40. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union 1

132608. 1. Please arrange delivery at once to DRV Chargé of following letter:2

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His Excellency Ho Chi Minh, President, Democratic Republic of Vietnam

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you in the hope that the conflict in Vietnam can be brought to an end. That conflict has already taken a heavy toll—in lives lost, in wounds inflicted, in property destroyed, and in simple human misery. If we fail to find a just and peaceful solution, history will judge us harshly.

Therefore, I believe that we both have a heavy obligation to seek earnestly the path to peace. It is in response to that obligation that I am writing directly to you.

We have tried over the past several years, in a variety of ways and through a number of channels, to convey to you and your colleagues our desire to achieve a peaceful settlement. For whatever reasons, these efforts have not achieved any results.

It may be that our thoughts and yours, our attitudes and yours, have been distorted or misinterpreted as they passed through these various channels. Certainly that is always a danger in indirect communication.

There is one good way to overcome this problem and to move forward in the search for a peaceful settlement. That is for us to arrange for direct talks between trusted representatives in a secure setting and away from the glare of publicity. Such talks should not be used as a propaganda exercise but should be a serious effort to find a workable and mutually acceptable solution.

In the past two weeks, I have noted public statements by representatives of your government suggesting that you would be prepared to enter into direct bilateral talks with representatives of the US Government, provided that we ceased “unconditionally” and permanently our bombing operations against your country and all military actions against it. In the last day, serious and responsible parties have assured us indirectly that this is in fact your proposal.

Let me frankly state that I see two great difficulties with this proposal. In view of your public position, such action on our part would inevitably produce worldwide speculation that discussions were under way and would impair the privacy and secrecy of those discussions. Secondly, there would inevitably be grave concern on our part whether your government would make use of such action by us to improve its military position.

With these problems in mind, I am prepared to move even further towards an ending of hostilities than your Government has proposed in either public statements or through private diplomatic channels. I am prepared to order a cessation of bombing against your country and [Page 93] the stopping of further augmentation of US forces in South Viet-Nam as soon as I am assured that infiltration into South Viet-Nam by land and by sea has stopped. These acts of restraint on both sides would, I believe, make it possible for us to conduct serious and private discussions leading toward an early peace.

I make this proposal to you now with a specific sense of urgency arising from the imminent New Year holidays in Viet-Nam. If you are able to accept this proposal I see no reason why it could not take effect at the end of the New Year, or Tet, holidays. The proposal I have made would be greatly strengthened if your military authorities and those of the Government of South Viet-Nam could promptly negotiate an extension of the Tet truce.

As to the site of the bilateral discussions I propose, there are several possibilities. We could, for example, have our representatives meet in Moscow where contacts have already occurred. They could meet in some other country such as Burma. You may have other arrangements or sites in mind, and I would try to meet your suggestions.

The important thing is to end a conflict that has brought burdens to both our peoples, and above all to the people of South Viet-Nam. If you have any thoughts about the actions I propose, it would be most important that I receive them as soon as possible.

Sincerely, LBJ

End Text.

2. For your own background, you should know that this proposal arises from Kosygin/Wilson discussions (cables being repeated septels) in London on Monday3 and today. Kosygin has pressed Wilson hard that Hanoi—allegedly in direct contact with Kosygin twice on Monday—really means its proposal to talk if we stop the bombing. We have pointed out to the British, and believe they accept, that this is not possible. We have already conveyed to the British the essence (without text or reference to exact form) of our counter proposal along the lines of this letter, and we have made it clear to them that we are conveying it directly to Hanoi at once through appropriate channels.4

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER. Top Secret; Flash; Nodis; Sunflower Plus. Drafted by William Bundy, cleared by Rostow and Read, and approved by Rusk.
  2. Akalovsky acted as the intermediary in arranging a meeting between Guthrie and Le Chang, which took place at 1 a.m. on February 8 and lasted for 22 minutes. The account of the arrangement of the meeting is in telegram 3408 from Moscow, February 8. (Ibid.)
  3. February 6.
  4. The British were assured that the message to Ho was “identical” in terms of substance to the language used by the President in his February 6 letter to Wilson. (Telegram 133516 to London, February 8; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER) For the President’s letter to Wilson, see footnote 5, Document 39. When he met with Guthrie on February 8, Chang described the message as one that “contained points showing absence of goodwill on part of U.S.” by imposing conditions for a bombing cessation. (Telegram 3412 from Moscow, February 8; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER)