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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sessions: Briefing on Vietnam and Briefing on the Middle East Situation

(June 8, 1967)

Briefing on Vietnam


The Chairman. What I am leading up to, I suppose, now we are faced with this second war in the Middle East which God willing is coming to an end as far as the violence goes. But the end is a long ways off as far as a real settlement is concerned.

You could tell in this body itself this last week there was a much higher degree of apprehension as a result of this war in the Middle East breaking out on top of another war which is a very major war. Some are considering the proposition that it may, time may be here that we ought to consider trying to bring about a settlement involving, of course, the Russians and the other interested parties, of both the Middle East and Vietnam; that if we cannot settle Vietnam the Russians are not going to be satisfied to just sit by and be good and play ball in the Middle East while we are continuing to escalate and pursue the war in Vietnam.

I think there is some logic in that, a matter of psychology. I know the administration insists that there is no connection between these two.

I think, I sense, a great many of my colleagues believe there is a connection, particularly from the attitude of the Russians. They are still a pretty important element in the overall picture.

Now, you say it is not a propitious time. It may not be with looking only at Vietnam. But it seems to me, looking at the whole world situation and, particularly, our relations with the Russians, they have received a very serious setback now in their prestige and their allies in the Middle East, and possibly they could be disposed to consider a package agreement.

The reason I mention the Geneva Accords is simply because these governments--one common thread, I think, has been in the various pronouncements by Communists as well as our own government in the past, that this would be a reasonable place to begin. I am much more interested really in settling Vietnam than I am in the Middle East, not that we are not interested in both, but the one that is really hurting this country at the moment is Vietnam. I mean financially we are getting into very serious trouble. You saw where the House refused to up the limit. You know what that is. It is resentment against the distortion of our economy rising from the Vietnamese war.


We had the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee saying in a speech the other day he anticipated there could be a deficit, on top of what we already have scheduled, of $29 billion this coming year. That was from Wilbur Mills, the chairman of Ways and Means.

We are getting into very serious difficulties, I think, economically, domestically. We have the distortion of our domestic programs.

You read in today's paper about a riot, a racial riot, in Boston, which has not heretofore been particularly subject to that. Seventy people were injured, and so on.

Everyone feels that this summer we are going to be plagued with many more domestic difficulties in this area, all of which, I think, reflect the Vietnamese war, not just the monetary part, but the distraction of the attention of most of our political leaders. They are thinking the war. They are not thinking about the poverty program or the urban program, and so on. You know they cannot possibly be.

I was wondering if those of you, and particularly you, who have been so close to this out there, feel whether this should not be considered in a little broader framework than just Vietnam. Because if we are going to get anywhere with peace with the Russians or detente, I think we have to consider our doing something about Vietnam if they are going to be reasonable about other parts of the world.

This thing has blown up in their face in the Middle East. If we do not make any movement towards some kind of reconciliation, they can also make it difficult in Berlin or a number of other places.

Is this unreasonable to try to bring these two in focus, whether or not, in the words of the Secretary, there is an organic connection. I think there is certainly a psychological connection between the two in the minds of the Russians.

Mr. Porter. The package, Vietnam----

The Chairman. That is right.

Mr. Porter. [continuing]. And in the Middle East?

The Chairman. That is right.

Mr. Porter. And, of course, the matter of the people who will eventually have to give, not only to us in Vietnam, but perhaps we could find some means of doing that, but some very tough people I was associated with for many years, meaning the Israelis.

The Chairman. That is right.

Mr. Porter. I do not know.

In general appearance, of course, it seems attractive. The work seems very complicated.

The Chairman. It is complicated.


What bothers me really, I know when you were there, and I know what I call good technicians and people, they are interested in accomplishing their particular job. But, honestly, I do not see in the overall picture if we spend five or ten years bringing about a democratic regime there, in the first place, it would be a very tenuous regime if we impose it or if we manage it, if it does not develop of its own roots there. It is not to me the kind of position that is nearly as dangerous to the peace of the world over a long period as the Middle East can be because of the juxtaposition of so many different interests.

