96. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Delegation to the Conference on Laos0

2129. From numerous sources, both in press and from members RLG Delegation, we understand atmosphere at Ban Namone most oppressive psychologically from RLG viewpoint.

[Page 204]

At very outset RLG went to Namone in wake of successive concessions to PL intransigence—first giving up proposal to hold talks at Luang Prabang, then rebuffed on offer hold military talks at Hin Heup, then on suggestion that military talks be held at Namone while political talks proceed at Phonehong, then conceding to holding both military and political talks at Namone, and finally agreeing to discuss political matters first. RLG feeling that lack strong united Western support had helped to bring RLG thus far on road of concession no doubt added to feeling of weakness RLG Delegates on entering talks.

RLG Delegates have confided to Embassy officers that they have been given an “inferiority complex” by PL negotiators. PL and Souvanna group comport themselves like conquerors who have come to dictate terms to the vanquished. Presence of battle-hardened PL troops in Namone village drives home to RLG Delegates weakness their position. Message reinforced by well-staged demonstrations by villagers, peace-slogan placards and by such transparent but effective gestures as having Soviet helicopters flying overhead when RLG Delegates arrive.

RLG Delegates admit they are outclassed as orators and propagandists by other side. Such normally articulate men as Keo Viprakone and Pheng Norindr complain, moreover, that they are handicapped by narrowness their instructions so that they cannot exploit obvious propaganda openings for RLG for fear of exceeding their instructions. Some delegates have also remarked that General Sing and Ou Voravong are easy prey to PL tactic of embarrassing them personally by attacks on illogic of RLG positions. No doubt all RLG team susceptible to jibes and PL aspersions on their personal intelligence. Still further complicating factor, some delegates report, is that Phoumi does not brief delegation as a whole and each delegate is thus apt to understand instructions in a different way. Confusion within delegation was particularly apparent at May 17 meeting when General Sing gave way on placing political item first on agenda against other delegates’ urging him to delay until they could consult Phoumi.

Psychological factor, however, is apparently most persuasive and debilitating for RLG Delegation. Keo Viprakone particularly has complained that RLG insistence on talking about cease-fire put its delegation in position of suppliants who have lost all capacity and will to fight. Keo argues that it is a classical necessity in negotiations to talk as if one were ready to break off at any time and resume argument on battlefield. Unfortunately for RLG, Keo points out, it is hard to take this stance with any conviction because RLG feels abandoned by its friends. Only USG can restore spirit of confidence by giving assurance to RLG that it will not be deserted if civil war should resume.

All members RLG Delegation appear agree their strongest card at Namone is constitutional legality Boun Oum government. They feel it is [Page 205] safe to preceed with discussing coalition government so long as RLG insists other side accept constitution, National Assembly, and monarchy as foundation any coalition. Some delegates have stressed that RLG position on seating at Geneva is corollary to using this one trump card of legality and that US should therefore support RLG insistence this point.

One eloquent vignette of scene at Ban Namone has been role of Pheng Phongsavan. Seems to be no doubt that all sides regard Pheng as de facto chairman of meetings if only because he is eldest present and out of respect his being former president National Assembly. At first talks individual RLG Delegates tried wean Pheng away from all-out PL negotiation line; they report that at beginning Pheng seemed impressed but in later sessions PL have seen to it that one or more of their men have moved into any private conversations between Pheng and RLG Delegates. Phongsavan confided to Norindr at one point, “it is not so easy as you may think to keep position of independence when you are surrounded day and night by these fellows.” (See also CAS report FOV 4458.)

Consensus RLG negotiators seems to be that Namone meetings could not produce coalition government in any case because such a development could only re [sic] about by “summit” meeting of Phoumi, Souvanna and Souphanouvong.

If Phoumi sticks to policy he has outlined to US for Ban Namone talks, further meetings there might avert more tactical concessions to other side. It is obvious however that delegates in their present state of mind and being preoccupied with loss of face personally at meetings might be led into further forensic and propaganda traps by other side. RLG would be strengthened by adding skilled negotiator like Phoui Sananikone or Sisouk Na Champassak to delegation but we have no indication Phoumi thinking in that direction.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/5–2261. Confidential. Repeated to the Department of State, London, Paris, CINCPAC for POLAD, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Saigon, and New Delhi. The source text is the Department of State copy.