425. Memorandum of Conversation Between the Ambassador at Large (Harriman) and President Johnson 1

I reported to the President regarding my trip2 in the early afternoon, Saturday, December 2nd. He came to the car to meet me on the road in front of the Rose Garden. TV and reporters were there and he asked me to say a word to them, and then we went in to his office for a talk. No one was present.

[Here follows discussion of Harriman’s trip to Pakistan.]

On the rest of the trip I underlined the unanimous information I got—Ayub, Tito and Maurer—that the Russians would increase their assistance to North Vietnam in order to permit them to “hold out” to offset any U.S. escalation. I explained that the Soviets considered their vital interests to be at stake in North Vietnam paralleling our stake in South Vietnam. I said this should be weighed in connection with our policies. I told him I thought we ought to keep in close contact with the Russians because we could get into greater confrontation, which would become harder and harder for us to unwind. I explained Tito’s view that the Kremlin leaders and he agreed that the U.S. and USSR had common interests in Southeast Asia. He then showed me the message he had received from Kosygin in June, which was a very rough telegram threatening catastrophic war unless fighting was stopped. I commented that the Russians were off-balance at the time, and I would discount it in our long-run relations. I said I had told all the men I had talked to of the importance that the Russians should realize they should use their influence in Hanoi or we would have increasing difficulties. All agreed that the Soviets didn’t have sufficient influence at the present time, but would go along with Hanoi if Hanoi decided to negotiate. I also explained Tito’s readiness to help in the Middle East and information that he had already communicated with Nasser.

I told him two things that I thought I had cleared up in my talks on the trip. One was that the Soviets definitely wanted to end the fighting in Vietnam if it were possible, even though they would increase aid if we escalated; and secondly, that there was no basic difference in foreign policy between Brezhnev and Kosygin. They had decided to work together, and when one spoke, he had the agreement of the other.

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The President remarked that there was nothing to do now but to go on with our policy (cleaning up a few targets that had not yet been approved) and hold on until the Communists gave in, in accordance with the opinions expressed at the elder statesmen’s meeting, and that we shouldn’t talk any more about negotiations. This was at the very end of the talk and as we were standing up, I didn’t have a chance to argue about it except to say all the evidence I had received was that Hanoi doubted U.S. sincerity in negotiations offers and not that they were a sign of weakness.

[Here follows discussion of the death of Francis Cardinal Spellman and a tentative replacement for Goldberg if he left the UN Mission.]

W. Averell Harriman 3
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Subject Files, Johnson, Lyndon 1967. Absolutely Personal and Secret. Drafted by Harriman on December 12.
  2. See Document 411.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.