23. Memorandum for the Record1


  • National Security Council Meeting—19 April 1964


  • The President
  • State: Under Secretary Ball, Deputy Under Secretary Johnson, Messrs. Green and Barbis
  • Defense: Secretary McNamara, General Taylor, Mr. McNaughton
  • White House: Mr. McGeorge Bundy and Mr. Forrestal, Ambassador Stevenson and Ambassador Thompson
  • CIA: Mr. McCone and Mr. Colby
Prior to the President’s arrival there was a discussion of the traffic from Laos and Mr. Barbis gave a short review of the 1958–1960 series of Lao coups. Secretary Ball identified the basic question as one of determining a U.S. position which would disassociate ourselves from the coup but at the same time not encourage the Pathet Lao and Vietnamese to move against the Lao Government. Mr. Bundy asked what pressures we have on the Right Wing and it was agreed we had considerable power but that our experience had shown it could not be exercised in the short term.
The President then entered. Mr. Ball briefed him on the situation and the basic problem of disassociating ourselves without inviting action by the Communists. He pointed out the State Department release of Saturday night deploring the coup2 and commented that we were in the process of making approaches to other governments involved in the Geneva Agreements to reiterate our non-involvement.
The President suggested that Mr. Bundy who is in Saigon be sent to Vientiane for a first hand look prior to his return to Washington. He commented that he agreed with the U.S. support of the Geneva Agreements but that he would not do much urging of action until we see the situation more clearly than we do now. He returned to this point several times during the meeting, indicating some displeasure with the final sentence of State’s release.3 He stated he agreed that some word should be [Page 45] gotten to Hanoi to hold them back from any idea of moving in Laos. Mr. McCone mentioned the possibility of some involvement of General Khanh in the course of the Khanh-Phoumi discussions about two weeks ago.
The President also agreed that we take the position with the other Geneva powers that the cease-fire in Laos must be maintained and he agreed that other governments be approached, especially the GVN, along these lines. He then asked that recommendations for action be prepared by Mr. Bundy in conjunction with Ambassador Unger and that meanwhile no other public statements be made.
The President then departed and Mr. McNamara requested that the group remain for a general review of the problem. It was pointed out that the balance of forces in Laos generally favored the Pathet Lao with their Viet Minh cadres but General Taylor stated that he did not expect any immediate full scale move which would involve Viet Minh units. The FAR was believed by General Taylor not to be much better than it ever was, despite some reports of improvement we have heard in the past. Kong Le offers more a political than a military force. The chances of substantial support to the non-communists from Thailand or South Vietnam were not considered great. Among the actions considered were the possibility of reinforcing the Thais with a U.S. unit (which it was agreed was complicated as the Thais would exact some assurances on our policy in Laos), and the movement of U.S. naval units off North Vietnam. Ambassador Thompson suggested that we tie our actions in Laos to the public discussion of possible action against North Vietnam, which he believed has a useful effect on the Communists.
There was then some discussion as to whether it would be possible to restore a neutral government in Laos or whether it would develop into a formal partition. It was agreed that the assistance of the King should be sought but that no great hopes could rest upon him, and that one of the critical figures was Kong Le.
Mr. Bundy summarized the actions required as determining:
Whether and how we reestablish the neutral solution (i.e. “put Humpty Dumpty together again”). In this context the position of Kong Le is important.
The degree of South Vietnamese involvement, encouragement or potential in the Lao situation.
How to maintain the cease-fire, getting word to the Communist side and especially Hanoi to do so.
The reactions of our Ambassadors in various countries to the prospect of a new Geneva meeting on Laos and whether this would involve Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.
The effects of a formal North-South partition on the situation in Vietnam, i.e. whether this would substantially improve the North Vietnamese capabilities of supporting the Viet Cong.
Alerting various intelligence activities to any indications of early action by the Communist side. In this context the Department of Defense will ensure a full coverage by high level reconnaissance on Southeast Laos and NSA will be altered to follow the traffic analysis in Laos and Vietnam.
After the meeting Mr. McCone and Secretary McNamara discussed the problem informally, Mr. McCone indicating it might be necessary soon to move to Geneva from a real position of strength with the U.S. fleet pointing at Hai Phong. Secretary McNamara indicated he agreed with this position.
WE Colby

Chief, Far East Division
  1. Source: Johnson Library, John McCone Memoranda, Meetings with the President, 4/30/64–5/20/64. Secret. Drafted by Colby on April 20, who mistakenly characterized this as an NSC meeting. It was not an official numbered meeting of the National Security Council.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 22.
  3. The final sentence of the release reads: “We are therefore categorically opposed to any seizure of power and are urging immediate release of neutralists as a first step to restoring the situation.”