23. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson, in Texas1
CAP 65365. The following message is relevant to Taylor's suggestion,2 which we are reviewing at your request, because of what it shows of possible change in the weather in Moscow:
Message from Ambassador Kohler follows:
From Embassy Moscow No. 3863
Foreign Minister Gromyko accompanied by Smirnovsky came to Spaso today for lunch in honor of George Kennan. Stoessel and Toon were only other guests present. I had originally invited Keldysh, MGU Rector Petrovsky and several other historians and academicians but all for various reasons declined. On behalf Gromyko, Foreign Office had initially expressed doubts that Foreign Minister would be able to attend but subsequently called Embassy to advise that after rechecking his calendar Gromyko had found it possible to accept. I suspect that when Gromyko reached this decision word was passed to other invitees they should decline in order permit Foreign Minister engage in private, frank conversation which in fact took place. Conversation ranged over wide spectrum and throughout Gromyko was affable and gave impression of genuine desire to resume dialogue on basic issues which initiated in post-Cuba period. Following are significant points in exchange relating to Vietnam and U.S.-Sov relations.
After general discussion and frank exchange of views with Kennan on national liberation movement thesis—in which Kennan proved to be able and effective advocate our position, Gromyko turned to me and said he wished to convey two basic points. In first place, he said, Soviets are not authorized and cannot negotiate on behalf of North Vietnam.
Vietnamese situation must be discussed with DRV. He would point out that so far as Soviet position is concerned, 4-point statement by DRV would be reasonable basis for negotiations. As he had told Secretary Rusk in Vienna, Gromyko would caution the U.S. that no progress could be made if any future approach to DRV should be cast in “insulting” terms as it had been previously. For us to announce suspension of hostile action against DRV and simultaneously to inform DRV that unless it behaved according to our prescription the punishment would be [Page 53]resumed was bound to lead us nowhere. Secondly, Gromyko stressed that it has been and continues to be fundamental Soviet policy to seek improvement in U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations. He was compelled to observe, however, that Soviet Government had been disappointed by drastic change in U.S. policy since elections, and Soviets could not avoid feeling that policy now pursued by President Johnson in most instances paralleled that endorsed by Goldwater in electoral campaign.
I made following comments on Gromyko's remarks. I said U.S. Government fully recognized difficulties faced by Soviet Government in dealing with Vietnamese situation; obviously Soviet maneuverability was restricted by attitude of Hanoi and to certain extent Peking. On other hand we had hoped that Soviet Government would be prepared to bring its influence to bear on Hanoi in effort to bring about peaceful settlement of Vietnamese problem which neither of us, I felt, wished to see escalated to a dangerous degree. Meanwhile, I thought Gromyko should recognize that current U.S. policy of support for South Vietnam was laid down 10 years ago and had been followed consistently by three administrations. Recently, of course, degree of U.S. support had increased but this had only been in response to step-up in hostile and terroristic activities of forces controlled by North Vietnam rather than change in our basic policy. Equally, there had been no change in U.S. policy with regard to our bilateral relations with Soviet Union. We have consistently taken position that despite current difficulties, particularly in Vietnam, we desire continuing improvement in U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations on which such significant start had been made in 1963. It was our impression from public statements of Soviet leadership and Soviet press comment that it was Soviet attitude that in this respect had undergone a basic change. They had in fact flatly stated both privately to me and then publicly, that U.S. activities in Vietnam were incompatible with continued improvement U.S.-Soviet relations. It was therefore reassuring to me personally to have Gromyko restate in positive terms his government's position in favor of improvement of U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations. I could assure him that we would do our part toward this end.
Comment: It is entirely possible of course that reason for Gromyko's appearance at Spaso was simply to satisfy his curiosity about Kennan whom he had met only briefly shortly after the war to make appropriate official gesture following 1952 persona non grata action, and to attempt to influence views of a prominent representative of American academic community. However, it became obvious that Gromyko had come specifically prepared to make to me statement summarized above. It is obvious from this account that Gromyko was not prepared or authorized go much beyond officially stated Sov position, particularly on Vietnam. I had impression, however, particularly from his positive comment on U.S.-Sov relationship (which does, of course, differ from official position), [Page 54]his affable mood, and his almost wistful recall of 1963 atmosphere that there is perhaps some new flexibility in Sov posture. It seemed to me that he was trying to suggest that Soviet Government finds itself in extremely awkward position, that it genuinely desires to see the heat taken out of Vietnamese situation, that this can be done only by direct approach to Hanoi accompanied by cessation of bombing. He seemed to imply some hope that if this should be done Hanoi's response would be positive and the Sov Gov would then find it possible and desirable to resume the dialogue with U.S. and restore the hopeful relationship which existed in 1963. Kohler.