173. Telegram From the Embassy in Cambodia to the Department of State 1

3041. Subject: Ideas for First Substantive Meeting With Sihanouk. Reference: State 029484 and 029574.2

From the messages (reftels) I was asked to transmit to Lon Nol 10 days ago, it is clear that we plan to talk directly with Sihanouk about a political settlement for Cambodia. I am sure our policy makers are giving a lot of thought to what to say to the Prince when the American emissary has his first substantive meeting with him. On the basis of my nearly one year in Cambodia and from talking to people who know the Prince well, as well as my personal contact with him many years ago when I was stationed in Indochina (1953–56), I suggest that the following ideas be kept in mind when talking with Sihanouk.
The Prince [less than 1 line not declassified] is highly emotional about the USG role in Cambodia both before and during the war, holding us responsible for everything that has gone wrong from his point of view. Whoever has the first substantive contact with Sihanouk must be prepared to listen silently to a lengthy and violent diatribe about [Page 633]American wrongdoings in Indochina. He might even be personally insulted by the Prince as he spews his venom out about alleged United States atrocities. Anybody who has a low boiling point should be prepared for such a scene but should not rebut individual allegations because otherwise, I fear, the conversation will never get beyond a shouting match to the important substantive discussion. I also wish to remind the Dept that Sihanouk has a [less than 1 line not declassified] obsession with the CIA, which he holds responsible for much of what has happened to him. His book, ghost-written for him by Wilfred Burchett in 1973, entitled “My War With the CIA,” is ample proof of his deepseated distrust of the CIA and the exaggerated role he ascribes to it in American policy direction and its execution in Cambodia.
Once the American emissary gets to the substantive discussion, I think it would be wise tactically to appeal to Sihanouk’s [less than 1 line not declassified] ego. We should not reluctantly bargain with him, but convince him that we are trying to help him get back into Phnom Penh as Head of State with real powers, so that he rather than the Khmer Rouge will be in the driver’s seat. In short, we must imply that perhaps we made a mistake in the past but we have now seen the light and that is why we are coming to him. We should stress that if the Prince comes back to Phnom Penh with the Khmer Republic’s Army, Navy, Air Force, Buddhist clergy and government administration intact, he would be cast in the position of arbitrator with a real power base from which to operate. If, however, he insists on the dismantling of the entire republican apparatus he would open the door to a Communist take-over and weaken his own position. He would then be entering Phnom Penh on the tip of KC bayonets and would very soon find himself no longer useful to the KC and could even be quickly discarded. In the interest of strengthening his own position and for the sake of the future of Cambodia, he must return quickly to Phnom Penh while there is still a viable structure on this side. Later he can make changes to bring the new Cambodia into line with his own vision for his country.
We should make it clear to the Prince that the United States is basically the only party which can assure him a smooth transition because we would try, and probably succeed, in bringing about the departure of those Khmer personalities who are offensive to him. We could also keep under control the military and civilian elements who have been engaged in the fighting for this side, so that they would not sabotage the agreement which can be worked out with Sihanouk. I played a very similar role in Vientiane in 1973, when I kept the extreme right at bay while a neutralist formula was worked out for Laos.
Hopefully one of the first steps Sihanouk would take as Chief of State in Phnom Penh would be the proclamation of a cease fire. The months following the end of the fighting will be difficult because [Page 634]whoever governs Cambodia must find ways of feeding hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, until the next crop is planted and harvested. It will take at least one year, perhaps longer, for Cambodia to become self-sufficient in food again. We have some PL 480 rice already in the pipeline and Congress would probably be willing to authorize the financing of additional shipments under the new circumstances to feed the hungry and needy. It could require as much as $200 million to pay for the rice shipments and not many countries are in a position or have the means to make such a contribution. We could. In addition to rice, we could supply Cambodia with POL, spare parts and selected raw materials to make Khmer factories and production facilities operational again. This assistance, if offered to Sihanouk, would strengthen his own hand and make him less dependent on the KC. We should realize that he will probably want to lean heavily on those who supported him for the last five years, but our offer would permit him to pursue a more non-aligned, neutral policy which we understand is his goal.
If Sihanouk returns to Phnom Penh, his safety and that of all those who come with him must be assured. While some KC forces would probably have to enter Phnom Penh to provide security for Sihanouk and his entourage, Sihanouk’s freedom of action would be greatly enhanced if some neutral military forces also were temporarily stationed in Phnom Penh. Sihanouk’s considerable stature in the non-aligned world would probably make it quite feasible and likely that countries such as Senegal, Algeria, Sweden, and Singapore would be willing to send troop detachments to provide security for Sihanouk. These forces would be the best safeguard against a bloodbath which might occur as a result of renewed fighting in the capital between KC troops and die-hard republican elements. The USG certainly has the means to bring such foreign troops into the city rapidly and the UN resolution voted on November 28 last year3 could provide a framework for such an operation. I think I could convince the authorities on this side to make such a request to the UN Secretary General if Sihanouk would do the same.
