International Tension Continues

In Southeast Asia, intensified internal guerrilla attacks threatened the existing governments in Laos and South Vietnam. Fourteen nations, including the United States, met in Geneva in May 1961 to seek a solution to the Laotian conflict. After 13 months of negotiation, during which a ceasefire was put into effect, they agreed to urge the Laotian princes leading the contending factions to join in creating a neutral, unified, and independent nation.

Ho Chi MinhIn South Vietnam, however, fighting continued as native southerners joined with infiltrating northerners in a campaign of kidnappings, assassinations, and other incidents of terrorism against citizens loyal to the American-supported South Vietnamese government. At the request of the Saigon government, President Kennedy sent American military personnel to help train South Vietnamese troops. The United States also encouraged South Vietnam's leaders to initiate social, political, and educational reforms in order to secure broader popular support to resist the Vietnamese who supported the nationalist-Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh.

Meanwhile, in June 1961, Premier Khrushchev created a new crisis over the status of West Berlin when he again threatened to sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany, which he said, would end existing four-power agreements guaranteeing American, British, and French access rights to West Berlin. The three powers replied that no unilateral treaty could abrogate their responsibilities and rights in West Berlin, including the right of unobstructed access to the city.

East Germans, stirred by the crisis, fled to West Berlin in increasing numbers. In July alone there were some 30,000. Suddenly, on August 13, the Soviets erected a wall between the east and west sectors of Berlin, forcibly sealing off the inhabitants of East Germany. In the face of Allied determination to maintain the right of access to West Berlin, the Soviet government allowed the year-end deadline to pass without attempting to sign a peace treaty with East Germany.