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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 25-43

25. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas/1/

Washington, September 21, 1968, 1423Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President/Walt Rostow, Vol. 95. Top Secret; Sensitive; Literally Eyes Only for the President. Received at the LBJ Ranch at 12:36 p.m.

CAP 82446. Following are four cables on the Oslo channel.

Cable 1. The Norwegians debrief the men we sent to Oslo on their first discussions with the North Vietnamese./2/

/2/Telegram 6685 from Oslo, September 20. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/OHIO) In telegram 38466 from Saigon, September 23, Bunker commented on the Ohio contacts, in particular expressing the hope that "the Department has in mind making sure that our Norwegian friends leave the North Vietnamese in no doubt that a bombing halt and serious negotiations depend not only on an understanding with respect to the DMZ but also about GVN participation in the negotiations." (Ibid.)

Cable 2. Our brief instruction, sent during the night, to Davidson in Oslo./3/

/3/These instructions were noted in telegram CAP 82444 from Rostow to the President, September 21. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Chronological, Vol. XXII)

Cable 3. Harriman's comment and, quite helpful, elaboration of our instruction./4/

/4/Telegram 21180/Delto 752 from Paris, September 21. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/OHIO)

Cable 4. North Vietnamese plans for today, Saturday./5/

/5/Telegram 6687 from Oslo, September 21. (Ibid.)

WWR Comment:

The heart of the North Vietnamese message (cable 1) is in para. 7 and, perhaps, in para. 10.

Para. 7 states: "Concerning the North Vietnamese forces which were shelling South Vietnam, if the U.S. stops all bombing of North Vietnam and stops shelling across the DMZ, the North Vietnamese will not shoot at U.S. airplanes (because they will not be above NVN) and will not shell U.S. positions in South Vietnam across the DMZ. Warships outside North Vietnamese territorial waters would not be fired upon. Chan summed up by saying that the cessation of U.S. bombing and shelling of NVN would bring an end to all acts of war by North Vietnam against the U.S. However, when the U.S. hits at North Vietnam, North Vietnam must give them several blows back."

Para. 10 states that the North Vietnamese told the Norwegians that "they did not want Nixon."

It sounds a little as if Hanoi had taken rather literally two minimal statements made by Secretary Rusk and the President:

--Secretary Rusk's often repeated statement that "no one has ever been able to tell us what would happen if the bombing stopped."

--The President's press conference statement that "almost anything" from the other side would be helpful in stopping the bombing.

In any case, if the Norwegians are accurate reporters--and they have a reputation for being accurate, professional, and hard-headed--this is the first time that anyone from Hanoi has said that even the shelling across the DMZ would stop if our bombing stopped.

We must, of course, probe further.

It is interesting that the Soviets have contacted the North Vietnamese in Oslo. It is also interesting that the Soviets had to take the initiative.

Text of cables follows.

Cable 1. From Oslo to Washington.

"1. This afternoon Algard and Vraalsen met Davidson and Ridgway in Davidson's hotel room and supplied following information about their conversations with the North Vietnamese through afternoon Sept. 20. (In an attempt to create an informal atmosphere Vraalsen had jotted down points rather than taking full notes and the North Vietnamese did the same. When Vraalsen transcribes his notes a copy will be made available to us.)

2. Algard and Vraalsen met and dined North Vietnamese delegation Thursday evening. Conversation was completely nonsubstantive. Chan, Sung and interpreter Giai, Algard, Boye and Vraalsen met 9:30 a.m. Friday Sept. 20 for first substantive meeting. After exchange of formalities Chan said the situation had changed considerably both militarily and diplomatically since Algard's visit to Hanoi in Feb-Mar and asked if he could give a short statement setting forth the current situation. Speaking generally without notes Chan referred to the great victories won by the South [North] Vietnamese in their three great offensives, Jan-Feb, May and August. He used the highly exaggerated military statistics contained in recent NLF communiqué and mentioned the great damage the war was doing to U.S. dignity and honor. Chan stated that North Vietnam wished to live in peace but that it was entitled to sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity as agreed in the 1954 Geneva Accords. He said the North Vietnamese wanted to see an early end to the war and that every country could contribute to this, based on its special potentialities. To solve the problem its root--U.S. aggression--had to be removed. The war was the result of U.S. miscalculation and the U.S. would meet with defeat. What is needed is the unconditional cessation of bombing and also other acts of war so that the parties could go on to talk on other matters of interest to both sides. The fighting in South Vietnam must be stopped. (WWR Comment: I reported to you some time ago that in the preliminaries leading up to Oslo the North Vietnamese in Peking had said, in February 1968, 'Hanoi presupposed that military operations be stopped while negotiations are conducted.')/6/ Questions concerning South Vietnam must be discussed with the NLF. U.S. forces must be withdrawn so that South Vietnamese people can decide their own destiny. Chan concluded his thirty-minute presentation with the usual remarks about the U.S. responsibility for the impasse in Paris. He then said to Algard 'You've heard all this before.'

/6/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 66.

3. Boye opened discussion by saying that the Norwegian Govt's only interest is to help in bringing the Vietnamese war to an end, that it was disappointed by the lack of progress in Paris and willing to do anything it could to help. However, the GON could itself act as a channel and nothing more.

4. Algard said he was also concerned about Paris becoming a blind alley. The Norwegian Govt. stood behind its public statements favoring a unilateral cessation of bombing but fully understood why the U.S. President needed assurances of the safety of his troops before he could stop the bombing. Algard told Vietnamese he had the impression that the U.S. would be satisfied with an indirect message that North Vietnam would not endanger the safety of U.S. troops and that the U.S. was not requiring assurances in any attempt to trick the North Vietnamese into dropping their principal position. He said that the GON was sure that the U.S. wants to find a peaceful solution and would like to stop the bombing providing it receives assurances about the safety of its troops, particularly those in the area of the demilitarized zone. At this point Chan interrupted to ask whether the U.S. had said so and Algard replied yes.

5. Chan replied that the NLF could not stop defending itself against aggression, that U.S. forces massacring the people would meet natural resistance from the people and that what the U.S. was actually asking for was reciprocity.

6. Algard said he disagreed. The U.S. was not trying to get North Vietnam to change its position but must have assurances that security of its own forces would not be jeopardized if it stopped the bombing.

7. Chan then said the U.S. had to talk to the NLF about NLF military actions. Concerning the North Vietnamese forces which were shelling South Vietnam, if the U.S. stops all bombing of North Vietnam and stops shelling across the DMZ, the North Vietnamese will not shoot at U.S. airplanes (because they will not be above NVN) and will not shell U.S. positions in South Vietnam across the DMZ. Warships outside North Vietnamese territorial waters would not be fired upon. Chan summed up by saying that the cessation of U.S. bombing and shelling of NVN would bring an end to all acts of war by North Vietnam against the U.S. However, when the U.S. hits at North Vietnam, North Vietnam must give them several blows back.

8. Chan then stated North Vietnamese believed it was very important to get the Paris talks going. The U.S. must stop all bombing. The North Vietnamese are seriously fighting and are serious concerning peace. They are honest and serious, concerning other questions, Chan continued, tell the Americans that 'This will also be good.' 'This' was apparently the stopping of bombing. (WWR Comment: I believe the reference is to "honest and serious talks"--not to stopping the bombing.)

9. Algard told the North Vietnamese that neither GON nor U.S. would misuse any statements made to GON.

10. At the conclusion of this morning's talks Algard explained again to the Vietnamese the reasons that the U.S. could not stop the bombing without adequate assurance of the safety of its troops. He pointed to the recent Harris poll which showed 61 percent of the U.S. people were against unconditional cessation, mentioned the political problems that unconditional cessation would cause in the U.S. (noting that both party platforms had rejected it) and remarked that the course of the Paris talks and of the war in Vietnam could not help affecting the U.S. elections. Chan replied that the North Vietnamese had a definite opinion as to which candidate they preferred and indicated that they did not want Nixon.

11. Algard told Davidson that his impression was that the North Vietnamese were trying to convince the Norwegians that they should tell the U.S. that we could stop bombing without risk to our troops. Algard found it very hard to pin this impression down to any direct statements they made but cited the North Vietnamese flat statement that they would cease artillery fire across the DMZ if the U.S. stopped artillery fire across the DMZ and all bombing of North Vietnam and the North Vietnamese who twice repeated that if Americans only stopped the bombing everything after that would be easy. Algard did not indicate to Davidson that he accepted Vietnamese line about lack of risk to U.S. troops.

12. Algard found the North Vietnamese decidedly less aggressive and more informed than any North Vietnamese had previously been with him.

13. Algard will be seeing the North Vietnamese Saturday Sept 21 at 10:30 a.m. He intends to devote most of the session to trying to elicit more satisfactory response to question of what will happen on the ground if U.S. stops the bombing. He will point out serious consequences that would arise if U.S. stopped bombing and events showed that this endangered the security of U.S. troops. He will state that the road ahead after cessation of bombing will not be easy and may indeed be impossible if North Vietnam does not respond favorably.

14. We were unable to completely debrief Algard and Vraalsen. Vraalsen had to return to take the North Vietnamese sightseeing and Algard received call to report back to FonOff.

15. Comment: Most interesting aspect of conversation was definite North Vietnamese statement that they would stop their artillery fire across DMZ if U.S. stopped all bombing of North Vietnam and its artillery fire across DMZ. Hanoi has thus indicated its readiness to pay a specific military price (although not a very high one) for the stopping of bombing.

16. We would appreciate receiving any comments that Washington or USDel wish passed on to Algard."

Cable 2. From State to Oslo.

"Proposed position outlined paragraph 13 for tomorrow's talks is sound and we have no further comments at this stage of Oslo talks."

Cable 3. From Harriman to Oslo.

"1. We agree with Department that proposed position para 13 reftel is sound.

2. As an additional refinement you should point out to Norwegians, that as they seek to explore what will happen on ground, it would be helpful if they would keep in mind U.S. expectation that DRV will cease military activity in, through and across the DMZ and cease massing troops north of DMZ. In other words they should solicit DRV views on all their military intention in DMZ area in event U.S. stops all bombardment of DRV."

Cable 4. From Oslo to Washington.

"1. Algard telephoned Davidson 8 a.m. this morning (Saturday, Sept 21) and asked if he could come up to Davidson's hotel room. When he arrived he informed Davidson that yesterday afternoon the Soviet Embassy had called leading Oslo hotels to ask whether 'the North Vietnamese delegation' was registered there. Soviets finally contacted North Vietnamese and met with them later in the day. Soviet Embassy is giving a dinner for North Vietnamese Monday night. GON hopes that no Norwegians will be invited.

2. Algard mentioned the North Vietnamese had told him they would report his comments to Hanoi. Algard speculated that North Vietnamese might be using Soviet communications facilities.

3. Algard said in a relieved tone that nothing about North Vietnamese visit appeared in this morning's Oslo newspapers."


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

Paris, September 21, 1968, 1730Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-September 1968. Secret; Priority; Nodis; Harvan/Plus. Received at 3:54 p.m.

21192/Delto 754. Subj: Meeting with Oberemko.

1. This morning Vance met at Soviet Embassy with Minister Counselor Oberemko, who is chargé d'affaires in Zorin's absence. Negroponte was also present.

2. Vance told Oberemko that we had now had four private meetings with Tho and Thuy. The third meeting, on September 15, had been an important one./2/ At the meeting we had defined our position on withdrawal of forces because the DRV seemed to have some misunderstanding on our position in respect to the Manila Declaration. Next we had gone into the question of the cessation of bombing and the circumstances which would make it possible for such cessation. We had referred to the Lau/Vance talks and had then said there were two matters we considered of great importance: one was the question of military activity in the DMZ, the other was the inclusion of GVN representatives in any discussion of the political future of South Vietnam.

/2/See Document 14.

3. Vance said that we had come away from the third meeting with Tho and Thuy with the impression that they understood our position on the DMZ but the question of representation had not been satisfactorily resolved.

4. At our fourth meeting on Sept 20,/3/ we concentrated on the matter of GVN representation which we felt had been left in unsatisfactory condition at our last meeting. The matter was discussed at length, Vance told Oberemko, and the DRV side's attitude was totally unrealistic. They repeatedly spoke in platitudes about "serious intent" and "good will." It is easy to talk about serious intent and good will, but what is important and necessary is that it be demonstrated by acts and not just words.

/3/See Document 24.

