43. Telegram From the Vice President’s Party to the Department of State 1

Vipto 10/11. Dept pass Bangkok. Subj: VP’s Meeting With P.M. Thanom.

1.
Vice President Agnew met for nearly two hours on Jan 4th with Prime Minister Thanom and other Thai officials. Those attending the meeting on the Thai side included: Thanat, Pote, Dawee, Generals Sawang and Chira, Ambassador Sunthorn, and Dr. Sompong (Director General of Economic Affairs in the Foreign Office). Ambassador Unger and Messrs. Crane and Duemling attended with the Vice President.
2.
Problems in US-Thai Relations. The Prime Minister stated that the Thai had been very pleased with President Nixon’s visit last summer but several problems had cropped up since then. They were therefore delighted to have another chance to discuss matters of common interest with the Vice President. The Vice President responded that he was making his trip at President Nixon’s request and noted that we [Page 93]too felt the need for a forthright dialogue. Although it would probably be difficult to get into detail, he felt that a discussion of intent would be useful at this time. Simply stated the intent of the US is to maintain the excellent relations which we have enjoyed with Thailand over the years.
3.
US Intentions. The PM said he would appreciate clarification on “the so-called commitment of the United States to Thailand and Southeast Asia.” The Vice President stated that his response would reflect U.S. integrity and intent in the area and that was just the sort of thing he wanted to discuss. He stated that the United States stands by its commitment to Thailand and will discharge its responsibilities as a Pacific power. There might be changes in technology which would call for specific readjustments in our defense posture, but this would in no way affect our commitments to SEATO or any of the other less formal arrangements with Thailand.
4.
The Vice President then took the initiative to provide brief assurances on several other questions affecting US/Thai relations:
A.
The Vice President felt that we could have consulted more effectively with the Thai prior to making announcements of troop withdrawals in Vietnam. He felt we should and could do better in the future and planned to make a strong recommendation on this score to President Nixon.
B.
The United States greatly regretted the inconvenience and embarrassment to Thai officials which occurred when their projected sale of 20,000 tons of rice to South Vietnam fell through. We hope to be able to find some new economic opportunities which would make up for the loss of the sale. In this regard, the Vice President was encouraged to note that the South Vietnamese may be needing another 10,000 tons of rice from Thailand since the United States is not in a position to provide this.
C.
The United States will continue to assist Thailand in combatting insurgency. We intend to continue our economic and military aid programs. The US is looking favorably upon Thailand’s requests for additional helicopters and M–16 rifles. Without going into detail, the Vice President stated that we hoped to deliver a substantial number of M–16s early this year.
D.
The US clearly understands the importance of Laos to Thailand and we are concerned with the situation there. The Vice President assured the Thai that we felt any agreement reached at the Paris Peace Talks should recognize the integrity of Laos and call for the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from that country back into North Vietnam.
5.
Project Taksin. The Prime Minister expressed his appreciation for the reassurances offered by the VP. He said that he had raised the [Page 94]issue of US commitments because the Thai were concerned over recent comments by high-ranking officials in the United States, not only Senators but Secretary Laird. The Thai could not understand our Defense Secretary’s statement that Plan Taksin did not have either his or the President’s approval.2 Although Amb Unger had sought to clarify this statement, it was still most disturbing to the Thai. The Vice President replied that Secretary Laird’s statement could be best understood in its local Washington context. The Secretary had merely been attempting to put out a political fire—a fire which the Vice President felt had begun with some rather irresponsible comments in the Senate. Mr. Laird had been attempting to dispel the false impression created by the media that the United States had secret contingency agreements which could be automatically activated without further review by the Secretary of Defense or the President. The Sec of Defense frankly had not had the occasion to review in detail and approve Project Taksin since this would likely take place only in an emergency situation when the USG would be considering how best to help the RTG.
6.
Thai Support for SEATO. The Vice President expressed concern that troublemakers were attempting to drive a wedge between the US and its friends by implying that the US was planning to withdraw from this part of the world. We should not put much stock in such rumors and propaganda. As an example of how such rumors could upset people, the Vice President mentioned that we had heard that the Thai might be planning to drop out of SEATO. Although just a rumor, this concerned us greatly and we certainly hoped it was not true.
7.
The Prime Minister responded that recent insulting comments by US Senators had been most upsetting to the Thai, Filipinos and others. These insults, plus revelations of what the Thai regarded as classified defense plans, adversely affected the normal SEATO relationships. However, the Thai have no desire to withdraw from SEATO or to see it broken up. As a matter of fact, the Thai have tolerated the lukewarm attitude and actions of certain European members of the Treaty Organization. The Prime Minister stated flatly that the Thai intend to keep working hard to preserve the regional defense arrangement.
8.
The Vice President agreed that a few Senators have done serious disservice to the US in the way they have talked about our allies. Their statements were being played up by our enemies in an effort to try to destroy SEATO. On this score the Vice President had told President Marcos, and he wished now to repeat to the Prime Minister, that the US remained firm in its resolve to support SEATO. It was most important, in the Vice President’s view, not to allow troublemakers to disturb [Page 95]the good relations which existed between the US and its allies. The Vice President noted that Senators have many prerogatives but he felt that recent actions by some Senators had been less than statesmanlike. Leaving the question of substance aside for the moment, he regretted that their manner had been so insulting. As an American the Vice President felt obliged to apologize, even though neither he nor the President had any control over members of the Legislative Branch.
9.
Symington Hearings. The Prime Minister expressed his appreciation for the Vice President’s statement, however he still felt obliged to touch upon those very derogatory statements which alleged that Thai soldiers were being used as mercenaries in Vietnam. Feeling was running high in Thailand over these insults, and many people felt the US does not appreciate what the Thai are doing in Vietnam. The Prime Minister could not hide the fact that the Thai had been dismayed by such statements as “the Thai are the best allies money can buy.”
