264. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Miscellaneous Matters


  • U.S.
    • The President
    • The Secretary
    • Llewellyn E. Thompson
    • Mr. Rostow
  • U.S.S.R.
    • Mr. Gromyko
    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Mr. Sukhodrev

The President opened the conversation by saying that he had been informed of the Ministerʼs talks with Secretary Rusk and the Ministerʼs other activities and thought he must have been a very busy man.

Gromyko said it was true that he had much to do here. He had an exchange of views with Secretary Rusk and had also had a meeting with Ambassador Goldberg to discuss questions which he had raised. He assumed the President was informed of the content of these meetings and this would facilitate his task.

The President said he had been informed of these discussions and that Secretary Rusk would have a further discussion with him this evening. While waiting for the photographers to come in, the President said that the Soviets had allowed their Ambassador to come back to Washington and in return the President had selected the best man we had to go to Moscow.

[Page 717]

Mr. Gromyko said Mr. Thompson would be very welcome in Moscow. After the photographers had left, Mr. Gromyko remarked that the temperature of the room had risen as a result of their activities. The President replied that he hoped not as his job was to cool things down.

Gromyko said that the leadership and the Government of the Soviet Union often discussed the question of where the policy of the United States is leading. He presumed that there was an awareness of the responsibility of the United States and of the Soviet Union in world affairs. However, certain facts related to United States policy baffled the Soviets. He could declare on behalf of the Soviet Union that it was in our mutual interest to work for better relations. If the United States Government and Mr. Johnson, as President, were willing to take steps to promote international detente to improve relations, they would not find the Soviet Union lacking in response as this was in accord with the wishes of both the Soviet Government and its people.

The President said he agreed with the points Mr. Gromyko had made. We were just as baffled about the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. It was evident that we had not communicated with each other very well. He also agreed that agreement between our two great powers was of the highest importance and that we had a great responsibility to the world. He had on many occasions tried to take steps to ease tension. He had been greatly encouraged in the correspondence that had taken place during his early months in office. He had been deeply disappointed that the keeping of our commitment to South Viet-Nam seemed to frustrate these early beginnings. He had been distressed to read in the Soviet press remarks about himself personally and about the motivation of his Administration. He knew that the Soviet and American people wanted friendship and he was always ready to go more than half way to reach agreement. The greatest reward to him as President, and the greatest blessing for all people, would be if we could succeed in this endeavor.

Gromyko said that the President had referred to Viet-Nam and remarked that he had discussed this with Secretary Rusk and had explained the Soviet point of view.2 He had also touched on this in the meeting with Ambassador Goldberg. He would like to hear the Presidentʼs personal view and know what way out of the situation he saw. The Soviet Government has expressed its position on Viet-Nam and he had explained it to Secretary Rusk, but he would like to touch on certain points after hearing the Presidentʼs point of view.

The President said he had mentioned Viet-Nam because he had heard that it was this question that explained the Soviet attitude toward the United States and its leaders. He had tried to explore every possible [Page 718] avenue to peace. There had been many consultations with various representatives of various countries interested in bringing about negotiations. He had always thought that as co-Chairman, the Soviet Union could exert its leadership in trying to bring about a negotiation. Early in his Administration and in his Baltimore speech,3 he had expressed our willingness for unconditional negotiations, he had made clear that we were willing to withdraw from that area and give up a very important negotiating position provided there was self-determination for South Viet-Nam and that it was not overrun. The President pointed out that United States forces had been moved into South Viet-Nam only after North Viet-Nam had moved into the South and we saw that we were faced either with tearing up our agreements as scraps of paper or of resisting. The United States was going to discharge its obligations and he hoped the Soviet Union would do the same. He believed the Soviet Union could exercise an important influence if it chose to do so. We were prepared to pull out our troops and convert our bases to civilian uses. We were prepared to try to improve the lot of the poor people in that area but we could not do this by running away or by capitulating. The United States could do more than it was doing in the war and the President said he had difficulty resisting pressures upon him to do more, but he had no desire to destroy Viet-Nam or to change its Government. He did, however, have an obligation to South Viet-Nam.

The President said that if South Viet-Nam tried to change the Government in North Viet-Nam, he would have a few words to say about this. His position was that he desired to see this difficult problem settled as there was so much that our two countries could do for the good of the world. We were willing to go from the battlefield to the negotiating table. If South Viet-Nam wanted to vote to go with North Viet-Nam, that was their business. He hoped that the Soviet Union and Great Britain or the United Nations or non-aligned countries or neutral nations could make proposals that could be acceptable to both sides. He had arranged a pause in bombing for thirty-seven days despite the opinion of the military that this would not help our situation, in the hope that we would get some message, but when we called, the other side hung up the telephone. He knew that Mr. Gromyko did not interpret these efforts on his part as a sign of weakness, but rather as an indication of his determination to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Viet-Namese affair. If the United States wanted victory over North Viet-Nam, we could achieve it, but our aim is not that but to settle the problem. The best way to test our sincerity in this would be to name the time and place for negotiations. He had said that Secretary Rusk would be ready to be there in twenty-four hours.

[Page 719]

Mr. Gromyko said he wished to make a couple of preliminary remarks. The President was familiar with the Soviet statement that they were not the country to conduct negotiations on this question and he was familiar with Soviet views about the conduct of the war and the Soviet assessment of the chain of events leading to it. Mr. Gromyko said the Soviet Government pays attention to statements made by the President concerning his desire to see an end to the war. He had likewise given attention to the most recent statements on that score. He said he would make a detailed report to the Soviet Government on the statement which the President had just made. He said he must, at the same time, frankly state that the Soviet Government could not help but note that the United States Government has not taken any real step to end the war. Statements made by the United States, both by the President personally and on behalf of the United States Government at the United Nations had been accompanied by conditions known to be unacceptable to the other side as the other side would have to capitulate. Mr. Gromyko thought the United States should take a more realistic position and should not give ultimata or pose conditions as that was not the road to settlement of the war. This is what he had tried to emphasize to Secretary Rusk. The United States statements on the desire to end the war were not compatible with the steps which the United States had taken which had actually widened the war.

