295. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

Pursuant to my memorandum to you of yesterday (attached),2 Ambassador Dobrynin came to my home at 8:30 yesterday evening. We had a very long private conversation.


After amenities, I explained that I wished to talk to him about the context of the message given him by Ambassador Thompson a few days ago3—the context being, perhaps, more appropriate for a White House aide to explain than an Ambassador. I then presented the six points4 in a lucid and appropriate form. Before the evening was over, he took down the six points. I phrased the sixth about as follows: “If the Soviet Union does not wish or does not find it possible to deal with President Johnson on these matters constructively, this would be understood; but they should study carefully the political temper of the United States and especially recent polls.” I gave him a copy of the latest Gallup poll, as well as a copy of the Dirksen and Hruska speeches.5

There is no doubt that he has those points with absolute clarity, returning to them several times before he left.

Dobrynin then turned to the problem of the missile talks. He said, as he had said several times to Thompson, that he had seen the position papers of the Soviet Union. They were detailed and highly technical. Moreover, he said that as a diplomat he must report to me in candor that they represented not a final position but a bargaining position. He assumed that our papers would be similar in character. To complete the negotiation on the missile question would, in his judgment, take considerable time. Therefore, if concrete results were to emerge from a first meeting between Kosygin and the President, he thought we should consider two possible steps: [Page 697]
  • —an early exchange of papers at the Ambassadorial level: via Thompson in Moscow and Dobrynin in Washington. This could be done quietly and would give each side a chance to see what elements in them could be the subject for an interim agreement in principle at the Summit meeting;
  • —an effort be made, before a Summit meeting, to agree on these matters of broad principle which would guide the negotiations in the wake of a Summit meeting.
Dobrynin then turned to the Middle East and raised this question: In the wake of their paper to us on the Middle East,6 is there any way that a Summit meeting might push us towards peace in the Middle East? I then pointed out to him that the paper they had given us was interesting in structure, but it did not come to grips with the Israeli judgment that only direct negotiations could lead to a settlement which would be politically and psychologically stable. I told him we were taking the Soviet paper seriously, but there were problems with it, including the relationship of any views that might be developed between the United States and the Soviet Union on the one hand, and the Jarring mission on the other.

Dobrynin then made a long reply with the following points:

  • —After the Arab-Israeli war, the Soviet Union could have exploited the situation to set up bases and greatly to strengthen its military and political position in the Middle East. They had decided not to do so. This paper reflected an authentic desire for a stable settlement.
  • —We should be conscious of one particular point in the Soviet proposal; namely, the idea of a Four-Power guarantee of Middle Eastern borders. The idea had come to him through Dr. Nahum Goldman, an old Zionist. He, Dobrynin, and the Soviet Government had concluded that a Four-Power guarantee of the Middle Eastern frontiers was the most solid basis the Israelis could acquire for the continuity of their national existence-more solid than a peace treaty with the Arab states. He suggested that, perhaps, an agreement on this particular point might be a constructive item for a Summit meeting.
  • —As for the rest of the substance of the paper, he thought that Jarring might submit some such paper against the background of prior U.S.-Soviet agreement. Jarring had been running around the Middle East, but not making much progress. If he could put in a proposal backed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, then his mission might move forward more rapidly.

[Page 698]

He returned several times in the course of the conversation to a Four-Power guarantee as the critical element for Israel in the Soviet paper.

