140. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • U.S. April 19 Proposal Affecting the DMZ in Vietnam
[Page 334]

PARTICIPANTS

  • Mr. Yuri N. Chernyakov, Charge d’Affaires of the Soviet Embassy
  • W. Averell Harriman, Ambassador at Large
  • Chester L. Cooper, Special Assistant
  • J. Stapleton Roy, Office of Soviet Union Affairs

The Soviet Charge d’Affaires, Mr. Chernyakov, came in at Governor Harriman’s request. Governor Harriman said he wished formally to call to the attention of the Soviet Government the U.S. reaction to the Canadian four-point proposal on Vietnam of April 11. He gave Mr. Chernyakov a copy of the April 19 Department statement concerning mutual troop withdrawals from the demilitarized zone in Vietnam and noted that this was a very serious proposal which could lead to further discussions concerning an overall settlement.2 We had called our views to the attention of the British and we wished also to inform the Soviets in their capacity as one of the Co-chairmen of the Geneva Conference.3

Governor Harriman then explained in some detail the relationship between the present U.S. proposal and the Canadian four-point proposal. He noted that the Canadian proposal, which we accepted, had stimulated our own. The U.S. proposal, however, goes further in several important respects, in that it specifically provides not only for mutual troop withdrawals from the 26 mile wide zone but also for further discussions.

Chernyakov asked how he should understand the fact that the U.S. statement made no mention of bombing. Would the bombing of North Vietnam be continued?

Governor Harriman pointed out that the U.S. proposal was not related to our overall bombing policy. It only affected bombing insofar as the 26 mile wide zone was concerned. It would not affect military action elsewhere.

Chernyakov stated he would convey the U.S. proposal to his government. He noted, however, that he had read in the press that the [Page 335]North Vietnamese had rejected the Canadian proposal, Hanoi’s position being that the aggressors and the victims of aggression could not be equated.

Governor Harriman said we did not consider the article in the North Vietnamese press rejecting the Canadian proposal an official statement. We still hoped Hanoi would give serious consideration to our proposal, which gave hope that discussions could take place leading to a settlement. Our proposal was carefully drafted so as not to embarrass Hanoi. It deliberately made no mention of North Vietnamese troops in the South in recognition of DRV sensitivities. It calls only for withdrawals from the demilitarized zone. We felt the Canadian proposal required a response on our part. This proposal was an indication of our good faith. This was what we were telling the British, and we hoped the Soviets likewise would do their best to get Hanoi to consider the proposal seriously.4

Chernyakov noted that at the same time that we were making this proposal, he had read in the press that we were considering bombing North Vietnam’s cement plants in the vicinity of Haiphong and had bombed the power plants. Should the USSR expect further bombing in conjunction with our proposal?

Governor Harriman said he did not intend to discuss military operations. The President had made his position clear that the bombing would continue in the absence of reciprocal action by Hanoi. Our bombing policy was not changed.

If Hanoi’s position was clear, so was the President’s. (Governor Harriman again emphasized this point later in the conversation to insure that there was no misunderstanding on Chernyakov’s part of the firmness of the President’s position on bombing.)

Chernyakov commented that our proposal did not seem to take into account the North Vietnamese position revealed last March (i.e., by Hanoi’s release of the Ho-Johnson exchange of letters.)5

Chernyakov then raised the point that each time the U.S. Government made an approach to the Soviets here, there was a leak to the [Page 336]press within a few days. The most recent example resulted from the Heck-Vorontsov conversation concerning the Indo-Pak arms embargo. The Embassy had conveyed this information to Moscow, but we subsequently told correspondents that we had informed the Soviets in advance. He referred specifically to a statement by the Department’s spokesman on April 13 which stated: “… we did inform the CENTO and SEATO countries and the USSR and they indicated some appreciation for that information.” Chernyakov objected particularly to the implication that the Soviets were also “appreciative”. Dobrynin had met with the Secretary on an earlier occasion, and a story a few days later by Murray Marder stated that the Soviets had been told in advance of our intention to increase our bombing of the North. Chernyakov said this created difficulties for the Embassy.

Governor Harriman stated that if he were asked by the press about the present meeting he would simply say we had drawn the U.S. proposal to the attention of the USSR as a Geneva Conference Co-chairman.

In response to Governor Harriman’s question, Chernyakov said that Ambassador Dobrynin was officially expected back in the next few days but he suspected that the Ambassador might find occasion to stay a bit longer in Moscow since his family was there and the May Day celebrations were approaching. He noted that he was holding the No. 2 position in the Embassy on a temporary basis, since he had not yet been officially confirmed as Zinchuk’s replacement.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, General File, April 1967. Secret. Drafted by Roy on April 21. The conversation is also reported in telegram 179762 to Moscow, April 21. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 277, Vietnam File-Soviet, Communist Positions & Initiatives, 1967)
  2. Since the DRV rejected Martin’s overture on April 16, the Johnson administration issued on April 19 a proposal specifying an extension of the DMZ by 10 miles on either side, a concomitant mutual pull-back from the DMZ, and an ICC inspection of both sides of the DMZ. With the enactment of this arrangement, peace talks could begin, which “could be public or private and take place at any appropriate level and site that the Government of the DRV might suggest.” For its full text, see Department of State Bulletin, May 15, 1967, p. 750. Two days later the DRV rejected the U.S. initiative on the grounds that it represented a permanent division of Vietnam and did not include its principal demand for the termination of U.S. bombing in North Vietnam. On April 23 the NLF also rejected the U.S. proposal. For these statements, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 917–918 and 920–921.
  3. Britain and the Soviet Union were Co-Chairmen of the Geneva Conference of 1954, the stipulations of which continued to apply in the case of Vietnam.
  4. Other world leaders were interested in the Canadian proposal. The Pope and President Johnson exchanged notes over it on May 3. (Telegrams 187214 and 187280 to Rome, May 3; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET) The President and Canadian Prime Minister Pearson discussed the cease-fire proposal at their meeting on May 25. In response to Pearson’s query as to the chances of success for such a proposal, Johnson replied that he “thought the proposal had about as much appeal as a proposal to become a Yankee would have had to his Confederate grandmother.” (Memorandum of conversation, May 25; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Canada, Vol. I)
  5. See Document 82. This exchange was made public by the North Vietnamese on March 21; see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book I, pp. 390–391.