96. Information Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Hummel) to Secretary of State Rogers 1
Status of Lao Negotiations and What Can Be Expected from the Lao Protocols
Premature press reporting over the weekend gave the impression that the Lao negotiations had been completed and that the protocol signing and formation of a new coalition government would take place this week. It now appears that the jostling for advantage within the agreed terms during the final drafting will last until next week. Investiture of the new coalition government would take place about ten days to two weeks later.
All major issues have generally been settled and it appears that the terms are somewhat better than anticipated. Critics of the February Agreement2 who were expected to attempt to block a final signing of the protocols have thus been robbed of their most potent issue—that Souvanna is “selling out”. Souvanna’s actions to neutralize his critics, coupled with the sudden LPF readiness to reach agreement, have combined to enhance the prospects for the settlement and new government.
After it is formed, the most immediate trouble could arise from the presence of LPF troops brought in to “neutralize” the capitals of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. It would be easy for disgruntled elements of the Lao Army to create an incident which would justify their claim that the presence of LPF troops is intolerable.
Souvanna has assured us that our interests in matters such as MIA resolution, provision of military assistance, foreign force withdrawal, etc., have been protected. We will not be certain of how well, until the text of the agreement is completed and available.
Once the new government is formed we will be required to make basic decisions on our aid program. Phoumi has sought assurances that the benefits of our aid will not be limited to RLG areas. The Chargé has avoided a direct response primarily because the LPF originally seemed to be seeking to establish a sealed zone which would formalize the division of the country. This stance has now relaxed somewhat. Souvanna can be counted upon to take every possible action to re-establish unity and may seek to use our aid as a tool in doing so.[Page 389]
This would be in our interest. In addition to encouraging unity, channeling country-wide aid through the PGNU would make it more difficult for Congressional critics to preclude aid to the LPF as in the case of North Vietnam.
The question of military aid is more complex. Integration of the two military forces will probably be among the last steps taken. In the interim the Lao Army has received about as much material as it can absorb. Ammunition stocks are adequate. With the Ministry of Defense in RLG hands we will probably be able to continue to provide consumables. We will have to await the final text to know if the LPF is to have an effective veto over our military assistance.
The only presently known portfolio assignment on the LPF side is LPF Chairman Souphanouvong as Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister. As such he will probably rapidly come to assume a role as spokesman for Laos. While this is bound to affect our former relationship with the RLG (in the person of Souvanna), the conciliatory attitude shown by the LPF negotiators in discussions with Chargé Dean indicates that the LPF will not make excessive use of the available forum to denounce the U.S. and seek our removal from Laos. With the hostilities ended and the coalition government formed, the Soviet Union and China will be free to resume their competition for influence in the area and neither Souvanna nor Souphanouvong will have any hesitation in cooperating or seeking to benefit therefrom.
Several issues will be papered over by the expected agreement, but the dramatic LPF willingness to compromise has given Souvanna better terms than anticipated. Souvanna is taking advantage of this development to neutralize effectively his critics who would forestall coalition. The prospects are good that the government will be formed and, in its own Lao way, begin to function effectively. If the North Vietnamese withdraw sufficiently to satisfy appearances, Laos will be effectively “neutralized.” At this point, however, it would be wise for us to limit our comments to expressing satisfaction over the rapid progress recently reported.