Thursday, April 01, 2010

1960-1969 Highlights 60 yeas of Diplomatic Relations

The Golden Era of Kbmer film, music, and architecture
1962: Cambodia wins Preah Vihear case, represented by Dean Acheson
1962,1965 and 1969: Senator Mike Mansfield visits Cambodia
1965: Bilateral relations severed between the United States and Cambodia
1967: Jacqueline Kennedy visits Cambodia
1969: The United States begins secret bombings in eastern Cambodia
      1969: Relations restored

The 1960s would be a tumultuous decade in Indochina, with the United States deepening
its involvement in Vietnam and the civil war in Laos intensifying. U.S. policies and positions were defined largely by the Cold War, which meant, in regional terms, that containing Chinese influence and securing victory against the North Vietnamese were key priorities.
The United States had allied itself with the anti-Communist governments of Thailand and South Vietnam, and hoped to playa role in improving relations between Cambodia and its neighbors to the east and west. Prince and Head of State Norodom Sihanouk, though, remained firmly committed to maintaining Cambodia's neutrality, with a primary objective of avoiding entanglement in the war in Vietnam. The Prince also feared the consequences of a unified Vietnam for his country.
Determined to uphold Cambodia's territorial integrity and suspicious of Thai and South Vietnamese intentions, Sihanouk continued to cultivate ties with superpowers on both ends of the ideological spectrum, despite the fact that by now the United States supported a third of the country's military budget. The Prince made it clear that he would prioritize Cambodian interests and national identity over all other agendas.
From the U.S. point of view, this was acceptable as long as the Cambodian government did indeed remain neutral and did not officially side with the Chinese; Sihanouk's crackdown on leftists in Cambodia-or, as he called them, the Khmer Rouge-was reassuring to the United States. Though there was some opposition to his government, during much of the decade Sihanouk was a popular leader who was fully backed by the military.

Decades later, commenting on Sihanouk's shifting attitudes toward the United States, C. Robert Moore, the Deputy Chief of Mission in Cambodia from 1959 to 1962, said: "It was a colorful regime. One had to get used to daily changes in the attitude of the Prince towards us, because he was convinced that there were two American policies. One was that of the Embassy and the other was that of the CIA.

Bilateral relations during the first part of the decade were largely positive, with U.S. assistance peaking at roughly $20 million per year. Ties improved further with President John F. Kennedy, who agreed to send four T-37 jet-trainer planes to Cambodia early in his presidency, a request that Prince Sihanouk had registered under the Eisenhower Administration. In the fall of 1961, while Sihanouk attended a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Kennedy invited him to the White House. During the 90-minute meeting, the leaders discussed current affairs in Southeast Asia, focusing on problems in Laos and Vietnam. Sihanouk felt there had been a "complete exchange of views" and that the talk had been "very satisfactory, "according to an article about the meeting in The New York Times.

(From left to nght) U.S. Amhassador to the U.N.,
Adlai Stevenson. Prince Norodom Sihanouk. President John F. Kennedy. Nhiek Tioulong, Cambodian Foriegn Minister; and .John M. Steeve. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs

Unnerved by the state of affairs in Laos, where the Pathet Lao Communists were gaining the upper hand and the North Vietnamese were sending soldiers and supplies southward along what would become known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Prince Sihanouk called for a Geneva conference that he hoped would resolve the situation. The Prince feared for Cambodia's independence, stability, and territorial integrity, should Laos succumb to the communists. The United States, along with 14 other nations including China, the Soviet Union, France, and Britain, attended the talks in 1961. A year later, the negotiations led to accords that called for a peaceful, neutral, independent, and democratic Laos. By that point, however, little could be done to turn the nation back towards democracy.
Temperatures rose even higher with the escalation in early 1962 of the conflict in Vietnam. Concerned about hostilities spilling over into its borders, Cambodia sought to increase its armed forces by 10 %. Sihanouk turned to the United States for additional assistance, hoping that Cambodian forces would be able to stop the Viet Cong from infiltrating Cambodian land. The United States supported this expansion of the Cambodian military.
As the fighting in South Vietnam worsened, attacks on Cambodian vi llages became increasingly common. The South Vietnamese justified these incursions as missions to target Viet Cong troops, which were believed to be hiding out across the border.
The dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the temple of Preah Vi hear served as another source of regional tension. The 11 th-century architectural masterpiece was located on disputed territory along the Thai-Cambodian border, which the Thais had controlled since 1954. The case was heard in 1962 at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, with Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State during the Truman Administration, representing the Cambodian side.
Though it was widely believed that Thailand would win the case, the court decided in favor of Cambodia. Prince Sihanouk proclaimed a seven-day national holiday and the country erupted into mass celebration. The Thais refused to accept the ruling and boycotted international meetings. The United States did its part to defuse the situation. The crisis became one of the first issues that the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Philip D. Sprouse, would manage. Ambassador Sprouse presented his credentials in August 1962.
The Preah Vihear victory was one of many sources of national pride to emerge in 1960s Cambodia; others included prolific creativity in the areas of film, music, and architecture. Artists like Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea,singers who forged an unforgettable blend of Khmer sounds with rock on' roll, and Van Molyvann, the father of the modernist New Khmer Architecture style, helped make Phnom Penh one of Southeast Asia's most attractive, culturally rich capitals.
By this time, the U.S. stance towards Cambodia had become divided into two camps: those who believed Sihanouk was aligning himself with the Communists and those who felt it was in the U.S. interest not to isolate Cambodia. A vocal proponent of the latter perspective was Senator Mike Mansfield, who visited Cambodia in late 1962 along with three other senators. An Asia expert who would later become the longest serving U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Senator Mansfield personally advised Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon during the 1960s and 1970s on U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War, which he opposed.

