87. Telegram From the Department of State to the the Embassy in Thailand 1

146291. CINCPAC For POLAD.

Following is approved memorandum of conversation between Vice President Agnew and Prime Minister Thanom in Bangkok from 10:00 a.m. to 12 noon on August 29, 1970.
Summary: Vice President had wide-ranging conversations with PM and other Thai leaders on situation in Thailand and neighboring areas and on political background of United States policies. Some specific problems related to US support of Thai efforts in Laos and Cambodia also discussed.
Meeting opened with briefing by Dawee on insurgency in Thailand and situation in Cambodia and Laos. PM raised Souvanna Phouma’s request for three Thai battalions in Laos and need for US support of these. Vice President discussed this in relation to domestic US political situation and danger of exacerbating opposition’s obstructive actions by attempting to provide direct support to this type of operation. He emphasized need to find indirect means of compensating Thai for cost of such operations. Vice President went on to discuss background of political situation in United States, political pressures of forthcoming election and Senate attitudes. He stressed need to keep Thai-US disagreements “in the family” to avoid giving advocates of isolationist policy ammunition for use against administration.
Vice President spoke briefly on visit to Viet-Nam and Cambodia, stressing impressive performance of Lon Nol.
Vice President informed Thais that FANK trained in Thailand could be equipped out of Cambodian MAP, assuming this met with GOC approval. When Thais urged that US make decision to divert funds for this purpose, VP cautioned against expecting United States to act without consulting Cambodians or to put pressure on Cambodians on this kind of issue.
Thais referred to US press attacks on them, citing recent Newsweek article by Maynard Parker. Vice President urged them not to be too sensitive and not to mistake this type of criticism for voice of the US people. Thais complained of being described as “bending with the wind” when in fact they had taken strong position against Communism.
Thais expressed appreciation for US aid, including PL–480 offer. Thais made strong appeal to Vice President not to reduce aid in face of increased threat. Vice President pledged to so recommend. Vice President expressed gratitude for Thai commitment and assistance in many parts [garble].
Meeting ended with brief discussion of situation in Burma. End summary.
Participants on Thai side were Prime Minister Thanom, Deputy Prime Ministers Praphat and Pote, Air Chief Marshal Dawee, General Sawaeng (chief of PriMin’s office), Dr. Renoo (Secretary General NEDS) and Service Chiefs of Staff Bunchoo (Air), Charoon (Navy) and Surakit (Army). On American side were Vice President, Mr. Sohmer, Brig. Gen. Dunn, Mr. Duemling, Mr. Houdek, Ambassador Unger, DCM Newman, COMUSMACTHAI Major General Seith and Political Counselor Pickering.
PriMin Thanom led off, saying Thai had no formal agenda but would simply try to provide VP with picture of latest developments in Thailand as basis for his report to the President. He said Thais would appreciate getting from VP report of US policy, VP said this was completely [Page 173]agreeable, that he wanted briefing on the situation in Thailand and on this part of the world. For his part, he would try to help them understand certain aspects of the complex political situation in the United States which he knew were difficult to comprehend. He said he hoped they would not be inhibited by the well known and much appreciated Thai courtesy, but would go to the heart of all matters. He said we are engaged together in a difficult war with a determined enemy and must be completely frank with one another about problems.
Situation in Thailand and Neighboring Areas: Dawee presented this briefing. With respect to North Thailand, he said Communists had limited capability because they were mostly hill tribes and received no support from lowland Thai. Only danger was that of linkup with Pathet Lao in Sayabouri. Chinese Communist road leading to Sayabouri indicates ChiCom intention to support insurgency in Thailand. Northeast now “under control” thanks to combined civilian police and military effort. Situation a “little bad” in mid-South, but only real danger is possible linkup between CTS in mid-South and those on Malaysian border who are residuals from Malaysian emergency. Latter now recruiting and training Thai and some Malaysians.
In Laos, Dawee identified principal threat to Thailand as coming from Sayabouri and Champasak. Noted Thai assistance to RLG citing forces assisting Vang Pao and harrassment and interdiction teams. Said Thai wish to help further but require support from US.
On Cambodia, Dawee praised US operation in sanctuaries, but said Communists now establishing new sanctuaries in area in Northwest Cambodia. He estimated that no more than 20 percent of people (including those in Communist-occupied areas) support Sihanouk or Communists. Rest loyal to Lon Nol.
Additional Thai Forces for Laos: PriMin Souvanna Phouma had asked for three Thai battalions, one to serve in Sayabouri and two in Campassak and Sithadone. They were to relieve Lao forces to move into other, more critical areas. PM said he understood Washington approved establishing six Thai SGU battalions, but noted they had a four-month training cycle and could probably not be deployed before January 1, 1971. He said Souvanna Phouma wants help immediately and therefore the three battalions should move in in the meantime. He asked US support.
VP said this is difficult because of the political problems in the US. We are working on means to provide assistance, but it may not take the traditional form.
The Ambassador referred to discussions held with the PM and others the previous day concerning this problem. He said we can help with SGUs for use in trail interdiction, but he expressed doubt as to how much we can do in connection with a requirement for regular [Page 174]battalions in Sayabouri, Champassak, and Sithandone. However, we were seeking a complete answer on this from Washington.
The VP said the situation in Southeast Asia is so distorted in the press coverage that people do not get a clear picture of the nature of actions such as the assistance Souvanna is seeking. The Senate is focusing intensely on this type of action in a very hostile way. While we know it is needed and worthy of our support, that support cannot be provided in the usual way at this time. (At this point, FonMin Thanat (who has kept himself very closely informed on the various amendments which the Senate is considering) spoke to the PriMin in Thai for some time explaining some implications of the Cooper–Church, Fulbright, and other proposed amendments.)
