232. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Mr. McGeorge Bundy
    • Mr. William Tyler
  • UK
    • Patrick Gordon Walker, Foreign Secretary
    • Lord Harlech, British Ambassador
    • Sir Harold Caccia

Mr. Gordon Walker told the President that he was very glad to be in Washington and appreciated being received by the President. He said that the policies of our two countries were very close. After the President had made complimentary references to the role of Lord Harlech as Ambassador, the Secretary of State gave a general account of the current round of discussions which he said had been very satisfactory. Thirty or more subjects had been broached and we had found that our purpose was the same on nearly all points. He said there had been a wide range of agreement. He discussed the status of the MLF question and said that Mr. Gordon Walker had raised some ideas which the Secretary wanted us to think about very carefully. He said that these ideas should be subjects of discussion with other governments.

The President said that he was very glad to hear this and he made complimentary remarks about the members of his Cabinet and about the role of the Secretary of Defense.

The Secretary of State said that among the important matters which had been discussed we had found ourselves in agreement on (1) Article 19,2 and (2) British Guiana. The President said with regard to Article 19 that we were interested in finding any face-saving device to let the Soviet government get off the hook. The Secretary then gave a run-down on the US position on Article 19.

The President asked Gordon Walker for his estimate of Soviet policy in the light of the recent changes. Mr. Gordon Walker said he naturally did not know what had been going on but was inclined to think that something sudden must have happened to precipitate the sudden change in leadership.3 He thought that perhaps Khrushchev may have [Page 470] had in mind an initiative on Germany which may have been unacceptable to the other Soviet leaders. He thought that there was also possibly an element of criticism of Khrushchev’s handling of the Chinese problem. He also thought that the question of the allocation of resources had played a role in Khrushchev’s political demise.

The President asked whether Mr. Gordon Walker thought that Soviet policy was likely to get tougher. Mr. Gordon Walker said it was hard to know. He had found it particularly interesting that the satellites had stood up so frankly in expressing reservations about the recent change.

The President asked what Mr. Gordon Walker thought about Vietnam. Mr. Gordon Walker said that the Prime Minister and he very much wanted to talk about this matter after the US elections. At all events he could assure the President that the UK Government would not say anything on the subject which might be embarrassing to the United States.

The President asked whether Prime Minister Wilson wanted to come to Washington. Mr. Gordon Walker replied emphatically in the affirmative and said he thought the best time might be during the Christmas recess of the British Parliament.

The President asked whether the British Government had found de Gaulle’s trip to Latin America4 interesting and stimulating. The President said he rather felt that the trip had been a flop. Mr. Gordon Walker said that at any rate it had been a good demonstration of De Gaulle’s physical energy, but he agreed that De Gaulle hadn’t left much behind.

The President asked for Mr. Gordon Walker’s views on Italy. Mr. Gordon Walker said that he thought that the present Italian government must be helped in any way we could. He said it was the only possible political formula. He spoke highly of Saragat. He added that he was sure that Nenni was now a dedicated anti-Communist but his political authority had recently been reduced and he was perhaps beginning to fail somewhat due to his age and to his bad fall a couple of years ago.

The President asked about the Labor Government’s margin in Parliament. Mr. Gordon Walker was rather optimistic and said that things were not as bad as was generally thought. He said that the government could count in a certain measure on support from the Liberal Party. He said that one factor working for the government was general distaste in England for another election.

The President asked what Mr. Gordon Walker thought about Chancellor Erhard. Mr. Gordon Walker said he thought that Erhard was a weak man who wanted to be loved by everybody, and that this was not a good state of mind for a politician to be in. The President said that he liked the contrast between Erhard and Adenauer. He felt that Erhard had some flexibility whereas Adenauer “thought that the Communists [Page 471] were going to eat him before breakfast every morning.” Mr. Gordon Walker agreed and said that Erhard’s electoral prospects were not as good as they might be since the Socialists had shown increasing strength in recent local elections.

The President turned to Cuba and said he hoped the UK Government was not going to announce a new deal between now and next Tuesday. He recalled the experience he had had with Sir Alec Douglas-Home in January [February] on the same subject.5 The Secretary of State mentioned the possibility of the UK developing its trade with other Latin American countries and thus being in a position to justify giving up trade with Cuba on purely commercial grounds rather than by announcing a change in policy.

Turning to the UK domestic financial situation, the President asked whether the UK was going to cut down on its imports. Mr. Gordon Walker thanked the President for the US reaction to and support of the measures which the UK had just announced. The President commented that these measures had been understood here as being necessary and that we had been glad to support them. He said he hoped that the UK would find it possible to give a quid pro quo by helping us on Cuba. Mr. Gordon Walker said that he felt that one must take into account the fact that if the UK had not sold buses to Cuba then the French would have done so but he hoped that we would make an effort to bring the French into line on trade with Cuba too. He reiterated his thanks for the way the Administration had reacted to the current UK financial difficulties. The Secretary said that we would be glad to sell the UK more beef and the President commented that he was delighted to get this support for his difficulties from the Secretary.

Returning again to the subject of a visit to Europe, the President said that he would be glad to see the Prime Minister here in early December if this was mutually convenient. He thought that he himself would be heavily involved in the first few weeks of the New Year with budget and other matters such as the economic and State-of-the-Union messages to the Congress so he would have to see later how things looked for a possible visit some time in the spring.

The President said in general that the US Government wanted to be as helpful as possible to the UK. He said that there was some uncertainty in the air with new governments and changes occurring in many places. He remarked that he was counting on absentee votes from Americans in the UK to help him out in next week’s elections. He observed that there had been some pretty active and successful organization of Americans in England.

[Page 472]

The President asked Mr. Gordon Walker what he thought about the Chinese Communist explosion of a nuclear device. Mr. Gordon Walker said he was glad that it had been announced ahead of time by the US government.6 The President commented that this was due to the wisdom of the Secretary of State, who in turn said that it had been the President’s decision. Mr. Gordon Walker said that naturally the explosion itself had come as no surprise but it was still a disturbing development. What had surprised them was the fact that the Chinese had used U-235 instead of plutonium.

The President said that he thought our intelligence cooperation was excellent and that he was glad that Mr. McCone was going over to London soon to see the Prime Minister. Mr. Gordon Walker said he would be very glad to see Mr. McCone and valued our close relationship in this field. The Secretary commenced that our cooperation was so intimate that we occasionally knew everything about each other’s diplomatic activities. Mr. Gordon Walker said that he greatly valued our close relationship in this field and wanted it to continue.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 7 UK. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Tyler and approved in the White House on October 29. The meeting was held in the President’s office. A record of the conversation relating to NATO and the MLF is in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIII, Document 93. Memoranda of other portions of the conversation are in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2240.
  2. Reference is to Article 19 of the UN Charter.
  3. Reference to replacement of Khrushchev as Soviet Prime Minister and Party Secretary by a collective leadership of Brezhnev, Podgorny, and Kosygin.
  4. September 21-October 15.
  5. See Document 225.
  6. For text of President Johnson’s statement on the Chinese nuclear explosion on October 16, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-64, Book II, pp. 1357-1358.