I have always been impressed by [General John] Gavin's idea that while it is important, it is not the most important or most strategic area, and so on. It is a reasonably peripheral area.

I wonder, we pursue it with all this money and effort and manpower and the attention of our people, and the neglect-we are neglecting Latin America; we are neglecting our domestic programs; we are neglecting Africa because we do not have but one mind, and the President can think of only one thing at a time.

I do not know. I think we are riding for a very serious problem if we do not bring these two together in some focus, and get some kind of a detente and stop this slaughter. That endless slaughter, it seems to me, is very dangerous.

I was struck today, the Secretary was here this morning, and he left--there had been word that one of our ships had been torpedoed. Well, you know how it turned out.

Supposing by mistake they had torpedoed a Russian ship. Would they have accepted the excuse that it was a mistake? I do not know whether they would have or not. They are mad as hell about our bombing their ship in the harbor.

The Ambassador to Czechoslovakia came to see me and he said good-by, and he said the Russians were furious about our bombing their ship, and they do not begin to buy that we did not do it. They know we did, he said. These mistakes are very dangerous.


The Chairman. What I meant to do is this: You have the confidence of the administration, I know. Would it be feasible--I won't even put it in the form of a question, I would rather put it this way--I would appeal to you and plead with you, without your answering yes or no, to inspire them to think about it, at least the possibility of private negotiations with the Russians and then with the French and British, before major powers, at least, who have an interest in this area, to consider under these present circumstances in which the Russians and the Arabs are humiliated, and it could be dangerous if we pushed this.

There is too much bragging. I regretted the statements made yesterday that this was a great victory for the West. This is the most infuriating way you can put this thing in the Middle East, but this was published as attributed to the Secretary.

I do not really think he ever said it, or certainly intended to say it that way, but these things happen.

I think during this interim if the Russians could be approached, if our government, and I certainly cannot do it, and it will have to be the administration, along this line, and they could see some prospect of a settlement in Vietnam, they would be greatly--their feelings would be helped a lot to go along in the Middle East and elsewhere if they thought they could get that off their back, because it is a burden to them, too. It is a burden and it is a dangerous one because of their relations with the Chinese.

All I am doing is appealing to you to inspire them to think about it along this way and not be too frozen in their attitude that this has nothing to do with the Middle East, and we do not want to consider it at all.

I think it is one of the things that might appeal to the Russians to consider seriously this approach.


I had a conversation with some of the Europeans at Geneva last week, and this sort of thing came up, and by and large those people--some were Communists, some were non-Communists--felt that the time has come where something ought to break about the continuation of the escalation in Vietnam.

They are all very apprehensive about it, you know all the Europeans are, for fear that it will escalate into a war that involves them. They are genuinely fearful.

Everybody is worried about it is what comes out of this thing. Are we going to get into a war with the Russians, the Chinese and/or the Russians? It is always simple to say oh, no, that cannot happen. It is exactly what they said about Korea.

We do not know obviously, but it is possible. Anytime you are slaughtering people wholesale there is always a danger.

I was hoping you would, at least, plan to see that they consider it, whatever they do. I would hate for them to miss an opportunity if it is here. I do not know whether it is here or not, but it is worth looking into.


Senator Case. Bill, do I understand you really--because I do not see as a matter of logic how the Middle East thing is in conjunction with Southeast Asia. How it makes it any more easy to make an agreement, unless what you have in mind in a way is that you get the Russians to ease off and to use their influence, whatever it may be, on the Arabs to ease off on Israel; settle that in a fair way, on a fair basis for the long term which, you know, I am all for in connection with our agreeing to withdraw somewhat our support or put pressure on the South Vietnamese. Is this what you have in mind?

The Chairman. It is awfully late to try to do it.

Senator Case. I just want to get some idea.


The Chairman. Maybe in a few words I will try to do it this way.

