24. Telegram From President Johnson to Prime Minister Wilson1

CAP 80370. We have given a careful reading to your record of the current discussion and much appreciate your letting us see it.2

We are a bit puzzled about just what Kosygin has in mind. Over a year ago Secretary Rusk asked Gromyko for advice about which of the [Page 61] capitals in reasonably friendly relations with Moscow would be the most appropriate and reliable contact with Hanoi. Gromyko quite categorically stated “Moscow. The others are of no value.” In the most recent period, however, it has been our very strong impression that Moscow was not interested in working seriously in Hanoi for a peaceful settlement. If that was their view, we thought we ought to accommodate them.

One can never be sure about contacts involving third parties. In this instance, however, we have every reason to believe that we are in such contact with Pham Van Dong and Trinh, the Foreign Minister. This derives both from internal evidence in what has allegedly been said and from external evidence in the consistency between what has been said privately, what has been said publicly by Hanoi and by reasonable interpretations of a great deal of diplomatic gossip in a number of capitals involving Hanoi’s representatives.

It is probable that Moscow knows the channel and does not particularly like it. After all, Moscow’s own prestige could be involved. It may be that Hanoi is somewhat evasive with Moscow because of Hanoi’s problem with Peking. There is always the possibility, whatever the intermediary might be, that we are being hoodwinked. But we are protecting ourselves against being hoodwinked. For example, the bombing has not been stopped.

It is curious that Kosygin seems to feel strongly about the channel but has nothing to say on the substance. We have had nothing from your talks with him or with Brezhnev indicating what Moscow is prepared to do on the assumption that we are prepared to stop the bombing within the framework of the San Antonio formula.

We have followed our own contact closely, know where he is and when he will get back. We expect to see him or hear from him again before the end of the month. We have even done one or two little things as a contribution to his safety and comfort while on his mission.

If Kosygin, unexpectedly, wishes to talk about the issues in substance we would be glad to know what he has in mind. He knows our own view, he knows our address and we have had nothing from him.

We concur in your judgment that perhaps you yourself should not see the North Vietnamese Ambassador in Moscow but we have no particular problem about your Ambassador, or indeed our Ambassador, seeing this individual to listen although we would not ourselves wish to direct any message through that channel at the present time. We say this because we have tried on other occasions and have gotten nothing but bruises for our efforts.

Trying to answer your specific questions, we don’t know who is taking whom for a ride except that we don’t intend to be the victim. It is [Page 62] possible that Hanoi is dealing somewhat at arm’s length with Moscow because of the Peking problem. It is entirely possible that Kosygin is trying to sell you something and it would be habitual for him to try to persuade you that we are trying to sell you something. In this case, I have no doubt that he would like to get a tender morsel on Viet-Nam in the communiqué. What is perhaps more ominous is that Moscow may be playing a spoiling game in Hanoi because of their irritations with the present procedure.

Our inclination would be to play our hand out on the present line to see where we get. If that gets nowhere and Moscow is ready to play the next chapter, we won’t object if they smirk a bit and say “we told you so.” I do hope that you can keep your position as co-chairman intact when it comes to the communiqué because there will be a lot of people engaged in defending South Viet-Nam who need to have confidence that at least one of the co-chairmen is playing it straight.3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence, United Kingdom, Vol. 7. Secret.
  2. In telegram T.33/68, January 24, Wilson described his efforts to devise a communiqué with Kosygin, part of which related to Vietnam. Despite having been briefed by Bundy about the existence of a “channel of communication” with Hanoi (although the fact that it was through the Romanians was not disclosed), the Prime Minister complained that his being in the dark had made his task more difficult. In addition, Wilson noted Kosygin’s desire for him to make contact with the DRV Embassy in Moscow. (Ibid.) Bundy’s report on his briefing of Wilson is in telegrams 5726 and 5728 from London, both January 20. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET) A backgrounder on Bundy’s mission is in telegram 101274 to Saigon, January 19. (Ibid.)
  3. In an unnumbered personal telegram for the President, January 24, Wilson expressed thanks for Johnson’s message, which “arrived just in time to arm me for what proved a classic Kremlin battle over the passage on Vietnam in the communiqué.” He reported that the Soviets had unsuccessfully “fought with total intransigence for a formula which would have had us denounce outside (i.e. American) interference and declare that any settlement should be based on the right of local peoples to solve their internal affairs without it.” In addition, while Wilson could not get the communiqué tied to the San Antonio and Trinh formulas, he did manage to have the Geneva agreements referenced. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence, United Kingdom, Vol. 7) In a further report on his discussions in Moscow, in an unnumbered personal telegram to the President, January 29, Wilson elaborated on his impressions of the Soviet mood: “I cannot help feeling that their real dilemma is how to strike a satisfactory balance in their own minds between, on the one hand, the requirements of their global relationship with yourselves and their determination not to get involved in a conflict with you; and, on the other hand, a blend of gut-reaction against (as they would see it) any attempt by the capitalist world to eliminate a socialist state and of plain fear that any open let up on their part will weaken their effort to retain leadership of the world communist movement.” (Ibid.) For the official British record of Wilson’s meetings at the Kremlin, see Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Documents on British Policy Overseas, Series III, Vol. I: Britain and the Soviet Union, 1968–72, pp. 14–22.