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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Kennedy Administration > Volume XXIV
Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Volume XXIV, Laos Crisis
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 175-197

September-November 1961: Harriman's Mission To Southeast Asia; Resumption of the Dialog With the Soviets

175. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Yugoslavia/1/

Washington, September 5, 1961, 8:04 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/9-461. Top Secret. Drafted by Johnson and approved by the Secretary.

274. Eyes Only for the Ambassador from the Secretary. Embtels 359 and 400./2/

/2/In these two telegrams, September 4 and 5, Ambassador Kennan reported on his successful attempt to set up the separate channel of communication between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev on Berlin and Laos via the Soviet Ambassador in Yugoslavia. Commenting on the initial results of the exchange, Kennan suggested that the Soviets expected the channel to be a continuation of the Vienna summit talks, a strictly bilateral communication involving no obligation of consultation or information with either side's allies. (Ibid., 396.1-BE/9-261 and 762.00/9-461, respectively) In a 10-page memorandum on both Laos and Berlin, described in telegram 400 from Vientiane, the Soviet Union expressed its willingness to work with the United States for a neutral Laos, hinted that it could influence the Pathet Lao toward that end, and intimated that the United States should do the same with the conservative forces in Laos.

Approve your proposed reply on Berlin as contained Embtel 400. FYI. Thompson expects to see Gromyko shortly about his attendance UNGA and tentative soundings on attitudes toward negotiations on Germany and Berlin. Believe your channel should be kept open but not developed on Berlin at this point. End FYI.

With respect to Laos, apart from whether words mean same thing to both sides, problem is translating broad principles into action. Suggest pressing him on whether "all foreign forces and military advisers" include Viet Minh and ChiComs to extent they may be present. Also note apparent omission from Soviet statement of any method verifying withdrawal of foreign military elements, including Viet Minh. We perceive no method whereby satisfactory verification could be obtained by both sides except by ICC with satisfactory terms of reference. If Soviets have any other suggestions we would be glad to hear them.

We do not understand reference to establishment of neutral Laotian Government being impeded by certain elements within Laos. As previously stated, we are prepared to support Souvanna as Prime Minister on basis genuine neutrality but thus far Souvanna ideas on composition of Government appear to be far from neutral. Our efforts with Souvanna are directed at attempt encourage and support him in forming genuinely neutral Government. We hope Soviets would be willing work towards same end./3/

/3/In telegram 438 from Belgrade, September 7, Kennan reported that he had met with his Soviet colleague on the evening of September 6 and put to him the questions as cited in this telegram. As far as Laos was concerned, the Soviet Ambassador promised to try to obtain the answers and said it was his understanding that the Soviet Union considered Chinese and Viet Minh armed personnel as foreign troops to be removed. (Ibid., 762.00/9-761)


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

Bangkok, September 7, 1961, 5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-761. Secret; Priority. Repeated priority to London for Harriman, Paris, Saigon, Vientiane, Geneva for Fecon, Phnom Penh, and CINCPAC POLAD.

345. Brown, Nolting and I have had useful discussions on our mutual problems in light timely information from Washington.

US policy towards Laos seems to be approaching a point of decision as to whether we can achieve a satisfactory political settlement establishing a unified and neutral Laos (to be pursued by Amb Harriman in further discussions with Souvanna Phouma ) or whether we will have to engage in a possible military campaign for which contingency planning is to be discussed with Diem and Sarit.

We have devoted much of our discussion to the advantages and disadvantages of a possible third alternative--namely, to delay a clearcut political settlement, to let the present cease-fire continue as long as it will to make a de facto division, and meanwhile to pursue contingency military planning.

In presenting our views we have found it necessary to give separate analyses.

1. Laos. The concept on which we are operating is that a genuinely neutral Laos with a modest internal security force and adequate international control machinery will bring peace and some stability to Laos, keep it from going Communist, and thereby act as a buffer between Communist China and North Viet Nam on one side and SVN and Thailand on other. The Communist strategy is doubtless to get US military out of Laos by agreeing to a neutralist govt under Souvanna, to keep the PL in being as a separate force to the maximum extent possible and to work through subversion, infiltration and propaganda to have such a govt replaced through elections by one leaning more to their side. So far as Laos is concerned we are prepared to meet this challenge. If Paris conditions are substantially met we should have a chance of winning the elections and maintaining a middle of the road govt.

Question however arises, how far such govt could reasonably be expected, under Laotian conditions and with limited resources at its disposal, to make Laos an effective barrier to persistent infiltration across its territory into SVN and probably also Thailand. It is logically responsibility of a neutral govt to prevent its territory from being used as base or means of aggression by one neighbor against another. International law would require refusal of transit to any form of belligerent armed forces. A truly neutral Lao Govt would wish honor these obligations. Question is, how far could it actually do so?

It difficult to answer this question categorically, but there reason to doubt whether it could, at least at outset. For first months after its inauguration, the new govt will certainly be concentrating all its resources on getting itself firmly established, on restoring calm and security in its territory, in shaking down its reorganized civil administration and army and preparing for elections. It will have little of either energy or resources available to tackle tough job of sealing off Ho Chi Minh Trail or other avenues of infiltration into SVN or Thailand. There little reason believe that Commies will relax their efforts in this field. There is much evidence to contrary.

Therefore, although new govt should, and may, be quite willing cooperate in this task, it only realistic to recognize that while with assistance of ICC it may be able to make infiltration more difficult, it unlikely be really effective in physically preventing it, certainly in first few months of its life. Task, in fact, may well be beyond exclusive capability of any Lao Govt equipped only with ten to twenty thousand-man internal security force to police entire country.

(On this point Brown would wish to consult with his military advisers in Vientiane before reaching definite conclusion.)

2. Free Vietnam. Our policy, backed by substantial commitment, is to assure survival of Vietnam as free and independent country and to strengthen its viability as such. GVN's principal military problem as it relates to Laos is how prevent Communist infiltration in such cumulative strength as to wash out progress beginning to be made in internal anti-guerrilla fight. Control of Laotian-SVN border, with help from Laotian Govt, may well be critical element in GVN's military endeavor. Continued or increased infiltration by Communist bands from Laos into SVN could result in: a) the proclamation of a Communist "liberation govt" in western Vietnam territory, providing an excuse for open support by Communist countries; b) strengthening of existing Viet Cong forces SVN to point that Viet Cong might regain the military offensive; c) prolongation of situation of military stalemate which likely to result in political or military upheaval against GVN. Thus, factor of border control seems critical to chances of GVN's success, especially over next year to eighteen months. While same problem arises to certain degree with respect to Cambodian-GVN border, this problem must be handled separately.

3. Thailand. Our program help Thais lessen their vulnerabilities will be counteracted to danger point and possibly nullified especially if Laos access corridors quickly exploited by Commies. There already heavy pressure from Russians on RTG to weaken its ties with US and SEATO. If settlement in Laos is unfavorable this pressure likely be increased and policies of Sarit's regime replaced by policy of middle ground of two-door diplomacy. Also some possibility Sarit and other would be forced out. Establishment of an unfriendly Laotian Govt (Souvanna Phouma would be regarded by Thais as unfriendly) would greatly increase subversive efforts in Thai Govt circles among the elite, etc. As Sarit and Thanat often tell me, substantial infiltration of armed groups and subversive activities all along vulnerable border areas in north and northeast Thailand would result from establishment of a neutral Laotian Govt. In Thai view French military mission for Souvanna regime would double Thailand's jeopardy and deepen Thailand's trauma. Thailand needs 12 months strengthen anti-subversive counterguerrilla defense. FonMin Thanat Khoman told me Sept 4 that he felt Geneva Conf had achieved very useful purpose in bringing about tacit decision on Laos which leaves crucial Mekong River Valley area in friendly hands without raising obvious difficulties of formal partition. He suggested our play now should be find some way keeping this situation going and avoid any clear-cut decision. In earlier talks Diem and Mau have expressed to Nolting their view that best available alternative in Laos is to reach no clear-cut political solution. Both GVN and Thailand have in mind working with Phoumi to minimize infiltration from Laos. GVN and Phoumi already cooperating to certain degree, and RTG pressing US for joint activities.

Foregoing suggests that from viewpoint our interests in SVN and Thailand it better continue bide time (while perfecting contingency planning against resumption of hostilities by enemy) rather than play for early agreement on coalition govt as contemplated by Ambassador Harriman's projected visit to Souvanna.

Nolting and I would prefer modified Plan 5 military course of action since, if successful, it would clearly be most effective means of preventing Communist infiltration into SVN and Thailand. If this course not feasible, we conclude that keeping things in state of flux in Laos is least adverse state of affairs for US policy in SVN and Thailand. In event large-scale hostilities resumed by Communist side, contingency military plan should be ready.

Brown is particularly mindful of difficulties involved in reversing engines vis-a-vis Souvanna and also at Geneva as well as difficulties Laotian people in continued state of unrest and national enmity. He slightly less pessimistic than Nolting and myself about possibility of neutral Lao Govt, when firmly established, hoping reduce infiltration and considerably more concerned at likelihood that continuance of present situation may result in the military explosion it is our preference to avoid, brought about in way in which it will not be clearly responsibility of other side. In a condition of continued stalemate and mounting internal unrest and strain which this would involve for Lao, pressures would grow on Phoumi, who is already restless under uncertainty, to precipitate a military decision by forcing the US hand to bring about military solution he really wants. US policy would thus remain to an undesirable extent in Phoumi's hands. Moreover, Brown thinks that while other side may well not precipitate matters by direct assault on a Mekong center of population which they might consider likely to bring US in, they might well gradually push offensive elsewhere to point where we would feel it desirable to intervene but could not point to a clear enemy aggression to justify such intervention.

Therefore while agreeing that there is considerable ground for anxiety about infiltration, Brown would, before advocating abandonment of our present efforts to expedite political solution, like to examine and be more fully satisfied as to exactly what could be done under a condition of continued stalemate to inhibit infiltration. Phoumi for example is doing little to help SVN and nothing so far as we know to help Thailand this point, how far similar measures would be practicable or likely under a neutral govt with such help as ICC could provide, and what additional counter measures that the Thai and SVN Govts would be able to take.

Brown [Young?]

177. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Battle) to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, September 8, 1961.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 9/61. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text.

Weekly Summary, Geneva Conference, August 28-September 3, 1961

1. In the face of Souvanna's unsatisfactory response to Ambassador Falaize on August 27, we decided it was imperative that we ourselves frankly discuss with the Prince the conditions he must be prepared to fulfill to warrant our support of a national union government under his leadership./2/ Therefore, despite expressed misgivings of the French and British, we have asked Souvanna to meet with Ambassadors Harriman and Brown in Paris, or secondarily in Phnom Penh. No reply has thus far been received. Over the weekend, Ambassador Harriman engaged in talks with the UK Government on all aspects of the Lao problem and returns to Geneva this week./3/ In the meantime, Ambassador Addis is also seeking a rendezvous with Souvanna at Phnom Penh, but has indicated he will go to Xieng Khouang if necessary.

/2/Instructions for Harriman's discussions with Souvanna are in telegram 1094 to London, August 31. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/8-228)

/3/Instructions for Harriman's discussions with the British in London are in telegram 1093 to London, August 31. (Ibid.) An account of Harriman's discussions in London, September 3, are in telegram 956 from London, September 5. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-561)

We have instructed our Ambassadors in Bangkok and Saigon to set forth to Sarit and Diem respectively our purpose in approaching Souvanna and the steps we are taking to bolster the RLG's military posture./4/ In addition, Mr. Johnson is consulting with the representatives of the SEATO powers on contingency plans in the event that all efforts at a peaceful settlement fail and the Communists renew the offensive. These plans essentially call for an extension of SEATO Plan 5, i.e., military operations to clear Southern Laos of Pathet Lao elements.

