(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of this volume.)

Since 1861, the Department of State’s documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States has constituted the official record of the foreign policy and diplomacy of the United States. Historians in the Office of the Historian collect, arrange, and annotate the principal documents that make up the record of American foreign policy. The standards for the preparation of the series and the general deadlines for its publication are established by the Foreign Relations of the United States statute of October 28, 1991 (22 USC 4351, et seq.). Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all the necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed.

The documents in this volume are drawn from the centralized indexed files of the Department of State and the decentralized Bureau, Office, and other lot files of the relevant Departmental units. The editors also make extensive use of Presidential and other papers at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, as well as recordings of President Johnson’ telephone conversations. In addition, the volume includes records of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Almost all of the documents printed here were originally classified. The Information Response Branch of the Office of IRM Programs and Services, Bureau of Administration, Department of State, in concert with the appropriate offices in other agencies or governments, carried out the declassification of the selected documents.

This volume complements coverage of Soviet-related issues in other Foreign Relations volumes on the Lyndon Johnson administration. In particular, it supplements the treatment of arms control in Volume XI, national security policy in Volume X, Eastern Europe in Volume XVII, and Vietnam in Volumes IVII. For the full context of U.S.-Soviet relations in these years, readers are encouraged to consult these other volumes.

The following is a summary of the important issues covered in the volume. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text.


During the Johnson presidency the United States and the Soviet Union negotiated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, concluded several accords of lesser magnitude, and managed to avoid confrontation during a period of instability in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, but it was not a period of substantial forward movement in U.S.-Soviet relations. U.S. policymakers had only modest expectations at the outset, and these were jolted by Nikita Khrushchev’ ouster in 1964 and dampened considerably by the hostile reaction of his successors to the escalation of the Vietnam war. Relations deteriorated during 1965 and approached a freeze on the Soviets’ part for much of the following 2 years, although a convergence of national interests did produce agreements on some issues, and in 1967 the leaders of the two nations held a summit meeting at Glassboro, New Jersey. During the last 2 years of his presidency Johnson pressed the Kremlin for a strategic arms control agreement, but the Soviet leaders delayed it by linking it to settlements in the Middle East and Vietnam. In August 1968, on the eve of the announcement of formal talks and a summit, Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. The White House’ fading hopes for a summit were undercut even further in November by the election of Richard Nixon, who had plans of his own for negotiating with the Soviet Union and made sure that Moscow knew it.

Opening Moves: The Johnson Administration and the Kremlin

As 1963 drew to a close, Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin proposed that President Johnson and Chairman Khrushchev hold a summit meeting in 1964. In January, however, Johnson’ national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, told Dobrynin that a summit would be hard to arrange given the “great political difficulties standing between the President and a trip outside the country.” In any case, he did not think it advisable unless they found some “very large new step forward” that was not then on the horizon. At the same time, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, in a talk with NATO General Secretary Paul-Henri Spaak, saw only modest possibilities of solving bilateral problems with the Soviets and little prospect of any far-reaching multilateral agreements. (5–7)

The intelligence input to U.S. policymaking supported Rusk’ limited expectation of diplomatic advances with the Soviet Union. The CIA reported in January 1964 that Khrushchev wanted to finance a new program to modernize Soviet farming in part from large and long-term Western credits. It assumed that Moscow would try to hold down defense and space outlays so as to release scarce resources for investment in the civilian economy. The CIA cautioned, however, that this would only help to soften the tone of Soviet foreign policy and would not lead to major concessions of substance. A second CIA study issued a month later reiterated that Khrushchev wished to economize on defense and needed an improved international climate to do so but that basic settlements with the West depended on more fundamental shifts in Soviet outlook than any then in prospect. The study rated Khrushchev’ power position as strong enough to keep his somewhat conciliatory foreign policy on track over the next year or so. (4, 11)

