292. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Indonesian Ambassador Soedjatmoko
  • Dr. Kissinger
  • John H. Holdridge, NSC Senior Staff Member


  • Comments by Indonesian Ambassador on Cambodian Developments

Ambassador Soedjatmoko thanked Dr. Kissinger for receiving him in what must be a very busy period. However, he was very pressed by two problems: the conference Indonesia was planning to hold on Cambodia, and the Suharto visit here; and the connection between these developments and what was happening in Washington. He would appreciate clarification on the decisions taken to move into Cambodia, and on the resumption of the bombing. Dr. Kissinger interjected that we had not resumed the bombing and our activities over North Vietnam had been stopped after we had achieved what we wanted.

In reply to a question from the Ambassador on whether this was a one-shot affair, Dr. Kissinger said that it depended on the other side, but that our intention was not to go on day after day.

Returning to the subject of Cambodia, the Ambassador asked whether the conclusion could be drawn that the US had given up on establishing buffer states? Dr. Kissinger stated that it had not been the US which had moved into Cambodia, established bases, and expelled the Cambodian authorities. We were not going to occupy Cambodia, [Page 626]but would destroy supplies and then withdraw. We were not going to march on Phnom Penh, and would be delighted if all foreign forces could be withdrawn from Cambodia and Indo-China. Our purpose was to protect our own forces and to protect Cambodia.

As to buffer states, Dr. Kissinger noted that we had no interest in staying on in that region, and would expect, welcome, and support anything which other states encouraged. We had had nothing to do in instigating the Cambodian situation, and had accepted the situation under Sihanouk. The Communists had then moved out of their bases and had shown that they themselves did not accept a buffer state.

Continuing, Dr. Kissinger stressed to Ambassador Soedjatmoko that he could assure his President and the highest levels of authority in Indonesia that we wanted buffer states, and that if the Asian nations desire a security system we would be glad to withdraw. We believed that what we were doing was in the interest of the neutral nations in Asia.

The Ambassador declared that he was relieved to hear what Dr. Kissinger had said—he had been starting to be less sure on these points. Dr. Kissinger said that the situation reminded him of a joke, in which somebody was hitting a mule over the head with a sledge hammer, and when asked why, had said that he had to do something to get the mule’s attention.

Ambassador Soedjatmoko recalled that in the President’s April 30 speech,2 there had been a heavy reference to the credibility of the US. Kissinger expressed the opinion that the issues were closely related, to which the Ambassador remarked that he would have expected a slightly lighter tone if we had been focusing only on Hanoi. Dr. Kissinger reiterated that it was hard to distinguish. This was the most dangerous situation in the world, and Hanoi knew both publicly and privately that if it moved on Phnom Penh we would do something. It knew, too, that if it stepped up US casualties, we would do something. The situation affected not only Hanoi but other countries. We were not looking for a confrontation, though.

Ambassador Soedjatmoko said that there was some pressure in Indonesia to call off the conference on Cambodia. Dr. Kissinger observed that this would be a mistake, to which the Ambassador responded with the reassurance that his Foreign Minister still believed the conference [Page 627]should be held. Dr. Kissinger agreed, but emphasized that it should be an Asian initiative and that we would make no public endorsement.3

Ambassador Soedjatmoko mentioned that when President Suharto arrives, it may be at a time when issues were heightened in the US. Suharto was scheduled to have a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Was there a danger that the visit might become politically utilized or embarrassing? Dr. Kissinger thought that the visit would not be embarrassing for the Administration, although almost certainly an effort would be made to embarrass Suharto and to show that Asians disapprove of our policy. Nevertheless, having seen President Suharto in action, Dr. Kissinger had great confidence in his ability to be enigmatic. Ambassador Soedjatmoko laughingly referred to inscrutable Asians, and Dr. Kissinger said that occidentals could be inscrutable too.

Dr. Kissinger expressed confidence that the Suharto visit could be handled tactfully. His estimate, based on what he knew, was that President Suharto was not excessively pained by our policy and if he expressed his views carefully would be understood and not embarrassed. We were looking forward to his visit, and would do everything we could for its success.

Ambassador Soedjatmoko raised a minor point: if the two Presidents met alone, he hoped it would be possible to have the Foreign Minister meet with Under Secretary Richardson and Dr. Kissinger at the same time. (Secretary Rogers would be in Rome.) Dr. Kissinger explained that a decision would be needed as to whether he would sit in with the President; if not, he would certainly sit in with the Foreign Minister.

Dr. Kissinger asked if there were any special wishes from President Suharto which the Ambassador wanted to convey. He wanted to reassure the Indonesians that we understood their position. We wanted a neutral Indonesia, and didn’t expect a blanket endorsement of our policies. We thought that what we were doing in Cambodia was in their own interest, and undertake not to hurt their neutrality but to protect it. Our operations were limited, as would become apparent [Page 628]when they were completed. Our main purpose was to strike at enemy logistics.

In conclusion, Ambassador Soedjatmoko referred again to the point of a neutral buffer zone and said that Dr. Kissinger’s remarks had clarified the US position in this respect.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 531, Country Files, Far East, Indonesia, Vol. II. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Holdridge on May 5 and approved by Kissinger on May 7.
  2. In his address to the nation on the situation in Southeast Asia of April 30, President Nixon explained that U.S. and South Vietnamese forces would launch attacks “to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border,” where “North Vietnam in the last 2 weeks has stripped away all pretense of respecting the sovereignty or the neutrality of Cambodia.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 405–410)
  3. In a memorandum to Kissinger, May 4, Holdridge stressed some of these very points, noting that the United States Government would be “glad to see Indonesians and other Asians taking the lead in trying to do something for Cambodia,” and that a “public U.S. endorsement would harm rather than help the conference.” Holdridge noted also the U.S. hope “that any resolution on withdrawal of foreign forces does not seem to be pointed at us, whose presence is admitted and can be documented, rather than equally at the Vietnamese Communists, whose presence there long antedates ours, but who refuse to admit it.”