466. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Laos


  • USSR
    • N.S. Khrushchev
    • Andrei Gromyko
    • S.G. Lapin
    • Viktor Sukhodrev translator
  • US
    • Under Secretary W. Averell Harriman
    • Ambassador Foy D. Kohler
    • Mr. Michael V. Forrestal
    • Mr. William H. Sullivan

After an exchange of pleasantries Governor Harriman opened the conversation by handling the Chairman a letter from President [Page 1001] Kennedy.1 A Russian translation was read. Chairman Khrushchev expressed his thanks for the letter and his agreement with its contents.

Mr. Khrushchev said he fully shared President Kennedy’s concern over the deterioration of the situation in Laos and that it was just as unpleasant for the Soviets as it was for anyone else. He stressed that the Soviet Union had no one in Laos except its Ambassador and that the Soviet Government, therefore, had very limited information on events in Laos and very limited ability to influence the situation.

He said that he and his Government were deeply concerned over the political assassinations which had taken place in Laos during recent weeks. He considered the killing of the Foreign Minister as a signal that the Government of Laos was on the “eve of a breakdown”. He pointed out that after this event the Pathet Lao ministers “quite rightly” withdrew from Vientiane because to stay there would have been dangerous to them. He attributed the danger to the fact that General Phoumi Nosavan was in charge of law and order in Vientiane. Unfortunately, he said that there had been no agreement on the integration of military or police forces and, therefore, the Pathet Lao ministers were in effect “living in Phoumi’s camp”.

Mr. Khrushchev said he wished to express the Soviet opinion concerning Laos. He said these would be “private views” because in fact these are matters which are the competence of the Laotian Government. However, he stated that the Soviets favored doing all in their power to preserve a unified centralized government in a neutral country. On the other hand, he said that the United States seemed to want to do something different. He consistently reads about fleet movements near Viet-Nam, troops to Thailand and other indications of the use of military force. He asked what this all meant; was there some blackmail involved; did the United States really want a war or perhaps only “a piece of a war”. It was all right with him if the United States wanted another outbreak.

Governor Harriman replied, pointing out that two of the Pathet Lao ministers who had left Vientiane had now returned to the city and mentioned their names. Mr. Khrushchev said he did not recognize their names, as he knew only a few of them. The Governor then stated that the President wants the cease-fire restored. The United States regrets that [Page 1002] the Pathet Lao attacked Kong Le’s forces. We consider it important to prevent further fighting, and believe that the most important need is to set up the ICC in the Plaine des Jarres as Prince Souvanna has proposed.

He said he knew the President would be gratified with Mr. Khrushchev’s statement that the Soviet Union wishes to preserve a unified and neutral Laos, and that the President wanted him to underline United States intentions to do the same. He said perhaps while he was here the United States and the Soviets could analyze how best to go about this. In this connection, he said we understood that the Soviet Ambassador had recently been cooperative in Vientiane with both the British and the United States Ambassadors.

Governor Harriman stressed that the most disturbing factor in the current situation in Laos is the unwillingness of the Pathet Lao to permit the ICC to remain in the Plaine des Jarres. He pointed out that the first responsibility of the ICC is the supervision and control of the cease-fire. He hoped, among other things on which we could work together, that we could develop joint action to install the ICC. Since the most important problem was to stop the fighting he felt this was the most immediate task before us.

He agreed with the Chairman that integration of the military forces was important and recalled that the United States had sought at Geneva to have the ICC responsibility for this included in the text of the agreement; but had dropped its insistence at the last moment because of allegations that it was interference in the internal affairs of Laos. As regards the guards and police forces in Vientiane, the Governor reminded Mr. Khrushchev that both the neutrals and the Pathet Lao ministers had their own guards and indeed that it was one of the neutralist guards who had shot Quinim. The United States regretted that assassination and regretted also the earlier assassination of Colonel Ketsana.

Finally, the Governor reiterated that the first step must be to stop the fighting and to get the ICC into the Plaine des Jarres.

