463. Summary Record of the 513th National Security Council Meeting0

Secretary Rusk opened the meeting by saying that there was very little change in the Laos situation since the Council meeting Saturday morning,1 but he requested Mr. McCone to summarize current information from the field.

Mr. McCone, reading from a paper,2 said there appeared to be two changes in the situation. One, there appeared to be some difficulty between Souvanna and Phoumi. Second, Kong Le’s military position in the Plaine des Jarres has stabilized and Kong Le may now want to try to regain lost territory before agreeing to a cease-fire. Phoumi has sent reinforcements to Kong Le. The Pathet Lao are reorganizing their forces in the Plaine. All Pathet Lao officials but one have left Vientiane.

The President commented that he did not believe the Pathet Lao would leave the Plaine des Jarres as long as Phoumi troops, sent to reinforce Kong Le, remained in the area. If Kong Le is not reinforced, however, it may well be that he will be defeated by the Pathet Lao.

Secretary Rusk summarized the weekend’s diplomatic moves. The British asked the Soviets to join in an effort through the ICC to end the fighting in the Plaine des Jarres and maintain the Geneva Accords. The Russians responded with a proposed U.K./USSR letter to the ICC which is acceptable with the exception of a paragraph attacking the U.S. for intervening in Laos.3 The Russians have not yet responded to the British rejection of the critical paragraph. Mr. Harriman is in Paris today4 and will go to London tomorrow. If there is no change in the present diplomatic situation, Harriman will go on to Moscow to remind Khrushchev of the commitment he made in Vienna to support a neutral Laos. Ambassador Unger is urging Souvanna to stand firm against the Pathet Lao attacks. If Souvanna gives way, we will have no neutralist to help hold the situation together.

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Secretary Rusk referred to a memorandum (copy attached) listing those activities of the U.S. and Laos which may raise questions of consistency with the Geneva Agreement. The paper’s conclusion is that on the basis of activities carried on so far, the Communist side will not be able to substantiate charges that we have violated the Geneva Agreements by actions taken in Laos. We have been supporting Souvanna as provided by the Agreements.

Assistant Secretary Hilsman said he believed Pathet Lao officials had gotten out of hand and had exceeded the instructions of their Communist bosses when they launched a military attack against the neutralists in the Plaine des Jarres. He believed that the plan to undermine the neutralists was supposed to proceed at a slower pace.

There followed a discussion of the role of Kong Le who was described as a true neutralist and an idealist. Kong Le, who was trained in the U.S., turned against the U.S. when he concluded that Phoumi, backed by the U.S., was trying to take over Laos from Souvanna who was then in control. The President commented wryly that a man we had been fighting for two years now turned out to be receiving our support and a key figure in the present situation. The President asked if it was our policy to have Phoumi send his troops to support Kong Le in the Plaine des Jarres or whether we were trying to get a cease-fire.

Secretary Rusk replied that if we did not get a cease-fire at once we would want Phoumi to support Kong Le. He said it was essential to keep Souvanna, Phoumi and Kong Le together in order to maintain any kind of a neutral Laos.

Director McCone doubted whether Souvanna and Phoumi could be kept together in view of Souvanna’s objections to the presence of Phoumi’s troops in the Plaine des Jarres. The Pathet Lao may insist that there can be no cease-fire until all of Phoumi’s (rightist) troops leave the Plaine.

Secretary Rusk commented that we must not expose Kong Le to destruction. He thought that we should let Phoumi and Kong Le decide whether Phoumi and his troops should be sent to the Plaine des Jarres to support Kong Le. The President agreed that this decision should be left to Phoumi and Kong Le.

There followed a discussion of how we are supplying Kong Le and the Meo guerrillas. There are eight thousand pallets in Thailand which can be air-dropped in Laos if we decide to do so. We have been hunting unsuccessfully for Russian ammunition to provide to Kong Le for use in Russian tanks and field artillery. It appears easier to provide new U.S. arms than to find Russian ammunition. The Russian tanks in the area are not now dangerous because there is no ammunition for them.

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Secretary Rusk said U.S. naval forces are moving into Southeast Asia and no further deployments are required now. He said our Ambassador was talking to the Thai Prime Minister about the possibility that U.S. air forces would be staging into Thailand and that the SEATO exercises might be used as a cover for deployment of U.S. forces at a date earlier than had been planned for the exercise.

