182. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State1

1861. Re Saigon’s 623, sent Dept 3747.2 I emphatically disagree with Saigon’s blithe assumption (reftel) that “Laos conference would, in many ways, be more attractive forum than Cambodian conference.” On the contrary, our position with respect to neutrality, integrity and sovereignty of Cambodia is impeccable by comparison with our situation in Laos.3

We have come a long way from the day when our only transgression of the 1962 Geneva Accords was the covert direction of Air America operations. We now conduct an average of fifty combat air sorties daily by U.S. aircraft against targets on Laos territory; we maintain, encadre, and direct a clandestine guerrilla force of 20,000 men which inflicts daily casualties [Page 366] on the enemy; we have installed, we supply, and we advise a Thai artillery battalion at a critical point on Laos soil; we operate a fleet of about fifty aircraft primarily engaged in paramilitary activity; and we conduct a clandestine military aid program here on a fifty million dollar a year scale.

We get away with all this by elaborate precautions of dissimulation, tight discipline over loose talk, and a sprightly collusion with our Lao hosts. However, the enemy is fully aware of what we are doing and would lose no opportunity in a conference to expose us. Once we became exposed, it would be inevitable that many of our activities would have to be suspended. Those of us who conduct these operations harbor the illusion that they are of some value to the United States and cause some annoyance to our enemies. On the basis of this assumption, we require scores of Americans to risk their lives every day and a few every month to give their lives in an effort to carry out this program.

If we are willing to jeopardize and probably dismantle all the operations listed above because of a desire to experiment with a new “diplomatic track”, that is a decision which can only be made in Washington and will, of course, be accepted here. However, let us not make the decision on the illusory grounds that we would be more comfortable sitting in a Laos conference than we would in a Cambodian conference. The oratory from Cambodia might be more painful than from Laos, but the practical damage to our own interests would be nil. I know from personal experience in Geneva that one can get surprisingly immune to oratory, particularly of the Communist variety. And I’m sure Averell Harriman has been insulted by better men than Sihanouk.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 LAOS. Top Secret; Priority; Exdis. Repeated to Bangkok and Saigon.
  2. Dated May 12. (Ibid.)
  3. McGeorge Bundy sent a copy of this telegram to President Johnson with the following observations in a covering note dated May 14, 12:50 p.m.: “Very few people in the Foreign Service write as well as the average journalist. Bill Sullivan in Laos is an exception. Quite aside from the merits of his argument, I think you will be interested in his reply to an effort by my brother Bill to open another diplomatic track toward Vietnam negotiations by way of a conference on Laos.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Vol. X, 4/15–5/31/65)