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From "Proximity Talks" to a "Cocktail Party"

The conciliatory gestures of Hanoi and of Phnom Penh were part of a spate of proposals and counterproposals made in 1985. On April 9, Malaysia suggested "proximity," or indirect, talks between the CGDK and the Heng Samrin regime. Vietnam, the PRK, and the Soviet Union reacted favorably. Sihanouk voiced "personal" support for indirect negotiations. He was, however, uncertain whether his CGDK partners and unnamed foreign powers would go along with the Malaysian proposal because such talks, indirect as they might be, not only would imply de facto recognition of the Phnom Penh regime but also would obscure the question of Vietnamese occupation. ASEAN's deputy foreign ministers met in Bangkok in May, nevertheless; they endorsed the Malaysian plan and referred the matter to CGDK's representatives in Bangkok. At the time of the ASEAN meeting, Sihanouk released a memorandum that called for unconditional peace talks among all Cambodian factions and for the formation of a reconciliation government comprising both the CGDK and the Heng Samrin regime.

During the ensuing diplomatic exchanges, the Malaysian plan was discarded. The ASEAN foreign ministers, who met in Kuala Lumpur from July 8 to July 9, 1985, adopted a Thai compromise proposal that called for "a form of indirect or proximity talks" between the CGDK and Vietnam. The proposal noted that the Heng Samrin regime could attend the talks only as part of the Vietnamese delegation. The CGDK, China, and the United States backed the Thai proposal, but Phnom Penh and Hanoi rejected it as a scheme to restore the Pol Pot faction to power.

In yet another attempt to break the Cambodian impasse, Indonesia offered in November 1985 to host an informal "cocktail party" for all warring Cambodian factions. (At that time Indonesia served as ASEAN's official "interlocutor" with Vietnam.) Indonesia apparently had concluded that such an informal gathering was timely in view of two recent developments: the Khmer Rouge announcement in July that it would acquiesce, if necessary, to being excluded from a future Cambodian coalition government; and Hanoi's disclosure in August that it would complete its withdrawal from Cambodia by 1990 (five years sooner than had been indicated in its April 1985 announcement), even in the absence of a political settlement on the Cambodian issue at that time. Another notable development was the Khmer Rouge disclosure in September that Pol Pot had stepped down from his post as commander in chief of the armed forces to take up a lesser military post. On December 30, Khieu Samphan stated that Pol Pot's political-military role would cease permanently upon Hanoi's consenting to complete its withdrawal by the end of 1990. Hanoi, in an apparent departure from its previous stand, pledged that its pullout would be completed as soon as the Khmer Rouge forces disarmed.

In 1986 the Cambodian stalemate continued amid further recriminations and new conciliatory gestures. On March 17, the CGDK issued an eight-point peace plan that included the Heng Samrin regime in a projected four-party Cambodian government. The plan called for a two-phase Vietnamese withdrawal; for a cease-fire to allow an orderly withdrawal--both the cease-fire and the withdrawal to be supervised by a UN observer group, for the initiation of negotiations, following the first phase of the withdrawal, and for the formation of an interim four-party coalition government with Sihanouk as president and Son Sann as prime minister. According to the plan, the coalition government would then hold free elections under UN supervision to set up a liberal, democratic, and nonaligned Cambodia, the neutrality of which would be guaranteed by the UN for the first two or three years. The new Cambodia would welcome aid from all countries for economic reconstruction and would sign a nonaggression and peaceful coexistence treaty with Vietnam. Hanoi and Phnom Penh denounced the plan and labeled it as a vain attempt by China to counter the PRK's "rapid advance." Sihanouk shared some of the misgivings about the plan, fearing that, without sufficient safeguards, the Khmer Rouge would dominate the quadripartite government that emerged. Perhaps to allay such misgivings, China signaled the possibility of ending its aid to the Khmer Rouge if Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia.

In late October 1986, Hanoi, through an Austrian intermediary, suggested two-stage peace negotiations to Sihanouk. In the first stage, there were to be preliminary talks in Vienna among all Cambodian parties, including the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot, however, was to be excluded). The second phase was to be an international conference that included the contending Cambodian factions, as well as Vietnam, and other interested countries. Sihanouk responded with a counterproposal that called for his meeting with a top-level Vietnamese leader. This meeting was to be followed by an all- Cambodian session and then by an international conference. According to unconfirmed reports, Pol Pot, now gravely ill, had been transferred to Beijing shortly after Hanoi's offer to Sihanouk. If these reports were true, Pol Pot's role within the Khmer Rouge camp may have ended with his illness.

