247. Memorandum of Conversation1


New York, September-October 1966


  • Viet-Nam


  • US
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Arthur J. Goldberg
    • Ambassador Foy D. Kohler
    • Ambassador William C. Foster
    • Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson
    • Mr. William D. Krimer (Interpreter)
  • USSR
    • Andrei A. Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs
    • Ambassador Nikolai T. Fedorenko
    • Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin
    • Mr. Lev I. Mendelevitch
    • Mr. Alexei A. Roschin
    • Mr. Sukhodrev (Interpreter)

The Secretary said he would appreciate a chance to make some observations concerning the problem of Viet-Nam. It was our clear understanding that the Foreign Minister felt he was not in a position to negotiate concerning Viet-Nam, since he had not been authorized by certain parties to do so and we respected this position. The Secretary did, however, want to explain to Mr. Gromyko the problems we were facing in bringing the problem of Viet-Nam to a conclusion. He wanted to express the frustration we were experiencing in this respect. In the Warsaw Pact Communique of Bucharest,2 the Warsaw Pact countries had called upon us to comply with the 1954 and 1962 agreements concerning Southeast Asia. We agree with this proposal. We assumed that the Communique had meant that other parties, too, would comply with these agreements; how do we get started? We had said on many occasions that we agreed to sit down at a conference to talk about the problem of Southeast Asia; yet, such a meeting or conference had proved to be impossible to convene. We had said yes to Prince Sihanoukʼs requests to the International[Page 663]Control Commission to protect and insure respect for the neutrality and integrity of Cambodia; the other side had not reacted, even though we have no desire to involve Cambodia in the present conflict. We had urged the ICC to take the necessary steps to assure the maintenance of the demilitarized zone between North and South Viet-Nam. Yesterday Hanoi informed the ICC that they would have no part of any such idea. We had made it clear that we were prepared to carry on bilateral negotiations with Hanoi; we had made it clear that we would welcome third parties as intermediaries; we have also made it clear that we would welcome discreet and tactful unofficial contacts with Hanoi; still, nothing happens. We tried to talk to the other side about deescalation; nothing happens. We tried to arrange for an exchange of prisoners and have even returned some prisoners unilaterally; the other side expressed no interest. We had said that we would stop the bombing if anyone could tell us what else would happen if we did so; to date no one has been able to tell us anything in this respect. In the meanwhile North Viet-Nam continues to send its regular armed forces into South Viet-Nam. During the last few days again the traffic has increased and a new regular North Vietnamese army division has entered South Viet-Nam through the demilitarized zone. Hanoi and Peking have called Ambassador Goldbergʼs new proposals a “peace swindle”. They have called the Pope a mouth-piece of the reactionary forces. It seems to us that the Soviet Union and the United States have no conflicting interests in this situation. We are not interested in punishing or bombing or attempting to destroy North Viet-Nam. The bombing can stop, literally within hours, if something can be done to stop the attacks of North Viet-Nam upon South Viet-Nam. We are puzzled over the fact that all the processes capable of bringing about a peaceful settlement appear to have been blocked. Hanoi had asked us to accept its four points.3 We had replied that we were prepared to discuss their four points if others at the table were free to state the points they had in mind. Actually, we had no great problem with points one, two and four; we had suggested some changes in point three; we have received no reply. Over the last five years we had made literally hundreds of efforts to bring about a peaceful settlement; so far, the only reply has been a continuation of the traffic from North Viet-Nam to South Viet-Nam. We have had absolutely no indication that Hanoi is interested in a peaceful settlement. We think that is unfortunate. Concerning the Warsaw Pact Bucharest Communique: the Soviet Union has prompted us to comply with the Geneva Agreements of 1954 and 1962; we agree, but how do we get started?

