274. Editorial Note

During the summer months of 1968, U.S. and Soviet principals explored the possibility of a summit meeting between President Johnson and Chairman Kosygin. Following the signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty on July 1 (see Document 250), for example, Secretary Rusk and Dobrynin privately explored the possibility and timing of such a meeting which, they agreed, might focus particularly on the strategic missile talks. (Memorandum of Conversation, July 1; Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Trip to Soviet Union, Box 11) Finally, on the afternoon of August 19, Dobrynin handed Walt Rostow a note, which proposed that President Johnson meet with Soviet leaders in Leningrad in early October and also suggested the text of the announcement of the President’s upcoming visit. (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, August 19, ibid.) Moreover, in an August 20 letter to President Johnson, Kosygin proposed that the missile talks might open in Geneva on September 30 and suggested the text of an announcement of the talks. (Ibid.)

In a memorandum to Secretary Rusk, August 20, Walt Rostow wrote: “The agreement announced this morning that the President will confer with leaders within the Soviet Union in early October is the outcome [Page 690] of a long process,” and he proceeded to provide a detailed summary of the background of the steps leading to the anticipated summit meeting between President Johnson and Chairman Kosygin. He provided all this information to Rusk “for your and my backgrounders tomorrow,” presumably to brief the press on the upcoming summit meeting. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, “Trip to Soviet Union,” Box 11) No announcement of a summit meeting on August 20 has been found, but Rostow apparently meant a public announcement the following morning.

Rostow concluded his August 20 memorandum to Rusk, as follows:

“Although the opening of the strategic missile talks was probably a catalyst that led to this decision by the two Governments, the meeting of President Johnson with Chairman Kosygin will undoubtedly be the occasion to consult on:

  • —a variety of bilateral matters;
  • —next steps in the implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty;
  • —the possibilities of bringing our positions closer on the Middle East and on Vietnam.”

With the military invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet and other Warsaw Pact troops on the night of August 20-21, however, the proposed summit meeting was put on hold. At a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House at 8:15–8:42 p.m. on August 20, which Dobrynin requested, the Soviet Ambassador informed President Johnson and Walt Rostow of the military intervention. At this meeting nothing was said to indicate that the summit would not be announced as planned. But at a hastily summoned meeting of the National Security Council from 10:15–11:10 p.m., it was agreed that the summit announcement would be delayed indefinitely and that Secretary Rusk would summon Dobrynin to his office to tell him about the postponement of the summit announcement and to raise the administration’s concerns about the military incursion into Czechoslovakia. Records of these meetings are printed in Foreign Relations, volume XVII, Documents 80 and 81. Context for the changing U.S. position on the evening of August 20 is given in Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963-1969 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), pages 487-489, and Seaborg, Stemming the Tide, page 438.

Several weeks later, John P. Roche, who had recently resigned as Special Assistant to the President, confirmed that the announcement of the summit was scheduled for August 21 but was not made because of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. (New York Times, September 24, 1968, page 5)

Additional documentation on a proposed U.S.-Soviet summit in the latter half of 1968 is scheduled for publication in volume XIV.