120. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Viet-Nam


  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, USSR
  • Llewellyn E. Thompson, Ambassador-at-Large, Department of State

I told the Ambassador that I wished to talk to him a little further about the situation in Viet-Nam, I said we were convinced and, in fact, [Page 273] had evidence that the Viet-Cong were controlled from Hanoi and we were convinced that the recent escalation had been deliberately triggered by Hanoi. I said we did not have evidence that Peking had ordered the recent increase in activity and the outrages against our people, but since it was only Peking that stood to gain, we could assume that they were involved.

Dobrynin asked if this was a message from the President, and I replied that the President had asked me to speak to him but had not instructed me specifically what to say, but I thought I was reflecting his thinking. When he asked whether this was a reply to the message from his Government2 or whether there would be a separate communication, I said I frankly did not know.

Dobrynin said he had no instructions from his Government and could only give me his personal views. He said that not only he but the members of his staff had reacted very strongly at our action in bombing North Viet-Nam, which they thought was deliberately related to the Kosygin visit. He could assume that reactions in the Soviet Union were similar.

I again assured him that when we had learned of the Kosygin visit, we had taken a number of steps, including calling off a DeSoto patrol in order not to, in any way, embarrass Mr. Kosygin. It was not we, but the other side that had started these new developments. When Dobrynin said we could have taken some other action than the bombing of the country which his Prime Minister was visiting, I asked him to put himself in our place. I said, for example, that if the West Germans had been conducting operations in East Germany similar to those which North Viet-Nam was conducting in South Viet-Nam and that during a visit of President Johnson to West Germany a lot of Soviet personnel in East Germany had been blown up in a sneak attack, what would they have done? He said I can assure you we would not have bombed West Germany.

Dobrynin several times asked to know what the course we had embarked upon was leading to and what our ultimate objectives were. I said our objective was to get out of South Viet-Nam. I pointed out that we had reached a settlement of a similar problem in Laos and that we had actually withdrawn our troops. His Government had complained about a few alleged technical violations but the fact was that we had really carried out the agreement. The other side had not and had prevented any international machinery from operating effectively. I said we would like to see this agreement effectively implemented.

Dobrynin said he still did not understand what we were driving at. From the Soviet point of view, we had intervened to put down an indigenous [Page 274] movement which was very strong and the fact that even if one accepted our statements of some infiltrators from the North, the South Vietnamese had some three hundred thousand men, in addition to the sizeable American forces, engaged, and they were unable to put down the rebellion, which showed that it was basically an indigenous movement. He said that simply for the sake of argument, if one accepted our statements about the North Vietnamese role, what would happen if they agreed to stop any intervention and did so? There would continue to be incidents and he wondered what he would do then.

I said that we had firm evidence of the command and control of these operations by Hanoi and said we could produce our evidence. I did not dispute that there was some indigenous rebel activity but said that after the Geneva Accords the North Vietnamese had left personnel in South Viet-Nam to carry on these operations and had brought in tens of thousands from the North after the Accords. These people were highly trained and would go into villages and force the villagers to supply them with personnel under threat of destroying the village. If the village did not comply, they carried out their threats.

Dobrynin interjected that there was plenty of evidence of the South Vietnamese Government using similar methods. I went on to say that if Hanoi stopped its intervention and withdrew its people, we would know about this and in this event we were sure that the situation could be stabilized. I said it was important to realize that North Viet-Nam was trying to take over South Viet-Nam but we were not endeavoring to take over the North. I said we considered our actions defensive.

Dobrynin pointed out that Shastri, De Gaulle, and U Thant had raised the subject of negotiations3 but the State Department had said no. He said that I knew his country and must know how they were reacting and the possibility that they would become involved. He asked if it were true, as he had inferred from press articles, that there had been some negotiations started indirectly between us and Hanoi. I replied that I had not heard of any.

In discussing Soviet/American relations, Dobrynin said that the Soviet Government had made several gestures toward the improvement of relations, not that they felt President Johnson needed them, but they were genuine. He emphasized that contrary to press statements, the Soviet Government was not in a position of having any need to improve relations, although they thought this was in the mutual interest of both countries. He said it was not a question of desiring to worsen them, but [Page 275] was simply one of fact that if our present policy continued, our relations would be adversely affected. I said I could recognize this fact but it seemed to me they were attempting to use the threat of worsening relations as a deliberate move to affect the Vietnamese situation. I pointed out that after the Cuban affair we had been able quickly to resume our progress in bettering our relations.

Dobrynin emphasized that he had been speaking personally and I again said that I was simply trying, at the direction of the President, to give him some understanding of the way we looked at the problem.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Thompson and approved in the Office of the Ambassador at Large, presumably by Thompson himself, on February 15.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 82.
  3. Regarding the Indian Government’s public statement of February 8 calling for negotiations, see footnote 5, Document 122. For text of U Thant’s appeal on February 12 for a dialog among the principal parties involved in Vietnam, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, pp. 832–833.