Foreign Minister Gromyko said in reply that the Soviet Unionʼs position on Viet-Nam had been stated many times and he saw no need to [Page 664] repeat it. He had to say in the name of the Soviet Government, however, that the many statements of the US Government on Viet-Nam and the actions of the United States in Viet-Nam had very little in common, to say the very least. Concerning these statements about the desirability of a peaceful solution of the question: if one were to read these statements only, one could indeed come to the conclusion that the United States was seeking a peaceful solution to the problem. Yet, the concrete facts of escalation of US military actions in Viet-Nam lead us objectively to the opposite conclusion. If we were to characterize such statements, particularly some of the statements made by the US Secretary of Defense, we would have to use very harsh words indeed. Mr. Gromyko had no desire to do so, he only wanted to speak on the substantive aspects of this problem. Therefore, he repeated, words were one thing, actions—something else again. Thus, the latest US statement before the UN General Assembly4 also failed to produce any new confidence, for it had been preceded by very recent evidence of plans and by statements indicating further escalation of US military actions in Viet-Nam. Secondly, the proposals the US had made before the UN General Assembly were accompanied by conditions which the other side could not possibly accept. In fact, each statement made by the US had been accompanied by such conditions, conditions which cannot be fulfilled. The Soviet Union was therefore not surprised that the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam did not react to these American statements in any other way except to reject them out of hand. He therefore concluded that while he could not negotiate, and while he did not want the US to underestimate this influence,5 he had seen nothing new in the American position during the latest period of time. As to what the Secretary had said about US efforts to establish contact not having produced any results, he was not surprised. The trouble was that the US had made no effort to make its proposals acceptable to the other side. He was therefore concluding that the United States was determined to continue the war in Viet-Nam with all the consequences that ensued. Thirdly, the Soviet Government had, of course, not failed to consider the reasoning and the position of the United States, not just once, but repeatedly. His Government had concluded that for reasons of its own the United States had decided to unleash and escalate the war in Viet-Nam. It was his Governmentʼs view that this was a grave mistake, if the statements of the United States Government about its desire to reduce international tensions were to be taken at face value. For, if the US really wanted peace in the area of Indochina and wanted to put an end to the war, it would have to furnish proof of this desire to the other [Page 665] side. Not only verbal declarations, however. What kind of proof? What, specifically, could improve the situation? Cessation of military actions in South Viet-Nam. The United States was a great and strong country. As Mr. Gromyko saw it, the prestige of the United States would not be damaged if the bombing of North Viet-Nam were stopped, as “a minimum of minimums”. On the contrary, such a step would be evaluated positively throughout the world. Yet, the US did not even stop the bombing. The US ought to realize just what it was doing; it was unthinkable to try and bring the DRV and South Viet-Nam to their knees. The Soviet Union knew and thought the US also realized the fact that the people of Viet-Nam were full of resolution to expend whatever time and effort were required, whatever sacrifices were required, in order to defend their land. What would unconditional cessation of military actions accomplish? It would improve the general situation in Viet-Nam and create more favorable preconditions for a solution of the problem that would be satisfactory to all. Above all, it would improve the situation of the people of Viet-Nam since the fire was, after all, burning in their house; the other side would then probably react to the American statements and proposals. At present it could not react in any other way. Mr. Gromyko said he did not know how the Secretary would take his words; he could conclude that this was just the Foreign Minister of the USSR speaking in support of the position of the DRV. This would not be untrue, for the Soviet Union had in the past and did now support the DRV. But, he was also speaking from a recognition of the common general responsibility of the USSR and the US for world affairs, fully bearing in mind the firm determination of the people of the DRV to defend their country. He wanted to conclude his remarks on this note: during his meetings with the Secretary on at least three different occasions the Secretary had said that in his view the US and the USSR understood their responsibility for world affairs better than any other nation, and this for obvious reasons known to all of us. If this is so, then he considered it to be his duty to call the Secretary’s attention to the situation created in Viet-Nam. Whether the Secretary liked this or not, not only in the Soviet Union, but throughout the entire world the actions of the United States in Viet-Nam were considered to constitute aggression, not the actions of the DRV. Therefore, the Secretary should come to the conclusion that what Mr. Gromyko was saying was dictated not only by narrow considerations of solidarity with the people of Viet-Nam although this solidarity as well as its causes was a well-known fact, but also by recognition of the common responsibility the Secretary had spoken of. Mr. Gromyko was gratified to note from the statements made by President Kennedy and from those made by President Johnson concerning this responsibility that there was continuity in the leadership of the United States. It would be very good indeed if the US were to take genuine steps toward peace in Viet-Nam. It has been said that if the Soviet Union were to take appropriate action to use its influence [Page 666] in Viet-Nam, this would bring about a peaceful settlement. But, by its actions the United States had severely limited the Soviet Union’s possibilities and had deprived it of opportunities to take some positive steps; this was true not only of the Soviet Union, but of a number of other countries also. Mr. Gromyko said that by his remarks he had explained the considerations of the Soviet Government to the Secretary concerning the situation in Viet-Nam and American actions there. He did not know how the Secretary would evaluate these remarks. Perhaps he might want to think about them and possibly return to a discussion of the problem at a later time; this would be at the Secretary’s discretion.

