4. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting with Prime Minister Thanom in Bangkok on 9 March 1969


Prime Minister Thanom invited Secretary Laird to visit Thailand during his trip to Vietnam. Since Mr. Laird was unable to accept the Prime Minister’s invitation due to time limitations, the Prime Minister suggested through Ambassador Unger that I come to Bangkok in his stead. Accordingly, Assistant Secretary Froehlke and I traveled to Bangkok on 9 March. We met with Prime Minister Thanom and Air Marshal Dawee, Deputy Minister of Defense, at the Prime Minister’s residence, for about an hour and a quarter, beginning at 10 A.M. Present at the meeting were Prime Minister Thanom, Air Marshal Dawee, Ambassador Unger, Deputy Chief of Mission Hannah, Major General McCown, the Chief of our Military Assistance Group in Thailand, Assistant Secretary Froehlke and myself. Air Marshal Dawee acted as interpreter as necessary.
After the usual pleasantries, I briefed the Prime Minister on the military situation in South Vietnam, using a map, and pointing out that the situation was militarily favorable. I stated that the enemy had achieved no military successes and, contrary to the effects of the Tet offensive of 1968, little or no psychological success. Nevertheless, the enemy had not committed sizeable main force VC and regular NVA formations; therefore, the enemy continued to have the capability to mount substantial attacks, particularly in the I Corps Tactical Zone and the III Corps Tactical Zone. I observed that General Abrams and his subordinate commanders were confident that they could defeat any initiatives undertaken by VC/NVA forces.
As to the attitude of the South Vietnamese regarding rocket attacks on Saigon, I stated that I had been surprised at the calmness of President Thieu, Prime Minister Huong and General Vien and their feeling that these attacks did not as of the moment constitute a disturbing political factor for the Government of Vietnam. Of course, were these attacks to be continued over a long period of time or if they were [Page 9] increased in magnitude the situation could change radically and suddenly. The Prime Minister appeared to be completely satisfied with my presentation and showed great interest in the location of enemy main combat elements.
I then asked the Prime Minister if he would be good enough to discuss the insurgency problem in Thailand and to give me the benefit of his thinking as regards the magnitude of the dissidents and the counter action being undertaken by the Thai Government. He responded willingly. He stated that the dissident group in the North was comprised of hill tribesmen who were being subverted by agents from the outside. The group is not large nor does he consider the danger of expansion great so long as the Government moves promptly to suppress the insurgents’ efforts. In this connection, he pointed out that the dissident elements were located in very remote and extremely difficult country which required that the insertion of Government forces and their resupply be done by helicopter. He expressed the view, backed up by Air Marshal Dawee, that the Thai forces need more helicopters in order to cope with the threat and to maintain an acceptable number of helicopters at all times ready for operational use. Turning to the dissident problem in southern Thailand he stated that the insurgent group there was also quite small; however their activities were tied in with those of similar Malaysian groups and this complicated the problem. Nevertheless the Thai High Command is now planning with Malaysian officials joint operations against the southern dissident elements.
The conversation then turned to the need of the Thai forces for more helicopters and for the provision of M–16 rifles. The justification for the latter one was the usual one: the enemy dissidents are better armed with communist-type weapons than are the Thai forces. I responded by citing the production limitations on M–16 rifles and the priority which, of necessity, had to be given the Free World forces in South Vietnam. I added that we were in the process of expanding M–16 production and that it was a matter which could be discussed in the usual channel; namely with Ambassador Unger and General McCown.
The meeting ended on the same friendly note that had been maintained throughout our interview. The Prime Minister thanked Assistant Secretary of Defense Froehlke and myself for coming to Bangkok and expressed the hope that Secretary Laird would be able to visit Thailand at some future time. He also asked me to convey his warm regards to President Nixon.
After we left the Prime Minister’s residence, Ambassador Unger stated that he felt that our meeting had been a great success; the Thais are very sensitive as to their status as one of the troop-contributing nations and are desirous of being able to publicize the visits of ranking [Page 10] U.S. officials to consult with their leaders regarding the war. The Ambassador’s observation was borne out by newspaper articles emanating over the next three days from Bangkok sources.
Earle G. Wheeler
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 560, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. I. Secret. The meeting was held at Prime Minister Thanom’s residence. A notation on the memorandum indicates that Kissinger saw it. The memorandum of conversation was attached to a March 18 covering memorandum from Colonel Robert E. Pursley, Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, to Kissinger.