325. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union 1

278030. Literally Eyes Only for the Ambassador from the Secretary.

There follows a memorandum of conversation at luncheon November 25th between myself and Dobrynin prior to the latter’s return to Moscow for consultation. The memorandum is generally self-explanatory and you will note that I invited Dobrynin to discuss the matter further with you in Moscow when he has reactions from his own people. It is most important that you handle any cable traffic on the subject as Cherokee messages.

I will be sending you some prior background material through the same channel, including an agreed statement of general principles on strategic missiles worked out between us and Moscow through a very private channel.2 The President has not made a final decision about proposing a specific time and place for a meeting with Kosygin but it is very much on his mind. He sees some considerable advantage if such a meeting could produce forward movement on strategic missiles and some improvement both in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. We do not underestimate the difficulties or complications. Much, of course, will depend upon the attitude of Mr. Nixon as strategic missile talks cannot get very far beyond the exploratory stage before January 20th. I would be glad to have any reactions you yourself have along the way but, again, I emphasize the importance of the Cherokee channel.

Memorandum of conversation 3 begins:

“The Secretary said that the President was giving renewed thought to the possibility of a meeting between himself and Mr. Kosygin. He thought that it might be a good idea if such a meeting could produce [Page 770] positive results and not merely mean that each side would reiterate their positions on a number of questions. He said the meeting could produce some progress on important questions and help reduce tensions that would be worthwhile. He was not referring merely to what was said in the communiqué of what would be the practical effect of a private meeting between the two men.

Ambassador Dobrynin said that he thought almost all of these matters had been agreed prior to the postponement of the idea of a meeting.

The Secretary agreed and added that however at the present time it would be necessary to talk this subject over with Mr. Nixon.

Middle East

The Secretary mentioned the possibility of some progress on the Middle East. Dobrynin replied that it would be difficult to obtain any assurance beforehand although almost any subject could be discussed. The Secretary mentioned the Middle East as a possibility. He said for example if there could be a Soviet-American agreement that both would use their best influence to bring about a situation where peaceful arrangements might be possible between Israel and the Arabs this would be important. The Secretary went on to say that he had raised on his own initiative with Riad in New York a number of points of possible settlement. He had been disappointed in Riad’s reaction, who had taken refuge behind Jordan and Syria. He said that the U.S. had put these propositions forward without clearing them with Israel and he wished to assure Dobrynin that the U.S. was very serious in the Middle East matter. In fact, the Israelis had been somewhat upset. He asked Dobrynin to try and ascertain whether in the Soviet judgment it would be possible to make any progress in the Middle East at a summit meeting. Dobrynin replied that there could be no guarantee of result, but that the subjects could be discussed.

Ambassador Dobrynin then inquired exactly what the Secretary would like to receive from the Soviet Union which had not already been mentioned in the exchange of letters between Kosygin and the President. The Secretary replied that it was not a question of what went into the communiqué but rather a private agreement which might be reached between the two men when they met. In the Middle East it would be useful if we could agree that we would both use our influence, the Soviet Union with the Arabs and the U.S. with the Israelis. He mentioned the seven points that he had put to Riad and inquired whether or not the Soviet Union really thought that these seven points had merit and could constitute a possible basis.

Ambassador Dobrynin inquired whether or not the President was thinking of a meeting in general or whether he really wanted to have answers to specific points before he could consent to a meeting. The [Page 771] Secretary replied that at the moment it was not specific as to points but more thinking aloud. The Secretary again referred to the seven points that he had put to Riad and stated that it might be useful to have the Soviet opinion as to whether these might form a basis to a settlement between Israel and the Arabs. Dobrynin remarked that there might be more points added or some changes might be made, but that anything could be discussed.

The Secretary said the President would like to know whether or not it was considered on the Soviet side that a meeting would be worthwhile in the present circumstances. Dobrynin said that he was sure that his government would agree that the Middle East should be on the agenda. He did not think that he could get any opinion as to results in advance of the event. He repeated his question as to whether or not the President was merely thinking of the idea of a meeting or wanted assurances on a number of points before it was decided. The Secretary repeated that the President was thinking in broad terms and not about details. The Secretary said for reasons with which the Ambassador was familiar the meeting had to be postponed, but the President was thinking about the possibility and whether or not it would be worthwhile or would merely result in a reiteration of previous positions. The Secretary mentioned for example that we might both agree to use influence to reduce incidents. Ambassador Dobrynin returned to his previous question as to whether the President was asking for assurance before agreeing to a meeting or was merely thinking out loud. The Secretary said that if it was understood for example that both wanted peace in the Middle East and used influence to that end this would produce a result which would be very useful. He mentioned the difference between speeches in the UN and that of conversations which would occur at a meeting. Dobrynin remarked that he could agree right here and now that the Soviet Union wished peace in the Middle East and he did not believe that Kosygin would have any problem in talking about using their influence to that end, but repeated that it was difficult to make pre-conditions in advance. He said he knew that on his return to Moscow he would have an interview with Kosygin, who would ask concretely and specifically ‘What do the Americans want from us?’ The Secretary said he was not asking for any conditions.

Strategic Missiles

Ambassador Dobrynin remarked that he thought in regard to the ABM matter that this whole thing had been agreed in principle and there would be no need to redefine the question. The Secretary said that he agreed as far as the ABM was concerned, but he thought that what was involved was a judgment by both of them as to whether or not at this particular time a meeting would be useful. If both were prepared to use their full weight with the respective friends in the Middle [Page 772] East this in itself would be useful. He repeated that he had gone ahead without Israel in his discussion with Riad and that had been quite upsetting, and he wondered whether the Soviet Union would be prepared to do the same thing in regard to the Egyptians. Dobrynin repeated the quest as to what the American Government wanted from the Soviet Government.

