232. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • US
    • President Lyndon B. Johnson
    • William D. Krimer, Interpreter, Department of State
  • USSR
    • Alexey Kosygin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR
    • Victor Sukhodrev, Interpreter, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Kosygin informed the President in strictest confidence as follows: In anticipation of a meeting with President Johnson he had two days ago contacted Hanoi in the person of Pham Van Dong as to what he could do during his meeting with the President to help bring this war to an end. Just now, while he was having lunch with the President, a reply from Hanoi had been received. In substance, it amounted [Page 532]to the following: Stop the bombing and they would immediately go to the conference table. Mr. Kosygin did not know what the President’s views of this proposal would be, but he wanted to express his own opinion very strongly, to the effect that he thought the President should follow-up this proposal. It provided for the first time the opportunity of talking directly with Hanoi at no risk for the United States. He asked the President to recall the experience of President de Gaulle of France who had fought in Algiers for seven years and still wound up at the conference table. He was sure of the North Vietnamese will to continue to fight for many years if necessary. And what would the President accomplish? He would carry on a war for ten years or more, killing off the best of the young people of his nation. Mr. Kosygin knew that American soldiers fought well, that they knew how to fight, and that they fought willingly since they believed that they were fighting for their country. The young people of the Soviet Union in similar circumstances would also fight just as well. In his view, it was now time to end the war and to sit down at the conference table and then the President could see what would develop. This could be the very greatest problem which the two of them could resolve here together today: to end this obnoxious war and to let the rest of the world breathe easier because the danger of it spilling over into a bigger war had been removed. He repeated once again that this message was intended for the President only; that this was not to be made public in any way.

The President replied that first of all he agreed to the limitation on disseminating the information provided. Secondly, however, he asked what would happen if we went to the conference table this very minute; would this mean that fighting would continue as it had during the Korean armistice negotiations?

Chairman Kosygin replied that he would not guarantee that the war would end, neither could he guarantee however that it would escalate. With great emphasis he made the point that while the President thought he was fighting the Chinese in North Korea, Mr. Kosygin had to tell him that he was actually helping the Chinese in achieving their very worst designs.

The President said that China represented the very greatest danger to both countries at present, and that he certainly did not want to do anything that would promote Chinese policy.

Mr. Kosygin asked the President to bear in mind that this meeting between them was of an emergency nature, that time was short and that if time were available they would be able to explore the most delicate problems at greater length. While he considered North Viet-Nam’s proposal to be the President’s own business, he emphatically believed that now the President had ample reason to sit down and negotiate with North Viet-Nam. He had not wanted to take any responsibility [Page 533]upon himself in speaking on behalf of North Viet-Nam and it is for this reason that he had asked for a statement of their position and had received this reply just an hour ago. If the President could see his way clear to follow the proposal, this would be an immense step forward in the right direction. Sooner or later American forces would have to be withdrawn from Viet-Nam and it was better sooner than later. Could the President imagine what great sighs of relief would be heard throughout the world if such a truly historic decision were taken by him now. At several different times in the past, the President had sought an intermediary between the US and North Viet-Nam and had even considered using the offices of some second rate countries, which carried no weight in the world, but here and now there was an opportunity to engage in direct negotiations with Hanoi and he earnestly urged the President to weigh this possibility. Mr. Kosygin would still be in New York on Saturday and Sunday and would be glad to transmit any reply the President had to make.

To the President’s question of when the Chairman expected to leave the United States, Mr. Kosygin replied that he was leaving on Monday and added, again in confidence, that he would visit Cuba on the way home.

The President asked for additional clarification on the following points: He was informed to the effect that North Viet-Nam had five divisions deployed immediately north of the DMZ. It was the best advice of our military people that if the bombing stopped, these five divisions would be brought to bear upon our Marines immediately south of the DMZ, resulting in a great many casualties among our boys. Mr. Kosygin surely realized that should this happen following the President’s decision to stop the bombing, he would be crucified in this country for having taken the decision.

Chairman Kosygin thought that from a practical point of view the question could be put as follows: If the bombing stopped today, representatives of the United States and North Viet-Nam would meet tomorrow, wherever the President wished—Hanoi or New York or Moscow or Paris or Geneva or any other place. From that point on, it would be up to the negotiators to work out what was to follow. In establishing such direct contact with Hanoi, the President could present all questions between the United States and North Viet-Nam and the other side could do the same. Certainly, this could save hundreds of thousands of lives which would otherwise perish in vain. The President could set the condition that if the bombing were stopped, representatives of the two countries should meet at any place designated in, say, two days. Without such direct contact, no solution was possible. The President did not know what they wanted and indeed North Viet-Nam did not know what the President wanted. Mr. Kosygin urged the [Page 534]President to try this step, which in addition carried no risk to the position of the United States. He urged the President to weigh this proposal, he did not then ask for a reply today, he asked the President to think it over.

