117. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

162643. State 143101.2 In Bundy/Dobrynin conversation on evening March 23, following discussion reported Exdis septel concerning [Page 282]Hanoi motives in revealing President/Ho letters and anticipated Hanoi negative reply on U Thant proposal, discussion turned to lengthy review of Moscow exchanges and brief references to December dealings through Poles. Following were highlights:

Dobrynin stuck throughout to same basic line as in reftel, that Hanoi simply would not talk unless we stop the bombing. He repeated argumentation that Hanoi could not possibly accept our insistence on reciprocal action without accepting whole US view of nature of conflict. Bundy responded that Soviets well knew practical reasons why we could not stop bombing and allow Hanoi to pour in additional divisions and equipment.
Conversation then got onto U Thant proposal, as to which Dobrynin had already indicated that Hanoi response would be negative.3Bundy remarked that we had supposed Hanoi would find difficulty in working out any major cessation of hostilities, although we ourselves had done our best to make constructive response to SYG.
Bundy then said that Hanoi revelation of letters continued to puzzle us very much, as we had formed clear impression that if Hanoi ever wished to move seriously it would do so in some secret and private manner. Hence we were genuinely distressed that Hanoi had damaged, if not destroyed, privacy of Moscow channel.4Dobrynin did not respond directly, and did not take possible occasion to indicate any hope Moscow channel could be resumed. (Neither he nor Bundy referred to subsequent NVN refusal to accept contact with Thompson.)
Bundy then went on to argue, along lines Secretary had followed in reftel, that if positions were difficult to reconcile on stopping the bombing, and if cessation of hostilities presented similar difficulties,[Page 283]perhaps best way to proceed would be to go back to our message of January 20 in Moscow, offering to talk on full range of topics related to final settlement and in effect to see “where we would come out.” Bundy noted that Hanoi had never responded to our January 20 message, and that this had been one of major negative factors, together with lack of any response to President’s letter, that had led us to go ahead with resumption on February 13. He stressed that discussion of January 20 topics need not be described as “talks” but could simply be exploratory “non-conversations.” If we were able to arrive at a clear picture of an agreed final settlement, question of more formal talks and even of stopping the bombing might take on different hue. Dobrynin obviously understood the point, but did not respond in any hopeful way.
Bundy then remarked that if Hanoi were so insistent that we stop the bombing before any talks could take place, it was hard to suppose that there could have been any substance to what the Poles told us in December about a willingness to meet in Warsaw. Dobrynin shrugged this off with the perhaps revealing remark that Poles had given Soviets an entirely different picture than the one we had presented of who had taken the initiative for the Warsaw contacts and by implication the statement of US position. The inescapable implication was that Poles had represented to Soviets that USG had initiated Lewandowski channel and that USG had either drafted or endorsed Lewandowski formulation and urged that it be presented to Hanoi. Bundy merely said Soviets knew facts as we clearly understood them. In this exchange, Dobrynin returned to theme that our bombing on December 2 and 4 had thrown Rapacki off, and that bombing of December 13–14 had caused clear Hanoi rejection of Warsaw meeting. Bundy did not attempt to go back over this familiar ground.
In commenting on our February 13 resumption, Dobrynin did complain that we had not given additional time for Hanoi response. Bundy responded that Hanoi had given no response whatever to our whole series of proposals, and Dobrynin did not really press the argument, although he did say that our resumption had given impression in Moscow that USG or some elements in it, were impatient and anxious to press forward with military pressures.
Dobrynin expressed hope that there would not be “dramatic developments” in USG actions against NVN. Bundy responded that there would undoubtedly be continuing developments, although he did not know whether they could be called “dramatic.” Dobrynin specifically inquired on significance of Guam meeting. Bundy responded that President had wished to meet with SVN leaders and to introduce new team, and to have customary periodic review of all elements in situation. No major decisions had been anticipated or taken. [Page 284]Dobrynin’s inquiries on these matters did not appear to have special note of urgency or alarm.
Conversation also included brief exchange on situation in China. Bundy noted that there now appeared to be at least temporary settling down in cultural revolution, perhaps related to need to concentrate on planting season. Dobrynin expressed strong agreement that latter was key factor, and stated judgment that resumption of struggle highly likely in view of deep-seated views held by Mao personally.
Comment. General Dobrynin mood seemed little if any changed from that evidenced in his February 23 conversation with Secretary (reftel). He seemed almost resigned to present state of affairs and present Hanoi position. His recriminations and his references to our military actions were along familiar lines and moderate in tone. While holding out no hope that Hanoi might in fact pick up our January 20 avenue, his prediction of resumed struggle in China might conceivably suggest Moscow is lying low in case Chinese developments should give them another chance to exert influence.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER. Top Secret; Priority; Nodis; Sunflower Plus. Drafted and approved by Bundy.
  2. Telegram 143101 to Moscow, February 24, summarized a conversation between Rusk and Dobrynin on February 23. During the talk, Dobrynin implied that the U.S. Government was interested solely in a military resolution of the Vietnam conflict since it had refused to halt the bombing during the Marigold exercise the previous December and since it did not accept a Hanoi-proposed 7-day truce during the Tet holiday. Rusk disagreed and pointed out that the “real problem” was that if the other side stepped up its military activities, then “it was inevitable” that the U.S. Government would do so. Without specific guarantees, a bombing halt could not be enacted. (Ibid.)
  3. The Department suspended contacts with the DRV Embassy in Moscow while the U Thant initiative unfolded. (Telegram 157597 to Moscow, March 17; ibid.) When Akalovsky talked to Hoang Man’Tu on March 21, Hoang Man’Tu told him: “At present, U.S. carrying out every day new steps of grave escalation of aggressive war against people of NVN. At same time, U.S. is mounting a game of contacts with DRV reps in order to deceive world public opinion and to cover its criminal acts of war. In view of this, DRV Ambassador in Moscow cannot receive U.S. Ambassador.” (Telegram 4020 from Moscow, March 21; ibid.)
  4. On March 21 the North Vietnamese published the February exchange of letters between President Johnson and Ho Chi Minh; see Documents 32 and 82. INR Intelligence Note 231, March 22, concluded that Hanoi released the notes due to the perceived intensification brought about by the Guam conference, pressure from Peking, and a desire to shore up its own morale. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXVIII) In a March 22 memorandum to the President, Roche suggested the following explanation: “I suspect Ho (a complete realist) is in favor of negotiations, found himself confronted by a powerful opposition in the Party, endorsed the opposition’s view in order to consolidate his organizational strength, will now move (using the old salami tactic) to neutralize his enemies within the Party, and may write you another letter.” (Ibid., Name File, Roche Memos)