27. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman
- Ambassador-designate Sunthorn Hongladarom
- United States
- The President
- Secretary Rogers
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
- Mr. John B. Dexter, Country Director
- —President deplored Senate and press statements regarding U.S. commitments to Thailand, contingency planning, etc.
- —Assured Thanat U.S. will keep commitments under SEATO to help defend against external aggression and will continue help Thai strengthen capability to defeat internal insurgency.
- —Advised that RTG should not be too disturbed about unfavorable Senatorial and press statements but should discuss problems with USG.
- —Reassured Thanat that USG not disavowing controversial contingency plan, which is necessary and remains valid for implementation in the appropriate contingency if so decided by two governments.
- —Re U.S. troops in Thailand, President and Secretary noted false impression created by critics to effect these troops there to protect Thailand.
- —Secretary referred to Thanat’s talks with Ambassador Unger re troop withdrawals and said he understood RTG wanted gradual withdrawal. President and Secretary both told Thanat we wished withdrawal schedule to follow Thai wishes.
- —Thanat said RTG not misled by Senate and press criticism but saw it as dangerous to both U.S. and Thailand.
- —Thanat said his request for U.S. troop withdrawal was tactic to reveal truth about purpose U.S. troops in Thailand and relieve U.S. domestic pressures. Intent was not to drive U.S. troops out.
- —Responding President’s question, Thanat said he foresaw no immediate change in North Vietnamese policy following Ho’s death and believed current U.S. policy correct.
- —Thanat concurred in troop withdrawals from Viet-Nam as politically necessary but noted importance of preparing ARVN to take over.
- —Thanat said Prime Minister asked him reaffirm assurance that RTG would not call on U.S. to help fight insurgency, though it did want U.S. to maintain current level of aid to support Thai counterinsurgency. —In response President’s request, Thanat indicated RTG concerned over Laos and would keep U.S. informed of its appraisal of situation.
After introductory remarks, the President told Thanat he was glad to have this private talk because he had been disturbed over the effect [Page 60] on Thailand of recent Senatorial and press statements concerning our commitments to Thailand, contingency planning, etc. These statements, he said, might cause some Thai to think the United States was going to renege on its commitments and, worse still, seemed to reflect use of Thailand as a “whipping boy” in U.S. domestic politics. Also, he said, these were inconsistent with what he, the President, had told the Thai personally. He wanted Thanat to know that because the Thai had stood with us in the past, the United States would not let them down now. We will keep our treaty commitments. He commented that the fate of Thailand was to a large extent what the Vietnam war was all about.
The President explained that in the Senate and in other circles in the United States there were many who wanted the United States to pull out of all of its overseas commitments. For them, Thailand was merely a convenient target even though most of them did not understand anything about Thailand itself. The President then urged Thanat, whenever any public “flare-ups” of this sort should occur in the United States, to check with Ambassador Unger, with the Secretary or with the President to determine the facts. If any real differences should develop between us, he said, the RTG will not learn about them first from the press.
Referring to the controversy over the contingency plan, the President commented that such planning was obviously necessary and added that we would not disclose it to anyone who ought not to see it. The Secretary then called attention to the fact that, before joint planning with Thailand had come under Senatorial fire, there had been an earlier controversy regarding military planning with Spain. This showed that Thailand itself was not the objective of the critics. He added that there had been some misunderstanding about the United States position on the contingency plan and that, specifically, some remarks of Secretary Laird’s taken out of context had been misinterpreted. When Secretary Laird characterized the plan as not having been approved, he meant simply that its implementation had not been approved; implementation would not, of course, be considered unless the appropriate contingency should arise.
The President then interjected to say that more important than any plan is the United States commitment. He said again, with emphasis, that the United States would help to resist external aggression against Thailand and would support Thai efforts to counter internal insurgency and subversion. He asked that this be conveyed to the RTG (the President then commented to Secretary Rogers that the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister had stood with the United States and were friends “whom we did not like to see kicked around”). The Secretary said there had been distorted statements in the press to the effect that United States troops were in Thailand to protect Thailand and this was false. He then referred to Thanat’s talks with Ambassador Unger on troop [Page 61] withdrawal and said we wanted to follow Thai views on the timing which, he understood, the RTG wanted to be gradual. The President commented jokingly that, in light of Senatorial attacks on our troop presence in Thailand, those troops could stay as far as he was concerned “till hell freezes over.” He said the Thai should let us know what they wanted in this regard and we would do it.
Thanat said he was grateful for the President’s assurances and would pass them to his Government. The RTG was not misled by the U.S. press but was concerned that the publicity campaign and political controversy were dangerous to both U.S. and Thai interests. He feared the U.S. public was being deceived about the role of U.S. troops in Thailand and the effect would be to drive a wedge between the United States and Thailand. He said he had discussed the subject before a correspondents’ gathering in Thailand following conversations he had with Mr. Shakespeare, USIA Director, and Ambassador Unger. As he had told them, his purpose in calling for withdrawal of U.S. troops was not to drive them out but to bring the truth to the attention of the U.S. public and the world. He added that he thought that this tactic had succeeded. The President concurred. The President said we understood the RTG position regarding our troops and advised that the RTG could help in minimizing harm done by unwarranted public criticism by keeping U.S. press and Congressional comments in perspective. He assured him again that, if any real troubles or differences should develop between us, Ambassador Unger, the Secretary and the President would be certain to discuss them.
The President then asked Thanat’s views on the new situation in North Viet-Nam following Ho Chi Minh’s death. He wondered if Thanat anticipated that the new leaders would be more intransigent or less or about the same. Thanat said he expected that North Viet-Nam’s policy would continue about the same for some time. He said the new leadership has not made up its mind yet and would require time to determine any new course of action. In the meanwhile, its eyes and ears would be directed at U.S. public opinion.
In response to the President’s question as to what the United States should be doing on Viet-Nam, the Foreign Minister answered that currently the United States policy is in general accord with Thai views. He said they realize that the United States must withdraw troops to ease domestic pressures and he drew attention to the fact that the RTG had never objected to announced troop withdrawals. He cautioned, however, that we must make sure that the South Vietnamese are trained and equipped to take over the combat burden as U.S. troops leave.
Thanat then said the Prime Minister had asked him to reaffirm to the President that the RTG would not call upon the United States to help fight its insurgency. The RTG only hopes the United States would [Page 62] continue helping the RTG in its own efforts. He asked that there be no reduction in U.S. assistance.
The President inquired about Thai concern over Laos and whether the Thai were more or less optimistic now than they have been in the past. The Foreign Minister said recent developments have been favorable though the situation is of continuing concern. In response to a question from the President about the strength of the North Vietnamese forces in Laos, the Foreign Minister commented that they were not so powerful as they seemed but were reckless with human lives. The President concluded by urging Thanat to keep us closely informed of Thai views of Lao developments.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL US. Secret. Drafted by Dexter (EA/TB) and approved by Kissinger on October 6. The meeting was held at the Waldorf Towers. This conversation was also reported in telegram 160368 to Bangkok, September 19. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 560, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. II)↩