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

Mr. President:

Just before 1:00 p.m. this afternoon, Ambassador Dobrynin called on me to deliver orally the attached note. He left behind, however, his handwritten translation from which we typed up his communication, literally.2

When he had concluded, I raised the following points, after explaining that I had no other instruction except to receive his message and that what I was about to say was personal and informal.

Had he, in informing Moscow, made absolutely clear the distinction between my formal message to him and our informal discussion?3 He said: “Absolutely.” But he evidently understood my major anxiety with this message, which was the phrase “questions named by the American side.” He knew that the Middle East and Vietnam had been raised in our conversation not by me but by him. He added, therefore, that the “two subjects of interest to the American side” had been “often discussed between him and Secretary Rusk.” I draw the conclusion, therefore, that in reporting he did not make it quite clear to Moscow that the notion of a Summit embracing the Middle East and Vietnam was, so far as our conversation was concerned, his idea and not mine, although I joined readily into the exchange of informal views.
I recalled that I had given him copies of the Dirksen and Hruska speeches and noted that there was, perhaps understandably, no reference to Czechoslovakia in this message. I asked, then, was he sure that the men in Moscow understood the relationship of Czechoslovakia to any possible meeting? He said: “Certainly, absolutely.” I then asked what his personal view was about Czechoslovakia in the days ahead: would things get better, or worse? He said: “I believe, better.”
He then asked me if I thought we would have an immediate response so that he should stay in town and not go to New York later this afternoon, remaining there Saturday.4 I said that if I were he, I [Page 702] would proceed to New York. He said he would certainly be back in town on Sunday and could return to Washington if there was urgency.
In leaving, he asked if we could furnish him with a copy of the picture taken of him at the Cabinet table delivering the message on Czechoslovakia on August 20. I said that I would look into this somewhat ghoulish request.


Message From the Government of the Soviet Union to the Government of the United States

(copy of Ambassador Dobrynin’s handwritten paper)


As before the attitude in Moscow is positive to the idea of meeting with the President of the United States for an exchange of opinions on questions of mutual interest. The wish of President Johnson to have some degree of certitude in the positive outcome of his possible visit to the Soviet Union is understandable to us. It is also far from being indifferent to us what will be the result of such an exchange of opinions, though it is obvious that efforts from both sides will be needed to gain a success.

There is no objection in Moscow as to a discussion during such a meeting of questions named by the American side: curbing to strategic armaments race, question of Viet–Nam and the situation in the Middle East; this, of course, does not exclude the possibility of an exchange of opinions on other questions too.

So far as the question of strategic armaments is concerned, our point of view is that an exchange of opinions on this question during the meeting could result in an agreement that fulfilment of certain restraining measures in this field would answer to the interests of both our countries as well as to the task of strengthening international security. It would be possible to agree further on certain basic principles of limitation and then reduction in complex of both the offensive strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems and the systems of defense against ballistic missiles, having in mind that this would constitute a [Page 703] directive of the two Governments to their delegations to engage then in working out of an agreement on the concrete aspects of this problem.

We are ready to exchange opinions on Vietnam with the understanding also of the fact that the Soviet Union cannot be a substitution in this question for the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and for the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. We think that such an exchange of opinions can be useful if to proceed from the fact that continuation of the war in Vietnam benefits nobody but those who would like to bring the United States and the Soviet Union into collision, and that the solution of the Vietnam problem can be found not on the battlefield.

We did already express to President Johnson our conviction that the current meetings in Paris between representatives of the DRV and the United States give an opportunity to find a way out from the present situation. We continue to believe—and it is not without grounds—that if the United States completely stop bombings and other military actions against the DRV it could create a turning point at the meetings in Paris and would open perspectives for serious negotiations on political questions of a settlement.


On the ways of settlement of the Middle Eastern conflict the Soviet Government has not long ago expressed to the Government of the United States a number of concrete considerations. For progress in this question it is necessary, of course, that both sides should proceed from undesirability of a new aggravation in this region. This, in its turn, provides for the necessity to liquidate the consequences of last year’s aggression of Israel against the Arab states and first of all—for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the territories occupied by them, together with the end of state of belligerency between Israel and the Arabs, recognition of the right of each State of this region to existence and respect of its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.

The striving for the political settlement of the problems of the Middle East is now, as it is known to us, a determining factor among the Arab leaders and we have made and are making all that depends on us to have this understanding strengthened in those countries of this region whose Governments listen to our opinion.

If the Government of the United States takes on its part the similar course in its relations with Israel this will greatly facilitate the stabilizing of the situation in the Middle East. Israel must withdraw its forces from the occupied Arab territories, then the threat to its existence will vanish just by itself. Then a perspective will be open of a real normalization of situation in all this region. If the forces of Israel were withdrawn from the occupied Arab territories then it would be possible to consider in the practical aspect also the question of curbing unnecessary [Page 704] and wasteful arms race in the Middle East; we do remember President Johnson’s interest in this question. We are in principle in favour of this and we believe that corresponding steps in such direction would not contradict the interests of the countries of this region. If we had such understanding between our Governments it would be then possible to find a form of informing the public opinion (bringing it to the public).

Provided there is will of both sides, steps of no small importance can be made in the forthcoming months in the field of Soviet–American relations and thus not a bad foundation can be laid for further development of these relations in future.

Concerning the idea which is being planted by some people that the agreement of the Soviet leaders to meet with President Johnson was allegedly guided by motivations of conjuncture [in his conversation with me, Dobrynin went to some lengths to explain the meaning in English of this Russian phrase in its political context. It means a short–run, expedient, perhaps insincere political motivation. Technically, the word, derived from the German, means fluctuating.]6 the meaning of such allegations must be clear to the President. Of course they do not reflect our approach to the relations with the United States. Basic long–range interests of our countries and interests of peace in general are the determining factors in these relations. Our point of view lies in the very belief that current events, no matter how differently they can be perceived and interpreted, should not overshadow these long–ranged interests.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Chlodnick File. Top Secret; Sensitive; For the Eyes of the President and Secretary Rusk Only.
  2. The typed communication is printed below; the handwritten translation from which it was made is attached but not printed.
  3. See Document 295.
  4. September 14.
  5. No classification marking. The September 13 date is not included on the handwritten message.
  6. Brackets in the source text.