Cable from US Embassy in Laos to the State Department on Proposal to Initiate Bombing in Laos, 17 August 1964


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 541-542


17 August 1964

From: Vientiane

To: State

Reference: EXDIS 157.

Very much appreciate REFTEL as guidance our actions over coming months. Once paper finally approved would appreciate being informed, including any amendments.

In reply to second key question I frankly find it difficult to say in abstract how much panhandle action Souvanna could and would accept. Principal danger as already noted in earlier messages, aside from his understandable preoccupation about provoking Communist escalation, is that stepped-up action in Panhandle makes it more difficult for U.S. to enforce counsels of moderation as regards his and Lao military actions in areas of country which are of more immediate concern to them.

As earlier noted I believe we could gradually establish pattern U.S. suppressive strikes in panhandle without adverse Souvanna reaction and this perhaps even truer of T-28 strikes. Even though strictly speaking suppressive strikes would not be in response to RLG request nevertheless believe Souvanna would back U.S. up if we represented them as being authorized by RLG. On other hand I would expect less ready acquiescence and certainly no support from him concerning GVN air operations in Laos. I of course appreciate importance panhandle action as help to GVN morale but continue question its achieving significant military results and I believe we should approach problem with this point realistically in mind.

With regard to introductory section of DRASO paper, I cannot guarantee "No further military action" in Laos. We are now assessing pressures for initiative against PDJ and if this confirms there is danger Lao adopting foolhardy plans we will move forcefully to persuade them abandon them, including visit by me to King in LUASG PRABANG if necessary. There may however be other more limited and rational military actions we would not wish to obstruct and therefore would prefer avoid categorical prohibition on this subject. Unfortunately also it would be our repression in this field that would most likely encourage right-wing generals and colonels to make fools of themselves.

Point A-3 under Section III again points up our contradictory position. I would conclude from this we should influence Souvanna to go very slow on any cease-fire agreement during forthcoming Paris talks. With regard Point B same section, what is full price . . . and if it is either withdrawal from PDJ (or unified administration PDJ) combined with ceasefire, how can we avoid inhibiting effect on panhandle actions?

With respect Section IV Point A-4 I thoroughly agree ground operations should not at this time be considered. Agree concerning suppressive measures, as already noted, but do not understand why this would have to follow GVN action. I also agree concerning wisdom avoiding publicity and would apply this same reasoning to point A-2 same section. Making public that U.S. and GVN planning actions in Laos objectionable: in first place on grounds this certainly also [words missing] and RLG should have voice in matter but presents even greater problem in that Souvanna and others would probably strongly resist such overt acknowledgment of intentions and plans, even while they might be prepared countenance activities which would be denied if Communists made public accusations.

In sum, if I read correctly between the lines, draft paper based on premise that resolution Laos problem depends fundamentally on resolution Vietnam and therefore our policy here (leaving aside corridor question) is necessarily an interim one of holding the line but trying avoid escalation of military contest.


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