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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Johnson Administration > Volume VII
Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 1-24

September 1-October 1, 1968: Efforts To Move the Peace Talks Forward; the Ohio Exercise

1. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of Defense Clifford/1/

September 2, 1968, 10:10 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Clifford, September 2, 1968, 10:10 a.m., Tape F68.06, PNO 4. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. Clifford, in Washington, called the President at his Texas ranch, where Johnson was staying August 23 to September 3. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

Clifford: But by the time you got back, say Wednesday,/2/ I think you're coming back--we could then have a memorandum. If we can't agree, then we can set forth the items where we are in agreement and then others that we could sit down, maybe just the four of us, and talk out, because I think we are getting to a point where possibly because of an unsuccessful offensive on their part, possibly because of a concern on their part about the political situation in the U.S., that they see nothing ahead of them, there may be the possibility still in the next 3 or 4 months where great progress can be made.

/2/September 4.

President: I agree with all that. I think that's a good plan. My thinking is this, and maybe you can understand, if you have this little background--I'll try not to be too long--maybe you can weigh this in your drafting. Number one, I think a basic weakness of this government is that we do not come up with enough of possible outlines and suggestions and proposals for the other side to look at and evaluate and amend and moderate and so forth. And I think we just say we'll go on fighting, we'll stop the bombing, if you'll stop everything. But you're not going to stop anything. That's our position, period.

Now, I happen to be one that never thought this was going to be a short operation over there. And I think it's going to take time and I think it's very likely to go into a long time in the next administration unless we surrender and pull out. And then I think it'll in time come back, flame in again, and get hot, much wider territory. I would like for our record to show that our people are seeking peace so much, yearning for it so much that every month or so that we say, well, if this wouldn't work, maybe this would. I would naturally like for that to go through our people in Vietnam--uh, in Paris--now that we have these contacts. It seems to me that we have a great obligation and duty to give them more than we do give them. They've got to sell real silk socks like I did when I was a kid, and when they just gave me four colors, I couldn't do much business. But when they expanded the lot, and I had about eighteen, I could really move them. And I think we've got to give them some more colors to look at.

So I have tried to encourage State as well as our shop to be thinking of anything that we could legitimately give, and we could give our bombing, and what could we get that they could live with. Of course, if they'd re-establish the DMZ, I think we could get the JCS and everybody to go along. I don't see how they could do that because that would be a signal that the South's not going to get any more help, and so on and so forth, and there's two Vietnams. But if we could find out, and I just plain don't know, this is detail and technicality, we ought to find out if we were in their place what they could live with that we could live with. Now, I'm not about to run on that platform--run out on it. I don't want to wiggle from it one goddamn inch. I'm not a McCarthyite at all. I think he's wrong. I think he's unsound. I think that McGovern's unsound. I think Teddy Kennedy's unsound. Now maybe that that'll be our policy in January and maybe Humphrey will come to that. But I honestly believe that their views--those in the Pentagon, among your civilians, the Enthovens and that group, and a bunch over in State too, I just believe they're unsound. Now maybe, maybe they're not. But I would like, though, on my own to try to have something more than we've got.

Now I was very interested and encouraged by your thought that here was something we could offer, and if they didn't--they'd have to take one of three courses. The thing that I found wrong with it was that I didn't think that you had the experience in stopping the bombing that I had had, and I think that it was kind of a professorial, idealistic, unrealistic approach to assume that we could ever stop the damn thing and get back in. And then I thought you were a little fuzzy on really whether we would get back in or not, whether you'd just come charging and say you damn right we will. That one had a little more appeal to me. And third, I didn't think we could do any of that before the convention anyway because it'd be for political purposes. So, my thinking is, A--I want new proposals any damn kind, I'll pay a reward for them.

Clifford: All right. [chuckle]

President: By God, I'll pay a premium, just like we do on our pole cats down there we sell. If it's got a little white on its back, I'll give a little extra. We used to ship them up to Funston's in St. Louis where you lived. But anybody that'll get us something that we can live with that might conceivably perhaps be appealing to them, so A--Averell can present it, B--so the Pope could have something that's new that he could say, "I believe this could be done," because I'm very anxious to give him a little something to chew on, because I'm holding him. Otherwise, he'll be against us if we just keep on not ever finding anything for him. I want someday without hurting anything to do that. Third, at Oslo, I want something besides just the plain ABCs./3/

/3/Reference is to the indirect channel to the North Vietnamese through the Norwegians; see footnote 5, Document 20.

Clifford: Yes.

President: Now I don't have the staff right under me that can come up with eighteen proposals. Defense has a group over there that I know want peace. And Rusk has a group of policy planners and so forth, and Rostow. So I have said to Rusk, please, please, spend the next month on getting us some initiatives here. I'm not really for putting them out in public. I'm for saying to Kosygin, "Now, you tell us that here on Czechoslovakia this is none of our damn business, and here's generally about how our people feel about what's going on, and we think it's just as dangerous, more dangerous, in Eastern Europe than you think it's dangerous in Southeast Asia. So, we feel this very strongly, and this is our view. Now here's how we feel about Southeast Asia. You say that you think that you "have reason to believe" that something would come. Well, I have reason to believe we could do this if your reason to believe is any good, and give him something, I don't know what the hell it is, that he could work on.

Clifford: Yeah.

President: At the same time, I would tell Averell, "Now here, we're going to do this with Kosygin, we're going to do this with the Pope." I would like when Nixon comes in on January 21, and he says, "Okay, what is it this crowd did? What did you do last year?" And I would say, "Well, Rusk and Clifford proposed on September the 3d that we go this far, and we did. And on September the 9th, we said to the Pope this. And on September the 18th, we said to Harriman this." Or maybe Harriman first, and then the Pope, and then Kosygin.

Clifford: Right.

President: Now that's all I'm saying. That's rather disjointed. But I'm not trying to get a letter off to Kosygin yesterday.

Clifford: That's good.

President: I'm just trying to say to him, "For God's sakes, let's get something that will be sure." Now, I really don't think it's going to come to much. But I want to be an optimist. Now I said to Humphrey, "What I'd like to do is to be able to say to Harriman, 'Now I've talked to Humphrey and Nixon, and you can tell the North Vietnamese there's going to be no division in this country, that we're going to be one man until a new President takes office and they don't need to count on any divisions among us.'" And Humphrey said, "That's fine by me," and Nixon had in effect said that to me before. "Well," I said, "let's wait 'til next week and I'll be back up there." Well, goddamnit, he went right to the newspaper and called a press conference and said that this is what he thought ought to be done. Now you can see Nixon's not likely to accept Humphrey's proposal. But he just doesn't understand. Now I would hope that next week we could get a couple of sentences that would say something like that and let Rusk quietly communicate it to Harriman, let Vance tell them some evening, that here's what we're authorized to say on behalf of Nixon and Humphrey and the President.

Clifford: I've got the picture. That's very helpful. I'll have my notes ready and the three of us'll meet tomorrow. I'd like to come up with something so we have--in any event, I'll have a paper for you on Wednesday so you can look at it./4/

/4/Not found.

President: All right.

Clifford: And it will have some ideas in it and that may spring other ideas.

President: Well, what we could do, if you want to, Wednesday, before we have our [National] Security Council meeting, you could come in. I hear a lot better sometimes than I read from you. I think you're the best pleader I ever heard. So I would like to have you outline for me any thoughts that you have. Now, I had thought seriously of asking you to come down here over Labor Day and come in and just sit here and talk like in a full day like I've talked in ten minutes here. I concluded against it. I talked to Rusk on the phone and told him what I thought instead, and I concluded against it for two reasons. One was, I didn't know how quite to do it without Rusk being in on discussing this kind of proposal. And the second thing--I don't want to take you away from your golf Labor Day. And third, we had miserable weather anyway, and it's a long six hours on a jet that can be used absorbing a little rest for the week ahead. I do think, a propos what you said the other day, that you might say to Jim Jones, "Now let's do this in a quiet period, and give me--I don't want but 15 minutes. My guess is it'll take an hour. Heh, heh. So, let's just set aside an hour and let's be damn sure we set it so another meeting won't be crowding us. And let me try to explain some things, and let the President ask some questions and maybe explain his feeling to me." And then I think we might either--the four or five of us--go out on a boat and visit around some if we still have sunshine or [Camp] David, or something maybe next week, and continue to probe. I'd like to let Nitze run the Department, and Katzenbach, and Brom Smith, and let you and Rusk and Walt try to figure out things that A--will give us some hope of success, that B--will at least be treating the American people fair, and C--that we'll damn sure look good before an investigating committee in February when they say what in the hell did you do.

Clifford: That all makes a lot of sense. What we need is exactly what you have in mind. It's what I need. I mentioned it before. It's a chance to sit down where we don't have to be careful or cautious for somebody else that's there. But with this--with the four of us, I can speak completely freely, and I'm sure they can, and I feel that you can. And that's really what we need. We can take it all apart. And I can make any kind of suggestions, and Dean [Rusk] feels free to knock them down, and I can knock his down, and out of it can come something. The record is important, but I still feel that out of it can come something that in my--as I've said all along, it will be the crowning glory of your administration.

President: Well, we just sure don't want to be just the kind of hot-heads and hard-heads and stubborn Dutchmen that won't consider anything. It's awful hard to consider something when you haven't got something.

Clifford: Yeah.

President: And I have this feeling too. Tommy [Llewellyn] Thompson is going back. Before he goes back, I'm going to talk to him. Nixon's anxious to talk to him too. I would like very much to give Thompson a pretty good feel of several things that might perhaps maybe have some appeal where he can have something besides just greetings and the damn formal stuff when he gets back talking to his people and can kind of have something to try to appeal to them with./5/ So, I'm going to try to see him Wednesday or Thursday. And maybe out of that, before we get a letter, we can say, now, here, would you try this on for size with them.

/5/In a meeting with Dobrynin on September 6, Thompson informed him that the President would be willing to overlook any potential domestic criticism and meet with Kosygin to discuss strategic matters. Thompson's memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. XIV, Document 293.

Clifford: Mm-hmm.

President: Okay.

Clifford: Thank you.


2. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/

Paris, September 3, 1968, 1807Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-September 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan/Plus. Received at 2:53 p.m.

20314/Delto 682. From Harriman and Vance.

1. We saw Zorin at Soviet Embassy morning September 3 for meeting of slightly over an hour./2/ (Bogomolov being on leave, Oberemko and Perry interpreted and Soviet press attaché Baskakov took notes on Soviet side.)

/2/The meeting between Harriman and Zorin took place at 11 a.m. In a memorandum of this conversation drafted the same day, Perry noted that it was the first meeting since the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips and Missions, Paris Peace Talks, Chronological Files, September-November 1968)

2. It was noticeable that Zorin's attitude was more forthcoming and unargumentative than in any of our previous talks. He seemed at pains to stress positive aspects of situation regarding Vietnam talks, and to pass up opportunities to start usual polemics about US position. Zorin commented at outset that he had been occupied elsewhere than with Vietnam, and Harriman replied that call on him was made in hopes of getting his attention back to the Vietnamese problem. Otherwise East European situation did not come up except that Harriman mentioned that these events would harden US opinion.

3. We led off by saying that our visit was to take stock of the situation, and pointed out failure of talks with DRV on his Phase One-Phase Two proposal. We pointed to the increased attacks in the last two weeks and to the resumption of the use of Soviet-made rockets in indiscriminate shelling of Saigon and Danang. We gave him the details of the heavy civilian casualties resulting from the indiscriminate attacks. We also pointed out the heavy and senseless losses being incurred by NVA in last two weeks.

4. We then referred to the Soviet Government's message to Ho Chi Minh (cited Moscow 5351)/3/ which in spite of the militant language of the message indicated that the Soviet Union was still interested in a political settlement of the Vietnam conflict. We stated that Hanoi's continual refusal to give any indication of what would happen after the bombing stopped was an unreasonable position, and suggested that it was time for the Soviet Govt to use its influence or its ingenuity to find a way to permit a halt in the bombing and thus the commencement of substantive discussions. We asked that this be called to the attention of his government. We pointed out that the President as late as August 19 had indicated that we could not take the next stop until we had reason to believe that Hanoi was prepared seriously to move with us in deescalating the war and in seeking peace./4/

/3/Dated September 2. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Soviet Union, Vol. XXI)

/4/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 332.

5. After promising to report this to Moscow, Zorin gave his impression of recent talks with North Vietnamese in Paris, saying their position had not changed and that they would not move until US stopped bombing. Zorin recounted his conversation with Le Duc Tho at yesterday's North Vietnamese reception, in which Tho pointed out to Zorin Pham Van Dong's anniversary statement, which Zorin told us contained a sentence in the same vein as Moscow's message which we had referred to, namely, Dong had stated that stopping the bombing would play a positive role in reaching a political settlement. He said that Le Duc Tho had stressed that this statement by Pham Van Dong "correctly set forth" Hanoi's position. Zorin said when he told Le Duc Tho he was seeing the Americans next day, Le Duc Tho referred to Pham Van Dong's statement and added that "this was the message" he would like delivered to the Americans. When we asked Zorin if he believed a political settlement was really possible, Zorin said he could not give yes or no answer, but thought "the possibility existed for moving ahead." Zorin added that Hanoi representatives in Paris did not feel themselves able to make any step towards us that would be taken as concession, given present mood in Hanoi. We asked if he meant mood within Politbureau, and Zorin said Le Duc Tho told him Politbureau was unanimous on this point.

