164. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1

166. Deptel 5363.2

My conversation with Gromyko is reported at length separately.3 Conversation followed the general line of reftel as necessarily modified by course of conversation. I desire, however, to make a few comments. I quite agree that Soviet action in cancelling track and field meet is an indication that they do not intend to take serious action in response to our bombing of POL North Viet-Nam.4 However, this decision [Page 400]was taken on its own merits and because of limitations in possibility of response as well as their obvious decision not to carry things so far as to commit them to direct physical conflict with us. I do not, however, regard this as a reason for not taking every action we can think of to inhibit them from destroying exchange programs.
Likewise I see no relationship whatsoever between their action in connection with the exchange program and their decision to proceed with negotiation for a treaty on celestial bodies.5 It has long been clear to me that they will avoid any new agreements whatsoever directly with us or in which we are the two principal participants, so long as Viet-Nam continues, other than those involving compelling Soviet interests (Embtel 2920, April 5, 1965).6 If they do in fact proceed to the negotiation of the treaty on celestial bodies and reasons will be unrelated either to Viet-Nam or to the exchanges agreement. Soviet leadership has a practically insoluble problem of resource distribution. It is clear that they are finding the burden of trying to rival us in military and space programs almost crushing. If they should not negotiate such a treaty, they are much more foolish than I believe them to be for they clearly cannot afford to engage in an arms race in space.
While I might have a shade of difference with respect to the reasoning of paragraph 2 in reftel, (since much of agreement could similarly be deprived of any but declaratory meaning) I consider it tactically sound and was careful in my discussion with Gromyko simply to read him the language in question which would indicate the extent of Sov Government responsibility and let him draw his own conclusions. Obviously he made no real distinction himself, while in his initial statement, he attributed the cancellation action to the feelings of the athletes. He did not pursue this line but rather indicated the action represented a deliberate decision of the Soviet Government.
I had a little more trouble, but tried even harder, to maintain the distinction with local American correspondents who pressed hard. I read to them the statement by the Dept’s spokesman (Deptel 5028),7 stressing with respect to the exchange agreement the language that Soviet action in our view only “violated spirit of agreement”. In response to further questioning, I made the distinction between contract and [Page 401]sub-contract, saying we were not charging violation of the overlying contract though the action was a clear breach of the sub-contract between the AAU and the Sov Sports Association.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, CUL 16 USSR. Secret. No time of transmission appears on the telegram; it was received in the Department of State at 1:35 p.m. on July 12.
  2. On July 11 Kohler reported that the Soviet track and field team had canceled its tour of the United States because of American atrocities in Vietnam. The Ambassador informed Washington that he intended to protest this violation of the exchange agreement and tell Gromyko that “this manifest violation of formal agreement could not but have serious consequences for US-Soviet relations.” (Telegram 161 from Moscow; ibid.) In telegram 5363, also dated July 11, and drafted by Thompson and approved by Rusk, the Department of State advised Kohler to take a lower-key approach to Gromyko since this reaction to the bombing in North Vietnam was not serious. (Ibid.)
  3. Telegram 171, July 12. (Ibid.)
  4. Regarding the U.S. decision in late June 1966 to bomb POL (petroleum, oil, and lubricants) storage installations in North Vietnam, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. IV, Document 164.
  5. In a May 7 statement President Johnson had expressed the need for a treaty governing the exploration of celestial bodies. Four days later Goldberg gave Federenko an outline of points for inclusion in such a treaty. On June 17 the Soviet Deputy Representative to the United Nations, Platon Morozov, transmitted to U Thant the Soviet draft of a celestial bodies treaty. (Ibid., vol. XI, Document 127) For documentation on negotiation of the treaty, which was signed on January 27, 1967, see ibid., volume XI.
  6. Document 105.
  7. Dated July 11. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, CUL 16 USSR)