/4/In telegram 283 to Bangkok, sent also to Saigon as 269, September 2. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-261)

2. At Geneva, the majority of the draft texts pertaining to the powers of the ICC have been debated and either sent to the Drafting Committee or held in suspense. The remaining items may require one more week of discussion.

Since no united Lao government can now be expected before the negotiating phase begins, the Conference may well reach a stalemate. In that event, rather than risk a definite breakdown, we would prefer a recess so that the negotiating channels may remain open. The atmosphere at Geneva, however, is now considerably less optimistic than it had recently been, partly as a result of the Soviet posture on Berlin and resumption of nuclear testing,/5/ partly because of the danger of renewed hostilities in Laos with the forthcoming advent of the dry season.

/5/ On August 30, the Soviet Union announced that because of the aggressiveness of the United States and NATO, especially over Germany, it was resuming atmospheric nuclear tests notwithstanding their harmful effects. Text of the statement is in Documents on Disarmament, 1961, pp. 337-348.

L.D. Battle/6/

/6/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature. Melvin S. Manfull signed for Battle.

178. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Yugoslavia/1/

Washington, September 12, 1961.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-1261. Top Secret. Drafted by U. Alexis Johnson and approved by Rusk. The time of transmission is illegible.

312. Eyes Only for the Ambassador from the Secretary. Embtel 438./2/

/2/See footnote 3, Document 175.

Suggest that in further conversations on Laos you put emphasis on aspect withdrawal foreign military personnel and verification thereof.

FYI We believe that if a withdrawal of foreign military personnel could really be accomplished it would be to our net advantage. However, as you know, there is serious problem means whereby particularly Viet-minh personnel can be identified, located and withdrawal verified as compared with ease with which withdrawal of American personnel may be verified. There is also problem of French military training personnel. We have at Geneva put forward and do not yet want to abandon principle that French training mission may, in accordance with 1954 Geneva Agreements remain in Laos. Soviets have not yet accepted although their agreement to French training mission under 1954 accord remains valid. Therefore to extent possible suggest you attempt finesse question of French presence unless and until raised by Soviets, concentrating rather on American, and if Soviets raise question, Thai personnel. We feel that control organization should remain indefinitely as internationally agreed protection to neutrality of Laos and as assurance to both sides that foreign military personnel are not re-introduced into Laos or that territory of Laos is used by either side for un-neutral purposes. (FYI We have in mind Viet-minh use of Laos to flank 17th parallel for attacks on South Viet-Nam which it unlikely any Lao government would be able to prevent.) As stated my tel 274/3/ we perceive no method whereby such verification may be obtained, except with ICC with satisfactory terms of reference, but are willing to listen to any other Soviet suggestions. (FYI Some UN observation mechanism would of course be acceptable to us as alternative to ICC but presume Soviets would not consider. There is also perhaps possibility of two co-chairmen, Soviets and UK, constituting observation teams but this has obvious difficulties and complications and we would not now want to propose. Therefore suggest that while you might in passing and orally mention UN possibility you generally concentrate on ICC as preferred mechanism and if Soviets oppose continue attempt elicit any further suggestions they may have. We must, of course, avoid trap in which we withdraw and Viet-minh continue to be left largely free hand.)/4/

/3/Document 175.

/4/In telegram 287 from Belgrade, September 14, Kennan informed Rusk that the Soviet Ambassador had not yet received answers to the questions put to him about Laos, but that he did make two points on September 13 that seemed to reflect guidance from Moscow. First, the Soviets were troubled over the precedent which might be established by a neutral Laos with its borders under international control. Secondly, the Soviet Union did not deny the need for a control organ, but perhaps it should be composed of countries not involved in Laos. When Kennan inquired whether the Chinese would abide by any agreements on Laos, the Soviet Ambassador replied that they were in no position to make trouble and would accept Soviet leadership. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-1461)


179. Telegram From the Delegation to the Conference on Laos to the Department of State/1/

Geneva, September 12, 1961, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-1261. Secret; Limited Distribution.

Confe 617. From Harriman.

MacDonald called meeting yesterday to discuss future conference procedures with Pushkin, Chang Han-fu and myself. All agreed new conference procedure for discussion in smaller groups and that discussion should be on general subjects covering all pertinent items included in drafts. MacDonald asked whether Pushkin and Chang Han-fu believed conference agreement could be reached. Both gave assurances they instructed to achieve agreement if West serious. As indication of good faith and intentions, Chang Han-fu pointed out Chen-yi remained Geneva two months much longer than any other foreign ministers. He questions our intentions because of "facts in Laos" complaining large build-up of RLG and attacks conducted from pockets behind lines. I, of course, countered with reports we had of continued Soviet airlift and maintained RLG only defending themselves and taking counter-measures when attacked. If national union government formed, vitally important to have agreement on integration forces under one command to avoid continuation such incidents. Chang Han-fu intimated that unless this done prior rainy season, renewal serious military hostilities will result. Both Soviets and Chinese argued conference could agree without awaiting formation union government, maintaining that agreement Geneva would help Princes. I took opposing position pointing to Communist contention infringement of Lao sovereignty by provisions we considered protected sovereignty. These could only be settled in consultation new government. MacDonald concluded that both sides would have to give and take to reach agreement.

In less serious talk, I said to Pushkin that many of Chinese Communists had learned their Marxianism [sic] in Paris which perhaps explained some of the present difficulties between Moscow and Peking. Of course, he denied differences and only our wishful thinking. I asked Chang Han-fu where he had learned his Communism. He replied in California as a student at Berkeley about 30 years ago. He was revolted by capitalism causing misery of depression and studied Marxianism from books in library. At this moment, he showed real bitterness toward the United States, and I felt he must have had some unfortunate personal experiences in California because of anti-Chinese attitude at that time.

180. Telegram From the Embassy in Italy to the Department of State/1/

Rome, September 13, 1961, 8 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-1361. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution; Noforn. Repeated to Geneva, Paris, London, Saigon, Bangkok, New Delhi, priority to Rangoon and Vientiane, and to Moscow. Harriman was en route to Burma for his discussion with Souvanna Phouma; see Document 184. The discussion he describes in this telegram took place in Geneva.

882. From Harriman.

Pushkin had most of our delegation to dinner last night and took me upstairs to his study after dinner for two and one-half hours talk alone. He strongly claimed Soviets want truly neutral independent Laos and ready come to agreement with us not only to assure establishment Souvanna and neutral government but maintain after election. In reply my direct questions he said Soviets could and would control North Viet-Nam and continue support Souvanna against possible Pathet Lao political or military aggression. I asked "what kind of neutrality?"; he replied "your kind" and pointed to Finland. I asked how long, suggesting five years. He replied "longer." Laos could be last country to succumb to Communism. I commented that Khrushchev had promised me and my guests in New York that US would be the last. He then amended his statement with a smile to "Laos should be next to last."

He described role Soviets contemplate for co-chairmen. Soviets to police Communist bloc to assure adherence agreement, whereas British should police non-Communists. He was particularly suspicious of Thailand and South Viet-Nam. Co-chairmen, he said, should supplement ICC and could be really effective. He admitted terms Soviet draft would have to be altered to avoid our complaint co-chairmen could veto ICC action. He said Soviet objective was to make agreement so effective in Laos ICC would have as little to do after first period as in Cambodia. He said we had difficult friends, meaning Sarit and Diem not fully supported by people. I pointed to Soviet greater difficulty with Ulbricht and also North Viet-Nam, who wanted to use Laos as a corridor to penetrate South Viet-Nam and Thailand. He reiterated North Viet-Nam ready to live up to agreement with us if reached. Soviets could guarantee that. Also Pathet Lao. Pushkin offered to bring us together with Vongvichit to talk over Pathet Lao future policies if I wished to hear attitude at first hand. I said I might want to on my return.

I felt him out on why not settle hostilities between two Viet-Nams, accepting division with peaceful relations between them. He agreed this might be desirable but beyond his authority to discuss.

He gave me Soviet version of history recent events Laos. There had been no Russian in Laos before October last year. "Military?", I asked. He replied, no Russian "civilian or military." When Thailand shut off supplies to Laos, Souvanna first asked Soviets for rice and sugar which were supplied. Military support came after Phoumi's plans for coup threatened. Then Soviets gave highest priority to shipment and had hoped Souvanna could hold Vientiane against Phoumi. But, he claimed, Thai military personnel and our advisers prevented that. Thereafter, Soviet poured in military supplies. He did not deny Viet-Minh help. Phoumi's forces were thus beaten. Now Soviets were serious in desiring peaceful solution. He fully accepted President Kennedy's change in policy towards neutrals in general and Laos in particular.

I explained objective my talks with Souvanna was to reach understanding he could rely on West equally as Communist Bloc, no more, no less. Also understanding regarding integration military forces and liquidation private Pathet Lao forces. Pathet Lao as well as Phoumi would have to be absorbed into army loyal to neutral government of Souvanna. He accepted this as conforming to Soviet policy. I also explained unity government should have competent neutral personalities. He made no direct comment but offered no objection.

In reply to my question, he said Soviets wanted Laos settlement regardless of Berlin developments./2/

/2/In telegram 500 from Belgrade, "Personal and Eyes Only for Secretary," September 18, Kennan commented that the Harriman-Pushkin talk was "gratifying evidence of genuine Soviet readiness to collaborate in finding a mutually tolerable solution to the Laos problem." Kennan considered that a bilateral discussion was now established and his channel through the Soviet Ambassador in Belgrade was no longer necessary. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-1861) Ambassador Thompson in Moscow commented, in telegram 951 from Moscow, September 19, that the Harriman-Pushkin exchange confirmed that the Soviets desired a settlement in Laos and were in a position to insist that the Chinese also go along with the agreement. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-1961)

I have told MacDonald and Roux regarding Pushkin proposal for role of co-chairmen.

Request no other discussion of this conversation with foreign governments at this time.


181. Memorandum From Robert H. Johnson of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow)/1/

Washington, undated.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 9/61. Secret. The source text is undated, but from internal evidence it was probably written on September 14.

"I am informed that the memorandum suggests that an effort be made to determine the purpose, scope and organizational requirements for an operation involving the introduction of Thai and Vietnamese para-military units into Laos and also to relate any recommendations to the planning already going on between Phoumi, Sarit and Diem."

Contingency Planning for Laos

In the last two days I have been in touch with Cottrell and Steeves with respect to the status of further contingency planning for Laos. In particular I have borne down upon the problem of action that we should take in the event that there is no open break in the cease-fire at the end of the rainy season but instead a gradual, perhaps somewhat speeded up, erosion of the non-Communist position on the ground. Specifically, I have directed attention to the proposal in the paper that the State Department submitted to the President/2/ two weeks ago for cautious introduction of small Thai and Vietnamese para-military units into southern Laos. I have also inquired into the status of action to stiffen the FAL by the introduction of additional U.S. advisers.

/2/For a summary, see Document 171 and its attachment.

John Steeves indicated that he was also concerned about planning in this area. However, it is his view that, as a result of Ambassador Harriman's objections/3/ to the original Task Force paper, nothing further will be done with respect to this problem because of the fear that planning of such action will give too much encouragement to Phoumi and may, therefore, make him more unwilling to accept a political settlement. I called to Steeves' attention the memorandum which General Taylor sent to Cottrell yesterday on this question. (I don't yet have a copy./4/) Steeves indicated that he planned to talk with Alexis Johnson this afternoon about the problem.

/3/See Document 167.

/4/Not found. Johnson describes it as follows in a footnote in the source text:

I am informed that the memorandum suggests that an effort be made to determine the purpose, scope and organizational requirements for an operation involving the introduction of Thai and Vietnamese para-military units into Laos and also to relate any recommendations to the planning already going on between Phoumi, Sarit and Diem."