6. Zorin added that his belief now was that North Vietnamese no longer considered they could achieve their objectives by military means, and thought it necessary to move towards a settlement by political means. He stressed that this was not their original position, and gave impression that USSR had influenced Hanoi in this direction. He said his current impression was that Hanoi was ready to talk seriously about a political settlement and that "they had their positions ready."

7. We brought up question of necessity for GVN inclusion at substantive talks. We explained that Hanoi had said it was ready to enter into serious talks after bombing halted, but at same time said it would not agree to include GVN. We questioned how serious Hanoi was since there could not be serious talks without inclusion of GVN representatives. We indicated that there was no obstacle to NLF or alliance being represented, but it was essential that GVN be represented on our side. Returning to this question later, Zorin asked if we believed Hanoi would sit at same table with GVN representatives. We replied this was essential. After some discussion, Zorin stated that while the representation question posed difficulties, he did not believe it constituted an unsurmountable obstacle. He added that if US followed wise policy, he thought this obstacle could be overcome.

8. In course of discussion Zorin brought up Democratic Convention and said he thought if Democrats hoped to win they would have to change position on stopping bombing. We attempted to correct some of Zorin's misconceptions about US opinion, ending up by emphasizing that in our view best time to make progress towards a settlement was right now. We said that US had seized on Zorin's Phase One-Phase Two proposal, hoping this would be a possible bridge; but this had not been working out, and we urged USSR to use its influence promptly to find another bridge.



3. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, September 4, 1968, 1:23-2:23 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Meeting Notes File. Top Secret. Drafted by Christian. The meeting was a regular Tuesday Luncheon. Attending were the President, Rusk, Clifford, Helms, Wheeler, Taylor, Rostow, and Christian. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) An agenda for this meeting prepared by Read is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 74 D 164, Presidential Luncheon Memoranda.

The President: Tell us about our meeting in Paris.

Secretary Rusk: It was standard. There was not much progress. North Vietnam blasted American politics. But the tea break produced an agreement for a Saturday meeting--a private talk./2/ We might press Hanoi for a response on something, to tell us what parts they can agree to. I believe we are at a real watershed here. If North Vietnam takes the DMZ, it means the jig is up for them in South Vietnam. The same applies to us if we stop the bombing without reciprocal action. It is important that we make no public move until Saturday./3/

/2/At the tea break during the formal session on September 4, Tho and Thuy agreed to meet privately with Harriman and Vance 3 days later. (Telegrams 20340/Delto 668 and 20347/Delto 689 from Paris, both September 4; ibid., A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-September 1968) In a telephone conversation with Read that day, Harriman suggested that Tho had considered the upcoming private meeting as an indication of goodwill on the part of the North Vietnamese, noting that "there were just little hints around at the tea break conversations that they realized what they would have to do." (Notes of Telephone Conversation between Read and Harriman, September 4; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Subject File, Read, Benjamin H.)

/3/For the meeting on September 7, see Document 7.

The President: What is the military situation?

Secretary Clifford: There is more activity, but we don't know whether this is the third offensive. The attacks are not coming off very well. It may be Abrams spoiling the operations. I heard about a plan to assassinate General Abrams because he has been so successful.

Their losses are substantial. Their actions don't seem to have much plan or program.

General Wheeler: I asked General Abrams to increase his personal security arrangements--and also that of his staff and Ambassador Bunker. I agree with General Abrams that the enemy has been trying to mount an offensive, without success.

[Omitted here is discussion of East Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Pueblo crisis, and Australia.]

Walt Rostow: On the Saturday meeting, it is important that we decide the minimum conditions for a bombing halt. We've listed many things but kept it flexible. It is conceivable Ambassador Harriman should have it in his pocket.

Secretary Rusk: I'd be inclined not to give this to Harriman Saturday, but find out what Hanoi will propose. Their willingness to talk to Saigon and the DMZ would be the gut.

[Omitted here is additional discussion of East Asia and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.]

Walt Rostow: A cease-fire format might be the easiest way to reach contact with the Government of North Vietnam about a willingness to talk about the details of a cease-fire plan.

[Omitted here is discussion of unrelated matters.]


4. Summary Notes of the 590th Meeting of the National Security Council/1/

Washington, September 4, 1968, 5:07-7:29 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings, Vol. 5, Tab 72. Secret; Sensitive; For the President Only. Attending were the President, Rostow, Humphrey, Rusk, Clifford, Ball, Nitze, Fowler, Helms, Wheeler, Marks, Thompson, Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness Price Daniel, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs John M. Leddy, Ambassador to NATO Harlan Cleveland, Smith, Christian, Edward Fried of the NSC Staff, and White House aide Nathaniel Davis. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.

[Omitted here is discussion of the situation in Czechoslovakia. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volume XVII, Document 93.]

Vietnam--The President asked Secretary Rusk, Secretary Clifford, and General Wheeler to brief the group on current Vietnam problems.

Secretary Rusk: In Paris, we have had no response to our insistence on knowing what the North Vietnamese will do if we halt the bombing. In the talks, the North Vietnamese have attacked the Vietnam policy statements of both U.S. political parties. We have not presented our minimum position in Paris, because we want to keep the door open to almost any move which the North Vietnamese may make. So far, the North Vietnamese have been entirely negative but they may not always continue to be. Hanoi must accept participation of the South Vietnamese Government in the negotiations. In the United States, much has been made of the National Liberation Front as representing some of the South Vietnamese people. This is a phony issue. The NLF is not a real government and cannot be compared with the Saigon government.

In Vietnam, political progress has been substantial. The pacification program is improving. Serious efforts are being taken to fight corruption. The elected legislature of South Vietnam is working.

The President: We should be outgoing to the South Vietnamese Senators who are now visiting in the United States. We should spend time with them and be as helpful as possible. Numbers of our Congressmen go to Saigon, are seen by President Thieu, and are welcomed by the Vietnamese. We should take this opportunity to see that their Senators are well received here.

Secretary Rusk: President Thieu has grown considerably during the time he has been President. He is wise, reasonable, and is prepared to go much further than Hanoi in an approach to peace.

The President: If we can stay for a few weeks with our present posture in Vietnam, we can convince the North Vietnamese that they won't get a better deal if they wait. If we can hold where we are, a break will come from their side. Some of Hanoi's work is being done for them by people in the United States. Some 1,000 votes at the convention went to a proposed platform plank which called for a change in our policy. Hanoi is not only affected by military developments in Vietnam, but also by Congressional debates. But the military situation is basic.

(The President asked that no notes be taken of following comment which he made to the group.)

We have many irons in the fire and not all of them are in the newspapers. There has been an exchange with the Pope who sent an emissary to make a peace proposal to Ho Chi Minh. Ho turned him down flatly./2/ This reveals the present attitude of Hanoi very clearly--directly from the ranking Hanoi leader.

/2/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 333 and footnote 4 thereto.

Secretary Clifford: For some weeks we have had reports that Hanoi would launch a third offensive. The North Vietnamese are impelled to try again despite their heavy losses in the Tet and in the May offensives. Even though the level of combat is higher, it is difficult to say whether the third offensive has started because General Abrams' spoiling operations may have kept the North Vietnamese from carrying out their original plan. General Abrams' spoiling operations have been very effective. Our intelligence is better and is better used with the result that the North Vietnamese forces have been kept off balance. As an indication of the effectiveness of General Abrams' strategy, we have received a hard report that the North Vietnamese will try to assassinate him.

The North Vietnamese face a serious problem. They feel they can't go back to guerrilla tactics. Probably they will continue for awhile with their present efforts. As a result, both South Vietnamese and U.S. casualties will be higher. The question is whether the North Vietnamese, however, can carry on for very long at the present high rate of their casualties.

General Wheeler: In the view of General Abrams, the third offensive has started. His most recent assessment (copy attached) is that the enemy has four courses of action open to him. The first course, and the one the enemy prefers, would be to continue the war along present lines and at about the current level of intensity. The second course would be to continue fighting but stretch out present attacks over a longer period of time. The third course would be to fall back to only guerrilla activity. The last course would be to propose a cease-fire-in-place. (Tab E)/3/

/3/Not identified and not found.

A cease-fire-in-place is a dangerous course of action for us. It would mean that we would be giving up a block of South Vietnamese territory to the enemy.

The Vice President: Requested General Wheeler to explain in greater detail why a cease-fire would be dangerous to us.

General Wheeler: The North Vietnamese would hold certain areas inside South Vietnam. It is not like the situation in the Korean War when there was a fixed military line separating North and South. Thus, the North Vietnamese would be in a position to organize politically the areas they held. Access to these areas by the Saigon government would be in doubt.

There would be no problem with a cease-fire limited to an area where military talks could take place.

Mr. Rostow: Rather than referring to a cease-fire, we should use the language included in the Honolulu Communiqué, i.e., total cessation of hostilities./4/ Any cease-fire proposal becomes so complicated that it is difficult to see how we could live with it.

/4/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 303.

General Wheeler: General Abrams is confident that we can handle anything the enemy tries to do to us. We can not only keep up with the enemy but also get ahead of him. General Abrams is right when he says that South Vietnamese units have performed well--some with distinction. The improvement in the performance of the ARVN is a very hopeful sign for the future.

Mr. Rostow: Cited the high North Vietnamese casualty rates (12,000 during the May offensive as compared with 8,500 in August) as proof of the greatly increased intensity of the war, and concluded by summarizing other parts of the Abrams telegram referred to above.


5. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, September 6, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room. No classification marking. The President discussed the same matters in a telephone call with Muskie at 2:47 p.m. later that day. (Ibid., Transcripts and Recordings of Telephone Conversations) A full record of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.

President Johnson's Notes on Meeting in Cabinet Room, Friday, September 6, 1968, With the President, Senator Dirksen, Senator Mansfield, and Secretary Rusk, 10:15 a.m. They Were Joined at 10:37 by Director Zwick, Art Okun and Mike Manatos and at 11:35 a.m. by Harold Linder

The President told the group he had three or four subjects he wanted to bring up and discuss in some detail. The President said he would ask Secretary Rusk to bring you some information on some of the problems also.

The President said we wanted to be careful about how we deal with some of the East European countries--especially Germany. He said that Senators Mansfield and Dirksen both had been quite interested in our troops in Eastern Europe.

The President reported that it seems that we had both the Vice President and Mr. Nixon on board to the effect that they are not going to say anything that would indicate to Hanoi that they would get a better deal out of them than they can get out of us between now and January and the Vice President gave the President assurances as late as the day before that that was his attitude and it had always been Mr. Nixon's attitude. The President pointed out that sometimes some of their aides talked for them indicating they might do this or might do that. He reported that Mr. Nixon had assured him that he would make no statement that would indicate any weakness. He said that he told Mr. Humphrey about it and suggested to Humphrey and Humphrey made it in a public proposal which Mr. Nixon could not accept. He said he was stunned--said he had already taken that position so that caused it to get knocked down./2/

/2/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 345.

The President said he thought he would wait a week or two and try to approach it in another form, but that we did have some hopes. He said, however, that although we had hope, we did not have any assurances. He said there were conversations going on that you don't read about all the time and they are also making other attempts in other Capitals.

The President said:

"We read Ho Chi Minh's letter. He wrote back. This is very confidential, but he wrote back to the Pope and told him that he would let the Pope come to Hanoi and we thought the Pope had a very reasonable request, a very earnest one, a very genuine one./3/

/3/See ibid., Document 333 and footnote 4 thereto.

"I think that if the people of this Country knew that this religious leader was trying to pull us together and really had all along leaned a little bit because they had been a little soft on our position. They had asked us to do this and do that. And while at the Ranch he sent his man down there to see me and asked me what he could tell them. And I went just as far as we dared go and told him we looked upon the trip with favor."

Senator Mansfield asked, both Hanoi and Saigon?

The President reported both Hanoi and Saigon. He then wrote Ho Chi Minh and said that he would like to come to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh wrote back and told the Pope there was no use for his coming. The President said if that could be made public, it would arouse some folks that think we could do business with the communists.

Senator Dirksen asked if that was initiated by the Pope.

The President said yes, but before he proposed it to Hanoi the Pope sent his messenger over and he came to the Ranch and we did not give any notice of his coming. The President said he outlined to him what he could say and told him that the bombing would be stopped if they would do almost anything. The President said just give him some tangible evidence that they would react to it. He said he thought it would make His Holiness very pleased, but His Holiness came right back to the President and said that he was not very pleased--that he did not communicate with the State Department, that he was a private individual and did not want anybody to know it. The Pope got in touch with Hanoi and they turned him down. He then came back to the President through the same source and gave the President the letter from Ho Chi Minh to the Pope just saying that there was no use coming.

