6. Memorandum for the Record1

SUBJECT

  • Meeting with Ambassador Dobrynin, Jan. 13, 12 o’clock

Ambassador Dobrynin came in today, at my invitation, to hear my reflections in response to the reflections which he had offered me on December 31.2

I told the Ambassador that I had thought about his reflections in the framework of the President’s clearly expressed conviction that nothing was more important than to find ways of strengthening the peace and to find new openings for good agreements between the Soviet Union and the United States.

I then said that in thinking about the possibility of a meeting with the Chairman, I had found myself increasingly impressed by the very great political difficulties standing between the President and any trip outside the country. I said that the President’s position was different from that of President Kennedy in three ways:

1.
There was now no Vice President, which meant that there was no one to whom the interim responsibilities of the President could be readily assigned during his absence from the country. As a result, there would be real difficulties in domestic terms for the President to leave the country on any but a very serious mission.
2.
The President was deeply engaged in the process of trying to secure the passage of his legislative program, and particularly of the two great measures which President Kennedy had first put forward—the tax bill and the civil rights bill. The time available to get these bills [Page 9]through was now very short, and President Johnson did not have what President Kennedy had had—an experienced Vice President to whom he could confide the responsibility for working with the Congress on these measures while he was out of the country. It would be very difficult for the President to maintain a sense of urgency and of pressure upon the Congress if he himself were to leave the country on any but the most urgent of meetings.
3.
The President, on straight political grounds, thought it was of great importance for him to continue to maintain the continuity and stability of the Presidency by sticking right to his work here in the United States, and thus I thought he was in the process of making a rule that he simply would not leave the country at all in 1964. I explained that we had been confronted with this problem by an informal inquiry about a visit to Martinique, and I told the Ambassador that while, of course, the two questions were not directly related, I also thought that in the process of explaining this position to the French, we had necessarily been put in the position of making clear the difficulty the President would have in leaving the country at all this year.

Thus, I concluded, my own thought now was that we ought not to think in terms of a possible meeting in 1964, unless we should somehow be successful in finding some very large new forward step, at least comparable in magnitude to the nuclear test ban treaty. I did not know what such a step might be, but I thought it was entirely reasonable for both sides to continue the work to find such a new and major achievement.

The Ambassador pressed me somewhat to know what kind of proposals would meet this standard, and I said I thought this was a very important matter and one which deserved reflection. I thought it was not just a matter for my reflection, but for his as well, and perhaps when we both had thought about that we might talk again. He was non-committal and tried more than once to indicate that it was for me to say what package would be big enough. He asked whether any of the new proposals which he saw that we were going to make in Geneva would be the appropriate size and shape to justify a meeting. I said this was a good question, and one which I could not answer without further reflection.

I told the Ambassador that we were disappointed in the tone of his country’s propaganda about the situation in Panama, and he replied that as far as he knew, his people were saying nothing more than the Panamanians were saying. I said I thought this was not the case and that he should not think propaganda of this kind was helpful to our relations.

The Ambassador’s invitation to put a price tag on a summit meeting is obvious, but I doubt if we need to do this for some little time, if [Page 10]at all. Since I pressed the Ambassador to put up his own suggestions, I think we can easily wait for them to come again if we prefer.3

McG. B.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Dobrynin Conversations, Vol. I. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Attached to a memorandum of transmittal from Bundy to Rusk and Thompson.
  2. For a memorandum for the record of this conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. V, Document 390. On January 9 Thompson also raised the question of a summit meeting with Dobrynin. The Soviet Ambassador expressed the opinion that such a meeting would be useful, but no conclusions were reached during the discussion. (Memorandum of conversation; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163) On January 13 Ambassador Kohler transmitted his recommendations on a summit meeting in telegram 2162. (Department of State, S/S–I Limdis/Exdis Microfilm) Kohler voiced his disapproval of a bilateral summit, but suggested the utilization of the “Pen Pal” channel in moving forward some of the interrelated bilateral questions.
  3. In his memoir, In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to America’s Six Cold War Presidents, Dobrynin recalls the meeting with Bundy but says “later we learned that it was Rusk who had more or less discouraged Johnson from taking part in the meeting: the secretary of state considered he was not ready for it yet.” (pp. 116–117)