127. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Prime Minister Thanom of Thailand
  • Foreign Minister Thanat
  • Air Marshal Dawee
  • Lt. General Sawaeng
  • Lt. General Sirikit
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Mr. John H. Holdridge, Senior Staff Member, NSC
  • Mr. Wayne Smith, Senior Staff Member, NSC
  • Mr. Leonard Unger, Ambassador to Thailand
  • Mr. M. J. Wilkinson, Chief of Political Section, American Embassy, Bangkok

SUBJECT

  • Prime Minister Thanom’s Comments on U.S.-Thai Relations

Prime Minister Thanom opened by discussing the situation in Laos. Military conditions seemed to have improved with the arrival of the rainy season. Thailand would continue to send SGUs to help out in various places at the request of the RLG. Presently there were eight infantry battalions in MR II and one artillery battalion; one infantry battalion was in Sayaboury; and two infantry battalions were on the [Page 272]Bolovens. It therefore appeared appropriate to bring the number of SGUs up to the total number which had been requested. Dr. Kissinger verified that this meant 36 battalions. He agreed that the situation in Laos had improved, noting that Vang Pao’s offensive in Northern Laos had captured a considerable amount of equipment. Possibly this was due in part to the arrival of the rainy season. In South Laos the situation was not as good. We of course strongly supported the Thai SGU effort. Was the process of recruiting and training proceeding at the fastest rate? Prime Minister Thanom and Air Marshal Dawee agreed that the process was being carried out at a rapid rate and that there was no problem in training or recruitment. Nevertheless, units could not be trained in a matter of weeks and advance preparations needed to be made to take care of filling out the full 36 battalions.

Dr. Kissinger noted that we had made a firm agreement to support 24 SGUs, and wondered when the decision would need to be made to proceed with the additional 12. Air Marshal Dawee said that the Thai would need to know before October when the last of the 24 would complete training. Dr. Kissinger stated that the decision would be made this summer and certainly before September. We were very sympathetic toward the Thai SGU program.

Dr. Kissinger wondered whether the Thai were planning to put some additional SGUs into South Laos. General Sirikit replied affirmatively. Units would be put into the Champassak and Sithandone areas. According to Air Marshal Dawee, this area appeared to be a new sanctuary for Communists infiltrating into Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. They had even developed hospitals there. Prime Minister Thanom described the Sayaboury area as being another dangerous spot where SGUs were needed. The program for raising 36 SGUs would provide units for these areas and also for North Laos. Ambassador Unger added that units would also be sent to the Bolovens. An operation was planned for July to retake Paksong and set up a strong protective shield east of the Mekong.

Dr. Kissinger wondered whether the Thai would have enough time to recruit and train if the decision on the 36 SGUs was made before September. Foreign Minister Thanat said that the time would be adequate provided there was no interference from Administration critics. On this, Dr. Kissinger commented that Foreign Minister Thanat and the Administration faced the same problems. Prime Minister Thanom referred to the very heavy burden which the Thai had to bear in the security field and hoped that the U.S. Government and people would show understanding and not be critical. According to Dr. Kissinger, Administration critics would be just as unhappy with 24 SGUs as with 36, and their attitude was related to the facts of the matter and not to the number. With respect to the defense of Thailand, the President has [Page 273]been personally interested in our working out a satisfactory arrangement. He, Dr. Kissinger, had had a long discussion the previous day with the Deputy Prime Minister on this matter. Mr. Smith of his staff would stay behind in Bangkok and work out a program with the Embassy which hopefully would be a satisfactory arrangement for the Thai. He wanted very much to show his appreciation for the Thai contributions in Laos.

Prime Minister Thanom expressed some apprehension that despite certain improvements in the military situation in Indo-China, the Communists might concentrate their efforts against the north and northeast of Thailand, and even further south. Dr. Kissinger expressed the view that Hanoi had been severely weakened by the war, and would need several years after a settlement to recover. While there was no doubt that the Communists would like to intensify their activities, they wouldn’t be making peace initiatives now if they were not under some pressure themselves. However, in the long term the Prime Minister was right in anticipating a step-up in Communist efforts against Thailand. Prime Minister Thanom explained that the reason the Thai felt this way was that while the Communist resources were depleted in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, this was not true in Thailand. Here, the other side could fight much better. Dr. Kissinger said in response that taking on Thailand directly would be a formidable undertaking for them, and they would probably try instead to encourage the insurgency in northern and northeast Thailand. Our experience was that the best time to fight an insurgency was in its early stages when the enemy hadn’t consolidated his bases.

According to Prime Minister Thanom, the Communist side had increased its efforts and was waging a political and propaganda campaign against the loyalty of the people in the north. On the government side, it was necessary to show that the government would cater to the people’s needs by offering direct benefits such as schools, roads, and economic aid. Thailand’s resources were affected by the price of its export commodities. On the one hand, exports were decreasing, while on the other Thailand’s needs were increasing; accordingly a better balance of resources on the economic side was required. If PL–480 assistance in the neighborhood of $30 million over a two-to-three-year period could be obtained, this could be of some help. General Sawaeng had already discussed a PL–480 agreement with Ambassador Unger. Dr. Kissinger said that he would review matters such as this on his return, and would report to the President not only on his general impressions but on specific issues. The President had a special interest in Thailand and the Thai could be assured that he was most sympathetic with respect to the Thai needs. He, Dr. Kissinger, knew that the Thai had a special situation, and he hoped that we could respond economically. The PL–480 matter would be looked at in particular.

