68. Editorial Note

On July 21, 1965, Ambassador at Large W. Averell Harriman met with Soviet Premier Kosygin for a second time during his visit to Moscow. (For a report of Harriman’s initial conversation with Kosygin on July 15, see Document 59.) The discussion again covered the full range of major issues affecting U.S.-Soviet relations, and Kosygin stressed that a settlement of the Vietnam conflict was essential to progress on other issues. Harriman noted that President Johnson had authorized him to state that U.S. military action in Vietnam would be limited to whatever was necessary to stop the aggression directed from Hanoi, and the President [Page 180] felt that the Vietnam conflict should not interfere with U.S.-Soviet relations. Harriman added that the United States agreed that it was important to move the Vietnam issue to the conference table as soon as possible, and welcomed any Soviet suggestions to that end.

Kosygin responded that the Soviet Union was not authorized to negotiate concerning Vietnam, but noted that the “Vietnamese comrades would not exclude political settlement, bypassing the Chinese.” He advised the United States to study Pham Van Dong’s four points and make counterproposals directly to the North Vietnamese. He added that he felt that such a political settlement would be based on the retention of the 17th parallel as the dividing line between North and South Vietnam. (Telegram 216 from Moscow, July 21; Department of State, EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 277, USSRExdis 1965)

On July 23, Harriman stopped in Bonn and cabled his impressions of his conversations with Kosygin to President Johnson and Secretary Rusk. On Vietnam, Harriman reported: “I got nowhere in persuading him that N.L.F. was not the voice of the people, and that Saigon spoke for the majority who don’t want communist take-over. It was interesting, however, that he mentioned the retention of the 17th parallel. His biggest concern is the embarrassing position the Soviets are caught in. And he wants a settlement. I doubt that he personally cares too much on what basis, though he will obviously have to support North Vietnam demands at any conference. He would make no suggestion for settlement except that we get together with North Vietnam, and he implied that we should disregard Peiping.” (Telegram 241 from Bonn, July 23; ibid.)

On the morning of July 22, Rusk telephoned McGeorge Bundy and asked if he had seen Harriman’s report. Rusk thought the President would be interested. Bundy noted that he had seen it and passed it on to the President. Rusk said that he had called McNamara and told him that the administration should think hard about the possibility of dealing with the problem of South Vietnam in a low key. He felt that Harriman’s message suggested a more critical examination of the number of U.S. troops to be committed to Vietnam, and of the rate at which they would be used. Bundy responded that the problem had become so large that it would be difficult to play it in a lower key. (Ibid., Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations)

Rusk telephoned William Bundy on the evening of July 22 and instructed him to begin to think hard about establishing contact with Hanoi in connection with Kosygin’s remarks to Harriman. Rusk added that Kosygin’s suggestion could turn out to be very significant. He had talked to the President and they agreed that it was important to consider “very hard and very fast” whether the United States could find some way to take account of what Kosygin said. Rusk felt that the North Vietnamese four points were subject to “dickering.” Bundy said that he would work on it. (Ibid.)