163. Letter From the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (Fulbright) to President Johnson 1

Dear Mr. President:

On June 17 I wrote Mike Mansfield expressing the hope that there might be a fresh look at the Consular Convention in view of your recent comments about the importance of building bridges to the East and other signs that we would like to move toward a relaxation of tensions [Page 398]in our relations with the Soviet Union.2 I said in my letter that I knew a Senate vote would be close and that this might be a hard decision in an election year, but that if J. Edgar Hoover could be persuaded to qualify his comments about the espionage risks he feels Soviet Consulates represent,3 if the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency were willing to do some quiet work in the Senate, and if Senator Dirksen could be convinced that the Convention was in the national interest, it would be possible for the Senate to muster the necessary two-thirds vote.

Mike replied in a letter of June 234 that although he believed personally that the Convention was in the national interest and should be ratified, his judgment was that the Convention would lead to acrimonious debate in the Senate and would fail to obtain a two-thirds vote.

I know that you are firmly dedicated to the proposition that it is in the interest of the United States to improve relations with the Soviet Union in fields where there is a possibility to do so. It seems to me that the Consular Convention is clearly in our interest. Not only is it primarily our travelers in the Soviet Union who will be the beneficiaries but I would think that we would derive comparably greater intelligence benefits from opening consulates in the Soviet Union than the Soviets would by opening consulates here. Most importantly, of course, the Convention would also serve the higher purpose of improving the atmosphere of United States-Soviet relations at a time when such improvement is badly needed.

Hence, I am writing to offer you my full support in securing ratification of the Convention. I feel that I have a responsibility to do whatever I can to obtain a two-thirds majority for the Convention.

As you know, opposition to the treaty was mobilized by various conservative groups relying for their principal authority on statements by J. Edgar Hoover. I cannot help but think that if Mr. Hoover were to consider the national interest of the United States, he would conclude that the advantages to the United States far outweigh the fact that the [Page 399]Federal Bureau of Investigation will be faced with the responsibility of controlling the activities of a few more intelligence agents.

I want you to know that I stand ready to do anything that I can do to help you on this matter.5

Sincerely yours,

JW Fulbright
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Legislative Background File, Consular Treaty. No classification marking.
  2. Fulbright’s June 17 letter to Mansfield was forwarded to the President by Bator under cover of a June 21 memorandum in which Bator stated: “This is an odd about-face by the Senator. Until now, he has taken a consistently gloomy view of getting the convention through. His letter comes close to a damn-the-torpedoes line—and puts him on record as a bridge-builder (and the President on the spot.) The truth is that it would be bad foreign policy, as well as bad domestic politics, to take a chance, go for broke—and lose.”
  3. Reference is to Hoover’s testimony on March 4, 1965, before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, in which he stated that the establishment of new Soviet consulates would make the work of the FBI more difficult since it would increase Soviet opportunities to carry on intelligence and espionage operations.
  4. Not found.
  5. A note attached to Fulbright’s letter, prepared by secretary Vicki McCammon, indicates that, upon reading the letter on July 7, the President instructed her to tell Walt Rostow to tell Ball to go see Fulbright and inform him that the President, like Fulbright, wished they could get a two-thirds vote. Ball was also to tell Fulbright that “Hoover is not the cause of this-nor is he [Johnson] influenced by anyone in Washington,” just as he assumes “Fulbright is not influenced by anyone in Washington.” A second note attached to Fulbright’s letter indicates that the President’s wishes were relayed to Rostow on July 7.