Search

Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Documents cast light on US policy in Cambodia

Documents cast light on US policy in Cambodia

Documents cast light on US policy in Cambodia

CONFUSION and frustration characterised the waning months of the United States presence in Lon Nol’s Cambodia, according to newly declassified documents published by the US state department on Friday.

The documents, which comprise hundreds of pages of conversations and memos from top US foreign policy officials, span January 1973 to July 1975, the period when the US was painstakingly extracting itself from the conflicts in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

“What’s going on in Cambodia?” President Richard Nixon’s then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger asked during a meeting of top foreign policy and military officials on February 23, 1973.

Secretary of State James Schlesinger’s response, presented in the newly released documents, echoes the uncertain state of US policy towards Indochina in the dying days of the Vietnam War. “It’s as confused as ever,” he said.

The cables and transcripts chart how senior US officials tried to forge a settlement to end the civil war between the Lon Nol government and the Khmer Rouge, and their reactions to the end of congressional support for the war effort.

At several points, US officials debated how they might negotiate with the Khmer Rouge through Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the movement’s nominal head of state.

John Gunther Dean, then-Ambassador to Cambodia, wrote to the state department on February 18, 1975 outlining his advice for approaching Sihanouk: first, “be prepared to listen silently to a lengthy and violent diatribe about American wrongdoings in Indochina”; second, appeal to Sihanouk’s “ego”, and convince him that the US was genuinely interested in his leadership.

Dean argued that the US was the only country that could guarantee his security, and might even be able to “bring about the departure” of Khmer Rouge personalities Sihanouk did not approve of.

“What my argument boils down to is that we have only one card left to play in Cambodia [except for a bug-out] and that is Sihanouk,” Dean said.

Kissinger responded by outlining the numerous efforts that he and other American officials had undertaken to reach out to Sihanouk, in vain.

“The absence of a positive response, for which we presume Khmer Rouge opposition is a key factor, indicates they clearly prefer pursuing a military course,” he wrote on February 21. The documents also document the response of the Ford administration to the seizure of the SS Mayaguez and its American crew by Khmer Rouge forces off the country’s south coast on May 12, 1975.

US marines safely regained control of the ship on May 15, but 18 US troops were killed when three helicopters ferrying marines to a nearby island came under Khmer Rouge fire.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

  • Breaking: PM says prominent human rights NGO ‘must close’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”. The CNRP - the

  • Rainsy and Sokha ‘would already be dead’: PM

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday appeared to suggest he would have assassinated opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 national elections. In a clip from his speech

  • Massive ceremony at Angkor Wat will show ‘Cambodia not in anarchy’: PM

    Government officials, thousands of monks and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself will hold a massive prayer ceremony at Angkor Wat in early December to highlight the Kingdom’s continuing “peace, independence and political stability”, a spectacle observers said was designed to disguise the deterioration of

  • PM tells workers CNRP is to blame for any sanctions

    In a speech to workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen pinned the blame for any damage inflicted on Cambodia’s garment industry by potential economic sanctions squarely on the opposition party. “You must remember clearly that if the purchase orders are reduced, it is all