The VP said that press is generally aware that there were some Thai forces in Laos, although we had not confirmed their presence. He said US support of additional Thai forces for Laos could cause a real explosion in US public opinion. Thus it was necessary to look for other kinds of assistance which would permit the Thais to transfer funds now allocated to other purposes to support such measures as Thai battalions for Laos.
Impact of Political Situation in the US on Southeast Asian Policy: Against this background the VP discussed further the pressures from the forthcoming elections and current attitudes in the Senate. He noted that Humphrey had recently come out in support of the McGovernHatfield Amendment. Many voices are now calling upon us to leave Asia now regardless of the consequences. The VP described the severe inflationary situation the President had inherited from the previous administration. Thus he had been forced to trim spending in an effort to reestablish a sane fiscal policy. Congress, however, had insisted on large education and housing appropriations, even overriding the President’s veto, forcing the administration to trim the defense establishment by $10 billion. This meant applying the knife heavily all over the world, and facing considerable resultant unemployment in the US. He said the present was as tough a period of national adjustment as we had ever had to cope with.
The VP said President Nixon understands that we should fulfill our role as a Pacific power and was determined that we would keep our treaty obligations. He said the President would not have sent him back after only seven months if he didn’t think this part of the world was important.
The VP expressed the belief that if the administration gets through the off-year election without erosion of its position on the Hill, the situation would right itself. He said that in many key races the issue was not partisan politics but was drawn between isolationism and continuation of the administration’s foreign policy. He noted the domestic [Page 175]political importance of his ability to go back and report firsthand on the situation in Southeast Asia.
He said the mood of isolationism in certain parts of American society is directed strongly at Southeast Asia. He noted the contrast between Fulbright’s position on the Middle East and that on Southeast Asia. It is politically tempting to appeal to people who are tired of the war, to students and to the media who want immediate withdrawal from Asia.
He appealed to the Thai leaders not to construe our actions as lessening support for them or weakening of our resolve. That would cause the administration further difficulty in the US.
He said if our allies seem to be complaining and criticizing all the time, people may get sick of it and go along with those who demand that we get out. This would make it impossible for the President, the real advocate of helping our friends. We must face the fact, he continued, that we cannot say things in the same way or operate in the same way as before. Even the limited statements he had made in relation to Cambodia, for example, had attracted criticism. He said the US faces an absolute crisis in government, and that the administration cannot operate without Congressional support. He concluded these remarks by noting that Ambassador Unger would help find less direct ways to meet the needs of the situation.
Impact on Vietnamization of Situation in Neighboring Countries: The PriMin said that he agrees with the program on Vietnamization and the need to strengthen the Vietnamese ability to stand on their own feet. However, he emphasized that if we do not assist victims of Communist aggression such as Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, and if they are weakened and lack support, it will be difficult for Vietnam itself to stand on its own feet.
The Vice President agreed, recalling his observations to newsmen concerning the effect on our withdrawals from Vietnam should Cambodia fall to the Communists. Administration policy is to do exactly what the PriMin suggests but unfortunately that is not the policy favored by some in the legislative branch who believe that countries of Southeast Asia can be allowed to go Communist without any serious repercussions.
The Vice President said he would like to see assistance accelerated, especially in light of the troop withdrawals we are making, but we must have appropriations to do this and these are under pressure in every respect. He noted that the DoD appropriation today is the lowest in terms of percentage of GNP since 1950. Even so, there are members of the House and Senate who would cut it further. They seem to want complete abandonment of our foreign obligations and total focus on our domestic problems. They apparently assume that Communists have suddenly become benign.
In sum, while the administration wants to assist countries of this area, it must play a cautious game so long as public opinion remains in its present state.
The PriMin commented that if dove views prevail there will be great danger in due course not only to this part of the world but to other parts as well. The Vice President agreed.
Thailand and the Future of the Nixon Doctrine: The PriMin said Thailand agrees with the Nixon Doctrine and is trying to implement it as it had been described to them by the President. They do not require manpower, but must have material assistance or the doctrine could not be implemented. He suggested that Congress may destroy or negate the Doctrine.
The Vice President said a fight is going on for the confidence of the American public. At stake is the course we will take in foreign policy. He said he thinks the administration will win this fight. He asked them not to attach too much importance to the gloomy picture he had painted because he regularly looks at the darker side so as to be prepared for the worst. He believes that when the full importance of our material and economic assistance is better understood, and as we reduce our armed forces in the area to acceptable levels, public opinion can be turned around. He believes people will ultimately understand that the cost of preventing the war from spreading is vastly less than that of fighting it after it expands.
The Vice President said he recognized the necessity of finding the means of turning the tide politically so that we can carry out our policy for this area directly and proudly as it should be carried out. He said many people had been sold a bill of goods to the effect that people of this area want communism.
He again appealed to the Thais to recognize the difficulties the President faced and not let disappointments go beyond the family to the point where they were exploitable by isolationist politicians and others who would say our allies want only our money and endlessly criticize us.
Press Attacks on Thailand: The FonMin said that Thailand was attacked less by the Communist side than by the “Eastern Seaboard Establishment” and “The Washington–New York Axis.” He then read from the recent Newsweek article on Thailand. He said millions of people would read this and be influenced by it.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Box 449, President’s Trip Files, Vice President’s SEA Trip, Aug 1970. Secret; Nodis. Repeated to Vientiane, Saigon, Phnom Penh, Taipei, Rangoon, CINCPAC, and the White House.