5. Vance then gave Oberemko verbatim account of that portion of our Sept 20 statement which dealt with the representation issue (paragraphs 6-11 of Paris 21191 Delto 753./4/ Vance then explained that DRV side had responded by saying we were imposing a condition and our position was tantamount to reciprocity. We had replied that it was inaccurate and improper to characterize our demand as reciprocity. We had made it clear for a long time that we could not have serious discussions without representatives of the GVN on our side because the political future of South Vietnam should not be decided by either Washington or Hanoi, but by people of South Vietnam. We had said that the inclusion of GVN representatives on our side was necessary to permit serious conversations to take place, and that the DRV could include the NLF or any other they wanted on their side. Thus by insisting on this, we were merely defining what we meant by serious discussions. We had indicated to DRV side that their opposition to our totally reasonable request raised grave questions in our mind as to whether they were really serious.

/4/See footnote 2, Document 24.

6. Vance then remarked that Soviet Govt has often expressed its interest in seeing this conflict resolved. We believe that the time has come for Soviet Govt to weigh in heavily to make DRV realize that they are taking a wholly unreasonable and unrealistic position which is blocking the way to peaceful settlement. We believe we are now at a critical juncture, and we feel it is important that the DRV face up to reality. Vance noted that the world thinks we are intransigent on the NLF, whereas in fact we are willing to see them seated on DRV side. The world would think it totally unreasonable if it knew that Hanoi would not have anything to do with the GVN in discussions regarding the political future of Vietnam. The world would then realize that Hanoi simply wants to dictate by force of arms what the political future of South Vietnam will be.

7. Vance reiterated that we were approaching Oberemko today because we are at a critical juncture and it is important that the Soviet Govt use its influence at this time to permit us to get around the road block and move forward.

8. Oberemko replied that he would transmit our views to his govt without delay. He said he had a couple of questions. He noted that our proposal regarding the inclusion of the GVN in future talks could be a major factor in the decision to stop the bombing. Was the inclusion of the GVN the only US condition being put forward at the moment, or does the US have anything in mind regarding the DMZ? In other words, Oberemko said, does the US have one or two conditions for the cessation of bombing?

9. Vance replied that we have stated to the DRV what we would do in the DMZ if the bombing stopped and we have indicated to the DRV side what we expect them to do in and around the DMZ after the cessation of bombing. We have drawn our conclusions and we believe that the DRV would know what to do.

10. Oberemko said that it seemed to him that the question of GVN representation had became the major road block to serious discussions. Vance replied that it was a major road block. Oberemko then noted that Vance had mentioned the Manila formula and the question of withdrawal. Vance then gave Oberemko the precise wording we had used on this subject at our Sept 15 meeting with Tho and Thuy.

11. Oberemko said he did not understand the point concerning the withdrawal of US and free world forces remaining in South Vietnam not later than six months after the complete withdrawal of all North Vietnamese forces. He asked if this meant that once all of the DRV troops whom we consider to be in SVN have been withdrawn that there would still be some of US troops in SVN. Vance replied affirmatively, saying that the US had more troops and that they would have a longer way to go. Vance said the important point is that mutual withdrawals should begin and that they begin simultaneously. The modalities and timing of mutual withdrawal should be discussed and agreed upon between the US and the DRV.

12. Oberemko again said that he would communicate our views to his govt. He did not think that it would be appropriate for him to comment at this time. The US, he said, already knows the comments of the DRV side. He said that he personally believed that the major obstacle in our talks is the continuation of the bombing and he felt that an unconditional and definitive bombing cessation could open the way to a political settlement. Vance replied the major obstacle was whether the DRV was really serious about seeking a political settlement and that the DRV position on GVN representation casts real doubt on their seriousness.

13. After the meeting Vance discussed the conversation with Gov Harriman and supplemented it by the following letter which was hand delivered.

"Dear Mr. Minister:

After returning to our Embassy this morning, I discussed our conversation with Governor Harriman.

I wish to add one thought to what I said this morning, to make sure that you have it in mind in reporting to your government.

As we have said many times, we are firmly committed to the principle that we will not discuss matters pertaining to the political future of South Vietnam without the inclusion of representatives of the Republic of Vietnam. It is unthinkable for us to stop the bombing, and then be faced with a continuation of the present situation--months of fruitless debate. This would be the result if representatives of the Republic of Vietnam were not included on our side. Sincerely yours, Cyrus Vance."/5/

/5/A copy of this letter is in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips and Missions, Paris Peace Talks, Chronological Files, September-November 1968.



27. Letter From W. Averell Harriman and Cyrus Vance of the Paris Delegation to Secretary of State Rusk/1/

Paris, September 21, 1968.

/1/Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Subject File, Rusk, Dean, 1968-69. Secret; Personal.

Dear Dean:

You undoubtedly have seen from our reporting cables on yesterday's meeting with the North Vietnamese that, as we all anticipated, the crucial issue is GVN representation./2/ When we told them that "an understanding on this subject could be a major factor in facilitating a decision to stop the bombing", they immediately asked whether this was the only "condition". We repeated our instructions, and emphasized that this was a strong statement.

/2/See Document 24.

During a lengthy argument, Tho repeatedly pointed to the fact that we had used the words "'could be', only 'could be'" a major factor in facilitating a decision to stop the bombing. In addition, he stressed that when we said "a major factor" it meant that there were other factors as well. He maintained that, in light of the foregoing, if they discussed this question, the U.S. would lead them into endless discussion of other factors.

In Vance's conversation with Oberemko this morning, Oberemko asked for clarification on these points./3/

/3/See Document 26.

We have thought over the situation very carefully and have concluded that the instructions which Averell requested were too narrow, and that if we are to have hope of breaking the impasse, it will be necessary to broaden those instructions. We believe they should be changed to state "an understanding on this subject would be the major factor in facilitating a decision to stop the bombing".

We feel that it is essential to have this additional authority before next Wednesday's meeting./4/ Although Tho has asked for instructions, he stated repeatedly that he knew his Government's views on this subject, and we assume that as a result of his report, Hanoi's instructions will support his position. We believe it would be much more effective to hit them with new instructions voluntarily, before they get locked into a position from which it will be difficult to move them.

/4/September 25; see Document 32.

We want to emphasize the importance we place on this issue and the manner in which we think it should be dealt with. We hope you will agree.

With warm regards,




/5/Printed from a copy that indicates Harriman and Vance signed the original.


28. Telegram From the Embassy in Norway to the Department of State/1/

Oslo, September 21, 1968, 1900Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/OHIO. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Ohio/Plus. Received at 4:54 p.m. Repeated to Paris for Harriman and Vance.

6688. 1. This morning's (Saturday, Sept 21) meeting between Algard, Vraalsen and North Vietnamese began at 10:30 and ended at 1:00 and Norwegians gave following report to Davidson and Ridgway later this afternoon.

2. Algard began Saturday sessions, picking up North Vietnamese statement yesterday that NLF had right to self-defense. Algard asked whether it was correct to understand that if US troops did not take offensive action, they would not be attacked. Chan replied he had not said that yesterday and then said that the us should recognize the NLF and should talk about above issue directly with the NLF now in Paris. There was more emphasis on talking to NLF than on recognition. (Although Algard says he clearly recollects the North Vietnamese saying that we should talk to the NLF now in Paris, Vraalsen, the note taker, does not remember any North Vietnamese reference to Paris in this context and his notes do not contain any such reference.)

3. Chan said us declares it can't let South Vietnamese regime go. He derided South Vietnamese Govt as bad sons of Vietnam, saying the Vietnamese people will know how to educate them. Algard used statement as opportunity to raise question of GVN representation in discussions after the bombing halt. The North Vietnamese said that the question of GVN presence was a matter that could be discussed after the bombing stopped. Chan also said that the North Vietnamese delegation in Oslo did not wish to discuss the question of representation.

4. Most of the discussion centered on US politics and its intentions. The North Vietnamese said that after putting the two party platforms under a "microscope" they had concluded that the Republican plank was general and did not contain any concrete suggestions on ending war but said that the North Vietnamese know "who (Republicans) are and how they are," obviously implying disapproval. The North Vietnamese said the Democratic platform did mention how to solve the Vietnamese problem but was mainly devoted to justifying the President's policy. Two elements in the Democratic platform were particularly dangerous and had to be rejected firmly. The first was the principle of reciprocity which was the equivalent of asking a victim to pay ransom. The second dangerous element was continued US support to the present South Vietnam regime including elaborate plans for strengthening and equipping its forces coupled with ignoring the fight for freedom of the Vietnamese people whose representative is the NLF. The North Vietnamese appeared to be afraid of Nixon and pointed out that according to every evaluation, progress in Paris would work to Humphrey's advantage.

5. Algard told the North Vietnamese that if President Johnson stops the bombing and the North Vietnamese misuse the cessation it will backfire on the President, on the Presidential candidates and most of all upon the North Vietnamese. Chan nodded but made no comment. During their discussion the North Vietnamese claimed that the US election campaign is like a power game between two gamblers and that is why it is dangerous for the North Vietnamese to make any commitment to the US.

6. At another point in the discussion, Chan said concerning the situation around the DMZ that it was the US that had violated the zone by sending troops into it and firing across it. The US believed that North Vietnamese would not be able to shell back. By shelling, the US committed an illegal act and the North Vietnamese have the right to self-defense. In this connection (apparently meaning self-defense) US representatives had to discuss the matter with the North Vietnamese in Paris. The North Vietnamese indicated that US shelling of North Vietnam was one part of a package of attacks on North Vietnam which also included bombing and naval bombardment. Chan said that after the US had stopped bombing and all other acts of war, North Vietnam would not have any target to fight.

7. The North Vietnamese suggested that either during their stay in Oslo or at the time of their departure, the GON issue some public statement about the visit in order to avoid possible impression, if visit later reported, that NVN delegation came to sue for peace. North Vietnamese suggested statement along the lines that because of the concern of the GON with the Vietnamese conflict and to return Algard's visit to Hanoi, the DRV sent Ambassador Chan to Oslo to give the GON an exposé of the situation in Vietnam. Algard told them that he still believed that serious purpose was best served by secrecy but since the North Vietnamese had raised the question of a public statement by the GON, he would give them the GON position after discussing the matter with his Foreign Minister.

8. Algard asked us to give him our thoughts on the desirability of a GON statement by noon on Monday, Sept 23. Preliminary FonOff view is that GON public statement might end GON usefulness as channel since it would both decrease possibility of further secret conversations and create internal difficulties on Foreign Minister Lyng's right.

9. Chan told the Norwegians that because of his position as Ambassador to Moscow he had told the Soviets that he was taking a trip to Oslo and had contacted their Embassy in Oslo. However he emphasized that he was not telling anyone (including the Soviet Union) the contents of his talks.

10. Algard said that it was his impression that the North Vietnamese were marking time today either because they had nothing more to say or because they were waiting for their appointment with Foreign Minister Lyng on Tuesday. He still believes that they are trying to convince GON that if US stopped the bombing the danger to US troops would not be increased. Algard said that North Vietnamese appeared to want the GON to certify North Vietnamese good intentions to US.

11. When Davidson asked Algard whether he believed that US troops would not be further jeopardized if the US stopped the bombing, Algard replied that, realizing full seriousness his words, it is his belief that the North Vietnamese would not act in a way to increase the danger to US troops after bombing cessation and that they are sincere in their intentions. Algard believes that the North Vietnamese are aware of the consequences that would follow their taking advantage of any bombing cessation. Algard recalled that this summer Loan had told him that the North Vietnamese had the advantage of good public opinion and asked Algard whether he thought North Vietnam would destroy it by taking advantage of a bombing cessation. Vraalsen said he agreed with Algard's evaluation of North Vietnamese sincerity.

12. Davidson read operative portions of Paris 21180/2/ and asked if Algard would raise these matters with North Vietnamese. Algard and Vraalsen promised to do so but indicated that it would have to be done more obliquely and said that they anticipated great difficulties in asking North Vietnamese how they intended to deploy troops on their own territory. Davidson also asked GON not to convey any impression that US might be interested in exchanging freedom of US base camps from attack for commitment not to take offensive action or move freely through countryside (see para 2 above). The Norwegians said they would do so.

/2/Dated September 20. (Ibid., A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-September 1968)

13. The North Vietnamese will be taking sightseeing trip on Sunday and fly to Bergen with Vraalsen on Monday, returning Monday night for dinner at Soviet Embassy (composition of guest list unknown). On Tuesday morning North Vietnamese will meet with Algard who will then accompany them for meeting with Foreign Minister. Algard has told North Vietnamese that his Foreign Minister is preoccupied with the question of bringing about a cessation of the bombing and would prefer to devote most of the conversation to discussion of modalities which might achieve this objective. He also asked the North Vietnamese to avoid any long prepared statement.

14. North Vietnamese delegation has asked Vraalsen to make arrangements for North Vietnamese departure Wednesday via Berlin.

15. Algard and Vraalsen have strong impression that while Chan acts as spokesman for delegation, Sung is really its boss.