Rusk continued to doubt the Soviet capacity for flexibility in spite of Moscow’ bids to reduce cold war tensions by establishing closer economic ties. Alexsei Kosygin, then Soviet First Deputy Premier, received Under Secretary of Commerce Clarence Martin in March 1964 and expressed interest in a long-term trade agreement and credits. Kosygin proposed that headway in political matters and trade be parallel. When Rusk and Kosygin met at the funeral of Indian President Nehru in May, Kosygin complained that the U.S. Government and Rusk personally were impeding the development of U.S.-Soviet trade. Rusk later saw David Rockefeller on the eve of the U.S. financier’ trip to Moscow and stated that various problems made a large increase in bilateral trade unlikely for some time. Rusk was convinced that the Soviets were unwilling to make political concessions for any trade benefits. (14, 33, 40)

Johnson and Khrushchev exchanged confidential messages during 1964, which the Soviet leader called “our dialogue.” Differences ran deep over the German question, with feelings especially strong over two incidents in which American planes flew into Soviet-patrolled East German airspace and were shot down. However, self-congratulatory notes were struck about a mutual cutback in the production of plutonium and uranium-235 for military purposes and a joint study of the problem of desalting sea water. Khrushchev proposed a gradual reduction in the level of Soviet and U.S. armed forces in Europe, assuring that he would soon reduce by 15,000 the Soviet troop strength beyond the Soviet Union’ borders in Europe. (1, 21, 27, 28, 36)

The U.S. presidential campaign brought a pause to East-West negotiations in late summer 1964. The administration chose not to press for Senate action to ratify the U.S.-Soviet Consular Convention lest its consideration in a pre-election period trigger a controversy with Republican Party hardliners over Soviet-American relations. Dobrynin indicated in a telephone conversation with Johnson that Khrushchev supported his candidacy but that the Soviets would not interfere in the campaign; Bundy had urged the latter course in an earlier conversation with Dobrynin. (37, 39, 43, 45)

Khrushchev’ Downfall and First Contacts With His Successors

Johnson was heading for a decisive victory at the polls when Khrushchev unexpectedly left the political scene. U.S. analysts dismissed the official explanation of Khrushchev’s resignation for—reasons of health and old age—emphasizing instead internal Soviet discontent with his erratic leadership style and his restructuring of the CPSU apparatus, opposition to his advocacy of giving consumer goods priority over military programs, and distress at Moscow’ loss of leadership of the world Communist movement. (51–54, 57, 59) Dobrynin met with Johnson to assure him that peaceful coexistence and relaxation of tensions were still the basic aims of Soviet foreign policy. Ambassador at Large Llewellyn Thompson, however, briefed the Congressional leadership to the effect that Khrushchev’ successors would likely follow a more orthodox Communist line. U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Foy Kohler agreed that the new regime would not be as enthusiastic as Khrushchev’ in seeking areas of common interest with the United States. He anticipated a Soviet turn to a more formal style of diplomacy, with an end to Khrushchev’ impromptu remarks on policy issues. Kohler, however, believed that Moscow would be more careful to avoid moves that could spark direct military clashes between the two superpowers. (55, 56, 61, 65) Thompson, regardless of his forebodings, told Secretary Rusk that a serious attempt should be made to develop trade relations with the Soviet Union. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko personally asked Rusk if the United States was willing to consider a trade agreement. Rusk again stressed the political and technical roadblocks. (66, 75)

In his State of the Union address in January 1965, President Johnson expressed the hope that the new Soviet leaders would visit the United States. Bundy assured Dobrynin that the President meant every word of it, and Johnson confirmed it in a message to the Soviet Government. (82, 85) Dobrynin told Thompson that he was sure that the Soviet Government would favor a Johnson trip to the Soviet Union. A February 1 message from the Soviet leadership invited the President to the Soviet Union “on a State visit” in return for Khrushchev’ to the United States in 1959. (87, 90)

