172. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read) to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • U.S.-Soviet Civil Air Agreement

Following your luncheon discussion yesterday with Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara about possible early action to conclude the U.S.-Soviet Air Agreement, Secretary Rusk asked for an urgent review of this matter to see if there were any factors which should be brought to his attention and yours since July 15, 1966, when the Secretary recommended in a memorandum to the President2 that we be authorized to inform the Soviet Government that we were willing to sign the Agreement.

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Ambassador Kohler’s views were sought,3 and, as you know, he has stated that the chances of early Soviet agreement are “slightly under 50–50”, but that we should proceed now to advise the Soviets of our willingness to sign as evidence of the sincerity of our stated desire to maintain normal relations with the USSR. (Moscow 1053)4

The Bureau of European Affairs concurs with the Ambassador’s views and notes that after five years delay in signing the Agreement, its use as a bargaining item has long since become counter-productive; that maximum usefulness from the Agreement is obtainable in the present context—as a sweetener in a prolonged stand-off situation. Soviet rejection or procrastination to an overture would not be disadvantageous, although this of course is not our objective.

In the present world situation and following the signing of the Canadian-USSR Agreement, there is a reasonable likelihood that other Governments will not misconstrue or overreact to an American initiative in this field. Assistant Secretary Gordon reports that there are no new factors in the Latin American sphere that need to be noted since the Secretary made his recommendation on July 15.

When last consulted earlier this summer, Pan American Airlines, the American carrier which would carry out the Agreement on our side, felt that flights to Moscow would probably not be profitable for some time to come, but on balance saw some advantage in serving Moscow. After the Agreement is signed, Pan Am would probably wish to have discussions with the Soviet carrier, Aeroflot, regarding intermediate stops, to improve profits of the operation. We are not aware of what the Soviet attitude would be to such a request except for a not-discouraging Soviet response to informal mention of this possibility by Juan Trippe in Moscow last June.

In one regard there is more justification for implementation of the Agreement now (for the 1967 tourist season) than when it was negotiated and initialled in 1961. Over 20,000 Americans now visit the USSR each year; many would be convenienced by implementation of such an agreement.

We have not made a formal effort to obtain the views of various agencies of the U.S. Government or various parts of the Department since 1963. At that time the JCS objected, but the Department of Defense overruled the Chiefs and interposed no objection to the Agreement. The FAA, CAB, and the Department of Commerce expressed no opposition. We know that the FAA would now like to make one relatively small technical change in the separate “Agreed Minute” but this [Page 415]can probably be done fairly simply and need not be a preliminary requirement for signing the Agreement.

On the basis of the foregoing the Secretary has suggested that we propose to the President that he authorize the Department of State to consult immediately with interested Congressional leaders, including Senators Fulbright, Hickenlooper, MAGNUSON, and Monroney. If Congressional attitudes seemed to warrant it, we would then request highest level authorization to permit us to instruct Ambassador Kohler to inform the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs of our interest in proceeding with the signing of the Agreement and suggesting that this be done by Secretary Rusk and Foreign Minister Gromyko in New York at the time of the convening of the General Assembly.5

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President-Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 12. Secret; Exdis. Rostow forwarded Read’s memorandum to the President under cover of a September 1 memorandum summarizing its contents. (Ibid.)
  2. Rusk stated that “we must find some way to give positive content to our repeated professions that we desire an improvement in bilateral relations” and that conclusion of the air agreement was the “only feasible proposal.” (Ibid.) However, according to Rostow’s September 1 memorandum (see footnote 1 above), after making the recommendation Rusk “then asked that it be held up because of troubles with the Soviet Union over the track meet, our cultural agreement, etc.”
  3. Telegram 38129 to Moscow, August 30. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, AV 4 USUSSR)
  4. Dated August 31. (Ibid.)
  5. In his September 1 memorandum Rostow gave Johnson three options in response: “Permit State to consult Congressional Leaders,” “Disapprove,” and “See me.” The latter was checked. Written in an unidentified hand at the top of Rostow’s memorandum is, “Why do Joint Chiefs of Staff object?” In a September 3 memorandum to Johnson, Rostow summarized the JCS objections as stated in 1963 and the Department of State’s response and proposed a Tuesday lunch meeting with Rusk and McNamara to “walk around this once more before instructing Sect. Rusk to begin Congressional consultations.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 12) No record of the luncheon meeting on September 6 has been found, but on September 12 Rusk informed the President that the consultations with Congressional leaders had found general support for signing the agreement. (Memorandum to the President; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 74 D 164) The following day Kohler was instructed to inform Gromyko of this and to suggest that Gromyko and Rusk might sign the agreement when they were both in New York. (Telegram 46389 to Moscow; ibid., Central Files 1964–66, AV 4 USUSSR)