473. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to President Kennedy0


I attach Vientiane’s 1799 and State’s answer,1 which was sent this morning, together with a covering memorandum setting forth the reasoning behind State’s answer.2

Governor Harriman and Roger Hilsman are uneasy lest authorizing Air America to fly 105 MM howitzers to the Plaine des Jarres might precipitate an adverse reaction from the British, the ICC, and world opinion. The Communists have accused Air America of being a “para-military organization” within the meaning of the prohibitions of the Geneva Accords, and they have demanded an ICC investigation of its activities, which has not yet taken place. Until now Air America has confined itself to transporting only food and clothing to the Meo and Kong Le forces. Such munitions as have been delivered by us to Kong Le have been flown in covertly.

Both State and Ambassador Unger believe that an all out attack upon Kong Le is not imminent, partly because the Soviets and British Co-Chairmen have just agreed upon a joint appeal to the three factions in Laos for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement.

There are at least two counter-arguments to State’s position. First, the judgment that the Pathet Lao will not attack in the near future can be disputed. The rainy season is just beginning; and if they attack within the next three or four weeks, it would be difficult if not impossible to continue the delivery of significant military supplies to Kong Le. If the Pathet Lao have built up sufficient force (and our intelligence indicates only that they have been receiving a heavy stream of supplies from North Vietnam) then the recent Soviet acquiescence for an appeal for a cease-fire could be interpreted either as a cover for an attack, or it could [Page 1017] be a propaganda ploy to cover a complete loss of Soviet control of the situation.

Second, Souvanna Phouma apparently is convinced that an attack is imminent and wants the howitzers flown in immediately. If he feels strongly about this, there may be some value in acceding to his request, if only to bolster his confidence in our willingness and ability to support him.

I don’t think you need to make a decision on this point, since neither Roger nor Averell have made up their minds. But you should be aware of the problem.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 5/21/63–5/30/63. Secret. Drafted by Forrestal.
  2. Neither printed. In telegram 1799 from Vientiane, May 29, the Embassy reported that Lao neutralist commanders requested 105 mm howitzers and 4.2 inch mortars be sent to them immediately to allow them to hold strategic areas under attack. In telegram 1150, also May 29, the Department instructed the Embassy to delay air shipment and in telegram 1155 to Vientiane, May 31, the Department instructed the Embassy to avoid using Air America in supplying the neutralists unless PL attack was imminent and FAR C–47 aircraft could not resupply the neutralists in time. (All Department of State, Central Files, DEF 19–3, US-Laos)
  3. Attached, but not printed.