91. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Thanat Khoman, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thailand
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • John H. Holdridge

SUBJECT

  • Thailand Foreign Minister’s Comments on Southeast Asian Developments

After expressing pleasure at seeing Dr. Kissinger again, Foreign Minister Thanat asked about the President’s European trip and whether it had been regarded as useful. Dr. Kissinger replied that the trip had been very good, considering what had been attempted. Its purpose had been to demonstrate U.S. power in the Mediterranean, and as an old friend of the Foreign Minister, Dr. Kissinger could tell him that we had achieved what we had wanted. Even in a Communist country such as Yugoslavia, President Tito had found it more important to remain and talk to the President than to go to Cairo for Nasser’s funeral. Foreign Minister Thanat remarked that he had been glad to watch the effective way that the trip had been conducted.

Dr. Kissinger said that the President had specifically asked him to convey his, the President’s, personal respects to Foreign Minister Thanat and to inform him of the high regard in which he was held by the President. The Foreign Minister then declared that the people and the government of Thailand consider the President their friend. This also applied to the people of Asia as well. Some unfortunate developments may have occurred in the U.S.-Thai relationship, but on fundamental things the relationship between the two countries remained firm.

Dr. Kissinger asked for Foreign Minister Thanat’s frank opinion with respect to one question. Last April and May, there had been talk of putting two regiments of regular Thai troops or two regiments of Thai Khmer volunteers into Cambodia. Since then endless discussions had ensued. Was it because the Thai had become distrustful of our bureaucracy that their interest in sending their forces into Cambodia had [Page 185]cooled? The Foreign Minister said that he would give a frank and straightforward reply. There were a number of reasons as to why the Thai had not sent in their forces. First, long debates had been held in Bangkok in which some people, particularly the military, had wanted to send Thai soldiers to Cambodia; others, however, had felt that this would not have been desirable because if the Thai had sent in two battalions or two regiments, the Communists might have sent in the same number or more.

Continuing, Foreign Minister Thanat said that in the second place, the mood in the U.S., as far as could be judged from the press and from Congressional comment, was very hostile toward Thailand and not appreciative of its role. Therefore, he had thought that nothing should be done to aggravate the situation and increase the President’s political burden. Dr. Kissinger remarked that the trouble was some liberals here disliked the U.S. so much they felt that any country which appreciated the U.S. had to be punished. They talked about what Bangkok should and should not do, and not about Hanoi. Foreign Minister Thanat observed that despite all, “you’re with us and we’re with you.”

Foreign Minister Thanat mentioned as a third consideration in the Thai judgment on sending troops into Cambodia the fact that they had worked out an arrangement with Prime Minister Lon Nol during his visits to Bangkok whereby the Cambodians could ask for Thai troops if they were in great need of them. In such a case, Thai forces stationed along the Cambodian border would join with the Cambodians in task forces to “beat up the Communist side.” This arrangement was one of the reasons which had prompted the Thai to bring back some of their troops from Vietnam. These troops would be moved to the Thai-Cambodian frontier.

Dr. Kissinger declared that if the Thai received any advice from our people to the effect that the Thai should not be there on the frontier but rather in the Northeast, this would be a violation of the intentions of the President and the Foreign Minister should get in touch with Dr. Kissinger about it. We wanted Thai forces to be stationed near the Cambodian frontier. The Foreign Minister remarked that he was not aware of anyone on the U.S. side who wanted Thai troops in the Northeast. Dr. Kissinger went on to say, however, that if any such advice was actually given to them they could tell the advisers what the President’s intentions were. He could assure the Foreign Minister that he spoke for the President. The stationing of Thai troops on the Cambodian frontier was exactly what we were looking for. Commenting further on the plan to bring Thai troops back from Vietnam, Foreign Minister Thanat said that this move would cost less than raising new units. New units might cost millions of baht, require an increase in taxes, and create a political tempest. The Vietnam situation did [Page 186]not appear so urgent now as to require the whole Thai complement, and it was felt that “some” of the Thai troops could be brought back.

Dr. Kissinger said that we welcomed this Thai move. We thought that the situation in Cambodia could deteriorate, and it was comforting to know that there were forces available which might be able to do something. Foreign Minister Thanat confirmed that the Thai were prepared to act in Cambodia, but not on a permanent basis. Dr. Kissinger mentioned in passing that the Thai troops in Long Tieng had made a big difference. Referring again to the Thai rationale on troops in Cambodia, Foreign Minister Thanat recalled at the Djakarta Conference Thailand had pledged in the joint communiqué along with the other participants to support a call for the withdrawal of all foreign forces in Cambodia. Accordingly, if Thai troops had been sent in, the spirit of the joint communiqué would have been violated. Thailand felt that it had assumed a moral obligation under this communiqué. In the light of all these circumstances, the Thai believed that they would gain advantages on all sides by bringing some troops from Vietnam, and stationing them on the border in agreement with the Cambodians. Dr. Kissinger endorsed this as a good solution.