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Prime Minister Thanom wondered if Dr. Kissinger was aware that the Lao Government had more or less decided to negotiate with the Pathet Lao? Dr. Kissinger replied that he was aware something was going on, but was not aware of the Lao attitude—did they really want to settle, or were they doing this because it was expected of them? Prime Minister Thanom remarked that Prince Souvanna had previously insisted that all North Vietnamese troops had to be taken out but now had “relented.” Dr. Kissinger said his impression was that Souvanna didn’t really expect any results. Prime Minister Thanom thought that the talks might lead to an agreement on a cease-fire. Dr. Kissinger asked if this meant just the Plaine des Jarres area, or all of Laos? What about the bombing of the Trail? Would they ask us to stop? Our Ambassador in Laos had said “no” to all these questions. Prime Minister Thanom agreed, saying that as long as the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese forces were attacking, he didn’t think Souvanna would ask the U.S. to stop bombing.

Ambassador Unger explained Souvanna’s position as being that he didn’t have authority over south and southeast Laos and couldn’t control what was happening there. He had not advocated ending the bombing. Dr. Kissinger agreed, adding that if Souvanna did accept a bombing halt, a very difficult situation would be created for the U.S. The war was divided into two parts, the North and the South. In the North, it was conceivable that the North Vietnamese would stop attacking and agree to a cease-fire. However, there was a different situation in the South. In response to a question from Prime Minister Thanom on whether or not a stand-still cease-fire was possible in Laos, Dr. Kissinger replied that it would be easier in the North, since the situation was subject to Souvanna’s influence. There was a different problem in South Laos, though, since this area was related to the war in Vietnam.

Prime Minister Thanom asked whether during Dr. Kissinger’s meeting with Vice President Ky, Ky had said anything about the North Vietnamese proposals being acceptable to him. Dr. Kissinger explained that Ky had not actually spoken in such terms. He had simply said he had gone through these proposals and that those dealing with the U.S. withdrawal were acceptable so long as U.S. military assistance could continue. His position was that U.S. forces were not needed except for air power. Ky’s statement was somewhat ambiguous—he didn’t say all seven points were acceptable, just the point on the withdrawal of the U.S. forces.

Continuing, Dr. Kissinger said that what was important in these proposals was how we should interpret the demand that we cease support for the GVN. If the Communists meant we must stop all economic and military assistance, there would be a problem. Another problem [Page 275]concerned the cease-fire. If the cease-fire would apply only to the U.S., then the Communists could put in all their forces against the South Vietnamese. We couldn’t accept this. It would be dishonorable for us if we withdrew in safety while the Communists attacked our friends. However, it would be acceptable if all forces were included in a cease-fire. We had proposed such a cease-fire on October 7. If the two issues of aid and the cease-fire could be settled, the element of a fixed deadline would still not be acceptable to us, however.

Prime Minister Thanom asked if the Communists had made any reference to the withdrawal of their own forces. Dr. Kissinger said that they had simply said that this would be settled “in a spirit of national concord.” The South Vietnamese believed they could handle the North Vietnamese forces as long as they could get continued U.S. military assistance. This was probably true. The Communists formerly had denied they had any forces in South Vietnam and were now implying they now did have forces there on the basis of settling military problems in all of Vietnam. But their forces in the South were not very strong any more, and they hadn’t won a battle in the South for several years because South Vietnamese firepower was so superior.

Prime Minister Thanom asked what Dr. Kissinger felt about the prospects of the three presidential candidates. Dr. Kissinger discounted his ability to know the right answers about Vietnamese political affairs but observed that most people thought that in a two-man race between Thieu and Minh, Thieu would win; in a three-man race involving Ky as well, Ky would take votes from Thieu, but Thieu would still win. Minh had some popularity. He, Dr. Kissinger, had spoken to all three candidates to establish his impartiality.

Prime Minister Thanom expressed the view that if Thieu won, the situation would be satisfactory, but if one of the others won, stability would be affected. Dr. Kissinger said that he had met no one who thought Ky had a chance, and the general assumption was that Ky was preparing for the 1975 elections. If Minh won, he had already said he wanted to prosecute the war and had said yesterday that he was absolutely opposed to a coalition government and didn’t want the Communists. There would be a change in the top administrator, though. The big question was whether Minh would be a competent administrator, not that there would be any change in policies. If Minh proved not to be a good administrator, there might be some military actions. The Thai had had Minh in Thailand for four years—what did they think? Foreign Minister Thanat simply observed that Minh had kept very quiet while in Thailand.

