38. Memorandum for the Record1

The Attorney General called me today to give me an account of a luncheon which he had with Ambassador Dobrynin. He reported that the Ambassador delivered a friendly letter from Khrushchev indicating that there would be some Soviet participation in the Oral History project.2 He reported that the Ambassador’s questions turned mainly on the degree of continuity between the Kennedy and the Johnson Administrations. Did President Johnson share President Kennedy’s objectives? (Khrushchev’s letter was very warm in its praise of President Kennedy.) The Attorney General said he had tried to set the Ambassador’s mind at ease on this point.

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The Ambassador said he understood how hard it was to make any further progress now, but he did think perhaps we could sign the air agreement which had already been initialled. I told the Attorney General that we were holding up on this because of a tactical concern lest such signature complicate our efforts to intensify the isolation of Cuba at the forthcoming OAS meeting. He expressed understanding and we agreed that he could not make this explanation to Dobrynin.

Dobrynin had expressed his concern about the Chinese, who wanted a war in which other societies would be destroyed, while there would be 200 million Chinese left. Khrushchev said that this was building a civilization on a graveyard and the Poles and Russians had asked where such a policy would leave them. But the Chinese had not given any ground. Mao was now becoming a god, like Stalin at the end. People were required to bow down toward Mao and to memorize his teachings. Yet the Ambassador hoped that the situation in Laos would work out all right, and he asked where American policy was heading in Vietnam.

The Attorney General had answered that American policy in Vietnam was following a course laid out and followed by Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, one after the other. It was a policy based on both principle and prestige. In response to the Ambassador’s question, the Attorney General said that the U.S. did not wish to expand the war. But if it were faced by a choice between expansion northward as against defeat and withdrawal, the U.S. would take the former course.

The Ambassador had spoken of the dangers of nuclear proliferation and said the Soviet Union was ready to sign an agreement right now if only the United States would give up the MLF. He believed the MLF would not help, and we should reconsider our commitment to it.

The Attorney General asked him what would happen if the Chinese tested a nuclear weapon. The Ambassador’s answer was that the test would be only the first step toward a real delivery system. The Chinese economy was in bad shape and the Ambassador indicated no immediate concern about this danger. The Attorney General then reported to me that he had heard from a reportedly reliable journalist of the London Observer that Tito in Poland had said that the Soviets were determined not to permit the development of a Chinese nuclear weapon. (This is a separate matter which the Attorney General did not discuss with Dobrynin.)

All in all, the Attorney General reported that the conversation was friendly and straightforward, and that he found Dobrynin understanding in his acceptance of the fact the U.S. intends peace but will not be pushed around, a point which the Attorney General has made to him repeatedly in recent years.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Dobrynin Conversations, Vol. I. Secret. A copy was sent to Thompson.
  2. A copy of Khrushchev’s 3-page letter, dated June 29, is attached to an August 25 memorandum from State Department Executive Secretary Benjamin Read to the Department of Justice. Khrushchev expressed sympathy with the idea of creating a John F. Kennedy Memorial Library (but did not mention its oral history project) and promised to send Soviet documents and other materials pertaining to Kennedy’s foreign policy. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, EDU 12–2 Kennedy) On August 20 the Soviet Embassy delivered newsreels, tapes, photographs, and newspaper clippings for deposit in the Kennedy Library. (Memorandum from Owen to Davies, August 25; ibid.)