68. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

135734. For Monday morning delivery to Ambassador unless instructed otherwise by septel.

We now assume that Kosygin will leave London tomorrow and that you may be called on for follow-up dealings with Soviets. For this purpose, we are giving you additional background info on dealings in London, as they stand prior to final Kosygin/Wilson meeting ending tonight at midnight London time. We expect to give you best possible summary of that discussion by later telegram.
First, you should know that we have in fact held off on resumption of bombing and naval action against the North until Kosygin leaves London. We expect resumption to follow promptly thereafter, and to make frank statement here that additional short suspension period was because we were already suspended during Tet and because active resumption in these peculiar circumstances might have been misconstrued in relation to Kosygin visit. We expect to make clear on background that this represents no change in our basic policy of not stopping bombing for mere willingness to talk or even actual talks among third parties. British are fully informed of our decision (for which they had of course pressed) but we have told Wilson not to reveal it explicitly to Soviets, who we are sure will fully understand what we are doing and also why we are not giving them a message on it or announcing it publicly until after it has taken place.
State of play in London is that British on Feb. 7 gave Kosygin as their own draft a summary of the proposal contained in the President’s letter to Ho.2 However, unlike that letter, the British draft of that date clearly separated the stopping of the bombing from the actual [Page 147] stopping of infiltration, although it required assurance of the latter before the former would be done. This differs from the President’s letter to Ho, which of course spoke of assurance that infiltration had stopped already.
This difference has since caused difficulty with the British. On Feb. 10, Wilson repeated the substance of the British Feb. 7 version to Kosygin, who expressed real interest. That afternoon, the British worked up a draft with Cooper and sent it back to us for full clearance. Based on the same factors that had dictated the form of the President’s letter—namely the presence of 3–4 North Vietnamese divisions just north of the DMZ who might be introduced very quickly between the assurance and the fact of stopping infiltration—we corrected the British draft so that it insisted that we have assurance that the infiltration had stopped. We will copy to you the version that we finally gave to the British.3 They caught Kosygin just as he took his train that evening, but it is possible, indeed probable, that the earlier “will stop” version was transmitted by the Soviets to Hanoi.
We have now somewhat tidied this up with the British, explaining that our own message to Hanoi of the 7th (channel unspecified) has made clear our real view. We have also pointed out that the difference in tense is almost certainly not critical. Wilson feels that he was put out on a limb on the 10th, however, so that there is some remaining friction. However, he now understands our position, and the reasons for it, fully, for his discussions this evening.
From your standpoint, the important thing is whether the Soviets may have been misled at any stage. From a direct Dobrynin reference with the Secretary on Friday evening,4 we now know that the Soviets are familiar with the contents of the President’s letter to Ho, and this direct statement means that you can assume this in any conversations with the Soviets. In short, they knew our position very shortly after the President’s letter was delivered, and again had it in clear form when we cleared the authorized version for transmission to Kosygin on the evening of the 10th. At most, they may have been briefly misled on the afternoon of the 10th and may have transmitted to Hanoi a “will stop” version on that afternoon based on that misunderstanding, and on the fact that British had handed over the version they sent to Washington before they had our final clearance.
We shall know tonight whether Kosygin even raises the difference in tenses, and what may flow from that. However, we are sending you this background so that you have it in case the ball should move rapidly to you tomorrow.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Sunflower Plus. Drafted and approved by Bundy.
  2. See Document 40.
  3. The February 7 text used by Wilson, the original British written text given to Kosygin at the reception on February 10, and the British version with advance U.S. approval transmitted to Kosygin later that evening appear in telegram 135735 to Moscow, February 12. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER)
  4. February 10.