Chairman Khrushchev said he wished to reply in specific terms to what Governor Harriman had said. First, the Soviet Union had no objection to the stationing of ICC teams in the Plaine des Jarres at the headquarters of the forces, but it was not in the competence of the Soviet Union or the United States to arrange. It was primarily a problem for the Laotian Government. The establishment of these teams would be a constructive step and would be the most practical thing to do in the circumstances if the Laotians could agree on this among themselves. However, that is all one can say at this stage.

As for the guards, they were bodyguards and the question that he had raised concerned the integration of all the police forces in the capital [Page 1003] and all of the military forces in the country so that they would not have rival armed camps.

To sum up, the Soviet Government felt that a great deal of soberness and a great deal of patience was needed. Restraint should be exercised to avoid action which would cause the situation to get worse. He was pleased to learn that the two ministers had returned to the city and hoped this was a good sign.

Governor Harriman said he hoped that the Soviets could make it known publicly that they desire to have the ICC stationed in the Plaine des Jarres. All the prestige of the Soviet Union both as a signatory and as co-chairman would have great influence in bringing this about. The Governor said that we had given Mr. Gromyko a copy of a letter from Souvanna Phouma,2 and have heard also from General Phoumi to the effect that these officials were agreeable to having the ICC move freely about in the territory which they control. All that was needed to grant free movement to the ICC was a similar indication from the Pathet Lao. Since the Soviets had great influence with the Pathet Lao, Governor Harriman urged Chairman Khrushchev to make the Soviet position known to them.

Mr. Khrushchev asked whom the United States influenced in Laos. Governor Harriman replied that we had exerted a great deal of influence on General Phoumi in order to get him to accept the agreement, because he had not cared for its terms. However, since then Phoumi has been cooperating fully.

Mr. Khrushchev here digressed with a discussion of Soviet resources and the healthy state of the Soviet economy, claiming the United States does not wish to cooperate with the USSR in the economic field. Governor Harriman said nothing would please the President more than to be able to relax tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union everywhere so that we could begin to cooperate in the scientific field, the economic field and elsewhere. The President looks upon Laos as a symbol, because if we cannot cooperate in this case, how can we hope to cooperate in other fields.

Chairman Khrushchev said there will always be something like Laos to trouble us. He said that there is nothing really serious going on in Laos. It is a country with only two million people. No matter what happens there, there will be no waves created in the river or in the ocean. If there is no outside interference from any quarter we ought to be able to ignore it.

Governor Harriman said the outside interference was the problem. The United States had definite information the Viet Minh were there. [Page 1004] Mr. Gromyko thinks that some Chiang Kai-shek forces were there. Why wouldn’t it be the thing to do to let the ICC go out and check on the Viet Minh and the Chiang Kai-shek troops?

Mr. Khrushchev said it was all right with him to have the ICC go to the particular points in the country where there were complaints provided the Laotian Government agrees: “All right, let them go, but only to particular places”.

Governor Harriman said the Soviet Union, as co-chairman, has a responsibility to see that the “socialist signatories” behave in accordance with the Geneva agreement; if the United States did not behave, the Soviet side could call on Lord Home to tell us to behave. Khrushchev said Mr. Harriman was very clever in trying to put such responsibility on him. However, the international socialist movement is built on the principle of mutual respect for sovereignty. “No socialist state interferes in the internal affairs of any other. Each state makes and keeps its own agreements …”.3

Governor Harriman repeated that if we could smooth out this business in Laos we could make it easier to cooperate in other fields. Mr. Khrushchev, with an expression of frankness, said we almost did have it straightened out. “We had them all here, the King, Phoumi Nosavan, Souvanna, and all the rest. Then they went back to Laos and started scrapping all over again. However, if those two ministers are back in Vientiane, this is a good start. Let us not lose hope.” Very seriously he added Mr. Harriman should tell the President, “We are still true to the word we gave him in Vienna, but the situation is very delicate. Our word is in regard to a third party and this makes for a real problem.”

