Wilson on Vietnam

Message from Prime Minister Harold Wilson to US President Lyndon Johnson in February, 1967 (PREM 13/1788)



When I spoke to Walt Rostow I said would send you a telegram about a further conversation I had with Kosygin at 7.00 p.m. on Friday evening.

What he wanted to talk to me about was his sense of urgency about the Vietnam situation and his concern about what the position might be if by Sunday, when he returned from Scotland, there had been no positive outcome from the exchanges through the established channel. He was of course intending to communicate my text to Moscow for transmission to Hanoi and told me he had spoken to Brezhnev who had supported all he is doing. But we might be meeting on Sunday night with Tet ending and a return to a situation in which it would be infinitely harder to set in motion the necessary operations for a cessation of bombing and for negotiations.

Whether he will come forward with any ingenious but unacceptable proposal I do not know, but I think if he does he will know what my reaction will be. But I do not want to be in a position where he takes all the initiatives. I do not need to tell you of the difficult political situation in Britain as well as in the United States if he is able to make capital out of his assertion that he knows for certain that North Vietnam would be ready to stop the war if you stopped the bombing and that you alone aided and abetted by your British stooges stand in the way of peace. This is his line in public speeches, television broadcasts, radio and press interviews. He has toted the Burchett interview as though it were the word of God or even of Lenin. We must be able to turn the political attack in order to demonstrate as you and I have always sought to do that it is North Vietnamese obduracy which stands in the way of peace.

I would like you to understand our political situation here. For two years, whether with a majority of three or a majority of a hundred, I have been able to hold my Party. On the Thursday before Kosygin’s visit I had a hostile vote of 68 on a Resolution specifically demanding that H.M.G. should associate itself with U Thant’s appeal to you to stop the bombing unconditionally. The vote would have been much larger if I had not made a short personal appeal not to rock the boat in advance of Kosygin’s visit. If Kosygin secures a propaganda victory on this question, my Opposition will rise to much bigger figures. You are in a better position than I to know the reaction in the United States. As I have said, when all is said and done, my decision on policy here is dictated not by political pressures but by what I know to be right.

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