80. Editorial Note

On February 13, 1967, Prime Minister Harold Wilson spoke before Parliament about the events that had transpired during the just concluded visit of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin. He described a “secret plan” for peace that had been generated by himself and Kosygin, and [Page 169] purported that an end to the fighting in Vietnam “could have been very near.” Wilson blamed in part the North Vietnamese troop movements that had occurred during the Tet truce for the failure of the plan’s implementation. His speech was excerpted in The New York Times, February 14, 1967.

In Circular 137167, February 14, the Department cautioned Embassies that there had in fact been no “secret plan” developed during the period in question. Wilson had simply put forward a variation of the position stated by Representative to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg the previous September that required assurances of reciprocal action by the other side. The position of the U.S. Government “remained unchanged” from the Goldberg statement throughout the talks. In addition, the southward infiltration of the Communists had buttressed the position that the United States had consistently maintained. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S; for Goldberg’s statement of September 22, 1966, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume IV, Document 244)

It first appeared that Wilson took the disappointment in stride. In telegram 6543 from London, February 14, U.S. officials Philip Kaiser and Chester Cooper reported on their meeting with Prime Minister Wilson and his advisers soon after the Parliament speech. The British leaders noted their satisfaction with the U.S. Government’s going “more than half way” in its efforts to accommodate North Vietnam. Wilson stated that he could deal with domestic political problems that had arisen due to the failure of the initiative, especially since the British press was describing North Vietnam as “the villain in the piece” due to its failure to accede to the terms offered which might have led to the opening of peace talks. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET) During the debate, a member of the House of Commons had put forth a query as to the “replenishment” of U.S. forces during the Tet truce. In telegram 142063 to London, February 21, the Department suggested that Wilson reply to the query by stating that only “normal replenishment” of U.S. forces had occurred during the Tet cease-fire period while the movement of Communist forces during the same interval “was conservatively 5 times that normally occurring in non-truce periods.” (Ibid.)

Indications that Prime Minister Wilson found the results of Sunflower troubling arose soon after the overture’s termination. On February 25 Walt Rostow informed the President and Secretary of State Rusk of a conversation that he had with Wilson. Rostow stated that “the main point of his interview with me was to get off his chest his frustrations with the week with Kosygin.” The Prime Minister’s main difficulty was with what he perceived as a “breakdown in communications,” resulting in an “ultimatum” that foreclosed any chance of a successful outcome. Rostow allowed Wilson “to use my presence to [Page 170] unload his feelings.” Because of his support of U.S. efforts in Vietnam, Wilson now faced significant obstacles in Britain. Rostow impressed upon Wilson that the President had three main concerns: 1) to safeguard a half million troops in Vietnam, 2) the danger that a failed peace would undermine the administration’s political base at home, and 3) the likelihood that the search for peace would degenerate into a Panmunjom-style negotiation since the North Vietnamese leadership showed no “will” to negotiate. (Telegram 6894 from London, February 25; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Sunflower & Sunflower Plus)

Later, Wilson was to cite President Johnson’s refusal to extend the cease-fire just a few more hours as a principal reason for collapse of this initiative. See Harold Wilson, The Labour Government, 1964–1970 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971), page 442; Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson (London: Harpercollins, 1992), pages 460–465; and Chester L. Cooper, The Lost Crusade: The Full Story of U.S. Involvement in Vietnam From Roosevelt to Nixon (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970), pages 362–369.