10. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Note on “Pereyaslavl-Zalesskiy” Incident


  • Mr. Yuri N. Chernyakov, Soviet Chargé, a.i.
  • Mr. Nicholas deB Katzenbach, Acting Secretary
  • Mr. Malcolm Toon, Country Director, Soviet Union Affairs

Chernyakov requested and was given an appointment with the Acting Secretary in order to deliver a note from his Government in reply to the United States Government note of January 5 with regard to the bombing of the Soviet ship “Pereyaslavl-Zalesskiy” in the harbor of Haiphong on January 4.2 A translation of the note is attached.3

[Page 26]

Mr. Katzenbach pointed out that the Soviet Government must recognize that ships operating in an area of active hostilities run certain risks and it was impossible to guarantee that accidents would not happen. As had been made clear in the United States Government note of January 5, all that could be done was to offer assurances that careful precautions would be taken to avoid damage to non-hostile shipping in and around North Vietnam. The United States Government regretted the damage caused to the Soviet ship in the port of Haiphong and hoped that such incidents could be avoided in the future. It was for this reason that additional information, of which the Chargé was undoubtedly aware, had been passed to Ambassador Dobrynin by the Secretary of State earlier this week. Mr. Katzenbach pointed out that there could be no real guarantee against damage to Soviet shipping so long as Soviet ships operated in the North Vietnamese waters.

Chernyakov said his instructions did not go beyond the delivery of the note itself, but he would point out on a personal basis that attacks on Soviet shipping were in contravention of international law and violation of the principle of freedom of navigation. In Chernyakov’s view the best way to avoid further incidents would be to stop the bombing.

Mr. Katzenbach replied that the bombing could stop tomorrow if the North Vietnamese would comply with the Geneva accords and withdraw their forces from South Vietnam. If this should be done, then difficulties stemming from such developments as the January 4 incident involving the “Pereyaslavl-Zalesskiy” would not arise between our two countries.

Chernyakov referred to Trinh’s statement of December 304 and said that it was clear that talks would take place if the bombing were stopped.

Mr. Katzenbach said that the United States Government’s position on cessation of bombing was clearly set forth by the President in his San Antonio speech in which the President said that he would be prepared to stop the bombing if it was clear that such action would lead to productive talks. Was it Chernyakov’s view that Trinh’s offer was a serious one?

Chernyakov said that his Government certainly regarded Trinh’s offer as a serious one and the only way to ascertain if talks could be productive would be to stop the bombing in order to permit them to take place. He did not wish to criticize the statements by President Johnson, but he would point out that whereas in the past the President had said that the United States Government attached no preconditions to talks, the San Antonio formula seemed to impose the condition that talks must be productive.

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Mr. Katzenbach felt that it was wrong to regard the San Antonio formula as imposing conditions on talks. Obviously, if the North Vietnamese should insist that the agenda for talks be limited to Hanoi’s four points, then there would be no purpose in talks since obviously they could not be productive. This was the meaning of the San Antonio formula in Mr. Katzenbach’s view.

Chernyakov said that he would only point out that in his December 30 statement Trinh made no mention of the four points.

Chernyakov was asked if his Government planned to publicize the note which he had handed Mr. Katzenbach. Chernyakov had said his instructions did not refer to publicity and he would point out on a personal basis that his Government’s note of January 45 was made public.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Toon and approved in U on January 15.
  2. In its January 5 note, the United States apologized for the incident but “neither substantiated nor ruled out” the claim that the damage was caused by U.S. aircraft. (Ibid.)
  3. Not printed. In its January 12 note, the Soviet Government replied that it could not “acknowledge the reply of the USA Government to be convincing, since it not only does not contain a clear recognition of the guilt of the American armed forces in the perpetration of the marauding attack upon a Soviet merchant vessel in violation of all norms of international law and freedom of navigation, but actually admits the possibility of the repetition of such aggressive acts by the American air forces.” Since Rusk had informed Dobrynin on January 9 of the accidental dropping of 17 undetonated bombs near Haiphong, the Department was surprised that the Soviet reaction was so muted. (Telegram 96905 to Moscow, January 10, and telegram 98440 to Moscow, January 13; both ibid.)
  4. See Document 1.
  5. The January 4 Soviet note demanded punishment of those responsible for the incident and called for U.S. assurances that it would not happen again. (Telegram 94518 to Moscow, January 6; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)