16. Foregoing account (as well as yesterday's) largely episodic because Vraalsen spends only limited amount of time with us before rushing out to accompany North Vietnamese on sightseeing expeditions. Vraalsen again promised to give us his notes as soon as they are transcribed but indicated they might not be available until "sometime next week." Vraalsen said that to preserve secrecy he is not allowed to use a secretary and this plus his duties as shepherd to North Vietnamese delegation slows process down considerably.

17. We have promised to advise Algard of US views on desirability of press release Monday morning. Would appreciate any guidance on that issue, bearing in mind that FonOff staff will no doubt need our help in persuading FonMin of disadvantages of initiating publicity. Also appreciate any points we might make to GON before Algard next meets North Vietnamese./3/

/3/Telegram 242980 to Oslo, September 22, instructed Davidson to inform Algard that the United States was "strongly against any public statement." The telegram also contained the following instruction: "You should certainly get Algard away from his total preoccupation with 'the danger to U.S. troops,' noting that this is necessarily our way of explaining the problem to the American people, but that what we have in mind relates to specific actions, notably in the DMZ." Davidson was also instructed to stress the importance of including attacks on cities and the participation of the GVN as actions requisite to a full halt. (Ibid.) The additional points that Davidson planned to cover with Algard were transmitted in telegram 6689 from Oslo, September 22. (Ibid.) Davidson conveyed these points in a meeting with Algard on September 23. (Telegram 6713 from Oslo, September 23; ibid.)



29. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Norway/1/

Washington, September 21, 1968, 2029Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/OHIO. Secret; Priority; Nodis; Ohio/Plus. Drafted by Bundy; cleared in substance by Rusk, Katzenbach, and Rostow; and approved by Bundy and Read. Repeated to Paris for the delegation.

242960. Oslo for Davidson.

1. We are of course deeply interested in your 6685./2/ You should express our appreciation to the Norwegians for the obvious care and persistence they are displaying.

/2/Text in Document 25.

At the same time, you should emphasize that exact detailed language could be of great importance in a serious exchange of the sort which may be developing here. While not necessarily demurring to the practice of jotting down points rather than taking full notes, we hope the Norwegians can retain and cross-check exact language used on critical points and that you will cross-examine to this end. Moreover, we may well wish to suggest their restating what they have understood DRV reps to say, so that it is nailed down and confirmed.

3. As we have already suggested, we also need full and exact account of what you yourself are telling the Norwegians on key points, and would appreciate exactly what you have already said in your first briefing on September 19./3/ This again is for the sake of exactness.

/3/Davidson met with Norwegian Foreign Ministry officials on September 19 to present the U.S. position on stopping the bombing. (Telegram 6634 from Oslo, September 19; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/OHIO)

4. In conveying to the Norwegians our requirements in relation to the cessation of the bombing, we assume you have made it clear that it is not necessary to get into such words as "conditions," "reciprocity," or other language that might run into consideration of face or prestige on either side. It is a simple fact of life that a cessation of bombing could not continue if the DMZ were not respected, if there were significant attacks on major population centers in South Vietnam or if North Vietnam refused to sit down in further negotiations which would include the Republic of Vietnam as one of the participants.

5. As to the DMZ, we get the impression--which may of course depend on your getting the fuller debriefing referred to in para 14 of your 6685--that the Norwegians may have conveyed the impression that we are concerned solely with the protection of US forces. Obviously, our concern extends equally to GVN and allied forces in the DMZ (and elsewhere).

6. Secondly, we are of course concerned not merely with firing across the DMZ, but with any movement of forces and equipment in and through the DMZ, or any massing of forces north of the DMZ. These are aspects that the Norwegians should already understand, and which we hope they in turn will be making clear. As you have already recognized, the one definite statement that emerges from your 6685 simply does not cover all the points that concern us.

7. This leads to a statement in your 6685 that we find both interesting and puzzling, namely, the next to last sentence of para 7. The reference to our stopping "bombing and shelling" has clear implications with regard to reconnaissance, while the reference to acts of war by NVN "against the US" is a wholly new wrinkle the meaning of which--particularly in relation to the DMZ--we simply cannot assess. This is another illustration of the vital importance of as nearly verbatim reporting as you can obtain and convey to us. Moreover, it is the kind of general expression that might serve as a vehicle for probing and for the Norwegians asking just what acts of war by NVN are meant to be covered by the statement, and what is NVN now doing that it would not be doing if the bombing stopped.

8. Another point that depends on exactly what was said and perhaps on further probing is the reference in para 2 of your 6685 in which the sentence about stopping the fighting in South Vietnam--as it appears in the sequence--could be taken to suggest the possibility of a ceasefire during negotiations. A similar suggestion cropped up in the Ohio channel in February, and the point is certainly worth probing a bit with the Norwegians to see just what was said. (We would not wish to have them pursue it with the North Vietnamese in any way, at least for the moment.)

9. Turning now to what you might be stressing with the Norwegians, our tentative advice--in the absence of your report of Saturday's meeting--is that you must get across to them the importance of inclusion of the GVN in political talks following the cessation of bombing. You should make clear that this is not a condition, but rather a minimum description of what is required for serious negotiations such as the North Vietnamese appear to envisage. As you know, we are pressing this point hard in Paris at the moment, and it is important that the Norwegians include it very clearly in their presentation of our position in order, at a minimum, not to mislead Hanoi about our major effort in Paris to reach an understanding on the "your side/our side" formula. You should convey to the Norwegians the importance we attach to real understanding on this point.



30. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas/1/

Washington, September 22, 1968, 1623Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Chlodnick Files. Top Secret; Sensitive; Literally Eyes Only For the President. Received at the LBJ Ranch at 1:40 p.m. The notation "ps" on the telegram indicates that the President saw it.

CAP 82463. I now rate the possibilities of a positive response from Moscow and enough from Hanoi to proceed as one in three or one in four--no higher, but no lower.

On that still highly contingent basis, I thought you might wish to look at a draft statement announcing your decisions and your movements, to see how certain key sensitive matters might be dealt with:

--The GVN, whose stability and sense of confidence must be preserved;

--The Czech question;

--The NATO issue;

--The nature and limits of our understanding on the bombing cessation, so that your hands would not be tied should you have to resume.

At some point the Norwegians would have to step before the world and say Hanoi promised them no violation of the DMZ and prompt, serious, sincere negotiations.

Also, once the bombing stops, we have to push Moscow very hard to press for peace and to take a firm, unambiguous position to clear up Laos.

I have given thought to Bangkok; first or last?

The advantage of seeing the troop contributors immediately is obvious; but we will not know then:

--The immediate post-bombing state of the Paris talks;

--What the Russians are--and are not--prepared to do post-bombing, towards peace in Southeast Asia.

Therefore, I now lean to: Geneva; Brussels; Bangkok.

The advantage of Geneva first is to hold the Soviet feet to the fire on delivering in Paris, on Laos, etc. They have always said they could do more if we stopped bombing. We've got to nail it down in the first flush of the event.

I calculate something like this:

--By the end of this week we shall know whether Moscow and Hanoi will give us enough to proceed;

--Once you make a decision, it will take a few days to work out the scenario here, a few further days to get Bunker, Thieu, and Abrams aboard; get dates set for the Russians; inform Hanoi, if we so decide, so they can get out military and diplomatic instructions;

--I would guess you would want about three days in Geneva, two in Brussels, perhaps a stop in Paris; two days in Bangkok. With flying time, etc. perhaps eleven days. If talks opened in Geneva, for example, on October 7, you could be home for the weekend of October 19-20, I should guess.

Draft contingent text follows, which I have not showed to Sect. Rusk because of its highly tentative status.

Draft Contingency Presidential Statement

In recent weeks there have been intense private contacts, direct and indirect, with the authorities in Hanoi, including private meetings in Paris. There have also been a series of exchanges with the leaders of the Soviet Union. As a result of these exchanges, I have reached two conclusions.

First, I now judge that we have reason to believe the cessation of the bombardment of North Vietnam by U.S. forces could take place under conditions which involve no increase in the risk of casualties to the forces of the United States or to our allies.

I also have reason to believe that such a cessation of bombardment could lead to serious discussions which would move the war in Vietnam towards a settlement.

It is extremely important that the President not mislead our own people, our allies, or the world at large about these conclusions. We have made real progress, but I cannot guarantee at this stage the precise military or diplomatic behavior of the authorities in Hanoi after a bombing cessation. We shall have to assess that behavior with respect to military operations and diplomatic performance very carefully in the days ahead. But the other side knows well that our eyes will be focused on three specific matters:

--First, on whether the demilitarized zone is respected by their side as well as by our side.

--Second, whether there are attacks on the cities of South Vietnam. These could have the gravest consequences for the environment of diplomatic talks.

--Third, whether, in the light of the diplomatic positions we have already conveyed to the other side at great length, there are very prompt, serious negotiations looking towards the earliest possible peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. There can be no political settlement in South Vietnam without the full participation of the Government of Vietnam. We appear to agree with the authorities in Hanoi that the political settlement in South Vietnam must be reached by the people of South Vietnam--and that means the elected constitutional government of South Vietnam must play a leading role. There can be no definitive settlement of the demilitarized zone and other matters relating to the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962 without the full participation of the Government of Vietnam.

The bombardment of North Vietnam will cease on --------. We expect the new phase of serious, substantive discussion to open in Paris the next day, --------.

Let everyone be clear: the objective of what we are doing--the test--is prompt and serious movement towards peace. The bloodshed in Southeast Asia must end.

[Omitted here is the section of Rostow's proposed statement for the President concerning potential arms control talks, which is printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volume XIV, Document 305.]


31. Summary of Meeting/1/

Washington, September 24, 1968, 1:15-2 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room. No classification marking. A full transcript of the meeting is ibid.


Senator Dirksen reported to the President that he had had a call from Richard Nixon and also Bryce Harlow reporting that they had heard that John McCone and General Taylor were going to try to push the Paris Conference with Vietnam or North Vietnam--push along for a conclusion that might be regarded as something of a sellout.

The President reported that neither of them had made such a recommendation, and that he considered General Taylor a "pillar of strength" and he would never make a recommendation that he did not consider reasonably strong. He told Dirksen that he had not talked with McCone since he left.

The President went on to say:

"I have taken the position that we are not going to stop the bombing so long as it would endanger American lives to do so. And another way of putting it, which is very offensive to them, and we don't want to use that word to try to get an agreement. We want to stop the killing the first moment we can without reciprocity."

The President told Dirksen that we have said in effect to that that the bombing will be stopped if we have good reasons to believe and we have satisfied ourselves that the DMZ matters can be cleared up that won't pour men across it, won't use this period to shell the cities, and that they get down to substantive discussions.

The President told Dirksen he had told Nixon and Humphrey these things and they were on their own. He said from Nixon's experience in the Senate and Vice President--and also the same thing to Humphrey--that they ought to know Lyndon Johnson well enough to know that he is going to do what he thinks he ought to do. That's why he made the March decision. He didn't think he could do it as a candidate.

The President said:

"Now after January 20th if you are President you'll be in charge and then if you want to sell out or pull out or go in or do whatever you want to, you can do it. I will work with any President and try to help him and sympathize with him and pray for him because I think they're being very cruel to their country and to their boys out there by all of these talks back and forth."

The President told Senator Dirksen:

"Generally speaking, the Republicans have not been a problem on the war. They did quote every morning folks here. They've been quoting Goldberg here lately every morning. They want to stop the bombing. They do quote every fellow that says something about stopping the bombing--Mansfield every day. They don't quote Dirksen. They don't quote Tower. They don't quote Nixon. They just say Nixon's no good. He's just like Johnson. The columnists I'm talking about."

Dirksen said:

"You see, in Nixon's concern that had he stood in your corner that he hasn't relented either, that if the rug was pulled out from under him he just wouldn't like it."

The President told Dirksen that he had told Nixon he was going to treat him and Humphrey just alike as far as foreign policy was concerned. He said he would work and vote for Humphrey, but he was not going to do anything to cause one Republican to be angry with him on foreign policy. He assured Dirksen he wanted to treat Nixon just exactly like Eisenhower/2/ had treated him, and he wanted to treat Humphrey in the same way.

/2/Dwight D. Eisenhower, President, 1953-1961.

Dirksen told the President that Nixon had told him to assure the President for him that his and the President's relationship will be just like he has announced and it will continue that way and he can bet all the tea in China on that.

President Johnson said:

"I am getting criticism on not hitting Nixon. Now I don't want to be a hypocrite at all. I want Humphrey to win just like you want Nixon to win. On the other hand, I want Communism defeated in Southeast Asia and this country more than I want anybody to win and that's why I took myself out of it March 31st."

The President told Dirksen he disagreed heartily with Nixon on nonproliferation; that that was not for Russia's benefit--that's for our benefit. He felt that when we delay we wind up with Germany and Israel and the rest of them not going along and that in his judgment history will treat them very badly.

