184. Note From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

This lively account confirms your instinct about Sihanouk.

I checked with George Ball to make sure they staff out and act on some of the Cambodia recommendations we sent over.

Mr. President, you can smell it all over: Hanoiʼs operation, backed by the Chicoms, is no longer being regarded as the wave of the future out there. U.S. power is beginning to be felt.

Weʼre not in; but weʼre moving.2

[Page 401]


Telegram 5762 From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State3

DʼOrlandi, Italian Ambassador, called to tell me of his trip to Cambodia, to which he is accredited, and where he went to make his official farewell call.
Evidently DʼOrlandi carried out my request that he not give Sihanouk an impression that everything was falling apart in Viet-Nam. When he told Sihanouk that Ky was in a solid position here, Sihanouk said that Ky was the only Vietnamese who “has not smeared me in his speeches.” He evidently felt less antagonistic to Ky than he has to any other Vietnamese.
He said he wanted to resume normal diplomatic intercourse with Viet-Nam and DʼOrlandi felt there was a better atmosphere on this subject than he, DʼOrlandi, had ever noticed.
Apparently, when Lord Walston was in Cambodia recently, he revived the idea of Cambodian-Vietnamese teams to inspect the border. This had been a Diem proposal, which Sihanouk had turned down in 1962. Sihanouk said he was still against it because he did not want to get entangled in internal affairs with Viet-Nam. According to Sihanouk, “All Vietnamese are ʼB—S.ʼ” Sihanouk wants to stay neutral. He is happy to have a powerful, and much larger International Control Commission in Cambodia, provided he does not have to pay anything, since “I havenʼt a penny.” Instead of charging him with helping the Viet Cong, there should be a larger International Control Commission, which, Sihanouk said, would be specifically authorized by him to establish fixed posts in cities, harbors, and along the frontier and take their jeeps wherever they wanted. He said they could go wherever they wanted to and in any number, and there would be no limit on the extent which they would be allowed to inspect.
When DʼOrlandi asked whether the Italian Military Attache would go, Sihanouk said he would be delighted and would instruct his Chief of Staff accordingly, adding that the Military Attaches have all visited the so-called Sihanouk trail and have found nothing.
What, he asked, can he do with 30,000 men when 900,000 Americans and Vietnamese are unable to cope with the situation?
DʼOrlandi said that he was sure that Sihanouk means what he says and that he detected absolutely “no nonsense” about being tied up with the Chinese Communists.
Turning to Thailand, Sihanouk said that he realized that the Thais might not accept, but he wanted to ask the Thais to join him so that “both of us” would sign a communique stating that both would respect the present border. Sihanouk said he didnʼt care about the Khmer Serei. All he wanted was to ask the Thais to sign the statement with him and both sides to respect the borderline. DʼOrlandi commented that quite a lot could be achieved under this.
Sihanouk admitted that this was no time for negotiations with North Viet-Nam. DʼOrlandi, reflecting our conversation before he left, asked Sihanouk whether he had told Peking and Hanoi that if they had accepted President Johnsonʼs offer of April 7, 1965, negotiations would have started with only 30,000 American advisers in Viet-Nam? Now there were 265,000 fighting men, and if you wait eight or nine months more there will be almost a half-million fighting men. “Do your friends,” DʼOrlandi asked, “realize the implications of this?”
Sihanouk said this was a good point, but he didnʼt know what could be done about it. What could Italy do?
DʼOrlandi said Italy was aware of its limitations, and Sihanouk told him not to be so modest.
DʼOrlandi then said that “Our great ally is in favor of negotiations, and yours isnʼt. It is up to you to do something.”
DʼOrlandi then said it was his impression that Sihanouk does not rely on China to save him if he is attacked. In fact, he relies on no one. He is very bitter and pessimistic about his own prospects and that of his country, saying, “They can murder us anytime. The United States is the biggest logistic and military power in the world. I just have a few old jeeps, and no gasoline to put into them.” DʼOrlandi then described his conversation with the Australian Embassy in Cambodia. They were absolutely flat in their assertions that there had never been a trace of Viet Cong in Cambodia. They believe Sihanouk is acting in good faith and really neutral. The Australians said that the Chinese Communist Ambassador was really embarrassed Saturday morning when Sihanouk made his offer to the Thais.
Sihanouk says that “In the whole of Southeast Asia, there are no more anti-Communist measures than I have taken in Cambodia.” DʼOrlandi backed this up, and said the police measures regarding the Communists are very strict.
DʼOrlandi called on the Secretary-General of the Foreign Office, who is “terrified” of the U.S. might in Viet-Nam, and said “It will be [Page 403] worse for Hanoi next year, and yet they wonʼt discuss.” The Secretary-General of the Foreign Office expects to meet Sainteny on the 27th.
Sihanouk stressed the need for understanding with the West; he is proud of being on good terms with Australia and Japan; he has invited three U.S. Senators to come to Cambodia (he did not give DʼOrlandi their names).
DʼOrlandi theory is that the Viet Cong order rice through Chinese traders in Phnom Penh, then it is transported by truck close to the border where there is no one. Then the Viet Cong cross the border and fetch it. There is no direct contact. The Chinese donʼt deliver. They just leave it. If the ICC were in Cambodia, with fixed posts, they would know. DʼOrlandi believes there are no men coming through Cambodia, but supplies—“Truck loads of eatables.”
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LV, Memos A, 6/66. Secret.
  2. Johnson wrote the following note on the source text: “Good—see me. L.” Another note in an unidentified hand reads: “Mr. Rostow saw Pres. 6/27/67.”
  3. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt. W. Rostow, Vol. VII. Secret. The telegram was retyped in the White House and there was no time of dispatch on the source text.