Dobrynin then turned to Vietnam and talked at very great length, making, in the end, the following points:
  • —He continued to regret that we had not responded more positively to Kosygin’s statement that “he and his colleagues had reason to believe, etc.”7 To the best of Dobrynin’s knowledge, this was a unique message to the United States. He had hoped that if we could not act immediately upon it we would come back with a proposition which “Kosygin and his colleagues” might press on Hanoi.
  • —He then raised the subject of the third offensive. With striking candor he said: “Now that the Democratic Convention is over, the offensive may subside.” If there was a lull in the level of violence in South Vietnam, would we be willing to stop the bombing? He then introduced the familiar argument that we were “a great country dealing with a small country” and we could afford to be generous. I said the question was not one of generosity, but of the lives of American soldiers and our allies. There is also the critical matter that if they were not prepared for reciprocity at this stage, I did not see how a stable peace could be negotiated for Southeast Asia. The negotiation of a peace would have to confront certain hard facts about the presence of North Vietnamese forces in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. If we evaded the question of reciprocity on the bombing, we might then be confronted with a similar stubbornness and unwillingness to face reality with respect to the GVN in Saigon; then, the question of North Vietnamese troop withdrawals from the South; etc. We did not see why, if they were serious, they would not settle down and make peace on the basis of hard realities.
  • —This led to a very long series of statements on the mind of the men in Hanoi—and in Peking—as seen from Moscow. He began with the Chinese Communists. He said that in their dealings with Moscow, the Chinese Communists often took positions that made absolutely no sense to the Russian mind. For example, in a meeting with Soviet and other Communists, the Chinese Communists said bluntly they did not mind a nuclear war. This would wipe out most of the Soviet population and a high proportion of the Chinese population, but would leave them with two or three hundred million Chinese. (He reported that an Eastern European Communist leader spoke up and asked: “What about us?”) He said that while the men in Hanoi were not casual about nuclear war, they were filled with ideas which were foreign to Moscow [Page 699] and—no doubt—to us. They took enormous pride in their capacity to survive and persist in conducting the war against the world’s greatest power. They evoked memories of how they have survived for centuries against the Chinese; struggled successfully against the French; kept in the battle against the big American forces. They are very stubborn about their objectives: he cited their satisfaction and pride in forcing us to stop a part of the bombing. (At this point he came perilously close to suggesting that we should have used more power against them, but veered away quickly.)
  • —On the other hand, he said that Hanoi had shared with Moscow some of the negotiating positions they would take after a bombing cessation. He could not reveal these to me. But he personally concluded that they would negotiate seriously.
  • —In underlining the curious pride and mentality of the men in Hanoi he gave a long circumstantial account of how the Soviet Union was prepared to make available to them pilots for air defense. He said that the Soviet Union had a number of experienced pilots who were in retirement at an early age. Their pensions were greater than the salary of an Ambassador. Some Soviet military men were extremely anxious to get them into Hanoi so that they could acquire experience in combat with the Americans. The Americans were learning exactly what the capacity of their aircraft and their pilots was. The Soviet Union could only train their men under non-combat conditions. Therefore, the pressure to get Hanoi to accept Soviet pilots was considerable. But they flatly refused. He cited this, again, as an example of the extreme pride of a very small power in dealing with a major power.
I told him that I had no position to report to him on a cessation of bombing other than that with which he was wholly familiar. We hoped that things would move forward in Paris. If they wish to negotiate with President Johnson, they had better get moving. I doubted that they would do any better in negotiations with President Johnson’s successor, whoever he might be. Moreover, they had better reckon that the South Vietnamese are as stubborn as the North Vietnamese. They will soon have a million men under arms of increasing competence and confidence.
Dobrynin then suddenly asked: If there were a free election in the South, how do you think it would come out? I said that it was my private judgment that the hard core Communists could not attract as much as 10% of the South Vietnamese vote. On a Popular Front basis they might do better; but, for what it was worth, I did not believe that a Popular Front in South Vietnam would do as well as the French and Italian Communist parties in their elections. He asked: How would President Thieu fare in an election? I took him through the election statistics (which I shall send him), pointing out that between them, Thieu and Huong had gotten 45% of the vote. If you added in former General [Page 700] Don in the Senate, you were up to something like 56% of the vote. Except for Dzu, who was in effect a Popular Front candidate, the balance went to anti-Communist Nationalists. I concluded that the problem of the South Vietnamese in an election, in my judgment, was not with a vast pro-VC majority, but how to avoid running 10 Nationalist candidates, as they did last time. I concluded by saying that I could be wrong; and if the men in Hanoi believed in the popularity of their cause, let them adopt the test of a one-man, one-vote election. We were ready. He asked: Is Thieu ready? I said that it was my impression that he was ready. I cited the statement in the Honolulu Communiqué which he had volunteered despite the fact that he was under considerable political pressure at home at a time when a major attack on Saigon was expected.
We then concluded as follows:
  • —He would report the six points as the communication from me to him. He then went over these once more, finally, to make sure he had them clear.
  • —He would, on a quite different basis, put forward the idea as a matter discussed informally and without responsibility, of working towards a Summit in which intensive prior consultation had established some limited basis for a successful forward movement in missiles, the Middle East and, possibly, Vietnam.
  • —He said that, obviously, only intensive preparatory work could establish whether we could develop the basis for a successful Summit in the days ahead. The question for Moscow and for us was: Were we prepared to enter into such contingent preparatory work? He would put that proposition to Moscow on a personal basis. We should think about it.
In closing, I underlined once again the importance of how things evolved in Czechoslovakia and called his attention, once again, to the Dirksen-Hruska speeches.
As we walked to his car, he recalled that we had first discussed U.S.-Soviet relations in December 1960 in Moscow. Despite many difficult and dangerous crises and setbacks since then, progress had been made. It was his personal belief that we should not be excessively discouraged by the crisis in Czechoslovakia, but try to move forward when we could, for “there was no other way.”
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Chlodnick File. Top Secret; Sensitive; For the Eyes of the President and Secretary of State Only. Forwarded by Rostow to the President under a covering memorandum, dated September 10, 2:30 p.m., in which he stated that he went over the memorandum in detail with Rusk at lunch on September 10. He also indicated that there were only two copies, the President’s and his, and there would be no copy in the State Department. A handwritten note on page 1of the memorandum states that Rusk did not keep a copy.
  2. Document 294.
  3. See Document 293.
  4. See the attachment to Document 294.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 292, and footnote 3, Document 294.
  6. Dobrynin gave the paper to Rusk during their meeting on September 4. The text is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XX.
  7. Reference is to Kosygin’s June 6 letter to Johnson scheduled for publication ibid., volume VI.