10.
The Vice President again expressed his regret, and noted that such comments certainly do not reflect a majority of American views. He said that he himself had come in for a great deal of abuse, often from the same sources. The mercenary argument was so weak, in the Vice President’s opinion, that he doubted any fair-minded American would subscribe to it. Mercenaries had historically fought far from home and had never felt any particular “involvement” in the conflicts they participated in. It is impossible to imagine that the Thai are not vitally concerned with what happens in Vietnam, so the mercenary argument really makes no sense. On the contrary, people in the US are most grateful for the efforts of Thai volunteers in Vietnam and realize that any support we can give the RTG is but a small token of our appreciation for its help. The Vice President was certain that such outrageous statements would never strike a responsive chord in the minds of the US public. He hoped that a more cool appraisal by the Cabinet would indicate that the offending Senators certainly did not speak for the United States.
11.
The Prime Minister said he would like nothing better than to believe these assurances, but after all, in a democracy the repetition of falsehoods, even by a small minority, might snowball into a situation which could force a change in US policy. He pointed out that even in Thailand five Peace Corps volunteers had demonstrated against the Vice President’s arrival. (Note: Investigation is still underway to ascertain the precise nature of this demonstration and its participants.) 12. The Vice President indicated he felt that the anti-war demonstrations had reached their highpoint with the Moratorium marches in November. Despite the media treatment of the demonstrations, it now seemed clear that they had so completely failed to attract public support that additional announced demonstrations had been cancelled. [Page 96]Rather than provoking changes in US policy, the demonstrations had in fact caused Americans to coalesce behind the administration’s position. Public opinion polls and mail received since the President’s November 3 television speech had clearly shown the public support for our policies in Vietnam.
13.
Insurgency Problems. The Vice President asked the Prime Minister to give him a rundown of the current status of the insurgency in Thailand. The Prime Minister replied that the situation was generally under control, but that since the end of the rainy season, infiltration from Laos appeared to be increasing. In response to a question, he stated that increased infiltration in the north and in the northeast seemed to be under a centralized command. The Thai were working hard to interdict the infiltrators. The Prime Minister wished to reiterate that while Thailand intends to rely on its own forces to combat insurgency, the RTG will need to receive material support for its forces. The Prime Minister had spoken to President Nixon on this point and had felt that he was receptive. The Vice President confirmed that we wished to be receptive to Thai military aid requests. The Prime Minister stated that the RTG counter-insurgency policy was not simply one of meeting force with force, but also relied heavily on attempting to improve economic conditions. He claimed the Thai were committing “enormous resources to rural development.” In addition, they were working hard to improve the quality of local officials and to involve the local populace directly in government programs. The Vice President stated that President Nixon was most impressed with the way the Thai were approaching their insurgency problem, and added that we respect their right to chart their own course in this area.
14.
PL–480. The Prime Minister touched briefly on the Thai concern over their loss of the rice sale to South Vietnam. Rice sales, after all, were not economically important to the United States, but were of vital importance to Thailand where they were taxed by the Govt. and were thus of importance as a source of revenue as well as foreign exchange. He felt that there had not been sufficient consultation between the United States and the RTG on this question. The Vice President said we were very aware of the problem which had developed and hoped that some sort of compensatory deal could be worked out between the RTG and GVN. In addition, the Vice President pledged that we would try harder to consult more closely on matters of economic importance to Thailand in the future.
15.
In a related discussion on economic development, the VP underlined the importance of the role which can be played by private business and investment, and mentioned the residence problems of US businessmen in Thailand. The PM acknowledged this and said he had asked the Cabinet to find a solution.
16.
Thai Troop Withdrawals. The Prime Minister moved to the question of future Thai troop withdrawals from Vietnam. He said that any withdrawals would be related to improvement in the Vietnam situation and to security requirements in Thailand, and would not be based on US or Australian withdrawal schedules. If problems develop in Thailand requiring more troops, the RTG will simply have to withdraw from Vietnam. However, the Thai will consult first with their allies, particularly the US. The Vice President agreed that adequate advance consultation is of major importance to prevent doubts from clouding our relations and to avoid providing our enemies with propaganda opportunities. We have been deficient in this regard ourselves, and will make every effort to consult more closely on our plans in the future.
17.
US Relations With Communist Countries. The Vice President asked the Prime Minister for his views on the Sino-Soviet split. After brief comments the Prime Minister said that since the US had entered into discussions with both the Russians and the ChiComs, he hoped the Vice President might provide the Thai leaders with some new insights. The Vice President replied that President Nixon believes he has a responsibility to try to lessen world tensions. Accordingly, we have begun some very important discussions on strategic arms limitation with the Soviet Union. It is too early to tell how the talks will turn out, but we are sincere in our attempt to plumb Soviet intentions.
18.
In addition, we have made some small moves toward Communist China which are designed to determine how intransigent their policies are. As the Thai know, we have received no encouragement from the ChiComs so far. The Prime Minister commented that these moves toward the ChiComs had raised some doubts in the minds of our Asian friends, especially in the Republic of China. The Vice President once again offered assurances that our intentions to reduce tensions should in no way be construed as a diminuation of our commitments to our allies.
19.
In closing the Vice President expressed appreciation for the candor and understanding expressed by the Prime Minister. The discussions were valuable to the Vice President personally, and to the USG. The Vice President looked forward to a continued, mutually beneficial relationship with the RTG, and in response the Prime Minister expressed appreciation for the assurances which the Vice President had offered.
Galbraith
[Page 98]
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 US/AGNEW. Secret; Immediate. U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Francis Galbraith was traveling with the Vice President.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 20.