President Kennedy's News Conference, May 17, 1962

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 811-813

President Kennedy's News Conference, May 17, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents, Kennedy, 1962, p. 402:

No Further Breach in Laos

Q: "Mr. President, could you bring us up to date on the Laotian situation since the dispatch of our troops in Thailand? Specifically, do you feel that we have increased the chances of our getting caught in a Communist shooting war in Southeast Asia?"

THE PRESIDENT: "We are continuing to hope that there will be a national government or national union, which has been our policy, as you know, for a year. We are going to Thailand, at the decision of the Thai government, our own decision to provide for the defense of Thailand. The latest information indicates no further breach of the cease-fire. We also have indications that the three princes will engage in conversation shortly. I hope they will produce a government. That is our object. I have already indicated the great hazards of a shooting war in Asia. In Asia, it is our object to bring about a diplomatic solution which will make the chances of such a war far less likely."

Troops in Thailand

Q: "Mr. President, in light of your answer to this question, sir, could you give us any idea how long the American troops will be needed in Thailand?"

THE PRESIDENT: "I cannot at this time."

Q: "Have you any idea under what conditions they might return?"

THE PRESIDENT: "I cannot at this time. They have only been in there for a very short while, and we can't tell when they will come out. It will depend a good deal on what conditions are in Thailand and the neighboring countries."

Restoring the Cease-fire

Q: "Mr. President, could you tell us, please, what you would consider the restoration of an effective cease-fire? Would this involve the withdrawal of the Communist forces to their position before the attack on Nam Tha, or more or less a quiescence which would permit the talks to go forward on the government?"

THE PRESIDENT: "Obviously, we would prefer as great a withdrawal to the line that was in effect a week or so ago as we could get. I would think, however, that the peace along the line which now may exist, of course, is essential."

Objectives in Laos

Q: "Mr. President, would you review for us the considerations that you had in mind last weekend when you took this rather swift action to move more American troops into Thailand?"

THE PRESIDENT: "Yes. We are concerned about the breach of the cease-fire, the sign of deterioration in Laos, which brought Communist forces to the border of Thailand up in the Mekong River section, up not too far from Nam Tha, and we did not know whether this was an indication of a general breach of the cease-fire which, of course, would immediately imperil Thailand. So in our desire to stabilize the situation, we got in touch with the government, which was already in touch with us, and worked out the proposed course of action."

* * *

Legality of Thailand Move

Q: "Mr. President, what was the legal basis for our sending troops to Thailand? Was it a bilateral arrangement that we have with the Thai government, or was it possibly secret arrangements?"

THE PRESIDENT. "No, the actual legal basis was to put us in a position to fulfill our obligations under the SEATO Treaty."

Q: "Mr. President, are the other members of the SEATO Treaty organization doing the same?"

THE PRESIDENT: "They have been asked to do so, and there have been indications of a favorable response from several of them. This is a decision for them. But we have responded and met our obligations."

* * *

The Intentions of Pathet Lao

Q: "Mr. President, back on the subject of Southeast Asia, has there been any indication that the Pathet Lao intended to march against Thailand or against the capital of Laos, and, second, under what conditions would the United States send its troops into Laos?

THE PRESIDENT: "In answer to your first question, I don't know what their intentions may be. I am hopeful their intentions will be to maintain a cease-fire. Obviously, as I have said, the breach of the cease-fire in the case of Nam Tha was a blow to the concept of the cease-fire. That is what initiated our action in the case of Thailand. On the second matter, we have to wait and see. I think it is very important that the princes form a government of national union for the preservation of their own country."

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