223. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

The case for seeing Kosygin:
  • —At home it will cover your flank to the left and among the columnists. If you don’t do it, they will blame every difficulty that follows on the lack of a meeting. The Republicans will run on: I will go to Moscow.
  • —There is a 20% chance that it will have a net favorable effect in U.S.-Soviet policy;
  • —Given the present state of affairs, I think the chance is well under 10% that it could make things worse between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (The trouble with Vienna was not the meeting itself, but that Khrushchev had decided to see if he could break President Kennedy on Berlin. I do not see the Soviets in an ultimatum mood on either Viet Nam or the Middle East at the moment. There is always, of course, the chance. But if the chance exists it is because the Soviet Government, which is a collective organization, has so decided. And we might as well get it straight and soon, as obscurely and later.)

On a cold, hard, objective basis I am confident that your net impact on Kosygin (and through him on his colleagues) will be positive. I have had the privilege of seeing you deal with a wide range of governmental leaders. Your batting average justifies this confidence. Kosygin should feel both the steel and compassion; the determination and flexibility; and, above all, your willingness to treat the Soviet Union as one of the two older responsible children in the human family if they will so behave.

For these reasons, on balance, I am for the meeting, if it can be arranged in ways which leave you feeling comfortable and not cornered. That is why I support strongly Maguire Air Force Base, although it’s going to be a little tough for them to swallow.

What might come out of the meeting? Aside from your impact on Kosygin, nothing hard that they have not already decided. But it could accelerate the pace.
With respect to the Middle East, they may have decided to move in time from a straight confrontation on the question of Israeli withdrawal to playing a role in a settlement. If so, that would emerge in [Page 501] the days ahead via Gromyko. You may be able to smoke out a little in advance.
With respect to ABM-ICBM, Kosygin is in a position where he must give you a simple Yes-No answer on whether his government is willing to engage in serious talks. Again, that has probably been decided. It could be communicated diplomatically. You might, through this meeting, get authoritative word earlier than otherwise.
On the substantive side, the serious case for talking with Kosygin is Viet Nam. Frankly, I am a little impressed by the fact that the North Vietnamese have initiated contacts with us at several points. I am impressed by the fact that Kosygin dropped “permanent” from his bombing formula. It may be that our polls, which show popular support for a harder policy, have led them to believe that they will not be saved by the election of 1968; they may believe that we are about to make important decisions to increase our forces and perhaps apply more pressure against the North; that the bombing we have been doing is too unpleasant to be accepted over a period of years ahead; that there is danger, if we proceed on our present track, of either a clear-cut Hanoi defeat or a U.S./Soviet confrontation which they do not want; and that Hanoi is coming to believe that time is no longer its friend.
If there is anything at all in this line of thought then, of course, a meeting with Kosygin could be most important. And certainly the most important thing on which you must make up your mind is what you say to Kosygin—after hearing him out—on Viet Nam.
My own thoughts are not final, but here they are. You might say that he knows our commitment and our views; and that the formula of the Foreign Minister in Hanoi is not satisfactory to us. We cannot accept a stoppage of bombing simply for the possibility of talk. What are his views? If it emerges that he does not repeat the permanent formula and goes on to say he is sure talks could take place if we stop bombing unconditionally, you could then explain that so long as the DMZ is being violated you cannot make a commitment to stop bombing. You might ask him if they would respect the DMZ if we stopped bombing the North. He is most unlikely to be able to give you a definite answer on this; but he might agree to find out.

You could then indicate that there is a certain urgency in this matter. Your forces are under great pressure. They are taking heavy casualties every week. Secretary McNamara is going out to review the situation and to make recommendations. You might then add this: every mature American remembers that we lost more casualties during the Panmunjom negotiating period than we did during the Korean War. The critical question that must be answered by Hanoi is whether they are or are not willing to make peace on the basis of the 1954 and 1962 agreements and leave the South Vietnamese to settle their own political [Page 502] affairs on the basis of politics and not violence. We are looking for peace in Southeast Asia at the earliest possible time; but not on the basis of turning South Viet Nam over to North Viet Nam.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Trip to Soviet Union. Secret.