41. Memorandum of a Conversation, White House1


  • Southeast Asia


  • British Side
    • Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
    • R.A. Butler, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
    • Sir Harold Caccia, Permanent Under Secretary, the Foreign Office
    • Sir David Ormsby Gore, British Ambassador
    • Sir Timothy Thigh, Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
    • Sir Burke Trend, Secretary to the Cabinet
  • U.S. Side
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Governor Harriman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
    • David K.E. Bruce, Ambassador to Great Britain
    • McGeorge Bundy, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • William R. Tyler, Assistant Secretary, EUR
    • Richard I. Philips, Director, P/ON
    • Willis C. Armstrong, Director, BNA

The President suggested that the Secretary of State comment on the situation in Southeast Asia, and the Secretary remarked that good progress had already been made by representatives of the two governments in a common approach to Southeast Asian problems. He explained the talks of February 10 and 11,2 and went on to say that agreement had been reached to have some language in the communique to cover our understanding on Southeast Asia, particularly on Viet Nam and Malaysia.3 Mr. Butler made the point that Britain supported US efforts in Viet Nam and was quite prepared to say so in the communique, whereas Britain was anxious to have a comparable reference to Malaysia in the same paragraph.4

The Secretary reported further that there had been agreement to have a good thorough NATO discussion next week, with the US talking about South Viet Nam and Laos and with the UK speaking of Malaysia and Cambodia. He also noted the intention of the British to consider with the French what they mean by neutrality in Southeast Asia. Mr. Butler referred to the message from Couve de Murville explaining that neutrality for Cambodia was separable and separate from any efforts with respect to Viet Nam. The Secretary emphasized further that a review with Mr. Butler in an earlier conversation had indicated that in general the US and UK were approaching Southeast Asian problems very much in the same way, should keep in close touch with each other, and should move forward along various lines to be mutually helpful.5

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The Prime Minister said to the President that he thought that the visit of Attorney General Kennedy had been extremely helpful in the harmonization of views on Indonesia and Malaysia.6 He again referred to British support for US efforts in South Vietnam. The President said this was helpful, because there were always questions in the US as to the extent to which our allies were also committed to support such efforts. The Secretary commented that the object of the NATO discussion on Southeast Asia was to alert all the allies to the problems caused there by Communist forces and to identify their interests. The Prime Minister added that the message from Couve de Murville had indicated a willingness to make a public statement on Cambodia’s neutrality, separating it from any question of South Viet Nam.

The Prime Minister wondered whether the situation in South Viet Nam was worse, or whether it was holding. The Secretary of State said the situation was worse, since there had been a real increase in the capability of the Vietcong. He noted that the resources, human and material, exist, but pointed out that the local Vietnamese have not been sufficiently vigorous. He said we must see what more can be done to help the Vietnamese to do the job, and that the next several weeks of the dry season are critical.

[4 lines of source text not declassified] The President remarked that it was very hard to get a clear picture of the facts in the Vietnamese situation.

Mr. Bundy said that this meeting of our two countries and others with other allies could help a good deal. De Gaulle expresses himself, but does not make any contribution otherwise. The change of government in Viet Nam and the press release of General De Gaulle 7 had both tended to damage confidence, and meetings such as the present one could help restore it. The Secretary remarked that the UK and US were both using the olive branch and arrows in Southeast Asia, but that De Gaulle was using only the olive branch, and his efforts did not improve the situation. The Prime Minister remarked that “none of these fellows” in Southeast Asia fight very well. The Secretary of State said that the South Vietnamese had really done quite well, all things considered. The Prime Minister said he was not happy about the Malays as fighters, or the Thais. He said that Britain was fortunate to still have some Gurkhas in the area.

  1. Source: Department of State, President’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 66 D 149, Jan-March, 1964. Secret. Drafted by Willis C. Armstrong. Approved by the Executive Secretary on February 27 and by the White House on February 24. The source text is labeled Part II of a six-topic meeting.

    British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home was in Washington for an official visit, February 12–14.

  2. These meetings concerned planning for the Indonesia-Malaysia crisis.
  3. This understanding was reached at a discussion between U.S. and U.K. of officials headed by Butler and Rusk, February 12, dealing with Southeast Asian problems in general. (Memorandum of a meeting at the White House, February 12, 3 p.m.; Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2369)
  4. The joint communique, February 13, is printed in Department of State Bulletin, pp. 336–337. It did contain references to British support for U.S. policy in Vietnam and U.S. support for British policy in Malaysia.
  5. In a private conversation, February 12, from 11 a.m. to approximately noon, Home gave Johnson similar assurances although he stated that Great Britain “must help quietly because of its peacekeeping role under the agreements of 1954.” (Memorandum for the record by Bundy, February 13; Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Vol. 1)
  6. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy undertook a 13-day mission to the Far East, January 15–27, in which he represented President Johnson in talks with the leaders of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia concerning the dispute over Malaysia. Kennedy also conferred with officials in Japan, Korea, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. For an account of the mission, see Department of State Bulletin, February 17, 1964, pp. 239–243.
  7. See Document 27.