The President assured Dirksen that we were trying very hard with the Russians, with the North Vietnamese, with every other neutral power we could in order to bring this war to a stop where we could stop killing boys. He said he was not going to do anything that's political with it and that he was going just as far the other way.

The President said:

"When I go back home I don't want to be active in the Government. What I do want to do is to have the confidence, the respect, and if I can, the affection of whoever is President because this man needs every help he can get and I will say this. I have never said a mean word about Eisenhower. I stood up for him.

"I have been paid back with ten percent interest for my investment and patriotism and non-partisanship by your conduct.

"I got a letter from Agnew on July 28th of this year--one month before the Convention--and he said: 'Within the obligation that I have to my Party, I'm going to cooperate and support you every way I can because you're my President and you need help and that means foreign policy and domestic.' It couldn't have been better if it had been from my Mother. You've never seen me say an ugly word about the man because I think he's sincere and genuine. Now I think if I were both candidates I wouldn't get into the war too much, tactics and strategy. I would just say--well, we want a change. We are not going to spend too much money and we're going to try to give you better Government. Just like you win your Senators up there and Congressmen up there. The new type is to do it on issues. And I think Nixon has been doing that pretty well. Once in a while he says the old man or something like that, but I'm not having anything to do with it."

The President told Dirksen that he was free to tell Nixon and also Ford what had been said in their meeting--that he hoped he would.


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

Paris, September 25, 1968.

/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. No transmission time is indicated; the telegram was received at 11:29 a.m.

21344/Delto 767. From Harriman and Vance.

1. Tho, Thuy and Lau were present at the tea break./2/ The tea break lasted an hour and 5 minutes and was devoted entirely to substantive talk.

/2/The full report of the tea break discussions is in telegram 21423/Delto 776 from Paris, September 26. (Ibid.) A summary of the formal session was transmitted in telegram 21345/Delto 768 from Paris, September 25. (Ibid.) Jorden's notes of the formal meeting are in the Johnson Library, William Jorden Papers, WJJ Notes.

2. We opened by saying that in our last private talk/3/ we spent a great deal of time discussing the parties who will be included in the serious negotiations which would follow a cessation of bombing. This subject has become a major roadblock to progress.

/3/See Document 24.

3. We said we could state today that an understanding on this subject would be a major factor in facilitating a decision to stop the bombing. We said that they would note that we had used the word "would" rather than "could." We said that we had taken into consideration their comments at our last meeting on our use of the word "could" as noting uncertainty. We said that we had consulted with Washington and could now tell them that an understanding on the subject would be a major factor in facilitating a decision to stop the bombing. We said we trusted that what we had said today would clear the roadblock.

4. Tho replied that we had different conceptions of what the word "serious" meant. He said they considered talks to be serious when the United States ceased all bombing and other acts of war against the DRV. Tho said that we had a different definition. He said that we wanted to force agreement on the inclusion of the representatives of the GVN before the cessation of bombing and they believed this position to be a demand for reciprocity. Tho said that after the cessation of bombing discussion of who will participate in subsequent talks could be immediately discussed between us. This, Tho said, was a positive proposal on the part of the DRV.

5. We argued the point at great length. We said that the necessity of reaching an understanding on the inclusion of representatives of the GVN was not reciprocity and it did not become reciprocity just because the DRV said it was. We said we had made it quite clear that we were not willing to stop all the bombing and have another delay such as we have experienced before we got down to serious talks. We said that if the bombing were to stop and we came in with the GVN representatives and the DRV refused to join the talks, it would be simply a farce.

6. Tho said he wasn't trying to force us to accept his definition of reciprocity. He said he would not discuss the matter of GVN participation until after the cessation of bombing and then they would let us know their views.

7. We replied that we were getting a clearer and clearer impression that they were not prepared to let the representatives of the GVN participate in the determination of the political future of SVN. We said that if they were not ready to accept the fact that we would be accompanied by the GVN representatives, then we could only conclude that they were not interested in getting on with serious talks.

8. We said we had consulted with our government and reminded them that we had asked them to consult with theirs. We said that we wanted them to understand that we will have the GVN representatives present with us and if they did not object, then we could make progress. If they objected, then there would be no serious talks.

9. Thuy replied that they had reported to their government and that their government had reiterated that there must first be an unconditional cessation of bombing and then the questions of interest could be discussed.

10. We said that the US had no intention of stopping the bombing and then having another lengthy wrangle. We said we hoped they would consult their government again. Tho replied that they had already consulted their government, and then added, that he had not yet expressed himself on whether or not they agreed on the inclusion of the GVN. He said this would be discussed after the cessation of bombing.

11. We said that we were dissatisfied with their response. We said that it was fundamental with us that neither we nor they are going to impose a political solution on South Vietnam and they must realize that fact. Therefore, GVN must be included. We said we had nothing more to say and that we would be prepared to meet with them on Friday/4/ or any other time during the weekend if they had something to say to us, but there did not seem any point in meeting on Friday as things now stood. Thuy replied that they were ready to meet if we had something to say on Friday, or any later day if either side wished. If not, we would meet next Wednesday./5/

/4/September 27. No meeting occurred on that date.

/5/October 2; see Document 45.



33. Telegram From the Embassy in Norway to the Department of State/1/

Oslo, September 25, 1968, 1200Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/OHIO. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Ohio/Plus. Received at 9 a.m. Repeated to Paris for Harriman and Vance from Davidson.

6752. 1. This morning (Wednesday, Sept 25) Ridgway and I were given account by Algard and Vraalsen of their dinner conversation with North Vietnamese last night (Sept 24)./2/

/2/Prior to the meeting with DRV officials, Davidson transmitted to the Norwegian Government a message from Rusk to Lyng requesting that he attempt to get the North Vietnamese to remain in Oslo for several more days. (Telegram 243111 to Oslo, September 23; ibid.) Reports of meetings between Davidson and Norwegian officials on their discussions with the North Vietnamese representatives on September 24 are in telegrams 6725, 6737, and 6745 from Oslo, all September 24. (Ibid.) At these meetings, Chan noted that he was unable to remain in Norway and had to leave on September 25. A full translation of the Norwegian notes on their September 24 conversations with the North Vietnamese is in telegram 6808 from Oslo, September 30. (Ibid.)

2. Algard told us that he had made a "final effort" over brandy to pin the North Vietnamese down by summing up his understanding of the substance of their visit. Algard told the North Vietnamese that the Norwegians had listened to their presentations with great interest and that he was convinced that the North Vietnamese had a serious approach to the question of peace negotiations if bombing stopped and that if the bombing were stopped the North Vietnamese would take no military advantage particularly in the area in and around the DMZ.

3. In reply the North Vietnamese said that their approach was indeed serious. They also observed that North Vietnamese do not use the words "take advantage" in this context. Algard told us that he thinks the North Vietnamese were trying to convey the impression that they do not think in terms of taking advantage. Algard indicated to us that he considered it useless to pursue the matter since it appeared to him that the North Vietnamese were under instructions to go no further.

4. Summing up his conclusion on the North Vietnamese visit, Algard told us he regarded as most important the facts that North Vietnam had sent a delegation, including a man who came all the way from Hanoi to Oslo, under specific conditions as to secrecy and the role of the GON and that "they played the game." The North Vietnamese did not attempt to propagandize the public or to contact the local Vietnam Solidarity Committee. Algard believes that while the North Vietnamese "didn't offer much directly in the way of assurances" the serious manner in which they conducted themselves was, in an "Oriental way" intended to demonstrate that they could play an honest game and that they would be willing to play an honest game if the bombing were stopped. I said I was very disappointed that the North Vietnamese delegation had been either unwilling or unable to give any substantive assurances and Algard admitted that he had hoped for more from them.

5. We now have and are translating the GON notes of their Friday and Saturday meetings with the North Vietnamese./3/

/3/The Norwegian notes of the September 20-21 meetings were transmitted in telegram 6762 from Oslo, September 25. (Ibid.)



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

Paris, September 25, 1968, 1750Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, Harvan-(Incoming)-September 1968. Secret; Nodis; Harvan/Plus. No transmission time is indicated; the telegram was received at 2:26 p.m.

21378/Delto 770. From Vance. Subject: Meeting with Oberemko, Sept. 25.

Ref: A. Paris 21192 (Delto 754); B. Paris 21344 (Delto 767)./2/

/2/Documents 26 and 32.

1. Afternoon of September 25 Vance met at Soviet Embassy with Minister-Counselor Oberemko, who is Chargé d'Affaires in Zorin's absence. Negroponte was also present, and Bogomolov attended on their side.

2. Vance told Oberemko that since their last meeting we had spoken again with Tho and Thuy at today's tea break. The meeting had been totally unsatisfactory. We had told the North Vietnamese that the subject of which parties will be included in the serious negotiations that would follow the cessation of bombing had become a major roadblock to progress. We had told the DRV side today that an understanding on this subject would be a major factor in facilitating a decision to stop the bombing. We emphasized the word "would" rather than "could" since, at our last meeting, the DRV side had commented on our use of the word "could" as indicating uncertainty. We told DRV he had taken their comments into account and had consulted with Washington and could state that an understanding on the subject would be a major factor in facilitating a decision to stop the bombing. We had said to the DRV that we trusted that what we had said today would clear the roadblock.

3. Vance said that our discussion with Tho and Thuy at today's tea break had lasted more than an hour and that they had been totally intransigent. We had gotten absolutely nowhere. We have tried from the beginning to be constructive and we had hoped that what we said today would clear the roadblock, but the DRV side has not budged one inch. Vagueness of language is not a problem in view of the change that we had made today. We wondered what Oberemko could tell us today. Vance asked whether Oberemko had heard from his government, and how they viewed the problem.

4. Oberemko said that he had reported Vance's remarks of September 21 to Moscow and had not yet received a reply. He said he presumed that the matter was under consideration and expected to hear some word in the next couple of days. Vance suggested that Oberemko might also wish to transmit our change from "could" to "would." Oberemko replied, "Yes, this is a clarification," and that he would transmit it without delay. Oberemko said he would refrain from any further comment since he knew what we wanted was an answer from Moscow. He said that he thought that the position taken by the DRV remains unchanged, and we have known it for a long time, that is, that the US must unconditionally cease the bombing and all acts of war against the DRV, and then the DRV will be prepared to discuss any question either might wish to raise.

5. Vance said that the question of the GVN inclusion is not one of reciprocity, but is a question of the definition of serious talks. There cannot be serious talks if the GVN representatives are not included in talks regarding the political future of South Viet-Nam. For our part, we are willing to have seated on the DRV side the NLF, the Alliance, or any other group they may wish. The DRV's unwillingness to accept GVN representation raises grave questions as to their seriousness and whether they merely want to string us along. It does no good for them to call our proposal a demand for reciprocity.

6. Oberemko replied that it was still a condition. Vance said that it was a question of defining what serious talks are. We think the world would be shocked if they knew that the DRV is refusing to include the GVN in talks regarding the political future of South Viet-Nam. This must mean that Hanoi wants to dictate the political future of South Viet-Nam. Vance said that the time has come for the Soviet Government to weigh in on this subject.

7. Oberemko replied that he would communicate the clarification from "could" to "would" which he said was clear to him and to Bogomolov. He said that, it would be useless for him to predict what the reply from Moscow would be, but he would let us know when he gets a reply.



35. Notes of the 591st Meeting of the National Security Council/1/

Washington, September 25, 1968, 12:17-1:40 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room. Those attending were the President, Rostow, Rusk, Clifford, Nitze, Ball, Wheeler, Helms, Fowler, Marks, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Joseph Sisco, Christian, Bromley Smith and Nathaniel Davis of the NSC Staff, and Tom Johnson. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A full transcript of this meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room. For Smith's notes of this meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. XXXIII, Document 432.

[Omitted here is discussion of issues before the United Nations involving Czechoslovakia, the Middle East, and Biafra.]

Secretary Rusk: Major votes on major questions will not take place before the election.

Ambassador Ball: U Thant meddled too much in affairs with the Vietnam statement./2/ All except the Communists see it that way. I do not expect a vote on this.

/2/On September 24 U Thant stated that if a resolution calling for the end to the bombing of North Vietnam was introduced into the UN General Assembly, it would pass overwhelmingly. See The New York Times, September 24, 1968.

Assistant Secretary of State Sisco: That is the way most all nations see it.

The President: The President does not know of any plans for a withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. I read Clifford and Wheeler's testimony./3/ It doesn't say that.

/3/Reference is to their testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Secretary Clifford: A Marine RLT is coming back, but it is being replaced by other troops. Congressman Lipscomb/4/ asked about the decrease in troops. We have no plan to reduce the troops in Vietnam. I cannot predict the return of any troops.

/4/Representative Glenard Lipscomb.