What I would propose to do, and this is, of course, very over-simplified. We are now engaged in the Security Council with the Russians.

They have agreed for the first time in a long time on this cease-fire. They supported it, all the Security Council did.

We are doing business for the first time in a long time in the Security Council.

Just to illustrate what I mean, I would propose to do with the Russians--they have joined now in this, and we welcome that assistance. This business in the Middle East has been very troublesome; it still is. The emotions are high, the resentment is bound to be terrible, and two or three things should be done.

Let us not first engage in rebuilding the armaments. Let us come to some understanding on conventional arms in this area and see if we cannot dampen down the fires.


In addition to that, we have this other war over here that is very dangerous. Why can't the Security Council, with all of its prestige, unanimously recommend that the war in Vietnam be referred back to the Geneva Conference. That is where most of the parties, I think all of them, at one time or another have said it should go for reevaluation of the Accords of 1954 and see if they cannot find a basis upon which this matter can be brought to a negotiation.

This is the forum in which the North Vietnamese, China, the United States, de Gaulle and others have said is the only forum, not the United Nations. The Security Council does not attempt to deal with it, but they recommend that this be done with the prestige of that agency, with the participation of the Russians, and that the bombing in the North should be stopped, and we, of course, agree with this; pending this we will just agree to do this, to get some movement in this thing.

We are absolutely at a stalemate on this negotiation. After the last exchange of letters with Ho Chi Minh, everybody said, ``Well, let's out. We are just going to fight it to the end now.'' That is the general attitude.

I do not think there is the slightest hope until the moment there are going to be any negotiations at all. It is going to be a military solution. Yet, at the same time, many of the most knowledgeable authorities say it is not subject to a military solution. You virtually said that yourself. You do not think the military can do the job. It requires a very complicated, long, drawn-out system of pacification.

The point would be to get some movement in it, a new approach, and a feeling that we are dampening down the fires of war instead of escalating them.

This is largely, I think, a psychological point that I am trying to make, that we get a movement into this terrible confrontation that seems to be building up.


The obverse of that, if we do not do it, it seems to me, the resentment of the Arabs is going to be very great. The Russians, after they lick their wounds, will say, ``Well we can't be pushed around like this forever.'' They can think of other things to do to cause us trouble and to stir up trouble. They are quite capable of it, if they do not change their attitude that we want to cooperate. You either go one way or the other. They never stand still.

So this is a proposal, to use the U.N. to get it off dead center, and the U.N. would continue as the forum for the various details of the Middle East, such as what to do with Aqaba, the opening of the Suez, whatever readjustments of the withdrawal, and all the details of implementing a cease-fire, and bringing about a peace and, hopefully, a genuine treaty of peace rather than a truce.

This is all I am trying to explore. I think that it makes sense to bring the two together, because then it is a really important matter, if it could be done, and if the Russians were encouraged to take a part in this.

They reacted very favorably to their little experience in Tashkent, which was a minor matter compared to this.

You never know, it might appeal to their sense of history. They have been fairly restrained on the whole up to recently. They have been getting pretty tough recently, to me exhibiting a kind of impatience of, well, there is no hope of a negotiation with the Americans. I must say I felt that publication of the matter of Ho Chi Minh that his government had just given up all hope of any negotiations, that there has got to be a military victory, and I honestly do not think it is feasible. 



Secretary Rusk. Well, on the matter we discussed yesterday, the situation today still remains that Israel has announced that it would accept the cease-fire if the other side would. Egypt, Syria and Iraq have announced that they are not accepting the cease-fire, and it is our impression out of Cairo that they do not intend to.

We think this is going to complicate the situation a great deal because the Russians have been pressing us very hard to get the Israelis to accept the cease-fire, and they are not able to deliver the other side. So it does not look as though this thing is going to clarify very quickly except on a purely military basis along the Canal and the West Bank of the Jordan.

I did not yesterday, in view of the large attendance, I did not get into some possibilities that ought to dampen down any sense of general elation here in this situation.

