Statement by President Kennedy on the Importance of Laos at a News Conference, 23 March 1961

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 799-800

Kennedy Presidential News Conference as Quoted in the New York Times, March 24, 1961. News Conference of March 23, 1961:

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"My fellow Americans, Laos is far away from America, but the world is small. Its 2,000,000 people live in a country three times the size of Austria. The security of all Southeast Asia will be endangered if Laos loses its neutral independence. Its own safety runs with the safety of us all, in real neutrality observed by all.

"I want to make it clear to the American people and to all of the world that all we want in Laos is peace and not war, a truly neutral government and not a cold war pawn, a settlement concluded at the conference table and not on the battlefield."

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Q. "Mr. President, there appears to be some national unawareness of the importance of a free Laos to the security of the United States and to the individual American. Could you spell out your views on that a little further?"

A. "Well, quite obviously geographically Laos borders on Thailand, which is, to which the United States has treaty obligations under the SEATO agreement of 1954, it borders on South Vietnam--it borders on Vietnam--to which the United States has very close ties, and also which is a signatory of the SEATO pact.

"The aggression against Laos itself was referred to in the SEATO agreement, so that given this, the nature of the geography, its location the commitments which the United States and obligations which the United States has assumed towards Laos as well as the surrounding countries--as well as other signatories of the SEATO pact--it's quite obvious that if the Communists were able to move in and dominate this country, it would endanger the security of all, and the peace of all of Southeast Asia.

"And as a member of the United Nations and as a signatory to the SEATO pact, and as a country which is concerned with the strength of the cause of freedom around the world, that quite obviously affects the security of the United States."

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