66. Telegram From President Johnson to Prime Minister Wilson1

CAP 67043. I have carefully read and considered your two messages bearing on your talks later today with Kosygin.2

I would wish to leave these thoughts with you on the present position.

I really do not believe that the matter hangs on the tense of verbs. Moscow had from George Brown in November the Phase A-Phase B formulation. Hanoi also had it from the Poles. Hanoi has shown no flicker of interest for more than two months. Meanwhile their build-up [Page 144]continues and they have used 3 periods of no bombing (Christmas, New Year’s and Tet) for large scale movement and preparation of their forces for further military action.

I want to emphasize that we have had nothing yet from Hanoi. They receive our messages—but thus far it has been a one-way conversation. Many intermediaries have attempted, from time to time, to negotiate with us. Everyone seems to wish to negotiate except Hanoi. I wish someone would produce a real live North Vietnamese prepared to talk.

Understandably your present preoccupation is Kosygin’s attitude. But thus far, Kosygin has not transmitted one word from Hanoi except to endorse their Foreign Minister’s interview with Burchett in his own press conference.

From an operational point of view, we can not stop the bombing while three (possibly four) divisions dash south from the DMZ before their promise is to take effect. I hope you will see the importance of this for the men out there who are doing the fighting.

We do not accept the view that our statement to you of our position on February 73 is inconsistent with either our message to Hanoi4 or our formula for you and Kosygin of February 10.5 We asked on February 7 for an “assured stoppage” of infiltration. In your version of an A–B formula it was transmuted to an assurance that infiltration “will stop.” This, in our view, is a quite different matter. We so recognized promptly on receipt of your formula and telephoned Burke Trend that we were drafting and would transmit our response shortly.

The problem of substance is that no formula can be satisfactory to us—and perhaps to Hanoi—unless there is clarity about two matters:

  • —The timing of a cessation of bombing, cessation of infiltration, and no further augmentation of forces.
  • —How assurance in the matter of infiltration will be established. You have correctly pointed out that the cessation of bombing and the stoppage of augmentation by us will necessarily be public.

I would not expect Kosygin to come in at Chequers with anything firm and definitive by way of a positive response. In that case we can take stock and see where we go from here on the diplomatic track. If he does respond positively and constructively, we can then proceed to the clarifications that both sides will surely require.

Hanoi has received our messages and has just today informed us that a direct response to us from Hanoi will be forthcoming. We suppose [Page 145]that we shall not hear from them until your talks are concluded. There is importance, then, in our staying together. We must not let them play one position off against another.

Let me add that I much appreciate your dedicated effort during this week—and will, of course, express publicly our thanks. I’m always glad to know that you are in my corner but I would have some difficulty, in view of my responsibilities and problems here, in giving anyone a power of attorney. I hope for peace more than you can possibly know and will be much interested in what happens at Chequers.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Sunflower & Sunflower Plus. Top Secret. Repeated to London “literally eyes only” for Bruce and Cooper as telegram 135718, February 12. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER)
  2. Documents 64 and 65.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 39.
  4. See Document 40.
  5. See Document 51.