291. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
- Gromyko’s Performance on Vietnam
There can be little doubt from Gromyko’s close attention to what you said2 that he wants to transmit a detailed rendition of our position to Hanoi. I think the Soviets believe that our current terms are ones that Hanoi ought to at least talk about, if not in fact accept, because they think that if implemented they will before long produce if not a Communist government in Saigon, then one that leans in that direction. I believe the Soviets accept that we want to get the war over with.
The Soviets obviously feel that the war gets in their way (which is not to say that as long as it goes on they do not also see certain benefits in it). They are probably quite frustrated by Hanoi’s pathological unwillingness to take the slightest risk in negotiations. While they have to be careful not to make themselves our advocate, Gromyko’s detailed notes—unusual for him—and precise questions were undoubtedly intended to enable him to present our position in a way that, in the Soviet view, might mitigate Hanoi’s suspicions. In any case, it seems a virtual certainty that your presentation will be transmitted in some form.
Gromyko also seems to think that once the Paris talks start again there will be pressure on Hanoi to make them more productive. The Soviets themselves may plan to exert such pressure; but beyond that they may believe that the fear of our breaking off again and perhaps taking some further drastic military action might induce Hanoi to display somewhat more flexibility. Moreover, the Soviets know as well as we do that when negotiations are in progress, we too are subject to pressures, especially this season, to be flexible.
It does not seem probable that the Soviets will again try to get Hanoi to agree to a private session in conjunction with a formal one. But Gromyko’s formulations suggest that they will try to get Hanoi to make less intransigent noises about the whole negotiating process.
One general comment. I found it interesting that unlike the senior leaders Gromyko did not find it obligatory to protest fraternal friendship for Hanoi. He seemed much more clinical in his comments about the North Vietnamese—admittedly because he was trying to persuade you to change your approach, but there was still a certain patronizing tone in his remarks about Hanoi’s penchant for prestige and propaganda. In any event, Gromyko quite evidently saw his role as at least an honest post office. But he was also trying to establish his credibility with us as a fair transmission belt. Even more than that, he mentioned several times that the Soviets expect to make recommendations to Hanoi. While this has happened in the past, Gromyko seemed at pains to indicate that it would definitely happen this time.