On the matter of stiffening the FAL, Steeves indicated that we are gradually introducing additional American advisers into Laos but will not increase the number beyond the 164 already planned until we get some indication from Sarit that the Thais will make a matching contribution. Because of Ambassador Young's failure to raise this question specifically with Sarit in his initial interview, we do not have Sarit's answer to this question. Steeves said that yesterday he had initiated another telegram needling the Ambassador on this question./5/

/5/Johnson is apparently referring to a conversation, September 5, between Young and Sarit, as reported in telegram 352 from Bangkok, September 7. Young stated that he did not mention specific numbers for encadrement of the FAL to Sarit because he and JUSMAG were concerned about bolstering the combat capabilities and strength of the Thai Army. Young thought 500 Thai cadres were too many. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-761) In telegram 321 to Bangkok, September 8, the Department reminded Young that Thai officers and NCOs would gain combat experience in Laos and the encadrement would enhance the training of the Royal Thai Army. (Ibid.) In telegram 363 to Bangkok, September 16, the Department informed Young that Admiral Felt agreed with Washington's view of encadrement. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-1361)

We are standing still in our planning with respect to the problem of strengthening the non-Communist position in southern Laos. It seems to me that the argument against planning for the introduction of small Thai and Vietnamese forces is less strong now than it was before we had approached Sarit and Diem on the expanded Plan 5. I should think that it would not be impossible to make clear to Phoumi that our objectives in doing this kind of planning is the very limited one of holding on rather than one of making any kind of major effort to recapture Communist-held areas.

Obviously we have to wait about getting a Presidential decision on the necessary actions until after Harriman has had his talks with Souvanna. But we've got to get the planning going with a view to getting something to the President next week. The Pushkin views as reported from Rome/6/ are very interesting and may herald a real change in the Soviet position. But they may be primarily designed to keep us immobilized. As I suggested over the phone, I think it would be useful for you to talk with Alexis Johnson. I think State may be rather doubtful as to how much interest there is in the White House in anything but the diplomatic exercise at this point.

/6/See Document 180.

In your session tomorrow with General Craig,/7/ I suggest that you may want to explore his reactions to the following possible actions relating to the area:

/7/See Document 183.

a. Improvement of roads and of communications in southern Laos.

b. Action to strengthen the FAL logistic organization by applying the encadrement principle to that organization. (When I suggested this possibility to Steeves he claimed that the general encadrement now going forward is designed, in part to improve our supervision of the FAL logistics organization.)

c. U.S. participation in patroling operations along the coast of South Viet Nam.

d. Strengthening of the border control arrangements of Thailand and South Viet Nam on either side of Laos.


182. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Battle) to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, September 15, 1961.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 9/61. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text.

Weekly Summary, Geneva Conference September 4-11, 1961

1. Souvanna Phouma responded on September 6 to our invitation to meet with Ambassadors Harriman and Brown by offering several alternatives. Plans are now set for them to meet at Rangoon on September 15, and the British are making a plane available to Souvanna. The Burmese Government has reacted favorably to serving as the host country and, while Marshal Sarit, President Diem, and General Phoumi have doubts as to any fruitful outcome of such an encounter, they appreciate the motivation underlying this approach. Phoumi and Sarit are informed of Harriman's plans to see them after his talks with Souvanna; he may also stop in New Delhi for discussions on Laos with the Indian Government and possibly return to Geneva via Washington.

Under instructions from his government, British Ambassador Addis saw Souvanna in Xieng Khouang September 11, but we have not yet heard the details of their conversation./2/ We know, however, that Addis was to stress the same points of the August 7 Paris Agreement, which Ambassador Harriman will raise this weekend with the Prince, i.e., the need for a strong center group in any government of national union, an ICC endowed with adequate authority, a formula agreed to in advance by the three factions for the integration of the Pathet Lao forces into a new national army. (According to Indian Ambassador Ratnam there is some indication that Souvanna is already prepared to include some of the Vientiane moderates in his Cabinet should he become Prime Minister.)

/2/The results were reported in telegram 444 from Vientiane and commented on in telegram 445 from Vientiane, both September 12. In telegram 445, Brown commented that the Addis-Souvanna conversation revealed that Souvanna was still reluctant to accept the fact that he needed strong moderate candidates in the center group to contain the Pathet Lao. To persuade him otherwise would be one of Harriman's "most important and delicate tasks." (Both Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-1261)

2. The French and British governments have voiced concern that our contingency planning for Laos may encourage Phoumi to rely on a military solution rather than on a negotiated settlement and may also adversely affect the attitude of the Communist bloc with respect to the Geneva Conference.

3. There has been a definite slow down at Ban Namone and Phoumi has stated that he intends to take a harder position in those negotiations.

4. At Geneva only three restricted sessions were held last week and discussions on ICC terms of reference all ended in disagreement with belligerent statements made by bloc representatives, especially by the Chinese. Consultations among the Free World delegates and subsequently between Harriman, MacDonald and Pushkin resulted in a decision to string out the Conference by holding only two restricted sessions each week supplemented by smaller group discussions on the more thorny ICC issues, which might thus more easily be resolved and then submitted to the restricted session for approval. This group would include the U.S., UK, and USSR representatives, plus others, in particular the Chinese, depending on the topics under debate.

L.D. Battle/3/

/3/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

183. Memorandum From the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to President Kennedy/1/

Washington, September 15, 1961.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, Southeast Asia: General, 9/1/61-9/20/61. Secret.

Southeast Asia

General Taylor and I were briefed this morning by General Craig who toured Southeast Asia at the instruction of General Lemnitzer to make an evaluation on the ground./2/ They did a thorough job. There was nothing new in their presentation/3/ of the facts except, perhaps, their emphasis on the build-up of Pathet Lao-Viet-Minh forces in Southern Laos and the beginnings of additional pressure on Central Vietnam from that area. They concluded by recommending the implementation of SEATO Plan 5 now--or if that is not possible, the execution of preparatory measures such as laying the command and logistic base and moving closer to Laos the foreign troops who would take part.

/2/See footnote 5, Document 159.

/3/The text of the briefing by Craig for Taylor and Rostow, September 15, is in National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Laos 7, T-028-69. In a memorandum to Rostow, September 18, Robert Johnson suggested that Rostow give the text of the Craig briefing to the President and Johnson prepared a summary of it. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, Southeast Asia: General, 9/1/61-9/20/61) See Document 188.

Diem believes that Hanoi takes the view that the end of Stage 2--in Mao's theory of warfare--has arrived; that is, the end of guerrilla warfare and the beginning of open warfare.

Their recommendations are now being studied by the JCS and we should receive them, as modified, next week. They underline our own anxiety by emphasizing that the rainy season will be over by 30 September.

One operational thought arises from this briefing; namely, that you use the occasion of the UN speech/4/ to talk about Southeast Asia in some such terms as these:

/4/Reference is to the President's upcoming address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on September 25; for text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 618-626. The President did mention Southeast Asia and Laos in his speech; see ibid., p. 624.

"At this time we confront not merely a major crisis over Berlin but a situation equally dangerous to the peace in Southeast Asia. It has been my objective since assuming Presidential responsibility to seek by diplomatic means the negotiation of a truly independent and neutral Laos. This is clearly desirable in the interests of the Lao people, the peoples of Southeast Asia and of world peace itself. The situation as it now stands is dangerous not merely because we have only a precarious cease-fire in Laos; it is also dangerous because the territory of Laos is being used systematically to introduce external forces into South Vietnam. Only recently, moreover, the government of Cambodia announced a substantial engagement with Viet-minh forces operating from within its territory against the government of South Vietnam.

The United States is committed in Laos and in Southeast Asia generally to assist the governments of this region to maintain their independence. It intends to honor those commitments.

I was heartened when I spoke with Chairman Khrushchev in Vienna at our agreement that Laos should become an independent neutral nation on the model of Burma and Cambodia./5/ This would be a step forward. But the whole world community should understand that there is a danger to the peace in Southeast Asia to which it must devote constructive attention in coming days and months despite the more dramatic danger surrounding the Berlin question."

/5/See Documents 107 and 108.

Note: It is important to nail Khrushchev on his Burma and Cambodia analogy. At one point a Soviet ambassador slid over to using Poland as a model. In the latest Harriman talk with Pushkin,/6/ Finland was referred to, which would be O.K.

/6/See Document 180.


/7/Rostow added the following handwritten postscript: "Gen Taylor and I will meet on Saturday [September 16] with Alexis J. and Lemnitzer on Southeast Asia." Taylor met at noon on September 16 with Johnson and Lemnitzer, but no other record of the conversation has been found. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Taylor Appointment Book)

184. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State/1/

Vientiane, September 18, 1961, 5 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-1861. Secret; Niact. Repeated priority to Bangkok, niact to London and Paris, Phnom Penh, priority to Saigon, Geneva for Fecon, CINCPAC for POLAD, Moscow, New Delhi, and niact to USUN.

479. For President and Secretary from Harriman. USUN for Secretary. Other addressees for Ambassadors.

Except for Souvanna's utterly unacceptable position on selection six or seven out of eight in center cabinet from his Xieng Khouang followers, talks with him on other points were on the whole more satisfactory than I expected./2/ He is of course unduly confident of his own strength and capabilities, but took a realistic position on several subjects, particularly the problems of elections. He considers the Pathet Lao his opponents who must at all costs be beaten. He will select time most propitious after demobilization of surplus forces. He said only recourse was to fight if election lost to PL as he and his followers were unwilling see country go Communist. Although he realizes he must renounce SEATO protection, he volunteered statement that if Laos attacked from outside, such as North Vietnam, he would call on friendly countries for help as member of United Nations.

/2/Harriman arrived in Rangoon on September 14 and remained there until September 17. He held five formal meetings with Souvanna and at least four more informal discussions. These talks are reported on in detail in telegrams 244, 248, 249, 253, 256, 257, 258, and 259 from Rangoon, September 15-18, and telegram 478 from Vientiane, September 18. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-1561, 751J.00/9-1761, and 751J.00/9-1861) Harriman traveled to Vientiane on September 18.

Other points were (1) he unqualifiedly accepted responsibility to close Laos as corridor for Viet Cong, (2) expressed loyalty to King--"without throne Laos could not exist"--but will not go LP until Princes agree on him as PriMin, (3) clearly understands need for integration, census and demobilization surplus forces to avoid private PL Army but believes details of demobilization can be better handled by new government. He said "decision of cabinet better than bilateral discussions," meaning with Souphanouvong. Anyway detailed agreement would cause, he thinks, undue delay in formation new government which he considers should be agreed to earliest possible. He is fearful PL will gain under existing conditions. (4) His idea of size of army and police forces about the same as ours but he considers integration best carried out by individuals rather than units. He said, "We must not make same mistakes as in 1957." (5) He understands need to demobilize forces before election and hopes to replace local PL administrators recently appointed before elections. (6) He talked sensibly about cooperation with other non-Communists to join in putting up only one candidate in each district to avoid split of votes against PL. (7) His tentative agreement with the PL for their positions in cabinet is on the whole as good as we could expect. Phoumi, however, cannot have Defense or Interior which he reserves for his own followers. (8) He appeared willing accept wording "with cooperation" rather than "with agreement" of government for investigations requested by ICC or individual member, but didn't commit himself and wants to think it over. (9) He readily agreed to continuation of French military presence. Stated Souphanouvong also agreed as it was part of 1954 Accord. In fact, Souphanouvong had insisted on this being included in Zurich communique against Phoumi's opposition. Details should be worked out between new government and French. (10) He agreed on the great importance of strict maintenance of the cease-fire by all concerned and assured me that general resumption of hostilities would never come from his side. It would however continue necessary police action to protect population in his areas against mining of roads and other types of guerrilla action. He asked me urge Vientiane to cease rousing Meo against Lao, to moderate Meo guerrilla action, and to stop parachuting men behind his lines. He had no objection to airdrop of supplies. I agreed with him it desirable hold down minor clashes because of danger they might develop into major ones, and said I believed I could assure him that Vientiane would not be responsible for any major resumption of hostilities.

