178. Letter From President Johnson to Chairman Kosygin1

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have asked Mr. Thompson to return to the Soviet Union as my Ambassador2 because of the great importance I attach to the improvement of relations between our two countries. I have full confidence in him, and I hope that you and your colleagues will feel as free to discuss our mutual problems with him as you would with me if we were able to sit down together. I am, of course, always available to your Ambassador here through the channel we have established, or directly whenever necessary.3 I have arranged for Ambassador Thompson to have a channel of communication which will be open only to Secretary Rusk and myself.

I have directed Ambassador Thompson as a matter of first priority to discuss with you and the appropriate members of your Government the possibilities of reaching an understanding between us which would curb the strategic arms race. I think you must realize that following the deployment by you of an anti-ballistic missile system I face great pressures from the Members of the Congress and from public opinion not only to deploy defensive systems in this country, but also to increase greatly our capabilities to penetrate any defensive systems which you might establish.

If we should feel compelled to make such major increases in our strategic weapons capabilities, I have no doubt that you would in turn [Page 432] feel under compulsion to do likewise. We would thus have incurred on both sides colossal costs without substantially enhancing the security of our own people or contributing to the prospects for a stable peace in the world.

I was accordingly glad to receive your message from Ambassador Dobrynin4 indicating that the Soviet Government is likewise concerned about this question. We have no inflexible views as to how to proceed and would welcome yours. Perhaps after Ambassador Thompson has made an initial exploration of this matter with your Government, it may prove desirable to have some of our highest authorities meet in Geneva or another mutually agreeable place to carry the matter forward. Similarly, we have no inflexible views as to the nature of an understanding between us. Our objective should be a mutually acceptable and stable balance of forces, verifiable to the maximum extent possible by our national means. I trust you will agree that this is a question not only of the greatest importance but of considerable urgency.

May I express the hope that in the coming year peace will return to this troubled world, and that we may find ways to cooperate in dealing with the problems that face mankind today and for which our two countries, by their very size and importance, carry a heavy responsibility.


Lyndon B. Johnson
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Kosygin, Box 10. Secret. The source text, which the President had cleared on January 14, was submitted for the President’s signature under cover of a January 23 memorandum from Rostow to the President.
  2. Llewellyn Thompson was appointed to his second ambassadorship to the Soviet Union on October 13, 1966, and presented his credentials on January 23, 1967.
  3. The special “channel” refers to a direct line of communication first established in 1963 between Khrushchev and President Kennedy through which views on pressing issues were exchanged. Periodically during President Johnson’s administration, he revived this channel to communicate directly with Chairman Kosygin. These communications were labeled “Pen Pal Correspondence.”
  4. See Document 174.