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Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma of Laos.

October 20, 1967

Mr. Prime Minister and distinguished guests:

We are honored today with the presence of a very. distinguished statesman.

His Excellency and I last met about a year ago in New York. We had a very profitable conversation then, as we have had again today. In the months between our two meetings, much has happened in the world-not least of which were the national elections held in Laos last January.

The fact that the people of your brave land were able and determined to hold free elections, while deeply engaged in defending themselves against armed violence, Your Highness, was a very inspiring demonstration of their resolve to control their own destiny.

Many of us here in the United States were equally moved by your eloquent remarks last week to the United Nations, particularly where you pointed out that "for more than 20 years (the Laotian people) have been the victim of subversions, violations, armed aggression."

In reading those remarks, I was moved by the thought of how really similar are the desires of all people. We all want enough to eat, enough to wear, opportunity for our children, and the opportunity to work in peace and freedom.

The great tragedy of the first two-thirds of our century is that though we have the power and the resources to realize all of these dreams, the violence and the bloodshed have continued. But I am not--any more than you, Your Highness--a pessimist. I believe that the time will come--and sooner perhaps than many believe--when men will turn from the works of violence and take up the ways of peace.

We are looking forward to our visits during the day and again tomorrow morning. I shall ask the Vice President and some other friends to come in. We will have a little informal lunch tomorrow together.

But let me assure you again, Your Highness, that we in America know our responsibilities to the great republic of mankind, and we certainly intend to be faithful to that trust.

I should like those of you with us to join me in a toast to His Majesty, the King of Laos.

Note: The President proposed the toast at 2:04 p.m. at a luncheon in the Family Dining Room at the White House. As printed this item follows the text released by the White House Press Office.

Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma responded as follows:

Mr. President:

I am deeply touched by your words, not only for myself but for my country.

There is no merit to my actions, because for a very long time now I have sacrificed myself for my country and for the well-being of my fellow citizens.

In spite of the war, we have wanted to keep a democratic regime. And thus it was that when the government asked His Majesty to dissolve the National Assembly, we decided that, in spite of the war, we would afford the luxury of new general elections.

We are happy to see this new Assembly showing great understanding of the action we have undertaken.

This year the budget was voted unanimously as were also the few changes in the Cabinet of the Government.

I do want to bring into our Government those young men who have come back from foreign countries with degrees and training, because we need to train replacement cadres.

I am happy to be able to include in our Government some of these dynamic young men who have come back to the country and who render sterling service to our country. We are thankful to these youths, because in coming years they will bring to us the dynamic force which will help us bring about the development of the economy and the success of the social action we have undertaken.

Earlier, Mr. President, you spoke of people in control of their own destiny. We certainly agree. Whatever may be said by some other powers who call us lackeys of the United States, I can say proudly that we shall never accept anything that is against our interests.

But we have common interests. We are grateful that you came, as you came to France in 1917-18, as you came to Europe in 1944.

We are grateful that you came to Indochina to help us survive. If it weren't for your presence, Laos and, indeed, all of Southeast Asia, would fall under Communist influence.

As I was saying a few moments ago, if tomorrow South Vietnam became Communist, all that would be left for us to do would be simply to pack up and go.

But in spite of the war, we must remain human and seek peace together. It is to avoid war in Laos that I have been following my policy of neutrality now for almost 10 years and I am happy to see that more and more countries today share in this idea.

But with a state of war also having been so close in the Middle East, it is in the interest of all, in view of the scope of nuclear progress of today, that as we continue to make war we build for peace also; as we make war we must continue to build hospitals.

And as I voice this hope that we may one day reach the state of peaceful coexistence advocated now for almost 10 years, I ask you to share with me a toast to the health of the President of the United States.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma of Laos. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/237356

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