The Prince may take the line that the USG should just pack up and go home and let the Khmers settle things among themselves. If he does, I suggest our emissary explain to him that this would not really be in his long range interest, nor in that of his countrymen. However, we should offer to reduce immediately our mission from 200 to a much smaller number whose principal function would be to help feed the [Page 635]population and avoid the collapse of the Khmer organizations presently existing on this side. I think the Prince would want to hear from us our offer to cut back drastically our mission, so that he has something to show to his Communist colleagues. We should not haggle over numbers.
In practical terms, Sihanouk’s return to Phnom Penh might be handled in the following way. Lon Nol and a certain limited number of key Khmer leaders offensive to Sihanouk are made to depart from Phnom Penh. The no. 2 personality in the Khmer Republic (Article 32 of the Constitution), the President of the Senate, Saukam Khoy, would take over as acting Chief of State. Either he, with the approval of the existing organizations in the Republic, such as the Senate, National Assembly, armed forces, and the government, calls on the Prince to return or they acquiesce in it. I am not sure I can deliver on the former, i.e., a formal invitation to Sihanouk to return, but I think I can convince them not to oppose Sihanouk’s return in view of the military–political–economic situation in the country and the proposition that the Prince’s return will mean peace. The Prince’s first act would be a call for a cease fire. It would be helpful if this act received the immediate endorsement of the UN Security Council. If Peking goes along with this scenario, it means that the Chinese prefer to see their man ensconced in Phnom Penh, rather than the Hanoi-dominated Khmer Rouge taking the capital by force. With Sihanouk Chief of State again, other key diplomatic missions such as the French, Chinese, etc., should send at the earliest possible moment Ambassadors to Phnom Penh; their very presence would be a restraining influence on extremists on either side and that weight is needed, especially immediately after Sihanouk’s return when the situation is still fluid.
I am not sure what kind of coalition government the Prince would designate, but I think he should agree beforehand in Peking to include some representatives from the Phnom Penh side in the Cabinet. I doubt that we will have much influence in determining who would be included in such a government, but we could at that time propose names of reputable, efficient Khmers who have proven their worth in the past.
The Prince will probably insist that all humanitarian aid be given directly to the Khmer Government so that he and his colleagues get the credit that goes with the distribution of these resources. Our American voluntary agencies may be unacceptable to him. If this is the case, I think the International Red Cross could play a decisive role. I have talked to the head of the ICRC team here when we discussed the possibility of evacuation, and he told me that some of their team members would probably stay behind regardless of what happens. While the ICRC has not been as efficient as the American voluntary agencies in distributing relief supplies, they would probably be much more [Page 636]acceptable to the Prince and it would still give us some influence over the resources we put at the disposal of a future government here.
So much for the talk with Sihanouk. What my argument boils down to is that we have only one card left to play in Cambodia (except for a bug-out) and that is Sihanouk. We should make a virtue out of an inevitability and build up Sihanouk, not reluctantly but willingly. I would like to believe that Sihanouk can be made to understand that it is in his own interest not to insist on the complete withdrawal of the USG, that to the contrary we can inconspicuously help him re-impose his authority on the country so that he is not a prisoner of the Communists.
The sooner agreement can be reached with the Prince, the better position the Prince will be in, and the better the chances are that a collapse of the existing institutions on this side and a Communist military victory can be prevented. We are buying time with a civilian airlift presently bringing in ammunition and POL for military. I doubt very much that the Mekong will be reopened in the next week or two and this fact will necessitate bringing in some rice from our PL 480 stocks in Vietnam to prevent rice stocks from falling below the critical level. The economic situation is disastrous. The government is not collecting any revenue and we are not getting any counterpart funds because our aid money is used to finance expensive transportation schemes to keep Phnom Penh alive. Also, the closing of the Mekong River has prevented the arrival of commodities whose importation generates counterpart.

The time we have bought and are buying, including hopefully that gained by the visit of the congressional delegation, must be used to work out an orderly settlement in Cambodia. I think I can speak for all of the key officials in this Mission that they would all be volunteers for staying on the job here, even under the most difficult circumstances, including the return of the Prince, if it would help bring about such a denouement to the Khmer conflict.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Box 4, Cambodia, State Department Telegrams, To SECSTATE, Nodis (2). Secret; Priority; Nodis; Cherokee.
  2. In telegram 29484 to Phnom Penh, February 8, Kissinger instructed Dean: “You should request an immediate meeting with Lon Nol and tell him that we are considering having American officials in Peking seek a meeting with Sihanouk. The purpose of the meeting will be to explore the possibility of an early compromise settlement in Cambodia.” (Ibid., State Department Telegrams, From SECSTATE, Nodis) Telegram 29574 to Phnom Penh, February 8, contained additional details for Dean. (National Archives, RG 59, State Archiving System)
  3. UN General Assembly Resolution 3238 (XXIX), “Restoration of the Lawful Rights of the Royal Government of National Union of Cambodia in the United Nations,” adopted November 29, 1974.