The President said:

"And now we have other meetings going on in addition to Paris that are scheduled that we hope will bring something out if we don't mislead them. We just photograph the wrong signals. We make them believe that if they just hang on a little more why I will have to give in or they will force me to do so and so. Now I want you all to know one thing. If I don't have anybody here except me, I'm not going to give in. And any of you normally know that. So there is no use of any pressure speeches or anything else that is going to do one damn bit of good until January 20 on advice about doing something that I believe is wrong. And I am willing to go 60 percent of the way, and lean and stretch, but I am not willing to stop the bombing unless they make some move. I have already stopped 90% of it and I already stopped it eight times. Now I am just not going to do it. So all we can do is kill a bunch of men by doing it."

The President reported that General Abrams had told him that if we stop the bombing we will automatically increase, within ten days, the enemy's capabilities several times, that his men will be fired upon from across the DMZ and will not be saved, that he will have to withdraw them./4/

/4/See ibid., Document 337.

The President said we were not going to be following the McCarthy line and he thought the Legislative ought to know so that we just don't have any doubts about that. He said if the new President wants to do it, they can take this position if they want to--that they did not expect President Johnson to be advising them what to do. The President said:

"I am the only President and we are not going to tell him what he ought to do while he is President. I told Humphrey that's the position I would take if I were you. That's what Nixon is saying and if Humphrey says the same thing--we are not going to give you any better deal and then I think that we can save some lives that may bring this thing to an end. If we don't, then when they get in and get the responsibility they want. That's first.

"Second, if the Congress does not agree to what I am doing, all you have to do is to repeal your Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Dick Russell put it in there so you could do it by majority vote and if the majority feels that way and wants to withdraw these troops on their own, they can do that. Now all you have to do is one man make a motion and then move to favor it. And you could get a vote right quick. And I suspect that you might get a majority, but I don't want it to be my blood. I want it to be the brave men who advocate it and let them get on record and stay there the rest of their life. So I hope that we can pull through these 30 or 40 days or whatever time you are going to be here until the new Administration comes in without unnecessary squabbling.

"Now last, before the convention, they built up and we had a hell of a week. We lost over 400 men and they lost--they have lost 8800 in ten days. That was really costly. How much of that is false hope that they have I don't know, but we want to try to not disabuse them. I don't want to make any more hard speeches, but you see we have plenty of communists without this stuff and it starts out in Hanoi and then it goes to Saigon and then Kosygin writes a letter or two--then every specialist in town starts speculating Johnson is going to stop the bombing.

"So these poor Hanoi people think I may do it. So then they play their cards accordingly. Now we are willing to do it, when they show signs that it would not endanger us. Now our platform says that we will stop the bombing when it will not endanger American lives. Now a man that takes the position that he is going to stop it when it does endanger them is in a hell of a poor position I think with the American people and he certainly will be with these men. So that's about the war." [Omitted here is discussion of the Symington Amendment to reduce funding for troops in Germany, the situation in Czechoslovakia, NATO force posture, and European security.]

Secretary Rusk then gave a rundown on the situation in Vietnam at the present time.

The President reported that Eugene Black was wanting to make a trip to Asia in connection with the Asian Development Bank and while he was there he would like to see Sihanouk so permission was asked for Black to see Sihanouk and he responded that he would see Black. The President briefed Black on what he could tell Sihanouk. This dealt mostly with boundaries which we thought would be acceptable to him, that we had no interest in doing anything but helping him, what we had in mind was the development of the area and what we thought the communists were doing to his country and try to show him what we knew they were doing there. He said to tell him we had the pictures and there was no question but what they are using his country as a base to kill our people every day./5/

/5/Eugene Black was the President's Special Adviser on Asian Economic and Social Development. Johnson had met with Black on September 5 and announced Black's trip to the Philippines, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam at a press conference on September 6. "I have asked him to pursue plans for the Mekong Basin program for development for peaceful purposes," the President noted. See Department of State Bulletin, September 30, 1968, pp. 330-335. Black reported on his trip in a meeting with the President on October 28; see ibid., October 28, 1968, p. 434.

Secretary Rusk said in looking at things that are of key importance to us, both from a diplomatic and military side, we are inclined to attach great importance to the renewal of the DMZ.

Senator Dirksen asked Secretary Rusk if when he said restore the DMZ he meant respect the DMZ.

Secretary Rusk said that was correct. Let the international observers get back in there, both sides stay out of the DMZ, don't fire until they cross the DMZ, don't use it for infiltration, don't station troops there or anything of that sort.

[Omitted here is discussion of Supreme Court nominations, the budget, and the economy.]


6. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, September 6, 1968, 1:20 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Vietnam, July-December 1968. Secret; Sensitive.

Mr. President:

Herewith a tentative judgment which, of course, could be overturned by new facts tomorrow./2/

/2/Rostow is referring to a telegram from Abrams setting forth these alternatives. It is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 337.

1. The enemy may have opted for the second of Abrams' four alternatives; that is, a stretch-out of military operations at relatively low casualty rates.

2. The enemy may have decided to shift his weight away from the cities to provincial areas and the countryside.

3. Since the enemy's military operations always have a political purpose, his political situation may be this:

--He failed in his attempt to soften the Democratic convention on Vietnam.

--He is most actively engaged in trying to build up his political organization in the countryside for bargaining purposes and, possibly, for a cease-fire situation. Rural and provincial military operations could help in this effort.

--He may be planning to conserve military assets for a program of steady, limited pressure, rather than dramatic major action, as a background to serious negotiations; but we will require some days--or a few weeks--to make this judgment.

--Or he may be planning a program of limited pressure and conservation of assets so he has bargaining strength in the early months of 1969, as a new President takes stock.

4. A part of the background to these speculations is evidence derived from communications in Vietnam and reports of special meetings that usually precede or follow major policy decisions in Hanoi which affect military operations in the South:

--There has been a great deal of unusual activity in high-level communications recently. This began on August 27 with a series of lengthy, urgent messages from the B-3 Front Headquarters which controls most of the II Corps area to the High Command in Hanoi. Then on September 2 Hanoi High Command sent an unusual high precedence message to COSVN.

--During the past several days the Military Affairs Committee of COSVN has been engaged in unusual activity which included the transmission of a number of "decrypt immediately" messages to its subordinates.

--We have information from scattered points of meetings of political cadre. At least one of these appeared to be rather urgent in that the unit itself was going into combat without some of its officers who were attending a meeting.

--A COSVN Military Intelligence Conference is scheduled to be held on September 15 and will last 10 to 12 days. Tactical representatives from various units were directed to be present.

W.W. Rostow/3/

/3/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


7. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/

Paris, September 7, 1968, 1555Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, Harvan-(Incoming)-September 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis; Harvan; Plus. Received at 12:26 p.m.

20522/Delto 699. From Harriman and Vance.

1. We met for three hours this morning September 7 with Le Duc Tho, Xuan Thuy and Ha Van Lau, with their interpreter and note taker. Habib and Negroponte accompanied us. At their request, meeting took place in same North Vietnamese house as Vance/Lau talks.

2. Most of the time was taken up by an endless harangue by Le Duc Tho, explaining in great inaccurate detail that we had lost the war and failed in political field. Tho concluded by saying that he had not yet finished his statement, the balance of which he would like to make at our next meeting. He was not prepared, he said, to say anything further today. He said although he would listen to our comments today, we would prefer to complete his full statement before we did. We decided it was better to hear him out before responding.

3. Our next meeting is set for Thursday September 12 at 3 o'clock, with an outside possibility of meeting Tuesday September 10. They agreed to establish at our next meeting a calendar of longer and frequent private meetings. We also agreed at their initiative to keep everything said at these private meetings secret. If we were queried about them, we would simply state "we never comment on any allegations or rumors about private discussions."

4. At the beginning of the meeting, we stated it seemed to us that it was the responsibility of the negotiators in Paris to find a way to remove the roadblocks that were preventing progress. Perhaps this could be done by seeking areas of agreement. We stated there were two principal points we wanted to make. Both sides agreed on the objective of stopping the bombing, and proceeding to serious talks to reach a peaceful settlement. However, we differed on the question of the circumstances under which the bombing could be stopped, and what we mean by moving to serious talks. On the first point, they were familiar with the President's emphasis on his concern in what will happen in the area of the DMZ. This matter had been discussed between Ambassadors Vance and Lau, and we thought that we might not be so far apart since Lau had indicated that if we on our side ended military activity in the DMZ, they "would know what to do." On the second point, we stated that we had continually made it definite that we could not have serious talks about the political future of South Viet-Nam without the inclusion of representatives of the GVN. This is a must. We were prepared to have them include the NLF or others on their side. However, we could have bilateral talks on bilateral subjects such as future relations between our two countries which they had previously raised.

5. We also mentioned the President's statement of August 19, "This administration does not intend to move further until it has reason to believe that the other side intends seriously to join with us in de-escalating the war and moving seriously towards peace," and Pham Van Dong's statement of September 2, "Moreover, in Paris we are raising a very just and well-founded demand which will have a positive effect on the seeking step by step of a political settlement for the Vietnam problem."/2/ We suggested discussing their significance.

/2/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 332, and The New York Times, September 3, 1968.

6. Le Duc Tho's monologue then followed. Detailed account reported septel,/3/ but we think that INR could probably write it without our report.

/3/Telegram 20523/Delto 700 from Paris, September 7. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, Harvan-(Incoming)-September 1968) In a September 8 covering note transmitting a copy of this telegram to the President, Rostow wrote: "Nothing new except the full text of Tho's diatribe." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Paris Todel-Paris Delto XII, 9/1-13/68)

7. Comment: Le Duc Tho at the close of meeting stated that he agreed in principle to meet privately "many hours a day and many days a week." We will know more about the significance of this statement when we see the calendar at next Thursday's meeting. Our impression is that Tho is under instructions to make sure that we understand Hanoi's contentions and to avoid giving any impression they are negotiating from weakness. Tho's offer to hold frequent private meetings, coupled with his underscoring of the importance of secrecy of these meetings may indicate they are preparing for meaningful discussions./4 /

/4/In a September 10 memorandum to Rusk, in which he summarized the individual assessments of delegation members, Holbrooke noted that "the Delegation believes that Tho is leading up to something new." (Ibid., Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. VI, 8/68-9/68)



8. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, September 9, 1968, 5:45-7:24 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification markings. This was an off-the-record meeting with the bipartisan Congressional leadership. Attending were the President, Rusk, Clifford, Rostow, Special Assistant Harold Barefoot Sanders, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Arthur Okun, Director of the Bureau of the Budget Charles Zwick, Tom Johnson, and Congressmen McCormack, Albert, Ford, Melvin Lair, and Leslie Arends. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.

[Omitted here is discussion of the North Korean seizure of the Pueblo and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.]

Secretary Clifford:


We do not know if this is the beginning of the enemy's third offensive. General Abrams has been conducting spoiling operations./2/

/2/Abrams reported on the military situation in Vietnam in telegram MAC 12129 to Wheeler, September 8. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 407, Westmoreland v. CBS Litigation Collection, MACV Backchannel Messages to Westmoreland, 1-30 September, 1968 [Folder 1 of 2]) In memorandum CM-3465-68 to Rusk, September 11, Wheeler relayed Abrams' assessment of the likelihood of a unilateral cease-fire by the NVA and Viet Cong. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET)

The first two weeks in August there were 2 bn attacks.

The second two weeks in August there were 11 bn attacks.

First 2 weeks in August, there were 71 small unit attacks.

Second 2 weeks in August, there were 145 small unit attacks.

First two weeks in August there were 4200 enemy killed in action.

Second two weeks in August there were 9700 enemy killed in action.

First two weeks in August the statistics were (5X1 and 6X1 enemy vs. friendly): 801 friendly, 332 U.S.

Second two weeks in August: 1600 friendly, 716 U.S.

There is an increased effectiveness on the part of ARVN which has been noted.

Ambassador Bunker says these attacks differ. They did not start at once.

The enemy command is now trying to hold down casualties.

They need a dramatic victory badly.

General Abrams has been able to blunt the offensive.

[Omitted here is discussion of Latin America, the Korean peninsula, Israel, and NATO.]

Secretary Rusk:

Paris Talks

We have tried to offer Hanoi quite a menu. 1. Troop levels. 2. DMZ. 3. Attacks on cities. 4. Political settlement. 5. Laos. 6. Cambodia.

They won't talk. Hanoi won't talk to Saigon. We have not been able to do any business. If North Vietnam would do almost anything we might be able to get something going.

Both candidates want peace before January if we can get it. Nobody can tell us what would happen if we stopped the bombing.

It is hard to say don't hit the enemy while they are seven miles away--that's rude--hit them when they are two miles away. If there is one shred of interest in peace on the other side, we are ready to talk. Hanoi is rigid in its stance.

The enemy has had 76% of casualties of the May offensive.

