97. Telegram From the Delegation to the Conference on Laos to the Department of State0

Confe 42. For Secretary from Harriman.

MacDonald has just presented US and French at tripartite discussion results of his meeting with Gromyko. British presented draft instructions to ICC as reported our tel Confe 43.1 Gromyko disagreed contending no instruction necessary. After considerable pressure by MacDonald Gromyko produced prepared alternative draft as follows: “The co-chairmen have received the report of the International Commission for supervision and control in Laos of May 20, 1961 and have carefully examined it. They express the hope that there will be no repetition of the misunderstandings arising in connection with the implementation of the cease-fire arrangements. The co-chairmen proceed from the fact that, whenever the Commission considers it necessary, it will continue to inform them as to the exercise of its functions on the supervision of the cease-fire.” Under questioning, Gromyko affirmed that in USSR view, ICC powerless to investigate complaints without express consent of both parties.

British take Soviet refusal to cooperate on this issue as basic and serious. They regard this as issue of substantive importance on which firm stand must be taken. French agree. In fact when MacDonald said that Indians and Canadians had separately suggested confrontation on this issue might be avoided by attempting to work out satisfactory instruction to their members of the ICC, Chauvel objected saying that this is an issue which must be met head on.

Both British and French point out that in Soviet-UK exchanges in preparation for the conference one issue was crystal-clear and fully documentable, that not only was a verifiable cease-fire an absolute prerequisite to the holding of conference but that ICC must be subject in first instance to instructions by co-chairmen and later by conference with respect to their responsibility to control and supervise cease-fire. For Russians to renege at this early stage and to take position noted above as to ICC inspection powers is unacceptable.

Tripartite meeting endorsed the following procedure: MacDonald will see Pushkin tomorrow to inform Soviets that instructions to ICC [Page 207] must go forward. He will point out that ICC asked for instructions, and insist that co-chairmen get on with task of making cease-fire more efficient through ICC.

If Pushkin refuses he will remind him of UK-Soviet pre-conference agreement and tell him that matter will be referred London for instructions. He will further point out to Pushkin that with ICC report now in hand asking for instructions, other delegations will require an explanation from the co-chairmen as to why they have not answered. MacDonald will tell Pushkin that under these circumstances he will have to bring whole matter to the conference for debate not later than Monday.

Meantime UK, French, ourselves will alert friendly delegations to support strong stand on this issue.

If debate (presumably two or three days) fails to induce Russian cooperation, British will suggest suspension of conference sessions until agreement reached on this issue. MacDonald believes if Soviets continue to hold to their position conference should then be adjourned.

Comment: It is clear that battle may be joined on an issue of real substance and principle. It is further most fortunately clear that British can take the lead in this confrontation with strong support from France. While giving strong support we can allow others to move out in front. If conference should break on this issue consequences in Laos may be grave. I therefore request instructions soonest as to position I should take in the showdown. You will of course note relation of timetable sketched above to Paris, Vienna and London meetings. At today’s meeting I concurred in British taking firm stand with Pushkin and told them I ask Washington for instructions.

(Gromyko phoned Harriman cancelling luncheon date tomorrow saying he returning to Moscow tonight. He had not informed MacDonald of his planned departure.)2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/5–2461. Top Secret; Niact; Eyes Only.
  2. In the draft instructions in Confe 43, May 24, the Co-Chairmen ordered the ICC to investigate “substantial infringement of the cease-fire” immediately and on the spot. In addition, the co-chairman called an immediate agreement on a cease-fire by the various parties in Laos. In the meantime, there should be a military standstill. (Ibid.)
  3. In Confe 44, May 25, Harriman supplemented Confe 42 with the observation that he doubted the British Government would support MacDonald to the point of adjournment of the conference, although London might agree to a suspension for a period to see if an effective cease-fire could be achieved. (Ibid., 751J.00/5–2561)