268. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1

8004. Vipto 55. For: The President and the Secretary. From: The Vice President.

Subj: Meeting with Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Chequers, Sunday, April 2, 1967.2

On arrival in London, Sunday evening, I went directly to Chequers for dinner and overnight. After dinner, there was a lengthy conversation in the study. Present on the British side, besides Prime Minister and Mrs. Wilson, were the Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner; Mr. Harold Davies, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister; and Michael Palliser, Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. On the American side, besides Mrs. Humphrey and myself, were Ambassador and Mrs. Bruce, Mr. and Mrs. Dwayne Andreas, and Ted Van Dyk of my staff.

Before dinner, Prime Minister asked me what reactions I had met on the continent to UK initiatives towards the Common Market. I told him that, in the Netherlands, Foreign Minister Luns favored an immediate British initiative without delay, with full acceptance of the Rome Treaty. In Germany, Willy Brandt had made clear German support for UK entry, but suggested that, after a declaration of intent now, he favored a series of bilateral contacts until sometime in the fall. In Italy, Moro, Saragat and Nenni had all indicated strong support for UK entry and for a united Europe.

Wilson indicated that he was now in the process of consideration of Britain’s tactics towards EEC membership.

After dinner, we gathered in the study. After brief preliminaries, Wilson brought up Vietnam and asked for our assessment of the present situation there. I reviewed for him the Guam Conference; the new American diplomatic team; the social, political and economic programs underway there, and gave him a brief review once more of our peace efforts.

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Wilson reviewed for me in detail his meeting with Kosygin.3 He said Kosygin gave him an overwhelming impression of concern over Communist China. Contrary to most other reports, Kosygin believed that Red China wanted to intervene in North Vietnam—in fact he talked in terms of some three million Chinese troops. However, the leaders of North Vietnam were struggling to prevent this intervention. He said that Kosygin “spilled all the beans” concerning his fears about China, that it was an obsession. Wilson said Kosygin stated any company selling equipment to China would never get another Soviet order. He criticized UK computer and Italian scientific equipment sales to China. When Wilson said these sales were for peaceful purposes, Kosygin said they would be used for military purposes. Kosygin said U.S. did not take the Chinese threat seriously enough. Wilson feared that we had not continued the last bombing pause for a long enough period of time, that many people in UK believed the decision-making process in Hanoi could not move that quickly.

Harold Davies, who knows Ho Chi Minh well and who had been to North Vietnam and met with several of the leaders there, said that North Vietnam leadership was far less monolithic than we might believe. There were a number of factions. The men in Hanoi were experienced, cultured diplomats—“real French-trained Elysée men.” They were not single minded, Neanderthal people who acted without reason. Yet, as one prominent physician had told him, they have been fighting for years and were prepared to continue to fight through their lifetimes and those of their children. The North Vietnamese were resolute.

Davies felt that any attempt toward negotiation should be given ample time for development. It was necessary not only for the people in North Vietnam to discuss such a matter fully, among themselves, but it was necessary to consult NLF representatives all the way down to the lowest cadres. This could not be done overnight.

Discussion then centered on how little was really known about the inside politics in Hanoi and about where and how decisions were really made in Hanoi.

Wilson said Kosygin had encouraged him to do everything he could to work for a negotiated settlement in Vietnam. Kosygin told Wilson not to jeopardize his (Wilson’s) relationship with Washington. He had no doubt that Kosygin wanted a negotiated settlement. However, just as we did not understand decision-making processes in North [Page 565] Vietnam, the Soviets did not understand decision-making processes and forces at work in US. Kosygin still saw the possibility of “American workers and peasants” rising up in protest against the war. Wilson explained to Kosygin that President Johnson did have strong support for his Vietnam policies. The opposition was vocal and a minority.

In closing, Wilson indicated that he thought the key to peace lay through the Soviet Union and the key to the Soviet Union lay with Britain. He felt that he had a real opportunity to act as middleman between the US and USSR to reach a negotiated settlement. In fact, he had been considering the possibility of moving more toward the middle, between the two nations, on Vietnamese policy. If he did this, he wanted us to understand that he was doing so in the interests of peace and not because of any lack of friendship or loyalty to the US.

I replied that such a shift by Wilson would be misunderstood in the US and that in fact it might result in increased pressure from “hawks” for unilateral and strong US action to crush North Vietnam. It would be unfortunate if Americans believed Britain was moving away from US on this issue. The President appreciated Wilson’s support and recognized the domestic political pressures upon him. I told Wilson he should thus consider very carefully any change in the UK position. I told him he would jeopardize his relationship with the President if he followed any such course. (I repeated this again to him today, urging that he keep in close contact with the President, being mindful of the close relationship between our countries and of the friendship of the President. I believe I made my point.)

There followed a long discussion about British public opinion and Vietnam. The Lord Chancellor, summing up, said that he believed most Britishers were simply appalled by the bloodshed and destruction and did not necessarily recognize the complicated issues involved. They saw the war as being dangerous to them if it expanded. Beyond that, most of the news carried by the media showed only American shooting and killing. It seemed to most people that we were a big country applying a great amount of force against a small country. Also, the Ky government was highly unpopular in Britain and that was harmful to public opinion. Our story has obviously not been effectively told in Europe. TV in particular has been damaging to our image.

I reviewed in detail the progress made under the Ky government and our assessment of that government, as well as the present development toward democratic institutions there.

I closed by suggesting that Wilson and others would do well to apply moral pressure on Hanoi as moral pressure was being applied against the US. He indicated that this would be useful and he would see what he could do in discussions with European leaders.

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I shall be meeting with him, as well as other members of the British Government during the next two days, and will send in a detailed report of my London visit late Tuesday or early Wednesday.4

Memoranda of conversation, individual meetings, follow.5

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 67 D 586, CF 143. Secret; Nodis. Vice President Humphrey visited Europe March 26-April 10.
  2. At a March 6 meeting with Secretary Rusk, Ambassador Dean had requested that the Vice President or Ambassador Goldberg visit the United Kingdom for talks as a result of “increasing difficulty over the Vietnam problem” faced by his government. A memorandum of the conversation is ibid., Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S.
  3. Wilson’s account of negotiations with Kosygin, February 6-13, 1967, is in The Labour Government, 1964-1970, pp. 345-365.
  4. Transmitted in telegram Vipto 62 from Bonn, April 5. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 67 D 586, CF 143)
  5. Memoranda of conversation are ibid., CF 142, and Department of State, Bruce Diaries: Lot 64 D 327.