Secretary Clifford: We are preparing a statement to clarify this. There is no sort of plan to bring the number down.

General Wheeler: The examination of forces in Vietnam by Abrams was of logistic and administrative troops. We won't pull down--we are able to knock this story down flatly.

Secretary Rusk: The prospects for peace in Paris are still dim.

The President: What does "other acts of war" include in the Hanoi demand?

CIA Director Helms: Overflights.

Secretary Rusk: Reconnaissance.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Spanish base agreement.]

Ambassador Ball: General debate in the U.N. starts October 2.

The President: I would like us to review the following areas precisely:

1. Instructions to U.S. negotiators in Paris.

2. Their position on the bombing halt.

3. Their reaction to our instructions.

Secretary Rusk: The United States is in Paris on the basis of the March 31 speech. There is no agreed agenda. Our purpose--peace in Southeast Asia (Laos, Thailand, Cambodia). We want to determine how the bombing can be stopped so it can lead us toward peace?--So we want to know what will happen if we stop the bombing.

1. The Liberation Front can sit at the table. North Vietnam won't let South Vietnam sit at the table.

2. An agreement on Laos is important to us.

3. The territorial neutrality of Cambodia also is important.

Hanoi's delegation comes back with:

--stop bombing.
--get out of South Vietnam.
--U.S. is the aggressor, they are the "victim."

There are three important points if the bombing is halted:

1. We could not keep up the halt if North Vietnam flooded across the DMZ.

2. If there were attacks on cities.

3. If talks proceeded without the South Vietnamese at the table.

North Vietnam still refuses to say what will happen if the bombing halts.

Therefore, what would happen if we stopped the bombing?

The President: If we stopped the bombing, nobody knows whether or not:

A. The DMZ would be respected.
B. South Vietnam could come to the table.
C. The attacks on the cities would halt./5/

/5/In a telephone conversation with Rusk on September 23, the President expressed concern that Harriman and Vance had backed away from a firm insistence on these three points. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, September 23, 1968, 9:37 a.m., Tape 6800.24, Side B, PNO 10 and Tape 6800.25, Side A, PNO 2)

The President: What effect would this have on the morale of the men? (Referring to a bombing pause)

General Wheeler: It would have an adverse effect on:

--our troops
--South Vietnamese troops
--South Vietnamese people./6/

/6/In a September 25 memorandum to the President, Wheeler noted that while Abrams regarded GVN participation in talks as the most important stipulation, he did not recommend proceeding on the basis of mere assumptions or of dropping the other two preconditions. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Misc. & Memos, Vol. VI)

The President: What will the United Nations do on Vietnam?

Ambassador Ball: It will be mentioned. U Thant believes the bombing will be halted. He is intoxicated by microphone.

Secretary Clifford: Of the three items mentioned by Dean (Secretary Rusk), the shelling of cities can be a condition. Make it a "serious matter."

The DMZ and GVN--presence of the GVN at the table should be an absolute condition.

The demilitarization at the DMZ--proceed on an assumption of if we stop the bombing, they will not take advantage of it. It goes back to the San Antonio speech./7/ I think the President should assume they will not take advantage of the pause.

/7/In his San Antonio speech on September 29, 1967, President Johnson pledged to halt the bombing of North Vietnam provided the cessation would be followed by prompt and productive discussions and the North Vietnamese would not take military advantage of it. See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. V, Document 340.

(Bombing between 19th and 17th parallels constitutes 5000 men in effort. 95% of our force is preserved.)

I think the President can give up 5% to take whatever risk--to get substantive talks going. We could risk it. I think this is a minimal risk. I think there is a 65% chance this will pay off. The bombing could restart if it had to.

The morale of the troops could go down if nothing results. The troops want peace, I want peace.

We preserve 95% of our forces. We gamble with 5%. I think it will be successful.

Secretary Rusk: The incentives of North Vietnam would be affected--what it takes to move us. They would move on to another point.

The President: They would move on to reconnaissance.

Ambassador Ball: I share Clark's (Secretary Clifford) view emphatically.

We are each "dug in" to doctrinal position, like Arabs and Israelis. There always are risks in war and peace. I do not think the risks are great. You can make assumptions on these points. We have blown the importance of this part of North Vietnam far out of proportion. We were told earlier that this is not very significant. Only 5% of our assets to damage the enemy would be at stake. I quarrel with Dean. There is an element of "face."

Secretary Rusk: What about "face" of other Orientals in the area--Koreans, Thais, and others?

Ambassador Ball: We are doing the most in the war. The Communist theory of war is that they are helping out a revolution in the South. When they are attacked they are outraged. I think the Soviets want to help. They can't until war is reduced to war in the South.

Time pressures are on them to do something. We will kill a lot of American boys rather needlessly.

Secretary Rusk: Would you restart the bombing?

Ambassador Ball: I would ask for demilitarization at DMZ, bombing of cities. I would stop bombing to test their "good faith." I would stop it for a couple of weeks. The position of the United States will be infinitely better.

We are in a box. I believe they want a peace. They are scared to hell of Nixon--afraid of his use of nuclear weapons.

Secretary Fowler: What happens if we threaten to stop talk if they don't move?

Ambassador Ball: That would be terrible. I have spoken very indiscreetly here.

Secretary Rusk: There would be a lot of votes for Nixon if we get nothing for the bombing pause.

Ambassador Ball: He'll get them anyway.

The President: I am not hell-bent on agreement. We have done things before on assumptions. We have been disappointed. When I make an assumption, I want a reason to make it. I doubt if all three things are sufficient to get us to stop it--shelling, DMZ, South Vietnam.

Ambassador Ball: The situation is changed now. These tests haven't cost us that much. They give us strength in the eyes of the world.

The President: It will not be done now unless they indicate something.

General Wheeler: 1. We are in a strong position in Vietnam. There is good hard evidence of that. 2. The offensive operations against the North are far higher than 5%.

Secretary Clifford: I would place it about 5%.

General Wheeler: Naval and air campaigns are the only pressure we put on the North.

Ambassador Ball: The pressure is the men they are losing in the South.

General Wheeler: Giap says they can go on losing men. Our operations are hurting him. The enemy can move forces and supplies right down to the combat area. War is nothing more than pressure. We can't resume bombing easily once we stop it. The morale of our forces would suffer.

Friends and enemies would interpret this as victory for Hanoi.

In summary, I cannot agree. 60% of the people think we should get concessions before. It is wrong militarily to stop pressure on the enemy who is increasingly weak.

I think it unwise politically. The Joint Chiefs of Staff agree on what I have said.

Under Secretary Nitze: The alternatives are:

1. Proceed as we do now.

2. Ambassador Ball's alternative, but

--continue reconnaissance

--bring South Vietnamese to table on Day 1.

I don't think they would shoot down reconnaissance planes. I don't think they would appear with the South Vietnamese on Day 1. They would appear later.

USIA Director Marks: What would be military costs for two weeks if Ball's suggestion is adopted?

General Wheeler: It would take two or three weeks to mount up force. They could move artillery in two weeks.

USIA Director Marks: Reinforcements, but not offensive?

General Wheeler: Not a large attack.

Director Marks: How about casualties?

General Wheeler: There might be a large increase in casualties.

Secretary Rusk: Holding South Vietnam together would be the big problem.

USIA Director Marks: You would not have high costs for two weeks.

The President: If I thought they would do something I would jump at it.

USIA Director Marks: I would take the risk if Harriman and Vance thought it would pay off.

Secretary Clifford: This would be a test. We could raise three points. The Soviets think benefits would follow. Bus' points are academic.

1. We stop the bombing.
2. We sit down to negotiate.

If they build up, they don't intend to negotiate. We then have done everything. We restart bombing and you can go as far as you want to.

The President: No, we will debate it as we did before. They will move all the time.

The President: We will not take this course if they don't.

Secretary Clifford: If they agree GVN can come in to the table, I would pursue it.

The President: I want negotiators to pursue all three points.

--cities not attacked.
--DMZ re-established.
--GVN sit at table.

Those present voiced opinions as follows:








The President




36. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, September 25, 1968, 2:04-2:45 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the second floor dining room of the White House. It immediately followed an off-the-record meeting between the same men that began at 1:43 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

The President
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
Walt Rostow
Tom Johnson

Clark Clifford: George Ball called me. I saw him this morning.

He said he had "reached a decision."/2/

/2/Ball, who had been appointed as Representative to the United Nations on May 14 and had presented his credentials on June 26, officially resigned on September 25.

I listed the reasons he should continue in the job. Ball also said:

"I cannot permit myself to remain quiet any longer about Nixon. He is a liar, dishonest, and a crook. This is my country. We would get poor leadership." He said he must be free.

--Speak out myself
--Help Humphrey say what he should
--Bring in people to help

He said he couldn't live with himself if he didn't work to defeat Nixon.

Secretary Rusk: He said the same things to me. He is misestimating the political situation. It would be interpreted as "break" with the Administration.

Clark Clifford: He said he does not intend to "break" with Administration.

Secretary Rusk: Ball quits 2 months after he takes office.

Clark Clifford: He has an excellent statement.

The President: The time when he should have decided this was when he agreed to serve.

The President: I talked to Dirksen yesterday./3/

/3/See Document 31.

Secretary Rusk: Bus might pass the word to Abrams to slip out these facts about

--The 3rd offensive being blunted.
--SVN strength improved.

Clark Clifford: Better press tone because of

--General Sidle's approach.
--General Abrams doesn't "sell" it.
--Facts are on our side.

Secretary Rusk: Bunker would try to go along with anything, but he puts priority on GVN presence at table.

Secretary Rusk: To replace Ball, Cy Vance would be ideal.

Walt Rostow: I expect within 2 weeks to know what will happen in Paris. They are getting their military dispositions. Detailed messages on exactly what their strength is in the field.

The President: Ball's going to Humphrey is part of movement to "dove" side--special sale number one. McCarthy is an admirer of Ball's.

Clark Clifford: This may be a desperation move by HHH. They talked on the phone Monday./4/

/4/September 23. No record of this discussion has been found.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Spanish base agreement.]


37. Intelligence Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency/1/

No. 2040/68

Washington, September 27, 1968.

/1/Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 80-R1580R, Executive Registry Subject Files, 266-Vietnam. Confidential. A notation on the memorandum reads: "This memorandum was produced solely by CIA. It was prepared by the Office of Current Intelligence and coordinated with the Office of National Estimates and the Director's Special Assistant for Vietnamese Affairs." An attached covering note from Helms to Rostow transmitting a copy of the memorandum, September 27, reads: "You asked for a memorandum on this subject some time ago. Here it is."



Extensive evidence that the Vietnamese Communist high command planned to initiate the "decisive" phase of the war in 1968 has been uncovered in documents captured since Tet. This decision was almost certainly taken by the Hanoi politburo in the summer of 1967. It called for the launching of the so-called "general offensive and general uprising" often discussed in Vietnamese Communist theoretical literature over the years as the final stage of the war. The groundwork was laid simultaneously for the start of political negotiations to accompany the military action.

It does not appear that the politburo in Hanoi firmly tied the conclusion of the offensive and the end of the fighting to any particular time frame, i.e., the year 1968. The enormous effort and cost which the Communists put into the Tet offensive, however, strongly suggests that they entertained a serious hope, if not a firm belief, that the military pressure would bring an early and decisive turn in the conflict, hopefully during 1968, even if the fighting was not terminated during the year. Such a development, in their view, would force major allied concessions and open the way to a negotiated settlement of the war. There is considerable evidence that Hanoi was prepared to move ahead quickly into wide-ranging substantive discussions on the conflict once the bombing of North Vietnam had ceased.

In choosing to launch the general offensive during the winter-spring campaign of 1968, it appears that Hanoi was convinced that its military strategy, even though highly costly in Communist combat casualties, had forced the war into an indecisive, stalemated stage more deleterious to the allies than to itself. This was the point, enemy theoreticians had often argued, when massive military pressure should be combined with diplomatic maneuver to break the allied will. At the same time, the Communists were probably also influenced by a full recognition--long in germination--that they could not win a complete military victory over the allies. They would, at least initially, have to settle for a compromise in South Vietnam short of their optimum objectives of earlier years.

Other factors, including the domestic situation in the US and conflicting pressures from the Soviet Union and China, probably also played some role in Hanoi's decision.

[Omitted here is the 11-page body of the memorandum.]


38. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Republican Presidential Nominee Richard Nixon/1/

Washington, September 30, 1968, 6:45 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Nixon, September 30, 1968, 6:45 p.m., Tape F68.06, PNO 5-6. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.

President: Hello?

Nixon: Hello?

President: Hello?

Nixon: Hello, Mr. President?

President: Yes.

Nixon: I'm awfully sorry to bother you. This is Dick Nixon.

President: Yes, Dick.

