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

Mr. President:

I set out the following idea not because I believe it to be correct nor because I recommend it; merely because I think you should have available all the options of which we can conceive.

I begin with the fact that both Tommy Thompson and Chip Bohlen feel a certain regret that we did not pick up Kosygin’s message,2 institute a total bombing halt, and then lean very heavily on the Soviet Union to produce results, against the background of a threat to resume bombing if the results did not take place. As old Soviet hands they are impressed that Kosygin should have used the following language in addressing you: “My colleagues and I think—and we have grounds to do so—that complete cessation by the United States of bombing and other acts of war with respect to the DRV could contribute to a breakthrough in the situation and produce prospects for a peaceful settlement.”
The fact is that since June 5 the over-all level of combat in South Vietnam has greatly diminished and the shelling of Saigon has ceased.
But also we have every reason to expect in August—if not earlier—a major offensive in I Corps and against Saigon.
The idea would be for Sect. Rusk to tell Dobrynin or Tommy to tell Kosygin that:
  • —We note the de-escalation in the actual fighting in South Vietnam in recent weeks;
  • —We note the cessation of shelling of Saigon;
  • —We are prepared to stop bombing on Day X;
  • —It is, of course, essential after the bombing cessation:
  • —that this low level continue;
  • —that Saigon not be attacked;
  • —that we move promptly to a reinstallation of the DMZ;
  • —that the U.S. and Soviet Union discuss the reinstallation of the Geneva Accords of 1962 (Dobrynin told Sect. Rusk flatly this would be possible after a bombing cessation);
  • —and, as Chairman Kosygin told the President, that he and his colleagues had grounds to believe that the DRV would move rapidly towards a “peaceful settlement.”
Before actually instituting a bombing cessation, we would require from the Soviet Union some broad understanding along these lines.
This is pretty high-risk poker; and the case is good for waiting to see if in fact Hanoi responds directly to the Zorin suggestion. But the fact is that the Kosygin letter gives us an opening for this gambit if you should decide you would like to force the issue.3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Kosygin [3]. Secret. A notation on the memorandum by the President reads: “Walt—Call me Monday about this. L.”
  2. Attachment to Document 262.
  3. Rostow attached this memorandum to a memorandum he sent to the President on June 14. In the June 14 memorandum, Rostow noted the risks inherent in the approach through Moscow: relations with the Soviets could be damaged if they failed to secure North Vietnamese compliance and bombing had to resume, a stoppage followed by a resumption would have severe domestic political ramifications, and the possibility that the United States might not respond if, regardless of a cessation, the North Vietnamese attacked Saigon anyway. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Kosygin [3]) Attached to this memorandum was the text of a draft message to Kosygin laying out the operative details of this proposal. There is no indication of its transmittal to Kosygin.