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

Mr. President:

Amb. Dobrynin came in at 6:00 p.m. and left at 7:30 p.m.

[Page 712]

I handed Amb. Dobrynin the memorandum2 and said it had the same status as the “oral communication” he delivered and left with me.

He read the communication carefully. He said in general that the communication was “positive and clear.” He had the following observations to make.

Missile talks. He understood our objective in proposing an amplification of the principles. He wanted to know, simply, whether the response of the Soviet government should come back through his channel to me or through normal diplomatic exchanges. I said that until we were clearer as to whether the conditions for a Summit were mutually understood and agreed, he might let their response come back to me. I then went through the points that it was agreed that I should make on a “personal basis” as reflecting the attitude of the President, as he had indicated it to Sec. Rusk and myself.
With respect to Vietnam, he made the following points:
  • —As for “two days and nights” he said that Kosygin in London had felt pressed against the wall with too short a time for consultation with his colleagues. Two days and two nights sounded short for action after the President announced a pause. I pointed out to him that the fact we were talking now gave the Soviet government a chance to consult within itself and with its allies. I was simply indicating the kind of pressures which would bear on the President. He accepted this without further comment. I rate his comment on London as a mere debating point.
  • —On the military points concerning the DMZ and the cities, he said our point of view was clear. He did not know how his government would react. But there was no difficulty in understanding what we were saying.
  • —He spent a great deal of time, however, on the question of the role of the GVN. He said that his government was absolutely confident that “serious negotiations” on all the issues which Harriman and Vance had raised in Paris would follow a bombing halt. He was confident also, however, that Moscow could not give any assurance to us on the role of the GVN in a negotiation between us and Hanoi. That was Hanoi’s business and ours. He felt it important that, if the Soviet Union gave a positive reply to the message I had handed to him, that we not take such a positive reply as committing the Soviet Union to assuring the role which we had envisaged for the GVN in the negotiation. He felt that this was likely to be a part of the “serious negotiations” between ourselves and Hanoi after a bombing cessation. Since [Page 713] Harriman had raised this point in Paris, he would expect Hanoi to be prepared to respond, after a bombing cessation. But he felt it important that he, personally, not deceive the President or that the Soviet Union not deceive the President by indirection. I responded that I was simply reporting what I understood to be the President’s attitude. The Soviet Union had raised with us its judgment, at the highest level, that “serious negotiations” would follow a complete bombing cessation. We felt it important that they not be deceived as to what we felt was involved in “serious negotiations.” We had spent more than 4 months on the question of a bombing cessation. If bombing ceased and then had to be resumed, it would be a most serious matter. Therefore, while the U.S. was putting no conditions to Moscow, it was important that the Soviet leaders understood the President’s mind in this matter. Dobrynin responded, closing out the discussion, by saying he thought that we had understood one another on a personal basis, but we should understand that there are limitations to which the Soviet Union could commit itself to the U.S. One of those limitations was the exact role of the GVN in a Vietnamese settlement and the exact negotiating form of that settlement. I told him that his point of view, on a personal basis, was understood and I would report it.
On the Middle East, he said that for about 6 months there were no communications between the U.S. and the Soviet Union on a Middle Eastern settlement. There was a certain amount of communication on the details of resolutions at the General Assembly, but nothing constructive and positive. Now the Soviet Union, on a government–to–government basis had laid before the U.S. a proposal.3 If the U.S. did not wish to respond, that would be understood. It was his view that it would help Jarring and the countries involved if the U.S. were to give to the Soviet Union its own ideas about how a Middle East settlement might be brought about. He could understand very well if the President did not wish to get into the details of a Middle Eastern proposal; but he underlined (3 or 4 times) that his Middle Eastern communication was a government–to–government communication. In his view, it would help Jarring if the U.S. were to come back with its own precise views on how a Middle Eastern settlement could be achieved. It might clear the way for the talks between Sec. Rusk and Foreign Minister Gromyko if this were done promptly. The two Foreign Ministers might then make more progress when they meet in New York and save much–needed time. I confined myself to saying I would report these views to the President and to Sec. Rusk.
I then went through my points on Czechoslovakia. He asked if we were asking for a commitment from the Soviet Union to the U.S. [Page 714]about an announcement of Soviet troop withdrawals before a Summit: if we were setting this as a U.S. condition? I said flatly, no. We were not talking about conditions. We were searching to make good on an agreed proposition; namely, that it was the interest of both sides to have a positive outcome of a Summit meeting. I was simply stating a fact; namely, that a major contribution to the success of such a Summit meeting would be that, pursuant to Amb. Dobrynin’s presentation to the President on August 20,4 the Soviet Union would decide that it was in a position to “withdraw without delay” Warsaw Pact forces from Czechoslovakia.
In conclusion, I underlined the passage in our message in which the President’s views on the importance of Soviet–American relations was expressed. What I had conveyed to him informally, in supplementing the formal message, was simply the underlying judgments as to what might make a meeting at the highest level a success. There was no question of conditions. There was no question of an ultimatum. We were acting on the assumption that each side was trying to establish whether, within the limit of its interests and responsibilities, we could produce a successful Summit meeting.
Amb. Dobrynin ended by repeating what he had said at the beginning: That our message was clear and positive. He would get in touch with me when he had a reply.
W.W.R. comment: There was nothing in the detailed conversation on a personal basis that was difficult except Dobrynin’s anxiety that we not hook Moscow implicitly to a commitment that Hanoi negotiate directly with the Thieu government. I had the feeling—no more—that they expected Hanoi to more or less behave with respect to the DMZ and the cities; but I would not hang my hat on that. With respect to the Middle East, he was obviously a little disappointed. I got the impression that Moscow expects us to come back with a concrete proposal, even if it is written in Jerusalem. And I, personally, do not think that would be a wholly bad idea.

P.S. I began my “informal conversation” on Vietnam by recalling the 37–day pause and the advice from the Soviet Embassy in Washington: he immediately said, “That was only an Ambassador, this is the leadership of the Soviet Union”!!

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Chlodnick File. Literally Eyes Only for the President and Secretary Rusk.
  2. Document 299.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 295.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 299.