39. Memorandum of Conversation Between the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) and the Soviet Ambassador (Dobrynin)1

Ambassador Dobrynin came in at his own request today to have an informal talk before his return to the Soviet Union for consultation and holiday. The Ambassador was in his usual cheerful frame of mind, and the conversation was not of great moment. The principal point which he made on his side was that he supposed nothing much would happen in the coming months because of our election. I said that with respect to larger initiatives this might be correct, but that we should press forward our discussions in Geneva and that in our view it was important also to make progress in Laos, as I was sure he knew from his conversations with Secretary Rusk.

I took advantage of the occasion to tell the Ambassador that he should not suppose that the campaign would make any difference in the main thrust of American policy. We would continue in the search for peace, just as we would also continue to hold up our end in issues where we had differences with the Soviet Union. I warned the Ambassador against any Soviet intervention in our election campaign, and the Ambassador indicated his understanding.2

With respect to Southeast Asia the Ambassador pressed me specifically on the question of the Cambodian border and our reluctance to engage in 14-nation discussions of this question.3 I told him that we were at least as interested as his government in stabilizing Cambodia’s borders, but that we were not encouraged by the reaction of some of the friends of the Soviet Union to the UN efforts in this direction. I said further that it was unreasonable to suppose that we should side with Cambodia against her neighbors on the ways and means of moving toward such stabilization. The Ambassador in effect suggested that we should give Sihanouk more of the benefit of the doubt.

The conversation touched briefly on the MLF, and I pressed upon the Ambassador that it was not [Page 98] a matter of MLF or no MLF, but rather a matter of the MLF or an opening for men like Strauss, possibly in collaboration with de Gaulle. I told the Ambassador that if all of Europe were willing to leave the entire nuclear responsibility with the U.S., we would have no problem, and there would be no need for an MLF. But this was emphatically not the case, and in any event the Ambassador should remember that the question was created by the very heavy concentration of Soviet rockets aimed at Western Europe. The Ambassador then remarked that the MLF was really not very important in military terms, and I said that if this were the case I was surprised at the strength of Soviet opposition to it. The Ambassador repeated again that the question was one of the role of the Germans, and I repeated that it was a question of having the Germans in and safe, or out and dangerous. The Ambassador said nothing, but it is my strong impression that he himself understands and respects this argument.

The Ambassador explained at length the Soviet view of Drew Pearson’s request for permission to publish his interview with Khrushchev, a matter which I have reported separately.4

McG. B.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Dobrynin Conversations, Vol. I. Secret.
  2. In his memoir, In Confidence, Dobrynin recalls a meeting with Bundy on July 12, but it is apparently the same meeting. Dobrynin notes, among other things, that Bundy warned him “Johnson might have to say some things [during the campaign] that might displease Moscow,” but that Bundy also “hinted that the Johnson camp would not mind if the Soviet side, too, sometimes criticized Johnson, although he requested it to be kept ‘within reasonable limits.’” (p. 122)
  3. The Cambodian border issue is documented in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXVII.
  4. In a memorandum to the President, July 15, Bundy reported that Pearson had agreed not to do a story on his interview with Khrushchev. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President-McGeorge Bundy, Vol. 6)