Nixon: And the only reason that I'm bothering you is that I'm going very shortly to be on a television program, and there just came over the wire this statement by Hubert with regard to--saying that he would have a bombing pause if elected,/2/ and the only purpose in my call is to determine whether there's any change in our own policy at this time with regard to what position the administration is taking.

/2/See Document 40.

President: No, there is not. I have not read his speech. It has not been discussed with me. I say this in strict confidence--I'll ask you not to quote me or repeat me; I'll talk clearly.

Nixon: I won't--that's why I called you.

President: I have not read it. I just had the press secretary call me with the flash that he says he'll stop the bombing pause--he'll stop the bombing--if elected. And then it indicates that he has to have direct or indirect, or deed or act, assurance that they will respect the DMZ. I don't know really what he is saying. Ball said, 2 or 3 days ago when he quickly resigned, that the bombing was not--well, he said that the newspapers were pressing that too much as just a part of a whole big general picture.

Nixon: Right.

President: So I was rather surprised that as his adviser, that Hubert would take this position, because it looks like a little bit inconsistent with what Ball said.

Nixon: Yeah.

President: I haven't reconciled it because I don't have the text. Our position is this. We are very anxious to stop the bombing. We went out before we met with the [Congressional] leadership prior to the Chicago [Democratic National] convention and asked Abrams what effect the bombing operations in Vietnam were having. He came back and said, "We believe we're destroying or damaging 15 percent of the trucks moving into the South. It is our conviction the air interdiction program has been the primary agent which has reduced trucks being detected by 80 percent between mid-July and the present time. The third effect is to prevent the enemy from massing artillery and air defense means in the area to the north of the DMZ from which they can attack our forces."/3/ You see, Mr. Vice President, they have to stop at the 20th [parallel] now, or really up to the 19th, we haven't gone above that. But if we stopped the bombing, they could just come day and night, with lights on and lights off, bumper to bumper, right down to the DMZ where they'd be poised to hit us.

/3/This message was transmitted as telegram MAC 11409 from Abrams to Rostow, August 23; see Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 337.

Nixon: Right.

President: So, in the light of these three things--the trucks that he's stopping, the 80 percent between mid-July and the present time, and the massing of the artillery at the DMZ, then we said, "Well, what would be the effect of the cessation of that bombing?" He says, "First, military matériel would be able to reach the DMZ or the borders of Laos unimpeded. We believe the current attrition from truck destruction alone, not to mention truck parts, is running several hundred tons per day. The truck flow could be expected to return to the mid-July level--the high--within as little as a week. We're talking about an increase--repeat increase--in southwest movements--southward movement--which could amount to as much as 1,500 tons per day or more. Next, the enemy would mass artillery, air defense means, and ground units north of the DMZ for use against our troops. Finally, freed from interdiction north of the seventeenth degree, the enemy could move reinforcements to the DMZ by truck or rail, thus drastically shortening transit time."

Then we said, "Is there any possibility of your providing even an approximate estimate of the additional casualties we would take if we stop the bombing of North Vietnam?" He said, "We would have to expect a several-fold increase in U.S. and allied casualties in I Corps." Now for that reason, our people took the position in the [Democratic Party's campaign] platform that we would stop the bombing when we were assured that it would not cost us men by doing so.

Nixon: Right.

President: Now we don't have that assurance as of now--at least I do not have it. Then he goes on, I'm quoting Abrams now, "With the bombing authority now in effect, I am able with the forces available to limit the enemy's capability in South Vietnam by interdicting his roads and destroying a substantial amount of his munitions before they reach South Vietnam. In addition, I am able to suppress his artillery and air defense north of Ben Thuy so that our positions south of the DMZ are secured." Now this is the key question. "If the bombing in North Vietnam now authorized were to be suspended, the enemy in 10 days to 2 weeks could develop a capability"--be careful of that word "capability"--"in the DMZ area in terms of scale, intensity, and duration of combat on the order of five times what he now has." In 10 days he'd increase his capability five times.

Nixon: Yeah.

President: "I cannot agree to place our forces at the risk which the enemy's capability would then pose." Now that was reviewed with the joint leadership. They know that. That has not been made public because we don't want to notify our enemy that is our estimate.

Nixon: Sure.

President: Now, our position--which I've been very careful with you and very careful with Humphrey, and I've told both of you the same thing, and you, both of you, have the same information--our position has been this: we are anxious to stop the bombing, we'd be glad to stop the bombing, if we can have any assurance that A--they would respect the DMZ, thereby not endangering these four divisions, the three of ours and one allied, or stop shelling the cities, or, and most important of all, talk to the GVN, talk to the Government of Vietnam. Now, we do not think that we ought to cause that government to fall and immobilize a million men that are going to be under arms this year by meeting in Paris and dividing up their country or deciding what they're going to do without their being present. So our first condition all along has been to say that they have got to be present. They have consistently refused to agree to do that. We have said you can bring the NLF if you want to. But we can't decide the future of South Vietnam--it now has an elected government--in their absence and without their presence. So in effect, we have said we are interested in what you have to say on these three subjects: DMZ, GVN presence, shelling the cities.

Nixon: Yeah. But you don't insist on all three, just the--

President: Well, we'd like to have all three.

Nixon: Yeah, yeah.

President: But we ask them to make their commitment to us--tell us what they would do.

Nixon: On any one of these things.

President: Now, we don't say--we don't say that you've got to sign in blood beforehand. But we do say this. What would happen if we stopped the bombing Sunday and we walked in Monday morning with the GVN? Would you walk out? They have not responded, and we don't know what they would do. Now until we do know, and that is very important to us, we don't want to gamble American lives. And when we do know, then we will have to make that decision.

Nixon: Yeah.

President: But they're making it now, and we don't know what they're going to do about it. They may decide that they'll try to hang on until January. They're taking a terrible--they're paying a terrible price. Now, the message and information I gave you came in before the convention and we met with the joint leadership, Republican and Democrat. I have today a wire that came in yesterday from him--let me find it--from Abrams,/4/ the nut of which he says that he thinks he is destroying between five and ten thousand military per--is it--destroying between five and ten thousand military per month in Vietnam by his bombing alone. We are losing, oh, seven, eight hundred a month, our people, all told, a couple hundred a week, a hundred, two hundred a week, maybe two fifty sometimes. Now we have two hundred million, we're losing seven or eight hundred a month, and he's losing five to ten thousand just from the bombing. Now if we stop that, he says that they have now a hundred odd thousand--[covers phone and speaks to Rostow]--I've got his wire on the bottom, but I've just found it, and I just answered your call out of a meeting./5/

/4/Abrams' message was transmitted in telegram MAC 13145 from Saigon, September 28, which was excerpted and analyzed in a memorandum from Rostow to the President, September 28. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 96) In a memorandum to the President the day before, Rostow reported that he had sent a back-channel message to Abrams requesting his assessment. (Ibid.)

/5/Following a meeting with Special Assistant Joseph Califano and Director of the Bureau of the Budget Charles Zwick from 6:20 p.m. to 6:40 p.m., the President made two brief telephone calls to Rostow and Christian before taking Nixon's call. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

Nixon: Yeah.

President: But he says very much that he's very much opposed to the bombing [halt] as of last night--to stopping the bombing--

Nixon: Yeah.

President: Unless we get some of these things. Now our negotiators have been unable to get them up to now. We have a meeting Wednesday./6/ I thought after Wednesday I might have other talks with Cy Vance and Harriman and see what they had to say there. But--

/6/October 2.

Nixon: The way this--the way was just seeing the AP dispatch here, and of course papers always tend to make a bigger difference than real, he says that this was a dramatic--they say a dramatic move away from the Johnson administration foreign policy. But when you read further down, it says that Humphrey said that "in weighing the risk, he would place importance on evidence--direct or indirect, by word or deed--of Communist willingness to restore the demilitarized zone." So that would indicate that he wasn't just going to do it unilaterally, but--

President: I thought the safest position for anyone to take--he takes it part of the way in his position, but he does not--[Johnson speaks to Rostow].

Nixon: I can't quite hear you. Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello? I can't quite hear you.

President: Dick, I want to put Walt Rostow on for just a second. [To Rostow:] Summarize for him Abrams' latest wire just as if you could read it.

Rostow: Mr. Nixon? This is Walt Rostow, sir.

Nixon: Yeah, sure.

Rostow: Uh, we went out again to General Abrams, and put the same questions we put a month ago. His response was that the weather was changing and there--he'd had some successful operations, but essentially, he would make the same answers as a month ago, that unless we got some assurance on the DMZ, we would take a very heavy military consequence from a cessation of the bombing at this time.

Nixon: Well, to an extent, you know, of course, I think Humphrey leaves that possibility where he talks about, that he said, the press always tends to play the biggest part of the story. But in weighing the risk, he said, he would place importance on evidence, direct or indirect, by either word of Communist willingness to restore the demilitarized zone.

Rostow: Yes, I noticed that on the ticker, Mr. Nixon.

Nixon: But, on the other hand, this will be interpreted, as I'm sure you know, as a dramatic move away from the administration. It's my intention not to move in that direction, I think, for this fundamental reason. As long as the administration is still negotiating, I think we've got--I think that my position has to be in good conscience that unless and until there is some evidence of a reciprocal step, we could not stop the bombing.

President: Yes.

Nixon: That's the administration's position?

President: Yes, except reciprocal, Dick, is a bad word with them.

Nixon: Right.

President: I'd say unless they give us some assurance that it wouldn't--unless we had some indication that it would not cost the lives of our men. I found this memo, if you want me to read it to you very quickly. "What is the effect of our current bombing operations in Vietnam?" This is September 28th from Abrams to Johnson. "Deterrence is the first effect. Our air presence is keeping the enemy from moving his air forces, rail system, and logistical bases southward toward the DMZ. After better than 70 days of effort, it is now clear that our concentrated efforts to choke traffic at four prime areas, at six road points, and at six critical water points of North Vietnam have reduced the enemy's detected flow of troops from the mid-July high of 1,000 per day to less than 150 since that time. Southbound truck detections the past few weeks have numbered fewer than a hundred per day. If the bombing in North Vietnam ceases, a return to the level of a thousand per day would have to be expected. These efforts have also prevented the enemy from massing artillery, supplies, and air defense means for sudden attack against the DMZ. Possibly of greater consequence is the combined Navy and 7th Air Force interdiction efforts in North Vietnam which have effectively impeded the transshipment southward of a significant stock of supplies which continue to move into Thanh Hoa and Vinh by rail, road, and boat.

Question number two. What would be the military effect of a cessation of the bombing? Answer: A--The major result of the bombing halt would be the enemy's increased capability to position and maintain large ground forces north of the DMZ in close proximity to our U.S. and ARVN forces deployed to defend the I Corps. He could concentrate his artillery, armor, air forces, and air defense forces in direct support of his ground forces and place them in a position to initiate a large-scale invasion of South Vietnam with minimum warning time. B--We can expect the enemy to develop forward logistic complexes. C--The enemy will devote a maximum initial effort to reconstruct of his lines of communication south of the 19th parallel. D--Airfields south of the 19th will return to service. A bombing pause will permit the North Vietnamese Army to make fuller use of land lines in communication. Country-wide, the North Vietnamese Army presently devotes an estimated 80,000 troops to its air defense mission." And these are two good figures: North Vietnamese Army devotes an estimated 80,000 troops to its air defense mission. "Plus, perhaps 110-200,000 laborers. Complete bombing cessation would allow the North Vietnamese Army several options, any of which would increase the threat to American forces in or near South Vietnam.

Question number three: Since March 31st--that was my speech--what is the average number of trucks destroyed and trucks damaged per week? What is the average number of trucks sighted in the panhandle per week? What is your best estimate of the total number of trucks sighted and unsighted that flow through the panhandle each week and the portion of this total that we are not getting? Answer: The enemy's day movement of trucks has been virtually halted. As a consequence of night attacks against the above areas, the enemy has ceased moving in convoys and has been unwilling to allow his trucks to wait behind crossing points. As a result, most of his trucks have been kept north of Route Package 1, moving out singly under the cover of darkness. Consequently, fewer kills have been possible. In the week of July 14-20, an average of 508 trucks per day were sighted from all sources. After that period, there was a steady decrease in truck traffic as the enemy felt the full weight of our interdiction bombing campaign concentrated at key traffic choke points. In the week prior to Typhoon Bess on September the 4th, the sightings had decreased from 508 trucks per day to 151 per day. Since September the 4th, truck kills and damages have averaged 32 per week as a consequence of nearly complete blockage of his wide choke point.

Question four--What is the estimate of military casualties we inflict on the enemy each week in the bombing of North Vietnam? We believe the military casualties resulting from intensive air strikes since mid-July 1968 have increased significantly. As in our previous submission, casualties on the order of five to ten thousand per month do not seem unreasonable.

