19. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rogers1
- Contact Between the White House Staff and Foreign Diplomats
Henry Kissinger has sent you a careful memcon of his talk with Bui Diem on January 24, which I attach simply for reference.2 You will note that the last paragraph contains Henry:’s invitation to the Ambassador to come in any time he wants.
I have very strong feelings on this broad subject of contact between White House staff members and foreign diplomats, and I think they are based on considerations of orderliness and historical experience which go far beyond any parochial feeling—or any sense that John Burke and I have some clue on how to find out what is really on Bui Diem’s mind.
In a nutshell, I think the annual practice of members of the White House staff receiving foreign ambassadors personally is an immense mistake. To my recollection, it did not exist at all under Bobby Cutler, Dillon Anderson, or Gordon Gray in the Eisenhower Administration— and if it had been attempted in the Truman Administration I venture that there would have been additions to the lines of the unemployed.
However, the strong and personal White House staff installed by President Kennedy—led by another relative of mine—produced a gradual and important change in practice which has now come to be accepted—and which Henry obviously deems himself to be following. Not only Mac and Walt Rostow, but a great many others made a practice of not only being available to foreign ambassadors or seeing them a great deal in a social way, but of actively seeking them out. Sometimes this was coordinated with the Department and the results were [a] plus, sometimes it was done on the express orders of the President and as a way of giving extra force to representations—a notable example being both Mac’s and Walt’s contacts with Dobrynin. It is not by any means all bad or to be ruled out—but it would be my own considered view that it should be cut to the absolute minimum and in no circumstances engaged in except on the express orders of the President or yourself, and with the understanding of both the President and yourself.
To state the substantive arguments briefly, the advantages of authorized and directed formal contact by the White House staff are (a) to convey direct messages from the President where it would be embarrassing, insecure, or excessively formal to summon the ambassador to the Oval Room; (b) to get exploratory discussion of key topics on a very relaxed basis and without the formality that some ambassadors feel about their regular points of contact in the Department. I accept the validity of (a) in rare cases. But I submit that (b) should not be the case if the Department and specifically the assistant secretary [Page 47] are doing the job you are entitled to expect of them. (I leave out of account the authorized use of CAS contacts in Washington, which again is a very rare hole card and can be occasionally put on a real “cut-out” basis to good effect and with good reason.)
On the other hand, the disadvantages seem to me enormous and normally overriding. You can judge for yourself whether Henry:’s third point goes beyond what you said to the Ambassador the other day. Obviously, in this instance, no harm has been done and the report is scrupulous. But the cases have been legion—and in numerous cases documented to us through Tom Hughes’ best sources—where members of the White House staff have given a significantly different slant to a problem and to the US position on it, from the position that we in the Department were conveying on the express authority of the Secretary. Apart from questions of misinterpretation, the chances of being whipsawed are just terribly great, and I would reckon that there are many embassies in town that have now established, or are at this moment seeking to establish, dual lines of contact to the White House and to the Department on the whole range of foreign policy issues. (I might add that the danger extends to the Pentagon, but has never been in the slightest degree significant in recent years with the caliber of men that we have had in the crucial ISA positions.)
In short, my personal suggestion to you would be to develop very clear and strict ground rules on this matter in whatever way you see fit.
I might add that the question of course washes over into contacts at social gatherings. I do not sense that Henry and his men have any great appetite for such gatherings, but they will be sorely tempted by the ingenious Diplomatic Corps. Obviously, they cannot be put on a freeze, but very strict rules of discretion and an absolute requirement of reporting the significant seem to me a minimum solution.
This is a question not of executive suite politics, but of your personal and institutional position and above all of the orderly and precise conduct of our foreign affairs. I say this with the utmost respect, with nothing but healed scar tissue from the past, and with only the warmest and most admiring feelings for Henry and for all of his staff whom I know.
I am making no carbon of this memorandum, and only you and I and my secretary will ever know it was written.