169. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Laos1

738. As you know, our objective in Laos remains to seek full implementation 1962 Geneva Agreements. This connection we saw advantage in British approach to Soviets on Article 19 Protocol as means of exploring Soviet intentions and whether prospects existed for constructive discussions on Laos.2 Depending on results these bilateral talks, we prepared see Co-Chairmen dialogue expanded to include consultations with ICC governments and RLG, as provided by Article 19, and conceivably to eventuate in conference. Since Soviets have not yet responded to approach re Article 19 we will be discussing with British what we might do to push ahead on this.

Souvanna’s February 26 message to Souphanouvong (Embtel 1379)3 appears to be useful move in this connection, in addition to recapturing initiative and putting Souvanna in good public posture, since possibility of resumption tripartite talks may have constructive influence on Soviets. We recognize of course that it unlikely Souphanouvong will agree come to Vientiane for talks but see merit in Souvanna’s continuing to press for their resumption, perhaps falling back on Kouvao proposal if necessary. We would hope that Souvanna can be encouraged to discuss his plans this respect with cabinet members and others to ensure full understanding and support political and military leadership.

Given above framework our thinking here would appreciate your comments.4 You are aware that in recent months during discussions on Laos we have been urging Soviets (Gromyko) and French (Couve) to use their influence on PL to adopt more conciliatory attitude re tripartite talks. Despite changed situation since February 3, we presume Souvanna still likely to encounter domestic opposition to resumption tripartite talks. Is his position sufficiently strengthened that he can bring Sananikones [Page 341] and military leaders along?5 Is there serious risk that Phoumi could exploit such a development and mobilize sufficient support to attempt comeback?6 Assuming tripartite talks are resumed, is Souvanna likely to insist on conditions for effective cease-fire in return for which it would be worth relaxing present RLG/US military pressures if accepted by PL?7 (To be effective, cease-fire arrangements would have to include and be contingent upon active ICC supervisory and control role with complete freedom movement into PL areas, without possibility PL veto.)

On more speculative plane, how does Souvanna relate tripartite talks, and specifically question of effective cease-fire, to possible 14-nation conference?8 There would obviously be connection between any discussion Article 19 by Co-Chairmen and consideration in tripartite talks of ICC role in enforcing cease-fire.) Where does Souvanna now stand on his May 24 preconditions for 14-nation conference?9 For example, we know he feels that Operation Triangle gains have offset necessity of insisting on PL withdrawal from PDJ. Do Kong Le and others share this view?10 Would Souvanna be able to develop sufficient support for agreeing to reconvening 14-nation conference as outgrowth Article 19 procedure?11

Key question with respect Co-Chairmen consultations with RLG re Article 19 and in any conference situation will be Souvanna’s status. We have always insisted that his authority as Prime Minister must be recognized. On other hand Communists will insist on right of PL to speak independently and will support PL position that Souvanna can speak for RLG only if he has tripartite agreement, based on PDJ agreement, etc. This not acceptable to us nor would we presume to Souvanna either. [Page 342] How would he plan to handle this problem which would inevitably arise in any case connection Article 19?12

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 LAOS. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Barbis; cleared by Trueheart, Unger, and William Bundy; and approved by Rusk. Repeated to Bangkok, Saigon, London, Paris, and CINCPAC.
  2. See Document 158.
  3. As reported in telegram 1379, February 28, the message contained a proposal for renewed tripartite talks, but the Embassy noted that Souvanna made it as partly a “psychological warfare” move and partly an attempt to probe Pathet Lao intentions. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 LAOS)
  4. In telegram 1408 from Vientiane, March 5, Sullivan reported “every scrap of intelligence” the Embassy had pointed to the “truculent and unyielding nature of the Pathet Lao positions.” As Sullivan and the Embassy saw it, the Pathet Lao were a “pale image of the Lao Dong,” the Communist Party of the DRV. The Pathet Lao would only enter negotiations when the Lao Dong Party reached the conclusion that U.S. pressure required negotiations over South Vietnam. (Ibid.)
  5. This and subsequent questions were answered in telegram 1408. Sullivan replied that Souvanna’s position was strong enough unless he failed to consult his Cabinet colleagues and made unilateral concessions to the Pathet Lao. (Ibid.)
  6. Sullivan considered this possibility unlikely. (Ibid.)
  7. Sullivan responded that Souvanna might be tempted to accept a Pathet Lao proposal for unpoliced cease-fire, but certainly not indefinitely. (Ibid.)
  8. Sullivan replied that, should Article 19 consultations hold out the prospect that agreement might be reached on strengthening the ICC, Souvanna would not “haggle” over his preconditions. (Ibid.)
  9. Sullivan agreed that the success of Operation Triangle made the first condition of withdrawal from the Plain of Jars less important. As for the second precondition of a cease-fire, Sullivan assumed some progress would have been achieved during the tripartite talks. As for the third precondition, Souvanna would still insist that it be acknowledged that he alone spoke for the Royal Government of Laos. (Ibid.)
  10. Sullivan answered that Kong Le “would not make trouble” over Pathet Lao withdrawal from the Plain of Jars. (Ibid.)
  11. If the Pathet Lao showed readiness to negotiate seriously such issues as a cease-fire and the ICC, Sullivan believed Souvanna could develop sufficient public acquiescence, including that of King Savang, to bring the Royal Lao Government to the conference table provided the United States gave him unstinting support. (Ibid.)
  12. Sullivan stated (see footnote 9 above) that Souvanna would insist that he alone spoke for the Royal Lao Government. (Ibid.)