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

Mr. President:

In re–reading the communication which Gromyko gave to Sec. Rusk on Wednesday night,2 it appears that they are suggesting a meeting which would be guaranteed before the event to be modestly fruitful with regard to strategic weapons talks. But they are saying that a Vietnamese formula probably cannot be established before the meeting and, therefore, the Vietnamese question should be discussed at the meeting. This is how I read the following passage:

“Our understanding of what is required to secure such progress has already been communicated to the President and we are forming the impression that our position in this regard has, in general, been correctly understood by the American side. However an exchange of views during the meeting on this topic as well could, we feel, prove useful.”

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With respect to Czechoslovakia, while they will not talk with us directly, obviously Dubcek is in Moscow and they are trying to get the best settlement they can wring from him and announce some kind of schedule of troop withdrawals. (I do not rule out that they will decide they cannot get an acceptable situation from Dubcek and go into a much harder phase in Czechoslovakia.)

But you may wish to think about a situation which could emerge in the next several days in which there was:

  • —A sharp turn for the better in Czechoslovakia;
  • —A clear possibility of a successful meeting on strategic missiles at the highest level;
  • —But the formula for a bombing cessation and serious talks had not yet been achieved but was on the agenda for, say, Geneva, as well as for discussion in Paris.

This is not a recommendation, but the posing of a possible contingency.

New but related subject: Gromyko said something interesting but mysterious in his General Assembly speech.3 With respect to Vietnam, he said that after a bombing cessation, serious progress towards peace could be made in Paris—“or elsewhere.”

I do not, of course, know what he has in mind. But it is possible that we will be presented with a formula in which:

  • —Hanoi suggests that the GVN talk with the NLF in Vietnam;
  • —When we say that the GVN must also talk about the DMZ, the 1954 Accords, the 1962 Accords, and other aspects of peacemaking, they will say: only after a political negotiation for a settlement can a legitimate government enter into negotiations on these issues.

In short, Hanoi may come back at us with a split negotiation, not unlike the “second device” that Bunker did not much like.

I have talked to Katzenbach and Bundy4 and started thought on how this might be dealt with. It would be tough because there is a certain legitimacy in getting at the political settlement in the South first; and we have always said that the political settlement in the South is a matter for the South Vietnamese, not for Hanoi or Washington.

W. W. Rostow 5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Chlodnick File. Secret; Literally Eyes Only.
  2. October 2; see Document 308.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 307.
  4. William Bundy, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.