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

Mr. President:

Attached are the notes for the background briefing, which I have prepared for Sec. Rusk and me for tomorrow.

I await your guidance.

W. W. Rostow 2


Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to Secretary of State Rusk

Herewith some notes for your and my backgrounders tomorrow.

The agreement announced this morning that the President will confer with leaders within the Soviet Union in early October is the outcome of a long process.
  • —it began in early 1964 when President Johnson first addressed himself to Moscow on a range of major substantive issues;
  • —it is a natural follow-on from the two intensive meetings at Glassboro in June of last year;
  • —it is also natural that the Chiefs of Government of the two countries should meet in the light of the intense negotiating efforts undertaken over the 14 months since the Glassboro meetings.

President Johnson’s first major substantive message to the Soviet leaders was in mid-January 1964.4 It proposed, among other things, that the two nations address themselves to the following objectives which would move the world towards peace: [Page 684]

  • —to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons;
  • —to end the production of fissionable material for weapons;
  • —to transfer large amounts of fissionable materials to peaceful purposes;
  • —to ban all nuclear weapons tests;
  • —to place limitations on nuclear weapons systems;
  • —to reduce the risk of war by accident or design;
  • —to move toward general disarmament.

In general, President Johnson urged that the two nations work on “specific problems”—such as these—rather than on “vague declarations of principle” that might be agreed. That has been the President’s approach to U.S.-Soviet relations since then.

Progress was slow, but in the autumn of 1966, as a result of discussions between Foreign Minister Gromyko and Secretary Rusk, the outlines of a feasible Non-Proliferation Treaty began to fall into place and work intensified in that field. In November, 1966, the U.S.-Soviet Civil Air Agreement was signed. In late January, 1967, the U.S. initiated with the Soviet Union exchanges on the possibility of limiting both offensive and defensive strategic weapons; and, on the basis of a letter from Kosygin of late February, the President announced on March 2 the willingness of the Soviet Government to discuss this subject.5 During the Middle East war of June, 1967, the Soviets initiated the use of the hot line; and a cease-fire was achieved in New York on the basis of intensive exchanges over that line (and otherwise) between the two governments.

Against this background it was natural that Chairman Kosygin and President Johnson should find an occasion to meet when Kosygin came to the United Nations meetings in New York on the Middle East late in June. At Glassboro the two leaders took the occasion for two days of exchanges covering a very wide range of topics, notably:

  • —the Middle East;
  • —Vietnam;
  • —the Non-Proliferation Treaty; and
  • —the possibility of a U.S.-Soviet agreement on the limitation and subsequent reduction of offensive and defensive nuclear arms.

The President sought at that time a firm date and place for the opening of strategic arms talks; but the Soviet Government was not yet prepared for a decision.


Since Glassboro, U.S.-Soviet cooperation has helped yield some striking results-great and small:

  • —The Non-Proliferation Treaty has moved forward and been signed by 77 nations;
  • —At the July 1, 1968, signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the two nations agreed to hold talks on strategic arms limitation in the near future. We expect a time and place to be set before too long.
  • —Between September, 1967, and April, 1968, a treaty on the return of astronauts was negotiated and signed;6
  • —In August, 1968, with U.S.-Soviet cooperation, a UN conference was inaugurated on the future of the sea beds;7
  • —In November, 1967, the U.S. and the Soviet Union joined in support of a Security Council resolution on the Middle East which is the basis of Ambassador Jarring’s mission;
  • —In July, 1968, the first flights took place under the U.S.-Soviet bilateral Air Agreement;
  • —In June, 1968, the Consular Convention was ratified and went into effect in July;
  • —In July, 1968, bilateral U.S.-Soviet discussions were inaugurated on the Law of the Sea;
  • —In addition, progress was made in such other bilateral matters as the Cultural Exchange Agreement, Renewal of Atomic Energy Exchange Agreement, and the negotiation to improve Embassy sites.

In short, the year since Glassboro has been, certainly, the most intensive and successful post-war year in U.S.-Soviet relations despite failure to achieve full and effective agreement on two great unresolved issues:

  • —the Middle East; and
  • —Southeast Asia.

President Johnson has steadily emphasized both the reality of the progress achieved and the reality of the dangerous unresolved issues that remain between the two nations.

On March 31, when President Johnson withdrew from the presidential nomination, he had very much in mind a desire to devote himself as fully as possible to movement towards peace. He, therefore, was pleased when, after preliminary exploration by both sides, it was agreed that a meeting this autumn of the Chiefs of Government of the Soviet Union and the United States made sense. Before Glassboro, at Glassboro, and since Glassboro he has worked to make the strategic missile talks a reality. The question of time and place was dealt with in a number of exchanges at the highest level, notably since the NPT moved towards reality in June. If any one factor crystallized the decision in both governments to move to a summit meeting it was probably the agreement to proceed to strategic missile talks. We felt it might be helpful if the Chiefs of Government could meet in roughly the same [Page 686] period as these talks were inaugurated, because of the importance, the sensitivity, and the complexity of negotiations on this matter—which President Johnson has often emphasized. We have no announcement to make at the present time; but, as indicated earlier, we expect to be in a position to make an announcement soon on the time, place, and level of the strategic missile talks.
Although the opening of the strategic missile talks was probably the catalyst that led to this decision by the two Governments, the meeting of President Johnson with Chairman Kosygin will undoubtedly be the occasion to consult on:
  • —a variety of bilateral matters;
  • —next steps in the implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty;
  • —the possibilities of bringing our positions closer on the Middle East and on Vietnam.
W. W. Rostow 8
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Trip to Soviet Union. Top Secret; Literally Eyes Only.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  3. Top Secret; Literally Eyes Only For Secretary Rusk. The attachment was not forwarded to Rusk; see Document 289.
  4. See Document 1.
  5. See Document 193.
  6. For text of the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched Into Outer Space, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 1076–1078. The United States signed the agreement on April 22, 1967; it entered into force on December 3, 1968.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XI, Documents 270 and 279.
  8. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.