Southeast Asia

The Secretary said in stopping the bombing in Vietnam we had really agreed to the primary Soviet desire in regard to the Southeast Asia matter and he pointed out the 230 violations in the DMZ since the cessation of bombing. He said there was evidence of enemy personnel, not Viet Cong but North Vietnamese, while we had absolutely no personnel in the DMZ. He said it would be useful to consider whether or not it might be useful to consider some of the understandings reached with Hanoi being put into a formal or more contractual form. It was possible that the British and the Soviets as co-chairmen of the Geneva Conference might wish to consider the desirability of putting the ICC into the DMZ, or another possibility would be for Hanoi to agree to get its people out of the DMZ. He thought this might be a suitable subject for discussion between the President and Mr. Kosygin. A second point which might be suitable was the 1962 agreements on Laos. In 1962 after the negotiations an agreement had been worked out and we felt that the considerations which were offered then were still relevant in the situation at the present time. Ambassador Dobrynin remarked that the history of Vietnam was a very complicated and long one; that it was doubtful if we could take two subjects such as the DMZ and Laos in isolation from others. The Secretary said that when we had doubts as to the clarity of Hanoi’s understanding we had discussed it with the Ambassador who had brought back the reply that the Soviet Government said the doubts were unfounded.

The Secretary said that for a long time it had been a first requirement of the Soviet Union that the U.S. should stop the bombing. This was now done and ‘we want to know what it means to you.’ Dobrynin reverted to his original thesis that it was possible to discuss anything; that there could be no assurances or pre-conditions before a meeting. The Secretary replied that he was not trying to lay down conditions but was groping for a judgment on both sides as to whether or not the meeting would be worthwhile in that it would move things along positively and reduce tensions. Dobrynin said that he thought on two subjects, the ABM and the Middle East, there would not be so many problems, but that on the last two mentioned, the DMZ and Laos, this would be difficult. He pointed out as he had said earlier that the Vietnam situation was complicated and had a long history, and you couldn’t treat two questions in isolation.

[Page 773]

The Secretary said we had stopped the bombing and this greatly simplified the situation. Dobrynin remarked that the Soviet Union had been helpful in arranging the talks in Paris. The Secretary said when he had asked Dobrynin some time in the past whether or not after the bombing was stopped they would be in favor of full implementation of the 1962 Geneva Convention he, Dobrynin, had said yes. Dobrynin said this was quite true, that he felt to be quite frank for example in regard to assurances regarding the DMZ question required by the American side it would be necessary for the Soviet Union to take it up with Hanoi which then might consider that Kosygin was trying to use the subject to get into a meeting with the President. Then they would immediately interpret American desire for assurance as a condition. The Secretary said that the fact of 230 violations of the DMZ was not a very good development. The Secretary said he thought the discussion between heads of state would be intimate and discreet and indeed very secret, and there might be discussions as to what the two countries, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, would do about the situation even in the absence of Hanoi and Saigon, for example. He mentioned that President Kennedy had met with Khrushchev in Vienna and they had reached a certain type of understanding in regard to Laos which had provided help to us in the Geneva Agreement in 1962. Dobrynin said he understood the importance of this but felt there could not be assurances or pre-conditions. At this point the Ambassador inquired about what time we had in mind for a summit meeting in our eyes if and when one was decided on. The Secretary said possibly some time around the middle of December. The Ambassador then said what about an ABM meeting if there is no summit. The Secretary said he could not comment on this because the present discussion had to do with a meeting.

Ambassador Dobrynin said that some time ago he had had a discussion with Walt Rostow of the White House which had indicated to him that the idea of a summit meeting had been dropped and that he, Rostow, inquired about the possibility of ABM discussions presented as a separate matter. Rostow at that time referred to Berlin, about which nothing had happened. It would appear now that the possibility of a summit was being revived. The Secretary agreed and said the President was returning, and he emphasized the word returning, to the idea of the possibility of a summit conference.

The Ambassador then asked the Secretary what sort of an idea we had for the solution of the Vietnamese question and whether or not we were thinking in terms of a coalition government. The Secretary replied that we were not thinking in terms of a coalition government and then mentioned that one possibility towards a solution would be the withdrawal of all foreign forces, including North Vietnam. This, however, would require the reconciliation of the population of South Vietnam. [Page 774] The Ambassador inquired whether this envisaged setting up of an international commission. The Secretary replied that it was too far in the future to consider now. He said in reply to the Ambassador’s question about a cease-fire that one of the difficulties was the actual position of military forces inside the country. He pointed out that some of the provincial capitals had to be supplied by air and that this problem of access had to be resolved before there could be any cease-fire.

The Secretary suggested to Ambassador Dobrynin that, upon his return to Moscow, he ascertain what Soviet leaders feel they can say about the questions raised by the Secretary and that he be in touch with Ambassador Thompson who will be in a position to handle the matter most discreetly.

The meeting ended with the Secretary wishing Dobrynin a pleasant voyage and a possible holiday in the Soviet Union.”

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 18 USUSSR. Top Secret; Nodis; Cherokee. Drafted and approved by Rusk. The telegram is marked, “For Code Room: This is a Cherokee message.” Cherokee was a codeword designation for a special telegraphic channel established for highly sensitive State Department messages. Rusk informed 22 Ambassadors of the new channel in circular telegram 267317, November 5. Rusk indicated that the channel would provide “an entirely private and secure means of communication” and would “make it un-necessary henceforth to use [text not declassified] channels in transmitting sensitive messages.” (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 308.
  3. Another copy of the memorandum of conversation indicates that it was drafted by Rusk and Bohlen, who also attended the meeting. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 18 USUSSR)