A new phase in the Cambodian peace strategies began in 1987. At the beginning of the year Hanoi renewed its October bid to Sihanouk. Hanoi appeared eager to seek a way out of the Cambodian imbroglio, but continued to argue that Vietnam had "security interests" in Cambodia and that China was the main threat to Southeast Asia. It also was evident that Hanoi was attempting to split ASEAN's consensus on Cambodia by claiming that Indonesia and Malaysia had a correct view of the Chinese threat while rejecting the view of Thailand and Singapore that Vietnam was ASEAN's principal nemesis in the region.

In addition, as Soviet interest in Cambodia grew, there was speculation among observers that Moscow might involve itself in the quest for a negotiated settlement. A visit to Phnom Penh in March 1987 by Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze signaled a departure from Moscow's long-standing position that it was only "a third party" to the Cambodian conflict. It also constituted tacit acknowledgment that the Soviet Union had been supporting--at least indirectly--Vietnam's presence in Cambodia through economic and military aid, which totaled the equivalent of US$2 billion per year.

The Heng Samrin regime became more assertive in articulating its policy options than it had been before. It became known in early April that Hun Sen had sent word to Sihanouk suggesting a meeting in Canberra, or Paris, or Stockholm at the prince's convenience. (It was Hun Sen's second effort to initiate such a dialogue. In 1984 he had proposed a similar meeting, but Sihanouk had declined because of objections by China and by his CGDK partners.)

Sihanouk's one-year leave of absence from the CGDK, effective May 7, 1987, was a good sign for Cambodia because he could now freely explore possibilities for a settlement without squabbling with his coalition partners. On June 23, Sihanouk agreed to see Hun Sen in Pyongyang, but two days later, hours after Chinese acting premier Wan Li had met with Sihanouk's wife, Princess Monique, Sihanouk abruptly canceled the meeting. China apparently objected to any negotiations as long as Vietnam kept troops in Cambodia. Sihanouk said in July that he preferred to talk first with a Vietnamese leader because the Cambodian conflict was between the Khmer and the Vietnamese and not among the Cambodian factions. He said that he would not mind meeting with Hun Sen, however, as long as the initiative for such a meeting came from Hun Sen or his regime and not from Hanoi.

Events occurred rapidly in the summer of 1987. In June UN secretary general Javier Perez de Cuellar issued a compromise plan that called for a phased Vietnamese withdrawal; for national reconciliation leading to the formation of a new coalition government with Sihanouk as president; for a complete Vietnamese pullout and for free elections; and for special provisions to deal with the armed Cambodian factions. On July 1, while ostensibly on vacation in the Soviet Union, Hun Sen had talks with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. The two agreed that "the realities which prevail in the region" must not be ignored in any plan for Cambodian settlement. On July 25, the Khmer Rouge faction publicly disavowed any intention to return to power at the expense of other factions and stated that to do so would jeopardize its national union policy and would alienate "friends in the world."

Hanoi, meanwhile, continued to put off discussions about its presence in Cambodia, thereby forcing the resistance to deal directly with the Heng Samrin regime. Between July 27 and July 29, Vietnam's foreign minister, Nguyen Co Thach, conferred with his Indonesian counterpart in Ho Chi Minh City and called for "an informal meeting" or cocktail party of all Cambodian factions without any preconditions. The cocktail party, to be held in Jakarta, was to be followed by a conference of all concerned countries, including Vietnam. On July 30, Heng Samrin journeyed to Moscow to consult with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Then in an interview published in the Italian Communist Party daily L'Unita on August 12, Hun Sen sought to exonerate the Soviet Union from blame for Cambodia's plight and instead blamed China for the country's difficulties. Referring to the proposed meeting with Sihanouk, Hun Sen insinuated that Sihanouk had "bosses" who would not let him engage freely in a dialogue. On August 13, the Indochinese governments endorsed "the Ho Chi Minh formula" (Hanoi's term for Indonesia's original cocktail party idea) as a significant "breakthrough" toward a peaceful settlement in Cambodia.

The ASEAN foreign ministers met informally on August 16 to discuss the cocktail party idea, and they forged a compromise that papered over some of the differences among the six member states concerning the Cambodia situation. Even this attempt to achieve unanimity proved fruitless, however, as Hanoi rejected the ASEAN suggestion.

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