Ambassador Brown agrees I could not have been more definite in telling him on several occasions that you could not support him unless he took three or four of his ministers from moderates outside Xieng Khouang. I told him four times that this was the crucial issue and twice that you could not support him if he did not accept outsiders proposed above, and this was the last word I left with him.

Fromer spoke to Pheng three times and once to Khamchan, emphasizing crucial nature U.S. condition on government center, and urged they make this clear to Souvanna.

Souvanna gave me impression he had made commitments in XK and kept saying question was difficult though he might accept one or two from Vientiane. He did agree on two occasions to consult his associates when he got back.

Typical of Souvanna and most disquieting was his press conference shortly after I had shown him my own noncommittal release. He gave press impression we had agreed on him as PriMin and definitely stated three foreign secretaries in Paris had agreed to accept him. At dinner after press conference, he volunteered to Brown that there may have been a mistake in translation to press but did not specify what this was.

I have seen Addis, British Ambassador, on my arrival Vientiane and have suggested he get instructions with Washington [London?] approval to go soonest XK and repeat what I said to Souvanna and tell him that he will be responsible for collapse if he fails to agree our proposal on composition center. Addis may wish say this in presence Souvanna's colleagues. I will address letter Addis quoting what I said to Souvanna for Addis to read to Souvanna and if necessary, his colleagues. Addis has agreed seek London's instructions.

I will also advise Phoumi and King to insist on my proposed composition center of government./3/

/3/A long account of Harriman's 2-hour discussion with King Savang at Luang Prabang at 11 a.m. on September 19 is in telegram 486 from Vientiane, September 20. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-2061) For Harriman's discussion with Phoumi, see Document 185.


185. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State/1/

Vientiane, September 20, 1961, 6 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-2061. Secret; Niact. Repeated niact to Geneva for Fecon, priority to Paris, London, Bangkok, Saigon for Harriman, to Phnom Penh, niact to USUN for Rusk, priority to New Delhi, to Ottawa, and priority to CINCPAC for POLAD.

487. Following is summary of two-hour talk which Ambassador Harriman (accompanied by myself and DCM) had yesterday afternoon with Boun Oum, Phoumi and Sopsaisana. (Although Ambassador Harriman is quoted in first person throughout following report, pressure of time did not permit clearance of it with him prior his departure early this morning.)

After opening pleasantries I said I had just returned from audience with King in Luang Prabang. I told Phoumi one thing which had struck me as result hearing from King somewhat garbled version of my talks with Souvanna (Embtel 486)/2/ was fertile imagination of RLG "intelligence service." (Phoumi gave good-natured grimace in Sopsaisana's direction at this juncture.)/3/ I said I had given King full account of my talks with Souvanna and now wished do likewise with them.

/2/See footnote 3, Document 184. In telegram 430 from Bangkok, September 21, for the President, Rusk, Fecon, and relevant posts, Harriman made a clarification about Brown's account of his discussions with King Savang. Harriman stated that he had mentioned possible Chinese Communist intervention in response to an attempt by non-Communist forces to move north so as to make it clear to the King, and offset advice from Phoumi, that the best he could hope for through military action was a divided Laos. The King, with tears in his eyes, stated he would abdicate if Laos were divided. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-2161)

/3/Also in telegram 430 from Bangkok, Harriman stated that he was convinced that Phoumi had told the King that he, Harriman, had been taken in by Souvanna. When Harriman told Phoumi that much of the time during his audience with the King was wasted correcting misinformation, "Phoumi turned to Sopsaisana with a grimace as a boy might if caught trying to fool teacher."

As they were aware my mission to meet with Souvanna in Rangoon had been undertaken at President's request in pursuance of decision taken by three foreign ministers in Paris to support Souvanna as Prime Minister new Lao Government National Union provided we were satisfied he could meet certain specific conditions which would give reasonable assurances that under his premiership Laos would not fall under Communist control. Our extensive talks had revealed there was one fundamental point on which he had been unable, at least thus far, to meet our conditions. This was composition of center group of eight in his proposed government of 14. Souvanna wished allocate 7 of these 8 places to his close friends who had followed him in exile to Xieng Khouang. I had told Souvanna that on this basis President would not be able support him. I had advised that to make such support possible there would have to be at least three, and preferably four, Ministers in center group selected from outside Xieng Khouang circle. I had also suggested to him formula of center group of nine, with Souvanna as Prime Minister and four each from Xieng Khouang and from other parts of Laos. Souvanna said this would be very difficult but he would think it over. I said I hoped Phoumi and Boun Oum would press this point vigorously in their negotiations with the other two Princes.

On other major points talks had been considerably more satisfactory--for example, Souvanna's ideas re formation national army, regrouping and disbandment surplus forces, especially PL, necessity that this be accomplished before elections, holding of elections, his concept that NLHX would be principal adversary in elections, role of ICC, and interdiction of passage of Viet Minh troops through Laos into South Vietnam. Aside from one major point of composition of new government, his ideas were reasonably sensible and his general attitude indicated to me that he was sincerely desirous of bringing about peaceful, united, independent, neutral Laos which would not be under Communist domination. This was also our objective. From my discussions with Soviet Delegation in Geneva I felt there was good reason to believe neutral Laos along lines Finland was also their present desire. I had urged Souvanna to negotiate with RLG in good faith. I hoped that RLG could also demonstrate by its actions that it was prepared to get down to brass tacks around negotiating table to work out peaceful solution.

Phoumi asked me what Souvanna had said about the King. I told him Souvanna said that King had his respect, affection and fidelity and that without the monarchy Laos would be lost. Phoumi replied that was all very well but why hadn't Souvanna gone to Luang Prabang to see King as he had promised to do at Phnom Penh. He felt this was an indispensable action on Souvanna's part to demonstrate his loyalty to King and constitution without which he would not be deserving of support for position of Prime Minister. Most significant point in Zurich communique was expression of loyalty all three parties to King and constitution and it was up to Souvanna to demonstrate this by his actions.

RLG could not consider question possibility Souvanna as Prime Minister until his loyalty to King demonstrated without betrayal their ideals. (I refrained from reminding Phoumi of attempted suspension of constitution by revolutionary committee and difficulties Ambassador Brown had encountered in January in persuading present RLG to regularize their position by following constitutional procedures for their investiture.) He said that what King meant when he said he wanted recommendation from three Princes was that he should first be satisfied as to Souvanna's loyalty.

Moreover, Zurich communique provided for designation of new Prime Minister and government by King. Souvanna's insistence on agreed nomination by three Princes of a single candidate for Prime Minister would go counter to communique and constitution.

Phoumi insisted again that question of Souvanna's loyalty to King was the one important point. If this established there would be no difficulty on other points such as composition of government. I said I felt it essential that there be agreement on composition of government before decision on accepting Souvanna as PriMin and also on general principles of integration and disbanding of forces. I agreed that Souvanna's loyalty to King and constitution was very important. In fact it was first point stressed by three Foreign Ministers in Paris. But other points, such as composition of government were vital also. It might even be risky to have Souvanna go to Luang Prabang alone first and perhaps get Royal approval his selection as PriMin without being first satisfied on these important points.

I pointed out that King had indicated to me in LP he did not wish be put in position of having to make choice. He stated clearly that he wanted three Princes to get together and reach agreement among themselves on questions of PriMin and govt and then come to him with their agreed recommendations. If they agreed on Souvanna as PriMin he would be prepared, despite his awareness of Souvanna's faults and weaknesses to approve their choice.

I said there were really only two alternatives in Laos--a peaceful negotiated solution or resumption of hostilities. We much preferred former course. We were not prepared to support RLG in any military initiative on its part to move north to recapture lost areas, in view danger of bringing Chinese Communist forces into Laos and precipitating large-scale war. President had asked me to make this position perfectly clear. To reach peaceful solution would require sincere negotiations carried out in good faith. Time was running out. Such negotiations between opposing parties in Laos should have started several months ago. Phoumi protested he had always been in favor of negotiations and peaceful solution but he had so far made all the concessions and other side none. I replied that I must tell him in all honesty and friendship that while several months ago public opinion had all been on his side, impression was now growing that it was RLG which was dragging its feet. I urged him to negotiate sincerely and earnestly because if he did I thought there was good chance agreement could be reached. I urged him use same determination at negotiating table which he had always shown on battlefield.

Phoumi then shifted to ground that Souvanna had come too much under thumb of Communists to be trusted. He was really under domination of PL and his associates in Xieng Khouang were an unreliable group. (Name of Quinim came up. We all agreed he undesirable and unreliable. Phoumi said he had run government during Souvanna's premiership. In his only interjection during entire conversation, Boun Oum asserted that Quinim was "the microbe of the whole lot.") Phoumi said that in view of this factor it would be very difficult to support Souvanna as PriMin.

I said I did not want to get into Lao internal affairs but I did wish to impress on him as strongly as I possibly could need for genuine negotiations to endeavor arrive at peaceful settlement. Phoumi said this was also his objective and he would follow our advice. He stated RLG Delegation would go to Ban Namone tomorrow and did not rule out possibility of three Princes meeting at Ban Hin Heup, as suggested by Souvanna (although he still thought this meeting should be held at LP as he insisted was agreed at Phnom Penh). Phoumi said, however, that he wanted us to know that although he was prepared to pursue negotiations, he had practically no hope of a satisfactory outcome.

In fact, he was confident that he was heading for a defeat ("echec").

(Comment: I gained strong impression that Phoumi has no real intention of pursuing serious negotiations.)

If peaceful solution proved impossible and RLG were attacked, he was prepared defend himself. He hoped in any event he could count on support from United States.


186. Memorandum From the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to the President's Military Representative (Taylor)/1/

Washington, September, 20, 1961.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Southeast Asia, National Planning, No. 2. Secret.

Nolting's anguished telegram (373, Saigon, September 18)/2/--urging that we seek a split in Laos rather than a unified settlement--deserves serious thought.

/2/See Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. I, Document 133.

If we cannot negotiate a unified Laos on respectable terms, I think it is clear that we should seek to negotiate a split; although we should not underestimate the real difficulties of protecting the Laos-Viet-Nam border in a split Laos given the terrain involved. But it may be--despite the common skepticism that we have all shared--that terms will be offered for a unified Laos which we cannot refuse.

What, then, would be our reply to Nolting and to Young?

First, of course, we shall have to put maximum pressure on both a new Lao government and on the ICC to protect the Viet-Nam border as well as the Thai border; but I think we should begin imaginative contingency planning now on how the Viet-Nam and Thai borders might be better protected from inside those two countries than at present.

It may be that if we look at the problem closely, its solution does not hinge on the question of a unified or split Laos; it may hinge on the fact that we have not worked out good methods for detecting and dealing with infiltration of relatively small numbers through bad terrain. Put more bluntly--and without any criticism--it may be that Nolting is giving excessive weight to the advantages of a split Laos, and underestimating the inherent difficulty of stopping infiltration by present military methods in Southeast Asia.

This proposed review of the problem of infiltration in both Thailand and Viet-Nam might include the lessons to be learned from our cumulative experience, including the experience in Malaya, to which Thompson referred in his talk with you. It might also include the possibilities of light aircraft and helicopter patrols, and various means for detecting small group movements (including night movements) which modern science might afford.

187. Memorandum From the President's Military Representative (Taylor) to President Kennedy/1/

Washington, September 26, 1961.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, Southeast Asia: General, 9/21/61-9/30/61. Top Secret. A note on the source text indicates that it was sent to Newport as part of the President's weekend reading, September 27.

