272. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Kosygin Message and Reply

PARTICIPANTS

  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Ambassador of USSR
  • Charles E. Bohlen, Deputy Under Secretary for Political Affairs

During a conversation with Ambassador Dobrynin after dinner at the Italian Embassy last night (at which Dobrynin had arrived about an hour and a half late), I said to Dobrynin that he must have been writing quite a telegram following his interview with the Secretary. Dobrynin admitted that that was what he had been doing. I then asked how he evaluated our reply, to which Dobrynin replied that he was somewhat “disappointed” since we seemed to raise conditions, etc., and he did not feel we had made a very responsive answer to the Soviet suggestion.2 I told Dobrynin that this Kosygin message had been the subject of a very intensive meeting on the part of the American Government virtually all day Sunday.3 The chief subject of discussion was exactly what did the Soviet Government have in mind, and it was felt the necessity of obtaining somewhat more clarification. I told him that I personally felt that in matters of this kind big decisions could not be based on speculation or guess. I then went on to say that personally I had felt that one thing the Soviets were trying to tell us was that their commitment to North Vietnam is primarily due to attacks on it by the United States, and therefore logically if the attacks totally ceased then the obligation of the Soviet Union in this regard would be considerably less. Dobrynin laughed and said “I see you have had experience in Soviet affairs”, without, however, committing himself to my analysis.

I then went on to say that I thought with his knowledge of the United States he should really be able to inform his government of the public affairs position that the President found himself in. On the 31st of March he [Page 789]had taken a considerable step in the direction of the cessation of the bombardment and there had been literally no response from the other side except to increase infiltration and raise the level of violence in South Vietnam. The President could not be expected on the basis of guesses to take action which would appear to the American public to have no counterpart at all. There was of course the question of the effect on the morale of our forces and our allies in South Vietnam, as well as the very important problem of the effect on the government in Saigon. Dobrynin appeared interested in this reference to the attitude of Saigon and the possible effect on the morale of troops in the field, and flatly stated that the Soviet Union had less interest in the developments in South Vietnam than they did in the attacks on North Vietnam.

The conversation ended with my saying that we hoped for a constructive and sensible reply.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Bohlen.
  2. According to a memorandum of conversation, June 13, Dobrynin also told Thompson that he was “disappointed” in President Johnson’s reply. To counter Thompson’s insistence that the response to Kosygin’s letter would have been different “were it not for past history,” Dobrynin “observed that in this case his statements had been made in writing by the head of the Soviet Government and moreover that he had spoken in the name of the Government.” (Ibid.)
  3. June 9; see Document 265.