Dr. Kissinger said that Minh had told him he was against a coalition government and opposed to the PRG seven-point program, which he felt was a trick. Therefore, his views were not radically different [Page 276]from those of Thieu. However, he wanted a broader-based government which would, for example, bring the Buddhists in, and also wanted a program of “social justice”. Dr. Kissinger observed that opposition candidates were not usually distinguished by the precision of their formulations.

Dr. Kissinger requested Prime Minister Thanom’s views on policy toward Communist China and on the U.S. position. Prime Minister Thanom said that if contacts between the U.S. and Chinese should result in a lessening of China’s expansionist tendencies and support for wars of national liberation, the situation in Southeast Asia would be improved. Foreign Minister Thanat remarked that the Chinese had reaffirmed their support for national liberation movements a few months ago, and had also attacked the U.S. The GRC Ambassador had given him their statement to this effect. He, Thanat, had told the Prime Minister that there was not much difference between the Chinese and Soviet policies.

Dr. Kissinger said that U.S. policy toward China was first, that we had two common enemies, the USSR and Communist China, but didn’t see why we needed to support the stronger against the weaker. We wanted contacts with both so we could moderate the policies of both, rather than to let Moscow act as a spokesman. Second, we also wanted to induce the Chinese to moderate their policy with respect to Southeast Asia, which we believed we could do if we could focus Chinese attention on the Soviet Union. We had no illusions about the Chinese and would expect them to affirm their support for national liberation movements. Third, we wanted to see if the Chinese might possibly want to withdraw their opposition to a settlement in South Vietnam. We were very unsentimental in our approach to China and looked at the problem from the standpoint of what we could do with respect to Chinese relations with the surrounding countries. We had no illusions that people who were revolutionaries all their lives would be charmed by little gestures such as trade, travel and ping pong teams.

Prime Minister Thanom said that he felt there was a greater relaxation and flexibility in Chinese policy, possibly including policy toward the UN. In addition, their increasing concern about the Soviet Union could create a better balance in Peking. So far as the U.S. establishment of contacts with the Chinese were concerned, the results were not yet in. There was a possibility that Chinese might use trade to further their objectives. Dr. Kissinger declared that there was no question but that the Chinese would look at everything from a political standpoint. They could create difficulties in Southeast Asian countries having large Chinese populations. From the U.S. point of view, we would do what we could to improve the situation. The Chinese could use trade as a weapon, for example, against Malaysia. But the [Page 277]Soviet forces along the border with China were twice the size of the Soviet forces in Europe, which was a somewhat unsettling factor for the Chinese. Therefore, there was some possibility that they would moderate their pressures against some countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. Over the long run, we had a special problem in that all of the Chinese leaders were 70 or above, and nobody could know what would happen when the present leadership disappeared.

Prime Minister Thanom asked if the Sino-Soviet border was very long, and Dr. Kissinger noted that the total distance was 7,000 kilometers even though the Chinese didn’t recognize all of it. It was difficult to speculate about Chinese developments, and certainly we were going to proceed deliberately to see what the future would bring. We did not have much expectation about U.S. trade with China. Our lifting of trade restrictions had more of a symbolic purpose than anything else.

To a remark by Foreign Minister Thanat that the Soviets and the East Europeans appeared to have changed a bit, Dr. Kissinger wondered if the Thai thought they could increase their trade with East Europe. Thanat’s reply was affirmative. The Soviets, the Hungarians, the East Germans, and the Rumanians were all interested in buying various Thai commodities.

Dr. Kissinger said he appreciated very much the opportunity to exchange ideas with the Thai, and wanted to assure Prime Minister Thanom again how firmly committed the President was to Thailand. The Thai should remember that those people who made all the noise did not formulate U.S. policy. We would get decisions on the SGUs and would see if we could adjust the framework of support for the Thai defenses. Our proposals would be reasonable. There was, in addition, one other problem which need not be discussed at this level—that of narcotics, which was causing the U.S. great concern. This had such emotional interest in the U.S., and was of such importance domestically, that any assistance from Thailand would be greatly welcomed.

On another point, over the long term he had heard interpretations of the Nixon Doctrine to the effect that we would withdraw from Asia. He had seen a great deal of the author of the Nixon Doctrine, who did not have any such impression.

Prime Minister Thanom expressed concern over the Supreme Court decision allowing the printing of secret papers. Dr. Kissinger commented jokingly that at a recent press reception in the State Department he had accused the Soviet Ambassador of being present to complain over having to pay for what the U.S. newspapers were getting free. The Supreme Court decision had not been that the act was legal, only that if documents were stolen the government recourse had to be through criminal prosecution and not through an injunction.

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Therefore the U.S. would need to proceed against the criminal, and not against the newspapers. We would also adopt new procedures to restrict the circulation of documents to a much greater extent and not embarrass other governments. Prime Minister Thanom declared that making confidential decisions public would put the Executive in a difficult position because it set a precedent for the press in other countries. Dr. Kissinger remarked that there was no question but that this had been a very unfortunate incident. However, it was not likely to be repeated because it had taken place in a moment of hysteria.

  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. The meeting was held at Government House.