We do not yet know what the effect of this situation will be on the governments concerned. It is hard to see how Nasser can survive this situation. We are not at all sure that King Hussein can survive it.

If there are changes in these governments, the possibilities of getting an enduring settlement would turn a great deal on the nature of the leadership that might come to power. The political situation itself is very flexible, fluid at this present time.


Further, we cannot assure that the Soviet Union is just going to cut its losses and take its lumps here in this situation. It may feel----

Senator Mundt. You said what?

Secretary Rusk. I say we cannot assume that they will.

Senator Mundt. Yes.

Secretary Rusk. On the present basis they face a very serious setback, and they may feel that it is necessary for them to do something to try to recoup their position.

We are watching it very carefully, and we have not seen specific moves which they might possibly make. We are watching all situations, such as the Berlin corridor, to see whether there is any indication that the Soviets are likely to stir something up somewhere in order to take some of the pressure off of them on this particular situation.

There have been, so far as we know, no more breaches of diplomatic relations since the meeting yesterday afternoon. But the reiteration by Cairo of the charges that our forces have participated continues to inflame the mob in a number of places.

Senator Hickenlooper. At that point, might I interrupt?

Secretary Rusk. Yes, please, Senator.


Senator Hickenlooper. At that point, I heard over the radio this morning a report, this is a radio report, that at a conference in Amman, either last night or this morning--afternoon their time, whatever time it is--that their military people said they agreed there was no evidence of any participation by American or British forces in this military action.

Secretary Rusk. Yes, that is quite right. Without prodding from us, the Chief of Military Intelligence in Jordan announced they had no information that any U.S. military aircraft were operating over Jordan. That will go a long way, because some of the Arab countries attributed this evidence from hard evidence they had from Jordan, and Jordan's denial will go a long way, I think, towards helping us at least on the propaganda side.

Senator Symington. Mr. Secretary, may I just ask a question?

Secretary Rusk. Yes, please.

[Discussion off the record.]


Secretary Rusk. Because we are all thinking about the shape of a general settlement. But I want to emphasize the point that this is not something that can be ground out in Washington and imposed upon the other capitals. We certainly are not in a position to command Israel about a settlement, and it has become apparent to us that the Soviet Union is not in a position to command the Arab countries.

So naturally we ought to have some ideas of our own, and that is one of the reasons, Mr. Chairman, why I welcome this chance to be with the committee this morning.

We had a very good discussion here about ten days ago which was, I thought, extremely helpful to me because we had a general discussion in the committee about some of the policy issues involved.


Senator Mundt. I take it that issue is no longer with us.

Secretary Rusk. The particular issue of the Straits, I think, is pretty well behind us.

We understand that the Soviets have told the Egyptians we have got to accept a cease-fire with the Straits of Tiran open.

Now, the Soviets, as I told you before, had not committed themselves on the Straits of Tiran, and we were very sure that the Egyptians had not consulted the Soviet Union before Nasser made his speech closing the Straits.

The Chairman. Had not consulted.

Secretary Rusk. Had not been consulted. As a matter of fact, Nasser probably did not consult anybody. I have seen a number of Arab foreign ministers in the last two weeks, and I have not found anybody that he consulted on that subject.


The Chairman. Could I ask in that connection----

Secretary Rusk. Yes, sir.

The Chairman. Are the Soviets willing to talk to you frankly about this and other matters now? Are they being as standoffish or not? What are our relations?

Secretary Rusk. They are willing to talk to us bilaterally very frankly.

The Chairman. That is what I mean.

Secretary Rusk. They are unwilling to go into that four-power discussion even at the U.N. that President de Gaulle asked for.

The Chairman. When you said they cannot command the Arabs and we cannot command Israel, I mean I can appreciate that. But if we could together, agree upon any line of action of things to get, I would think it would be pretty difficult to stand out against over a period, if we can agree with the Soviets.

Secretary Rusk. I think that would be true, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman. Individually they play each other off and all that.

