147. Telegram From Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State 1

Secto 10. Eyes Only for President and Acting Secretary from Secretary.

Vice President and I accompanied by Ambassador Bowles spent an hour and a half with Kosygin this afternoon. Translation cut conversation to 45 minutes talking time. Here are my most immediate impressions pending more detailed memorandum of conversation.2

Kosygin’s general attitude was direct, reasonably relaxed, and with a certain friendly informality in demeanor. Only occasionally did he slip into traditional Moscow verbiage such as “highway men” and “pirates” on which he was promptly picked up.
The most important aspect of conversation was what he did not say. There were no threats, nothing bordering on ultimatums, no declarations about increased Soviet assistance to Hanoi, or elements of that sort. That may come later but he did not produce them today.
He showed some reluctance to talk about Viet Nam and did not go into any details about specific points of settlement. He made it clear that he had no mandate from Hanoi, that he did not represent Hanoi, and that he was not a messenger for Hanoi or for us. He said we would have to find our own channels.
He made the usual point that this was an indigenous Vietnamese affair and that we should stay out of it. He was reminded that [Page 368]divided states such as Germany, Korea and Viet Nam present a special problem and that the attempt to use force in any of these divided states across demarcation lines was just as serious a threat to the peace as aggression across established national frontiers.
Kosygin also remarked that we thought that we were being “noble” in withholding bombing which we had no right to do anyhow and that our act appeared to be an ultimatum. I gave him a very frank statement on the background of the present pause, pointing out that the governments of the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Rumania and others have been telling us for months that there was no possibility of taking steps towards peace while the bombs were falling in the North. I recounted that we had asked for months for some hint or indication or suggestion of what would happen if we stopped the bombing but had received no answer at all except that Gromyko had said “Stop and see”, and that Hungary had said, with Soviet knowledge, that they were convinced that “something good” would happen. I told him that we had decided to find out. I told him that we had thus far had no reply through any channel to our peace efforts and that we had observed that North Viet Nam was continuing to infiltrate and could count considerable numbers of trucks moving south.
He offered nothing on Shelepin’s visit and gave no specific answer to questions about procedure, namely, how they thought future contacts with Hanoi could best be handled. I would gather from his treatment of these subjects that (a) the collective leadership in Moscow has had no chance to consider the results of Shelepin’s visit, (b) he already knew Shelepin got nowhere in Hanoi, or (c) that he had not been informed about the closing day or so of Shelepin’s visit.
In sum, I would think that our talk today represented little or no change in the problem as we know it except that it was of some importance that he did not approach the issue in belligerent tones as between the Soviet Union and the US but rather as an issue between Hanoi and the US.
I have not taken time to detail the statements made by Vice President and myself but I would compliment the Vice President in his presentation of your own position. We left with Kosygin full copy of your State of the Union message.3
It was interesting that Kosygin was especially anxious that our talk not be represented to the press as a negotiation on Viet Nam. He was most insistent that it be described simply as a courtesy visit during which the two sides exchanged views on matters of common concern. [Page 369]Obviously he did not wish to expose himself to Peiping and Hanoi on this point and I would suggest that we not ourselves disclose the substance of the talk nor let it be built up as an interview of major importance. My guess is that we shall hear more from Moscow when their various travelers get home and can compare notes with Shelepin.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 347, CF 86. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Pinta. Drafted by Rusk. Rusk was in New Delhi January 12–13 to attend the funeral of Indian Prime Minister Shastri. He returned to Washington January 19.
  2. Not found.
  3. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966, Book I, pp. 3–12.