Vietnam and the Deterioration of Relations

The Soviet line stiffened after Johnson ordered air strikes against Hanoi, which Kosygin was then visiting, in reprisal for a Communist military attack in South Vietnam. A Soviet oral message stressed the “obvious contradiction” between the U.S desire for a summit and the action taken in Vietnam. On February 9 and March 4, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was attacked by mobs that were clearly acting under official guidance to protest the American bombings in North Vietnam. Brezhnev openly castigated the American “aggressors” in Vietnam as barbarians and bandits. Dobrynin told Rusk that U.S. actions were at odds with the administration’ statements of intent to improve relations with the Soviet Union and were undermining the very foundation of those relations, peaceful coexistence. Dobrynin warned that the Soviet Union would help to defend North Vietnam. (91, 92, 99, 100, 104, 105)

U.S. analysts identified Sino-Soviet rivalry inside the world Communist movement as the catalyst to Moscow’ tougher stance. The State Department’ Policy Planning Council argued in a February 1965 memorandum that Khrushchev’ successors were bent on competing with China for the loyalty of militant Communist parties and were ready to sacrifice U.S.-Soviet détente if necessary. Thus, it was asserted, the Soviet Union had abandoned Khrushchev’ policy of disengagement from Indochina. Ambassador Kohler opined in April that the Kremlin had decided several months earlier that its struggle with China forced it to play a more active role in Southeast Asia even if it caused relations with the United States to deteriorate. (96, 105, 106, 110)

Whatever the weight of the China factor in Soviet decision-making, Moscow stood by Hanoi and indicated its disinclination to do business with the United States. Ambassador at Large W. Averell Harriman reported from Moscow in July that, during a 3-hour conversation, Kosygin was “completely negative” and “at times insulting.” Kosygin told Kohler that progress in U.S.-Soviet relations was possible only if the President could “extract himself from Vietnam.” Kohler reported in August 1965 that his Embassy’ activities since February were best described as a “holding action” designed to minimize long-term damage, inasmuch as the Soviet Government had applied a “freeze” to U.S.-Soviet relations as a result of the war. The CIA concluded in November that the Soviets “will probably maintain the current ‘freeze’ in relations with the US, as long as their new line in Vietnam seems to be paying dividends within the Communist world.” State Department analysts judged the hardening of the Soviets’ demeanor “more as a tactic than a fundamental reorientation of policy.” (118, 119, 121, 134, 139)

A “Controlled” Freeze

The year 1966 saw an extension of the Soviet freeze and continued public vilification of the United States by the Soviets over U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Yet it was a “controlled” freeze, observed U.S. Embassy officials in Moscow, in which the Soviets were prepared to make exceptions for initiatives they considered overwhelmingly in their national interest. On issues in which there was a convergence of national interests, some headway was made. The two countries signed a new Cultural Exchanges Agreement and the long pending Civil Air Agreement–“minor matters” in Gromyko’ words–and by late 1966 had made modest progress in discussions of nuclear non-proliferation and significant strides in negotiating the Outer Space Treaty. The Soviets pursued the latter in spite of Vietnam, contended Kohler, because they could not afford an arms race with the United States in space. The Outer Space Treaty was signed on January 27, 1967. (154, 164, 172, 173, 186, 189)

In January 1967 Thompson replaced Kohler as Ambassador to the Soviet Union under express instructions, the President told Kosygin, to improve relations and initiate discussions of a possible understanding to curb the strategic arms race. Walt Rostow, Bundy’ successor as national security adviser, suggested to Dobrynin that such a curb might encourage other nations to join in a non-proliferation agreement. During the same month, the President mounted a campaign to win Senate ratification of the languishing Consular Convention, which succeeded in March. When asked by Dobrynin what lay behind the campaign, Rostow responded that progress in the non-proliferation discussions had sparked a growing sense that it was a propitious time to “create a good atmosphere” in U.S.-Soviet relations. Kosygin for his part told Thompson that he also wanted a relaxation of tensions and informed the President that he was willing to discuss strategic nuclear weapons. (192, 193, 197, 199, 203, 207) Dobrynin warned Thompson, however, that the question foremost on everyone’ mind in Moscow remained Vietnam, and that U.S. peace moves were seen as merely a screen to cover U.S. escalation of the war. A CIA estimate issued in May advised that the Soviets had probably concluded that they had no alternative for the time being but to help Hanoi carry on the war. (211, 213)

