104. Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State1
Bangkok, January 11, 1971, 0909Z.
384. Subject: Secretary’s Meeting with Thai Leaders.
- Summary: In after-dinner meeting January 7 with Secretary Laird, Adm. Moorer, and their aides, and US mission reps, Thai leaders stressed following: their support for Nixon Doctrine and Vietnamization, but concern that success of latter may be gravely impaired by continued enemy capability mount threat in Laos and Cambodia; recognition that SEA nations must make growing contribution to their own defense, especially in manpower; determination to assume full responsibility for their defense needs without US troops, but requirement for continuation of US military assistance; need for helicopters, ammo, T–28’s and excess equipment that can be used to develop Thai forces; rice problem (reported Bangkok 276)2 Secretary gave forceful presentation of Nixon Doctrine (including assurance of continued regular military assistance and fullest exploitation of excess program), stressed need for regional cooperation and will of regional countries to make effective use of their resources. In response to Thanat’s expressed doubts whether the administration will be able to carry out the programs underpinning the Nixon Doctrine, Secretary explained importance of recent vote of defense appropriations and stated his conviction that President will get the support to carry through his program. Thai leaders did not seek additional meeting, evidently feeling that they got their main problems off their chests. End summary.
- Following is uncleared account of Secretary’s after-dinner discussion with RTG leaders. Present were: PriMin Thanom, DepPriMin Pote, FonMin Thanat, ACM Dawee, Gen. Jira (military advisor to PriMin), RTA C/S Gen. Surakij, Dep C/S Supreme Command (fwd) [Page 213] Gen. Kriangsak, and FonMin’s Secretary Dirabongse. Secretary Laird was accompanied by Amb Unger, Adm. Moorer, Asst. Secretaries Nutter and Henkin, Dep Asst. Secretary Doolin, DCM, COMUSMACTHAI, and PolMil Counselor. Gen. Praphat had to be absent to manage budget debate; Gen. Sawaeno also originally on guest list was not present.
- PM opened with brief review of instances of Thai cooperation with free world (Korea, Laos, SVN, basing of US forces in Thailand). He expressed full support for Nixon Doctrine and understanding for US troop reductions, but argued that these reductions be planned carefully, taking into account assessments of communist strength and action. Communist threat to SEA was still great as the small countries here were developing their own defenses while simultaneously trying to improve living standards. All sea nations should bear responsibility for their own defense, but continued substantial US assistance was required. Concept of Vietnamization should be broadened to “Southeast-Asianization.”
- In commenting on implications of US troop withdrawals, Thai leaders several times stressed danger that as war in Vietnam winds down, threat to Laos and Cambodia (and thus to Thailand) could well increase. In their view, success of Vietnamization depended on how well the US could manage situation in Laos and Cambodia. Thanks to US and other SEA assistance, Cambodia had resisted much better than anticipated, but “some sort of US guard must be maintained; otherwise Vietnamization will fall flat” (Thanat). Saigon was still the enemy’s principal target, but he is now attempting to get at it through Laos (where he is building up LOCs in the panhandle) and Cambodia.
- Secretary several times stressed theme of regional cohesion, coordination and self-help. Enemy capabilities and intentions are not the only factors being considered in US troop reductions; willingness and capability of our friends to use their energies effectively and well were also very important. SVN forces were now much larger and more capable while enemy capabilities had declined since 1968. Secretary said in applying Nixon Doctrine we will give as much help as possible; while we are terminating our combat role, we will continue other important roles such as air, logistic and artillery support; we not fully withdrawing now, but only reducing and cutting back particularly in our direct involvement in combat.
- Secretary made several inquiries about the insurgency, most of which brought little substantive response; Dawee stated however, government was successful in keeping insurgents from moving into villages, but Hanoi-trained Meo were operating in several provinces in the north; particularly disturbing aspect of the trouble in the mid-south was that the terrorists were ethnic Thai. Recent operations by 700 young [Page 214] Chinese refugees (Dawee rejected term kmt) in the process of resettlement in the north had resulted in discovery of larger ct forces stores and facilities than had been anticipated, including a 300–500 man reception center for trainees and infiltrators from NVN and Laos. Throughout the meeting, PM, Dawee, and also Thanat stressed that Thailand wants to take care of its own defenses; it will do its own fighting and wants no US forces (presumably US ground combat troops); but it needs US material support to subdue threat before it is too late. Secretary said he got the message on US forces which Thais appeared to mean to apply to Cambodia as well.
