41. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

We have a problem: real but soluble.

The British took our proposal of last night and put it into A–B form; that is:

  • —first bombing halt;
  • —then simultaneous stopping of infiltration and troop movements.

That is not how we stated it last night; or to Hanoi today.2

The reason: we gave Wilson and Brown the A–B formula and told them to peddle it in Moscow and, again, on this occasion.

I talked with Sec. Rusk and he is confident that if they, in fact, buy the A–B formula we can work it out to protect our interests.

I believe it can be done if we're short on the time-gap between A and B and mighty hard on verification.

If they buy anything, which I doubt, they'll buy the A–B formula rather than the tougher formula to Hanoi—where at lunch we virtually reversed the A and B. But that's a good initial bargaining position to be in—if bargaining it gets to be.



London 6360, Feb. 7, 19673

For the Secretary and Harriman from Cooper

With Ambassador Bruce went to Downing Street for briefing on afternoon session. Present were Wilson, Burke, Trend, Palliser, and Murray.
The earlier part of the afternoon session was devoted to continuation of Soviet-British bilateral issues and only an hour or so devoted to Vietnam. Kosygin did not table a draft message to the President as he said he would do. Rather, he gave a pro-forma restatement of his earlier position on importance of the Vietnamese statements to Burchett.
Wilson read from his prepared briefing notes. The exposition of the Phase A-Phase B formula was changed from the version contained in my para. 5 London 6329.4 It was felt that it would be worth spelling this out in the simplest possible terms. The final text follows:

“Extract from statement by British Prime Minister at meeting with Mr. Kosygin on Feb. 7, 1967

…I am now satisfied that the Americans would now be prepared to move to further actions to strengthen mutual confidence if they were able to secure some assurance that this move would be reciprocated by the other side. For instance, I believe that they are now seeking to get word to Hanoi on the following lines. They recognize the need for a first and visible step. They further recognize that this step must mean the cessation of the bombing. This I believe they would do, and they recognize that it must be presented as being done unconditionally. Therefore we have to use our ingenuity to divorce in presentation the stopping of the bombing from the consequential actions. Yet you and I know that the consequential actions are essential if we are to get the bombing stopped.

The consequential actions are as follows. The United States are willing to stop the build-up of their forces in the South if they are assured that the movement of North Vietnamese forces from the North to the South will stop at the same time. Essentially therefore the two stages are kept apart. But because the United States Government know that the second stage will follow, they will therefore be able first to stop the bombing, even if there is a short period between the first stage and the actions to be taken by both sides in the second stage. There would be balanced concessions in the second stage; the first stage would be carried out by the United States alone; but the United States would only carry out the first stage because they would know that the second stage would follow within a short period of time.

The entry of American reinforcements to Vietnam can be easily observed. Therefore there could be no doubt on the part of the North Vietnamese that the Americans were keeping their part of the bargain.

The North Vietnamese action in the second stage would be seen as in response to the United States action in the second stage but it would be the result of a prior secret assurance.”

Kosygin showed considerable interest in this formulation. He evidently had not understood it when Brown presented it to him last November. He asked Wilson to repeat it and then asked Wilson to deliver the text to him in writing this evening. This has been done. The British are virtually certain that Kosygin is going to transmit this to Hanoi. They hope that on Thursday5 afternoon when talks resume Kosygin will have a reply from Hanoi.
I was asked if we were sending a similar message to Hanoi. I said that I could not say for sure, but the implication of the President's communication to the Prime Minister was that such a message would be sent. The British hope that if any questions arise as to differences in the formulation of Phase A and Phase B as worked out today in London, and the formulation forwarded to Hanoi by Washington, Hanoi be told that the British text was authoritative in substance, although there may be stylistic or translation differences from the U.S. version.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Sunflower & Sunflower Plus. Top Secret; Nodis; SUNFLOWER.
  2. The Johnson administration preferred that Wilson place a strong emphasis upon mutual de-escalation in his talks with Kosygin. However, a private assurance from Kosygin that Moscow would “urge course of mutual de-escalation on Hanoi” would be acceptable. Of utmost importance was for Wilson “not to sign on to anything which calls for unilateral action by U.S.” (Telegram 132521 to London, February 7; ibid.)
  3. The text is a copy retyped by the White House. The original of the telegram is in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER.
  4. In telegram 6329 from London, February 7, Cooper described his review with Wilson of the brief the Prime Minister would use in the afternoon session. In paragraph 5, Cooper reported that Wilson would inform Kosygin that the U.S. Government would not only halt the bombing as a first step but would also stop the further build-up of its forces in South Vietnam if it could get like assurances from the DRV. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Sunflower Plus)
  5. February 9.