Secretary Rusk. The difficulty is that at the moment everybody's nerves are very raw, the Arab nerves and the Soviet nerves.

The Chairman. Yes.

Secretary Rusk. And so it is going to take a little time, I think, to get this back to a point where we and they can talk about a final solution.


The Chairman. Would it be consistent with your policy to approach the Soviets that we are perfectly willing to be very reasonable in this area, to try to achieve our ultimate objective of the integrity of Israel--I think that is clear; they ought to know that is clear and combine it with some movement in Asia?

It seems to me it was a great shock that this has brought on everybody. It obviously shocked this country worse than Vietnam, that it would be an opportunity for diplomacy, quiet diplomacy, certainly between us and the Russians, to combine these two? They surely are interested in Vietnam, and we are interested in the Middle East. It seems to me the evidence is clear that this country emotionally and politically is more interested in Israel, the Middle East, than they are in Vietnam. I mean you watch the turnout here in the Senate, the great furor that has resulted.

I wondered if it is beyond reason to expect that there might be an opportunity for a general agreement in which you could work it with the Soviets privately, and if you could agree, I do not know why with a little patience this could not be made acceptable to both sides.

Secretary Rusk. Well, Senator, we have talked to--and I would like to emphasize the top secret character of this tape.

The Chairman. Well, you can take this particular thing off the record. It will be top secret.

[Discussion off the record.]


Senator Morse. Mr. Chairman, I want to follow up what you said in this very brief colloquy with the Secretary, and I want to preface it, Mr. Secretary, by saying that we are all in this problem together. You and I have had differences on policy, but we have not had differences on a personal level. I want you to know that I not only have a very high regard for you, but the suggestion I am going to make is just not expecting acceptance of it necessarily, but I hope consideration of it bears out the feeling I have towards you personally.

I think we have got to get out of our stereotype channels of diplomacy in regard to this matter. I do not think they will resolve it because there are a good many things you yourself have said about this spot that Russia is in.

I do not think face should mean much to us if we are willing to go not half a mile or three-quarters of a mile, but all the way.

I think that now is the time with Russia in the position that she is in for us to resort to quite an unconventional diplomatic approach in regard to this matter.

You talk about bringing our ambassador back to Washington. My suggestion is that careful consideration be given by the President and by you and others and that you proceed without delay to Moscow yourself; that you announce to Moscow, our government announces to Moscow, that because of the problems that both great powers have, and the responsibility of both great powers more than all the others combined to maintain peace in the world, you are going to Moscow for conversations with the Russian leaders, if they want to receive you.

You can say right away suppose they slap us in the face and tell us to stay home. All right. That is not going to hurt us. Those slaps do not hurt. The world will know what we are trying to do, and my confidence in you is such that I believe if you could sit down there, first with our ambassador for his briefing in Moscow, and then put these Russians really on the spot by demonstrating our good faith, and have that top level conference in Russia--we do not know what the result might be--but I cannot see any loss in trying it.

I just think we are going to make a mistake if we just wait for the passage of time that it is going to take--you yourself pointed out that we probably have got two weeks ahead of us. I do not think we can wait. I think we have the right and the duty for us to try to have some diplomatic intercourse directly with the Russians.


You know the attitude of the Russians. If we go to Moscow, they will think that is some great concession on our part. It is no concession, in fact, because that leads me to the second point, and then I will be through--I raised it briefly in our colloquy yesterday upstairs. I may not understand it, but I am not too happy about what you said yesterday concerning our attitude in regard to reestablishing diplomatic relations with these countries that have broken diplomatic relations with us while they destroy our embassies and threaten our people and seek to coerce us.

I think we have to put handcuffs on them. I want to reestablish relations with them, but not on their terms but on ours, because here is a case of diplomatic aggression, at least on their part.

I think they have got to understand we are not going to stand by and have our ships sunk. We are not going to stand by and have them continue to threaten peace in the Middle East.


