354. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBEJCT

  • Reply to Presidentʼs Letter to Kosygin

PARTICIPANTS

  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, USSR
  • Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson

I asked the Ambassador if he had brought back any reply to the Presidentʼs letter to Kosygin.2 He replied that if he could speak completely off the record he could tell me that a reply had nearly been completed and that it was one we would have liked but then the bombing of Hanoi had occurred and this draft had been torn up and another one of quite a different [Page 982]character started. He said he had seen the report from their Embassy in Hanoi and that there was no doubt in the Soviet minds as a result of this report that our bombs had fallen on Hanoi itself. He said his own recommendation had been that in view of this change of circumstance, it was better for the Soviet Government not to reply immediately but he said that a reply would be made in due course.

I said I could tell him categorically that it was not our intention to bomb the civilian areas of Hanoi and we were sure that some SAMs had fallen on the city. I said that one of the targets was so situated that our planes came over the city after dropping their bombs and it was always possible that one of the bombs had been hung up and subject to a delayed release. The Ambassador remarked that even if a SAM missile had landed in the city it would not have left the kind of crater that had been caused there.

The Ambassador referred to our conversation with the Poles and asked if anything new had developed. I inquired whether he was aware of our action in stating we had stopped bombing within a certain radius of Hanoi. He said he was. I said that our Ambassador in Warsaw had an appointment with the Foreign Minister but I did not know yet what had transpired.

The Ambassador remarked that the initial stages of this affair had given the Soviet Government considerable hope and he said rather cryptically that they had other reasons for some optimism but that our action in bombing Hanoi had spoiled everything. I pointed out that our targets were selected several weeks in advance and that it had been pure coincidence that the attacks on the targets near Hanoi had occurred at this time.

The Ambassador said that his Government was frankly baffled by our actions in Viet-Nam and did not know how to judge our policy. He said there were many, and he was one of them, that wondered whether some of our military were deliberately trying to frustrate a policy of moving toward negotiations or whether our policy really was one of military victory.

I said that I could assure him that we were genuinely interested in negotiations and that although there were some who felt that we should take a stronger action, this was not a question of military officers disobeying orders.

Toward the end of our conversation, which covered other subjects, the Ambassador asked if I thought there was real hope of getting the Viet-Namese affair settled during the coming year. I said that I was personally hopeful, although the difficulties were obvious. He remarked that perhaps during my stay in Moscow I would be able to have contact with a certain Ambassador, obviously meaning the North Viet-Namese.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, box 147, Marigold II. Top Secret; Nodis; Marigold. Drafted by Thompson and approved in S/AL. Printed in part in Herring, Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War, pp. 321–322.
  2. Document 330.