362. Memorandum of Conversation1
- The President
- Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman
- Minister of Economic Development Pote Sarasin of Thailand
The President expressed his satisfaction at Thanatʼs speech of yesterday before the United Nations General Assembly. He also indicated [Page 802] knowledge that Clark Clifford had talked to Pote Sarasin yesterday. The President asked for the two Ministersʼ assessment of the situation in Thailand and Southeast Asia. Pote Sarasin said that internally things were going quite well; there was a regular 8% increase in GNP; certain amount of confidence being built up in the country; 5 U.S. oil firms have been granted exploration and exploitation rights for oil in the Gulf of Thailand; infiltration problem is quite difficult. Ten police were recently ambushed.
Thanat then spoke, saying that before they left, their Prime Minister had spoken of the need to get a settlement on the question of equipment for the Thai forces. The people of the U.S. focused too much on the battlefield of Vietnam and do not realize that free Asia already has turned its back on communism and decided its future does not lie with communism but with freedom, because of the U.S. sacrifice in Vietnam.
The President said he had told the King to proceed on the assumption that when a fire started, one should get every man to put out the fire with a crash program. If necessary, one must go to the next country and help put out the fire there. He went on to say that the best insurance for Thailand is to get its men trained in Vietnam so that in the future they could look after their own freedom without permanent presence of U.S. forces. He pointed out that the U.S. Air Force is the best in the world with its experience of fighting in Vietnam.
If Thailand were to contribute to Vietnam in the same proportion as the U.S., it would have something like 100,000 men engaged there. The President is under extreme pressure on this matter, as can be seen from Senator Percyʼs resolution in the Senate. The President said he would stay the course in Vietnam. How soon we get a settlement depends on what everyone does. He has talked not only to the King of Thailand about the need for more forces from Thailand, but also from the Paks and others.
The President understands this is a difficult political matter. Everyone has elections but it is better to face up to the problem than to suffer the fate of Poland or Cuba—or to have to be rescued like the Dominican Republic.
Thanat replied that the Prime Minister had asked them to communicate the following to the President: Thailand is ready to assume its responsibilities. The training camps are ready to train more men. The critical question is: how much additional equipment can be made available for the strengthening of the Thai forces which remain at home? This is important for both Thai security and Thai politics.
At this point President called Secretary McNamara to establish where the negotiations stood. He reported that Secretary McNamara had said that Thailand was prepared to add about 8500 men to the present level of Thai forces in Vietnam. The President asked that they consider an [Page 803] extra 10,000. Secretary McNamara also said he was prepared to offer helicopters and other equipment which could help in the northeast. He could not, however, undertake to equip an expansion in the Thai forces from 100,000 to 200,000. This would be impossible in the Congress. The President then arranged that they meet with Secretary McNamara at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon. He urged that they settle the matter in this form.
- Thailand will increase its forces by 10,000. The U.S. would agree to get the incremental costs for training and equipping this increase.
- They would work out with Secretary McNamara precisely what equipment could be made available for Thai forces remaining in Thailand: helicopters and other equipment.
The President drove home the advantages of an additional 10,000 rather than the additional 8500.
There was then some discussion of motivation lying behind Senator Percyʼs resolution and the damage it would do in the U.S. and in Asia.
Thanat indicated that the additional 10,000 should be regarded as a first step and not as a final measure of the contribution Thailand might be willing to make available in Vietnam.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Thailand, Vol. VII, Memos, 8/67–7/68. Secret. Drafted by Rostow. On October 4 Rusk sent the President a memorandum that included talking points, biographic sketches of Thanat and Pote, and a draft press release. (Department of State, Central Files, POL THAI–US) Clark Clifford had lunch with Pote Sarasin on October 5 and told him that there had been a significant drop in popular support for U.S. Vietnam policy, making the Thai troop contributions even more important. Pote stated that some in Thailand drew the opposite conclusion. Pote suggested that the President strongly urge Thanat to expedite Thai troop support. Clifford asked Bundy to pass the message to the President with his strong concurrence. (Memorandum from Bundy to Rostow, October 5; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Thailand, Vol. VII, 8/67–7/68)↩