193. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1
One thought about the Viet Nam problem in the light of our recent Middle East experience.
It was again demonstrated that the Soviet government, on balance—to put it mildly—does not wish us well. I suppose the moderates in the Soviet government were strengthened by the failure of the Soviet Middle East adventure as they were temporarily strengthened by failure in the Cuba missile gambit. And I do think that in this 50th anniversary year the Soviet Union would prefer not to have a major direct confrontation with the U.S. Nevertheless, we must not count on their taking us off the hook in Viet Nam cheaply or easily.
Therefore, if we undertake a peace gambit with the USSR on Viet Nam in the days ahead, as I would be inclined to do, we must do it [Page 473]against the background that some time during July we may have to up the ante in Viet Nam: with respect to troops and, even, with respect to bombing.
I tried to suggest this in the drafting of the proposed message to Kosygin.2
To make this more credible, we might this week open some kind of conversation on Viet Nam with the Russians, either through a note from you to Kosygin, Secretary Rusk meeting Gromyko in Geneva after NATO, or both.
Then about mid-month Bob McNamara and Bus Wheeler would go to Viet Nam; and it should not be too deeply concealed that they are assessing what may be required to push the war forward hard if we cannot get a diplomatic break soon. In short, without giving the Soviets anything like an ultimatum, they ought to get the feeling that, unless they want to face quite a lot more pressure in Viet Nam, including, quite possibly, increased risks of a confrontation with us in Southeast Asia, they had better try to get more active in Hanoi.
Incidentally, I talked with Sec. Rusk about the Asian Chiefs of State meeting around the 19th. He had had the impression that Holt had thought we had better wait until after the Vietnamese election. He himself thinks it would be unfortunate until Ky and Thieu straighten themselves out; and he believes there are some scheduling problems. In any case, I shall be following through on this tomorrow, Monday, June 12.3
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. 1, Misc. Memos. Secret. There is an indication on the memorandum that the President saw it.↩
- This “pen pal” letter, drafted by Rostow on June 9, proposed that the conflict be moved “from the battlefield to the ballot box” and stated that the administration would decrease the tempo of its bombing and re-establish prohibited areas around Hanoi and Haiphong. It presumably was postponed due to Kosygin’s announcement that he would come to the United Nations in New York for discussions of the Middle East crisis in the General Assembly. (Ibid., Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, 6/1–8/2/67, Vol. I)↩
- From 7:32 to 8:50 p.m. the next day, the Special Committee of the NSC met. Those in attendance in addition to the President and Rostow included Katzenbach, Vance, Helms, Clifford, McGeorge Bundy, Rostow, McNamara, Wheeler, Thompson, Sisco, Warnke, Harold Saunders, Raymond Garthoff, Eugene Rostow, and Henry Fowler. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) No notes of the meeting have been found. The President discussed the upcoming Kosygin visit during a meeting with Thompson on June 14, and during the weekly luncheon that followed, which Thompson attended. (Ibid.) Notes of these discussions have not been found.↩