You have expressed an interest in discussing with Brigadier General William H. Craig, Joint Staff, his recent trip to Southeast Asia./2/ Since it appears difficult to get this discussion on your schedule in the near future, I am enclosing a summary of the briefing which he gave my group. You will note the emphasis which he places upon the lack of leadership in the Royal Laotian Army, the increased enemy build-up in the Laotian panhandle, and his feeling of the need of a tough MAAG/Embassy team on the Van Fleet/Peurifoy model.

/2/See footnote 5, Document 159.

Maxwell D. Taylor


/3/Top Secret. Drafted by Robert H. Johnson on September 18.


1. Lack of leadership at all levels is a major deficiency of the FAL. There is no alternative to General Phoumi at the top. He is the only driving force in Laos. However, we must begin to get tough with him; we must insist upon release of incompetent officers and NCO's. At present, incompetent officers tend to be rewarded and competent ones replaced. Junior officers are not given basic guidance and instruction by their superiors; and there are serious shortages in officer and NCO ranks.

2. The FAL logistic system is totally ineffective and there is an urgent requirement for a "U.S.-directed" logistic system down to battalion level.

3. There are serious deficiencies in training which are only beginning to be remedied by the extensive training program now under way. Fighting often appears to be a kind of chess game with men and artillery pieces as the pawns.

4. Since the beginning of the ostensible cease-fire, the international impression of activities in Laos has been one of stalemate and inactivity. However, the cease-fire did not result in the end of shooting but only in lessened intensity and frequency of operations. The FAL has been engaged in intense training activity, regrouping, reorganization, re-deployment, and small unit combat activity to counter PL/Viet Minh limited offensives and other cease-fire violations. The FAL has established liaison with the armed forces of South Viet Nam, to include South Viet Nam detachments at Savannakhet, Saravane and Attopeu. Phoumi is also in constant contact through liaison officers with Sarit and has discussed his contingency plans with the Thai Chief of Staff.

5. During the cease-fire period the enemy has been engaged in: (a) controlling Phong Saly, Sam Neua and Xieng Khouang; (b) suppressing Meos in the Plaine des Jarres; (c) infiltrating south Laos (most recently in company and battalion size units) along the common border of Laos/Viet Nam; (d) replenishing supplies by aerial and truck convoy operations; (e) recruiting and training the PL, both in Laos and in North Viet Nam; and (f) engaging in patroling and probing actions and hit-and-run raids. On balance, due primarily to extensive Viet Minh cadreing of the Lao units and Communist logistic support, the PL has made greater improvement than the FAL during the cease-fire.

6. The objective of friendly operations has been to hold areas held on May 3 or to retake them if lost, to defend themselves if required, and to take no aggressive action to capture areas not held at the time of the cease-fire. Sweeping and clearing operations have taken place primarily in the provinces of Nam Thai and Saraboury and around the cities of Vientiane and Pakse. Actions by friendly forces to resist Communist probing actions and hit-and-run raids have been carried out in a gingerly fashion and have accomplished very little.

7. The general consensus is that there is a strong possibility that large scale combat will be resumed at the end of the rainy season, with special enemy emphasis on the route into South Viet Nam through Laos. In the face of an armed enemy attack in force, Phoumi can, at best, fight a delaying action for no longer than two or three weeks. However, if the enemy attacks and Phoumi is supported by a multi-national force under SEATO Plan 5 or a suitable variation, he should be able to hold his pres-ent position, carry out extensive guerrilla operations in northeast Laos, clear his rear areas, and continue to improve the combat effectiveness of the FAL.

8. A most significant development with grave implications is the recently increased enemy activity and buildup in the panhandle in the area of Saravane/Attopeu. It is Phoumi's and Diem's conviction that the Communists plan to split Laos by a north-south line rather than by an east-west line. Such a split would greatly increase the threat to South Viet Nam.

9. It is Ambassador Young's view that Sarit will not provide any military units or significantly increased cadres for the FAL without introduction of U.S. combat units on the ground. "If the stops were pulled out", Thailand would most need two ranger battalions now, up to six later; training and equipment for the border police; and integration of a Thai ranger battalion with a U.S. battalion for a joint on-the-ground training.

10. It is Ambassador Nolting's view that we need a military plan big enough so that it will work; that we should not take half-way measures. It is also his view that, if a Souvanna Phouma government is formed, the gate will be opened to the Communists and South Viet Nam will go down fighting.

11. Diem considers a general attack by North Viet Nam to be imminent. McGarr believes that the recently approved 30,000 man increase in the GVN army will provide a limited capability for defense against an attack across the Lao border. Very small forces, if any, could be spared now for action in Laos. Diem might risk joining a multi-national force in Laos, but only if Western leadership and U.S. air and logistic support is forthcoming at the outset, along with concrete evidence that the West will put in ground troops.

12. Phoumi considers that the most probable enemy course of action will be to infiltrate South Viet Nam through eastern Laos. He does not believe the cease-fire will last beyond September 30. Phoumi indicated that he would accept any help in the form of advisers we could give him and indicated a willingness to accept Thai cadres in advisory and command capacities.

13. We should negate the use of Cambodia and Burma as safe havens and aids to the Communists through use of our unconventional warfare capabilities.

14. General Craig's team feels that we need in Laos a MAAG-Embassy team of the sort that we had in Greece under Van Fleet and Peurifoy.

15. In conclusion, the team believes that with the end of the rainy season the situation in Laos is now critical; that the future of the U.S. in Southeast Asia is at stake; that the FAL cannot hold back the Communists; and that an immediate decision is urgently required.

16. The recommendations of the team are as follows: (a) take initial steps right now to implement SEATO Plan 5 or a suitable variation in order to get the needed multi-national forces placed in desired positions before the end of the rainy season; (b) simultaneously get tough with Phoumi on leadership and on an effective logistic support system within the FAL; and (c) be prepared to provide Phoumi tactical air support in the event hostilities are resumed.

188. Memorandum From the President's Military Representative (Taylor) to President Kennedy/1/

Washington, September 26, 1961.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, Southeast Asia: General, 9/21/61-9/30/61. Top Secret. A note on the source text indicates that it was sent to Newport as part of the President's weekend reading, September 27.

Southeast Asia Planning

1. The planning for Southeast Asia, which has been pointing to a conclusion by the end of the rainy season, is coming to a head but will not be ready for presentation to you this week. Two plans are in process of development. The first is an expanded version of SEATO 5 which maximizes the use of Thai and South Vietnamese forces./2/ This plan, however, is applicable only to the case of an overt resumption of hostilities.

/2/Reference is to SEATO Plan 5 Plus, an undated copy of which is in the National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Das Buch Laos, T 641-71C. A copy of a draft is attached to a memorandum from Williams to McNamara, I-19078/61, October 2, in the Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71 A 3470, Southeast Asia.

2. The second plan addresses itself to the case of ambiguous Communist aggression falling outside the scope of SEATO 5./3/ This is a more difficult situation to meet because of the limited local resources available for the extensive counter-guerrilla action necessary to avoid further loss of ground in Laos and to protect the Thai and South Vietnamese border from further infiltration.

/3/Two slightly different drafts of this plan, one drafted by Wood and dated September 26, one undated and without attribution, are in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, Southeast Asia: General, 9/21/61-9/30/61.

3. The more we study the Southeast Asia problem the more we are convinced of the critical importance of logistic factors. A study of the logistic problem from the point of view of the Communists and ourselves indicates that it sets an upper limit to the possibility of escalation of military action. A recent briefing by the Joint Staff indicates that in the wet season we could support only one more U.S. division in the Mekong Valley beyond the forces presently planned in SEATO 5./4/ During the dry season we could bring in a maximum of three additional divisions, but two of these would have to be withdrawn southward into Thailand at the commencement of the wet season. With intensive work on the logistic facilities, we could probably raise the level of support-ability above these figures in a few months after the arrival of our logistic troops.

/4/A summary of the conclusions based on that briefing to Taylor, U. Alexis Johnson, Rostow, Colonel Ewell, Commander Bagley, and other military officers is ibid., Countries Series, Laos: General, 9/61.

4. Our ability to support significant numbers of troops in combat ends at the rail- and airheads in the Mekong Valley. Movement beyond the valley into the hinterland of Laos could be supplied only by porters and primitive transport, supplemented by such helicopters as we might introduce. Thus there would be a narrow limit set on the use of SEATO troops in jungle warfare.

5. On the enemy side there are considerably more difficult problems than on ours. We estimate that not more than eight Viet Minh or ChiCom divisions could be introduced into northern Laos, even in the dry season, and of these only four could be supported in combat in the Mekong River area. In the panhandle of Laos, it does not appear logistically feasible for the enemy to reinforce with major units. He could support five to six more divisions in North Vietnam for use against South Vietnam but in this area we also could reinforce.

6. This estimate of the enemy's eight division reinforcement capability in Laos does not take into account the effect of our air attack on his supply lines which are highly vulnerable. If we took out key points such as Hanoi, Mon Cay and Lao Kay his level of troop support-ability would drop very substantially.

7. A consideration of the foregoing facts leads to the conclusion that the logistics factor does indeed place a definite ceiling upon the size of the war which can be conducted in Southeast Asia. Without much work on the logistic facilities, we could not introduce and support many more troops in Laos and Thailand than those contemplated in SEATO 5. The enemy's reinforcement capability in this area is so limited that the possibility of ChiCom intervention on the ground tends to lose significance. The principal threat from the Chinese would be the air attack of important targets in Southeast Asia, but our air capability, reinforced by carrier-based aircraft, should be able to hold this threat into manageable proportions.

8. The foregoing considerations do not suggest that military operations in Southeast Asia could be conducted cheaply. Even though the over-all numbers committed would be limited, the requirement for replacements and the effort necessary to improve and expand the logistics base would be costly. However, we are not talking about a war which might approach in size the Korean operation. Nor will we run the risk of being driven off the peninsula as we did in the early days of Korea.

Maxwell D. Taylor

189. Telegram From the Delegation to the Conference on Laos to the Department of State/1/

Geneva, September 26, 1961, 4 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-2261. Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Repeated to USUN for the Secretary and to Vientiane eyes only for Ambassador.

Confe 660. Dept for President. From Harriman. Department's excellent instructions (Deptel 287 to Vientiane)/2/ provide basis for Ambassador Brown to impress upon Phoumi that he must negotiate sincerely with Souvanna, if he is to continue to receive our support.

/2/In telegram 287, September 22, the Department instructed Brown to "convey to Phoumi in strongest terms our desire that he negotiate sincerely with Souvanna Phouma and that he agree to participate in early meeting three Princes." Brown was authorized to state that there was an "unequivocal position decided at the highest level" not to support Phoumi if further hostilities resulted from his failure to negotiate. (Ibid.)

We believe it impossible answer questions raised by Amembassy Vientiane,/3/ as answers would have to be related to sincerity of negotiations which Phoumi has been carrying on. There are so many variants that it impractical for US Government to provide in advance answers to all of them. One possibility which I explored with Allen Dulles is to find substitute general to replace Phoumi if he remains intransigent. The more I see of Phoumi, the less I trust him as US chosen instrument to carry out faithfully our agreed policies and objectives now or later. Recommend this subject be pursued further urgently to analyze alternatives and be prepared to act promptly if need be. We will simply have to determine for ourselves whether Phoumi is in fact negotiating in good faith.