Question number five: Is there any possibility of your providing for the President even an approximate estimate of the additional casualties America would take if we stopped the bombing in North Vietnam? Answer: I have reviewed the factors considered in my response to this question. Further examination of the results of the air interdiction campaign convinces me that my estimate at that time remains valid. In summary, a cessation of offensive action north of the DMZ would enable the enemy to amass personnel and equipment along the DMZ. It would facilitate his infiltration and logistic support across and around the DMZ. It would increase the air, artillery, and ground threat to our forces located in northern I Corps. I must emphasize the adverse effect of a cessation without reciprocity on the morale of the officers and men of my command, as well as those of the Republic of Vietnam armed forces, who would be exposed to increased enemy pressure from a newly created sanctuary. Conversely, a complete bombing cessation would raise the enemy's confidence and his aggressiveness. It would validate his doctrine of the insurgency war. It will confirm his unrealistic view of the military, political, and psychological postures of the warring parties. It will portray to him increased strength on his part and growing weakness on ours. It will demonstrate to him that he is winning. Above all, it will convince him that he must continue or increase the current tempo of the war to gain the ultimate victory. Militarily and psychologically, a complete bombing cessation will shift the balance significantly toward the enemy." Unquote. Now that's today.

Nixon: That's just today.

President: That's today. Now, we have not given that to the Vice President--he has not asked for it. We will give it to him if he does ask for it. I didn't call him because I don't want to be coaching him on his campaign. I'm trying to run the war.

Nixon: Yeah.

President: On the other hand, I think what's safe--

Nixon: Yeah, what is it?

President: Is the position that the President, and there's just one President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ambassador Bunker, and General Abrams are responsible for that situation in Vietnam. They're going to be responsible until a new President is elected. Therefore, you're not going to try to look over their shoulders without all the information and tell them what is best. You have to have some confidence in the professional army, and the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense, and you believe that every American wants peace, but you're not, in order to win a campaign, not going to be in a position of trying to overrule all these men without any information that would justify you're doing it.

Nixon: That's what I've been trying to say. Of course, I think on this too, I can just say what I have said previously, that as I understand it, it is the position that if there is any evidence that there would be--that a bombing pause could take place without endangering our men, we will go ahead and do it. Isn't that really our position?

President: Well, not necessarily. We have said we favor the stopping of bombing if it doesn't endanger our men. And of course, we--then we want them to close that DMZ. We don't want them to take advantage of it.

Nixon: Right.

President: That's San Antonio./7/ We said we don't want them taking advantage if they'll assure us. We said don't shell the cities. The most important thing though, Dick--

/7/See footnote 7, Document 35.

Nixon: Is the recognition of the government [of South Vietnam].

President: We've got to--well, not necessarily--yes, just letting them hear, just let them sit in.

Nixon: Right.

President: We've got a million men there. Now, if they pull out, we're in one hell of a shape. We've lost everything.

Nixon: We're done. That's right. Well, I hesitate to bother you, but--

President: No, I think that--

Nixon: I just want to be sure that I was up-to-date on everything.

President: I think that--I think that the least you can get into tactics and strategy, the better any candidate is. And I say that to American Party, Republican Party, and Democratic Party. And I put that responsibility on somebody else until I had to assume it myself and was elected. And then I would just say to them that you believe the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense have made our position clear in Paris that you are not going to overrule that position unless you have more information than you have.

Nixon: Right.

President: Okay.

Nixon: That's what I'm going to continue to say.

President: Thank you, Dick.

Nixon: Appreciate your time. Bye./8/

/8/In a telephone call to Dirksen on October 1, the President commented on Nixon's reaction to Humphrey's speech: "As a matter of fact, he didn't want anybody to know it, but he called me last night and asked me my evaluation. I told him we'd just have to see what--that we just didn't know anything about it and we'd just have to see for ourselves what this fellow meant by it. And I think that's a pretty good position for everybody. You don't have to say anything--just say, well, what does he mean? Can you tell me? Does it mean that he's willing to pull out and stop bombing without--if it's a condition, that's okay. If it's not, why then we put those boys in pretty bad shape there." (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Dirksen, October 1, 1968, 11:22 a.m., Tape F6810.01, PNO 12)


39. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Vice President Humphrey/1/

September 30, 1968, 7:30 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Humphrey, September 30, 1968, 7:30 p.m., Tape F6810.01, PNO 4. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. Humphrey called from Salt Lake City, Utah. Rostow was with the President in the Oval Office during the conversation. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

President: Hello?

Vice President: Mr. President?

President: Hi.

Vice President: How are you this evening?

President: Fine.

Vice President: Say, I'm going to be on your TV in about 5 minutes./2/

/2/See Document 40.

President: All right, I'll turn it on.

Vice President: On NBC, and I thought I should have called you a little earlier, but they had me taping here all day and I've been about half-dead.

President: Is it taped?

Vice President: Yeah, it's taped.

President: Good. Well, I'll turn it on.

Vice President: And it points out the things that we've done here on Vietnam. And it's about the arms control as well as the non-proliferation treaty and it says, for example, that we've given the time for Asian nations to strengthen themselves and work together and so we see a stronger Southeast Asia--a stronger South Vietnam--contrasted with a few months ago when peace negotiations were started. And there are new circumstances which will face the new President, in light of these circumstances, and assuming no marked changes in the present situation, how would I proceed. And let me make clear first what I would not do. I would not undertake a unilateral withdrawal. Peace would not be served by weakness or withdrawal and I make that very clear. Nor would I escalate the level of violence in either the South or the North. We seek to de-escalate. The platform of the Democratic Party says the President should take reasonable risks to find peace. North Vietnam, according to its own statement, has said it will proceed to prompt and good faith negotiations if we stop present limited bombing. But we must always think of the protection of our troops. As President, I would be willing to stop the bombing of the North as an acceptable risk for peace because I believe it could lead to success in the negotiations and a shorter war.

President: Now does that mean without any--

Vice President: No. Wait a minute. This would be the best protection of our troops. [Quoting from his speech:] "But in weighing that risk and before taking action, I would place key importance on evidence--direct or indirect, by deed or word--of the Communists' willingness to restore the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam."

President: Now would you just want evidence on that one point? You know our negotiating position. We have three. The South Vietnamese--Bunker tells us that that government and those million men they have would really go into chaos if we divided up in Paris their future without their having a chance to appear.

Vice President: Yes.

President: We would be willing to have the NLF appear, but about the most important condition we think we've got to have is not that we decide their fate without their presence, as Hitler and Chamberlain did to Czechoslovakia. Now--

Vice President: Yeah, well, we say that they must proceed with good faith negotiations, and if they--

President: Now, would that include--well, you see, there are these three points. This is one of them. I gather from what you're saying that you would require evidence--direct or indirect, deed or word--of their willingness to restore the DMZ. Now that would give us some protection for our men if you would--

Vice President: Yes, sir.

President: If that is a condition.

Vice President: That's right.

President: Now there are two other things that we say they ought to do if we stop the bombing. One is--not shell the cities. And two--to let the GVN come in and we'd let the NLF come in. Now they have not agreed to any of these three up to now. Would this be your only condition?

Vice President: That would be my only specific, except that I'd say that they'd have to have good faith in negotiations. They'd have to show good faith. I said here, "North Vietnam has said it would proceed to prompt and good faith negotiations if we would stop the present limited bombing of the North." And then I say, "If the Government of North Vietnam were to show bad faith we would, of course, reserve the right to resume the bombing. And in weighing that risk and before taking any action, I would place key importance on evidence--direct or indirect, by deed or word--of the Communists' willingness to restore the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam." I don't say that's exclusive, but I say that's one thing above all that they must do.

President: Well, there's two other things that you want to remember. Number one, we've got 500,000 men. They've got a million.

Vice President: Yeah.

President: Now we don't want to divide up North or South Vietnam without both of them being present, so that ought to be understood before we give up our whole card that if we bring them in they wouldn't walk out. Negotiate in good faith with whom? With both of us, you see. The second thing is we couldn't very well keep the bombing stopped very long, I think, from a practical standpoint if they shell the cities.

Vice President: Yeah. Well, that's what we would mean by "good faith negotiations."

President: Okay.

Vice President: I'll tell you what. I want you to look at this and I've got a lot of stuff in there that we've done. I've built up the record so that we have a complete statement about the Constitution and the elections and the improvement of the economy and the fact that's what happened to the other nations of Southeast Asia and their regional development, and then we come down on the non-proliferation treaty at the end and Mr. Nixon's point of view on it. I would just like to hear from you afterwards what you think. I had to stake out some positions, as you know, and I think I've done it carefully here without jeopardizing what you're trying to do.

President: You do require evidence of direct or indirect, or deed or word, on the restoration of the DMZ?

Vice President: Absolutely.

President: Before you stop it?

Vice President: That's absolutely right. I say just exactly, "in weighing that risk and before taking any action, I would place key importance on the evidence--direct or indirect, by deed or word--of the Communists' willingness to restore" it.

President: I'll turn it on. Thank you.

Vice President: God bless you. Thank you.


40. Editorial Note

In a speech at Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 30, 1968, Vice President Humphrey pledged to halt the bombing of North Vietnam. He would undertake such an action, he noted, "as an acceptable risk for peace" since "it could lead to success in the negotiations and thereby shorten the war." However, he added that prior to a cessation, he "would place key importance on evidence--direct or indirect, by word or deed--of Communist willingness to restore the demilitarized zone between South and North Vietnam." He further stated that he would support the resumption of bombing if the North Vietnamese "were to show bad faith." The text of the speech, which was taped and then broadcast nationally that evening, is in The New York Times, October 1, 1968.

In a memorandum to President Johnson at 8 p.m., September 30, Walt Rostow advised the President to make no comment on Humphrey's plan and noted that "our general attitude towards the speech should be, in backgrounding, that we don't see a great deal of difference between the Vice President's position and the President's." Rostow also described comments he had received from Rusk: "His judgment is that it need not give us trouble. He would not have expressed the matter in precisely the Vice President's terms, but we should not go looking for marginal differences." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. 1 [2 of 3])


41. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and George Ball/1/

Washington, September 30, 1968, 8:15 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Ball, September 30, 1968, 8:15 p.m., Tape F6810.01, PNO 6. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.

President: He [Vice President Humphrey] said to me that he would stop the bombing. And I said, "Without any conditions?", as I did to you the other day. And he said, "No, they would have to give me direct or indirect, word or deed or act that they'd restore the DMZ." And I said, "Okay, now what would you do about the shelling of the cities and bringing in the Government of Vietnam?" "Well," he said, "you couldn't have discussions in good faith unless you talked to both the NLF and the Government of Vietnam too." And I said, "Well, that's all right. Is that what you mean by good faith?" And he said, "Yes." And I said, "Well, how long do you think we could go if they were shelling the cities?" And he said, "I made clear that if they didn't negotiate in good faith we would go back." And I told him "all right" [and] that I would get his speech./2/ I haven't got it. They have a copy here but Walt [Rostow] has it and he is analyzing it. I haven't talked to Dean [Rusk]. I have just talked to the Vice President and placed a call./3/ I had a meeting going on. We've got the damn longshoremen out tonight and I had to issue a Taft-Hartley/4/ and we mean mess on that. And I just got in in time to hear him. I thought that--I think we'll--I guess you are keeping up with these cables. We got a three-page cable from Abrams./5/ Abrams thinks he and Bunker--that the one thing we have got to do is not let these folks out there fall out from under us and have another con deal or two and that we've got to keep saying to them that we are not going to make any agreement that they're not involved because we will lose their million men that we're going to rely on if we ever try to phase out.

/2/See Document 40.

/3/See Document 39.

/4/A 1946 Congressional act that authorized the United States to impose a cooling-off period during labor disputes.

/5/See footnote 4, Document 38.

Ball: Let me say that I talked to some of the press today, Mr. President, and I told them that implied in all of this was obviously the fact that both the South Vietnamese and the other side--the Communists--would want to bring the other side, but we couldn't make a decision for anybody.

President: That's exactly right. Well, your television appearances and your press conference have made it very clear, and I wish that we could get them out of talking about Vietnam if they would tell the papers--if Nixon and Humphrey would tell the papers what you said on television. I saw you the other morning. I thought it was superb. I don't know why in the hell a fellow that can handle himself that way can't work for me but I guess he did that long enough. But anyway, I hope they can get away with it. You know now, I guess, that the Foreign Minister of Hanoi is in Moscow. He's there now. We think he's there now trying to decide this thing. We got that from the most sensitive source you can imagine. I don't think the V.P. knows it or anybody else, but there are just three or four here, but he is there. We have made some steps that nobody knows about, not even the highest officials, that we are kind of hoping that Russia would help us and Hanoi would agree. What we'd like to do is show up some morning with the GVN and just the day before stop the bombing and then have some indication that they wouldn't walk out of the room--it'd be bad if they did--and have some indication that they wouldn't take advantage of us there at the DMZ. Now we are trying our best to get them on board on that. They have not said yes and they have not said no. They said, "What are you requiring? What do you insist on?" We said, "We don't insist on any guarantee, any promise, any assurance. We want to know, though, what would happen if we did so and so. Would you walk out?" Well, they said they have to talk to their country. When they get ready to talk to their country we find them in Hanoi--I mean Moscow. Now don't say that around any of those sources, but I will talk to you from time to time. Abrams says that the most important thing of everything we can do is not to let that government feel that we sell them out because he is using them and using them effectively and he is going to use them more effectively every day.

