65. Telegram From Prime Minister Wilson to President Johnson1

T. 31/67. This is a background telegram about the reasons for our present difficulties which you may or may not wish to study and in any case I think that David or Chet may be filling in the detail.

[Page 142]

The main difficulty is this. On Tuesday2 I outlined to Kosygin the basic American position based on paragraph 14 of Dean Rusk’s detailed letter to George Brown before George’s Moscow visit. It was given more specific content by the briefing I received just before Kosygin’s arrival from Chet Cooper whom you had sent in response to my appeal.3 I was further reinforced in this by the relevant paragraph of your telegram no CAP 67038.4

I did not at that time know that the message you were sending to Hanoi was in a different and tougher form and in terms of the sequence of timing was different from the Rusk/Brown exchanges of November,5 different from the more detailed Cooper briefing and indeed appears to be inconsistent with your 14th Point.6

Kosygin was interested and he told me he had been in touch with Ho Chi Minh between the end of the formal meetings and my dinner with him that evening.

I was surprised on Friday7 when I went over this ground again with him that he was highly excited by my formulation which only repeated my Tuesday statement.8 Obviously the reason for this as I can now appreciate was that Hanoi had told him what they had heard from Washington and my account of Friday naturally seemed to be more acceptable to them. This is why he asked me to put it in writing and why he told me he was transmitting it forthwith. You can imagine the shock he must have had on boarding his train for Scotland when he got Rostow’s message late on Friday night British time.9

You will forgive me if I say what I cannot understand is this. My statement to him on Tuesday originally oral but followed up by a written repetition, was communicated at once to Washington. It is now clear to me that it differed from the Washington/Hanoi message referred to [Page 143]in your telegram under reference. If my message was going to be repudiated, as indeed it was on Friday night by Rostow’s telegram, I cannot understand why I was not told earlier. Kosygin will find it even more difficult to understand.

You will I am sure appreciate Kosygin’s position as I understand it. For a long time he has been trying to put pressure on Hanoi and there have been undoubtedly those there who did not want any truck with a peaceful settlement. He climbed out on a limb trusting in my confident assertion of where you stood. Now his enemies in Hanoi and perhaps in Moscow will be saying he was wrong to be misled by me.

I hope I can quickly reestablish trust with Kosygin. As you know, I have known these Russians for 20 years and this week I have been trying to cash the cheque I have painfully built up over this time. I hope past credit will stand me in good stead tomorrow. Above all I am passionately keen to get him associated with me for the future in the political operation we all know is necessary.

I know you understand my difficulties. I see little purpose in an inquest into the events of the past week. We must look to the future. And I feel the sooner we can meet the better, provided that the meeting is related to the continuing Anglo Russian responsibility for a political settlement and does not seem to be merely in response to any military developments in these next few days.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Sunflower & Sunflower Plus. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Received at the White House at 3:17 a.m.
  2. February 7.
  3. See footnote 1, Document 39.
  4. See footnote 5, Document 39.
  5. See Document 15.
  6. This point of the Fourteen Points statement of January 3, 1966 (released separately on January 7 of that year under the heading “United States Official Position on Viet-Nam”) reads: “We have said publicly and privately that we could stop the bombing of North Viet Nam as a step toward peace although there has not been the slightest hint or suggestion from the other side as to what they would do if the bombing was stopped.” For full text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 740–742. Rusk elaborated on the points in a January 27, 1967, statement with the following stipulations: “We are prepared to order a cessation of all bombing of North Vietnam, the moment we are assured—privately or otherwise—that this step will be answered promptly by a corresponding and appropriate deescalation of the other side.” See ibid., 1967, pp. 856–858.
  7. February 10.
  8. See the Attachment to Document 41.
  9. Document 51.