267. Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson1

SUBJECT

  • Proposed Reply to the Kosygin Letter

Because of my absence from Washington yesterday, I have only just seen the Kosygin letter, our draft reply, and Bunker’s reaction to that draft.2 My thoughts on the subject follow:

A close reading of K’s letter indicates that it offers nothing new of substance but retains the old ambiguities about the contribution which [Page 779]a total cessation of bombing “could contribute” to the “prospects of a peaceful settlement.” As I read it, it is remarkable only by its moderate tone and its timing.

The moderate tone suggests that K would really like a favorable response from us and hopes that we will oblige him. It also indicates that he wants to place the American interest in the foreground of any discussion as the motivating force for any agreement.

As to the reason for the timing of the letter, one can speculate along several lines:

a.
The arrival of Tho to head the North Vietnamese negotiating team probably marks the opening of a new phase in the Paris negotiations. K’s letter is the opening gun of a new diplomatic offensive to accompany and exploit the military escalation in South Viet-Nam, with its initial target our will to continue the bombing.
b.
Hanoi senses that we are probably considering a return to our former bombing pattern in North Viet-Nam and K has sent his letter to make that decision more difficult for us and at least to cause us to delay in taking it.
c.
Hanoi is hurting badly even under the restricted bombing and has called for help from the USSR to obtain prompt relief.

Whatever the reason for the letter, it is clearly a bear trap to be approached with caution. Frankly, I do not find that caution in some of the passages of our proposed draft. It seems to limit our concern to the safety of our military forces and to accept the preeminence of the U.S. interest over that of our allies. There is no indignation expressed for the civilian losses in South Viet-Nam and for the continuing attacks on Saigon. There is a dangerous willingness to accept private assurances of unspecified content, either from Hanoi or from the USSR, in exchange for a cessation of our bombing.

For a variety of reasons. I advise against the dispatch of the letter as presently written. Generally speaking, I agree with the views of Ambassador Bunker and the changes of text which he recommends—if you decide to stay generally within the framework of the present text. I can think of at least two other approaches to our reply:

a.
Confine the answer to amenities and queries about the meaning of the ambiguous language. This kind of exchange can go on for a long time while feeling out the adversary.
b.
Stiffen the reply even beyond Bunker’s suggestions, making perfectly clear that we are not going to give up our bombing without precise agreements covering reciprocal actions and hinting broadly that we are fed up with the present stalling and expect to relax our self-imposed constraints soon.

My objections to the present text are in general that the course of action implied therein will or may result in the following: [Page 780]

a.
It can drive a wedge between us and the GVN and contribute to the collapse of that government—a major enemy objective.
b.
It will encourage the Hanoi leaders and convince them that they are right in assuming we are defeated—at least in spirit.
c.
Any cessation of bombing will make it almost impossible to resume, thus setting the stage for another Panmunjom.
d.
It will further confuse and divide our people who have been assured in the past by their leaders that the bombing restrains infiltration and gives indirect protection to our troops. A cessation now at a time of increased enemy infiltration, of heightened levels of military and terrorist activities and of record-breaking U.S. casualties would defy explanation to any but the extreme left wing of American public opinion.

M.D.T.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Meetings with the President, 6/11/68. Secret; Nodis.
  2. See Document 265.