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32. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Viet Nam

PARTICIPANTS

  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador
  • The Secretary
  • Malcom Toon, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary
[Page 95]

The Secretary told Dobrynin that we hope soon to resume private talks with the Soviets on Viet Nam. Meanwhile, he felt Dobrynin should know that the continued rocket bombardment of cities in South Viet Nam was creating serious problems for us. Indiscriminate attacks on the population centers in South Viet Nam had deeply angered our public opinion and it was felt that these attacks represented a violation of the understanding which had been reached by the previous Administration with the North Vietnamese in connection with cessation of bombing of North Viet Nam.

Dobrynin said that the North Vietnamese have indicated both privately to the Soviets and in their public statements that their rocket attacks are in retaliation for increased military action in South Viet Nam. In the first place, the North Vietnamese maintain that B–52 raids have resulted in considerable civilian casualties. Secondly, they point out that general military activity in South Viet Nam has increased. Beyond this, the North Vietnamese are dissatisfied with our posture in Paris. They have informed the Soviets that we completely ignore the National Liberation Front in Paris and that we insist on discussing only military questions with the North Vietnamese, maintaining that political questions are to be decided by the South Vietnamese only.

The Secretary pointed out that B–52 raids may result in some civilian casualties but it is clear that the raids are aimed at purely military targets. The rocket attacks, on the other hand, are deliberately aimed at population centers. There is no justification for equating the two. Dobrynin demurred, pointing out that rocket attacks are probably directed at specific military targets. The Secretary said there was no evidence of this, and our information was that the attacks were aimed at heavily populated centers.

The Secretary reiterated his concern at the continuation of these attacks and wished Dobrynin to know that the North Vietnamese were miscalculating if they felt that this would soften the American position. The result would be just the opposite. With regard to the talks in Paris, the Secretary saw no reason why all questions could not be discussed by the four participating parties in private sessions. The NLF, of course, insists on talking privately with the United States, but this is something we are not prepared to do.

Dobrynin asked if we had made this position clear in Paris. His understanding was that until now we had insisted on discussing only military questions with the North Vietnamese and taken the position that political matters were the proper subject of discussion with the South Vietnamese and not the U.S.

The Secretary made clear that our only reservation was with private talks between ourselves and the NLF. He saw no reason why all issues, political and military, could not be discussed by all participants at some appropriate time.

[Page 96]

Dobrynin said that he felt this represented an important change in the U.S. position and that he would report this immediately to Moscow.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET S. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Toon. This memorandum is part II of IV.