126. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Deputy Prime Minister Praphat of Thailand
  • General Sirikit
  • Dr. Malai Huvananda, Advisor to Minister of Interior
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Mr. John Holdridge, Senior Staff Member, NSC
  • Mr. Leonard Unger, Ambassador to Thailand
  • Mr. M. J. Wilkinson, Political Officer, American Embassy, Bangkok

SUBJECT

  • General Praphat’s Comments on U.S.-Thai Relations

Dr. Kissinger began by commenting on the improvements in the security situation in South Vietnam. General Praphat said that he had received similar reports from the Thai soldiers in Vietnam. He noted that the first members of the Thai contingent which was returning from Vietnam had arrived that day and that the main body would be returning on July 22.

Dr. Kissinger asked General Praphat about the status of the insurgency in Northeast Thailand. General Praphat stated that things were going quite well, and that the Thai forces were now able to handle [Page 267]the insurgents. Ambassador Unger wondered if General Praphat’s estimate included the Chieng Rai area. Had the situation there quieted down? General Praphat replied that things had been better during the past month.

Dr. Kissinger requested General Praphat’s views on the situation in Vietnam. According to General Praphat, everything seemed to be quiet, but this made him suspicious. He anticipated that if the U.S. negotiations with the Communists were not successful, the Communists would undertake a new act of aggression. The North Vietnamese had the capacity for this.

Asked by Dr. Kissinger for his estimate of developments in Laos, General Praphat said that the situation there depended very much on the situation in Vietnam. If there was peace in Vietnam, then the same condition would apply to Laos. Dr. Kissinger said that he was not so sure—if things were quiet in Vietnam, the Communists would be able to shift forces to Laos. It was too early to tell about the negotiations. What the Communists had proposed was unacceptable. They were asking us to stop all aid to the Government in Saigon, which we could not do. We would not overthrow the government with which we had been working for so long. General Praphat asked if cessation of aid meant both military and economic assistance, and Dr. Kissinger replied that this was the implication of their demand. They were phrasing their proposals in a very complicated way, speaking like oracles to every Congressman who went to Paris; these then thought they had the road to peace. The North Vietnamese were speaking to them in ambiguities.

General Praphat said that he didn’t know the detailed language of the Communist proposals, but from what he had heard and read in the newspapers he did not have the impression that the seven points would include a limitation on aid. Dr. Kissinger explained that they were putting their proposals in a complicated way. Their requirement that we cease all aid to the Thieu Government was interpreted by us as meaning that we had to stop all economic and military assistance. General Praphat remarked that after reading the newspaper articles about the seven points, he had thought the U.S. would accept them. He felt that we had an obligation to accept them quickly. Dr. Kissinger described the Vietnam situation as being extremely complicated, and foresaw the possibility of serious negotiations later on this year. He felt that General Praphat was correct, however, in sensing that the Communists were in a slightly better bargaining attitude now than in the past. General Praphat said that, speaking as a military man, long negotiations were undesirable because the enemy would gain more time to prepare for an attack against Thailand. Dr. Kissinger agreed, but noted that unfavorable negotiations would also be undesirable.

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General Praphat wondered if the United States was considering reducing its military strength in the area. Dr. Kissinger noted that we had some difficult domestic problems. There was no question but that we had a number of Senators who were making a great deal of noise and were behaving in a way which made the conduct of foreign policy difficult. Nevertheless, the President was convinced that we had to maintain our military posture in Asia. In Dr. Kissinger’s opinion the domestic situation had improved, and opposition to the Administration’s policy had reached a high point. There was every possibility that we would not be in a better situation.

General Praphat said that negotiations were one thing, but after the rainy season the situation in Cambodia and Laos might be a good deal worse. Dr. Kissinger noted our judgment was that the South Vietnamese would be able to hold out in Cambodia against the North Vietnamese and would be stronger than the North Vietnamese. However, the situation in Laos was different. Whenever the North Vietnamese wanted to put more troops in they could advance. Therefore, in Laos we had to work with the Thai SGUs and with the Lao Government forces. We attached great value to what the Thai SGUs were doing and strongly supported this effort.2

General Praphat remarked that he had some doubt about the South Vietnamese forces in Cambodia, which were not too effective because of the way that they had been put in, pulled out and put in again. Dr. Kissinger declared that he didn’t debate military strategy with a General, because the General might start debating academic points with Dr. Kissinger as an academician. We believed, though, that during the rainy season there was not much sense in leaving the South Vietnamese in Cambodia. They had established a line along Route 7, from which they would push north when the dry season arrived, although they would not go farther than the line of the Mekong. General Praphat observed that this strategy might be good for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam, but still left the Cambodians with the requirement to fight west of the Mekong. Dr. Kissinger said that this was true, but the North Vietnamese had a supply problem in maintaining their forces west of the Mekong in heavy strength and at the same time fighting [Page 269]the South Vietnamese east of the Mekong. So far, they hadn’t been able to do this and probably couldn’t do it next year, either.

