74. Memorandum for the President’s File by the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • The President’s Meeting with Laotian Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Ambassador William Sullivan, and Ambassador Prince Khammao on Friday, October 27, 1972 at 3:47 to 4:44 p.m.—The Oval Office

Souvanna opened by expressing his appreciation that the President had agreed to receive him at this critical juncture of Indochinese [Page 307] affairs, but also at a time in which the President was busy with the problems of the election campaign. Souvanna hoped the President’s efforts would be crowned with success. The President replied by agreeing that it was a critical moment in Indochinese affairs. He asked Souvanna for his evaluation of the draft agreement, on which he had been briefed by Ambassador Sullivan, as it affected Laos and secondly Vietnam.

Souvanna replied that in his judgment the agreement was an excellent one. However, as he had told Secretary Rogers and Dr. Kissinger, it was important that there should be no lengthy gap between the effective date of a ceasefire in Vietnam and those of the ceasefires in Laos and Cambodia. He feared that such a time differential might give the North Vietnamese an opportunity to mount serious offensives against the Royal Lao Army. Such an offensive had already begun, the Lao troops were counterattacking since October 15, and there was heavy fighting in progress in Laos.

Souvanna continued that he had just come from a meeting with Acting Secretary of Defense Rush and had explained to him the Lao needs in the way of military equipment. He spoke of helicopter gunships, T–28’s, and “spooky” aircraft,2 and anti-aircraft weapons for protection of the two cities close to North Vietnam against the North Vietnamese Air Force. He said, of course, if the agreement works out satisfactorily there will be a ceasefire and the need for this equipment will disappear. However, he felt it was safer to talk on the prudent side and take measures against the worst contingencies.

The President asked Souvanna how he saw the future of Laos working out if this agreement can be put into effect successfully. Would Laos remain divided? Souvanna replied that he wanted to avoid that. It was necessary to go back to the understandings of 1962 and to make them work. He said that the Pathet Lao were trying to distort those understandings and to introduce “true neutralists” from their side to change the balance in the political structure agreed upon in 1962. He said that the Lao Government would resist this effort (he was keeping open their Cabinet seats) and would also try to get Moscow and Peking to exert pressure on the Pathet Lao to respect the Zurich and Plaine des Jarres Agreements of 1962. He said ultimately there must be a reconciliation in Laos and an integration of military forces and cadres.

The President asked Souvanna who, in his judgment, had the greater influence on the Pathet Lao, the Soviets or the Chinese. Souvanna [Page 308] replied that it was hard to say, there were different factions within the Pathet Lao. Some were more pro-Chinese and others more pro-Soviet; essentially, however, the whole organization was controlled from Hanoi.

The President asked whether Souvanna considered that the agreement being reached on Vietnam was advantageous to Laos. Souvanna apparently misunderstood the question and thought the President meant to ask whether the political model being constructed for South Vietnam would be suitable as an example for Laos. He therefore went on at some length to describe how the situation in Laos differed from the situation in South Vietnam. Eventually his misapprehensions were corrected and he said that, of course, a ceasefire would be extremely helpful to Laos. But the political provisions should be those of 1962. Dr. Kissinger explained that Article 15(a) of the draft agreement required all the parties to respect the sovereignty of Laos, to withdraw all foreign forces from Laos, and not to use Laotian territory to encroach on Vietnam.

The President said that he had no illusions about Hanoi but it seemed that Hanoi might want a pause in its efforts to satisfy territorial ambitions in Indochina. He asked whether such a pause could be helpfully used in Laos. Souvanna said that such a pause would indeed be helpful and that it was necessary to reaffirm the 1962 agreements so that the Lao could begin anew to try to work out the national reconciliation which those agreements contemplated. But we should not trust Hanoi’s word.

The President went on to state that in his judgment it was a question of Hanoi’s interests. If Hanoi considers that a pause or even a permanent recoil from their previous actions is in its own interests, the agreements will be carried out. If not, he feared that the agreements would be ultimately sabotaged. The President then asked Souvanna how many Lao had been killed in the fighting since 1962. Souvanna replied that about 50,000 had been gunned down by the North Vietnamese when they fled to various refugee camps. There followed some discussion about the numbers of refugees and their hardships—about 600,000 refugees out of a population of less than three million.

The President repeated his earlier statement that he had no illusions about North Vietnam but felt that Hanoi currently needs a pause. The agreement when finally formalized would be meaningful only if Hanoi turned away from foreign adventures. He thought it was important during that pause that the intervening time be used to strengthen the institutions in Laos which would resist Communist control. He felt that the Soviets and the Chinese for their own reasons were playing a part in restraining Hanoi from its ambitions. He didn’t question the validity of Hanoi’s good faith, but at the same time he didn’t take it for [Page 309] granted. He intended to retain our Air Force in Thailand and our Fleet in the Gulf.

The President said that this agreement did not constitute a disengagement from Indochina. We would continue our economic aid and other assistance because we felt it was important that there should be free governments in Southeast Asia. He knew that there would be a great temptation for the American people to try to wash their hands of Indochina but he wished to assure the Prime Minister that the United States Government would not do that. Souvanna expressed his great pleasure in hearing the President make that statement. However, he wished to express his concern that the United States should not give too much too soon to the North Vietnamese. He characterized the North Vietnamese as “the Japanese of Southeast Asia” and said that he feared they might cause trouble in the future. He considered that their current action was one of retreat and withdrawal in the face of American military might. He was convinced their pride had been hurt and that they would lick their wounds while recovering from their defeat. One day in the future they might lash out in revenge of this defeat against their neighbors. If we made them too strong the risks might be disastrous.

The President replied that that was a very perceptive and soundly skeptical observation which the Prime Minister had just made. He said of all the statesmen who had sat in his office, he considered the Prime Minister among the most receptive [perceptive]and the most skeptical. He doubted, however, that there was anyone any more skeptical than he was himself. He, therefore, wished to assure the Prime Minister that we would conduct ourselves in Indochina without any illusions and without emotions, but that we would act with good will.

The President then accompanied the Prime Minister to the front of the White House and saw him into his car.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 550, Country Files, Far East, Laos, Vol. 10, Sep–Dec 72. Top Secret.
  2. The C–47 Skytrain, nicknamed “Spooky” and “Puff the Magic Dragon,” was a military cargo aircraft retrofitted as a gunship for close air support missions in Indochina. Its three miniguns could fire at a combined rate of 18,000 rounds per minute.