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

1156. Dept repeat Secretary if feasible.2 From Bundy. Have talked with Ambassador, met with him and British Charge and French and Australian Ambassadors, and lunched with country team. Find nothing to add to first-rate reporting this outstanding team, but while situation still fluid and awaiting return Souvanna and party from Luang Prabang may be useful outline possibilities and attempt initial analysis their implications.

Following appear to be possible outcomes:

Souvanna (who contrary to our fears does as of now seem willing to resume responsibility) obtains agreement of King and Phoumi, plus Siho acquiescense, to restoration of tripartite Government of National Union with balanced representation. Might be some changes of portfolio, but essential structure preserved.
Souvanna agrees to head neutralist-rightist government, with top portfolios to these two groups and either no PL participation or token offer to PL which in circumstances would almost certainly be refused.
Rightist-dominated government (perhaps under DNC veto) but with some neutralist participation altho not Souvanna. For example, Kong Le might support under a deal for his keeping local control. Clear judgment here is that Kong Le will not revert to PL under any foreseeable outcome.
Agreement tonight on solution 1, but then this upset by hotheads, Siho and Tong Lit, so that result is clearly rightist government. This much the same as 3, but likely to be more extreme and less legal in appearance.

Following is analysis:

Likelihood. Outcome 1 still seems possible and almost in Lao pattern; Phoumi may well have had plans to move toward outcome, but crudeness this coup and quick US opposition may cauterize present pressures for that and even stay his hand for some time. Outcome 2 contrary to all previous Souvanna statements about staying only so long as he can keep all three factions in harness of sorts; however, Pathet Lao [Page 54] obdurate position at meeting of three (which Denson reports outraged Souvanna, especially when Soviet Amb tried to defend PL Saturday afternoon) might conceivably have persuaded him PL now hopeless. Outcome 3 is what Phoumi wants and Kong Le yesterday ambiguous enough to suggest he might play. Outcome 4 unpredictable, but Siho will have lost a lot of face and his personal forces plus Tong Lit position in Vientiane still major factors. (CAS reports forces surrounding Phoumi house today, and these presumed under Tong Lit.)

Desirability for US interests. In order of numbers, clearly only outcome 1 keeps Geneva Accords intact and leaves risks PL and DRV action at past levels; as all along, it is only buying time in one sense, but that alone of great value unless and until we have concerted plan for stronger action throughout area.

Essentially, both outcomes 2 and 3 confront us with rupture with PL and sharply increased chance they and DRV moving on military front perhaps initially at such places as Saravane and Attopeu, perhaps PDJ, although probably not Thakhek till later. Thai pressure then very strong and our own interests would probably require military counter-action. Difference between 2 and 3 is that presence of Souvanna would give much better appearance and reduce adverse major power reaction especially French. However, Soviets would oppose and I guess withdraw from picture tho probably not helping DRV and CC except by words.

Outcome 4 seems absolutely sure to trigger sharpest PL and DRV military action, in worst possible political circumstances for US. Also FAR itself might be split in such case, with Phoumi downgraded in favor of hotheads, who have limited capacity and ability to work together.

In sum, although a partition of Laos has never been off the cards and there many advantages in US moving into southern and eventually eastern Laos, alone or with Thai, wider disadvantages of doing so under outcome 2 not minor and under 3 and 4 very great indeed. As in 1961, we just don’t have much to work with, and military action expensive with no clear end; however, advantages for South Vietnam struggle now clearer and perhaps more persuasive to US public.

Since even outcome 2 breaches spirit Geneva Accords, we must reckon in all three with inhibiting effect of call for reconvened conference, and bad effect of any “Geneva conference,” even on Laos, on Vietnamese morale.

US action. As we are now doing, we should bend all our efforts to get outcome 1. Since there is shadow of doubt on Thai role and attitudes (Ambassador here refusing, as Dean of Corps, to lead group in calling on Souvanna), assume Embassy Bangkok is making this position clear there. If useful I could see Thanat tomorrow afternoon before leaving with General Wheeler for home.

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Assume we also stressing PL responsibility for PDJ summit breakup to Soviets. (Sov Ambassador has just told Unger he recognizes PL were “a bit hard”.)

If tonight or later developments make clear outcome 1 out believe we could recognize outcome 2 promptly. If outcome is 3 or 4, believe we should at least withhold recognition for short time but avoid freezing into position of disapproval we might soon have to eat. Try to let PL and DRV make first military moves, but be ready to react very quickly and to decide early just how far we are prepared to go. My own feeling is that we must then act against Laos corridor, justifying on basis PL and DRV have been violating all along. But it is worth some military disadvantage to get political posture in as good shape as possible, stressing that we had no part in events and above all that crisis really brought on by PL not only now but over long period. Suggest a quick white paper on this be drafted in case of need. A more minor point would be to stress that my mission here was to encourage Souvanna to stay on, if persuasion needed, which is explanation Unger and I have already given three Ambassadors.

As to military action, believe we should go no further than Seventh Fleet movements for now, but do all possible to improve reaction time for forces into Thailand. In terms of PL and DRV deterrence, this is the big card as it was in 1962.

Ambassador has seen and concurs.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 23–9 LAOS. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Repeated to Bangkok. Received at the Department at 7:46 a.m., April 20. Passed to the White House, CIA, OSD, and USUN.
  2. Section one of this cable was sent to Elemendorf Air Force Base and passed to Secretary Rusk who was returning from Vietnam. The second section did not arrive until after Rusk’s plane left.