(The President interrupted the interpretation at this point to ask Mr. Gromyko if he was aware that the North was invading the South. We had not asked anyone to surrender. We were asking that they stop shooting, in which case we would stop shooting. Didnʼt Mr. Gromyko know that North Viet-Nam troops were in South Viet-Nam before ours? At first we had had only advisers getting shot but they sent whole divisions in and we had to act. If they would go back now, we would quit shooting. Every move on our part had been in answer to a move on the part of North Viet-Nam. The Minister talked as though the other side did nothing to escalate. Now they were coming across with four or five divisions.)

The interpretation of Gromykoʼs remarks was continued at this point.

Gromyko said that when Mr. Goldberg spoke to the United Nations and had put forward what we called a program for ending the war, the United States Minister of Defense had made quite another statement, implying a widening of the war.

(The President interjected that when Ambassador Goldberg made that statement, the Minister of Defense had asked Congress to place orders for planes for delivery two or three years from now. He assumed the Soviet Union may have placed some orders about the same time, but this had nothing to do with the Goldberg speech. He said we might also have laid the keels for some ships to be delivered six years from now.)

[Page 720]

(The President again interrupted the interpreter to ask if Mr. Gromyko wanted to stop half the war or all of it. Mr. Gromyko replied that stopping the bombing was the first of first steps. This would bring a better atmosphere for a general settlement.)

The interpreter continued.

Mr. Gromyko asked what would happen if the United States widened the war and other countries, including the Soviet Union would give further aid to Viet-Nam. In that case, the Soviet Union and the United States would find themselves drawn into these events. The Soviet Union earnestly believed that the key to a solution was in the hands of the United States. The President had said he wanted the Soviet Union to use its influence to end the war. Although the Soviet Union did not engage in negotiations, he did not deny that they had some influence among their own friends but the position of the United States made it more difficult for the Soviet Union to use this influence. The Soviet Union was in favor of ending the war in Viet-Nam and believed this was in the interests of the great powers, including the United States. The first of first steps was to stop the bombing. Mr. Gromyko said he could not say what North Viet-Nam or the NLF would do, but the reaction would be a different one. He repeated he was prepared to say that the behavior of the other side would be different if the United States ended the bombing of North Viet-Nam.

The President said he had received some suggestions for a bombing pause twice before. The first time the other side sent our note back to us. As for the second pause, Ambassador Dobrynin would recall that he had been instrumental in convincing McGeorge Bundy and others that we should try another pause. The President asked whether if we stopped bombing, the other side would continue to bomb our soldiers in South Viet-Nam. We were prepared to stop the bombing if they would say what they would do if we did stop. The President asked Mr. Gromyko how long he thought we should stop before we should get some reaction. He also asked Mr. Gromyko what the reaction would be in his country if they found themselves in similar circumstances.

Mr. Gromkyo replied that the Soviet Union had no soldiers in the same situation as ours. He observed that the President had said we had stopped bombing and we had told the Soviet Government that we were going to pause and see what happened. This was not said in public statements but tens of governments knew that this was our position.

(At this point the President interrupted to say that he understood the Soviet Government had recommended this. Gromyko said this was true, but without conditions.)

Mr. Gromyko continued that the Soviets were very sincere in their point of view. It was their earnest opinion that the United States had no interest in establishing a base in Viet-Nam.

[Page 721]

(The President interrupted to say that he agreed.)

Mr. Gromyko continued that when the question arose about the withdrawal of troops, the United States had avoided being specific and had given only a very general statement. He said that perhaps if we were more specific and would give a more concrete statement, this might be of use. He said that the Soviet Union was not holding anything back and was acting in good faith. They would like to see the end of the war.

The President said that he agreed. He had never questioned the Soviet good faith and he fully agreed with the importance of peace to both of us. He wondered if the Minister had any idea of what the other side would do. He saw some merit in stopping the bombing if the other side would stop. He pointed out that they had killed more of our soldiers with mortars and bombs than we had killed in the North by aerial bombardment. Was he expected to, in effect, tie our soldiersʼ hands behind their backs? He said, however, he would give attention to Mr. Gromykoʼs suggestion for clarification of our position and in his next public statement he would be careful to try to make our position clear. As he had said in Baltimore, we were ready to talk without conditions at any time and any place. We were ready to withdraw our troops when the other side was willing to stop bombing us and to withdraw their troops. The President said we would like to take the resources we are spending on killing people and use them to enable these people to live longer, both in North and in South Viet-Nam.

Mr. Gromyko said he could only repeat that the Soviet Union could not give a detailed schedule as to what the other side would do, but he could say that the reaction of the other side could be very different.

The discussion continued on the subject of non-proliferation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL US–USSR. Secret; Nodis. Approved in the White House on October 13. The meeting, held in the Oval Office, lasted from 5 to 6:41 p.m. (Johnson Library, Presidentʼs Daily Diary) The President discussed his meeting with Gromyko in a telephone conversation with Senator Fulbright that began at 5:20 p.m. on October 11. Both a recording and a transcript of the conversation are ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F66.28, PNO 2; the transcript is in Chron Series.
  2. See Document 247.
  3. April 7, 1965. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book I, pp. 394–399.