The enemy has three options:

1. Increase the tempo of attacks for limited period--all out effort.

2. Curtail offensive--pull back.

3. Maintain offensive posture. Stretch it out.

The military commanders believe he is likely to choose alternative 3. The enemy's major goal is Saigon--to weaken South Vietnam's people's confidence in their government. They must gain a psychological advantage over the United States here in the U.S.

They aim to weaken our will here at home.

At no place was there a request for more men or material from our men in Vietnam.

[Omitted here is discussion of European strategic security.]

Secretary Clifford: 1. Some North Vietnamese commanders are getting orders they know they cannot carry out. 2. North Vietnamese troops are defecting. 3. The number of weapons the enemy is abandoning is going up. 4. The level of troop training is lower.

Yet they can still conduct a military effort against us.

[Omitted here is discussion of budgetary matters.]


9. Editorial Note

The diplomatic exchange code-named Chlodnick between the United States and the Soviet Union involved the arrangement of a summit conference between President Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin to discuss arms control, the Middle East, and Vietnam. Discussions of the summit took place primarily in Washington. On the evening of September 9, 1968, Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin met with Walt Rostow at the latter's home. The following discussion on Vietnam is excerpted from Rostow's September 10 memorandum to the President and Secretary of State Rusk on his meeting with Dobrynin:

"5. Dobrynin then turned to Vietnam and talked at very great length, making, in the end, the following points:

"--He continued to regret that we had not responded more positively to Kosygin's statement that 'he and his colleagues had reason to believe, etc.'

"To the best of Dobrynin's knowledge, this was a unique message to the United States. He had hoped that if we could not act immediately upon it we would come back with a proposition which 'Kosygin and his colleagues' might press on Hanoi.

"--He then raised the subject of the third offensive. With striking candor he said: 'Now that the Democratic Convention is over, the offensive may subside.' If there was a lull in the level of violence in South Vietnam, would we be willing to stop the bombing? He then introduced the familiar argument that we were 'a great country dealing with a small country' and we could afford to be generous. I said the question was not one of generosity, but of the lives of American soldiers and our allies. There is also the critical matter that if they were not prepared for reciprocity at this stage, I did not see how a stable peace could be negotiated for Southeast Asia. The negotiation of a peace would have to confront certain hard facts about the presence of North Vietnamese forces in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. If we evaded the question of reciprocity on the bombing, we might then be confronted with a similar stubbornness and unwillingness to face reality with respect to the GVN in Saigon; then, the question of North Vietnamese troop withdrawals from the South; etc. We did not see why, if they were serious, they would not settle down and make peace on the basis of hard realities.

"--This led to a very long series of statements on the minds of the men in Hanoi--and in Peking--as seen from Moscow. He began with the Chinese Communists. He said that in their dealings with Moscow, the Chinese Communists often took positions that made absolutely no sense to the Russian mind. For example, in a meeting with Soviet and other Communists, the Chinese Communists said bluntly they did not mind a nuclear war. This would wipe out most of the Soviet population and a high proportion of the Chinese population, but would leave them with two or three hundred million Chinese. (He reported that an Eastern European Communist leader spoke up and asked: 'What about us?') He said that while the men in Hanoi were not casual about nuclear war, they were filled with ideas which were foreign to Moscow and--no doubt--to us. They took enormous pride in their capacity to survive and persist in conducting the war against the world's greatest power. They evoked memories of how they have survived for centuries against the Chinese; struggled successfully against the French; kept in the battle against the big American forces. They are very stubborn about their objectives: he cited their satisfaction and pride in forcing us to stop a part of the bombing. (At this point he came perilously close to suggesting that we should have used more power against them, but veered away quickly.)

"--On the other hand, he said that Hanoi had shared with Moscow some of the negotiating positions they would take after a bombing cessation. He could not reveal these to me. But he personally concluded that they would negotiate seriously.

"--In underlining the curious pride and mentality of the men in Hanoi he gave a long circumstantial account of how the Soviet Union was prepared to make available to them pilots for air defense. He said that the Soviet Union had a number of experienced pilots who were in retirement at an early age. Their pensions were greater than the salary of an Ambassador. Some Soviet military men were extremely anxious to get them into Hanoi so that they could acquire experience in combat with the Americans. The Americans were learning exactly what the capacity of their aircraft and their pilots was. The Soviet Union could only train their men under non-combat conditions. Therefore, the pressure to get Hanoi to accept Soviet pilots was considerable. But they flatly refused. He cited this, again, as an example of the extreme pride of a very small power in dealing with a major power.

"6. I told him that I had no position to report to him on a cessation of bombing other than that with which he was wholly familiar. We hoped that things would move forward in Paris. If they wish to negotiate with President Johnson, they had better get moving. I doubted that they would do any better in negotiations with President Johnson's successor, whoever he might be. Moreover, they had better reckon that the South Vietnamese are as stubborn as the North Vietnamese. They will soon have a million men under arms of increasing competence and confidence.

"7. Dobrynin then suddenly asked: If there were a free election in the South, how do you think it would come out? I said that it was my private judgment that the hard core Communists could not attract as much as 10% of the South Vietnamese vote. On a Popular Front basis they might do better; but, for what it was worth, I did not believe that a Popular Front in South Vietnam would do as well as the French and Italian Communist parties in their elections. He asked: How would President Thieu fare in an election? I took him through the election statistics (which I shall send him), pointing out that between them, Thieu and Huong had gotten 45% of the vote. If you added in former General Don in the Senate, you were up to something like 56% of the vote. Except for Dzu, who was in effect a Popular Front candidate, the balance went to anti-Communist Nationalists. I concluded that the problem of the South Vietnamese in an election, in my judgment, was not with a vast pro-VC majority, but how to avoid running 10 Nationalist candidates, as they did last time. I concluded by saying that I could be wrong; and if the men in Hanoi believed in the popularity of their cause, let them adopt the test of a one-man, one-vote election. We were ready. He asked: Is Thieu ready? I said that it was my impression that he was ready. I cited the statement in the Honolulu Communiqué which he had volunteered despite the fact that he was under considerable political pressure at home at a time when a major attack on Saigon was expected." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Chlodnick File)

The full text of this memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volume XIV, Document 295.

On September 13 Dobrynin delivered orally a note from his government to Rostow addressing the convening of the proposed summit. The note reads in part:

"We are ready to exchange opinions on Vietnam with the understanding also of the fact that the Soviet Union cannot be a substitution on this question for the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and for the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. We think that such an exchange of opinions can be useful if to proceed from the fact that continuation of the war in Vietnam benefits nobody but those who would like to bring the United States and the Soviet Union into collision, and that the solution of the Vietnam problem can be found not on the battlefield. We did already express to President Johnson our conviction that the current meetings in Paris between representatives of the DRV and the United States give an opportunity to find a way out from the present situation. We continue to believe--and it is not without grounds--that if the United States completely stops bombings and other military actions against the DRV it could create a turning point at the meetings in Paris and would open perspectives for serious negotiations on political questions of a settlement."

The full text of this note is ibid., Document 296.


10. Paper Prepared by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)/1/

Washington, September 11, 1968.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, VIET 092.2 (September-October 1968). Confidential. A notation on the paper reads: "Dep. Sec. has seen." An attached note dated September 11 reads: "Clark--Some days ago you asked me to think over an idea of yours relative to a cessation of bombing north of 17¡. I have done so. The attached paper, which I wrote personally, sets forth the doubts & problems it raises for me. Bus." Another attached note to Clifford from his military aide Robert Pursely dated October 17 reads: "Mr. Clifford: You handed the attached paper to Mr. Warnke some time ago. He now returns it, with the comment that he feels no action is indicated at this time. REP"


1. It has been proposed that, in the near future, the President would make a nationally-televised speech in which he would state:

a. Effective one week later, he was directing the cessation of all offensive actions against NVN.

b. He assumed that the DRV would refrain from certain military actions and would, within 2-3 days after the cessation of US operations against NVN, engage in fruitful discussions leading to a just and honorable peace. (See para 2 below for a hard-core listing of these actions.)

c. He assumed also that, during the intervening week, if the DRV found his assumptions unacceptable, they would so state. He would construe silence on their part to indicate consent.

2. The following is a listing of the hard-core items of Phase II of the Phase I-II package which have been mentioned to the North Vietnamese in Paris:

a. Restore the DMZ. No massing of troops or supplies in or near DMZ.

b. No increase in US or DRV force levels in South Vietnam after cessation of bombing.

c. No attacks on major population centers in South Vietnam, such as Saigon, Hue, and Danang.

d. Substantive discussions, on a "our-side your-side" basis to commence as soon as bombing stops, with either side free to raise any topics relevant to a peaceful settlement.

Note: Aerial reconnaissance over NVN is implicit in the foregoing.

3. The principal arguments advanced in favor of this procedure are:

a. It removes the element of reciprocity which the North Vietnamese have declared to be not acceptable to them.

b. The North Vietnamese do not have to say anything; they need only to refrain from doing certain things. (Except sub-paragraph 2d.)

c. Unlike earlier, more simple proposals for unilateral cessation of offensive operations against NVN, the President is protected; i.e., if the North Vietnamese respond that the proposal is not to their liking, the order to cease US operations would not be issued.

d. Acceptance (silence) by NVN would lead promptly to substantive discussions. Rejection would coalesce world opinion against them and in our favor.

4. The foregoing formulation is better in several respects than others put forward earlier. However, there are certain aspects which deserve further and deeper examination. Among these are:

a. The attitude of the North Vietnamese leaders.

Comment: Ambassador Vance stated during his last visit that, at the outset of the negotiating sessions, the North Vietnamese were arrogant, obviously expectant that the US representatives had come prepared to negotiate a face-saving turnover of SVN to NVN. They were surprised and apparently shocked that such was not the case. His views are borne out by frequent statements in NVN propaganda, exhortations to VC/NVA forces, private comments to individuals, etc., regarding the "stubbornness" of the Americans.

It seems reasonably clear that Hanoi rejects reciprocity in order to get something for nothing rather than any obscure considerations of "face."

This leads to a question: Would a further unilateral restriction on our offensive actions lead to any move to peace by NVN leaders, or would it serve to confirm that our "stubbornness" can be broken and further concessions gained if they stand their ground?

b. The reality of the US construing silence on the part of the NVN delegation as acceptance of our assumptions.

Comment: I am informed that there are ample and sound legal precedents for construing silence as consent. However, it is not clear to me that this is necessarily true in international law and, even if it is, there is no court to so construe, find, and take corrective action. Of course, there is world opinion, for what it may be worth, in dealing with NVN. I surmise it would have little force in Hanoi.

In other words, I conjecture that NVN could, and probably would, remain silent, permit us to cease all combat operations against NVN, and count upon world opinion (which has more impact in Washington than Hanoi) to inhibit us from resuming offensive operations north of 17¡.

Furthermore, arguing legalistically, the North Vietnamese could maintain that (1) these were our assumptions, not theirs; they had never agreed to reciprocal actions, and our assumptions were reciprocity in another guise; (2) since they had not agreed to the US assumptions, they were not bound to proceed on any or all of them, e.g., an "our-side your-side" formula; (3) however, now that the US had ceased offensive operations against NVN, which was the central reason for negotiators convening, we should now proceed to the next item on their agenda: which is probably the withdrawal of US forces from SVN.

Question: Could we realistically reverse our course should NVN adopt the above, or a comparable position?

c. Assuming silence from NVN, the soundness of the assumption that prompt and substantive discussions leading to peace would be forthcoming.

Comment: Three points are pertinent. The North Vietnamese have adamantly rejected the "our-side your-side" formula, saying that they will not deal with the "puppets" Thieu and Ky. They have stated repeatedly that restoration of the DMZ would be equivalent to permanent partition of Vietnam. And, like other Communists, they believe in the "talk-fight, fight-talk" tactic.

I think it reasonable to expect that, in the postulated situation, talks might begin promptly. On the other hand, they might well not be substantive and productive. Free of all military pressure against NVN, they could (and, I believe, would) settle down for protracted negotiations (with us--not the GVN), fully expectant that US war-weariness would prevent us from insisting on GVN participation, inevitably produce further concessions, and ultimately give them a Paris-type victory.

I base the foregoing judgments on these considerations: (1) following the "talk-fight" formula, they could control the tempo and resultant costs of combat in SVN; (2) they could expect, over time, a deterioration in the RVNAF due to weariness, losses and knowledge that NVN was not suffering while they and their country were under attack; and (3) they could expect with high confidence that, so long as the talks continued, we would not resume our offensive against the North even under circumstances of serious provocation.

Question: Assuming silence from NVN relative to the proposed assumptions, would the resultant situation be advantageous or disadvantageous to the US?

d. The reality of the implicit assumption that we could and would resume offensive operations against NVN should negotiations prove to be non-productive.

Comment: Our experience with unilateral cessations of operations against NVN has been illuminating, but not happy. Since the facts are well-known, no purpose is served by belaboring the point. Moreover, this aspect has been discussed partially in 4c. above.

However, I am convinced that once we cease our offensive against NVN, the chances of resumption are most remote.

Question: Under what circumstances, assuming that talks following this formulation have been undertaken, would the US resume offensive operations against NVN?

e. The value of our air and naval campaign against NVN.

