15. Editorial Note

On January 10, 1967, Ambassador to Britain David K.E. Bruce informed Secretary of State Dean Rusk of concerns that Prime Minister Harold Wilson expressed privately to him regarding the use of the British Government as an intermediary in efforts to end the fighting in Vietnam. (Telegram 11895 to London, January 15; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Marigold II) The problem arose in the aftermath of the mid-November 1966 visit to Moscow by British Foreign Secretary George Brown, an occasion during which he espoused (with U.S. Government concurrence) a two-stage proposal for ending hostilities and opening negotiations. He was not forewarned of the Marigold contact by the Johnson administration, but found out through the Soviets that the Poles had put forth the same package simultaneously. In a January 4 statement, the North Vietnamese had repudiated the British effort. See American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pages 824+N825.

On January 12 Wilson sent a formal message to President Johnson expressing his dissatisfaction over the way that the administration had handled Brown’s visit. Brown felt slighted by the fact that the U.S. Government did not tell him that it had given the proposal to Lewandowski 2 days prior to his departure for the Soviet Union. In addition, Wilson had grave reservations about the upcoming visit to London by Kosygin. As a consequence, the President approved Secretary Rusk’s request that Chester Cooper, Special Assistant to Ambassador at Large W. Averell Harriman, brief Brown, and that Bruce brief Wilson on all aspects of Marigold. “I do not believe that we owe it to the British to keep them fully informed on every move in this game when 500,000 U.S. men are under arms and the British fighting contribution is zero,” Rostow wrote to the President. “Nevertheless, keeping the British tolerably happy is part of the job.” (Memorandum from Rostow to Johnson, January 16; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Marigold II)

As reported in telegram 118905 to London, January 19, 4 days earlier Assistant Secretary Bundy apologized to Ambassador Patrick Dean over the American misstep. He assured Dean that the “Brown message was the clear and solid one we were sure would get through,” while the administration had no idea if the message sent through Lewandowski would reach the top channels. Bundy added that the United States “recognized absolute obligation never to put British in false position and hence to provide them with all information they needed for any contacts they had” including the meeting between Kosygin and Wilson that would occur in February. (Ibid.)

[Page 36]

On January 18 Cooper, accompanied by Bruce for part of the time, saw both Brown and Wilson. In telegram 5707 from London, January 10, Cooper observed that they appeared satisfied by his explanation that Brown had carried the more precise message. Wilson proposed that the Tet bombing pause be extended to cover the entire period of Kosygin’s reception in Britain, which would be “talk not sightsee.” (Telegram 5707 from London, January 19; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/MARIGOLD) On January 20 President Johnson dispatched a message in response to Wilson’s January 12 communication that read: “I trust that your talk with David Bruce and Cooper settled the questions you raised earlier with David and put you in a knowledgeable position to deal with Kosygin.” (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, January 20; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Marigold II) Nevertheless, Rostow opposed sharing with Wilson any information about a direct channel that might arise before Kosygin’s arrival. (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, January 21; ibid., Files of Walt Rostow, Vietnam, Jan-March 1967)