H .E. Son San greets Mr. Dean Acheson. the eminent American attorney who represented Cambodia in the Preah Vihear dispute before the International Courtat The Hague.

The trip to Cambodia made a favorable impression on the Senator, who left the country believing that the United States and Cambodia could find common ground. Throughout the decade, Mansfield would continue to cultivate a fruitful relationship with Prince Sihanouk that would strengthen ties between the two countries.
Rather than participate in an international conference the Prince proposed earlier in the decade, the United States preferred draft notes from individual countries that pledged to respect Cambodia's territorial integrity and neutrality. To further illustrate U.S. support, President Kennedy sent Sihanouk a letter reiterating his commitment to Cambodia's security.
Sihanouk persisted with his desire for an international guarantee; the United States countered that bilateral agreements with Cambodia's neighbors and allies was a better solution. Meanwhile, as relations with the United States became tense, Prince Sihanouk headed to Beijing, where he hoped to procure additional economic and military aid.
As events in Vietnam took a turn for the worse-June 1963 would see the first Vietnamese monk burn himself to death to protest the authoritarian regime of South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem­Sihanouk continued to voice concern over attacks on Cambodian territory. In August, after an assault on a Cambodian guard post, he broke diplomatic relations with Diem. A few days later, the Soviet Union sent four aircraft and 24 anti-aircraft guns to Cambodia, marking the first non-Western military aid to the country. Relations between the United States and Cambodia continued to fray.
Despite direct assurances from President Kennedy that the United States supported Cambodia's neutrality and did not back the dissidents, Prince Sihanouk called for the immediate termination of U.S. aid, which was now the equivalent to roughly 15% of the Cambodian budget. He hoped the move would save his country from becoming embroiled in the Vietnam War and strengthen relations with the communist bloc.
To salvage the situation, President Kennedy planned to send former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to Cambodia. But Acheson would never make the visit; on November 22, the President was assassinated.
The Prince marked the tragic event with three days of public mourning. However, comments he made a month later following the death of Thai Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat sent bilateral relations between the United States and Cambodia into a tailspin.
Not only did Sihanouk call for a national celebration after Thanarat's death, but in a speech, he also suggested that divine intervention had brought about the recent deaths of Diem, Thanarat, and Kennedy; he called the late President the "great boss of aggressors." Ambassador Sprouse requested a retraction and called Sihanouk's behavior "barbaric." The Prince attempted to downplay his comments, but did not retract them.
In January, the United States began to reduce its staff in Phnom Penh and the Cambodian Ambassador to the United States, Nong Kimny, was recalled. Ambassador Sprouse returned to Washington. Despite several attempts to reverse the situation, none proved successful.
The issues surrounding Cambodia's neutrality and territorial integrity, coupled with the Khmer Serei broadcasts and continued border raids into Cambodia (during which U.S. military representatives were often present) continued to erode ties between the two countries. Anti-American sentiment grew, with demonstrations taking place around the country and two attacks on the U.S. Embassy. The United States claimed that the Cambodian military was cooperating with the Viet Cong, which merited continual incursions into Cambodian that resulted in civilian deaths.
On July 9, 1964, Randolph A. Kidder was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, but the Prince refused to accept his credentials. By the end of 1964, there were only 12 official representatives of the United States in Cambodia; a year earlier, there had been 300.
Meanwhile, the Gulf of Tonkin incident had led to open warfare in Northern Vietnam, with American combat units arriving in 1965. U.S. policy in Southeast Asia would now be wholly dictated by events in Vietnam, and seen through the lens of Cold War politics.
In May 1965, relations between the United States and Cambodia were officially broken. A few months later, during an unofficial visit to Cambodia by Senator Mansfield, the Prince reaffirmed his conditions for re-establishing bilateral ties: recognition of Cambodia's boundaries, compensation for lives lost, and an end to bombings and incursions in the country.
