114. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

65559. For Ambassador. Ref: Moscow 3535.2 Subj: Reply to Soviet Protest Note.

Ambassador requested to deliver following reply to Soviet protest note to Kovalev or other appropriate senior official as soon as possible.

Begin Text:

Deputy Foreign Minister Kovalev on April 16 delivered a note to Ambassador Beam which contained a protest dealing with alleged acts against Soviet Merchant shipping in the port of Haiphong. The United [Page 363] States Government has considered this protest and makes the following points:

Every effort is made to limit air strikes to military targets used in direct support of aggression against South Viet-Nam. Consequently the air strikes were not aimed at or intended to affect third parties and precautions were taken to prevent this from occurring.
If damage to shipping has in fact occurred, it could well be the result of anti-aircraft fire or misfirings from the North Vietnamese side.
If any damage to international shipping in the Haiphong area was produced by ordnance dropped by U.S. aircraft it was inadvertent and regrettable.
In recent weeks the North Vietnamese forces have launched massive invasions across the Demilitarized Zone and from points in Laos and Cambodia against South Viet-Nam. Countries which supply offensive equipment to the North Vietnamese and enable them to mount an invasion of South Viet-Nam share responsibility.
Nevertheless the Soviet Government may be assured that U.S. authorities will continue to make every effort to avoid any damage to international shipping. End Text.3

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 VIET S. Confidential; Flash; Exdis. Drafted by Green, Sullivan, and Matlock on April 16; cleared by Hillenbrand and Kissinger; and approved by Rogers. In an April 16 memorandum forwarding a copy of the draft telegram to Kissinger, Kennedy noted that Sonnenfeldt believed “it would be best to hold it up and not reply for a day or two to avoid getting into a further exchange before Wednesday [April 19].” “If you want to go ahead and release the cable tonight,” Kennedy continued, “please just let me know and I will take care of it.” According to Kennedy’s notation on the memorandum, Kissinger cleared the telegram that evening and the President approved it the following morning. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 10)
  2. Document 108.
  3. Beam delivered the note to Kovalev that afternoon. Kovalev, citing the point on the responsibility of military suppliers, declared that the Soviet Union “had rendered in the past and will continue to render all necessary support to the DRV in its struggle against outside aggression.” Beam replied that the U.S. Government had given careful consideration to its response, including the point in question, which he believed “was critical and stated our case cogently.” Beam later commented in his reporting telegram that the note had apparently “blunted current Soviet charges.” (Telegram 3574 from Moscow, April 17; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 VIET S)