262. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

The attached letter to you from Kosygin will require careful consideration tomorrow.

The key points appear to be:

Kosygin’s statement that “we have grounds to believe” that a full cessation of bombing would “promote a breakthrough.”
Such a U.S. act would not involve “a loss for the interests of their safety” or for U.S. prestige.
Soviet commitment that they have urged, in effect, “unofficial contacts” on Hanoi.
The final reference to the “decisive significance” of the “essence of the position” taken.

Obviously, we must come to grips with Moscow bilaterally to clarify these matters.

But it could be a breakthrough.

It may, incidentally, explain the one week delay in Paris.2

Walt Rostow3


Letter From Chairman Kosygin to President Johnson4

Dear Mr. President:

There is hardly a necessity to speak in detail of how crucial is the present moment when, at last, direct official contacts between the representatives [Page 754] of the USA and the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam have been established. In our firm opinion the beginning official talks between highranking representatives of the USA and DRV in Paris present a real possibility to find a way out of the situation which has developed in Viet-Nam with the aim of halting the many-years-old and bloody war being conducted there. I think you will agree that the peoples of the entire world expect positive results from the American-Vietnamese meetings in Paris since to a large extent not only the restoration of peace in the region of Indo-China but also the relaxation of international tension as a whole depend on the outcome of these meetings.

According to information which comes to us both from represent-atives of the DRV and from representatives of the USA thus far progress has not been attained at the talks in Paris. And is it possible seriously to expect such progress under conditions when the U.S.A. continues the bombardment of a significant part of the territory of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam? We have more than once already expressed to you personally and to your representatives our opinion that a full and unconditional cessation by the United States of bombardments and other acts of war against the DRV can open the path to peaceful settlement in Viet-Nam. And if the Government of the DRV gave its agreement to the beginning of official talks with representatives of the U.S.A. even before a full cessation of bombings of the territory of the DRV, that does not signify at all that it is possible to hope for further progress of the talks without such a cessation. These bombardments and other acts of war by the U.S.A. against the DRV are now the main obstacle hindering movement forward at the meetings in Paris.

I and my colleagues believe—and we have grounds for this—that a full cessation by the United States of bombardments and other acts of war in relation to the DRV could promote a breakthrough in the situation that would open perspectives for peaceful settlement. Such a step cannot bring about any adverse consequences whatever for the United States neither in the sense of a loss for the interests of their safety nor even in the sense of a loss for their prestige. For a great world power the ultimate positive result of one or other act outweighs many times all other considerations to which an excessively exaggerated meaning is sometimes given. We decided, Mr. President, candidly to express to you these considerations, in view of the great significance that a peaceful settlement of the Viet-Nam problem and an end to the bloodshed would have. One would like to hope that opportunities that are presenting themselves will not be missed.

I would like to express one more thought. Mr. A. Harriman expressed the wish that on our part some assistance be given to the [Page 755] establishment of unofficial contacts between the delegations of the U.S.A. and DRV in Paris and that this point of view be brought to the cognizance of the Viet-Nam representative. I take this opportunity to advise you that we brought this to the cognizance of our Vietnamese friends since we for our part consider that all forms of contact between the sides must be used. It is important that this serve the success of the talks. But you, Mr. President, cannot but agree that the forms of contacts by themselves decide nothing. The decisive significance lies with the essence of the position which is taken by one side or the other.


A. Kosygin
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Kosygin [3]. Secret; Nodis. A notation on the memorandum reads: “Shown to Pres. 6/5/68.”
  2. Reference is to Le Duc Tho’s delayed arrival at the Paris talks.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  4. The message was transmitted by Dobrynin. This official translation of Kosygin’s message, as undertaken by the Language Services Division of the Department of State and which does not differ in substance from this unofficial translation, is LS No. 2450, June 5. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence, Pen Pal Correspondence, Kosygin) Copies were sent to Secretary Rusk and Under Secretary Katzenbach.