Secretary McNamara said the carrier task force was nearing Vietnamese waters, accompanied by a marine battalion landing team. It is possible to move an army battle group to Thailand from Okinawa within twenty-four hours after the decision is made. This force would be able to deploy to Thailand sooner than the marine battalion accompanying the task force.

The President asked why the task force should not now sail toward Thailand—as the New York Times says it is in this morning’s edition. The President said the Times story by Tad Szulc was just exactly what we did not want. He asked that a check be made to see if we could establish where the story came from. It was obvious he had talked to someone who was poorly informed, but that the idea of merely “showing the flag” was indeed harmful.

Secretary McNamara said the task force could now turn toward Thailand but that on Saturday it had been thought better to direct it toward South Vietnam. In answer to a question, Secretary McNamara said it was certain that the Russians, Chinese and North Vietnamese were aware of the task force movements because the operational commands were given in clear text and certainly intercepted.

The President raised again his concern that Souvanna would say that the reinforcements which Phoumi is sending to Kong Le would prevent the Pathet Lao from accepting the cease-fire. Secretary Rusk replied that Souvanna appears ready to accept more assistance from us and for Kong Le than he is willing to acknowledge publicly or even to ask for. He does not object to our supplying Kong Le forces. In fact, Kong Le’s force is the only one Souvanna has. He is therefore in a very poor position to oppose Kong Le’s receiving support from Phoumi.

Secretary McNamara said that we should increase the rate of U–2 flights over North Vietnam and South China. We should prepare now for increased operations as we did at the time when the Chinese Communists began their buildup opposite Formosa. One of the considerations is the effect which such flights would have on Ho Chi Minh.

Mr. McCone said there were few U–2’s deployed in this area, the flying weather was always bad, and the few troops involved made it very difficult to get good information.

Secretary Rusk said that a decision as to whether Harriman would proceed to Moscow could be made by the President later today and that [Page 994] the Council should be prepared to meet again tomorrow, if necessary. Secretary Rusk commented that no more than one hundred people in all had been killed during the recent fighting in the Plaine des Jarres. This fighting had made massive headlines but was a really small-scale war.

The President requested that casualty figures cited by Secretary Rusk be brought up to date and given to him5 prior to his press conference, during which he might wish to refer to them.6 He asked Assistant Secretary Hilsman to look again at whether the use of Phoumi’s troops by Kong Le would result in the Pathet Lao refusing to accept a cease-fire. He said in his opinion the Phoumi troops were so useless, any help they could give Kong Le might be considerably less than the value of their presence as an excuse used by the Pathet Lao to block a cease-fire.

Secretary Rusk said that in a recent interview with the Yugoslav Ambassador he was told that the Yugoslavs believed Laos is mixed up in the Soviet/Chinese dispute.7 If this is so, Secretary Rusk added, Laos becomes much more difficult for us. The Soviets would probably be unable to disengage lest they be accused of abandoning the revolution in Laos. Furthermore, the Soviets might not be able to control the situation in Laos if the Chinese are in fact directing the current fighting.

Acting Director of USIA Wilson requested guidance in view of press reports to the effect that today’s National Security Council meeting would decide whether a U.S. task force would sail for Vietnamese waters.

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The President asked that the Pentagon make the only comment, i.e. the fleet is at sea, which is where it belongs.

Secretary Rusk commented that this statement would be all right for the fleet just as long as General LeMay (who was present as the representative of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) did not say, if all of his planes took off, that these planes were in the air where they belonged.

Director McCone reported to the President that he had just received word that the twenty-one U.S. prisoners had arrived by air in Florida from Cuba.

Bromley Smith8

[Attachment 1]


This memorandum is prepared at the request of the Secretary. Its purpose is to list those activities of the United States in Laos which may raise questions of consistency with the Geneva Agreements.

I. Covert Operations

[2 pages of source text not declassified]

II. Overt Operations

At the present time the United States is engaged in two distinct types of assistance, economic and military. In order to carry out these programs, AID/Laos has contracted with Air America and Bird and Sons, both private companies, to provide air lift capacity, including aircraft and flight and maintenance personnel.


Refugee Relief

Pursuant to a formal project agreement between the Royal Lao Government (RLG) and the AID, we in cooperation with appropriate RLG agencies are providing subsistence—rice, seeds and basic minimum requirements—for more than 150,000 refugees, many of whom are Meo and are located within the areas claimed by the Pathet Lao. Because many of the refugees are in inaccessible areas, large amounts of the supplies are airdropped.

