218. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Australia1

81314. 1. We have today discussed Cambodian situation with Waller in following terms:

We now have reasonably clear evidence that NVA forces withdrew after Dak To action into northeast tip of Cambodia, long believed to be significant base area. We believe these forces are regrouping and preparing for further attacks from this sanctuary. Resulting operational implications are extremely serious.
In addition to this specific matter, our information now points to a considered NVA/VC strategy to make a series of attacks against positions near the Cambodian border, using Cambodian territory as a sanctuary in direct support of these operations. We also believe that this happened at Loc Ninh, giving rise to the camp discovered by Herndon and MacArthur. In an even larger sense, it has taken place at Dak To. We believe it to be the case in the current activities near the Bu Dop area. The pattern of these three efforts alone, plus other information on the deployment of NVA/VC forces, points to a strategy designed to make considerably more extensive use of Cambodian territory in the coming months.
In the light of this assessment, which could be discussed if necessary by the most senior Australian military representatives direct with General Westmoreland if desired, we believe it is essential to bring the situation more acutely to Prince Sihanoukʼs attention than we have done through the note and evidence which the GOA was good enough to transmit this week.
At the same time, it remains our objective to induce Sihanouk to take more constructive action within his own borders. This might be in part through the more effective use of his own forces, but we believe [Page 481] there is now significantly more hope that he might be induced to permit ICC to conduct more effective surveillance. The Canadians have told us of their impression on the spot, as well as conversations in New Delhi, that this is the case—even though these same conversations note that the Cambodians would prefer to have the ICC continue to whitewash the situation. Avoiding this would plainly be continuing a difficult problem for the Canadians, with the Indian attitude a question mark.
Nonetheless, we think it is well worth a try to make a specific offer of assistance to Sihanouk in the form of helicopters and supporting expenses. This has the additional merit of balancing our disclosure of the UNA/Dak To action and military pattern, and reducing the implication of proximate threat.
Furthermore, in addition to bringing the new evidence to his attention and offering specific ICC assistance, we believe the situation is so urgent that it calls for the most serious consideration of suggesting to Sihanouk direct contact in some form with an American representative. An alternative might be a high-level Australian visit to Cambodia, either for itself or to broach the subject of direct discussions with us; we would specifically like GOA reaction to this, including even the possibility that Mr. Hasluck himself might undertake such a mission. With or without such a visit, we have in mind proposing to Sihanouk that an American representative either come to Cambodia or meet with a designated Cambodian representative at some site to be chosen by Sihanouk. In making such a proposal, we would make clear that the American representative need not be an official, but might be someone not now in government for whom Sihanouk has regard. (We would leave him to suggest names, but we would have in mind Hamilton Armstrong, McGeorge Bundy, or someone of that stripe. Obviously, we would not take kindly to suggestions of individual senators not in sympathy with our policy.)

2. We have told Waller that we are firming up a message in this sense, but would appreciate the earliest GOA reaction to the elements of this proposal, individually or collectively. We have emphasized to him the urgency we feel in making a maximum secure diplomatic effort to bring Sihanouk to do more, in light of the developing serious military situation.

3. We are submitting these thoughts today in more tentative form to Ambassador Ritchie of Canada for their judgment, emphasizing that the whole exercise must remain absolutely confidential.

4. We have given Waller a copy of this cable for his own paraphrase and use, and he will make full report to GOA. Thus no Canberra action is required, although you may indicate your full awareness of the proposal. Waller raised obvious question whether this might be pushing Sihanouk too hard at this moment, and particularly noted that any Hasluck [Page 482] visit raised major issues. We again stressed that situation was developing to serious point very rapidly.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 32–1 CAMB–VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Exdis. Drafted and approved by Bundy, cleared with Lacey, Steadman of DOD/ISA, Rostow, and in substance with Rusk. Repeated to Saigon and Ottawa.