Comment: As pointed out earlier, our limited air and naval operations against NVN comprise the only pressure which self-imposed constraints permit us to apply against NVN. Within the limits we have established for ourselves, we have the initiative, and we can control the tempo and destructiveness of our attacks regardless of defensive measures taken by NVN.

The contrary is true in SVN. There--at a cost and within limits--NVN can control the level of combat activity and the destruction created.

I believe that both proponents and opponents of air and naval operations against NVN have, to varying degrees and far too often, expressed their differing views in extremes. Certainly, to maintain that the air and naval campaign is the single most important factor of the war is as illogical as to maintain that the campaign is militarily valueless. In essence, war is force applied to achieve an end. The more violently and the faster force is applied, the sooner the end is achieved.

I believe the following factors are pertinent to our air and naval campaign against NVN and, moreover, are undeniably true:

(1) Our limited air and naval campaign is the only means available to us, within self-imposed constraints, to bring pressure on NVN.

(2) Without attempting to quantify physical results, our operations are disrupting the enemy's war effort and hurting him.

(3) Complete cessation of offensive operations north of 17¡ will permit the enemy to move with impunity forces, military matériel and supplies to areas contiguous to the combat zone, thereby increasing the hazard to US and Allied forces and installations. Under these circumstances, should the enemy so choose, US and Allied casualties will increase to a level largely determinable by the enemy.

(4) The morale of US and Allied troops, and that of the SVN populace, would suffer.

(5) Friend and enemy alike, military and civilian, would construe the imposition of further unilateral restraint on our forces as a victory for NVN, supporting the thesis that, if the NVN remain intransigent, they can achieve their full objectives in SVN.

Question: Would a total cessation of military operations against NVN create a situation, political and military, more favorable or less favorable for the achievement of US objectives?

5. Of course, people will answer the foregoing questions in different ways. My own answers can be summed up as follows:

a. I know that it is militarily wrong to make concessions from a position of strength to an enemy showing signs of increasing strain and weakness; and

b. On balance, I believe such a course to be equally unsound politically.



11. Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence Helms/1/

Washington, September 12, 1968.

/1/Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/IMS Files, Job 72-207A, AA-3, FE Division, 1968. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Carver. In an attached note to Deputy Director for Plans Thomas Karamessines, Chief of the Far East Division William E. Nelson, Chief of Vietnam Operations [name not declassified], and Chief of Saigon Station [name not declassified], September 12, Carver wrote: "Attached is the final version of the briefing memorandum on Lien Minh given the Director to brace him for the 12 September Presidential lunch. In going over this with him, I reported [name not declassified] strong conviction (which I share) that although we may have some reservations about the mechanics of the Ambassador's proposal, we feel the Lien Minh concept is sound and merits U.S. financial support. The Director agreed and said he would argue for the basic concept at the lunch."

The Lien Minh

1. The Lien Minh (Vietnamese short title for the National Alliance for Social Revolution) is a political concept that has no American counterpart. Very roughly, it is something like an alliance of the ADA (under a Democratic administration), the UAW, the Knights of Columbus, and some elements of the League of Women Voters. The basic purpose of the Lien Minh is to stimulate the political coalescence of various groups and factions on the non-Communist side--which, in the aggregate, comprises the majority of politically concerned Vietnamese in South Vietnam but is presently (and historically) too divided and disorganized to compete politically with its tightly disciplined Communist rivals.

2. The long range objective of the Lien Minh exercise is to stimulate the development of a political party or parties. This, however, will not be achieved quickly, easily or soon. The more concrete short run objectives of Lien Minh are (1) the development of a forum for disparate political elements in which they can express common nationalist aspirations and (2) the creation of a popularly based service organization, national in scope, whose social welfare activities will have political overtones and redound to the GVN's political benefit. (Social welfare has traditionally been viewed in Vietnam as a function of government.)

3. The three major components of the Lien Minh are the National Salvation Front (NSF), headed by Senator (and former General) Tran Van Don; the Democratic Freedom Force (DFF), headed by Nguyen Van Huong; and the Farmer-Worker Association, headed by trade union (CVT) leader Tran Quoc Buu. The NSF is a loose political coalition of various political groups that emerged more or less spontaneously in the aftermath of Tet, but was viewed with reservations by Thieu because of the NSF's ties to the Ky camp. The DFF is another political organization and is, in effect, the Thieu camp's answer to the NSF. Though many fairly important groups or factions are left out (e.g., Catholic groups, Dai Viets, the northern VNQDD) the Lien Minh amalgam does include at least some elements of all major religious, regional and political groups and is the broadest thing going in Vietnam today. (See the Annex for a more detailed break-out of the Lien Minh's composition.)/2/

/2/Attached but not printed is an annex outlining the organization of the Lien Minh. It noted that the plans for the expansion of the Lien Minh included the incorporation of religious groups and gaining support from civic associations, the military, and other GVN components.

4. A total of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] has been passed to Thieu to support Lien Minh: [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] on 29 August and [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] on 5 September.

5. On funding mechanics, Thieu has designated Nguyen Van Huong (DFF leader and the leading member of Thieu's presidential staff) as the point of operational contact with the Lien Minh, Huong's counterpart being CAS officer [name not declassified]. Thieu has asked, however, that all funds be passed directly to him personally and that no other Vietnamese (including Huong) be aware of U.S. financial support. The funds already given have been passed to Thieu by [name not declassified].

6. On accountings, the physical recipient of the U.S. funds is President Thieu, the Chief of State. Thieu of course can (and should) be expected to explain or report the purposes for which these funds are used and disbursed. He can certainly be pressed for as much detailed information on these points as the Ambassador wishes to seek. Since Thieu is the Chief of State, however, diplomatic and protocol considerations will probably mean that we will generally have to take Thieu at his word and that he cannot be compelled to support his statements with detailed accountings backed by written records and receipts.

7. General Recommendations: We believe the Lien Minh concept is sound and that activity along the Lien Minh line is the best politically practical method of encouraging South Vietnamese political cohesion, institutional development and--ultimately--the evolution of real political parties. We thus share the Ambassador's view that the Lien Minh concept merits U.S. encouragement and financial support. We do have reservations about the mechanics of the Ambassador's specific proposal, though we recognize he is the man on the scene with ultimate field responsibility.

(1) We would greatly prefer to see the GVN making a financial input of its own from the start. Without a direct GVN input (and, hence, vested interest) there will always be the risk of the program's being considered, even in Thieu's eyes, an American scheme the Vietnamese are indulging.

(2) On security grounds, we question Thieu's ability to conceal the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] unless there is some known Vietnamese fund raising activity of which these U.S. funds could conceivably be a part.

(3) While we agree with the Ambassador that the Lien Minh should be gotten off the ground now, we believe that Thieu could find some funds of his own if he really supports the program and felt the necessity of giving it personal financial support. Our experience in last summer's electoral campaign supports this belief.


12. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, September 12, 1968, 1:39-2:37 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the White House Mansion. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

The President
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
CIA Director Helms
George Christian
Tom Johnson

Secretary Rusk: We expect a call during lunch on the status of the Paris talks today.

The President: Fine, let's go on.

Walt Rostow: Ambassador Bunker has a good report on Vietnam. It shows action in land reform and other areas.

The President: Huong has a good image with our press. Let's get him before them more.

Should we brief the Congress, Dean? Your briefings with the leadership have been good.

Secretary Rusk: The sessions were more relaxed than I have had before.

The President: Clark (Secretary Clifford), who called whom on the call to the Vice President?

Secretary Clifford: He called me about his statement on troop withdrawal. I told him I had not predicted any U.S. troops would come home next year. Thieu has. Also, he asked if it were true a Marine unit was coming home now. I said yes, but it is a rotation.

Secretary Clifford: The Vice President has had three flubs.

1. Withdrawal of troops.
2. Minority plank vs. majority plank.
3. Bringing Marine unit home now./2/

/2/In a speech at Philadelphia on September 9, Humphrey stated that certain military units could be withdrawn from Vietnam by late 1968 or early 1969. In Denver later that day, Humphrey downplayed the differences between the majority and minority planks on Vietnam adopted by the Democratic National Convention and noted that he would have been able to run based upon the minority plank. See The New York Times, September 10, 1968. In a September 10 speech before the American Legion in New Orleans, the President stated: "We yearn for the day when the violence subsides. We yearn for the day when our men can come home. No man can predict when that day will come, because we are there to bring an honorable, stable peace to Southeast Asia, and no less will justify the sacrifices that our men have died for." The full text of this speech is in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pp. 936-943.

He needs a man with him every day we trust and respect to give him correct guidance.

Secretary Rusk: Thinking should be done before rather than after. Tom Hughes would be good.

The President: 1. I want the Vice President to win. 2. I want the Democratic Party to win. They are better. No question of Humphrey against anybody. 3. I have told the Cabinet not to let the record of its Departments be distorted. I want the Cabinet to do what is appropriate to help the Vice President.

Where I help depends on where the Vice President wants me to help.

Secretary Rusk: I would like to have a briefing session with Humphrey. Does he want to show a little space between us and his position.

The President: He wants space. In his heart he is with us, but he thinks it is politically wise to keep space.

[Omitted here is discussion of Nixon's potential personnel selections for the Department of Defense and the Supreme Court.]

Walt Rostow: There is procedural progress, but no substantive progress. We will meet privately Mondays and Fridays. Averell and Cy believe other side does not understand Manila Formula./3/

/3/In the Manila Communiqué of October 25, 1966, the United States and Allied nations declared their intention to withdraw from Vietnam within 6 months of North Vietnamese disengagement. See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. IV, Document 281.

[Omitted here is discussion of strategic weapons talks and the Pueblo.]


13. Memorandum From Robert N. Ginsburgh of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Special Assistant (Rostow)/1/

Washington, September 13, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. VI, 8/68-9/68. Secret; Nodis; Harvan/Plus.

I was struck by two aspects of yesterday's meeting between Tho and Harriman:/2/

/2/Harriman and Vance met with Tho and Thuy for a second private meeting on September 12. Their report on the meeting was transmitted in telegram 20779/Delto 724 from Paris, September 12, and telegram 20789/Delto 725 from Paris, September 13. (Both ibid., Harvan Chronological File, Vol. XXI) This meeting had been set during the tea break at the 21st formal session on September 11. (Telegrams 20657/Delto 714 and 20662/Delto 715 from Paris, both September 11; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, Harvan-(Incoming)-September 1968) Jorden's notes of this formal session are in Johnson Library, William Jorden Papers, William J. Jorden Notes, 21st Meeting.

--Tho's warning about the futility of our intensifying the war. This may have been simply a probe to try to ascertain whether we were giving any thought to the idea. It may well be that the North Vietnamese fear this possibility in view of the lack of progress in Paris. This fear could be the main motive behind their agreement on the expanded schedule of private talks. It remains to be seen whether or not more frequent talks are designed simply to forestall our intensification of the war or whether they are now ready for substantive talks because of their deteriorating position in the South combined with a fear that we might intensify the war.

If they are worried about an intensification of the war, a 7-10 day bombing campaign between 19 and 20 degrees might encourage them to talk faster.

--Tho's emphasis on US troop withdrawal and the unacceptability of the Manila formula. This could result from the fact that phase 1-phase 2 is a dead issue and they need something new to talk about in order to maintain our interest. It may also be that they wish to probe in hopes of weakening the US position on the Manila Declaration/3/ and in the process creating troubles for our relations with the GVN and our other allies. On the other hand, it is at least remotely possible that they are ready to enter into serious discussions about troop withdrawals as one way of proceeding with substantive discussions. From their point of view it would be unwise to proceed very far down the line of step-by-step mutual de-escalation until they had a better idea of the end of the line in terms of a political settlement in SVN and foreign troops in SVN.

/3/See footnote 3, Document 12.

With these thoughts in mind, our position ought to be to:

--Probe NVN intentions by trying to start a serious dialogue on troop withdrawals.

--Emphasize that a serious discussion of troop withdrawals is impossible as long as they maintain that there are no North Vietnamese troops in SVN.

--Reaffirm the flexibility of the Manila Declaration without further weakening of the position.

--Avoid for the time being any hint of token withdrawals.

--Note that an ultimate agreement on troop withdrawal requires agreement--or at least understanding--about the political future of SVN.



14. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson at Camp David/1/

Washington, September 15, 1968, 1517Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. VI, 8/68-9/68. Secret; Sensitive; Literally Eyes Only. Received at 11:35 a.m. The notation "ps" on the telegram indicates that the President saw it. The President was at the Presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, September 14-16. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

CAP 82396. The telephonic flash report of the Paris private meeting this morning is obscure. They found it hard to summarize on the phone. Their written report should arrive about noon and will be forwarded./2/

/2/The written report was transmitted in flash telegram 20872/Delto 732 from Paris, September 15. A full report of the meeting was transmitted in telegram 20873/Delto 733 from Paris, September 15. (Both ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Paris Todel--Paris Delto XIII [2 of 2])

--Meeting took 2 hours and 40 minutes.