The Secretary said that he was most interested in Mr. Gromykoʼs remarks, despite the fact that as Mr. Gromyko had indicated he was not in a position to negotiate. It was important that this problem be discussed between them, precisely because they both agreed that the problems of peace in the world depended heavily upon the US and the Soviet Union. These two nations had the power and the responsibility before mankind and before history. He hoped that there would be another occasion for them to discuss this problem further. However, he did want to comment on Mr. Gromykoʼs remarks about the difference between the statements and the actions of the United States. He recalled that in June of 1961 his Government and ours had discussed the situation in Southeast Asia. This had eventually led to an agreement on Laos and after some period of time this agreement had been signed by the USSR, the US and Peking. We were bitterly disappointed over the way that this agreement had worked out; in fact, President Kennedy had been bitterly disappointed by it. We had accepted the Soviet Unionʼs candidate for Prime Minister of Laos, we had also accepted a coalition government which included all three factions. This had not, however, deterred Hanoi from continuing infiltration into the areas which were controlled by the Pathet Lao. Neither the International Control Commission nor representatives of the coalition government were able to penetrate into these areas. Still, we continued to discuss peace in Southeast Asia. For a period of five years, while there was no bombing of North Viet-Nam, its Government continued to infiltrate its forces into South Viet-Nam. These five years were filled with efforts toward finding a peaceful solution. We continued to believe that the USSR had signed the agreements on Southeast Asia in good faith; for some reason Hanoi had not. Undoubtedly Mr. Gromyko knew better than we did, why. We cannot accept the view that the problem in Viet-Nam is purely a problem between the people of the two Viet-Nams; we could not accept such a view with respect to the people of the two Germanys either. The situation is becoming increasingly difficult for us. Over the past few years many governments, groups of governments and individuals such as U Thant and the Pope have continued to make proposals for peace. To all of these we have said yes; Hanoi—no. Yet, we are still [Page 667] expected to say something new in spite of the fact that there has been no response from Hanoi to any proposals for the past two years; we are expected to surrender South Viet-Nam to North Viet-Nam. It is not easy for us to separate the military actions of our side from those of the other side. No one can tell us what might happen to the 19 regiments of the regular forces of North Viet-Nam which are now in South Viet-Nam. When we stopped the bombing early this year the only response was more infiltration. It was carried on on a 24-hour basis instead of just at night. Hanoi made no proposals or counter-proposals at that time; it only said for us to get out and to turn South Viet-Nam over to North Viet-Nam. Nevertheless we continued to probe for a peaceful settlement. What the people of South Viet-Nam want we were prepared to leave to them, to ascertain their wishes by a vote. We did not believe that they wanted to have North Viet-Nam impose its will upon them by force. We intended to continue our efforts to find a peaceful solution, but we were made to wonder whether the very efforts we had been undertaking in that direction had not led Hanoi into a grave miscalculation. There had not been any other example in history when one side had made so many efforts to end the war, as had been the case with the United States with respect to Viet-Nam. Perhaps this then convinced Hanoi that we would weaken and eventually surrender South Viet-Nam to its forces. During the 1964 electoral campaign President Johnson had said repeatedly that we wanted no larger war. We wondered if this did not lead Hanoi to conclude that it could increase its efforts to take over South Viet-Nam without running greater risks of US opposition. It introduced the 325th Division into South Viet-Nam. But, despite the possibility that Hanoi may have miscalculated we would continue to be in touch to explore new possibilities. We were disturbed by the evident lack of reciprocity. We did not, for example, say as they do that we would not negotiate unless they stopped their bombing in South Viet-Nam; we were ready to discuss peace now or at any other time, but we could not be indifferent to the presence of large numbers of regular North Vietnamese soldiers in South Viet-Nam, killing people and trying to seize South Viet-Nam by force. If they remained determined to pursue their efforts, we should have to meet them, although we much preferred a peaceful solution to the problem. We would be appreciative of anything the Soviet Union could do to bring about a peaceful solution in the interests of all of us and indeed of the entire world. We were not asking North Viet-Nam to surrender anything; we did not ask them for a single acre of their territory and we did not ask them to change their regime. All we were saying was that we could not say no to requests for assistance from South Viet-Nam. We recognized the Soviet Union’s concern for North Viet-Nam. We hoped that the Soviet Union recognized our concern for South Viet-Nam. On this basis perhaps further discussions of this problem could be held between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Gromyko.

[Page 668]

Mr. Gromyko said that he had expressed the position of the Soviet Government, which was guided by the recognition of the great responsibility of the United States and the Soviet Union for world peace. He hoped the United States would not be carried away by setting conditions for the other side. If the US was really interested in peace much depended upon its actions and its not raising complicated and humiliating conditions for the other side. He repeated that the views of his Government were dictated by recognition of the great responsibilities of the two powers.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/S-Vietnam Briefing Books: Lot 70 D 207, Viet-Nam Negotiations, 1968. Secret; Exdis. Drafted on September 26 by William D. Krimer of the Language Services Division, Department of State. The meeting was held at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in New York. A memorandum prepared on September 30 in the Bureau of European Affairs analyzed “new elements” in Gromykoʼs conversation with Rusk. (Ibid.)/1/
  2. Excerpts from the communique, July 6, are printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 832–834.
  3. For text of the four points, April 8, 1965, see ibid., 1965, pp. 852–853.
  4. See Document 244.
  5. The Soviet interpreter omitted this particular reference to influence. [Footnote in the source text.]