During the break, Australia represented the United States in Phnom Penh, while the French shared Cambodian views with Washington. Tensions continued, with the United States alleging that the Vietnamese communists were sending supplies into South Vietnam through the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville (some evidence suggests that the Cambodians had entered a deal with the Chinese and North Vietnamese to keep 10% of all weapons that passed through). Medical supplies and over a quarter of Cambodia's rice output were being sold to the orth Vietnamese. There was also concern that the Prince had allied himself with the Chinese. By late 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed off on the expansion of covert operations into Cambodia to destroy Viet Cong bases.
The visit of Jacqueline Kennedy to Cambodia in November 1967 seemed to signal a promising shift in relations. The Prince planned her entire trip and welcomed her as a personal guest, making Mrs. Kennedy the first American to be received with high state honors since relations were severed. The New York Times reported that a crowd of 10,000 greeted her at the airport; the former First Lady was welcomed by "girls in red and white Cambodian dress ... carrying silver bowls filled with jasmine petals, which they strewed in front of Mrs .
Kennedy in the traditional symbolic Buddhist welcome." During her trip, Mrs. Kennedy visited Angkor Wat, attended a ceremony where an avenue was named for President Kennedy, and met with Queen Sisowath Kossamak, Prince Sihanouk's mother.
Shortly thereafter, the Prince indicated he would receive a Presidential envoy. Chester A. Bowles landed in Phnom Penh on January 8, 1968, and the men had productive discussions about the extent of the Viet Cong presence in Cambodia and Sihanouk's concerns about the integrity of Cambodia's borders. The Prince emphasized that recognition of these borders was essential to the restoration of diplomatic relations. Sihanouk also agreed to small-scale u.S. military action in remote parts of Cambodia, so long as they remained minimal.
Bowles emerged optimistic from the meeting, confident that relations would be restored. But an intensification of border skirmishes, driven to a degree by the Tet Offensive in late January 1968, postponed the issue again.
Richard M. Nixon was sworn in to the Presidency on January 20, 1969. With the Vietnamese Communists penetrating deeper and deeper into his country, by now Sihanouk was anxious to restore relations. President Nixon took direct measures toward this end and on April 2, the United States issued a border declaration that recognized Cambodia's sovereignty, independence, neutrality and territorial integrity.
Cambodia's fate was now more important than ever in securing a U.S. victory in the war in Vietnam. Evidence shows that by 1970, anywhere from a fifth to a third of Cambodia was occupied by Viet Cong-North Vietnamese forces. In an attempt to eliminate or thwart the progress of the communists, President Nixon authorized a covert bombing campaign in eastern Cambodia known as Operation Menu. The 14-month campaign, which had commenced on March 18, 1969 resulted in over 230,516 sorties that collectively dropped some 2,756,941 tons of ordnance on eastern Cambodia. The bombings would not become known to the American public until 1973.
The U.S. Embassy reopened on August 16, 1969, with Lloyd M. Rives as Charge d' Affaires ad interim, with a staff numbering eight. Later that month, in an effort to demonstrate Washington's new commitment to Cambodia, Senator Mansfield returned to Phnom for the third time for a friendly meeting with Prince Sihanouk, who called the Senator, "one of the greatest and most loyal friends to Cambodia." Mansfield would further contribute to the restoration of relations. 

Though relations had been restored, hundreds of border incidents and the B-52 bombings, coupled with continued Vietnamese advancement, would mean that tensions remained high. Meanwhile, facing serious casualties among American troops and an increasingly powerful anti-war movement at home, the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam would begin.

Jacqueline Kennedy with Prince Norodom Sihanouk at her arrival in Phnom Penh.

Prince Sihanouk and Jacqueline Kennedy inaugurate
Kennedy Avenue
in Sihanoukville.

Montana Senator Mike Mansfield offers a bouquet of flower to Princes Bopha Devi and Prince Sihamoni.
The Senator and his wife visited Cambodia in 1969.

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