174. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Situation in Cambodia


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Leonard Unger, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs
  • The Honorable J. Keith Waller, Australian Ambassador
  • Mr. Robert W. Furlonger, Counselor, Australian Embassy
  • Mr. Thomas F. Conlon, FE/SPA
Ambassador Waller called at his request to deliver orally a message from Australian Minister for External Affairs Hasluck, in reply to a suggestion made to Ambassador Waller by the Secretary December 23, that Australia might find some way to bring Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia to adopt a more realistic position.2
Ambassador Waller summarized Mr. Hasluckʼs views as follows: a) Cambodia is not lost; b) Before anything drastic is done involving Cambodia, we should carefully weigh the consequences of the action; c) It is doubtful that the VC are currently using Cambodian territory controlled by the RKG, as distinct from Cambodian territory not under effective RKG control.
Ambassador Waller said that Mr. Hasluck wonders whether we are making as much of an effort as is necessary to carry the Cambodians [Page 380] along with us. He noted in particular that the announcement on December 21 by the Department, that U.S. forces in Viet-Nam had authority to fire back across the border at VC forces which had taken refuge in Cambodia and were firing at U.S. forces, left Australia, the power protecting U.S. interests in Cambodia, no time to present the matter to Prince Sihanouk before he read about it in the newspapers. The Secretary acknowledged that there was substance in Mr. Hasluckʼs point. He remarked that the problem was that distorted versions of the authorization to U.S. forces to fire across the Cambodian border had leaked out in Saigon, and it was necessary to make the statement to clarify the situation.
Ambassador Waller continued that Mr. Hasluck believes the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh could engage in active discussions with the RKG, but Hasluck wanted to be convinced first that the VC are, in fact, using Cambodian territory. Some of the military reports of such use have been proved to be untrue, and many of the Thai allegations regarding Cambodia have also been untrue. Hasluck feels that it would be better to try to carry the RKG with us than to have them read allegations against them in the press.
The Secretary asked whether there was any possibility of making a virtue of the situation. The Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, for example, might go in to talk to Prince Sihanouk, making it clear that it was speaking on behalf of Australia, not the U.S. The Embassy might say that it was concerned at recent developments involving Cambodia and the U.S., that the Australian Government has discussed the situation with the U.S. and was glad to learn the following:
The U.S. wants to avoid any armed involvement with the RKG. The U.S. has ample commitments in Viet-Nam.
The Americans do not believe that the RKG actively supports or collaborates with the VC. The Americans know that the RKG has limited capabilities of ensuring the security of its own territory.
The Americans would be receptive to any steps to be taken to assure Cambodiaʼs borders. Where border problems exist, the Americans would welcome any effort to resolve them.
The Americans would welcome moves to regularize relations between the RKG and the GVN.
The Americans are aware that exaggerated claims have been made regarding VC use of Cambodia, but the Americans are convinced that the VC have abused Cambodian territory.
The Secretary suggested that Ambassador Waller or his staff might want to review the above list with Mr. Bundy or Mr. Unger to develop or expand it. He noted that what remains true of allegations of VC activity in Cambodia is that there are operations on the border during which the VC enter Cambodia and shoot across the frontier, which is undemarcated.
The Secretary read from a press report3 that the RKG has appealed to the Co-Chairmen and the ICC regarding alleged threats to its borders. He said that the U.S. would be glad to see the Co-Chairmen and the ICC involved in securing Cambodiaʼs borders. Ambassador Waller asked whether there were any real prospects of doing something useful regarding the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. The Secretary replied that this was uncertain. However, the Australian Ambassador in Phnom Penh might ask Sihanouk what practical steps could be taken. He speculated that demarcation of the border might cause trouble, as Sihanouk might object to the word “demarcation.”
Ambassador Waller said that the risk of an Australian approach of this kind to Sihanouk was that it might raise all presently dormant issues between Cambodia and its neighbors (“might throw everything into the melting pot”). Mr. Unger, who had been asked by the Secretary to join the meeting after it was under way, said that a result of the discussion between the Australians and Sihanouk might be a proposal to expand the powers of the ICC in Cambodia. He thought an Australian approach to the RKG was worthwhile. Prince Sihanouk knows the facts and is aware that there is VC activity on Cambodian territory.
In reply to a question by the Secretary, Ambassador Waller said that Australian relations with Cambodia are currently good. The Secretary suggested that an Australian approach to Sihanouk might do some good.4 The important thing is for Sihanouk to know that the U.S. is not looking for a chance to hit him. Mr. Unger speculated that a major element in the problem may be Prince Sihanoukʼs pathological fear of his two neighbors, Viet-Nam and Thailand.
The Secretary emphasized his view that if there are problems involving the Cambodian-Vietnamese border, these could be solved. If Sihanouk would talk sense, the GVN would meet him half way. Prince Sihanouk is being worked on by the Chinese Communists. If Australia could find a way to engage in relaxed and extensive discussions with the RKG, it would be helpful. Ambassador Waller said that he would look into the entire question.5 (Mr. Furlonger later told the drafting officer that the Embassy would probably discuss with Mr. Bundy or Mr. Unger the five points mentioned by the Secretary.)
The Secretary asked if Ambassador Waller had been filled in on the details of Senator Mansfieldʼs recent meeting with Prince Sihanouk. When Ambassador Waller indicated he had not, the Secretary asked Mr. Unger to brief the Ambassador on the matter. The Secretary noted that Sihanouk almost entirely monopolized the conversation. Senator Mansfield got in only about 10 minutes worth of talking in a conversation lasting one and one-half hours.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2 CAMB. Secret. Drafted by Conlon and approved in S on January 5.
  2. An account of the meeting of December 23 is in a memorandum of conversation, December 23, 1964, attached to a memorandum from Bundy to Rusk, January 1. (Ibid., POL 17 AUSTL–US)
  3. Apparent reference to an article in The New York Times, January 4, 1966.
  4. The following phrase was eliminated from the memorandum at this point: “and he thought that a bedside manner might be most effective at this point.”
  5. On January 14, in telegram 559 to Canberra, the Department of State reported that Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Noel St. Charles Deschamps raised the question of better U.S.-Cambodian relations with Prime Minister Kantol who promised to pass the information on to Sihanouk. The Department found Kantolʼs reaction “encouraging,” but realized that he was not necessarily mirroring Sihanoukʼs current feelings. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 32–1 CAMB–VIET S)