Soviet officials periodically bristled at the U.S. practice of welcoming Soviet defectors. In 1966 Dobrynin had protested to Rusk that the United States was quick to get hold of Soviet defectors overseas and fly them to America. A furor arose in March 1967 when the late Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’ daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, walked into the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and requested political asylum. After she was granted a visitor’ visa to enter America, the Soviet Government complained that U.S. behavior was hostile and she was being incited to make anti-Soviet statements. Moscow later charged that the planned release of a book by Alliluyeva on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution was proof that the United States was exploiting her for propaganda purposes. In part to avoid unnecessary complications in U.S.-Soviet relations, the State Department decided in December 1967 to adopt the policy that Moscow should be notified of Soviet defectors to the United States and that arrangements would be made for a “confrontation” of the defectors with Soviet representatives if the Soviet Government requested. (156, 208, 210, 216, 240, 243, 259)

The Glassboro Summit

Both sides wished to project an image of reasonableness after the latest military clash between their allies in the Middle East, the Six-Day War, which erupted in early June 1967. Johnson and Kosygin conferred later that month in a hastily arranged summit meeting at Glassboro, New Jersey, in connection with Kosygin’ attendance at a special session of the UN General Assembly devoted to the Middle East situation. Johnson’ advisers did not expect much in the way of substance to come out of the meeting but maintained that it would at least avoid all the negative consequences of not meeting and would give each man an opportunity to get a measure of the other. (221–223) Although Johnson found Kosygin friendly, even “jolly,” the talks were inconclusive. “It was just largely conversation–pleasant, no vitriolic stuff,” Johnson told former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. On the Middle East, Kosygin insisted on the immediate and full withdrawal of Israeli troops and spurned Johnson’ proposal for a full disclosure of arms shipments to the region and an agreement not to ship arms. Johnson pressed Kosygin on cutting military budgets and starting arms control talks, but Kosygin doubted much could be accomplished while the Middle East and Vietnam were in turmoil, and thus he wanted those issues addressed first. On Vietnam Kosygin assured Johnson that if he halted the bombing the North Vietnamese would go immediately to the conference table, but Johnson questioned whether the North Vietnamese might escalate the ground war if the bombing stopped. Kosygin remained silent on Johnson’ request that Cuban leader Fidel Castro be persuaded to stop encouraging guerrilla operations in Latin America, a matter Johnson viewed as “extremely important.” (229–235, 237, 238)

Relations on “Dead Center”

In the months following the Glassboro meeting, U.S. and Soviet officials continued to exchange views on a variety of multilateral and bilateral issues, from the Middle East and Vietnam to arms control and new embassy sites, but relations remained essentially on dead center. Dobrynin told Kohler that there was really no fixed policy in Moscow, that everything was discussed on an ad hoc basis, but that the posture was to handle U.S. relations in “low key” as long as the war in Vietnam lasted. At year’s end Thompson characterized his first year back in Moscow as a holding operation: “no hits, no runs, and I hope no errors.” U.S. officials in both Washington and Moscow ascribed the impasse not only to Vietnam but also to the cautious, suspicious, ideology-driven character of the Soviet leadership. As 1968 began the two countries continued to maintain discreet contacts on urgent issues like the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but Soviet accommodation with the United States was expected to be incremental at best, with only slight prospects for a strategic arms control agreement. (245, 247, 258–261, 265)