/3/In telegram 507 from Vientiane, September 25, Brown asked questions about these instructions: if Phoumi refused to negotiate in good faith and the enemy attacked would the United States not support him, or would support be denied only if Phoumi initiated the attack? What did refusal to support mean: no introduction of U.S. troops, withdrawal of MAAG advisers, cut-off of munitions? Brown also observed that it would be difficult to determine who was responsible for a major attack. Brown concluded that the United States could never be fully effective with Phoumi until it decided to support Souvanna Phouma and until it told Phoumi so. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-2561)

Conversations reported by Sen (Vientiane's 26)/4/ with respect to various possible formulas for composition of new government give us a basis for arriving at some workable arrangement. If we were to work on the basis of a total figure of 20 there is possibility of juggling the component groups around in such a way as to get as many places as nine or possibly 10 for the RLG and non-Xieng Khouang neutral groups. Cabinet of 20 makes it possible to take care of Souvanna's followers in Xieng Khouang and still have adequate outside representation.

/4/The reference is in error and should be to telegram 512 from Vientiane, repeated to Geneva as 326, September 25, in which the Embassy reported a conversation with ICC Chairman Sen who gave the impression that both Souvanna and Souphanouvong were receptive to modifications of the formula for composition of a Souvanna-led center government. (Ibid.)

Referring to Brown's observation that we can never be fully effective with Phoumi unless and until we have decided to support Souvanna, I feel that if Phoumi negotiates sincerely with Souvanna from present fairly strong position (after all Souvanna knows that Phoumi can cause hostilities to start again in which event either (1) PL will win country; (2) RLG will get US SEATO support with division of country. In either event Souvanna will be out.), Phoumi can get better terms for himself and perhaps non-Xieng Khouang groups than will be possible if we have to do all the negotiating ourselves or through other channels.

It is of course not yet possible for us to make decision to support Souvanna because he has not yet met all our conditions. It is by standing firmly upon our conditions and negotiating sincerely and toughly with Souvanna that Phoumi can obtain best results. If Phoumi refuses to negotiate sincerely it will be necessary to negotiate with Souvanna directly or through other channels to find a basis upon which we can support him and then present Phoumi with fait accompli. However, this is much less preferable course, and one which I hope we will not have to follow. On the other hand, I see no objection to encouraging exploratory discussion such as Addis and Sen have recently had.

190. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Battle) to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, September 28, 1961.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 9/61. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text.

Weekly Summary, Geneva Conference, September 18-24, 1961

1. Ambassador Harriman's Mission

a. Royal Audience./2/ King Savang expressed appreciation for the President's message. He voiced grave misgivings, however, over acceptance of Souvanna but indicated that as constitutional monarch he would designate him Prime Minister if requested jointly by the three Princes who he agreed with Harriman should meet again promptly. Savang's own choice for Premier was Phoui Sananikone. In the event of partition of his country, the King said he would abdicate. While he regretted no solution had been found at the audience, he hoped the Free World, by remaining flexible yet determined and prepared to fight if required, would win out.

/2/See footnote 3, Document 184.

b. Phoumi Nosavan./3/ Harriman deduced from talking with Phoumi that the latter was not prepared to negotiate in good faith with Souvanna and still counted on U.S. backing of any military action he might choose to undertake. At Ambassador Brown's suggestion we have authorized him to make clear to Phoumi that he must negotiate seriously or risk losing our support. Brown has come back asking for more specific instructions, including at what point and on what basis we would withdraw such support to Phoumi. The Department is now studying this problem and its implications.

/3/See Document 185.

c. Diem, Sarit, Thai King, SEATO, Nehru./4/ As anticipated, President Diem and Marshal Sarit were skeptical of Souvanna's ability to maintain a genuinely neutral posture. Sarit did accept Harriman's suggestion that the Thai at Geneva adopt greater flexibility on issues of lesser importance. The Thai King was responsive to Harriman's visit; he was concerned over the Communist threat to Thailand and stressed the need for a constructive socio-economic program in Laos to wean the population away from the Communists. There were few comments from the SEATO Council representatives who in restricted session heard Harriman's analysis of the Lao situation and his mission to Southeast Asia. Finally, Harriman reported that though there were no concrete results from his meetings with Nehru and other key Indian officials, he felt the time had been usefully spent in that the Indians now appeared to understand our position on Laos more fully. Desai in particular had been unrealistic in his appraisal of Souphanouvong and Souvanna, considering the latter much stronger than his half-brother.

/4/An account of Harriman's discussion with Diem and other South Vietnamese officials is in telegram 431 from Saigon, September 21. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-2161) A report of Harriman's discussion with Sarit is in telegram 444 from Bangkok, September 22. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-2261) An account of Harriman's meeting with the SEATO Council Representatives in Bangkok is in telegram 447 from Bangkok, September 22. (Ibid., 370/9-2261) The report on the discussion with Nehru is in telegram 901 from New Delhi, September 22. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-2261)

2. Addis-Souvanna Meeting/5/

/5/A more detailed report is in Confe 661 from Geneva, September 26. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-2661)

At our request, British Ambassador Addis met with Souvanna on September 22 to convince him of the necessity of a broad center group in any coalition government. Addis deduced that Souvanna was principally motivated by his desire to reward his "faithful cohorts" by giving them portfolios, rather than by obedience to Communist or Pathet Lao directives. He therefore personally suggested a new 4-7-4-4 formula to Souvanna: 4 Pathet Lao, 7 Souvanna/Xieng Khouang "moderates," 4 non-Xieng Khouang moderates, 4 Phoumi-Boun Oum. Souvanna was not enthusiastic but agreed to consider the proposal if the King were to designate the 4 non-Xieng Khouang center elements. Addis felt that there was now a faint possibility of success on this major issue.

3. Geneva/6/

/6/This summary is taken from the weekly evaluation of the Laos Conference in Confe 655 from Geneva, September 23. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-2361)

Under the new procedure, the two Geneva Co-Chairmen agreed bilaterally on five items, three on Pushkin's list and two others involving Western withdrawal of proposed drafts. Progress was also achieved in negotiating new drafts bearing on the Co-Chairmen's role and ICC equipment. Pushkin, however, was angered by alleged Western dilatoriness and refused to hold the restricted session set for September 22 for discussion of the five items. He calmed down on learning that we were ready to accept his draft on war prisoners and the session was anticipated for September 25. MacDonald believes Pushkin is under Moscow pressure to obtain a settlement by the end of this month and also has been under criticism from the Chinese for not securing Western agreement to his drafts on ICC and war prisoners.


191. Telegram From the Delegation to the Conference on Laos to the Department of State/1/

Geneva, September 29, 1961, 8 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-2961. Top Secret. Repeated to USUN Eyes Only for the Secretary.

Confe 674. For Rostow White House Eyes Only. Re Department's 398./2/ From Harriman.

/2/In this telegram, September 28, the Department informed Harriman of the substance of the Rostow-Smirnovsky discussion of that day. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-2861)

I called on Pushkin this afternoon explaining I had received "good news" from Washington and then took up Rostow-Smirnovsky conversation/3/ point by point. He indicated no knowledge of conversation and said that embassies were not the best informed regarding details of conferences./4/

/3/Rostow met Mikhail N. Smirnovsky, the new Minister Counselor of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, who had been Pushkin's assistant, for a discussion which lasted for an hour and a half. (Memorandum of conversation, September 28; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 9/61)

/4/On October 3, Harriman met Soviet Ambassador Menshikov in Washington for an inconclusive discussion on Laos. When Harriman asked Menshikov about the Rostow-Smirnovsky talk, Menshikov asked Smirnovsky to come in. Smirnovsky stated that his discussion with Rostow was on his own initiative and without specific instructions. In reply to a question from Harriman, Smirnovsky stated that he told Rostow nothing that Pushkin had not told Harriman. (Memorandum of conversation between Harriman and Menshikov, October 3; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 10/61)

1. Veto in ICC: Up to the present Pushkin has stood firmly on principle unanimity ICC even as late as two days ago at meeting with British, Chinese, and ourselves. Today he said that Soviets would not accept majority procedure but implied they might be willing negotiate some concession to strict unanimity.

2. Veto by Lao Government: After some discussion he agreed to investigation by ICC "in agreement with government" rather than "with agreement by government" as he had argued before. By this he explained that the ICC would not necessarily have to get permission for each investigation providing the investigation was in accordance with general agreement reached between the ICC and the government.

3. It has always been agreed ICC should supervise withdrawal foreign troops obviously including Viet Minh. He admitted that Viet Minh intended to disappear before ICC could investigate and before their presence had to be admitted. Pushkin added: "I assume the same will be true of Thais and South Vietnamese."

4. Orderly reduction Lao forces: Pushkin recognized that Zurich communique required further agreement between Princes. He stated unequivocally all forces should be integrated and that no private armies--PL or Phoumi--should remain in Laos. He agreed that permanent force should not be large and excess should be demobilized. There has been no proposal tabled for ICC supervision of this demobilization. Pushkin is definitely opposed to ICC having any authority in Lao internal affairs. ICC should deal only with respect to internal aspects. This underlines importance of agreement among Princes amplifying Zurich communique and reference to it in Lao declaration.

5. Transit of Viet Minh through Laos to South Vietnam led to discussion of situation in South Vietnam: Although Pushkin did not deny some Viet Minh had come from North, he maintained that principal trouble in South Vietnam was popular uprising against unpopular Diem regime. He compared Diem to Syngman Rhee and implied that Diem would have the same fate. I of course did not accept his assertions and pointed out that reforms Diem attempting were being prevented by guerrilla interference with village life. I suggested that if we came to a successful conclusion Laos negotiation, it might be well for our governments to attempt to eliminate hostilities between North and South Vietnam. He replied perhaps providing both Vietnam Governments were represented in discussion. Each of us made it plain that neither had authority to discuss this question in Geneva.

I pressed him for agreement on inclusion of our text specifically forbidding transit foreign military personnel. He commented with a smile: "You want to have everything in your pocket this afternoon." I mention this as conversation was relaxed and in good humor although he was clearly puzzled by the manner of my approach.

In this connection the question of KMTs came up. I again assured him it was the administration's objective to get rid of them in Laos as well as in Thailand and Burma as it was causing difficulties in our relations with these countries. Pushkin commented that it would be impossible to exaggerate how much the presence of KMTs adversely affected Red China's attitude towards US.

Incidentally, I had long talk with Pushkin day before yesterday in which I gave him reasonably frank report of my talks with Souvanna and others in SEA.

Pushkin asserts that we can come to final agreement Geneva before formation Union Government. I have maintained this would be violation Lao sovereignty and we could not finally reach agreement without Lao Government participation.

192. Editorial Note

On October 1, the Commander in Chief, Pacific, Admiral Harry D. Felt, visited Vientiane for consultations with Phoumi Nosavan and Prince Boun Oum. Ambassador Averell Harriman had warned from Geneva that Felt's visit might send the wrong signal to Phoumi and undermine ongoing U.S. efforts to convince Phoumi to negotiate in good faith with Souvanna Phouma. He strongly urged reconsideration of the visit. (Confes 667 and 673 from Geneva, September 28 and 29; Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-2861 and 751J.00/9-2961) After consultation with Rusk, who was at the United Nations, the Department of State informed Harriman that Felt should visit Vientiane in accordance with his longstanding schedule commitment. Since there were Military Assistance Advisory Group personnel in Laos, Felt, as Commander in Chief, Pacific, had to be able to make periodic visits. The Department thought that Felt could use his influence to encourage Phoumi to negotiate a settlement with Souvanna. (Fecon 461 to Geneva, September 28; ibid., 751J.00/9-2861)

During their conference, Phoumi gave Felt an optimistic military briefing claiming that while the enemy was still capable of threatening Vientiane and Paksane, Royal Lao Government forces were in a favorable position to take the offensive. Phoumi outlined a three-staged plan: 1) retraining and mopping-up in areas his forces already controlled; 2) reinforcement of Royal Lao Army forces in enemy-controlled territory along with guerrilla activity; and 3) re-occupation of enemy territory. Ambassador Brown, who was also present during the consultations, warned Phoumi against going on the offensive during the cease-fire. Phoumi replied that since the Pathet Lao did not respect the cease-fire in Sam Neua and Xieng Khouang, he felt no obligation to respect their positions in Attopeu Province.

