214. Memorandum From Richard Solomon of the National Security Council Staff to Secretary of State Kissinger 1
- A Message Proposing to Sihanouk (and the PRC) that the Prince Return to Phnom Penh under Chinese Protection to Negotiate a Transfer of Leadership
In Holdridge’s meeting with his Cambodian contact in Peking today, Sihanouk’s representative made three points: (1) that it is important to reach a solution in Cambodia before the fall of Saigon; (2) that the Prince is helpless in Peking but does not wish the Khmer Rouge to take over the country completely; and (3) that it is a good thing to keep the army now defending Phnom Penh intact as the Prince has the support of the soldiers and peasants. In conclusion, Sihanouk’s representative asked for the U.S. position on a solution in Cambodia. (See the reporting cable at Tab C.)2
There is some ambiguity as to whether Mr. Phung’s comments are a reflection of Sihanouk’s position, or whether they are his personal views. One reading of the reply might be that the Prince is trying to help out his Vietnamese “friends” by arranging for a negotiated surrender in Phnom Penh in order to set the stage for a similar development in Saigon. A more likely reading is that Sihanouk is now casting about for some way of injecting himself into the situation in his country at the 11th hour in order to be more than just a figurehead, and is truly uncertain about how to proceed given his weak position.
On the basis of discussions with Dick Smyser and Win Lord, we feel there is only one way we might proceed to open negotiations which would hold some prospect of giving Sihanouk sufficient backing to enable him to build a position for himself. That is for the Prince to appeal to the Chinese for support in injecting himself into a negotiating situation designed to save Phnom Penh and bring about a transfer of leadership in the country. While we have little expectation that such a situation could be created at this late hour, we propose the following scenario which would build on what we presume to be the Prince’s indirect comments on the 10th: Have Holdridge again engage his Cambodian [Page 783]contact, indicate that we would support a negotiated resolution of the present situation in Cambodia which would return Sihanouk to national leadership, and propose that the Prince ask the PRC to transport him back to Phnom Penh to negotiate a transfer of power. If we received a positive reply to this suggestion, we would then do what we can to arrange for negotiations with the authorities in Phnom Penh which would return the Prince to national leadership.
We obviously have little time left to pursue such a démarche (and we have little expectation that it would get anywhere), but there is little to be lost by proposing such an arrangement. In essence it would tell Sihanouk that if he is to save his own future he must now cash in all his chips with the Chinese (who would obviously have to intercede with the Khmer Rouge, and probably Hanoi, to stop the fighting at its present stage so that they could safely transport the Prince to Phnom Penh). By limiting our contact to Sihanouk and his representative, we would not put the Chinese in the position of “colluding” with us.
Given the military pressure now on Phnom Penh it may not be possible to bring this off—assuming a positive response from Sihanouk and his friends—while there is an American presence in the city. Given your other instructions to Ambassador Dean on evacuating his mission, there is a danger in suggesting to him that he should hold on to see if this démarche elicits a positive response. However, we believe you should inform Dean that we are trying this last approach to negotiations, that we have little expectation that it will succeed, but that if his physical security would enable him to remain in Phnom Penh for several more days there might be a possibility of him assisting in the opening of negotiations for a transfer of leadership if we receive a positive response from our contact in Peking. A message to this effect is at Tab B.
That you approve the message to Peking at Tab A:
That you approve the message to Ambassador Dean at Tab B:3
- Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Box 3, Cambodia (15). Top Secret. Sent for action. A handwritten notation by Scowcroft at the top of the memorandum reads: “Action Complete, BS.”↩
- Backchannel message 83 from Bush to Scowcroft, April 10, attached but not printed.↩
- Kissinger did not initial his approval or disapproval of the messages attached at Tabs A and B.↩