out to Mr. K this is really serious situation. President asked what Governor thought he should say. Governor said Roger Hilsman and Mike are working on it now.2 He said we will get it over to you.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Chronology, Telephone Conversations, February to April, 1963. No classification marking. Transcribed in Harriman’s office.
  2. The President subsequently made remarks before and answered questions from the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 19. The President was asked if the deteriorating situation in Laos meant that there was a possibility of U.S. intervention and did it constitute a breach of the Geneva Accords. The President answered that the situation was “most serious,” that Souvanna had called upon the Pathet Lao to cease their attacks on the Kong Le neutralists, and that the next few days would tell whether the Geneva Accords would be destroyed and whether the Soviet Union and the other signatories were going to meet their obligations. (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 330)
  3. McGeorge Bundy called Harriman at 12:10 p.m., April 19. The transcribed conversation reads as follows:

    “Mr. Bundy, WH, called Governor Harriman about the Laos situation. Gov. H said they have really gone out to liquidate the neutralist forces. It strikes at the very heart of the agreement. Gov. H said he understands President wants to see us at 4:30. Mr. B asked whether should have people from the Pentagon there. Governor answered yes. Gov. H said Souvanna has now made a good statement, a very definite public statement saying this is attack on his forces and this gives us a chance to go directly to Khrushchev now. Governor said he is perfectly willing to go there if the President wants him to. This is a major issue, clear violation, Governor said. Governor Harriman explained he had Chinese Minister waiting in his office. Mr. Bundy then talked with Mr. Forrestal who was in Governor Harriman’s outer office.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Chronology, Telephone Conversations, February to April, 1963. Regarding the meeting at 4:30 p.m., see Document 457)