That brings me to the last point I made upstairs. I think we ought to make perfectly clear in this situation now, Russia has got to understand it, and one of the things you can talk about in Moscow is we are not going to let Israel have to survive from now on without a peace. We have to have a peace treaty and we have got to have an understanding that there is not going to be a repetition of this, and that our future relations by way of aid to them is dependent upon their working out a peace settlement.

I know the government does not like to hear me say it, but in my judgment if we had not given the aid to the Arabs or go along with aid to the Arabs while they were continuing to threaten the survival of Israel, I do not think we would be in the position we are today.

I never have bought the argument, if we do not do this, they would have gone to Russia. I think they realize now what it cost them to go to Russia.

It may be just a completely unacceptable idea, but I want to link it to what the chairman says. I made a very short statement on the floor of the Senate yesterday about Vietnam. I am sure the State Department won't like it, as they do not like much of what I say on Vietnam, but you cannot separate Vietnam from the settlement over here in the Middle East. The Russians are not going to let us, for one thing. I do not think it is in the cards. I think we have got to hitch them together, but not directly at first.


I think we need some dramatic and, you may not like the word ``dramatic'' but, after all, it is important, too, in times of crisis, some dramatic change in the format of our diplomacy.

I think, six, there is no one better qualified to do it than you. I hope you will understand that it illustrates my feeling toward you personally. I think you are the one to do it. I think you can do it. I think the President ought to send you to do it.

If you wait for two weeks, God knows what we are going to be faced with in two weeks.

I would like to see you go on to Moscow on a basis you can set it up, and put them on the spot. We cannot lose anything by it.

Secretary Rusk. Senator, I do not in any sense rule out the possibility of my going to Moscow, and I certainly will give that further thought.

We are in very close touch with the Russians. The problem with the Russians is not, you know, lack of communication at very serious levels. But, nevertheless, if a trip of this sort would appear to be promising, I do not rule it out at all.

Senator Morse. It may be something to their prestige. We do not have to worry about our prestige.

Secretary Rusk. They may be very sensitive at the moment about a thing of this sort. However, let me say, I think what I would like to do is to have a very long talk with Dobrynin when he gets back this week, and try to get some feel for it.

Ambassador Thompson is here now, our Ambassador to Moscow, and when their Ambassador gets back, Thompson and I will sit down with him and go over these things.

We are, I am, in touch with Mr. Gromyko very frequently, and we are in touch through other channels.


Senator Morse. One more thing. I am not only thinking about the relationship of the U.S. and Russia, but I am thinking of the image that that would create with the rest of the world. That is important, that the rest of the world know that the two great powers, both great powers, recognize the seriousness of the crisis, and we are trying to find a basis on which we can reach an understanding.

I think it would have a terrific psychological offensive around the world.

I have another wild idea if you want it, if anybody wants to call it a wild idea. I think we ought to follow that also with an offer for an extraordinary commission of some kind to go to Hanoi, call their bluff, to go to Hanoi, to send an extraordinary commission under the auspices of our government to Hanoi.

If they want to sit down, not with any authority to make any commitments at all, but to talk--and I think you would be applauded around the world.

Secretary Rusk. Mr. Chairman, the contingency I have predicted has come, and they have asked me to come straightaway on this other matter, so if the committee will forgive me I will have to withdraw. Perhaps we can do it in the morning or some other time.

The Chairman. All right. We will consult, and the staff will be in touch with your office.

Secretary Rusk. I want you to understand the confidential character of what I said.

The Chairman. What are we going to say about why you had to go, just an emergency meeting?

Secretary Rusk. I think you had better say that I was called back to my office.

Senator Mundt. Mr. Chairman, I think this is a good idea that we restore the program, that once in a while the Secretary comes and talks to us as a committee. I think it is all right to have a certain sponsoring group for the whole Senate now and then. I think that is good.

The Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

[Whereupon, at 10:45 a.m., the committee adjourned to proceed to other business.]

Sources: Federation of American Scientists