Felt urged Phoumi to continue negotiations for the time being, since the additional time allowed for improvement in the effectiveness of the Royal Lao Armed Forces. After the discussions, Phoumi confided to Felt that he had no confidence in Souvanna whom he considered a tool of the Communists. (CINCPAC telegram 04254 to JCS, October 10; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Records)

193. Memorandum From the Head of the Delegation to the Conference on Laos (Harriman) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)/1/

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/10-361. Top Secret.

Washington, October 3, 1961.

Just as you left my house last night, you asked if I would have any objection to shooting down Russian planes delivering supplies to Tchepone. In the rush, I answered "no". I want to say, however, that this matter should be studied carefully before a decision is reached. There is, of course, no breach of the cease-fire for the Russians to supply enemy forces by air flying over territory held by them. The planes of our side that have been shot at have been flying over enemy-held territory in order to deliver supplies well behind enemy positions. The enemy have claimed that these flights over their air space have been breaches of the cease-fire, whereas the RLG has claimed the right to supply their forces that have been cut off.

The value of shooting a plane or two at Tchepone must be weighed against the possibility, if not probability, of the enemy taking retaliatory action of a similar nature against our planes flying into Vientiane, Luang Prabang, or some other town held by the RLG.

I am afraid that the Secretary got the impression that the Russian deliveries were being made to help the Viet Cong. As far as I know, there is no evidence to this effect, and the deliveries are presumably for maintainance of the enemy forces that took Tchepone just prior to the cease-fire. If, of course, the enemy flies over territory held by the RLG, that is a different matter. But to send men out under cover, close to the airfield in area held by the enemy, may well bring retaliatory action that will be more damaging to us and may lead to a major breach in the cease-fire. I don't see much to be gained by jumping the gun on this kind of thing unless we know where we're going. At the moment when the three Princes are at last beginning to talk, doesn't seem an opportune time to start.

I have felt for some time that South Viet Nam could perhaps do more than they have been doing in stopping the flow of Viet Minh along the Laos border. There can obviously be no objection, and in fact there would be benefit, from this type of operation.

In any event, if a program of air attack is being considered, Ambassador Brown should be consulted before any action is taken.


194. Memorandum From the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson) to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 790.00/10-561. Top Secret. Drafted by Johnson.

Washington, October 5, 1961.

There is attached a copy of a talking paper from which, within the limits of the time available, we would propose to discuss the situation in Southeast Asia with the President this afternoon./2/ However, the principal purpose of the meeting is to obtain the President's general approval for the line of action it is proposed that Ambassador Harriman take at Geneva, especially in bilateral discussions with the Soviets. A copy of the draft instructions to Harriman (which, as of this writing, have not yet been seen or approved by the Secretary) is attached./3/

/2/The President met with Harriman, Rostow, and U. Alexis Johnson at 6 p.m. No other record of the meeting, which was characterized as "off the record," has been found. (Kennedy Library, President's Appointment Book)

/3/Attached but not printed. For the instructions as sent, see Document 200.

As noted in the paper, other courses of action will subsequently be discussed, hopefully early next week, with the President.

U. Alexis Johnson/4/

/4/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


/5/Top Secret.


Present Situation

A. Laos--Political

1. With respect Geneva, Soviets continue indicate desire reach agreement and there is some concrete move forward. However, there are still some essential points that have not been resolved at Geneva. These include:

a. The ICC voting procedure.

b. Adequate authority and functions for the ICC, including fixed teams, especially on the Viet Minh transit routes into South Viet-Nam.

c. Communist insistence on withdrawal of SEATO protocol protection from Laos.

d. Presence of French training mission.

2. With respect Laos, in spite of Harriman mission and urgings from French and U.K. Ambassadors, Souvanna Phouma has not as yet agreed to a satisfactory composition of a government of national unity.

3. In Laos, there is also not yet anything approaching an understanding between the parties on the vital question of demobilization of the various armed forces.

4. The "three Princes" are meeting at Ban Hin Heup on October 6 to begin discussion of formation of a Government.

B. Laos--Military

1. While FAR capabilities have increased and numerically it is far superior to the PL, the enemy still retains military superiority.

2. While the enemy has capability of initiating offensive action any time of his own choosing, he does not yet show any clear signs of doing so and cease-fire generally remains in effect although there is some increase in small probing actions on both sides.

3. Soviet and Viet Minh supply activities remain at high level and Soviet air lift has been extended to Tchepone.

4. There probably have been some Viet Minh withdrawals from northern Laos but Viet Minh movement into southern Laos bordering on South Viet-Nam has increased. Thus it appears enemy may be accepting stalemate for time being within Laos and giving priority to stepping up offensive action against South Viet-Nam.

C. South Viet-Nam--Political

1. According to Saigon country team, Diem Government has not significantly improved its political position among people or substantially furthered national unity.

2. Also, according to country team, Diem has still not delegated sufficient authority to field command and country team does not feel that "September saw progress toward attainment task force goals of creating viable and increasingly democratic society."

D. South Viet-Nam--Military

1. Although GVN military capabilities have increased, Viet Cong capabilities are increasing at more rapid rate and Viet Cong attacks have increased in size.

2. Viet Cong "regular" forces have increased from about 7,000 at beginning of year to approximately 17,000.

3. Viet Cong have moved from stage of small bands to large units. During September Viet Cong mounted three attacks with over 1,000 men in each. Viet Cong strategy may be directed at "liberating" an area in which a "government" could be installed.

4. Although vast majority of Viet Cong troops are of local origin, the infiltration of Viet Cong cadres from North Viet-Nam via Laos, the demilitarized zone, and by sea appears to be increasing. However, there is little evidence of major supplies from outside sources, most arms apparently being captured or stolen from GVN forces or from the French during the Indo-China war.

E. Thailand--Political

1. Thailand has indicated increased dissatisfaction with SEATO, desire have a bilateral defense pact with the United States, and concern that the Souvanna Phouma Government in Laos will eventually result in the loss of Laos to the Communists. The internal situation in Thailand remains stable.

F. Cambodia--Political

1. Relations with South Viet-Nam are on the downgrade, with increased exchanges of mutual recriminations between Saigon and Phnom Penh.

G. Cambodia--Military

1. Although there have been some Cambodian-Viet Cong clashes within Cambodia, hopes for improved Cambodian border control of Viet Cong appear dim at this time.

II. Additional Courses of Action

A. Laos--Political

1. Primarily through Ambassador Harriman, intensify bilateral negotiations with Soviets with objectives of:

a. Preventing renewal of hostilities in Laos.

b. Obtaining Soviet agreement for an ICC able freely to move and report without an internal veto and with cooperation of Lao Government, with particular emphasis upon the infiltration routes from Laos into South Viet-Nam.

c. An acceptable Souvanna Phouma Government.

d. Satisfactory arrangements for demobilization and reintegration of Lao forces, particularly to insure Pathet Lao do not retain private army.

e. Engaging to maximum Soviet responsibility for fulfillment of conditions by Communist side.

(There is attached a draft instruction to Ambassador Harriman to carry out the foregoing objectives.)

Other additional courses of action will subsequently be submitted for the consideration of the President.

195. Memorandum From the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to President Kennedy/1/

Washington, October 5, 1961.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, Southeast Asia: General, 10/7/61-10/11/61. Secret.

Southeast Asia

Secretary McNamara has asked a delay until Tuesday or Wednesday/2/ of next week before presenting to you military plans for Southeast Asia. The delay is a good idea because some solid notions about Viet-Nam and the Southern Laos problem are beginning to emerge, but require careful political and military staffing.

/2/Wednesday, October 11, or Thursday, October 12.

It is planned that you see Ambassador Harriman on Thursday (today) at 6:00 p.m. to discuss his negotiating plans./3/ It is essential that he return to Geneva as soon as possible to resume the dialogue with Pushkin.

/3/See footnote 2, Document 194.

The contingency plan for an overt resumption of the offensive in Laos is in tolerably good shape; but it is now agreed that it is more likely that the other side will concentrate on doing Diem in than on capturing the Mekong Valley during this fighting season.

As for Viet-Nam, it is agreed we must move quite radically to avoid perhaps slow but total defeat. The sense of the town is that, with Southern Laos open, Diem simply cannot cope. His build up of troops is, of the nature of the training problem, going slower than the guerrilla build up.

You will be presented next week with alternative proposals. One of them is likely to be this three-pronged action, which I launched at a meeting yesterday after checking with Gilpatric, Harriman, etc./4/

/4/An account of that meeting is in a memorandum from Bagley to Taylor, October 5. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Taylor NSC, T-030-69)

1. We signal to the Russians via Harriman (and perhaps in your talk with Gromyko) that we cannot accept destruction of Diem via infiltration any more than they could accept the destruction of Ulbricht via the Berlin flow of refugees. At Geneva Harriman will negotiate for a settlement, placing great emphasis on the Vietminh exploitation of Southern Laos, and the need for assurance that it will stop.

2. On the basis of William Jorden's White Paper to be available next week/5/ we go into the UN, in the wake of the Southeast Asia passage of your recent speech./6/ The object of the exercise would be to ask for an immediate UN inspection mission in Southern Laos. The argument would be that we are hopeful that a settlement at Geneva will end the violation of the South Viet-Nam frontier; but the matter cannot wait, notably because the ICC in Laos is totally paralyzed.

/5/The Jorden Report was released on December 8, 1961, and was formally called A Threat to the Peace: North Vietnam's Effort To Conquer South Viet-Nam; see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. I, pp. 725-726.

/6/See footnote 4, Document 183.

We would not expect that this UN effort would totally stop the flow into Viet-Nam; but we would expect it to do two useful things. First, the coming of the UN mission during this fighting season would probably force the Viet Cong to get off the trails, to sanitize Tchepone, and generally to damp down its external pressure at a crucial moment for Diem. Second, it would provide the occasion for laying before the world the basis for the major action suggested in paragraph 3, below. Moreover, the action would begin to get the UN responsibly involved in Southeast Asia, which, I believe, is essential in the long run.

3. Against the background of these two moves we immediately explore the possibility of placing a SEATO border patrol force in Viet-Nam. Its rationale would be this: while it is inappropriate for an international force to engage in a civil war, it is wholly appropriate that it help protect the frontiers of an independent nation. No one knows how effective a modern force (equipped with helicopters and light aircraft, modern communications, good intelligence and staff work) would be in stopping the flow across the Viet-Nam frontiers. My own view is that we will not find out until we try, under a first rate imaginative young commander. But, however effective or ineffective this force may be, it would have the following positive effects:

--It would release some Viet-Nam forces from border patrol to pursuit of the guerrillas within the country;

--It would provide a restraint on Hanoi in the sense that the Vietminh would know that if they moved up to the stage of open warfare (which would require more substantial external supplies than guerrilla war), they would run into this force; and they could not bring their armies across the 17th parallel without immediately engaging the U.S.;

--It would not only hearten Diem but permit us to put pressure on him to organize his military effort more efficiently;

--Finally, and perhaps most important, it would give us for the first time some bargaining position with the Russians for a settlement in Viet-Nam.

4. The last point justifies some elaboration. Where would we like to end up in Viet-Nam? We would like a deal for Diem not unlike the deal which the Russians are trying to negotiate for Ulbricht, that is, a de facto recognition that the country is split; and that its unification, if it is not to be indefinitely postponed, must take place by negotiation among the Vietnamese themselves without a pistol pointed at Diem's head; and that, in the meanwhile, the attempt to overthrow Diem from the outside must stop. At the moment we have no bargaining counter whatsoever in talking to the Russians in this way. If we introduce a SEATO force now, we could make its withdrawal a bargaining counter in a Vietnamese settlement. At the moment, even if Khrushchev wanted Ho Chi Minh to lay off, he has no argument: Hanoi is doing very well and is not yet taking any steps which the Russians can regard as dangerous to their interests. The presence of a SEATO force in South Viet-Nam would make it clear, however, that the attempt to destroy the South Vietnamese government by force could not be carried forward to a conclusion without risking an escalation of the fight. This would not merely threaten Hanoi with air and naval action, but would threaten Soviet or Chinese Communist involvement. And this I doubt Moscow wants. It is at this point that Khrushchev might have a legitimate basis for a settlement we could live with.

