297. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President, British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart, Ambassador Dean, Walt Rostow, Ed Fried

The President welcomed Stewart and expressed satisfaction with his close relations with Prime Minister Wilson. He asked Stewart whether there was any news from Gibraltar.2

Stewart said that the Prime Minister believed that the only way to see whether there was any basis for agreement was to see Smith. He would keep us fully informed.

Stewart went on to say that the debate in the UN was dominated by the Czechoslovakia and Middle East discussions. On the Middle East there had been a great deal of private talk to see what could be done to advance the Jarring Mission.3

The President said he had tried to encourage both sides to support Jarring. He believed the Eban speech suggested some progress.

Stewart said that Eban had complained to him that the rest of the world too easily accepted the proposition that there should not be direct negotiation. Stewart had tried to impress on Eban the need for the Israelis to declare themselves on the Security Council resolution. Eban said he would consider this with the objective of laying the base for talks with Jordan—first through Jarring and then directly.

The President said Jarring would fail unless the two sides began to move. Jarring had been patient but he couldn’t continue indefinitely without movement.

Rostow suggested that Jarring might be somewhat more optimistic than he sounds. He may be using his pessimism as a lever to push for negotiations.

The President turned to Czechoslovakia and said it was essential that the world wake up to the danger before it was too late.

Stewart said some talk was a necessary part of the response. That was why the British had wanted to move quickly to the Security Council— [Page 629] to show that not only NATO but the interests of the world were involved in the Czech invasion. The Afro-Asian countries automatically gravitated to the Soviet pole on this kind of issue: how would they act on this one?

The President asked Stewart’s views on the Gromyko speech to the UN.4

Stewart said it was cautious and made clear that the Russians faced a difficult problem. Their objective was to act as though nothing had happened, and they particularly wanted to create this impression as far as their relations with the U.S. were concerned. We, on the other hand, cannot say we will have no further dealings with them. We do have problems we must solve together, and we should get on with disarmament matters. It is a difficult line to draw but we must continually remind them and the world of what they have done. Even more serious, we must think very hard about what we would do if there are any further adventures.

The President said he was very concerned about the possibility of isolationism in the U.S. and the effects on keeping our troops in Europe. He said the British withdrawals hadn’t helped. Czechoslovakia provided some time. It was necessary now to use that time well. Our people have gotten the impression that others are not pulling their share of the load. He was confident that we could stay in Europe indefinitely if others showed they were helping.

Stewart said he understood this and the British were acting to strengthen NATO. He said he wanted to raise another question—the concern that smaller European countries had over U.S. negotiations with the Russians. He said some matters clearly affected primarily the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Some, on the other hand, affected NATO as a whole. There was a feeling among smaller NATO countries that these latter issues would be settled over their heads. Would it be possible to draw a dividing line between those issues we settle bilaterally and those on which we would consult fully?

The President said he had tried very hard over five years to make some progress with the USSR and to see what could be done to narrow our differences in defensive arrangements, in offensive and defensive weapons, in the NPT. He said that there had been meetings at the Ambassadorial and Ministerial levels and at the Summit and there had been a lot of personal correspondence. He did not see very strong promise of our getting anywhere with this during the balance of the year. The next President would have to explore this again and make careful preparations. This would take time. On all these issues we had [Page 630] and would continue to get the advice of the UK and all NATO countries and to keep them informed.

He went on to say that there had been progress on some issues in Glassboro and up through the day before the Czechoslovakian invasion; but he was not optimistic now. He repeated that we would not see anybody or take any action without full consultation and exchange with our Allies. Talks had been long overdue in the ABM field but this issue was now on the back burner. He had no desire to travel but he was eager to move forward on U.S. business and on the world’s business; but progress was not likely now until after the election and probably not until six months after the new President came into office.

Stewart asked whether he believed there would be significant change in the defense and foreign policy positions in the U.S. after the election. The President thought there would be some rethinking. For example, a Republican President and a Democratic Senate could have awkward consequences. A Democratic President with Republican gains in the Congress could cause problems. He read Stewart a portion of the NPT statement he was about to make, which mentioned the possibility that he would call the Congress back into session.5

Stewart asked whether the President thought that ratification of the Treaty would come eventually. The President said he could not predict but he was concerned. It was important that we move. The longer we waited the more the issue would be in doubt.

Stewart asked whether the President saw any change in our Vietnam policy after a new Administration came into office. The President said that any new Administration would take a new look. As far as he was concerned he was convinced that whatever concessions we would make would never be enough unless we got some indication that they were prepared to do something. It didn’t have to be reciprocal. We would be willing to stop if they understood that if they started shelling cities or increasing activity in the DMZ we would resume bombing and if they accepted the GVN as a negotiating partner—a condition essential for serious and productive discussions of a settlement.

Stewart said that the British fully supported the President’s position, but they would have difficulty if the Americans abandoned it without warning. In that context, he asked whether Vice President Humphrey’s most recent statement represented a change.6 The President said that he believed that Humphrey tried to say that he would [Page 631] stop the bombing if they restored the DMZ. His emphasis created some doubt. In the end, however, he did not believe that the position was different. In any event, there would be no change until January 20.

Stewart said it was their impression that the Soviet leaders visiting Cambodia intended to put some pressure on the North Vietnamese.7 The President said that he was not much of an authority on North Vietnam. He had thought for a long time that, faced with their prospects, they would make some move. Sometimes he had thought they were moving, only to be disappointed. He believed and continued to believe that it is in their interest to make a move. They will not gain anything until January 20, and what they might gain after that will not be worth what they will be losing until then.

Stewart said that when he saw Gromyko following the President’s March 31 statement8 he had urged him to tell the North Vietnamese that they would be wrong if they thought they could alter public opinion in their favor by holding out. He told Gromyko that he thought the effects would be the other way. And he believed that this, in fact, had been the case. But he asked whether the Russians had talked to the North Vietnamese on this and how much influence they had. The President said he did not know. He had thought that Glassboro and other talks might have some results; but this did not prove to be the case.

Stewart again went back to the question of contingency planning regarding further Soviet moves. He said he believed the Russians fully understood what would happen if they moved against any NATO countries. They probably also were pretty confident that if they moved against Warsaw Pact countries they probably would not get a strong NATO response. But what happened in the intermediate cases? What would we really do and what tactics should we employ to tell the Russians? The President agreed that it was important that we work hard on this kind of contingency planning and move along with it.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, UK, Vol. 14. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Fried.
  2. Reference is to October 9-13 talks between Wilson and Prime Minister Ian Smith on the H.M.S. Fearless anchored at Gibraltar.
  3. Between January and May 1968, Gunnar Jarring, UN Special Representative in the Middle East, met with Arab and Israeli officials in Cyprus. After his return to New York, Jarring continued secret discussions relating to a Middle East peace settlement.
  4. For text of the October 3 speech, see UN doc. A/PV. 1679.
  5. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pp. 1029-1030.
  6. Reference is to a September 30 statement by the Vice President that if elected he would stop the bombing of North Vietnam if its government gave signs it was ready to negotiate seriously for an end to the conflict.
  7. Not further identified.
  8. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book I, pp. 469-476.