The President asked the Chairman whether he would and could provide assistance at the conference table, if such a meeting took place, in obtaining self-determination for the people of South Viet-Nam?

Mr. Kosygin replied that he could not decide this question independently without advice from North Viet-Nam. But, if by tomorrow night the President could inform him of his views and conditions on this question, he would immediately transmit them to Hanoi for a reply.

The President again asked the Chairman whether, assuming that we got to the conference table, the Soviet Union would and could help us obtain an agreement providing self-determination for the people of South Viet-Nam which would ultimately enable us to withdraw our forces. The President had formerly informed Mr. Gromyko that if such an agreement could be obtained, we would be prepared to withdraw our troops regardless of former investment in the area. He would interpret free elections in South Viet-Nam under the supervision of the co-chairmen as fulfilling the conditions of such an agreement.

Mr. Kosygin replied with a suggestion that the question the President had asked him be formulated on paper without reference to Mr. Kosygin or the USSR, that it be addressed to North Viet-Nam, and be given to Mr. Kosygin for immediate transmission to Hanoi. Such a statement should preferably be brief and clear and he, Mr. Kosygin, would consider this to be an important step forward.

The President asked Mr. Kosygin when and where he could meet with him if he would give favorable consideration to addressing such a question to North Viet-Nam? He suggested another meeting with the Chairman on Sunday afternoon at the same place, in other words, at the Glassboro State College.

The President also wanted to explore a number of other questions with Mr. Kosygin. He honestly believed that the Chairman had misunderstood Secretary McNamara and very much wanted to correct this misunderstanding because it was Secretary McNamara who exercised a restraining influence on the ABM systems development. The President also wanted Chairman Kosygin to understand very clearly that when we proposed discussions on ABM systems, we of course had in mind not only defensive but also offensive weapons.

Mr. Kosygin replied that he was still shocked by Secretary McNamara’s speech in which he had referred to offensive weapons being cheaper than defensive ones. The President urged Mr. Kosygin to further [Page 535]explore Secretary McNamara’s views. He felt he had profited by talking to the Chairman face to face and thought that either the Chairman or his representatives could carry on a dialogue with Secretary McNamara and they would profit by it also. The President again urged that the non-proliferation treaty be tabled if necessary even without Article III, leaving that question to be agreed upon later.

To this Mr. Kosygin replied that he could not see why this insignificant problem of who was to exercise control should play such an important part. Inasmuch as an international agency existed of which both countries were members, the IAEA, why then did we insist on inspection by EURATOM rather than by that agency? Why could not the President and he agree to resolve this question in order to have a workable draft to present to the other countries?

The President suggested this be worked out between Secretary Rusk and Mr. Gromyko this weekend. As for Secretary McNamara, he was willing to meet with the Chairman’s representatives in Moscow, Paris or Geneva at any time.

Mr. Kosygin replied that he would consult with Moscow and give the President his answer on this subject. He stressed again that all problems between the two nations could be solved if it were not for the grave problem in Viet-Nam and the new problems which have arisen in the Middle East. He felt very strongly that Viet-Nam had destroyed much that had developed between the United States and the USSR and had given China a chance to raise its head with consequent great danger for the peace of the entire world. Viet-Nam also led the United States into something unknown and had finally resulted in a military budget today which was greater than that of 1943. He asked if this could be considered to be a sober and reasonable policy. If it came to a question of prestige, he wanted to remind the President of the example of de Gaulle who had fought in Algiers for 7 years and then had withdrawn; in consequence, his prestige had not decreased at all, on the contrary it had risen throughout the world. In one of the telegrams transmitted over the Hot Line, Mr. Kosygin had written the President that there were forces in the world which were interested in causing a clash between the United States and the USSR. He assured the President that such forces did indeed exist.

The President and Chairman Kosygin considered a joint statement to the press which the President read to Mr. Kosygin and asked him if he had any changes or additions to suggest. Mr. Kosygin concurred in the statement completely, considered it to be an accurate and correct reflection of the talks held at this meeting. It was agreed that the President would read the statement to the press and that Mr. Kosygin would add his concurrence in the statement immediately following the President’s [Page 536]address. The meeting was adjourned until Sunday, June 25, 1967, at 1:30 p.m., to be held at the same location.

A copy of the press statement is attached.2

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Addendum, USSR, Glassboro Memcons. Top Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Krimer. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid.) The memorandum cites the time of the meeting as 3:15 to 4:30 p.m. According to the Daily Diary, at 3:10 the U.S. delegation retired to a small sitting room and the Soviet delegation retired to the conference room, and Johnson and Kosygin did not go back into the study to resume their private meeting until 3:44.
  2. Not attached; for text of the President’s statement and Kosygin’s response, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book I, pp. 644–645.