63. Memorandum for the Record1
This is an attempt to reconstruct the content and mood of the meeting last night at Downing Street.
Ambassador Bruce and I arrived at Downing Street at about 11:15 p.m. with two messages from Washington.2 The first (which had been transmitted by telephone to Trend earlier) indicated that the bombing pause would continue through Kosygin’s visit. The second, which we had just received and had not yet communicated to Downing Street, dealt with an explanation of the change in the formulation of our Pause [Phase] A Pause [Phase] B formula which had been delivered the previous night to Downing Street for transmission to Kosygin.
Present in the Cabinet Room were the Prime Minister, George Brown, Burke Trend, Don Murray and Michael Halls. The atmosphere was tense, and when the British read the message explaining the shift in tenses, it became even more so. Wilson said he could only conclude that Washington did not know what it was doing from one day to the next, or that Washington knew what it was doing but did not wish to keep the British informed, or that Washington was consciously trying to lead him up the garden path by tightening its negotiations posture while letting the British proceed on the basis of an assumption that Washington was in fact ready to reach a settlement.
Wilson in short felt that he had been made a fool of by Washington and that his credibility (which he had built up with great effort over the last 20 years) was now badly damaged. It is my recollection, but I am not absolutely certain of this, that Wilson said that he was “betrayed” by Washington.
Wilson implied that if he could not reach an agreement with Kosygin at Chequers on Sunday3 it would largely be the fault of the United States because of its shifting position. He indicated that he might be forced at some point to say this publicly. In any case, he felt he would have to take a much more “independent” position with respect to Vietnam and that US/UK relations on the Vietnam issue could never be the same.
Wilson with Brown’s agreement felt that at Chequers on Sunday he would have to stick by his original text of the Phase A Phase B formula [Page 137](that is the one he had handed Kosygin at the Soviet reception on Friday night)4 and indicated that he would try to bring the Americans along with it, if in fact the Russians and the North Vietnamese were ready to commit themselves to proceed on the basis of the Wilson wording. Wilson and Brown were relieved by American assurances that there would be no bombing of North Vietnam while Kosygin was in England. They were, however, very concerned about the implications domestically and in connection with their continuing relationships with Kosygin on Vietnam if bombing resumed immediately after Kosygin’s departure. Wilson implied that he might have to “dissociate” himself from the resumption of bombing (Brown indicated he would not go along with “dissociation”).
Wilson said that he could not allow Chequers to end without at least some agreement in a communiqué that the British and the Russians would continue to remain in contact with respect to Vietnam. He hoped that if nothing else, the President would endorse the communiqué. He also indicated he might have to fly to Washington (and here he made a point of saying he would take Brown with him) to discuss Vietnam with the President.
During most of the discussion, Brown remained restive, interrupting now and again with rather pompous and not necessarily relevant remarks. He did a considerable amount of posturing and in essence contributed very little to the discussion. He did say, for whatever it was worth, that he had been put upon for the last time, and he hoped Washington realized he had been 200% behind us and that in fact he would have taken a much stronger and tougher line with Kosygin than the Prime Minister. He suggested we tell Washington this. (The Ambassador and I indicated that any differences in approach between Wilson and Brown were not something we would want to send to Washington. The Prime Minister was in obvious agreement with this.)
Cooper made three basic points:
- If the North Vietnamese or Russians had been interested in the Phase A Phase B formula as a basic proposal, they probably would have agreed to it by now. If in the past few days they wanted to proceed on the basis of this formula, it was hard to believe that the difference in tense would make the difference between their acceptance and rejection. In short, the British should not exaggerate the substantive differences between the two positions, although they might be annoyed at the apparent change in the American position over the last few days.
- In the discussions with Kosygin the Prime Minister could well point out that the Russians had been warned twice about the implications of North Vietnamese misbehaviour during the truce—at the very outset of the talks, and later in the week when it was clear a build-up was going on north of the DMZ.
- Wilson could also note that Kosygin’s friends were difficult, and that the British had some problems with their friends. The job of the two co-chairmen was not to dwell on these matters, but to try to bridge the differences between the two sides.
Ambassador Bruce reminded Wilson that he was in the process of a negotiation and that both he and Kosygin would obviously be tabling propositions that would require a considerable amount of give and take, not only between themselves but between the two sides they were representing. It would be overly optimistic and utterly unrealistic to think that the Russians or the North Vietnamese would be likely to agree immediately to any British or American proposals.
The Ambassador also pointed out that a distinction should be made between the British irritability with what they believed to be American caprice or folly, and the important substantive problems they would confront at Chequers. The former matter could be dealt with in due course, but the immediate question was how to proceed substantively. The Ambassador pointed out that the British should feel perfectly free to use their own text as a basis for their negotiating stand, and that we were in no position to dictate or master-mind their discussions. Ambassador Bruce also emphasized his personal feeling that it would not be wise for the Prime Minister to dash off to Washington immediately after the session with Kosygin since it would appear to be an act of panic and hysteria. Finally, the Ambassador emphasized that the communiqué should stress the need for a continuing contact and association with Vietnam by the two co-chairmen.