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As the U.S. peace missionaries whizzed from capital to capital, Moscow was embarking on a diplomatic offensive of its own. Its aim: to stake out a major, continuing role in Asia. Riding the rails to Ulan Bator last week was Communist First Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. His mission: to sign a new defense treaty with Mongolia along Red China's mountainous Sinkiang frontier. Since Peking is the only conceivable threat to Mongolia's remote land space, the Kremlin's intention was fairly clear. Nor could Peking be very happy about what was going on in Tashkent last week. There, an avuncular Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin was mediating the border squabble between India's Lai Bahadur Shastri and Pakistan's Ayub Khan, whom Peking fancies as a lately found friend. With almost daily shooting on the Chinese-Indian Himalayan frontier, the last thing Peking wants is a settlement between India and Pakistan. Nor does Peking relish Russia's role as a peacemaker among Asians.
Of most acute interest both to Peking and the U.S. was last week's meeting in Hanoi between Soviet Troubleshooter Aleksandr Shelepin and Ho Chi Minh, the first high-level Soviet visit to North Viet Nam since Kosygin's trip last February. With Shelepin went an expert in munitions production and the deputy commander of Russia's rocketry armory; and on arrival in Hanoi, Shelepin dutifully denounced U.S. "aggression" in Viet Nam. It hardly added up to what the U.S. had hoped it might be: a parallel peace probe, urging Hanoi to sit down and talk. But Peking was not so sure and, in fact, labeled Shelepin a "peace peddler," come to Hanoi "to stab in the back" the anti-U.S. struggle in Viet Nam, in outright collusion with the "American imperialists" to bring a halt to the war. Precisely what Shelepin was up to, Moscow was, of course, not saying.
Carrot & Earnest. But as Lyndon Johnson's peace offensive gathered momentum, the U.S. had no such qualms about unveiling its purpose. It was disclosed in the form of a letter addressed to U.N. Secretary-General U Thant from Goldberg to be communicated to all the member states of the U.N. as a Security Council document. Authorized by Johnson himself, it reaffirmed "our desire promptly to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Viet Nam and to do all in our power to move that conflict from the battlefield to the conference table." For the first time, Washington publicly acknowledged that, as a carrot to Hanoi and an earnest and visible token of U.S. sincerity in the peace offensive to the rest of the world, "our bombing of North Viet Nam has not been resumed since the Christmas truce."