64. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom1

6914. Following summary conversation with Under Secretary is based on uncleared Memo of Conversation. Summary is FYI and Noforn.

SEATO: Council Treatment of Viet-Nam

Londonʼs 5202.2

On instructions British Ambassador called on Under Secretary April 29 to express Stewartʼs strong objection to proposal we had submitted for treatment Viet-Nam at Council Meeting. He stated Stewart considers our proposal ill-advised because it might (a) wreck UK status as Cochairman with Russians and endanger Cambodian Conference, (b) give impression US might not want carry on in Viet-Nam unless aided by others, (c) strain unity of SEATO because of opposition by France and Pakistan, and (d) induce Pakistan call for similar action by SEATO against India. Also noted British forces already fully committed in Malaysia and, if any others could be found, UK would want to send them to Borneo where Indonesian threat increasing.

We presented following alternative communiqué language on Viet-Nam3 aimed at trying to meet British problems:

“The Government of the Republic of Viet-Nam requested the Council members to take action under the Treaty to meet the aggression from North Viet-Nam. In light of the Protocol to the Treaty which designates South Viet-Nam as a protected State, the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States agreed that, pursuant to their Treaty obligations and within their capabilities, including their commitments elsewhere, they will take concerted action under the Treaty to meet the Communist aggression in [Page 163] South Viet-Nam. For this purpose they will continue and, wherever possible, intensify actions of the type they have been taking.”

Under Secretary pointed to fact that last yearʼs Council communiqué had already committed SEATO members to further action “in fulfillment of their obligations under the Treaty.” We cannot retrogress from this Council recognition that SEATO members have Treaty obligation in Viet-Nam crisis. If Viet-Nam problem not dealt with forthrightly by Council, public impression will be created that US is fairly isolated on this issue.
Under Secretary made clear we do not envisage that UK will take action of type different from that it now following in Viet-Nam. There should be no problem between us over implication of troop commitment because we would not expect troops from UK or Thailand and possibly not from Philippines. We have tried accommodate Stewartʼs concern on this score by language added to our earlier proposal.
Under Secretary stated we could not see that France would pre-sent problem in view status it has decided to assume at Council Meeting. We recognize Pakistan may be more of problem but even there we should have no real difficulties since our proposal exceeds only in rhetoric and not in substance what Council stated last year. Bundy also pointed out that formal understanding which we incorporated into SEATO Treaty would cover us with respect to any Pakistan effort to call for SEATO action in present crisis with India.
We stressed that we also have Congressional problem re SEATO and Viet-Nam. We are not pressing for collective action by SEATO as an organization but feel that for Congressional purposes it is essential that SEATO communique appear stronger than last yearʼs, particularly in view of fact that in intervening year several SEATO members have sent troop contingents to Viet-Nam.
Bundy said we also attach importance to British Cochairman role. We would think however UK position in support of GVN already made so clear that strong Council statement would not further infringe upon British impartiality. When British representative reiterated concern over effect of proposed communiqué language on Russians at this delicate juncture of Cambodian Conference negotiations, we made point that Soviets with their military assistance to North Viet-Nam appear much less impartial to world in their Cochairman role than UK does.
Under Secretary concluded that we regard our proposal as very serious. If SEATO cannot meet Viet-Nam crisis, question rises as to what purpose organization serves. He referred to fact that SEATO Treaty constitutes part of juridical base for Congressional Resolution of last August on Southeast Asia. Both US press and Congress will be watching this Council Meeting more closely than earlier ones to see if SEATO measures up.
British Ambassador expressed view that our revised proposal would probably still be considered too strong by Stewart. He thought that reference to Treaty obligations and action within capabilities would be acceptable since these ideas embodied in last yearʼs communiqué, but was doubtful whether his Government could accept “concerted” concept.
Under Secretary stated that we would now want to consult with other governments, particularly Australia and New Zealand. We indicated we would have Ambassador Martin consult with his UK colleague from Bangkok, as well as with Australian and New Zealand representatives in effort work out acceptable position. This might then be subject to further discussion at May 2 dinner session which US and Australian Foreign Ministers and New Zealand Defense Minister having with Stewart. British Ambassador thought this reasonable way to proceed. Instructions for Martin being sent separately.
For Canberra and Wellington: You should contact EXTAFF at highest possible level to explain our proposal. State that we will be discussing it further with their representatives in London and will welcome their reaction to language proposed in para 2 above. You should treat our exchange with British as NoForn at this stage.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, SEATO 3 UK (LO). Secret. Drafted by Mendenhall, cleared with Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Richard Davis and Under Secretary Ballʼs Special Assistant Robert Anderson, and approved by Bundy. Also sent to Canberra and Wellington and repeated to Bangkok, Karachi, Manila, Paris, Saigon, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. Telegram 5202, April 28, contains a report of Ambassador David Bruceʼs discussion with Stewart in which the British Foreign Minister opposed any communiqué at the upcoming SEATO Council meeting obligating members to undertake collective action to meet “communist aggression in South Vietnam.” Bruce concluded this telegram with the view that “it would be impossible this evening, and will continue to be, to secure British approval of any language which even by implication could be construed as committing them to supply military forces in Vietnam.” (Ibid.)
  3. For the communiqué as issued on May 5 at the end of the SEATO Council Meeting, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, pp. 709–712.