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

Mr. President:

With the indicated typographical changes, I gave the attached to Dobrynin tonight. I told him they were rough notes and an oral communication, [Page 372] not in any sense formal governmental message. On the other hand, he should understand that they accurately reflected how the President feels at the moment.

I then explained bluntly the President’s dilemma in having to take such a major step at such a critical political period in the U.S. with nothing more from Hanoi or Moscow than assent by silence. I indicated the importance that the President attached to some positive indication from the Soviet Union that there was reason to believe that it was Hanoi’s intent to honor the understanding on the DMZ and the cities. I said this was not a matter of our forces being able to protect themselves, but it did relate to the full consequences in the U.S., in Vietnam, and on the world scene of our having to resume the bombing.

Dobrynin indicated that he understood the problem; that he did not know what positively the authorities in Moscow might be able to say to the President at this time, but he would solicit an early response, if a response could be given.

Dobrynin then reviewed the time factor involved if we were to hold to a first meeting on November 2.

I underlined the urgency of a response from Moscow, as he left.

W.W. Rostow 2


Letter From President Johnson to Chairman Kosygin3

The President has not made any decision on the discussions and does not intend to do so until he has talked to the leadership in Congress and appropriate committees and to the candidates. He also desires to have whatever understanding is reached carefully evaluated by Amb. Bunker and Gen. Abrams and expects to have their comments and recommendation in connection therewith. He is going back to Amb. Harriman and Amb. Vance tonight and urge them to make abundantly clear to the North Vietnamese the three points: that we expect the South Vietnamese to be received at the first meeting on Saturday,4 and that we [Page 373] will expect, while these discussions continue, that the DMZ and the cities will be respected. He is very anxious to have this clearly and succinctly repeated to the North Vietnamese so as to avoid any charge of deception and any risk of misunderstanding. Although he does not expect them to agree this is a condition or reciprocal action, he does expect them to understand that Gen. Abrams has been issued rules of engagement and that a failure to respect either the DMZ or the cities, that would trigger retaliation and disrupt the conference. The President feels it is better this understanding take place in advance before the bombing stops rather than have it stop and start again because of alleged misunderstanding.

In addition, the President, in spite of the incidents around the 37-day pause, desires that your Government be informed of the assumption on which he is proceeding so as to avoid any deception or misunderstanding with respect to your government. He is proceeding on these assumptions in the belief that Mr. Kosygin understands them and “has reason to believe” that if the bombing stopped productive discussions could promptly follow. Of course productive discussions could not continue if the DMZ and the cities were not respected.

The President is very anxious to have any comments or reaction Mr. Kosygin may have to these three points, in light of Mr. Kosygin’s letters of June and the other day (October 25).5 The President will carefully weigh Mr. Kosygin’s observations before making a decision.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Chlodnick File. Secret; HARVAN Double Plus.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  3. No classification marking. A notation on the attachment reads: “As dictated by the President.”
  4. November 2.
  5. For the June 5 letter, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. VI, Document 262. For the October 25 letter, see Document 122.