15 JUNE 1962, Page 4

Agreement in Laos

.XTow these our Princes are come borne IN again....' There must have been a number of diplomats murmuring that phrase to them- selves after the conclusion of the agreement to form a government for a neutral and united Laos. The princes in question had been meeting and failing to meet for so many months that it must have seemed to those following the negotiation that they were never gOing to agree. The final push seems to have been given by General Phoumi Nosavan's realisation that he would no longer have American backing for holding out, and, on the side of the Pathet Lao, by Russian pressure and the presence of American marines in Thailand. It now remains for the new Govern- ment to appoint a delegation which will make a declaration of neutrality to the Geneva Con- ference. Difficult problems such as the exchange of prisoners and the merging of the rival Laotian military forces still remain,to be solved, but it looks as though the worst were over in Laos. The essential factor has been that none of the great powers wants a local war in that area. South Vietnam, unfortunately, is a more difficult prob- lem, since we may expect to see the Communist bloc demand its neutralisation on the Laotian pattern, and this is not a concession which the US can afford to make. The American diplomatic position has, however, been strengthened by the international Control Commission's action in blaming North Vietnam for the attempted sub- version of its southern neighbour. This will make it harder to rally uncommitted opinion in favour of reuniting Vietnam at the expense of President Diem, but the Western position is still a difficult one and will not be made easier by the apparent contradiction between an American policy of neutralisation in Laos and military support for the Saigon regime.