Ball: He is doing a terrific job.

President: Gene Black is back today./6/ Gene Black says he has been there three times and he says that Huong and what they are doing to try to clean up the mess is having a hell of a good effect. He thinks that Tet did a good job on this crowd and scared them and they're doing better than they have ever done. I don't know--I have heard so many reports I can't tell, but we will see. And I just hope we can get away from--the best line that has been said in the campaign was your line that Johnson is not running against Humphrey. Johnson got out of the race. He is just going to be President until January 20. Now the whole question is let's look at Nixon and let's look at Humphrey and let's see which one of these we want and let's don't get down any rabbit trails. You just keep that up.

/6/Black, the President's Special Adviser on Asian Economic and Social Development, had just returned from a trip to seven Asian nations including Vietnam. He reported on his trip in a meeting with the President at 12:47 p.m. on September 28. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) No other record of the meeting has been found.

Ball: Right, Mr. President. Well, I'd like to keep in touch with you.

President: Well, you can any day. You call me any time you want to, any hour, and I'll give you any information that we have--that I have.

Ball: That's wonderful.

President: Okay.

Ball: Thanks.


42. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Senator Everett Dirksen/1/

Washington, October 1, 1968, 10:31 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Dirksen, October 1, 1968, 10:31 a.m., Tape F6810.01, PNO 7. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. Johnson telephoned McCormack immediately after this conversation at 10:45 a.m. and discussed the same topics. (Ibid., Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and McCormack, October 1, 1968, 10:45 a.m., Tape 6810.01, PNO 8-9)

President: Hello?

Dirksen: Are you at liberty to make some comment on Hubert's speech last night?/2/

/2/See Document 40.

President: Except in the greatest confidence, I would just say that it depends a lot on the interpretation of it. He did not discuss it with our people, Rusk or Rostow, or anybody that we're aware of. The first I knew about it was when the press called me and pointed up that it was on the ticker. So, it was prepared without our knowledge and without our advice. It interpreted, I think--a literal interpretation would show there's no great difference in our present policy. I think his intention is to try to do that without and still leave the impression that there is--get what I mean?

Dirksen: Yeah.

President: Well, so here is our present policy--that we're ready, anxious, willing, eager to stop the bombing just as we are eager to stop the war. But we just can't stop one side of it. The other side has got to stop something too. We found that when we stop and they don't stop, it kills more men. So we've said to them, "If we did stop the bombing, what would you do?" They're now considering that. They have not given us a firm answer.

Now one of the things we've said to them, "If we stop the bombing, would you de-militarize, would you reinstitute the DMZ?" Up to now they've said "No." Now, Hubert's speech, the way I read it, and I emphasize I, the way I read it says that before taking any action, he would have to have direct or indirect deed or word that they were reinstituting the DMZ. Now if that is a fact, that's all right, that's what's important.

Now the second thing we feel we ought to have--we think that we can't go to this, can't make a peace for that area like Hitler and Chamberlain did without Czechoslovakia being present--we don't think you could make a peace for that area without the elected government having its voice heard anyway. We don't object to their bringing whoever they want to--NLF, anybody. We've always said their voice could be heard. But they refuse to have anything to do with this government that is elected and has a million-man army that's doing a lot of the fighting. We don't ever report it and don't give them credit for it, but they're losing more everyday than we lose, and they're just 14 million and we're 200.

So that's the second consideration. They must talk to the GVN. Now if they don't, and this group walked out from under us, we'd really be left--we'd stand to lose a lot. The thing that both Bunker and Abrams, the two best men we have, are more concerned about than anything else is something that would make them wobbly and make them distrust us and make them think we'd sell them out. Now, Hubert's speech says that they'd have to negotiate in "good faith." If he means by "good faith" talking to the GVN, which he could, that's what we think ought to be done. He doesn't say that, though, spell it out. He just says they'd have to negotiate in good faith.

The third thing--if I stop the bombing, and they shelled Saigon tomorrow and Danang tomorrow and kill thousands as they did during Tet, everybody in this country and all the soldiers there would certainly demand that I do something about it. So, I would have to reinstitute the bombing. Now if you're going to reinstitute, there's no use stopping it. So we ought to know that they wouldn't shell the cities. Now the only way he would know it is to have some understanding with them that they "act in good faith"--that's the phrase that is used.

Now both Ball and Goldberg think that you ought to stop the bombing, just quit bombing. Clifford thinks you've got to have conditions to it. Bunker and Abrams think you've got to have conditions to it. Now Bunker is a liberal, progressive fellow and a hell of a good diplomat, best in the service. But he's an old Republican businessman before he ever got into the service, although he's progressive, and he just says, "You'll lose everything if you don't have this government present." Rusk feels very strongly about it, and needless to say, I do. Now, up to now, the Vice President has pretty generally agreed with us. I can't interpret his speeches any more than I can interpret Nixon. But if he means by his statement that "direct or indirect" that they give him before he takes action assurances on the DMZ, well, that would be very appealing. But of course Rusk thinks that Hanoi will knock it down today. They've never been able to tell us that. We don't know why they'll tell him that next January. Do you follow me there?

Dirksen: Yes, I follow you.

President: So, I would think that Nixon's position that he would take would be, with these conferences going on, that he add all the information, that he's not in touch with them, that he's not responsible, that he doesn't want to do anything that would appear to divide this country, and therefore it is the Democrats' responsibility, period, and not to get into the war thing any more than he has to. I would think that would be the best thing for Hubert, but apparently he's trying to get the McCarthy vote. Now, the way I see the thing, there are 43 percent of the people for Nixon, 28 percent for Hubert, 21 percent for Wallace. So when you take 43 and 21 on Wallace and Nixon that's 64 percent. Now there's only 8 percent undecided--let's assume all of those are McCarthy people. That doesn't do him any good. If he puts 8 percent with his 28, he's just got 36. So he's got to do something to get at some of the Nixon [supporters] back or some of the Wallace people back. And I wouldn't think that this kind of a speech would get either of them--I may be wrong. I believe he's been losing because they have been doubtful on Vietnam and a lot of the Democrats, particularly in our section of the country, have been going to Wallace. That's my judgment.

Dirksen: Yes, well, that's the way I size it up.

President: So, I have said all along, and Nixon has said all along, that we've just got one government and we've got to stop at the water's edge and we can't play politics with the war and we just cannot ignore Bunker and ignore Abrams, our commander in the field, we cannot ignore all of our Joint Chiefs--there are four of them, we can't ignore our Secretary--we can't ignore our Secretary of State, we can't ignore the President, who have all the information involved. So that's the way we see it.

Dirksen: Well, thanks much.

[Omitted here is general discussion of ambassadorial and judicial nominations.]


43. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to Secretary of State Rusk/1/

Washington, October 1, 1968.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/OHIO. Secret; Nodis; Ohio/Plus.

Hanoi's Purpose in the Oslo Talks

Hanoi's recent decision to send several officials to Oslo for conversations with the Norwegian Government appears intended to persuade us to agree to a bombing halt in exchange for some tacit--and limited-- Hanoi restraint in the DMZ area. It is also designed to gain Norwegian support for the North Vietnamese position. It does not, however, appear designed to open a new channel for negotiations. In fact, it appears intended to reinforce the Hanoi position in Paris, and to move the Paris negotiations forward. It thus underlines the importance Hanoi attaches to the Paris talks.

Chan Indicates Readiness to Stop Cross-DMZ Shelling. The most interesting element in the North Vietnamese position as presented in Oslo by Ambassador Nguyen Tho Chan was a statement to the effect that Hanoi would be prepared to stop shelling across the DMZ if we stop the bombing of North Vietnam and "other acts of war," including our own shelling across the DMZ. This line is not, strictly speaking, new; Hanoi had earlier said that the status of the DMZ could be restored if we would stop our violations of it. The noteworthy aspect of its presentation in Oslo is that it has now been included in an official Hanoi presentation.

Because of the circumstances surrounding the North Vietnamese statement, and because of Norwegian imprecision, it is not completely clear whether the Hanoi officials had intended from the start to make a special point of the DMZ. Nor is it completely clear whether their remarks were nothing more than the standard line that "we will stop firing at you if you stop firing at us." From the unusual nature of the contact, however, it appears reasonable to conclude that the Hanoi officials were given definite instructions to present their line on the DMZ. It is also clear that they were under instructions not to discuss their position further but were merely to state it and depart.

Hanoi knows that the Norwegians would report the Oslo conversations to us. It may have calculated that the Norwegians would use the North Vietnamese statement to urge us to accept Hanoi's proposal on the DMZ as evidence of military restraint and to undertake a complete bombing halt on that basis. It may hope that we will do so.

But Hanoi Still Rejects Responsibility for Southern Matters. Chan's remarks were made in a way which suggests that Hanoi still wishes to reject responsibility for any involvement in the war South of the 17th Parallel. He consistently rejected any implication that Hanoi had troops in the South, and he attempted to convey the impression that Hanoi's role in the war would be completely ended once US "aggression" against the North had ceased and Hanoi had in consequence stopped shelling across the DMZ. He also consistently pushed the NLF forward as the party with which Southern matters had to be discussed, e.g., in dealing with the question of the safety of US forces in the South after the bombing had been stopped. On the role of the GVN, Chan appears to have deliberately misconstrued Foreign Minister Lyng's direct question on this subject by replying with a lengthy statement that Hanoi would not engage in reprisals. The implication was therefore left that Hanoi would not deal with the GVN or accord it any degree of legitimacy. Nevertheless, Chan did not specifically rule out GVN participation in talks, but even said that this could be a matter for discussion after a bombing halt.

Knows That Statement Does Not Meet Full US Demand. Hanoi knows that Chan's statement about the DMZ does not meet the full range of US demands on a bombing halt. However, Hanoi has on several occasions in recent months made statements which it knew did not fully meet our position, in the hope that we would respond affirmatively (e.g., its series of statements justifying but not admitting Northern troop presence in the South, and Colonel Ha Van Lau's circumspect reference to the "lull" in an interview with an American journalist).

Hanoi may not now want to make any specific statement in Paris on its readiness to stop shelling across the DMZ. It knows that such a statement would not fully meet the US desiderata and it may not want to give us the opportunity to respond by pressing it for some move on other elements in that position. It has thus chosen to address the issue through Oslo, where, as already noted, it might expect to gain additional leverage on the US via the Norwegians.

We May Wish to Raise in Paris. However, since Chan indicated at one point that the matter should be discussed in Paris, our delegation could raise it discreetly at some convenient opportunity. We could indicate that we find Chan's remarks promising and that we would like to explore North Vietnamese intentions around the DMZ area further. This would indicate our particular interest in the area, while pointing up that we take indirect messages seriously but prefer ultimately to resolve such complicated questions directly and with at least some measure of precision. We could, of course, also want to indicate that we reserve our stand on other issues.

It is possible that Hanoi may respond to such an overture by withdrawing or at least failing to reiterate its statement as soon as we indicate that we want to pursue it and might ask for more. However, as INR has pointed out before, we believe that one area in which Hanoi may be prepared to exercise some restraint is the DMZ. Hanoi's position with regard to this issue is thus particularly worth exploring. This would be especially true now, since Chan's remarks suggest that Hanoi is thinking seriously about this problem and may thus be prepared to shift its stand further, and since his remarks also point up in general terms that Hanoi wishes to make some progress in the negotiations and sees them as an important element in its strategy./2/

/2/The Norwegians deemed as a positive development the seriousness placed upon the Ohio channel by the DRV. (Telegram 6838 from Oslo, October 1; ibid.) In telegram 22112 from Paris, October 9 (retransmitted as telegram 253256 to Oslo, October 10), Harriman and Vance suggested sending a message to the Government of Norway thanking it for its assistance and noting that "the conversations also assisted the USG in assessing North Vietnamese thinking." (Both ibid.) Lyng later said of the Ohio channel: "It is quite difficult to evaluate what this Norwegian contact has meant. But I can imagine in the first phase when this was going on that perhaps it had some significance." (Telegram 7231 from Oslo, November 4; ibid.)




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