Governor Harriman recalled an approach he had made to Stalin during the war concerning the Poles. Stalin replied, “The Poles, the Poles, can’t you think of anything else to talk about except the Poles. They have made trouble all through history and they always will.” The Governor said he suspected Mr. Khrushchev felt a little the same way about the Laotians.

He said he knew the President would be pleased with the statement which Mr. Khrushchev had just made but would like to make one additional suggestion. He would like to ask the Chairman to have his Ambassador in Laos use his influence to get the ICC moving around the country, to seek out either the Viet Minh or the Chiang Kai-shek forces that might be there.

Mr. Khrushchev said that the Soviet Ambassador does not control the ICC, adding “I can assure you that our Ambassador has not done and will not do anything to restrict the operations of the ICC”. Mr. [Page 1005] Harriman said this was true but he wished the Chairman would make that a positive rather than a negative statement. As co-chairmen, the Soviets and the British could do a great deal to influence the ICC to take action. Mr. Khrushchev replied that the Soviets do exercise their influence in so far as they can and they will continue to do so.

Governor Harriman hoped that the Soviet and American Ambassadors in the field could cooperate to make it easier to carry out the agreements between the Chairman and the President. Mr. Khrushchev agreed. Governor Harriman suggested if there were any complaints in Laos, the Ambassadors should inform each other about them. If the Soviets had any complaints here, they should tell Ambassador Kohler. The Chairman agreed. The Governor pointed out that Laos may be small but that President Kennedy feels if progress can be made there we can do more on other subjects and in other parts of the world.

At the end of the conversation, Gromyko produced a communique4 for the press which merely took note of the visit and of the subject of Laos which had been discussed. Governor Harriman asked that the Chairman’s affirmation of his agreement on Laos with the President at Vienna be included, and that both countries agreed to fulfill the obligations assumed at Geneva. Mr. Khrushchev agreed, but insisted that the Geneva accord be mentioned before the Vienna understanding since “other countries might think we were the only two to decide”. After some discussion, the following substantive paragraph was added to the communique:

“Premier Khrushchev and President Kennedy reaffirm that the two Governments fully support the Geneva Agreement on Laos. Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy had an exchange of opinions and reached mutual understanding on the Agreement in Vienna.”

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL Laos. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text. It was approved in Harriman’s office on May 6. The meeting took place in the Office of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers at the Kremlin. A memorandum of conversation that includes all the topics discussed is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, Standing Group Meetings, April 30, 1963.

    In telegram 2756 from Moscow, April 27, Harriman reported that preceding his discussion with Khrushchev, he had a “two and one half hours rather sticky conversation” with Gromyko. Harriman sought to persuade Gromyko to use Soviet influence to make the mechanism of the Geneva Agreements of 1962 work more smoothly and influence North Vietnam to remove its troops. Harriman described Gromyko’s reply as “disjointed,” laying great stress on Quinim’s assassination, the presence of Chinese Nationalist forces in Laos, and denying that North Vietnamese troops were in Laos. To Harriman’s requests for action to influence the Pathet Lao, Gromyko replied that would be interference in Laos’ internal affairs. (Department of State, Central Files, POL & US/Harriman) A memorandum of Harriman’s conversation with Gromyko is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, Standing Group Meetings, April 30, 1963. Another memorandum of the same discussion is in Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 Laos.

  2. The text of the letter, drafted by Thompson, is in telegram 2273 to Moscow, April 23. In two short paragraphs, the President expressed his concern over events in Laos, reminded Khrushchev of their mutual commitment in Vienna to bring peace to Laos, and reiterated that cooperation on achieving a neutral Laos was “an important milestone” in Soviet-American relations. Kennedy explained that Harriman, well-known to Kremlin leaders, was his representative on this issue. The President put great hopes in his dialog with Khrushchev. (Ibid., POL 7 US/Harriman) Telegram 2273 is printed in vol. VI, Document 97.
  3. Not found.
  4. Ellipsis in the source text.
  5. Attached, but not printed. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1963, p. 811