58. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1

SUBJECT

  • Resumption of Operations Against North Viet-Nam Over the Next Two Days

As you know, the British have put our proposal to Kosygin2 and he has transmitted it to Hanoi.3Kosygin returns to London tomorrow [Page 129]and his final meeting with Wilson will take place between 5 p.m. and midnight British time (noon and 7 p.m. our time) tomorrow. This carries the meeting into early morning of Monday Saigon time, and Kosygin leaves London on Monday morning British time (late Monday night Saigon time).

Ambassador Bruce has now telephoned me to report that he was called down this morning and given a message on behalf of Wilson asking in the most urgent terms that we not resume operations against North Viet-Nam before the end of the Kosygin talks. On the basis of this approach, Bruce has given me his own extremely strong judgment that if we should resume operations against North Viet-Nam tonight, it would mean that the Soviets would refuse to discuss the matter seriously tomorrow, there would be a break-up on the issue, and the break-up would be blamed wholly on our action.4

As you know, yesterday’s decision was to resume bombing and naval operations up to the 20th Parallel.5 We also had a B–52 strike in the northern part of the DMZ (technically North Vietnamese territory), but this has now been canceled for operational reasons. There are other B–52 operations wholly confined to the South, and all of us agree that these do not raise the same issue. The South Vietnamese have announced they are going back into action in the South tomorrow, and we are over that hurdle as far as Southern operations are concerned.

The major argument for resuming bombing and naval operations is, of course, the overwhelming evidence of large North Vietnamese movements, particularly by sea, down to the southern part of North Viet-Nam. This morning’s reports indicate that this has tapered off somewhat, and it may well be that the North Vietnamese have made their plans on the assumption that we will resume action tonight, so that the flow would at least be sharply reduced from what we have seen during the last four days. Nonetheless, failure to take bombing and naval action could lead to significant further re-supply.

On the other hand, I myself believe that Ambassador Bruce’s judgment is correct, and that if we resume action tonight we shall inevitably [Page 130]be charged with having broken up a major possibility of peace. In the light of the charges that still surround our December actions, the volume of criticism would, I believe, be extremely heavy. In fact, it would be taken as confirmation of the December charges, and would multiply the effect of those charges very greatly.

This is not a question of how the British or Soviets behave. As a practical matter, either might well leak the situation to our disadvantage. But the basic fact that Viet-Nam has entered into the Kosygin discussions is a matter of common knowledge, so that the damage would exist in any case, and would only be somewhat increased by what the British or Soviets might make known.

I have specifically asked Bruce whether his judgment would apply to naval operations, and his categorical answer to me is that it would. I think this too is correct.

In addition to the argument of charges against us, I believe we must reckon that there remains an outside chance that Kosygin will get some reply from Hanoi. I myself doubt very much whether Hanoi will accept the proposal we have made, but, if they came back and played with it, it would be a major break in Hanoi’s position and could well lead to something really serious. Thus, if we accept the judgment that resumption of action tonight would prevent Kosygin from dealing tomorrow, we could be losing a serious, though small, chance of progress.

Finally, I believe resumption of our actions could do really significant harm to our relations both with the British and the Soviets. Unlike the December case with the Poles, we are dealing with two key and generally responsible nations.

Although tonight is the critical time from the standpoint of Kosygin’s actions tomorrow, I believe we must reckon that we will not be able to assess whatever Kosygin produces in time to make any useful judgment before the military day begins on Monday. Moreover, to resume while Kosygin is still in London has virtually all the drawbacks that action tonight would have.

If you decide not to resume for the next two days, it will be necessary to inform Ky promptly, with the reasons. He is not too happy about our proposal, and will probably not like our failure to resume for these two days. However, I do not think there will be any serious damage to our relations.

Dean Rusk6
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET. Top Secret. Drafted by Bundy.
  2. See Document 51.
  3. According to a message from Wilson to the President, the text of which is contained in telegram 135606 to London and Moscow, February 11, as a result of the meeting Kosygin “promised to consult Hanoi urgently,” and would let Wilson know of any response by the date of their next meeting on February 12. Wilson related that he told Kosygin that the other side could accept either Wilson’s own formulation of President Johnson’s earlier Phase A-Phase B formula or the two-part proposal itself, both of which allowed for Hanoi’s fulfillment of the offer through secret assurances. In addition, Wilson related his rejection of Kosygin’s request to join him in a communiqué calling on Washington unilaterally to halt the bombing. Last, he was unsuccessful in gaining Soviet acceptance of the reinstitution of the mechanisms of the Geneva conferences to resolve the current situation. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER) Telegram 135615 to London and Moscow, February 11, reported that Wilson underscored the Soviet leader’s eager interest in the matter, which Wilson believed derived from the fact that “Kosygin is obsessional about the Chinese problem.” (Ibid.)
  4. Bruce later reported on this morning meeting with Wilson, Brown, and Trend in telegram 6495 from London, February 11. In this “stormy” meeting with Bruce and Cooper, the British leaders expressed concern about U.S. reticence to acquiesce to their formulation. Given that it had been based upon the February 7 message to Kosygin and the last of the Fourteen Points, and the fact that the Johnson administration had “raised no objection” to their idea, the British assumed U.S. support in their endeavor. However, according to Bruce, “they now feel that the ground has shifted from under them.” (Ibid., POL 27–14 VIET) As a result of that meeting, Bruce predicted that an end to the bombing halt “would really cook the whole goose.” (Memoranda of telephone conversations between Rusk and Bruce, February 11, 10:12 and 10:13 a.m.; ibid., POL 27–14 VIET)
  5. See Document 54.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.