- Thai made strong plea for excess equipment left behind by US forces. Secretary explained legal requirements for transfer of excess items; if RTG could meet necessary criteria it would have priority on excess items located in country. Secretary stated that increase in military assistance effort was important aspect of Nixon Doctrine and that excess program offered in some ways better vehicle than direct appropriation; Thai should identify their needs and explain how they proposed to use items so one could move ahead with excess program.
- In response to Secretary’s query re RTG’s assessment of possibility arriving at some sort of arrangement with NVN as result recent Thai contacts with NVN Red Cross repatriation delegation, Thanat stated that talks had not yielded any results. (Note: In context Secretary’s query he presumably referred to political results, not question whether some repatriation may in fact take place.) Thanat said only one member of NVN team was bona fide Red Cross; others were intelligence types. He interpreted NVN initiative largely as probing action. Even though several subjects, including POWs, had been touched upon, there had been no real communication or signal.
- Thanat said in his personal opinion NVN were using Paris Talks as propaganda forum and no results should be expected there. To the NVN, the real meaning of Vietnamization is how long the US can stand behind SVN, since they are confident of their ability to dispose of GVN once US departs scene. Referring to situation in Laos and Cambodia, he expressed doubt whether successful implementation of Vietnamization in 1972 was possible unless situation those two counties could be contained; despite expressed intention of President Nixon and his administration, he was not certain whether in light of Congressional opposition these measures could be taken and whether American people were really behind Nixon Doctrine.
- Secretary stressed legislative debate was often misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented; he pointed out that though Vietnamization was first major thrust of Nixon Doctrine, it was only small part of it and should not be taken in isolation. He then explained importance [Page 215] of recent positive Senate vote on defense appropriations, stressing administration had done well on every test vote. Thanat conceded recent success but insisted there will continue to be opposition to President’s program. Secretary said he thought President meant what he said.
- Dawee briefly referred to Thai defense plan (Chakri), saying that costing exercise carried on with help of MacThai had demonstrated tremendous defense costs which Thailand unable to bear with its limited resources. Secretary said he aware of planning effort which now being considered in Washington in light of this back to RTG in next few weeks.
- Dawee said RTG planning for a new division in 1973 which meant equipment requirements being developed now. Thai needed helicopters to replace combat attrition; they were running ammo war reserve down to dangerously low level due to high expenditure rates in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand; and speed-up of T–28 delivery would be most desirable. (Secretary held out no hope that this last was possible). Dawee stressed RTAF purchase of OV–10s as example of Thai modernization effort without US assistance.
- Bangkok press Jan. 8–9 gave frontpage coverage to Secretary’s visit. Stories highlighted his references to Nixon Doctrine; his “Promises of US military aid for next decade” (world) and “Aid Increases” (post); and his undertaking to convey to President Thai concerns about PL–480 rice shipments.2 Thanat was reported as having stated that US had agreed in principle to “speed up” transfer of US arms and military equipment now being used by US forces in Thailand. Press also emphasized Secretary’s remarks on regional cooperation and statement in his toast that differences between friends (US and Thailand) should make bonds of friendship stronger rather than weaker.
- Dept may wish repeat CINCPAC for Secretary Laird and Embassies Phnom Penh, Vientiane.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF THAI–US. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.↩
- Telegram 276 from Bangkok, January 8, noted that “Thai leaders (especially FonMin Thanat) made impassioned plea to SecDef for U.S. reconsideration of PL–480 rice shipments to Thailand’s traditional markets.” It noted that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Development Pote Sarasin told Laird that “U.S. deliveries were cutting into Thailand’s most important source of income. This applied especially to Indonesia which normally buys Thai rice. If U.S. were to compete in open market and at a fair price, the Thai would not mind, but PL–480 sales not made under competitive conditions.” (Ibid., AID (US) 15–8 INDON).↩
- Telegram 276 from Bangkok, January 8, noted that “Thai leaders (especially FonMin Thanat) made impassioned plea to SecDef for U.S. reconsideration of PL–480 rice shipments to Thailand’s traditional markets.” It noted that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Development Pote Sarasin told Laird that “U.S. deliveries were cutting into Thailand’s most important source of income. This applied especially to Indonesia which normally buys Thai rice. If U.S. were to compete in open market and at a fair price, the Thai would not mind, but PL–480 sales not made under competitive conditions.” (Ibid., AID (US) 15–8 INDON)↩