--Harriman presented the points he indicated to us he would make,/3/ and there was discussion.

/3/In telegram 20861/Delto 731 from Paris, September 13, Harriman indicated that he would bring up mutual withdrawal, the circumstances necessary to stop the bombing completely, and the "our side-your side" formula for participation. (Ibid.)

--The other side used some "nuanced language" which "interested" our delegation.

--They remain "not discouraged, not encouraged; but interested."

--Firm agreement to meet again on Friday/4/--with probably not much to be expected from Wednesday tea break./5/

/4/September 20; see Document 24.

/5/Nothing substantive was discussed during the tea break at the 22d formal session at the Majestic Hotel on September 18. A report on the session was transmitted in telegram 21015/Delto 745 from Paris, September 18. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, Harvan-(Incoming)-September 1968)


15. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, September 16, 1968, 8:30 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, George Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts [1 of 2]. No classification marking. Drafted by Elsey. This meeting is the regular 8:30 a.m. staff meeting of Secretary of Defense Clifford, which included, in addition to Clifford, Nitze, Warnke, Elsey, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Phil G. Goulding, and military assistant Colonel Robert Pursley. For additional information on the group, see Clark Clifford with Richard Holbrooke, Counsel to the President: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 1991), p. 491.

CMC [Clifford] tells re week-end at Camp David./2/ He had 2 of best talks on V. Nam since becoming Sec Def 1-1/2 hrs Sat nite & 2 hrs on Sunday. When Harvan's 3,000 word cable came to Camp David--it shows for 1st time some movement by NVNams./3/

/2/Clifford spent both September 14 and 15 with the President at Camp David. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) No other record of these conversations has been found.

/3/Reference is to telegram 20873/Delto 733 from Paris, September 15. See footnote 2, Document 14.

Sat, pm

CMC went over his plan again: "we've been on dead center for 5 mos. we have to get something in return for stopping the bombing & I have a way--a plan--etc. etc."

LBJ had felt, he said, CMC just wanted to quit the bombing, without concession. He was re-assured.

Then came, Sun, the long message. I said, "It proves the NVNams are there, meaning business."

We agreed, if Czech stays quiet for a week, LBJ will send a message to Kosygin to revive a meeting with K. on Strat[egic] weapons & he'll try for an assurance with K. that we'll stop bombing if the other side will give certain assurances.

Nitze at this pt. explodes! "It's asinine--it's 'pissing' away an advantage we have! It'll undo the N.Atlantic alliance if LBJ gets into bed with Kosygin."

Warnke sides with Nitze, but much more mildly. He too thinks movement is going on without the Russians.

CMC expresses astonishment at Nitze's objections--"You, Paul, wanted to get the Russians into act."

"Yes," says Nitze, "but that was before Czechoslovakia & before NVNams started to move!!!"

Elsey & Warnke argue that this won't work because timetable won't work; it'll take too long. We'll have an election before you can get the Russians in!

CMC grows irritated! "I'm for anything that will get the Pres. to stop the bombing!"

Nitze--"No, I'm not!! Not if it means doing things contrary to our national interest! Wrecking NATO by playing footsie with Kosygin wld do so!"

CMC--"All of you are trying to think logically. You don't realize LBJ's mood. It's: 'I'm God-damned if I'll stop the bombing without something from the other side!'"

The discussion breaks off at 0925 to prepare for 0930 Staff meeting (Averell Harriman calls in to set date--He is just coming in from Paris--Max Taylor calls--CMC refuses to take call.)

CMC--"Do not deprecate the concept of finding the means of persuading the Pres to stop the bombing in the N[orth] & until we get it stopped we can't get anyplace. I'm ready to take risks elsewhere, anywhere!"

Nitze explodes again: "I feel passionately, not to jeopardize U.S. boys, ever, any time, any place & there is no need now to play into Soviet hands & it would terribly . . . to do so!"


16. Memorandum From the Board of National Estimates to Director of Central Intelligence Helms/1/

Washington, September 16, 1968.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, VIET 092.2 (September-October) 1968. Secret. A notation on the memorandum reads: "Sec Def has seen--8 Oct 1968."

The Coming Political Struggle for South Vietnam

1. The long awaited and much heralded third Communist offensive has fallen well short of its advance billing. In contrast to repeated warnings of a massive country-wide attack, approaching or even exceeding the Tet offensive, the current effort has been a fairly cautious affair. No doubt much of this is due to increasingly effective Allied spoiling operations. In any event, the bulk of the evidence indicates that the Communists are not now attempting a major military offensive; most of the action has been sporadic, with considerable emphasis on attacks by fire, and only occasionally followed by limited ground probes. The present effort is more prolonged but less intense than the Tet or May offensives.

2. The gap between the ominous predictions and the subsequent reality has led to considerable speculation. One view is that the Communists have suffered a near disastrous defeat and have been forced to postpone if not cancel their plans for a major offensive. A contrary opinion is that the climax is yet to come, and that we have only witnessed the preliminaries to a massive assault, ultimately against Saigon.

3. In our view neither of these interpretations is accurate. While there will probably be lulls and new bursts during the next several months, Communist military action is not likely to rise significantly above the level of the past month. It now appears that the Communists have made a strategic decision to conserve their forces, while trying to maintain intermittent pressures sufficient to preoccupy Allied troops in or near the urban areas. Further, this decision, we believe, rests on Hanoi's reappraisal of certain fundamental Communist strengths and weaknesses--a reappraisal which was probably conducted at the highest level during Le Duc Tho's absence from Paris in July.

4. In terms of manpower and matériel, the Communist forces are still capable of a formidable effort. But the political and military leaders must now be acutely aware that such an undertaking involves extremely high costs, cannot be recycled indefinitely, and would almost certainly not win the war. On the other hand, the Communists are quite capable, without the expense and risks of an extraordinary military effort, of enduring the next six months or more without seriously impairing their position in South Vietnam.

5. In these circumstances a massive military move would only be justified if it promised significant psychological and political dividends in terms of Hanoi's basic objectives: breaking the "aggressive will" of the US and destroying the GVN. It would be foolish to rule out such a move; Hanoi could well see a high political return not apparent or convincing to others. In our view, however, the Communists can no longer have very high expectations that their objectives can be advanced by large scale military attacks. The Tet attacks were unique, and in a sense an aberration. They yielded important gains for Hanoi, but it is increasingly unlikely that such a situation can be duplicated.

6. Now, Allied forces and the general populace have been fully prepared for further offensives by the Communists. US opinion to some extent at least has been conditioned to expect an intensification of the fighting. The record of the last few months should raise doubts in Hanoi whether the Paris talks can be directly influenced by battles--or even lulls--in South Vietnam. And one important benchmark has been passed--the political conventions--without a significant turn in US policy.

7. One further consideration must be of growing importance in Hanoi's calculations. Unless the North Vietnamese surprise everyone by making a rapid settlement in the next three months, Hanoi will have to deal with a new American administration. The Communists might be tempted to try a political move or even a dramatic military effort in an attempt to sway the election. But they could have no assurance of the net result; Hanoi is in no better position than anyone else to guess what policies will prevail after the election. In this context, it would be prudent for the North Vietnamese to confront a new administration with its forces not seriously weakened, rather than expend its manpower and resources trying to influence an outgoing administration.

8. In sum, we agree with the remarks, recently attributed to President Thieu, to the effect that the present period is a transitional one: the military aspects of the struggle will gradually be overshadowed by the political aspects./2/ The military effort will be supplementary to the political and diplomatic struggle. We believe that Hanoi intends to reach a negotiated settlement; the optimum period for this settlement opened on 31 March and in Hanoi's view will probably not last much beyond the first six months of a new administration. Thus, we foresee an intensive political-diplomatic struggle coming, one which could produce some dramatic surprises.

/2/Thieu offered his analysis during a September 13 meeting with Bunker, who reported on it in telegram 37824 from Saigon, September 14. Rostow assessed Thieu's analysis in an attached covering note, September 16, transmitting the telegram to the President. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, 9/30-10/22/68, Vol. I [3 of 3]) In a September 15 memorandum to Abrams, Komer supported Thieu's contention that the enemy would "seek to maintain military pressure for essentially political purposes, i.e. to convince the U.S. and Vietnamese audiences that the VC are still strong enough to insist on a political settlement favorable to them." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Komer Files: Lot 69 D 303, Vietnam/Turkey) In another assessment contained in a memorandum of September 17, Carver and Allen of the CIA Vietnamese Affairs Staff wrote: "Though Thieu is probably basically right, his analysis is a shade too comfortable. Our adversaries are waiting for a break and, in keeping up the pressure, are trying to hold down their losses. They are trying to develop a situation they can exploit, however, and should they find a chink in the Allied position (e.g., be able to slip small units into Saigon), they will move swiftly and sharply to take advantage of any such opening." (U.S. Army Center for Military History, Robert Komer Papers, Pacification Files, Nguyen Van Thieu: General File)

9. In Paris we expect the pace to quicken somewhat. Since Hanoi is not certain of the character of the next administration, its immediate aim will be to commit the US more firmly to the continuation of the talks, so that a new administration could not easily abandon them. Some concession, if only a cosmetic one, will probably be made behind the scenes to whet the interest of the US team. Probably Hanoi believes there is still an outside chance that the bombing will be ended before the American elections and it will work for this in Paris. Hanoi's general objective still is to move the negotiations onto highly charged substantive issues--the role of the Front, the withdrawal of American troops, etc.--which unnerve Saigon and create divisions between the US and the GVN. There would also be some advantage in advancing the talks so that a new administration would be able to dispose of the Vietnam problem by making some clear-cut decisions. Major concessions to the American position on reciprocal de-escalation, however, seem unlikely before the elections. If such concessions are intended, they would probably be reserved for a new administration.

10. Within South Vietnam, the Communists intend to go forward with the political preparations for an end to the fighting. They will develop two new instruments: the urban oriented "Vietnam Alliance for Peace . . ." and the administrative apparatus in the rural areas known as revolutionary liberation committees. Thus far these two instruments have been given a public identity separate from the National Liberation Front. Though this calculated ambiguity may be somewhat confusing to the rank and file, it permits the Communists to keep open several options when serious negotiations over a political settlement begin. The general aim of a "coalition" government underlies the creation of these new devices, but how the various pieces fit together is open for bargaining. In any case, the Communists are laying the groundwork for claiming a share of political power when the fighting stops.

11. Some painful choices, however, confront the Communists as they proceed toward a settlement. One is whether to press for a cease fire. With their forces intact and in control of large areas in the countryside, a cease fire might seem an attractive move, especially since the GVN seems to fear it. The Communists would count heavily on the widespread popular fears that a cease fire could only mean that the Communists would be eventually given some political position in Saigon. On the other hand, by agreeing to cease fire, the Communists would lose important leverage on the GVN and the US and would then be in the position of having to deal, sooner rather than later, with the present Saigon authorities. We simply cannot be sure how they would weigh the prospective gains and losses. But such a move could come at any time.

12. There is one further problem which Hanoi may have already begun to mull over. What if, despite serious negotiations, continued military action, and a change in US administrations, Hanoi cannot achieve a settlement which, at a minimum, provides an opportunity for winning power in political competition. In other words, what if US terms are simply too harsh and unacceptable. Then North Vietnam must face the prospect of reducing its own minimum terms, or gearing its military strategy for a much longer war than it now foresees or intends. An awareness of this potentially agonizing decision may give some greater sense of urgency to Le Duc Tho and his comrades in Paris over the next few months.

For the Board of National Estimates:

Abbot Smith


17. Intelligence Report Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency/1/

Washington, September 16, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President, Vol. V. Secret; Sensitive. In an attached covering memorandum transmitting a copy of this report to the President, September 17, Rostow wrote: "Herewith the matter Dick Helms was going to raise at lunch, but held off at Sect. Rusk's suggestion. It reveals what Ky's--and in part, Thieu's--frame of mind really is; and their deep anxiety about the U.S. This is absolutely firm intelligence and suggests our major problem with a bombing cessation. I believe I know how we can deal with it." Notes of this luncheon meeting are printed as Document 22.

Discussion Between President Nguyen Van Thieu and Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky to discuss coup rumors and the general Vietnamese situation

1. On 10 September 1968, Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky and President Nguyen Van Thieu had an hour-long private meeting, arranged at Ky's request, to discuss the coup rumors of 8 September. The conversation evolved into a somewhat disjointed and speculative dialogue about possible American interest in promoting a coup to obtain a quick peace in Vietnam. The Vice President also used the occasion to stress the need for unity in the government, to propose again that the President delegate to him some special mission as a way of dramatizing their mutual confidence, and to attack what he called the divisive activities of Prime Minister Tran Van Huong, Interior Minister Tran Thien Khiem, III Corps Commander General Do Cao Tri, and Information Minister Ton That Thien. The President did not respond to these latter gambits of Ky's but the two men appeared frank and forthcoming in discussing the matter of a coup.

