478. Memorandum for the Record0


  • Laos Planning

The President met today with Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, Governor Harriman, General McKee, Messrs. McCone, Hilsman, William Bundy, Colby, and General Clay, Jr. at 11:30 a.m. in the Cabinet Room to discuss the Memorandum dated June 17, 1963 on Laos Planning.1

[Page 1031]

The President asked whether it was wise to strike North Vietnam before sending any U.S. troops in Laos. He asked how much damage air strikes could really do. General McKee said there were over 200 selected targets in North Vietnam, and a great deal of destruction could be wrought against them.

Governor Harriman explained that Phase 1 of the plan contained in the Memorandum of June 17, 1963 was ready for approval by the President at this time. Basically it provides for an increase in logistic support for Kong Le and Phoumi. Governor Harriman suggested that the President approve Phase 2 for planning purposes. He suggested that Phase 3 be given further study.

In the ensuing discussion it was brought out that Admiral Felt took a gloomy view of the situation in Laos. Although Mr. McCone felt the situation was not as bad as Admiral Felt described it, nevertheless he agreed it needed very close watching. Secretary McNamara observed that all the actions taken in Phase 1 would probably not cause the Communists to reconsider their activities; therefore it might be important to move into Phase 2 rather quickly.

The President approved Phase 1 for action2 and approved Phase 2 for planning purposes, but did not wish any of the steps in Phase 2 to be put into execution without his further approval. Phase 3 needed further study, and the President again raised the question whether it would not be wiser to put a limited number of U.S. troops in Mekong River towns before moving into Phase 3.

The President further directed the Department of State to consult with the French and British before embarking upon the program outlined in the Memorandum. Specifically, he suggested that we review with the French and British the situation in Laos and ask them for their opinions on what should be done. After having received their observations, we should inform them of what we intend to do.3

The President also recognized that we would have to approach Marshal Sarit on several points in Phases 1 and 2; but he suggested that the entire 3-phase program not be divulged to Sarit, but rather that we get his point-by-point agreement as the steps requiring his consent are taken.

MV Forrestal
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meeting with the President. Top Secret. According to Kennedy’s appointment book, this meeting began at 11 and lasted until 11:55 a.m. and was attended by McGeorge Bundy, but not by Clay, Colby, and William Bundy. (Ibid., President’s Appointment Book) Rusk’s appointment book confirms the 11 a.m. time. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Books, 1963) For another account of this meeting, see Document 479.
  2. See attachment A to Document 477.
  3. This decision was transmitted to Vientiane in telegram 1219, June 22. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 Laos)
  4. The decisions by the President outlined in this and the previous paragraph became the basis for NSAM No. 249, June 25, sent by Carl Kaysen to the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Director of CIA, and the Chairman of the JCS. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSAM 249) NSAM No. 249 is printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, Book 12, p. 525.