Foreign Minister Thanat then asked if the U.S. could support Thailand logistically if Thai troops went into Cambodia. Dr. Kissinger replied affirmatively. We had tremendous legal problems because of Congressional actions, but believed it would be possible for us to replace in Thailand those stocks of military equipment which the Thai used in Cambodia. The Thai could employ the stocks which they had on hand at present. In response to a question from Foreign Minister Thanat as to whether it would be possible for the U.S. military representatives in Thailand to tell the Thai this, Dr. Kissinger said that if the Thai talked to our Ambassador, he would give five million reasons as to why there was a problem. However, he could assure the Foreign Minister that if Thailand had to go in, we would find a way to give support. It was hard to say now just how this would be done. It would be best to use the stocks Thailand presently had on hand and we would replace them. We would need to figure out just how this would be done.

Foreign Minister Thanat asked in what way this matter could be undertaken—supposing that Thailand was seized with a request from Cambodia, could he get in touch with Dr. Kissinger personally? If and when the needs arose, could he let Dr. Kissinger know? Dr. Kissinger referred to the private channel which existed between the Foreign Minister and himself, and said that if it turns out we couldn’t help he would tell the Foreign Minister. He reminded him, though, that we had kept our promises to the government in Bangkok, and had not given up any territory to the Communists. We did not want Cambodia to go under. [Page 187]The President was not like Senator McCarthy, who had wanted to abandon South Vietnam. We had a massive internal problem, but if we were lucky, we would have an easier time after the November elections.

Foreign Minister Thanat asked if the election prospects were good, to which Dr. Kissinger replied that he was not a domestic expert and couldn’t say too much. While this was an off-year election in which everyone in the House had to run for reelection and in which the Administration party usually lost seats, there would be no problem here and we expected some losses. In the Senate, it was possible that the Administration might gain two or three seats. It might not seem like this would make much difference, but many votes had been running close to 50/50, and three seats more would make a significant difference. If the Administration gained seven seats, it could organize the Senate and get rid of Senator Fulbright. In this case it would be in great shape and could do a lot of things for Thailand which were not now possible. Arithmetically, the prospects were in our favor. Lots of Republicans had lost in 1964 because Goldwater had been running for President and had taken them down with him; hence there were more Democrats in the Senate now than would normally have been the case. Unfortunately, to speak frankly, in two big states we had poor candidates. In California, Senator Murphy had cancer but was resisting all efforts to induce him not to run, while in New York, Senator Goodell had decided to run to the left of Fulbright. We were not supporting him. Nevertheless, even though our gains were limited to only three seats, this would make a lot of difference. 51 to 49 votes against the Administration would be reversed.

Foreign Minister Thanat expressed the hope that Dr. Kissinger’s prediction would come through. Dr. Kissinger said he felt that we had the Democrats on the defensive over a lot of issues. For example, in May they thought they could defeat the Administration on Southeast Asia, but today we had the public on our side. The Foreign Minister thought that the President had indeed handled the Vietnam question very well, and was interested in knowing anything Dr. Kissinger could tell him about what the President would say that evening. Dr. Kissinger was surprised that the Foreign Minister had not yet been informed as to what the President would say, and gave a quick run-down on the President’s five points.2

In connection with U.S. troop withdrawals, Foreign Minister Thanat asked if we were going to set a withdrawal deadline. Dr. Kissinger’s reply was “absolutely not.” In principle we were willing to [Page 188]withdraw completely and give a fixed deadline, but not before all other issues were settled. This would be conditional on everything else, including a North Vietnamese withdrawal. When questioned by the Foreign Minister about elections, Dr. Kissinger declared that we were willing to have the North Vietnamese participate in the electoral process and gain their support in elections to which they were entitled, but would not accept their demands for a coalition government.

