330. Letter From President Johnson to Chairman Kosygin1

Dear Mr. Chairman:

Ambassador Kohler has reported to me on his recent conversation with you in Moscow.2 I have studied your remarks carefully and appreciate the frankness of your observations.

[Here follow comments on the non-proliferation treaty.]

I believe that it is important for us to search out every possibility of agreement, whether on large questions or small questions. We are prepared to consider seriously any thoughts which you might have about the improvement of bilateral relations.

With respect to Viet-Nam, it is clear that we have important differences in our views of that problem.

You accuse us of flagrant aggression. We consider that we are helping a small nation resist outside aggression which is contrary to existing international agreements such as the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962. When the authorities in Hanoi decided to launch their attack against South Viet-Nam, they were fully aware of the fact that we had entered into treaty commitments which required us “to meet the common danger” if a protocol state of the Manila Treaty were attacked and asked for our assistance.

Without polemics, but in order that you can understand what we think, I would draw attention to the fact that we did not bomb North Viet-Nam until after the 325th Division of the North Vietnamese regular army moved into South Viet-Nam. American combat forces did not move into South Viet-Nam until after substantial movements of regular army units from North Viet-Nam were moved into the South. Long before that time, we had ample evidence that the effort of the so-called Liberation Front in South Viet-Nam was directed from Hanoi. Moreover, the transit of the territory of Laos by military infiltrators proceeded steadily after the Geneva Accords of 1962 came into effect in violation of that agreement. I would note the special obligation assumed by the Soviet Union, as a Co-Chairman under Article 8 of the Protocol to that agreement … [Page 907] an obligation elaborated upon by the Soviet Representative, the late Mr. Pushkin, to the American Representative, Mr. Harriman.

These are our views and the basis of our policy. Our sole objective is to permit the South Vietnamese to decide their own future for themselves within the framework of the Accords of 1954 and 1962. We cannot have that future imposed upon them by force from the North.

From your remarks to Ambassador Kohler, it is clear that we both agree on the most important objective—that the fighting should be brought to an end as quickly as possible. I quite agree with your remarks about the dangers in the present situation. I know that you will not misinterpret the earnestness with which we seek peace to mean that we are prepared to abandon our commitment to the people of South Viet-Nam. On the contrary we shall do all that is necessary to meet that commitment. Nevertheless, I have tried by every means I know of to seek a peaceful solution of this problem.

As we see it, there are two major possibilities for achieving peace. One path would be that of negotiation, and we are prepared to take this course either by direct contact, through an intermediary, or by means of a formal conference, or any combination of these. Our aim would be to permit self-determination for South Viet-Nam. This would enable us to withdraw our combat forces entirely from South Viet-Nam. Do not be misled by the enormous investment we have made in bases in South Viet-Nam. I can assure you that we are prepared to give them up and to withdraw our troops. At the Manila conference, I tried to respond to Mr. Gromykoʼs suggestion that we should be more precise about our willingness to withdraw. I stated that we were prepared to carry out such withdrawal within six months—the minimum time required physically to carry out such an operation.

I can understand that it may be difficult for North Viet-Nam to agree to formal negotiations, particularly in view of the pressure which they are evidently under from Peking. It was for this reason that I endeavored to see if they would agree to secret exploratory talks either directly or through an intermediary.

We have also made far-reaching suggestions on the substance of the issues involved. For example, we have stated that the kind of government which could exist in Saigon and what the result might be on the question of reunification are matters to be decided by the South Vietnamese people themselves. We have supported Prince Sihanoukʼs request for stronger assurances of his own neutrality. We support action by the ICC to demilitarize in fact the zone along the 17th Parallel. We accept the 1954 and 1962 Agreements as the basis for peace in Southeast Asia.

Another possible path to peace might be a simple tapering off of military action on both sides, including the campaign of terror against the Government of South Viet-Nam. To this end, we have unsuccessfully [Page 908] tried to enlist the interest of the other side in such a mutual de-escalation of the violence.

Neither of these paths to peace involves any injury to North Viet-Nam; we do not ask them to surrender an acre of ground or a single man; we only want them to stop shooting at somebody else.

I draw your attention to the many efforts toward peace which have come from our side. In the advance of negotiations or any quid pro quo from Hanoi, I have made the public commitment to withdraw our troops and give up our bases. I have publicly stated that arrangements could be made for the NLF to express its point of view. I have twice suspended our bombing of North Viet-Nam. I have refrained from using much of the power available to the United States in order to minimize the risk of widening the conflict. All we have heard from the other side is a reiteration of a position which they know amounts to the surrender of South Viet-Nam.

You remarked to Ambassador Kohler that you could develop your thought further but preferred for us to think about your observations since the problem was most complex. I should be most grateful for any further observations you may have and any efforts you may be able to make to bring to an end this conflict which appears to us to be without justification and which carries the risks which you have pointed out.

Objectively considered, Mr. Chairman, there need be no basic conflict of interest between the Soviet Union and the United States on this matter. We fully recognize and respect the interest of the Soviet Union in the security of North Viet-Nam. We know you understand our interest in and our treaty commitments to the security of South Viet-Nam. Surely it is to the best interests of both of us as well as both South and North Viet-Nam to find a way to stop the fighting and let any outstanding questions be settled by peaceful means.

Since writing the foregoing, our Ambassador in Saigon has forwarded an important message from the Polish representative, Mr. Lewandowski, about which I am told you have been informed.3 We shall be giving this urgent consideration.


Lyndon B. Johnson
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163. No classification marking. Attached to the source text is a draft with extensive handwritten corrections. In a memorandum of his conversation with Dobrynin on December 7, Llewellyn Thompson reported that he handed the letter to Kosygin, who read it carefully and indicated that he would carry it back to Moscow. (Ibid.)
  2. Kohlerʼs farewell conversation with Kosygin on November 14 was reported to the President in telegram 2238 from Moscow, November 14. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, vol. XIII)
  3. Presumably a reference to Document 322.