5. For us the gut issue as I see it is this: We are deeply committed in Viet-Nam; if the situation deteriorates, we will have to go in; the situation is, in fact, actively deteriorating; if we go in now, the costs human and otherwise are likely to be less than if we wait.

6. But whatever you decide next week, I come back to my old pitch: it is essential that Generals Taylor and Lansdale take a good, hard look at Viet-Nam on the ground, soon.

196. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Williams) to Secretary of Defense McNamara/1/


Washington, October 5, 1961.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71 A 3470, Southeast Asia. Top Secret.

Alternative Plans for Southeast Asia

The NSC will meet next week, possibly on Tuesday, to discuss Southeast Asia./2/ The following precis of possible alternatives is submitted for your use in discussions with the JCS and State prior to the NSC meeting. These alternatives range from the purely political to the full military solution. In view of their wide range, many of the actions contained in the alternatives are not mutually exclusive.

/2/Tuesday, October 10. The NSC met on Wednesday, October 11; see Documents 204 and 205.

A. Alternatives

1. Political Settlement in Laos.

The present direction of our effort is to obtain a political settlement in Laos. Ambassador Harriman states that for the first time he sees the possibility of reaching a satisfactory political solution. Mr. Johnson and Ambassador Harriman propose to discuss the political situation with the President on Friday, 6 October./3/

/3/Johnson's and Harriman's discussion with the President was at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 5; see footnote 2, Document 194.

The establishment of a unified, neutral Laos will avoid the U.S. getting militarily involved in Laos. However, despite assurances that would be given us by Souvanna Phouma (assuming he will be the Prime Minister) and the Russians, there are risks of a neutral government being taken over completely by the Communists or of a weak neutral government being incapable of taking action to prevent Laos being used as a base and an easy access route for the support of subversion in South Vietnam and Thailand.

2. Continuation of Present Ambiguous Situation in Laos. (No political settlement and no resumption of hostilities)

The draft paper "Limited Holding Actions in Southeast Asia"/4/ outlines actions that could be taken under this alternative. You have the JCS views on this paper. We feel that while this alternative does hold down the possibilities of the U.S. getting militarily involved in Southeast Asia, it will not meet our objective. It further runs the risk that the Pathet Lao could initiate hostilities and overrun Laos before we could react.

/4/This State-Defense-Joint Staff draft paper is attached to JCSM-690-61, from the JCS to McNamara, October 5, in which the JCS state that they did not endorse the plan and that the actions proposed in it would "seriously undermine our military position in the Far East." (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71 A 3470, Southeast Asia)

If we must follow this alternative, the draft paper contains action that should be taken, realizing that, as we increase the scale of U.S. military activity in Laos and take action to block infiltration into South Vietnam, we possibly increase the risk of resumption of full hostilities in Laos.

3. No Political Settlement and Resumption of Hostilities in Laos.

a. Intervention with SEATO Plan 5.

SEATO forces would release the FAR to fight and would assist the FAR to regain areas lost since May 3rd by furnishing additional military and logistic support. By demonstrating our willingness to engage, the intervention could restrain the DRV and restore the situation in Laos. It could also trigger large-scale Communist intervention. The question remains as to the ability of the FAR to regain control of Southern Laos, so as to protect South Vietnam.

b. Intervention with SEATO Plan 5-Plus./5/

/5/See footnote 2, Document 188.

This plan calls for a de facto divided Laos. It more nearly approaches the U.S. objectives, in that SEATO forces would be used offensively to regain control of vital areas of Laos. It would protect South Vietnam and Thailand. It has the same risks as SEATO Plan 5, to an increased degree.

It should be noted that the Joint Chiefs of Staff hold that intervention should not await the resumption of hostilities, but should also be considered if large scale military strength and logistic buildup clearly indicate imminent resumption of hostilities.

4. Other Possible Courses of Action That May be Raised at NSC Meeting.

a. Intervention in South Vietnam by SEATO Forces (Rostow Proposal).

SEATO forces would be placed in South Vietnam to protect the border from the inside. In particular, the forces would take over combat duties along the border with Laos. The action would release GVN forces to fight inside South Vietnam, would give Hanoi a SEATO presence to reckon with, and would give us a bargaining basis for negotiating a solution to the South Vietnam problem. It could revive SEATO. It would place a logistics and communication structure in South Vietnam which could help the war effort there. Ambassador Harriman has stated that such action would not hamper his negotiations in Geneva.

This course of action entails risks of escalation similar to SEATO Plan 5 and would have to be examined on the same basis.

b. Deploying U.S. Combat Forces to Thailand and South Vietnam.

(1) The following possibilities for stationing forces in Thailand have been discussed briefly with the Thais: A SEATO training center, a SEATO standing force, a U.S./Thai joint training center, stationing of a U.S. combat engineer unit, and stationing U.S. combat units on a rotational basis for training purposes.

U.S. forces in Thailand would serve as visible evidence of our readiness to defend Thailand. They could accomplish training of Thai forces and some military construction.

Despite the possibilities, and our SEATO commitment, the Thais feel the need for more formal assurances from us, and have approached us for a bilateral security treaty.

(2) The stationing of U.S. combat forces in South Vietnam for the purpose of training GVN forces would at the same time establish the "plate-glass window" effect and reinforce our stated policy of defending South Vietnam.

U.S. ground forces in South Vietnam could release GVN forces for action elsewhere in South Vietnam only if our forces were committed to take on security duties, with freedom of action as the situation dictated. If this were done, we should also consider the use of U.S. combat and logistic air and naval coastal patrol, in order to bring our military effort to bear directly against the Viet Cong.

President Diem has also raised the issue of obtaining a bilateral security treaty with us, although such a treaty would be in violation of the Geneva Accords.

c. Support Increased Covert Activities in North Vietnam and Communist China.

This would be aimed at creating internal security problems in these two countries, in order to bring pressure to bear on them to relax their present subversive efforts in Southeast Asia. We would need active support of the GRC and GVN and use of their forces. We would create some risks of instigating military action by either of the Communist countries. It is possible we might gain enough success to put the fight in their backyard for a change.

B. Planning/6/

/6/Additional documentation on SEATO planning for Southeast Asia is in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume XXIII.

The status of planning for the various military courses of action is as follows:

a. U.S. Plan 32-59.

This is an approved contingency plan for U.S. unilateral action in Southeast Asia. In its various phases it covers action up to and including action with Communist China. It is the basis for SEATO Plans 4, 5, and 6.

b. SEATO Plan 5.

A fully developed and approved plan. The Field Force Commander's plan is completed.

c. SEATO Plan 5-Plus.

This plan exists only as a U.S. concept. Other SEATO nations have been informed of it in general terms, but their agreement has not been received, nor have the additional Thai and South Vietnamese forces been committed.

d. SEATO Plan 6.

This plan covers large scale DRV intervention in Southeast Asia. The basic plan has been completed. The plan, commitment of forces, assignment of commanders and other required work are being discussed this week at the SEATO MilAd Conference in Bangkok.

e. SEATO Plan 4.

This plan covers large scale DRV-ChiCom intervention in Southeast Asia. Status the same as SEATO Plan 6.

A further main point of discussion in connection with any plan which could result in U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia is the relationship to our commitments in the Berlin area. This is discussed in JCSM-704-61 of 5 October./7/

/7/In JCSM-704-61, from the JCS to McNamara, October 5, the JCS contended that execution of SEATO Plan 5, or suitable variation of it, was the "military minimum commensurate with the situation" to prevent the loss of Laos, South Vietnam, and eventually Southeast Asia. The JCS considered that in the event of simultaneous contigencies in Berlin and Southeast Asia, the "implementation of SEATO Plan 5 would provide a US initiated counter to USSR denial of access to Berlin." (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71 A 3470, Southeast Asia)

Haydn Williams

197. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Battle) to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)/1/

Washington, October 6, 1961.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 10/61. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text.

Weekly Summary, Geneva Conference, September 25-October 1, 1961

1. Developments in Laos

a. Meeting of Three Princes. In response to United States pressure and Sarit's counsel, Phoumi has apparently changed his previous attitude by undertaking to negotiate in good faith with the Pathet Lao (PL) and Souvanna. The three Princes are now to meet at Ban Hin Heup October 6. Phoumi will agree to Souvanna as Premier presumptive, but hopes discussions on the actual composition of the government can be conducted subsequently at Luang Prabang in a "free atmosphere". The actual designation of Souvanna, according to Phoumi, will depend on reaching an agreement satisfactory to all three factions. Phoumi's views on the importance of the individuals named to the center group are very close to our own. The latest cabinet formula, reportedly acceptable to the PL, would include only three non-Xieng Khouang neutrals with seven from the Souvanna group. Phoumi proposes, however, to request four portfolios for the non-Xieng Khouang neutrals, one of whom would be Phoui Sananikone. To secure the other side's acceptance this may mean an expansion of the cabinet along the lines proposed to Souvanna by the British Ambassador./2/

/2/In discussing the composition of the prospective government with Souvanna Phouma, British Ambassador Addis concluded that Souvanna was motivated primarily by a desire to reward those followers who remained loyal to him and by a feeling that the United States was interfering in Laos' internal affairs. Addis, on his own initiative, suggested that rather than limiting the Xieng Khouang group of Souvanna's followers, 4 moderate members should be added to the government. The formula would then be 8 (Souvanna and his followers); 4 (Pathet Lao); 4 (Phoumi followers); and 4 (new moderates). Souvanna was prepared to consider the idea, especially if the King chose the new moderates. (Telegram 506 from Vientiane, September 23; Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-2361)

b. Souvanna addressed a letter to King Savang September 27 assuring him of his loyalty to the throne and the King's person and defending his policy of "strict neutrality" as the only possible solution for Laos and in which he feels the United States now concurs.

2. Geneva

In view of the recently quickened tempo in negotiations and the forthcoming end of the monsoon rains, Ambassador Harriman stresses the urgency of an agreement among the three Princes on the formation of a new government which alone will enable the Conference to reach a settlement including plans for demobilization and integration of the three armed forces. The Chinese and Soviets, however, claim the Conference can complete its work on the basis of the Zurich communiqu[ even without a unified government.

At the September 26 restricted session, after six items were approved, the Chinese delegate criticized Western dilatoriness and placed the responsibility for the present Lao situation on the United States for having supported the overthrow of Souvanna's government last year. These charges were refuted by Ambassador Harriman. At a meeting of the Co-Chairmen, Chinese and United States delegates, the decision was made to have preliminary informal discussions of four major issues: ICC powers and functions; ICC voting procedures; Laos-SEATO relationship; the French presence in Laos. /3/

/3/As reported in the weekly evaluation, telegram 681 from Geneva, September 30. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-3061)

3. Washington Planning on Laos/4/

/4/See Document 196.

Three alternative plans for a solution of the Lao problem are being developed here concurrently to provide (1) for the possible negotiation of bilateral understandings with the Soviets on matters of particular concern to us which would ultimately be acceptable to the other powers at the Geneva Conference; (2) for limited military holding actions primarily in Southern Laos designed to protect the flank of South Viet-Nam and (3) for actual military intervention and SEATO Plan Five Expanded. The latter two are being prepared in the event that negotiations for a peaceful settlement fail.

L.D. Battle/5/

/5/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature. Melvin S. Manfull of S/S signed for Battle.

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