137. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

4491. 1. Exchange of views with George Brown prompts following.2 I suggest we should consider whether in present circumstances our continuing campaign of Vietnam peace moves really serves to further the possibility of peace negotiations. Apart from our basic objective of peace, I assume we wish to influence US and world opinion generally, and the Soviet Union, North Vietnam and the Vietcong in particular, the ChiComs being impervious to moves of this sort.

2. I am not able to judge effect of further moves on US public opinion but would have thought that any additional initiatives could add little to force of the long list of efforts we have made in recent months.

3. So far as Soviet Union is concerned I would not deny that our initiatives have had some favorable effect on Soviets despite coincidence in many cases with escalation of bombing of North Vietnam. In present circumstances, however, I believe that initiatives that Soviets know and know that we know have only a remote chance of success [and] may be positively harmful as adding to SoVIET Suspicions of our sincerity. This [Page 329] is particularly true of our efforts to involve them. From my talk with Kosygin I would judge that he is aware that British are at least in part motivated by domestic political considerations and he is likely to question any British peace efforts. Soviets could of course bring some pressure on NVN by threatening to cut off supplies or by actually doing so. This would however risk throwing NVN into arms of ChiComs which would defeat one of primary Soviet objectives in this area. A more effective Soviet action could be to guarantee NVN against any Chinese takeover but Soviets unlikely take on any such commitment.

4. It is in respect of North Vietnam and the NLF however that our continued peace moves must surely be counter-productive. We have made it abundantly clear that at any time they are ready to move toward either settlement or de-escalation we will agree to almost any time, place or channel. While they may regard further initiatives on our part as merely a propaganda exercise, it seems more likely that we are giving them the impression of desperation and that this combined with demonstrations and speeches such as Fulbright’s have convinced them that we will not stay the course. Until recently I believe Soviets had better judgment of our situation, but British Ambassador who has recently had occasion for many contacts with high Soviet officials suggested that reason for Dobrynin’s return for consultation might be to get his views on whether we could carry on in Vietnam.3

5. Despite foregoing I do not believe escalation of bombing in North Vietnam is any answer either. In fact I believe that at least in the short run each step-up in bombing reduces the chances of the other side agreeing to negotiate. No government would want to enter negotiations directly connected with the increased use of force against it and North Vietnam has in addition the problem of Chinese pressure, their own brand of Communist pride, and the heavy investment they have made in this affair. They will surely not wish to jeopardize their post settlement position in South Vietnam by moving toward peace before the Vietcong are ready.

6. I suggest consideration be given to a Presidential statement listing all of our recent moves combined with a resolute declaration that while we will always be prepared to move to the conference table, since the other side seems determined upon achieving a military victory, we have no course open to us but to step up our operations in South Vietnam and to continue to use our bombers to hold down infiltration from the North. If we could persuade some of our critics to come out in support [Page 330] of our actions in view of the completely negative attitude of the other side, this would of course be most helpful.

7. If we could make some dramatic announcement such as a substantial increase in our forces in the South and combine it with an indication that we were leveling off our bombing in the North or even better confining it to the infiltration routes, we could make the outlook for the Vietcong very dark and at the same time reduce the risk of increased SoVIET Support of North Vietnam. Such a course might, it seems to me, reduce some of the criticism at home and thus the hope of North Vietnam that we will be forced by our own public opinion to withdraw.

8. It is against the foregoing background that I would suggest that rather than have George Brown continue to make peace noises when he comes to Moscow, he should convey to the Soviets a sense of our determination to see this affair through.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET S. Secret; Exdis. Received at 12:22 p.m.
  2. Brown’s trip to the Soviet Union, scheduled for May, presented the United States with an opportunity to reopen the unsuccessful Sunflower channel. As a result of Wilson’s request of March 16, the President met with British Ambassador Dean on April 10 to discuss the opportunities presented by Brown’s visit. Wilson’s request is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Marigold-Sunflower. In an April 9 memorandum to Walt Rostow, Cooper suggested that the United States did in fact change the “tense” of the Phase A-Phase B formula during the Sunflower exercise due to a measurable increase in NVA infiltration southward. However, he emphasized that the change “was a matter of semantics, not of substance,” with the only difficulty arising when Wilson “stretched out the formula.” (Ibid., Country File, Vietnam, Sunflower, Vol. I) On April 14 Dean passed on Brown’s response to an April 2 letter from the President regarding Soviet involvement in the Vietnam peace process. In the message Brown stressed that it was “essential to keep the Russians in play.” Brown promised to put to Kosygin the idea of re-convening the Geneva conference if he saw a “propitious” moment to do so. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL UK-US)
  3. The British Government was unaware of Johnson’s April 5 letter to Ho (rejected by the North Vietnamese in Moscow; see Document 127) until April 21, when the British representative in Hanoi learned about it from the DRV. (Memorandum of conversation between Stewart and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Samuel Berger, April 26; ibid., POL 15–1 US/JOHNSON)