Strategic Arms Control and the Abortive Summit

Johnson still wanted a direct encounter with Kosygin to moderate the nuclear arms race. In January 1968 Rusk instructed Thompson to tell Kosygin that Johnson believed that it was in their mutual interest to begin official talks on limiting nuclear arms in order to resolve the problem at the earliest practicable moment. In June 1968 Kosygin finally agreed to hold talks on limiting and reducing both offensive strategic nuclear weapons and anti-ballistic missile defense systems. The two leaders issued statements to that effect on July 1, the day the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed. That same day Dobrynin and Rusk conferred to lay the groundwork for a Johnson-Kosygin meeting in Geneva or Leningrad in July or August. A mid-July CIA analysis, however, concluded that this and other signs of change in Soviet policy did not presage very far-reaching effects for Soviet-American relations. (263, 271, 277, 278, 281)

Johnson was clearly unaware of the gravity of the situation concerning Czechoslovakia, where the reform Communist regime of Alexander Dubcek was under increasing pressure from Warsaw Pact allies to tighten its control over the reform elements. At a late July White House meeting, Defense Secretary Clark Clifford warned of possible Soviet military intervention and advised Johnson against rushing to parley with Kosygin. Nevertheless, plans for both a summit and arms control talks moved ahead. On August 19 the Soviet leaders invited Johnson to visit Leningrad in early October to discuss “questions of mutual interest,” and in a message to the President the next day Kosygin proposed that special delegations begin strategic arms control talks in Geneva on September 30. The White House decided to announce the summit on August 21 and to indicate that the two leaders would consult not only on strategic arms but also on Vietnam, the Middle East, implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and a variety of bilateral matters. On August 20, however, Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia, and the announcement was postponed. The United States protested the action at the United Nations, and U.S. officials in Moscow were advised to keep all contacts with Soviet authorities to a minimum. (282, 286, 288, 289)

Czechoslovakia notwithstanding, Johnson was reluctant to drop the idea of a Soviet summit. In September he instructed both Thompson and Rostow to sound out Dobrynin about initiating missile talks at the “highest level.” The Soviet Government responded positively to the idea of a summit, which would include discussion of Vietnam and the Middle East, as well as strategic arms. While the two sides carried on an intensive exchange of views on issues to be discussed, some doubts were expressed in Washington. Rostow warned that proper atmospherics had to include the Kremlin setting a date for the withdrawal of its troops from Czechoslovakia. Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Sovietologist Charles E. Bohlen told Rusk that a summit would be widely regarded as condoning the Soviet action in Czechoslovakia and would undercut U.S. attempts to strengthen NATO. (292, 294, 296, 297, 311)

Planning for a summit was complicated in early November by Republican Richard Nixon’ election as President, but Rostow reported in mid-November, following a discussion with Dobrynin, that Moscow was “clearly ready to go” if Johnson could work it out. Their reasons, Rostow told the President, were “similar to our own”—keep the momentum on missiles going into the next administration and create a good backdrop for moving ahead with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. At a late November White House meeting, Rusk and Clifford advised Johnson to proceed with the summit despite the election results, lest momentum be lost. “It could be a year before a Nixon team is ready to do this,” Clifford stated. Nixon was informed of the administration’ intentions. In Moscow a skeptical Thompson met with Gromyko to discuss the summit, which the United States envisioned convening in Geneva on December 16 and 17, but no firm response was forthcoming from the Kremlin. By December 11, with less than 6 weeks left in the administration, the White House finally cooled to the idea, guessing that the Soviet leaders had too. Moreover, by then, Nixon had already made known to Moscow that he “seriously objected” to the idea. And a week later Henry Kissinger, Nixon’ designee as national security adviser, told a Soviet Embassy official in Washington that the only purpose of a summit meeting before January 20 would be “propaganda to embarrass the new Administration.” The Nixon administration was very interested in serious talks on strategic missiles and other issues, Kissinger assured the official, and wanted to achieve “lasting settlements.” By agreeing to such a summit, he maintained, the Soviet Government would fail a crucial test of its intentions to improve relations with the United States. (318, 322, 324, 326, 327, 330, 334, 335)