39. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to Vice President Agnew1
- Your Visit to Bangkok
The Current State of Relations: US-Thai relations are basically sound. However, we are presently undergoing a period of strain due in particular to Thai fears that the US troop withdrawals from Vietnam may represent a US pull-out from Southeast Asia, but also due to a number of lesser irritants including US PL 480 rice shipments to traditional Thai markets and to sensationalized press reporting of the Symington Subcommittee hearings on Thailand which alleged that the US paid a billion dollars for the Thai troop contribution in Vietnam.2 [Page 86] The implication of the latter issue of course is that the US paid for Thai “mercenaries”, and the Thai resent this implication as well as what they regard as another instance of unfair criticism of them in the US press— in itself, a long-standing irritant in our relations.
Behind the immediate problems in our relations is a belief on the part of the Thai leaders that the US commitment in the area will indeed decrease over time, and they are seeking means to assure Thai independence in the changed context. They are worried over the prospect that the US withdrawal from Vietnam will proceed at a rate which would leave Thailand and other free nations exposed to a Chinese and North Vietnamese communist threat. The long-term threat from China is their greatest concern.
Most immediately, the Thai leaders are apprehensive that once the US withdraws from Vietnam, Laos may fall to the Communists who will then give direct large-scale aid across the Mekong River to the insurgency in the Northeast. Over the longer-term, they are worried about their ability to contain the Peking-backed insurgency in the North.
The constancy of US support, then, becomes a matter of great importance to the Thai. Any developments in the US which appear to question this constancy cause over-reaction in Thailand. Our Embassy is anxious to smooth things down and prevent the Thai tendency to over-react. At the same time, we feel that some officers in the Embassy may be over-solicitous on behalf of their Thai clients, who are perhaps more mature and capable than the Embassy gives them credit for, and who appreciate the realities of Southeast Asian developments despite a tendency to react emotionally to the issues of the moment. (For example, the Embassy is upset at our decision to cease the activities of USIS mobile information units which have been doing what the Thai themselves should be doing in calling for loyalty to the King and the Government. The Thai themselves expressed criticism of these units to me last summer.)
The President’s visit to Thailand last July helped to reassure the Thai as to the continued US role in support of Thailand, as restated in the President’s Guam doctrine, and your visit should have the same effect. They are on our side, and are proceeding in the directions which we favor such as supporting regionalism and self-help measures. We have no reason to believe they will want to withdraw their troops from Vietnam out of pique over their treatment in the US press.
What the Thai Will Want
- The Thai will want to unburden themselves on what they consider unjustified US public and Congressional criticism of their role in Vietnam. They may do so in emotional terms. This may be more of a means of blowing off steam than an expression of a real crisis in our relations, and may, in fact, have a therapeutic effect.
- The Thai will be worried about the present situation in Laos, and whether the US is doing enough to hold back the Communists there. They are also worried that an eventual Vietnam settlement will provide adequate protection to the integrity of Laos, or prevent Communist infiltration through Laos into Thailand. They will want your reassurances.
- They may want to elicit your thoughts on the future of Southeast Asia and of US-Thai relations.
- US “interference” with Thai rice sales.3 The Thai have long resented US PL 480 rice sales. Right now, they are highly indignant because they think we “ordered” the GVN to back away from a purchase of 20,000 metric tons of rice from Thailand. (In fact, we have regularly supplied Vietnam’s rice requirements through PL 480, to save foreign exchange. The possibility of a Thai sale arose from a momentary shortage in Saigon which we were able to meet through a diversion of a PL 480 shipment from a third country to Vietnam. We did not order the Vietnamese to do anything, but their requirements were met by this arrangement. While we do not regard South Vietnam as a normal marketing area for Thai rice, we are very sensitive to Thai feelings on the question of PL 480 rice sales, and will continue to consult and to endeavor to minimize frictions. You should use this line only if the Thai raise the issue.)
- They are unlikely to raise specific bilateral issues directly, but may touch on some of the problems I have outlined above in passing.
What We Want:
- To reassure the Thai of the constancy of US backing, under the principles outlined by the President in his Guam Doctrine. (The Thai appear to understand the revised US approach and even to be pleased at the confidence placed in them that they are capable of handling internal subversion.)
- To downplay the effects of what may appear to the Thai as unjustified criticism. This of course represents only a small percentage of American opinion and certainly is not indicative of the attitude either of the Administration or the great majority of Americans.
- To reassure the Thai of their own ability to handle the insurgency in Thailand.
- To encourage the trend toward self-confidence, self-help and regionalism.
Points to Stress:
- —The Administration is acutely aware of Thailand’s particularly exposed position and the importance of Laos to Thai security. Recall that our side has insisted that a satisfactory settlement in Laos is an integral part of any solution in Vietnam.
- —Refer to the steps we have undertaken in concert with the Thai to strengthen the ability of the Lao Government to cope with the threat posed by the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces (see State Talking Points).4
- —Stress the great appreciation which the President has expressed for the Thai troop contribution. The fact that these troops are volunteers demonstrates how clearly the people of Thailand see the issues in Vietnam.
- —We are also grateful for the great assistance which Thailand has provided through the US-Thai airbases in Thailand in support of the Vietnam war. We recognize that countless American lives have been saved because of the existence of these bases.
- —Ongoing US troop withdrawals will be carried out in keeping with the South Vietnamese ability to take over. We will consult with the Thai beforehand.
Points to Avoid:
—The Thai Government has little love for Sihanouk, although it has expressed willingness to normalize relations if he takes the initiative. The Thai are probably unenthusiastic about our decision to resume diplomatic relations with Cambodia. If they raise the issue, you might turn it aside with the observation that Sihanouk has caused all of us problems, but that none of us want to see Cambodia pulled toward the Communists, and that we might both derive some advantage from a US presence in Phnom Penh.
- Meeting with the King: Your discussions with the King will probably parallel those with Prime Minister Thanom and other Government leaders but be much briefer and more general. The same line of approach applies.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 450, President’s Trip Files, V.P. Trip East Asia, January 1970. Secret.↩
- Telegram 16597 from Bangkok, December 9, contains a report of efforts by the President and Department of State Spokesman Charles Bray to expose the inaccuracy of this allegation and to give the public “a better appreciation of Thai contribution.” (Ibid., Box 398, Subject Files, Symington Subcommittee, Vol. II)↩
- Extensive information on Thai complaints of U.S. interference in Thai rice sales is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, AID (US) 15–8 THAI and, especially,↩