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

Mr. President:


Here is the critical passage to the Soviet Union:2

“The President has noted with interest and respect the judgment of the Soviet leaders that they continue to believe that they have grounds for the view that a complete cessation of the bombardment of North Vietnam would create a turning point at the meetings in Paris and open possibilities for serious negotiations on political aspects of a settlement.

“The leaders of the Soviet Union should know that the President is prepared to try to solve the matter on a de facto basis. Setting all political arguments aside, the simple fact is that the President could not maintain a cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam unless it were very promptly evident to him, to the American people, and to our allies, that such an action was, indeed, a step toward peace. A cessation of bombing which would be followed by abuses of the DMZ, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese attacks on cities or such populated areas as provincial capitals, or a refusal of the authorities in Hanoi to enter promptly into serious political discussions which included the elected government of the Republic of Vietnam, could simply not be sustained.

“If, after appropriate exploration and consideration by the leaders of the Soviet Union, they are prepared to advise the President to proceed on the basis of what is now being said, the President would take their advice with the utmost seriousness.

“The President believes that the leaders of the Soviet Union will understand the elementary requirements which any man in the President’s position would face. The President respects the deep interest of the Soviet Union in its fellow socialist country, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He believes that the Soviet leaders, in turn, understand the interests and responsibilities of the United States toward the Republic of Vietnam.

“The President would like to emphasize his readiness to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam just as soon as it can be done with integrity, as a move toward peace and not as a unilateral concession of military advantage to those who wish to continue the battle.”


Here is the reply from the Soviet Union:3

“There is agreement in Moscow that the achievement of progress towards a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem would be highly desirable.

“Our understanding of what is required to secure such progress has already been communicated to the President and we are forming the impression that our position in this regard has, in general, been correctly understood by the American side. However an exchange of views during the meeting on this topic as well could, we feel, prove useful.”4


If you wish to get into it (I recommend against at this time), here is Sec. Rusk’s account of Gromyko’s two questions:

“He said he had two questions to put to me about Viet-Nam. The first was whether the presence of the South Vietnamese at the conference table was the sole obstacle to stopping the bombing. I told him that this was a most important issue and, in some respects, might be the most difficult for Hanoi to accept. … The President could not maintain a cessation of the bombing if there were abuses of the DMZ, if there were rockets and mortars slamming into population centers such as Saigon, Danang and Hue and if North Viet-Nam did not sit down promptly in negotiations at which the GVN would be present. I emphasized that it was not necessary to talk about ‘conditions’, ‘reciprocity’ or ‘quid pro quos’. It was simply an elementary fact that no President of the United States could maintain a cessation of the bombing under certain circumstances and we had tried to be explicit to the Soviet Union about such circumstances.

“His second question was whether we could eliminate Thieu and Ky as parties to the situation. He said we should not draw any conclusions from the question—he was merely asking a question. He said that the authorities in Hanoi took a very strong view toward these individuals and that the character of the regime in the South was a major obstacle. I replied very firmly that we could not go down this path. President Thieu and Prime Minister Huong together represented 45 percent of the votes cast in the last Presidential election in South Viet-Nam. They, too, had some strong views about the authorities in Hanoi but they were [Page 126] willing to negotiate with them and were willing to let them have the NLF on their side of the table. I made it very clear that there was no possibility that we would bring about a change in government in Saigon to accommodate Hanoi.”

You may wish to bear in mind this security warning by Sec. Rusk to me: “Under no circumstances must Harriman know of these exchanges, he would resign.” I Don’t know if his assessment is accurate; but if you bring Cy into this, I believe it wise that you swear him to secrecy.
Thursday5 is tennis morning; but I’ll be available close to 9:00 a.m.
W.W. Rostow 6
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Re: Communications to Soviet Union on Vietnam, 10/2-4/68. Top Secret; Literally Eyes Only.
  2. Reference is to a memorandum that Rostow handed to Ambassador Dobrynin on September 16; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Document 300.
  3. Gromyko gave Rusk the message on October 2; for the full text, see ibid., Document 308.
  4. In an October 4 memorandum to the President, Rostow wrote: “In re-reading the communication which Gromyko gave to Sec. Rusk on Wednesday night, it appears that they are suggesting a meeting which would be guaranteed before the event to be modestly fruitful with regard to strategic weapons talks. But they are saying that a Vietnamese formula probably cannot be established before the meeting and, therefore, the Vietnamese question should be discussed at the meeting.” This memorandum is printed ibid., Document 309.
  5. October 3.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.