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Communist propaganda has charged that this program is a facade for providing arms and ammunition to Meo and other groups. In actual fact, the refugee relief program is strictly limited to subsistence items and is completely open and above board and we have many times invited inspection of this activity.


Rural Development

The U.S. has a project agreement with the RLG and is currently engaged in rural development programs—construction of village schools, dams, halls, etc.—in non-PL Laos. To carry out these programs, the U.S. provides personnel to assist the Lao in planning and building of the projects. (At the present time there are approximately 48 U.S. personnel and 36 third country nationals.)

The communists charge that the U.S. and third country personnel working on these programs are in fact military personnel engaged in para-military type operations among the local population in contravention of the Geneva Accords. None of these personnel is military personnel. Nor are they, with one exception, engaged in any military or para-military activities. Their role is simply to provide economic and technical assistance. One U.S. national stationed in southern Laos has worked with a group of Kha who were armed prior to the signing of Geneva Agreement in July. His role involves some para-military type activity and he is probably well-known in the area for this activity.


Military Supply

In accordance with a request from Souvanna Phouma, the U.S. has made military supplies available to the neutralists and Phoumi’s FAR. The programming and supply of this materiel has been carried out by the Requirements Staff which is an integral part of USAID and is composed of American civilians only. According to the Geneva Agreements, foreign military personnel also include foreign civilians connected with the supply, maintenance, storing and utilization of war materials. Members of the Requirements Staff are not engaged in any of these activities except possibly supply. This violation is more technical than substantive, since it would be impossible to provide the equipment requested by Souvanna without exercising some control over the supply of the materiel. However, this problem exists as a result of the Geneva Agreements which permit the introduction of military supplies requested by the RLG.

The communists have made a major propaganda and diplomatic assault on this activity. However, it is doubtful that we could supply Phoumi and Souvanna with necessary (and legal) military materiel with any less contravention of the Agreements.

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Our conclusion is that on the basis of activities carried on so far the communist side will not be able to substantiate its charges. This is indicated by the fact that these charges are directed against our unexceptionable overt operations. This is, of course, not to say that many of these activities could not easily be twisted to suit communist propaganda.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSC Meetings, No. 513, April 22, 1963. Top Secret.
  2. See Documents 459 and 460.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. As reported to the Embassy in telegram 990 to Vientiane, April 21. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 Laos)
  5. Harriman reported his discussion with Couve de Murville, Lucet, and Roux in Paris on the afternoon of April 22 in telegram 4278 from Paris, April 22. Harriman stated that he discussed differences in U.S. and French evaluations in Vientiane, stressed that the French Military Mission must perform a stabilizing and stiffening role, and briefly informed Couve of precautionary U.S. military moves. (Ibid., POL 7 US/Harriman)
  6. On April 22, William Colby of the CIA sent McGeorge Bundy a memorandum outlining the casualty figures for the Laos crisis, March 31–April 20, 1963. During that period the Pathet Lao/North Vietnamese suffered 71 killed and 155 wounded in action. There were no figures for missing in action. For Kong Le’s forces, 85 were killed, 43 wounded, and 275 missing in action (many of whom were believed to have defected). No casualties were reported among Meo guerrillas or FAR troops, and the CIA believed them to be negligible. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 4/22/63–4/30/63)
  7. At his press conference of April 24, Kennedy was asked, in light of the Laos crisis, if he would assess the relative threats posed by the Soviet Union and China. The President refused to make such an assessment, but talked about the Soviet Union’s responsibilities for implementing and maintaining the 1962 Geneva Accords. Asked if Laos was a testing ground for coexistence with the Soviet Union, the President stated that the maintenance of the Geneva Accords was both essential to the security of Laos and a test of Soviet willingness to meet its commitments. Asked if the Soviet Union exerted real control in Laos, Kennedy suggested the next 3 or 4 weeks would tell. He also refuted Soviet charges that the United States was behind the fighting by noting that it was a conflict between the Pathet Lao and the neutralists, who were allies in 1961. Asked if he accepted that Laos was a “falling domino,” Kennedy said he did. The complete transcript of the news conference is in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, pp. 341–350.
  8. Rusk met Yugoslav Ambassador Veljko Micunovic on April 19. Micunovic suggested the Soviet Union wished to stabilize the situation in Laos, but China and North Vietnam did not. (Memorandum of conversation, April 19; Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330)
  9. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  10. Top Secret.