179. Editorial Note

On May 21, 1967, the Department of State instructed Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson to deliver a message from President Johnson to Soviet Premier Kosygin. The purpose of the message was to consider concerted action necessary to address issues of common interest, including Vietnam, the Middle East, Cuba, and arms control. A summary of the main points, as transmitted in telegram 198947 to London, May 21, reads:

“The increasingly large scale of NVN forces moving through the DMZ, the increased use of Laotian territory for the movement of men and arms to the south, and the growing use of Cambodian territory by NVN forces create dangers of widening the already dangerous hostilities in SEA. We have (1) restated our desires to have 1962 Accords fully [Page 440] carried out; (2) reaffirmed our belief that the 1954 Accords provide an adequate basis for peace insofar as North and South Vietnam are concerned; (3) we have urged that international action be taken to assist Prince Sihanouk in maintaining neutrality and territorial integrity of Cambodia. Furthermore, we and others have made numerous proposals designed to lead to de-escalation of conflict in Vietnam. We have also taken number actual steps in this direction without any response from Hanoi. We have been disappointed but will try probe such a possibility further. Therefore, Kosygin is urged once again to help bring conflict to close by exercising fully his prerogatives as the Co-chairman of Geneva Conferences.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER)

In telegram 5033 from Moscow, May 20, Thompson noted the importance of giving Kosygin an indication of the U.S. Government’s developing policy on bombing. He suggested adding the following sentence: “For our part we are currently giving urgent consideration to what steps we could take unilaterally to reduce the danger of widening the conflict and hopefully to initiate a reciprocal reduction of violence.” (Ibid.) Telegram 198889 to Moscow, May 20, drafted by Secretary of State Rusk, instructed Thompson to add the following statement orally after Kosygin had read the letter:

“I know that my government has been disappointed by a number of efforts which have been made to de-escalate the violence in Southeast Asia. Some of these efforts have been through discussions, others have been through action taken on the ground. For example, as you know, we have only recently held our hand for four months in an area of more than 300 square miles in and around Hanoi. This was done without any quid pro quo but with an indication to Hanoi that we would be impressed if they should take some corresponding action de facto. We also indicated to them that this type of move on our part could be expanded if there was an interest in de-escalation. I know that my government was hopeful that a way can be found to stimulate a reduction of violence and serious movement toward peace; and any indication along these lines would be met on our part by simultaneous reciprocal steps that would reduce the danger of widening the conflict.” (Ibid.)

Ambassador at Large Harriman believed that the President’s “pen pal letter” to Kosygin presented an opportunity. The Soviets wanted de-escalation but were in a difficult situation, given Chinese intransigence toward negotiations. The Soviet Union had to exert greater influence in Hanoi, and could only do so with continued strong support to North Vietnam. The United States could “strengthen the hand” of Kosygin and others who wanted peace in Southeast Asia by informing them of what Harriman surmised to be the administration’s impending decision on restraint in bombing and troop augmentation. Harriman believed that East European and other nations that could help indirectly in inducing conciliation should also be briefed. (Memorandum from Harriman to the President and Rusk, May 22; Library of [Page 441] Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Subject Files, Johnson, Lyndon 1967)