280. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador
  • W. Averell Harriman, Ambassador at Large

Ambassador and Mrs. Dobrynin had dinner with my wife and myself. We talked informally before dinner and during dinner, and Dobrynin and I alone after dinner. They came about 7:30 and left about 10:30.

The following points were covered:

Dobrynin repeated what he told the Secretary and myself, that he had received word that the North Vietnamese delegates would talk privately with Vance and myself but had not specified when. In questioning him, he indicated that this had resulted from my talks with Zorin.2 Zorin is evidently reporting our conversations in detail. For instance, he knew that I had suggested to Zorin that we meet at night at the Soviet Embassy or any place else so that the meeting could be assured secrecy.

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Because of Dobrynin’s query, I had to explain in some detail why the President could not stop bombing North Vietnam completely without restraint by Hanoi. I explained the increased North Vietnamese infiltration; the massing of troops around the DMZ, the shelling of Saigon, and ways in which Hanoi had arrogantly escalated its military action while the President had taken a major step in de-escalation. He kept saying, “but you have 500,000 troops in Vietnam, why should you be afraid?” I reiterated, of course, the President’s March 31st speech and expressed my personal opinion that it would be a mistake for us to end all the bombing unless there were some reasonable indication of good will on the other side, as I feared Hanoi would not take any action of restraint even after full cessation. I said I thought that if we could get together privately with the Hanoi delegates, we might find a way. He then said he thought that the two-phase proposal was a good one. I agreed and indicated that that was the sort of thing we could explore privately but not in public.

I urged him to ask his Government to follow-up with the North Vietnamese representatives the necessity of private talks promptly. He agreed to do so. He firmly reiterated that the Soviets wanted to see the war ended in Vietnam in order that we could get on to other matters. I underlined again, as I had with Zorin, that if these talks in Paris broke up Moscow would lose prestige and Peking would gain. This he did not dispute. He expressed the belief that the Soviet Government would be freer to express its opinions to the North Vietnamese after the bombing had stopped completely. He indicated that Moscow would feel released when a “sister socialist State” was no longer being hit. He said he regretted that the Kosygin letter to the President3 did not receive a more responsive reply. He told me that since Kosygin had stated, “I and my colleagues … have reason to believe there would be a breakthrough”, he had expected the reply would have accepted Kosygin’s assurances, acted upon them and then insisted that the Soviet Government produce. Dobrynin said he thought we had missed an opportunity. I commented that the stakes were too serious to take such a risk and felt that the President had made a responsive reply and regretted no further word had been received.

He then spoke about Kosygin’s new letter expressing willingness to discuss mutual nuclear restraints and said he felt the reply was good, although he did not know whether his Government would agree to a public statement by July 1st.

I asked him about Cyrus Eaton’s visit, as I understood Kosygin had seen him.4 He replied that no doubt Eaton was received by Kosygin, Brezhnev and others—they liked him—but he doubted that Kosygin [Page 807]would send me a specific message through him. I told him that when Zorin had raised the subject of Eaton’s visit I explained to him Kosygin’s alleged request for information on our ultimate objectives. I asked if Zorin had passed on my statement giving an outline of those objectives. Dobrynin answered in the affirmative.

We discussed the possible desirability of a senior U.S. official visiting Moscow during the course of the summer to talk directly with Soviet leaders about Vietnam and possibly other subjects. He commented that no official of the Government other than myself had been to the Soviet Union since the Secretary’s visit to sign the Test Ban Agreement in the summer of 1963 and that a visit could help clarify our mutual positions. I said that we would have to negotiate directly with the NVN their restraints during private talks; that if those could be agreed upon, a number of other subjects would be opened up regarding which the Soviet Government could undoubtedly play a useful role. I pointed out one of the subjects of importance was how the Vietnamese could be induced to talk together their own future problems—the Saigon Government with both Hanoi and the NLF. I told him that information we had received through third parties indicated the Hanoi representatives in Paris took the Saigon Government more seriously since Huong had become Prime Minister. I filled him in on the details of the strengthening of the Government and its broadened appeal.

He admitted that Zorin was one of the “old school” diplomats but believed he reported accurately. However, he appeared to acquiesce when I asked him to discuss with his colleagues in Moscow the possibility of sending a man from the Foreign Office, familiar with Far Eastern affairs, to talk to us in Paris. Of course he knew Oberemko, Zorin’s Minister Counselor, well, and I told him that Vance had had a couple of talks with him which were frank and useful.5 When I asked him why the Soviet Government did not have a more alert man than Zorin in Paris, he assured me it was one of those administrative questions involved in giving to Zorin a responsible position because of his long status in the Foreign Office. He said he obviously wasn’t the best of choices since he did not speak French or, in fact, English, and was rigid. I told him I regretted that someone more “modern” than Zorin was not in Paris but that Zorin had behaved “correctly” towards me. I thought he was slowly becoming more relaxed, particularly since I’d seen him four times and there had been no mention of it in the press. I explained that not only contact with me, but also contact with Hanoi [Page 808]representatives was involved. Zorin had admitted to me that he had seen the North Vietnamese on a number of occasions.

Dobrynin was non-committal on other subjects, such as Berlin and Czechoslovak developments. He agreed when I said that Moscow, Hanoi and Washington had one thing in common—the desirability of Hanoi’s being free from Peking’s domination. I suggested this should mean Hanoi’s and Moscow’s willingness to cooperate with Southeast Asian development in accordance with the President’s Johns Hopkins speech. To achieve the primary objective of independence from Peking, Hanoi would have to learn to live peacefully with its neighbors. He did not demur.

Sunday, June 23, 1968

Soviet Embassy

I stopped in to see Dobrynin for a few minutes Sunday morning. After thinking over my conversation, I wanted to be sure that I had been firm enough in stating that we could not stop all the bombing without an understanding with Hanoi on restraints on their part and that he would report this to his Government. He argued a bit, but I’m satisfied he has accepted my statement. We touched on PanAm’s first flight to Moscow as an occasion for a possible visit to Moscow, and he suggested that perhaps I might come.

Dobrynin concluded by telling me he did not know how long he would remain in Moscow. His wife and daughter are, of course, staying in Washington.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Harriman. The meeting took place at Harriman’s house in Georgetown. Rostow sent Harriman’s memorandum of conversation to the President on June 25. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 83)
  2. See Document 274.
  3. Printed as an attachment to Document 262.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 274.
  5. The most recent meeting between Vance and Oberemko was a luncheon on June 17. A report on this meeting was transmitted in telegram 16519 from Paris, June 18. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-June 1968)