298. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1

3391. Ref Deptel 3105.2 London for Secretary eyes only.3 On receipt reftel (1905 local) I sought urgent appointment with Kuznetsov but when informed by MFA he not available I accepted appointment with Deputy ForMin Firyubin at 2100.

[Page 648]

I informed Firyubin that as he must know from report of Dobrynin’s conversation with Secretary US govt has made decision which we hoped would be both understood and not misunderstood. I had been informed by several high Soviet sources that decision we had taken was precisely what was called for but none had been in position to predict reaction. Our purpose in reaching this significant decision was to attempt to ascertain if a way could be found to peaceful solution of current crisis in Southeast Asia. We had hoped we would be able to deliver oral communication conveying this decision to DRV authorities and I had attempted to do so today through DRV Ambassador. Unfortunately Amb let it be known that he did not wish to receive me personally and when his Emb was informed that the message I sought to deliver was of extreme importance it was suggested that we transmit the message through the Soviet govt in its capacity as Geneva co-chairman. It was because of these circumstances that I had found it necessary to disturb Mr. Firyubin tonight. I pointed out that although DRV Amb had refused to receive me Emb had succeeded in delivering a copy of oral communication to employee of DRV Emb earlier this evening (2015 local) who agreed to bring it to attention of Amb. (Communication as set forth in Deptel 31034 then translated in full for Firyubin with sole interruption being Firyubin’s inquiry if cessation attacks applied only to those from air—which I confirmed.)

After receiving confirmation from me that communication was of oral nature, Firyubin said he viewed communication as based on old erroneous conception on which US has proceeded, a conception which precludes US recognizing that the South Vietnamese people are fighting for their freedom and are struggling against aggression and control by Saigon puppets. Furthermore it indicated to Firyubin that we continued to view the picture incorrectly when we referred again to the struggle in South Vietnam as being organized and directed by the DRV. The absurdity of this view, he said, is obvious and naturally the Soviet govt cannot agree with it as it has made clear in numerous statements. Firyubin could only view the communication as repetition of the threat against the DRV—now a threat of renewed and expanded aggression. This was the only way he could interpret the reference to the risk that a suspension of attacks involved. Obviously we are suffering from a gross misunderstanding if we think that such aggression will go unpunished, without response. The only constructive approach to a peaceful settlement of the situation in South Vietnam was to end the aggression, recall troops from South Vietnam and give the Vietnamese people the right to choose their own form of govt—a choice which can be made freely only if the so-called specialists should be withdrawn and their opportunity of exercising [Page 649] influence on the Vietnamese thus removed. Firyubin said that he well acquainted with the countries and peoples of Southeast Asia; he therefore was aware and could understand the feelings caused by our actions there as well as the reaction in many other parts of the world.

I told Firyubin I had asked to see him to put a very simple question to him. Does the Soviet govt agree to transmit the oral communication to the DRV? I said this was the whole purpose of my visit.

Firyubin said the DRV Emb had not put such a request to the Sov Govt. I must agree that for Sovs to act as intermediary between US and DRV is very unusual. Naturally he would report my request to his govt and if the DRV should request this service he would not exclude the possibility of transmitting the communication to the DRV Govt. Meanwhile he would be interested in knowing just how the DRV Emb had responded to our approach.

I again described for Firyubin our efforts to deliver the message to the DRV through its Emb in Moscow and told him that the end result was a suggestion by the Emb that we transmit the message through the Sov govt in its capacity as Geneva co-chairman. Firyubin repeated his promise to report my request to his govt and to inform me of the results.

(At this point Firyubin passed a note to Kornienko who attended him and latter left the room, not to return until just before the conversation was concluded.)

I thanked Firyubin and then said I wished comment briefly on his remarks. I was well acquainted with the Sov view of the situation in Vietnam and since I had on several occasions expressed my govt’s view to numerous Sov officials I was sure he was aware of the way we looked at the situation. We did not consider resistance to aggression as aggression. We could discuss our differences of view for hours but my purpose in calling on him tonight was not to enter into such a discussion but simply to ask the Soviet govt to pass an important message to the DRV. We had noted the reported Soviet indications that if air strikes should be discontinued the situation might improve with respect to finding a way to peaceful settlement. Secondly we had read with great care the Sov govt appeal several days ago in which the govt came out for peaceful solution of all questions in dispute. Finally we had noted and the President had responded positively to the appeal by the 17 unaligned nations,5 although so far as I was aware the other governments chiefly concerned—the Sovs, DRV and China—had not yet officially replied. I stressed that my govt considers the communication which we were asking the Sovs to pass to the DRV a genuine concession on our part toward finding the path to peaceful settlement about which the Sov govt itself [Page 650] had expressed its view in its appeal several days ago. I hoped that this initiative would be correctly understood and taken in this light by the Soviet Govt.

Firyubin said he wished reaffirm his govt’s support for peaceful solutions of all questions in dispute. However peaceful solutions are out of question when negotiations must take place under the gun. They cannot take place under pressure or when one side operates from a position of strength. He wished inform me again there had been no request from the DRV Emb that Sov govt act as intermediary and he felt therefore that it would be more convenient for US to find another way “bypassing us.”

I told Firyubin that I saw no purpose in continuing discuss substantive questions which should probably be the subject of conference if there should be one. I would merely point out that with regard to his remarks on “position of strength” that shooting and bombing are being carried on by two sides, not just one. I then said he should know that I had told him of our efforts to approach the DRV Emb simply as a matter of information. I did not believe the attitude of DRV had any bearing on the request I had put to Firyubin. I was asking Firyubin in the name of the govt of United States to pass important communication to DRV. (During translation these remarks, Kornienko reappeared and handed note to Firyubin which latter read carefully.)

Firyubin then said flatly Sov govt would not do this. The DRV Emb has not requested this service. He said there were number of ways of passing the message to DRV and it was our responsibility to find the most convenient way.

I said I wished to understand him correctly. Was he rejecting my request to transmit the communication to the DRV?

He said this was a correct understanding of the Sov govt position. We must ourselves find the way.

I said that what I was seeking was the cooperation of the Sov govt and Firyubin’s remarks indicated clearly that the Sov govt was refusing this. Firyubin said “I am not a postman” and again said we could find our own ways of transmitting messages.

I pointed out to Firyubin that the cooperation I had requested is a well-known and not unprecented process in international diplomacy. I had great difficulty in reconciling Sov govt refusal to cooperate with its declaration in support of peaceful settlement of disputed questions.

Kornienko chimed in that he had recalled statement by both the President and Secretary of State on several occasions that the US govt has channels for transmitting messages direct to Hanoi. On this the conversation ended but it should be noted that Firyubin made no effort to [Page 651] return to me the text of the oral communication which I had handed him at the outset of the conversation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Repeated to London. No time of transmission is on the source text, but it was received in the Department of State at 10:35 p.m. on May 12.
  2. Not found.
  3. Rusk was in London to attend the NAC meeting, May 12–14.
  4. Document 293.
  5. See Document 245.