299. Memorandum From the Government of the United States to the Government of the Soviet Union1

The President has considered very carefully the observations made by Ambassador Dobrynin on September 13.2 He attaches serious importance to the understanding of Soviet leaders that a positive outcome of a highest level meeting between the two sides is essential to a success; and he agrees that this requires efforts from both sides.

The President wishes the Soviet leadership to have his further reflections about how such a success could be achieved.

With respect to offensive and defensive missiles, the President agrees that it ought to be possible to establish certain common basic principles affecting the limitation and subsequent reduction in such nuclear weapons systems. He further agrees that, following an accord on general principles at the highest level, representatives of the two sides would have to address themselves to the translation of general principles into the more concrete aspects of the problem.

It would, however, be desirable to go beyond a general statement that “restraining measures in this field would answer to the interests of both our countries as well as to the task of strengthening international security.” With this in mind, the President would be glad to know whether the Soviet leaders could accept the following general objectives as guidance for our respective delegations or would wish to suggest any amendments for his consideration:

  • —To achieve and maintain a stable U.S.–Soviet strategic deterrence by agreed limitations on the deployment of offensive and defensive strategic missiles.
  • —To enhance the credibility of our efforts to prevent the destabilizing actions of other nations by demonstrating U.S. and Soviet willingness to limit their strategic missile forces.
  • —To provide assurance to each of us that our security will be maintained, while at the same time avoiding the tensions, uncertainties, and costs of an unrestrained continuation of the strategic arms race.
  • —To improve U.S.–Soviet understanding by establishing a continuing process of discussion of issues arising from the strategic situation.

The President believes that it would be highly desirable for both sides to do their utmost to find a way to move the Vietnam problem toward a peaceful settlement. No other accomplishment, which might [Page 709] result from a high level meeting, could match a good result on this problem. A significant forward step not only could make a major contribution to peace in Southeast Asia but it could provide the opportunity for general progress in reducing tensions and solving other issues in the interest of a general peace throughout the world.

The President is under no illusions that peace in Southeast Asia will be possible unless both sides desire it. For his part, he earnestly desires peace in Southeast Asia if it can be achieved in a way which is consistent with the vital interests of the United States and its allies in that part of the world. He hopes very much that the leaders in Hanoi desire a peace which affords the Democratic Republic of Vietnam its own security and an opportunity to determine its own future. In the broadest sense, it seems to us that such a peace could be achieved on the basis of the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962. Without entering into ideological or polemical discussion, the President thinks that any stable peace in Southeast Asia must give full weight to the wishes of the people concerned, a principle which is most often referred to as self–determination.

The talks in Paris have not, unfortunately, produced as yet any significant steps toward a permanent peace nor even any tangible steps toward a reduction of hostilities. We are aware, of course, of the insistence by Hanoi on a total cessation of the bombardment of North Vietnam.

The President wishes the leaders of the Soviet Union to know that he is prepared to stop the bombing of North Vietnam. He has taken such action in the past and can do it again. But the leaders of the Soviet Union will surely understand that the President must be interested in the consequences of such an important step on his part. It is not necessary to get into highly theoretical or semantic discussions about such words as “conditions,” “reciprocity,” or “mutual restraint.” The President attaches no importance to modalities, channels of communication, or the more technical maneuvers associated with traditional diplomacy. He is interested in the substance and the results.

The President has noted with interest and respect the judgment of the Soviet leaders that they continue to believe that they have grounds for the view that a complete cessation of the bombardment of North Vietnam would create a turning point at the meetings in Paris and open possibilities for serious negotiations on political aspects of a settlement.

The leaders of the Soviet Union should know that the President is prepared to try to solve the matter on a de facto basis. Setting all political arguments aside, the simple fact is that the President could not maintain a cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam unless it were very promptly evident to him, to the American people, and to our allies, that such an action was, indeed, a step toward peace. A cessation [Page 710] of bombing which would be followed by abuses of the DMZ, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese attacks on cities or such populated areas as provincial capitals, or a refusal of the authorities in Hanoi to enter promptly into serious political discussions which included the elected government of the Republic of Vietnam, could simply not be sustained.

If, after appropriate exploration and consideration by the leaders of the Soviet Union, they are prepared to advise the President to proceed on the basis of what is now being said, the President would take their advice with the utmost seriousness.

The President believes that the leaders of the Soviet Union will understand the elementary requirements which any man in the President’s position would face. The President respects the deep interest of the Soviet Union in its fellow socialist country, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He believes that the Soviet leaders, in turn, understand the interests and responsibilities of the United States toward the Republic of Vietnam.

The President would like to emphasize his readiness to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam just as soon as it can be done with integrity, as a move toward peace and not as a unilateral concession of military advantage to those who wish to continue the battle. With respect to the Middle East, the President is deeply concerned about the explosive situation there and would like to assist in bringing about a permanent peace in that area as quickly as possible. He was very glad to have in front of him the views which Ambassador Dobrynin gave to Secretary Rusk,3 which reflected, as the Ambassador indicated, the attitude of certain key Arab countries. We understand that the substance of these views has been made available to Ambassador Jarring. We ourselves expect to be in touch with Ambassador Jarring and to make a major effort on our side to move the matter forward. It is not the President’s desire, at this stage, to get into the details of the views expressed by the Soviet Union. Obviously there are some difficulties for us in those views; for example, if the state of war in the area is to be eliminated at an early stage, the justification for a continued refusal or free passage through the Suez Canal would presumably disappear. The President was interested and is giving further thought to the suggestion of a possible four–power guarantee of a settlement which could be reached among the parties. Foreign Minister Gromyko and Secretary Rusk will have an opportunity, during the opening stages of the United Nations General Assembly, to discuss these matters further in the light of Ambassador Jarring’s efforts. We are inclined to believe, for a number of reasons, that it would be better for both sides to [Page 711] give strong support to Ambassador Jarring than for us to try to agree details on a bilateral basis. We wish to emphasize, however, that we are ready at all times to exchange views with the Soviet Union on this very important part of the world.

The President has, as the Soviet leaders know, made a serious effort during his Administration to find points of agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union. He has done so, despite certain criticisms both at home and in some other countries, because he is deeply convinced that a realistic and genuine understanding between our two countries is of vital importance to the possibilities of a general peace. An enduring peace is the President’s first objective. He would like nothing better than to find in the days and weeks ahead a good foundation which can be laid for further development of Soviet–American relations in the future.

The President has deeply regretted the complications created by current events which are differently interpreted by our two governments. He takes some encouragement from the message4 delivered by Ambassador Dobrynin on August 20 that recent actions by the Soviet Union are of a temporary nature and will be changed at the earliest possible moment.

Finally, the President wishes to underline his view as to the seriousness of these private exchanges and to express the hope that they can reach conclusions which will insure the success of a high–level meeting and, more importantly, contribute both to good relations between our two countries and to the peace of the world.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Chlodnick File. No classification marking. Rostow handed the memorandum to Dobrynin during a meeting that began at 6 p.m. on September 16; see Document 300.
  2. See Document 296.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 295.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XVII, Document 80.