2. Ky began the meeting by saying that coup rumors had been brought to his attention on 8 September by a phone call from Ambassador Berger and by the talk of his fellow officers on 9 September; he therefore wished to report these matters to Thieu and to review the situation with him. After protesting his own innocence of even any prior knowledge of coup talk against the President, Ky expressed the view that the Americans might resort to a coup to resolve the Vietnam issue before the election so that Vice President Humphrey might win.

3. Thieu responded that the same thought had occurred to him. He indicated that he had been concerned over two possible American solutions to the war (1) a coup, or (2) a sudden decision to stop the bombing, accept a cease-fire, and press for coalition government. He speculated that the Nixon camp might like to foment a coup to create disorder in Vietnam as a way of attacking the Johnson administration. He also mused that the Communists must help Humphrey in the elections, "even if they have to assassinate Nixon".

4. Ky suggested that the Americans might be "preparing a solution through some third person--possibly Tran Van Huong or Duong Van (Big) Minh". Thieu speculated that the U.S. could even be thinking in terms of Phan Quang Dan or Truong Dinh Dzu.

5. After further similar speculation, Thieu and Ky finally concluded that an American coup against the President would solve nothing since the nation's anti-Communist forces would quickly mount a counter-coup and that to overthrow the entire Vietnamese Government, from top to bottom, would be a very difficult and hazardous undertaking for the Americans. Thieu said that he believed the likeliest dramatic gesture to insure a Humphrey victory would be an American move for a bombing halt and cease-fire. Ky agreed that the Americans had probably not decided on the course of a coup--"they only envisage it to make all their preparations".

6. Twice during the conversation Ky referred to the need for unity within the government. He called Prime Minister Huong a "card of the Southerners" and a creator of factionalism and said he was afraid of the Prime Minister. He criticized the high turnover of civil, police, and military posts involving friends of Huong and Interior Minister Khiem. He expressed reservations about the positions of Khiem and III Corps Commander Tri in the event of a coup, saying "I am afraid of persons like Khiem and Tri, and Tri most of all--he is an avenger". He also criticized the reference of Information Minister Thien, "that slave of the Americans", to Premier Huong as the Magsaysay of Vietnam. Thieu made no comment on these accusations nor did he respond to Ky's suggestions that he be given "some task, a special mission" to prove and dramatize the unity and trust between them. The two men also discussed the return of exiled General Minh. Thieu indicated his unhappiness that so much discussion of Minh's return had been conducted via the press medium, but neither Thieu nor Ky expressed opposition to Minh's return.


18. Information Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, September 16, 1968, 9 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Walt Rostow Files, Chlodnick File. Literally Eyes Only for the President and Secretary Rusk.

Mr. President:

As we consider the possible initiative with the Russians, I believe we should take certain steps and plan others--in the form of a scenario--to make sure all bases are covered.

1. A military assessment for the next several months, say mid-September to mid-November.

This should cover:

--enemy plans and intentions;

--our capacity to deal with them;

--current and prospective rates of infiltration;

--weather and probable supply movements through the Panhandle and Laos.

We know, in general, that the answers are: a stretched out harassing campaign, with an effort to consolidate politically in the countryside; we can cope well; low infiltration now, probably due to weather--possibly due to political plans: infiltration could rise sharply when Laos dries up from mid-October on; weather will deteriorate in Panhandle, improve in Laos. But we need an authoritative wrap-up from Abrams, for which we can ask at any time.

2. Contingency plans for applying more pressure to North Vietnam if you should judge diplomacy has failed.

Major candidates are:

--bombing Cambodian bases;

--bombing up to 20th parallel;

--bombing Hanoi-Haiphong;

--mining Haiphong;

--ground attacks into northern half of DMZ;

--ground attacks north of the DMZ.

Bus could be asked to work on this on a personal basis now, without staff. You may wish formally to engage Pentagon staff only if bombing halt is under way.

3. Rules of engagement during a bombing halt.

We had a good talk about this in Nick Katzenbach's Vietnam group ten days ago. All hands agreed we would wish to strike back in case of DMZ violations promptly, with our response local rather than general, and about three times the weight of the particular provocation; for example, three shells for every one fired across the DMZ. But we may wish to start formal contingency planning on this.

4. Political.

A. If we go ahead with another message via Dobrynin, say, late today/2/ and we get a positive reply, you may wish, just for the record, to check with Thompson and Bohlen before moving--so that Russian experts will have been consulted.

/2/Rostow met with Dobrynin that evening from 6 to 7:30 p.m. He transmitted a message from Johnson to the Soviet leadership that stated that, if the leaders of the Soviet Union were "prepared to advise on the basis of what now is being said" that accompanying action on the part of the DRV would be assured on a "de facto basis," then the President "would take their advice with the utmost seriousness" in a decision to halt the bombing of North Vietnam. The full text of this message is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. XIV, Document 299. In a memorandum to the President, September 16, 8:10 p.m., Rostow noted Dobrynin's reaction: "He felt it important that, if the Soviet Union gave a positive reply to the message I had handed to him, that we not take such a reply as committing the Soviet Union to assuring the role we had envisaged for the GVN in negotiations." See ibid., Document 300.

B. With respect to Averell, the question may be more urgent: should he be told in general terms of the possibility of an approach via Moscow as a third party in the next several days?/3/

/3/The issue was discussed with Harriman in several conversations on September 17; see Documents 19-21.

C. Not immediately urgent, but to be kept in mind as a checklist, if we move ahead:

--When do we tell Bunker, Thieu, and Abrams and how do we keep South Vietnamese from panicking?

--When do we tell Asian fighting allies?

--When do we tell NATO allies and how do we keep them from turning off efforts to strengthen NATO?

--How do we reassure Israelis that we are not going to sell them out with the Russians, while keeping the heat on them?

--How do we deal with the issue of Czechoslovakia?

--When do we talk to Congressional leadership?

--When do we inform the major candidates?

(The answer to a good many of these questions--in terms of substance--will come to a head in the drafting of a statement for the President announcing his forthcoming actions. Simultaneous announcement of a NATO meeting in Brussels, post-Geneva,/4/ and a meeting with fighting allies in Asia would help. The Czechoslovak issue will be difficult, although it could be helped by a public troop withdrawal schedule before Geneva.)

/4/Reference is to arms control talks being held in Geneva.

5. A final thought. If the bombing halt comes just before Geneva and we wish to hold Hanoi's feet to the fire on performance in both Paris and on the ground, you may wish to keep the Geneva talks going until they do perform. Much the most interesting thing said in Paris yesterday was that serious discussions could begin "the next day."/5/

/5/See Document 14.



19. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, September 17, 1968, 11:30 a.m.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Subject File, Rusk, Dean--1968-69. Top Secret; Nodis. Harriman's summary version of this conversation is ibid., Confidential File, July-September--General. Harriman had returned to the United States 2 days before to attend a family funeral.

Secretary Rusk
W. Averell Harriman

I had a half-hour's talk with Dean before going over to the White House. Nick Katzenbach came in at the end of it./2/ The atmosphere was completely different from last night./3/ It was relaxed and cordial.

/2/Rusk met with Harriman from 11:30 a.m. to 12:07 p.m. Katzenbach joined the meeting at 11:55 a.m. (Johnson Library, Dean Rusk Appointment Book, 1968-1969)

/3/The previous evening Harriman met over dinner with Rusk, Katzenbach, Bundy, and Read. In his memorandum of the conversation, September 16, Harriman noted: "Rusk made a hard-line argument with Nick, saying: 'If Hanoi is serious it would give us the word,' since, from his experience, Eastern 'face' was a farce. They could get around it if they wanted to. Nick argued well, speaking of North Viet-Nam's ideology rather than face, and U.S. interests." (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips & Missions, 1968-69, Paris Peace Talks, Memoranda of Conversations)

Dean said the President had very much in mind that there were three elements that had to be dealt with, and that in talking to him I should understand this. One was military activities in the DMZ area. The second was what Dean called attacks on the cities. I told him it would be better to speak of attacks on Saigon and other principal cities. I explained the difference between hitting Saigon and a provincial capital like Tay Ninh. He listened without comment. The third point was the participation of the GVN. I told him Cy and I thought the DRV had a clear understanding on the DMZ and had told us as much as we would get. We had dealt with shelling of Saigon last June, though there had been some additional shelling recently. I didn't think there would be so much difficulty establishing the world opinion on that question.

Dean argued the need for referring to other attacks in our discussions was not conclusive, except Dean stated the subject was definitely on the President's mind. I maintained reference to Lau/Vance talks had dealt with that and could only be determined at "serious discussions" after end of bombing on basis of reciprocal deescalation, etc.

On the third point I stated that I thought we had not had a satisfactory answer from Le Duc Tho. He had only agreed to talk about it at the serious discussions. We had commented that each has a different point of view but we'll discuss it.

I told Dean that I thought Cy and I ought to have more authority to go back on Friday's meeting/4/ indicating that we felt we'd made real progress and an understanding on the DMZ matter, but that inclusion of GVN was a point which needed to be clarified. I said we wanted to be able to tell Tho that the President (or the Government) was gratified with the progress we had made on the DMZ but the question of GVN was holding up any action. I wanted to be able to go as far as we could in implying that this issue was the one that had to be settled before action could be taken on the cessation of the bombing.

/4/For the meeting at Paris on September 20, see Document 24.

I gave Dean my opinion about the meeting with Kosygin./5/ If the President arranged to see him before ending the bombing, little or nothing would result, whereas if the bombing stopped before he saw him, I felt that the talks could be extremely useful, both as it related to Viet-Nam and the other matters he wished to discuss (Middle East and nuclear). The Secretary encouraged me to make all these points frankly with the President.

/5/See footnote 2, Document 18.

W. Averell Harriman/6/

/6/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


20. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, September 17, 1968, 12:15 p.m.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Subject File, Johnson, Lyndon--1968. Top Secret; Nodis. The meeting lasted until 12:42 p.m. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) In a memorandum to the President, September 17, 10:15 a.m., Rostow transmitted guidance for the meeting in the form of five questions that the President should ask. (Ibid., National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Middle East and Vietnam Negotiations, September 1968) Rostow's notes of this meeting are in his undated memorandum for the record. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3])

The President
W. Averell Harriman
Walt W. Rostow

I had a brief talk with Walt Rostow before going in to see the President at quarter past 12. Walt came with me. (The President was most cordial. I thanked him for the telegram and flowers, etc.)

I went over the same ground with the President in some detail as I had with Dean./2/ He did not argue about any aspect of it. He questioned me in some detail about my judgment of Kosygin's attitude after the cessation of bombing, rather than before. I explained that Russia had the same commitment to NVN as we had to SVN. They were committed not only in hardware, but open-ended commitment on military personnel. They could not take any position as long as we were hitting what they called a Sister Socialist State and there would be a new situation if we stopped bombing NVN. We had no concern over the future of NVN; similarly, they would have little concern about SVN; but they would feel committed to support Hanoi in their position on the political settlement. On the other hand, they would be able to use influence. I underlined the desire of Eastern European countries to get a settlement, particularly Tito,/3/ Romania and Poland. He listened attentively and appeared to accept my conclusion. (After lunch, in speaking of this to Dean Rusk, he said, "Averell is more optimistic about our talks with Kosygin if we stop the bombing first." Something to the effect that he thought "we ought to consider what Averell said".)

/2/See Document 19.

/3/Josip Broz Tito, President of the Republic of Yugoslavia.

The President listened to my statement about the understanding with Tho on the DMZ and my request for more leeway in discussions of the position of GVN in talks. The President asked whether I thought their intent was to accept the end of the bombing and then stall as they had for four months until a new President came along, or whether they would want to reach a settlement. I told him that I thought the latter would be the case, although it might take some time. They would accept an independent SVN, etc., according to the NLF program. Our major difficulty would be over who steered the government. We were insisting on Saigon having the lead; they would insist on the NLF. They would fight each item as long as they felt there was a chance of getting what they wanted. How far they would compromise I could not tell, but in any event by January 20 we would be well into the talks. The important question was to get the South Vietnamese talking among themselves in the hope of their working out a solution.

The President did not seem interested in the details but was interested in whether there would be a serious attempt to come to an understanding in the discussions. I pointed out the difference in the manner in which they were talking about mutual withdrawal of troops in last Sunday's discussions with Tho/4/ than before, which encouraged me to believe they were thinking seriously of mutual withdrawal, but I couldn't see now how we could police the withdrawal. I pointed out Tho's question: why shouldn't our troops be out at the same time theirs are out? I told the President time was rather short; I hoped he could make a decision within the next couple of weeks on ending the bombing, and I thought a meeting with Kosygin at the end of October would be too close to November 5th to be feasible and suggested mid-October as latest date.

/4/See Document 14.

(Note: In talking with Dean Rusk later, after the lunch, the President said you have to recognize our schedule is short and we have to have action (I thought he said late in October) or it would be too late. I commented that I thought before the end of September for end of bombing. He said "He meant all action including the Kosygin talk".)

The President asked about Ohio./5/ I said that I normally had some sort of a guess. I had none in this case. I explained the sense of authority that Le Duc Tho gave in talking to him. I couldn't believe that they would want to transfer the talks to some junior person in Oslo. I said I couldn't guess; we would have to wait and see.

