168. Memorandum for the Record1

Meeting of the President with Ambassador Anatoliy T. Dobrynin2

Also present: W. Averell Harriman and W.W. Rostow

(Note: Gov. Harriman and Mr. Rostow had gone over with Amb. Dobrynin the President’s speech3 for about an hour before joining the President in the Mansion.

The partial bombing cessation was explained as well as other statements bearing on our negotiating position.)

The President met Ambassador Dobrynin at about 6:05 p.m.

The President began by stating that he was going as far as he could in all conscience go, given the tactical position in the field. He could not endanger lives of his men on the Vietnamese frontiers by having a total bombing cessation. It was up to the Soviet Union as Geneva co-chairman and as a major arms supplier to Hanoi to bring its influence to bear for a conference and the making of peace.

The President recalled that the Soviet Union had played an important role at Tashkent in settling the India-Pak war. He believed, after his talks with Premier Kosygin at Glassboro, that Kosygin wished to be helpful; although nothing had come of it. But the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had shown in many matters that we could work together for constructive results; for example, in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

This was a time for everyone to bring to bear the greatest forbearance, restraint, and understanding. In South Vietnam itself the contending parties must give up war and seek a one-man, one-vote solution.

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The Ambassador should be aware, however, that the U.S. was not going to pull out of Vietnam. The proportion of American voters who actually wanted to pull out was about 5%; another 15% wanted the President to do less militarily; but there were 40% who wanted the U.S. to do more. That was the problem with which he had to deal.

The President had great concern about Southeast Asia as a whole, not only Vietnam. He feared a much wider war that would be contrary to both our interests and the Soviet’s interests. He thought perhaps the Chinese were getting “cocky” and “chesty.” Their aggressive ambitions should not be encouraged. It was up to the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to end the war in Vietnam soon and prevent hostilities from spreading.

The President said he had gone 90% of the way; now it was up to the Co-Chairmen to make it possible to go the last 10% and start negotiations for peace.

Ambassador Dobrynin asked the President to explain precisely why a 100% bombing pause was impossible. The President did so, adding that if Dobrynin thought of what it would be like if there were Russian soldiers in the same position as Americans and German forces were approaching, he would understand. Dobrynin said that the Soviet Union was lucky enough not to be there. The President countered: “But you are helping them.”

Ambassador Dobrynin asked about the area in which we would bomb. It was explained: below the 20th parallel.

He asked if there was a time limit on the cessation. The President said no firm limit—perhaps a few weeks. Dobrynin said that was good. It is better not to have to hurry.

Dobrynin took full notes and a preliminary text of the speech, departing about 6:30 p.m.

W.W. Rostow 4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Rusk-Dobrynin. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. The meeting lasted from 5:55 to 6:25 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) The Department of State transmitted a summary of the conversation to Rusk, who was in New Zealand to attend a SEATO meeting, in telegram 139705 to Wellington, April 1. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET) Although the Daily Diary notes that Dobrynin met with the President, Rostow, and Harriman, the Soviet Ambassador asserted in his memoirs that only he and the President were present. According to Dobrynin, as he left the Oval Office, the President stopped him in the hallway and informed him of the surprise ending that he planned for his speech. (Anatoly Dobrynin, In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to America’s Six Cold War Presidents (New York: Times Books, 1995), pp. 170–173) A March 30 memorandum from Rostow to the President suggesting issues to raise and a March 31 list of talking points for the meeting are in the Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 4, Tabs LL–ZZ and a-k.
  3. See Document 167.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.