312. Memorandum of Conversation1
- War in Southeast Asia and Prospects for Peace
- The President
- Prince Souvanna Phouma, Prime Minister of Laos
- A. Toumayan, Interpreter
After greeting his visitor and commenting on their previous meeting a year ago,2 the President told the Prime Minister that he looked forward very much to conversation and luncheon with him at the White House.
The President asked the Prime Minister for his views on the situation in his country and remarked how much confidence he had in Ambassador Sullivan and the reports he receives from him.
The Prime Minister emphasized that the difficult situation of his country was caused more by the war than by political and economic causes. His government had made progress in reducing corruption and in stabilizing the currency thanks to the friendly countries which contributed to the stabilization fund.
This year, thanks to USAID, $6 million had been programmed for the building of small dams and irrigation projects and the purchase of seeds, insecticides, and fertilizers. The Prime Minister felt that his country should once again become an exporter of rice. Today, with 100 thousand young men under arms there was a shortage of labor and therefore production of rice was inadequate. He intended to supplement labor with mechanized tools. The Prime Minister recalled his conversation on the subject of agriculture development with the Vice President when he visited Vientiane last year.3
The President remarked that the Vice President very much wanted to meet with the Prime Minister again. The President also invited the Prime Minister and the other members of his party to return for an informal [Page 625] luncheon at the White House on Saturday4 with the Secretary of State, Secretary McNamara, and the Vice President. The Prime Minister said he welcomed such an opportunity because he had many different matters to discuss with the President.
The Prime Minister resumed his presentation, pointing out that he has to wage two wars. He said he would only outline broadly his problems at this time and would go into more details in subsequent conversations. The first was the military one but the second war, the economic war, had to be waged in parallel. The Prime Minister emphasized that winning the military war while neglecting the economic one would only expose his country to the risk of Pathet Lao, Communist subversion. He wanted the US Government to be clearly aware of the fact that Laos is in a state of war where it loses 10 to 20 men every day.
The President commented that we were keenly aware of the heavy burden this represents for Laos.
The Prime Minister stressed that in addition to the high cost in human lives, half the Lao budget goes into defense (he cited $50 million as his annual budget). Thus, he would be very happy if the US Government would help in some circuitous way, because the neutrality of Laos had to be maintained, to relieve these financial pressures.
The President remarked that we also have great budgetary problems and that we spend $75 billion on defense out of a $130 billion budget. The President said he was trying to get additional taxes passed and his foreign aid program had just been cut by one-third.
The Prime Minister asked if some way could be found to place under Defense assistance some of the items which at the moment were funded by AID. He cited such items as refugee care, consumables for the armed forces, etc. The President advised him to discuss this with Secretary McNamara.
War in Vietnam
The Prime Minister told the President he had read his San Antonio speech with great attention and also the Secretary of State’s press conference with much interest.5 Unfortunately, there was no improvement in [Page 626] the North Vietnamese attitude on the war. The President noted that in recent days North Vietnam’s position was even harsher.
The Prime Minister asked what would the US Government do, would it also harden its own stand? The President replied that we would continue with what we have been doing, we would continue to apply the pressure we had been applying.
The Prime Minister stressed the vital interest of his country in this subject because the majority of the North Vietnamese equipment that infiltrated to the south went through Laos. If the US Government hardened its stand, the Lao would be happy, the Prime Minister continued, if all passes from North Vietnam into Laos are very heavily bombed. The Lao fear that during the next dry season North Vietnam may launch an offensive against Laos. Since North Vietnam has failed to achieve victory in the South, or at the 17th parallel south of the DMZ, during the next dry season it might very well turn against Laos. The President assured the Prime Minister that we would do all we could to prevent such an event. The Prime Minister stressed that the North Vietnamese could draw upon reserves that his own country did not have.
Prospects for Peace
The President asked him what he thought about Hanoi’s present intentions as opposed to a year ago when he and the Prime Minister last met. The Prime Minister replied that last year upon his return to Vientiane he had asked the NVN Charge what Hanoi would do if the US ceased bombing. The Charge had replied that Hanoi would not accept anything short of a final and unconditional cessation of bombing. Both the Prime Minister and the President agreed that this was the standard answer that had been heard for several years.
The President asked him how he thought that the war could be brought to an end. The Prime Minister replied that he thought pressure could be brought upon the Soviet Union to exert its influence on Hanoi toward that end. The President pointed out that the Soviet Union had already tried this but the Chinese Communists were opposed.
The President then asked the Prime Minister if he felt we were nearer peace today than a year ago. The Prime Minister replied that perhaps this might be the case although it was a very difficult question to answer and one which he had discussed many times. His own feeling was that during November and December we should try to subject North Vietnam to extremely heavy bombings including all the access roads into Laos. Then there would remain no strategic targets in the north.
The President took the Prime Minister and other invited guests to the luncheon.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Laos, Visit of Souvanna Phouma, 10/20–21/67. Secret. Drafted by Toumayan and Slutz. A note on a copy of this memorandum in the Department of State indicates that it was approved by Walt Rostow on October 27. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)↩
- See Document 259.↩
- See Document 220.↩
- President Johnson met with Souvanna for an informal lunch at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, October 21. Additional talking points were prepared for this meeting at the request of the White House. (Memorandum from Read to Rostow, October 21, with attached talking points; Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 LAOS) No record of the discussion at this informal luncheon has been found.↩
- For text of the speech, September 29, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 995–999. For the press conference, September 30, at the LBJ Ranch, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book II, pp. 882–886.↩