/5/On August 6 DRV Ambassador to Norway Ngo Minh Loan suggested to the Norwegian Government that DRV Ambassador to the Soviet Union Nguyen Chan travel to Oslo before August 15 in order to reopen the indirect Norwegian channel of communication code-named Ohio. (Telegram 5963 from Oslo, August 7; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/OHIO) The Department recommended that Davidson be sent to Oslo to act as the U.S. representative in these contacts. (Telegram 216977 to Oslo, Paris, and Saigon, August 7; ibid.) On the eve of the meeting, however, it was postponed by the DRV. (Telegram 221207 to Oslo, Paris, and Saigon, August 14; ibid.) Chan's arrival in Oslo was re-scheduled for September 19, and his first talks with Norwegian Foreign Ministry officials were to begin on September 20. Davidson arrived the previous day for a briefing by Norwegian officials. (Telegrams 6605 from Oslo, September 18, and 6634 from Oslo, September 19; both ibid.) For the September 20 meeting, see Document 25.

I emphasized that bombing could begin at once in DMZ and just north if the DRV didn't carry out its part. The President said that I was as bad as Dean in thinking it easy to start bombing again--he spoke of the 37 day pause/6/ and reaction when he started again, etc. I explained the difference between the present situation and then.

/6/Reference is to the 37-day bombing pause during the period December 1965-January 1966.

W. Averell Harriman/7/

/7/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


Dean told me that the President had said he had had an interesting talk with me and had covered a lot of ground. Rusk asked me to meet with him early tomorrow morning and go over the instructions needed. I told Dean I would talk the situation over this afternoon with Bundy./8/ There were certain points I wanted to make and get a decision. On other points we might reach an understanding on what we had in mind.

/8/Notes of Harriman's meeting with Bundy have not been found, but he did meet with Rusk during the morning of September 18. His notes of the conversations read in part: "We discussed problem of inclusion of GVN and I had to admit things would be difficult if we did not have an agreement. We couldn't start bombing on this issue and we might have undignified and frustrative delay in Paris. He has Bunker and Saigon much in mind on this question." Harriman added: "On Hubert and United States political situation, Dean is on another planet." (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Subject File, Humphrey, Hubert H.--1963-1968)


/9/Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.


21. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, September 17, 1968.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Confidential File, July-December 1968. Top Secret; Nodis.

Walt Rostow, White House
W. Averell Harriman

After speaking with the President, I went back to Walt's office and we had about a half-hour's talk (the President had to go to General Ware's funeral)./2/

/2/Major General Keith Ware, Commander of the 1st Infantry Division, was killed September 13 when his helicopter crashed near the Cambodian border. The funeral was held at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia. The President left the White House at 12:50 p.m. and returned at 1:43 p.m. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary)

We talked a lot about "Your side and our side". Walt wondered if that was as important as the details to get them to accept the GVN in the negotiations even though it might be on some other basis. He had been impressed with Bunker's ideas that there might be talks among the Vietnamese in some place other than Paris, or if in Paris without our participation. Rusk, however, feels strongly that we should stick to "your side and our side" formula as we would have impossible problem with the GVN if they don't sit in formal talks in Paris. This would not preclude the alternative of our having private talks elsewhere at our official level. Walt expressed what he called the hopeful view that Hanoi theologians could claim success in having forced the United States out but they might want to have the NLF conclude a deal with the GVN which would not be as satisfactory. They might not want to take the onus of this less than satisfactory deal. I allowed I didn't know, but I said I had no idea what Hanoi had in mind but as far as I was concerned I thought the GVN should deal with the NLF; they were southerners; they were people. It would be better for them to deal with each other. I realized this was political problem for GVN but perhaps this problem could be surmounted at a later stage. Walt Rostow also hopefully suggested that in some of the mass of material he'd been through there were indications that Hanoi was not as anxious to get us out of SEA as they appeared--even a base in SVN. I said, I disagreed. I couldn't see SVN but the Russians might be happy with our continuing to have some base facilities in Thailand. They would certainly like to see us continue to take an interest in SEA just as they had in the South; eventually hoped to come to some sort of understanding or at least parallel action with regard to China.

Rostow agreed and so did the Secretary that it probably would be better off to inspect and enforce the DMZ than to stick back an incompetent ICC. Both said that if we had the right kind of overflights we could decide the facts for ourselves. Walt had some ideas about getting Asia into the ICC or some other supervisory organization.

He did not disagree with my statement we had gone about as far as we could get with military actions in the demilitarized zone. I told him we had spoken of ending all action in the DMZ simultaneously with the cessation of bombing. We didn't discuss in any detail either with the President or with Rostow the President's second point on attack on the cities. I had, however explained what had happened in the middle of June on the shelling of Saigon. World public opinion had, I believe, induced Hanoi to desist. I said that this question should be dealt with in the statement the President might make at the time he announced he was going to end the bombing. We went into no detail on the kind of statement the President should make except that it was implicit that consideration must be given to the manner and content.


/3/Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.


22. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, September 17, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting began at 1:43 p.m. at the White House. Clifford and Wheeler left at 2:40 p.m.; Rusk, Helms, and Harriman left at 2:55 p.m.; and Rostow, Christian, and Tom Johnson left at 3:10 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)


The President
Ambassador Harriman
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
General Wheeler
Walt Rostow
CIA Director Helms
George Christian
Tom Johnson

Secretary Clifford: We met with the Senate Committee this morning. They spent one and a-half hours on Vietnam./2/

/2/Reference is to hearings on Defense appropriations by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

CIA Director Helms: I had five and a-half hours with the same Committee yesterday, two hours on Vietnam.

Secretary Clifford: Senator Russell, Senator Jackson, Senator Allott, Senator Mundt, Senator Symington and Senator Kuchel asked questions.

The President: What is Senator Russell asking?

Secretary Clifford: He is asking, "how do we get out of the predicament in Vietnam?" He wants to know which direction we go to bring the war to an end. Senator Stennis wants to bomb and mine Haiphong. The other direction is Paris. "Do we go this way?" There was discouragement in the Committee.

Senator Russell says there is increasing impatience in the country.

Senator Stennis said within three months after the election we will get this problem solved. He says we should have brought military force to bear.

The President: What is the military predicament?

General Wheeler: In South Vietnam we are in "satisfactory" situation. We have the initiative. We have forestalled every major effort. The ARVN have performed well.

I see no reason for concern. We are on a sound military basis for continuation of talks.

In the North, they are rebuilding LOC's and their facilities. They are moving much matériel south.

The President: Have we lost or gained by the action of March 31?

General Wheeler: We lost something psychologically, nothing militarily at this time.

Secretary Rusk: We only gave up 10% of our sorties because of March 31.

General Wheeler: Senators Stennis, Russell and Allott implied we made a mistake on March 31.

Secretary Clifford: I told the Committee we were there to prevent the subjugation of the South Vietnamese.

General Wheeler: You made a good statement, Clark (Secretary Clifford).

[Omitted here is discussion of defense appropriations, aircraft sales to Israel, the Pueblo crisis; the status of U.S. bases in Spain, Cambodia, and Czechoslovakia; and the ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.]

Paris Talks

Secretary Rusk: Averell and I have talked. Attacks on cities, willingness to talk with Saigon and the DMZ are three areas we have to get movement on./3/

/3/In spite of this assurance to the contrary, in a telephone conversation with Rusk on September 23, the President expressed doubts about the emphasis which Harriman gave to these three points during his discussions with the North Vietnamese. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, September 23, 1968, 9:37 a.m., Tape F6809.03, PNO 1-2)

Anything we do must be done before October 20. Otherwise we will have made bad gamble and lost.

Secretary Rusk: We are grateful for how Harriman has done his work. Jorden and Kaplan have done a good job.

Secretary Rusk: We are in disastrous situation on aid.


23. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France/1/

Washington, September 18, 1968, 2003Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-September-October 1968. Top Secret; Nodis; Harvan/Plus. Drafted by Bundy; cleared by Harriman, Rostow, Katzenbach, Clifford, and Read; and approved by Rusk.

240579/Todel 1107. Supplemental Instructions for Ambassadors Harriman and Vance.

1. These instructions supplement those contained in State 233437,/2/ which have been the basis of your conduct of the three conversations with Le Duc Tho.

/2/In telegram 233437/Todel 1045 to Paris, September 5, the Department noted the key negotiating points as being GVN participation and the cessation of military activity in the DMZ. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Paris Todel-Paris Delto XII)

2. As your previous instructions have made clear, the two critical points on which we seek the highest possible degree of understanding--as the basis for a decision to stop the bombing--are the inclusion of the GVN in subsequent substantive talks under the "Your side/our side" formula, and military activity in and near the DMZ.

3. With respect to military activity in or near the DMZ, you should indicate that we have noted Tho's apparent understanding of our views on the subject and the importance we attach to it. It is vital that there be no misapprehension. You should, therefore, reiterate the understanding you expressed at that time, without their taking exception, so that it is in effect repeated and made clear what we understand their view to be.

4. You should state, however, that we are not satisfied with the position they have taken on GVN representation. You should make clear that a further degree of understanding on this subject is required, and you may imply that such a further degree of understanding could be a major factor in facilitating a decision to stop the bombing. This should be the main topic on which you focus in your Friday meeting, so that they are left in no possible doubt as to its importance and our view of it.

5. In expressing our views on the subject of military activity in or near the DMZ, you should find occasion, as you did in your September 15 meeting,/3/ to make clear that, while this is our foremost specific concern in the area of military restraint, we continue to have in mind the other items discussed in the Vance/Lau conversations, in which attacks on major cities were included. We regard attacks on major cities as an action which would have the gravest consequences.

/3/See Document 14.



24. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/

Paris, September 20, 1968, 2033Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-September 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis; Harvan/Plus. Received at 4:53 p.m.

21178/Delto 751. From Harriman and Vance.

1. We met again with Tho and Thuy for 3-1/2 hours on September 20. The same people were present on both sides./2/

/2/The full report of this meeting was transmitted in telegram 21191/Delto 753 from Paris, September 21. (Ibid.) In telegram CAP 82431 to the President, September 20, Rostow relayed Vance's immediate telephonic report on the meeting. Vance noted that "there was no progress and no statement of 'understanding'" and contended that the North Vietnamese "had no authority from Hanoi to respond in the face of our rather precise statements." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. VI, 8/68-9/68) The President vacationed at his Texas Ranch September 19-24. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

2. We opened by presenting our position precisely in accordance with instructions./3/ Our main emphasis centered on necessity of GVN representation in "serious discussions following the cessation of bombing."

/3/See Document 23.

3. We cannot report progress from our discussion today. It was clear that they did not have sufficient instructions to enable a positive response to the proposals we were making on GVN representation. At our suggestion, they agreed to communicate with their government and seek instructions. Apparently because of the time required for them to have a turn-around with Hanoi, they did not agree to meeting again on Monday./4/ They suggested we discuss the question of another meeting on Wednesday at the tea break with the proviso that if either side has anything to say as a result of communication with its government, an earlier meeting could be held./5/ Tho indicated that although he was prepared to meet again on our regular schedule, he thought it would be a mistake to meet until further instructions were received from our governments.

/4/September 23.

/5/See Document 32.

4. The gist of the discussion following on our proposal with respect to GVN participation concerned their claim that this was a prior condition which did not meet their demand for an unconditional cessation of bombing. We responded time and again that this was not a condition of cessation of bombing, but it was a question of a definition of serious negotiations. Without this understanding, we questioned the seriousness of their intent.

5. Further argument centered around two questions put by Tho: first, he wanted to know whether this was the only "condition" on which he had to come to an understanding before we would stop all bombing; second, whether we would decide to stop the bombing only when we have come to agreement on this question. We answered the second question first by saying that the bombing would not be stopped unless we could reach an understanding on this question. We answered the first question by saying that we could not say this was the only question, but we could inform him that agreement on this matter could be a major factor in facilitating a decision on the cessation of bombing.

6. Both Tho and Thuy repeatedly remarked that our unwillingness to state that the question of GVN representation was the only condition on which we should come to an understanding before the cessation of bombing, plus use of the words "could, repeat could, be a major factor," was an indication that we would have many more factors to raise. They said this would be an attempt to lead them into endless discussion of other factors before the cessation of bombing--which they had repeatedly made clear they had no intention of doing./6/

/6/In telegram 38599 from Saigon, September 24, Bunker argued: "It seems to me, therefore, that in stating our assumptions, we should not just say that the GVN must take part in serious discussions, but that we will bring them into the negotiations from the start. In effect, if we are unable to get Hanoi's agreement in advance to GVN participation, then we should unilaterally establish the 'our side, your side' procedure for the 'serious negotiations' by means of assumption." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Chron., XXII)

7. We went over the ground with them a number of times but they continued to insist that we were asking for prior agreement on matters which they were not prepared to discuss before the unconditional cessation of bombing. They repeated again their willingness to meet immediately following a cessation of bombing for discussion of any subject the other side wished to raise.



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