136. Memorandum for the Files1

The President received me shortly before 12:30 and I remained with him for approximately one hour and a quarter.2 At the outset, while the photographers were at work, I expressed my pleasure at seeing him looking so well. I added that an additional reason for my pleasure was that my wife had just undergone abdominal surgery and was trying to emulate his example of getting well fast.

The President then read briefing memoranda drafted by Mr. Francis Bator of the White House staff as well as by the Department in preparation for the President’s meeting with me.3 He then invited me to report. I related some of the difficulties involved in maintaining a holding operation in Moscow during the year since I last talked with him.4 I said that I was sure that the posture of continued interest in improvement [Page 342] in our relations with the Soviets had been the correct one during the past year. I had been sorry, however, that it had been necessary to postpone specific actions, such as ratification of the Consular Convention, implementation of the Civil Air Agreement and the East-West trade legislation which would provide a basis for trade talks with the Soviets.

The President commented that the climate had been made more difficult for progress on such matters by Soviet anti-American statements, which extended to personal attacks on the President and Secretary McNamara. I said I realized this and understood his difficulties in this connection. However, as he knew, Secretary Rusk in Washington and I in Moscow had made observations to the Soviets on this score and I felt there had been a diminution of the violence of the attacks during recent months. As to the specific measures on which I had suggested we should go forward, I of course bowed to his judgment as to political possibilities. However, in my view, all three of these items were more in the national interest than that of the Soviet Union. I stated my reasons in connection with each item along lines set forth in Moscow Embassy telegrams. With regard specifically to the Consular Convention prospect, I reported on my conversation with Admiral Raborn5 regarding his exchanges with FBI Director Hoover and subsequent talks with key Senators and said that some of those Senators who had opposed in the past would go along with ratification in the new session of Congress.

The President observed that the cancellation of the “Hello Dolly” show under the exchanges agreement had again raised the question of Soviet violation of their international agreements. I explained that following my intervention with Gromyko6 the Soviets had tried to escape the charge of violating an agreement by labelling their actions postponement rather than a cancellation of the “Hello Dolly” show. I went on to say that I had always believed that agreements with the Soviet Union had to be self-enforcing. I then set forth my reasons for believing that in the projected agreements I previously cited this would be the case. While I considered that the preponderant advantages were on our side because of the differing natures of the two societies and our objective of opening up the closed Soviet society, I expressed the view that the Soviet interest was important enough in these cases to impel them to observe the agreements.

The President then asked my views with respect to Soviet relations with the Chinese Communists and Vietnam. I replied along the lines [Page 343] of Moscow Embassy analyses and of my response to similar questions from Secretary McNamara, including the latter’s inquiry relating to the effect of a possible suspension of bombing. In this connection he asked about the Severeid allegations attributing to Adlai Stevenson the claim that the Soviets had informed U Thant last year Hanoi was ready to talk settlement. I said I had had no knowledge of this myself and no confirmation from Soviet sources. I commented, however, that—as I had just said in analyzing the policy of the new Soviet leadership—this approach would have come at the precise time when the Kremlin was convinced our politico-military base in South Vietnam was collapsing under us and thought it was only a matter of ushering us out.

The President inquired about the prospect of wheat sales to the Russians. I expressed the view that they would not purchase wheat this year but would seek to satisfy their needs from other sources, notably Canada, Australia, Argentina or France or, if necessary, by reneging on their outside commitments and letting other Eastern European countries turn to us instead. The President expressed full appreciation of the political and psychological factors involved and thought steps should be taken to stop misleading agitation of this question in the U.S. He told Mr. Bator to ask Mr. Bundy to take action along these lines.

The President reverted to the question of the new exchanges agreement. I gave him a run-down on the present situation, the prospect of negotiations in January, and the importance of the program to our objective of breaking down the closed Soviet society.

During a walk in the garden the President asked me many questions with respect to Soviet economic problems and the status of the leadership to which I replied along the lines of Embassy reporting on these subjects. He also asked me what I thought Senator Mansfield’s group would get in Moscow. I said I thought they would hear the same phonograph record I had been listening to for the last 10 months. The President commented, that is, no business until Vietnam is over? I replied “Yes”.

In conclusion the President said he was proud of the job that we were doing in Moscow. I replied that it was a privilege to work for him.

Foy D. Kohler 7
U.S. Ambassador to the USSR
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL USUSSR. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Kohler, who was in Washington for consultations, and cleared by Bator. Copies were sent to Thompson, Leddy, and Toon.
  2. Bator was also present during the meeting. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary)
  3. A copy of Bator’s briefing memorandum is ibid., Bator Papers, Chron File; a copy of the State Department briefing memorandum is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, PER Kohler, Foy D.
  4. On December 9, 1964, Kohler, Rusk, and Thompson met with the President for 15 minutes prior to the President’s meeting with Gromyko. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) For a memorandum of the Johnson-Gromyko conversation, see Document 78.
  5. No record of this conversation with Director of Central Intelligence Raborn has been found.
  6. See Document 123.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.