105. Memorandum for the President’s File1

SUBJECT

  • Meeting Between The President, Secretary Rogers, Secretary Laird, Admiral
  • Moorer, Director Helms and Dr. Kissinger (10:55 a.m.–12:00 noon and 12:42 p.m. to 1:36 p.m.)

The meeting was convened at 10:55 a.m. in the President’s Oval Office so that the President and his principal advisors could hear a personal report from Secretary Laird and Admiral Moorer on their trip to Thailand and South Vietnam with stop enroute in Paris.

After a brief discussion of the professional football championship game (Superbowl) which took place the preceding day, the President asked Secretary Laird to provide the group with a report on his trip to Southeast Asia and Paris.

[Here follows discussion of the Paris Peace Talks.]

Secretary Laird then stated that in Thailand his team had met with all of the principal Thai leaders and had participated in a dinner and an extensive after-dinner working session. The Thais made the following points to Secretary Laird:

  • —They complained bitterly about U.S. PL 480 rice sales to Indonesia and other Thai market areas. (Secretary Laird said that he avoided substantive comment.)
  • —Thai officials were not as concerned about the counterinsurgency problem in Northeast Thailand as Secretary Laird thought they should be. (The Secretary stated that two large insurgent base camps had been developed in Northeast Thailand, with the most serious problem being the camp located at the projected end of the Chinese road complex.)
  • —The Thais asked for assurances of continued U.S. military assistance, emphasizing they wished us to maintain our bases in Thailand but that they would have no need for U.S. ground power.

The President remarked to Secretary Laird that his past discussions with the Thais suggested that they were very much concerned about internal insurgency. Secretary Laird replied that the threat had [Page 217]actually increased over the past 12 months and that the Thais had few forces involved in this role.

The President stated that if the Thais fell we would be in deep difficulty because of our treaty arrangements and, therefore, we will have to push them on the insurgency issue. More importantly, we are going to have to assure that they get all the military assistance in terms of equipment and funds that they need. Dr. Kissinger stated that an additional problem was the fact that the Thais have forces in Laos and that while the insurgency in the Northeast may be a problem, the viability of Laos and Cambodia is the decisive factor in terms of Thailand’s future. It is essential that they not pull their forces out of Laos.

The President then commented that he had been encouraged by the recent report on the performance of Thai forces in Laos.2 Admiral Moorer stated that this was the first SGU battalion that had been formed by the Thais. He noted that the conduct of the battle was well executed by the Thais, who permitted the enemy to get inside their positions and then inflicted great damage on them.

The President then remarked that he had recently read an excellent press story on Cambodia and that these were the kinds of stories which would insure the proper attitude in the U.S. Mr. Helms stated that the Cambodians have certainly demonstrated an outstanding will but that now their requirement was to learn how to operate their forces.

Secretary Rogers reopened the question of insurgency in Thailand and asked Mr. Helms to comment on the seriousness. Mr. Helms replied that action programs are initiated each year with the anticipation that they will succeed but that at the end of the period it always appears that there has been further deterioration. Secretary Laird indicated that he had raised this issue on three separate occasions with the Thais but that they had appeared to want to avoid the issue. The President then reiterated that because of our treaty commitments, it was important not to permit the situation to deteriorate. He directed that necessary spending be undertaken now rather than to find ourselves involved in another massive insurgency in the future.

Secretary Laird stated that he sensed the need by the Thais for continual hand-holding with respect to our presence in Thailand and our [Page 218]assistance program. For this reason, the Secretary provided additional assurances to the Thai leadership. Secretary Laird added that we have already cut our forces by 16,000 in Thailand and that further reductions should be avoided. He expressed special concern about the retention of our naval base and the air base at Utopa.

The President confirmed that he wanted our bases retained in Thailand. The slight draw-downs accomplished thus far were acceptable but the bases must be retained. The President stated that the Thais have always needed constant reassurances and suggested that it might be of value to include a visit by the King on this year’s state visit schedule. Secretary Rogers interjected that he agreed that this would be a good idea.

The President then stated that specific assurances should be given to the Thais after our next troop withdrawal announcement. He pointed out that the Symington Subcommittee hearings had done great damage to our overall relationships with the Thais and that this damage had to be rectified. Secretary Laird remarked that the Thai Foreign Minister was the principal problem in Thailand. The Secretary had emphasized to the Prime Minister that the supplemental vote in the U.S. Congress represented a major victory for those who supported strong U.S./Thai relations.

The President stated that he wanted it clearly understood that the U.S. was on a razor’s edge with respect to the Nixon Doctrine in Southeast Asia. While we have made our policy clear, the press has consistently distorted it to our disadvantage. The President stressed that we must retain our presence in Thailand, and in all Southeast Asia, to include the Philippines, South Vietnam and Korea. The idea that the Nixon Doctrine constituted a formula for reducing our presence to zero was neither true nor in our interest. The President emphasized that it was important that we reassure our allies in this respect. Secretary Laird remarked that military assistance was the essential element since our Asian allies have the manpower resources.

In continuing his discourse on our relationships with our allies, the President stated that this same philosophy applied worldwide. That was why Senator Percy had been so much in error. We need a continued presence in Europe and in terms of our worldwide position, we cannot permit ourselves to slip into a weak conventional force posture. We need a strong conventional posture abroad. We should now be thinking about permanent U.S./Asian and European force deployments. Our Soviet and Chinese friends watch this issue intensely and they draw great comfort and attach great significance to reductions in our force levels abroad.

Secretary Laird remarked that we have to sell this issue to the American people. He commented that a 11/2 war strategy was not [Page 219]saleable but rather we should sell it on the grounds of a realistic deterrent consisting of adequate conventional, tactical nuclear and nuclear forces.

The President commented that Congressional proponents were the first to complain when we cut bases here in the U.S. if they involved their constituents. Mr. Helms stated it was obvious that the Thais must have continued reassurance from us and that they had already started to refurbish their lines with the Chinese Communists. The President restated that we should bring the Thai King on a visit to the U.S. The President instructed Secretary Laird, Admiral Moorer and Dr. Kissinger, as appropriate, to bring Senators in and to talk about the importance of Thailand and the need to avoid future hearings such as those conducted by Senator Symington.

Secretary Rogers commented that he was convinced the situation in the Foreign Relations Committee was now a great deal better. Secretary Laird added that the Committee was now obviously split and that the Son Tay operation had been largely responsible for this. Secretary Rogers stated that the Department of State was also breakfasting with members of the Committee and that this had improved communications immeasurably. Secretary Laird remarked that the Department of Defense was also working with the Committee on a regular basis.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam.]

Alexander M. Haig, Jr. 3
Brigadier General, U.S. Army
Deputy Assistant to the President
for National Security Affairs
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Boxes 83–87, Memoranda for the President. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. The President had recently sent Prime Minister Thanom a message, in telegram 6319 to Bangkok, January 14, stating that “I want you to know how impressed I have been with the performance of the Thai personnel who are assisting the Lao in the common defense interests of Laos and Thailand, first in successful actions at Long Tieng and Sam Thong, then at Ban Na and now at Ban Houay Sai. I wish in particular to commend the irregular forces at Ban Houay Sai who recently inflicted very heavy casualties on three regular North Vietnamese battalions with the loss of only one Thai.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL THAI–US)
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.