28. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma
- Ambassador William H. Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs
- Ambassador G. McMurtrie Godley, U.S. Ambassador to Laos
- John D. Negroponte, NSC Staff
Ambassador Sullivan began the meeting with a presentation of the broad lines of the proposed agreement with North Vietnam. He explained to the Prime Minister that in general terms the North Vietnamese had agreed to a settlement which followed the general outline of President Nixon’s May 8 proposal. The agreement dealt primarily with Vietnam. But there was also a chapter on Cambodia and Laos, as well as a written understanding on the completion of ceasefire negotiations in Laos no later than 30 days after the agreement on Vietnam comes into effect.
Ambassador Sullivan then reviewed the key elements of the plan, chapter by chapter, explaining that there still remained two disagreed articles, and there would therefore have to be another meeting with the North Vietnamese before finalizing the agreement.
In addition, Ambassador Sullivan showed Souvanna the actual texts of the chapter on Laos and Cambodia and the text of the understanding on a ceasefire in Laos.
The Prime Minister’s reaction to Ambassador Sullivan’s presentation was generally positive and enthusiastic. His first remark after having heard Ambassador Sullivan’s presentation was “They [the North Vietnamese] have been completely crushed.”
The Prime Minister did however raise a number of concerns as regards the relationship between the agreement on Vietnam and the situation in Laos. First he said that, if there is a ceasefire in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese must also withdraw from Laos. Otherwise they will come from South Vietnam to attack the Laotians.
Ambassador Sullivan replied it was our view that first of all this concern may be exaggerated since the North Vietnamese would want to use what resources they have in an attempt to consolidate their position [Page 205] in South Vietnam. Secondly, we believe that after the tremendous losses they have endured they will need to refit and recuperate their forces and it is likely that they will even withdraw some of them into North Vietnam. As regards the interval between the ceasefire in Vietnam and the ceasefire in Laos, Ambassador Sullivan assured the Prime Minister that we would provide the maximum air effort during this period, which would indeed be substantial since the ceasefire in Vietnam would free so many of our air assets.
The Prime Minister replied that the Lao would indeed need the maximum air power during this period. He said they would also like more tanks.
Ambassador Sullivan added that after the Vietnam agreement, the United States fully intended to keep its naval and air resources off the Vietnam coast and in Thailand until we were certain that North Vietnam adheres to the agreement. Moreover, we are not naive, and if North Vietnam does not keep its faith, the President fully intends to use the resources we keep in the area to crush North Vietnam.
The Prime Minister said that as far as Laos is concerned, they would have one month of difficulty immediately after the ceasefire in Vietnam. Souvanna said that the U.S. must give the Lao all the necessary means to fight the Pathet Lao. He said they wanted more T–28s, more helicopters, and all the United States air assets that we could possibly spare. Souvanna expressed the view that after a Vietnam ceasefire the North Vietnamese forces would leave South Vietnam to reinforce the Pathet Lao to strengthen the latter’s negotiating position.
Ambassador Sullivan said he was authorized to assure the Prime Minister that we would provide maximum support during this 30-day period.
Ambassador Godley interjected that in terms of equipment the FAR had more than it could absorb. Ambassador Sullivan added that in view of developments and the prospect of an early Vietnam and Laos settlement, we could no longer need feel constrained by the Symington Ceiling.2
The Prime Minister then returned to the question of North Vietnamese forces. He said that if they leave South Vietnam they must leave by the DMZ and, if they leave via Laos, we must bomb them. Souvanna said he suspected the North Vietnamese. He was very suspicious of them because they are never frank. Ambassador Sullivan reiterated the point he had made about the continued presence of the 7th Fleet and about our forces in Thailand and that, if we are deceived after the elections, we would crush them.[Page 206]
The Prime Minister remarked that if there was a ceasefire in Vietnam, and that if the ceasefire in Laos took place only one month after, the North Vietnamese could cause a lot of trouble in Laos.
Ambassador Godley said that with our air power we could resist them effectively even if they attacked Saravane and Pakse.
The Prime Minister said he was not against a ceasefire but he just did not want to be deceived by the North Vietnamese. They have lost the war, that is sure. Every little thing they had has been destroyed.
Ambassador Sullivan, referring back to the chapter of the Vietnam agreement on opening an era of new relations with North Vietnam, said that if we engage in an aid and reconstruction program in Indochina, it would give North Vietnam an opportunity to develop independence from the Soviet Union and China.
The Prime Minister said we should not give them too much aid because the Lao did not want to see the North Vietnamese come back to Laos again. He then said that our agreement still left him worried about Cambodia.
Ambassador Sullivan said that Cambodia was one of the most complex aspects of the situation and that probably something will have to be worked out with the Chinese since the North Vietnamese claim not to have full control. He expressed the belief that the Chinese want détente in the area because of the Taiwan situation and their fear of Soviet encirclement. Returning to the situation in Laos, the Prime Minister said that all he asked was for sufficient means to defend his country during the one-month period after the Vietnam ceasefire. Ambassador Godley said that during the 30-day period we could use the Thais in Pakse. Souvanna agreed adding that we should also use them in Khong Sedone.
The Prime Minister said that within the context of the internal Lao talks he was going to propose that another two countries be added to the Laos ICC. He planned to propose France and Japan. Ambassador Sullivan described the negative reaction of the DRV to our proposed role for Japan in a Vietnam supervisory mechanism. The Prime Minister emphasized that he was talking about the Laos ICC and he was thinking in terms of Japan because it is a country of substantial means.
Toward the end of the conversation the Prime Minister once again emphasized the need for maximum U.S. support in Laos during the one-month period after a ceasefire in Vietnam.
The conversation ended with a discussion of the Prime Minister’s travel plans. He said that he planned to be in Washington on the 27th and 28th; but, at Ambassador Sullivan’s suggestion, he agreed to stay flexible and allow for the possibility of remaining until November 1.
Souvanna then said that he had to get back to his bridge game.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 857, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XX [1 of 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at Godley’s residence. All brackets are in the original.↩
- The so-called Symington Ceiling was an amendment to the 1971 foreign military sales bill that limited the amount of U.S. aid to Laos to $350 million.↩