Foreign Minister Thanat remarked that he had made a suggestion in his UN General Assembly speech that if the four great powers could join together for a Middle East settlement, they might also work with the Asian countries toward a settlement in Asia. Dr. Kissinger noted that the exception would be the French, who were not steady. The Foreign Minister said on this point that it would be necessary to work for their support, since they claimed to play a role. He had felt that the French were not entirely negative, and cited a speech by Schuman as containing some positive elements. In any event, the difference between the Middle East and Southeast Asia was that the four powers were working alone in the Middle East, while he did not want this to apply to Southeast Asia but preferred that they worked together with the local people. Dr. Kissinger declared that this was the reason why we wanted a larger conference on Indo-China. The U.S. had done well to get a cease-fire in the Middle East, and a similar situation might be attained in the Far East working in concert with the nations of the area. The Foreign Minister stressed that he wanted these nations to play a more effective role. He also was wondering about the possibility of reaching an agreement between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.—if the Soviets stopped supplying Hanoi with the sinews of war the fighting would end.

Dr. Kissinger asked the Foreign Minister for his views on the situation in Vietnam. The Foreign Minister stated that he had last been in Vietnam for the July TCC meeting and had been impressed with the improvement in the situation and in the general appearance of the country which had occurred since his previous visit. It was his belief that the enormous amount of U.S. war matériel available should enable the South Vietnamese to take over a good part of the defense of the country once they were trained to handle this matériel. Dr. Kissinger observed that we thought the same thing. The Foreign Minister then cited his Prime Minister as believing that Vietnamization alone would not have a lasting effect if the Communists could use Laos and Cambodia— if these countries were available to them, they could launch new attacks on South Vietnam and offset the improvements which had taken place there. The present situation in Vietnam would be only temporary if the military balance in Laos and Cambodia could not be improved.

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Dr. Kissinger asked if the Foreign Minister thought we were being as active as we could be in operating against the Ho Chi Minh trail. The Foreign Minister referred to the problem of supply, noting that the U.S. seemed to be finding it increasingly difficult to assist local forces in terms of economic and logistical support. He went on to refer to a lack of agreement on the use of local forces in Laos. The Thai would prefer to have forces of countries closest to the scene conduct the operations. Dr. Kissinger agreed with this, and pointed out that we had already undertaken to train 2,000 Cambodians for operations in Laos. Foreign Minister Thanat indicated that he knew of this, and noted also that at the time of his departure there had been discussions about sending Thai forces “far into Laos” to fill up the vacuum while the Cambodian troops were being trained. Dr. Kissinger expressed some surprise, and wondered when the Foreign Minister had left Bangkok. Foreign Minister Thanat said his departure had been three weeks earlier, at which time the U.S. had wanted to send Thai forces to the extreme southeast region of Laos beyond the Bolovens Plateau to a point close to the Cambodian frontier. The Thai had disagreed. They were in agreement on stationing Thai SGUs in Sithandone and Champassak, but the other area was too far east. Dr. Kissinger referred to the difficulties which the bureaucracy had created over the Thai troops, and said that this issue of the Thai SGUs would be put on the agenda for the next WSAG meeting. In the ensuing discussion, the Foreign Minister made it clear that he was not opposed to the recruiting of six Thai SGUs for use in operations against the North Vietnamese LOCs along the Se Kong River and in the Bolovens area of South Laos, but would object to any plans which would call for deployment further east. It was pointed out to him that we were in general agreement on this concept as well as with the Thai concept of stationing some of their SGUs in Sayaboury, Sithandone, and Champassak.

Dr. Kissinger inquired about the use of the Thai Khmer volunteers for service as SGUs in South Laos. Foreign Minister Thanat said that there would be no major difficulty regarding this concept.

Foreign Minister Thanat asked if Dr. Kissinger had any plans to come to the Foreign Minister’s part of the world, or if the President had any further travel plans. Dr. Kissinger replied that he personally would be delighted to go back, but did not know when he could get away. The President would not be making any more trips until next year. The main thing he wanted the Foreign Minister to know was that everything the President had ever said concerning Thailand could be believed. The President had a great admiration for the Foreign Minister, and for selfish reasons was very glad that he had been elected to the Thai Parliament last year. Foreign Minister Thanat assured Dr. Kissinger that the Thai for their part hadn’t changed. What he personally had said with respect to some critics of Thailand did not affect Thai-U.S. friendship.

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He had felt it necessary to defend the honor of his country, and hoped that the President would understand. The Thai government had no problems with the President or with the Administration. With the U.S. press, though, there were indeed some problems.

Dr. Kissinger concluded by urging the Foreign Minister to keep in close contact with him through the special channel. If the Thai decided the time had come to move into Cambodia, he should get in touch and we would work out the modalities.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 102, Country Files—Far East, Thanat, (Foreign Minister), [2 of 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. According to a memorandum from Holdridge to Kissinger, October 9, this memorandum of conversation was drafted by Holdridge and approved by Kissinger. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office.
  2. For President Nixon’s Southeast Asia peace proposals put forward in his television speech on the evening of October 7, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 825–828.