General Praphat said he assumed that the North Vietnamese would be able to use the Ho Chi Minh Trail to supply their troops in Cambodia and South Vietnam. Dr. Kissinger observed that they indeed could do so, and had expanded the Trail. General Praphat said that SGUs could not defend against this, neither the Thai SGUs nor the others (“neither ours nor yours”). Dr. Kissinger expressed the view that the SGUs could at least do something to harass the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

General Praphat stated that the Thai would be unable to sustain their SGUs without aid from the U.S. side, and for this needed “total support”. In response to comments from Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Unger that we felt on our side we were rendering such support, General Praphat commented that a great deal of time had been wasted in bargaining. Furthermore, there had been difficulties in receiving U.S. air support and medivac. With some bitterness, he said that Thai wounded had waited for five days for medivac, and none had arrived until he had made a special plea to Ambassador Unger. There was a problem also for the Thai to fight. Dr. Kissinger noted that we hadn’t heard of these problems in Washington. We wanted the Thai to succeed and he, Dr. Kissinger, would look into the situation as soon as he returned.

General Praphat continued by outlining a few more difficulties in receiving air support. Requests had been put in on the ground which had gone to Ambassador Unger, who had in turn said the requests should have been presented to the U.S. military in Laos and to the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] group. What had been sent was not enough. Ambassador Unger declared that no one had asked him to take care of the wounded, and if this issue had been raised he would have handled it. Dr. Kissinger assured General Praphat that this matter would be looked into, and that Ambassador Unger and Washington were in full agreement on the SGU program.

General Praphat remarked that he understood the political problems which the U.S. faced, but that the Thai had a political problem in their country, too. There was the question of economic support, and also that of the attitude of the Thai Parliament. Some politicians had wanted to pull all Thai out of Laos.

Returning to the subject of medivac for the Thai in Laos, Dr. Kissinger said that he thought this had been approved and that no problem existed. Ambassador Unger noted that all he had known of the medical problem was that there had been a large number of Thai wounded who had been taken care of at Udorn. There was a field hospital there which had been scheduled for closure; he had stopped the closing and had kept the facility open for a considerable time to take [Page 270]care of the wounded. He had not heard of the medivac difficulties. General Praphat said that this had been but one example of the difficulties the Thai had faced. He and General Sirikit jointly explained that another difficulty had been encountered over artillery support—they had needed and asked for 155s, but had received 105s; they had wanted six guns per battery and received four instead; they had requested an ammunition supply, but had been told to draw ammunition from Thai Army depots. There had been many complications. This is why they had spoken of needing full support for the SGU program. Dr. Kissinger once again said that he would look into the matter, and that he had not been aware of these details. He was under the impression the Thai had been getting everything they asked for. Who were they dealing with? Ambassador Unger said that questions such as these were normally handled [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] not through Thailand. He wanted to know whenever things were not going well, however, because he wanted to give his full support. Dr. Kissinger added that he would talk to responsible people and make sure that all the various complaints were looked into. General Sirikit remarked here that he hoped all this wouldn’t appear in U.S. newspapers.

On the score of press and public opinion in the U.S., General Praphat questioned whether the U.S. people were actually supporting their country. Dr. Kissinger expressed the view that the people were behind the Administration, it was just the intellectuals and a few Senators who were causing the trouble. He discounted an observation by General Praphat that the morale of the U.S. people was poor. The popular morale was good.

General Praphat made what he called “a final plea” with respect to U.S. aid to Thailand: that there be no reduction in this aid. Thailand remained a staunch friend of the U.S., and unlike the situation in other countries, the U.S. Embassy in Thailand had never been stoned. The Thai Government was working very hard to improve U.S.-Thai relations. Dr. Kissinger declared that he was very conscious of the pressures on Thailand. The President urgently wanted Thailand to be helped, and was committed to maintaining close ties. In this respect, he, Dr. Kissinger, was aware of the problems which had developed in our program for providing close assistance to the Thai in strengthening their defenses. (General Praphat agreed that such problems did, in fact, exist.) He would promise that when he went back to Washington in July, a package would be developed which would please the Thai. The President wanted this. We wanted to provide the maximum aid possible, but had to employ many different ways to provide our aid because of the legal restrictions imposed upon us. Nevertheless, a program different from what we and the Thai had been discussing would be developed.

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General Praphat expressed his thanks for Dr. Kissinger’s offer on providing maximum help. He again referred to Thai efforts to gain the support of public opinion in Thailand for working with the U.S. This was occasionally difficult, for when the U.S. made moves toward improving relations with Red China, the people became confused. The people were also upset about the rice situation—they worked very hard to produce rice, and then the U.S. came along and took their markets.

Dr. Kissinger concluded by saying that we definitely understood the Thai problems. He normally would check with the President on matters such as had been discussed this evening, but he was so close to the President’s thinking on aid to Thailand he knew that we could move ahead.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 563, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. V. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Holdridge and approved by Kissinger on August 5. Davis sent an August 5 covering memorandum to Kissinger in which she noted that the “State Department has inquired in a low key as to whether and/or when they might receive copies of the memcons from your Far Eastern trip.” At the same time Kissinger approved the memcons (including Documents 127 and 128), he also initialed his approval that the copies be provided to the Department of State. Attached but not printed. The meeting was held at General Praphat’s residence.
  2. According to a July 3 memorandum of conversation, U.S. Ambassador to Laos Godley told Kissinger that “the successful defense of Long Tieng” was due “to the performance of the Thai troops. The Thai were very good at digging in and fighting defensively. These forces were all SGU’s, there were now no regular Thai officers and NCO’s with the SGU’s.” Godley praised the Thai battalion which had defended Ban Houei Sai (killing 138 enemy by body count while losing only one Thai soldier) and which was now dug in “and spoiling for a fight.” (Ibid., Box 564, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. VII)