1964-1968, Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969|
Released by the Office of the Historian
63. Editorial Note In a speech in Indiana on October 12, 1968, the President's former Presidential Special Assistant McGeorge Bundy proposed an unconditional halt to the bombing and withdrawal beginning in 1969 of substantial numbers of U.S. forces. For an extract of his remarks, see The New York Times, October 13, 1968. In a memorandum to Clifford and Nitze, November 8, Under Secretary of the Air Force Townsend Hoopes commented: "The principal conclusions that brought Bundy to this formulation can only be guessed at; the answer may lie in any one of several possibilities: (A) His proposals are a sugar-coated, half-veiled prescription for slow but inevitable defeat, and he understands this. (B) Having been an architect of escalation, he still believes we have a vital interest at stake in Vietnam and thus require, if not victory, then at least clear-cut 'prevention of defeat.' (C) He is fundamentally a 'process man' who, aware of the unforeseeable ways in which events not yet born will impinge upon any later pre-selected courses of action, believes that what is important is to get started in the desired direction and then play it by ear. Someone else can mop up the consequences if the scheme goes awry. I would guess that all of these considerations were present in his mind." (Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, VIET 092.2 (November) 1968) In telegram 254930 to Saigon, October 14, Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy wrote: "I called Bui Diem this morning to tell him in light-hearted key that my brother's remarks reflected no prior discussion with me whatever, had not been known to me in any way before delivery, and did not reflect in any way the point of view of the Administration, or for what it might be worth my own personal point of view." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S) 64. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
63. Editorial Note
In a speech in Indiana on October 12, 1968, the President's former Presidential Special Assistant McGeorge Bundy proposed an unconditional halt to the bombing and withdrawal beginning in 1969 of substantial numbers of U.S. forces. For an extract of his remarks, see The New York Times, October 13, 1968. In a memorandum to Clifford and Nitze, November 8, Under Secretary of the Air Force Townsend Hoopes commented: "The principal conclusions that brought Bundy to this formulation can only be guessed at; the answer may lie in any one of several possibilities: (A) His proposals are a sugar-coated, half-veiled prescription for slow but inevitable defeat, and he understands this. (B) Having been an architect of escalation, he still believes we have a vital interest at stake in Vietnam and thus require, if not victory, then at least clear-cut 'prevention of defeat.' (C) He is fundamentally a 'process man' who, aware of the unforeseeable ways in which events not yet born will impinge upon any later pre-selected courses of action, believes that what is important is to get started in the desired direction and then play it by ear. Someone else can mop up the consequences if the scheme goes awry. I would guess that all of these considerations were present in his mind." (Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, VIET 092.2 (November) 1968)
In telegram 254930 to Saigon, October 14, Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy wrote: "I called Bui Diem this morning to tell him in light-hearted key that my brother's remarks reflected no prior discussion with me whatever, had not been known to me in any way before delivery, and did not reflect in any way the point of view of the Administration, or for what it might be worth my own personal point of view." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S)
64. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, October 13, 1968, 1230Z.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan/Double Plus, Vol. I. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan/Double Plus. Received at 9:35 a.m.
40178. Subject: Meeting with Thieu.
1. Thieu concurs in instructions to be given Harriman-Vance.
2. General Abrams, Amb Berger and I had hour and a half meeting with him tonight. We went over developments of last four days starting with October 9 tea break, and gave him orally paraphrased version of instructions and how we intended to proceed on all fronts.
3. Abrams outlined military situation and implications of a bombing cessation on military position, and we exchanged views as to what military or other reasons prompted Hanoi to shift to negotiations. Thieu asked whether we intended to make reference to infiltration, and we said no and Abrams and I persuaded him that we can handle whatever they send down. Thieu thought that if Hanoi is serious in these negotiations they will soon propose cease-fire.
4. We then together sketched out the sequence of next moves:
A. Thieu agrees to instructions.
B. We notify other contributors.
C. Harriman-Vance put proposals to Hanoi at Paris.
D. If Hanoi accepts them, Washington and Saigon work out timing for cessation, and date of meeting which GVN will join.
E. Joint Johnson-Thieu announcement made that attacks on North stopped in effort to find basis for peaceful settlement. Thieu understands fully that we will not use words like reciprocal actions, agreement of Hanoi, etc., and need for secrecy.
5. Thieu will inform a few key colleagues tomorrow of latest developments and his decision.
6. Foregoing are bare-bones. Will send fuller report tomorrow./2/
/2/The full report of the conversation was transmitted in telegram 40220 from Saigon, October 14. (Ibid.)
65. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France/1/
Washington, October 14, 1968, 1711Z.
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis/Harvan/Double Plus. Drafted by Katzenbach and Bundy, cleared by Rostow and Read, and approved by Rusk.
254715/Todel 1262. Literally eyes only for Ambassadors Harriman and Vance.
1. We would like your views on an urgent basis on the following proposed guidelines for your next private meeting.
2. Following further word from us, we would request you seek private meeting soonest with Thuy to deliver verbatim following oral message:
(1) Repeatedly in these conversations we have stated our view that the unconditional cessation of bombing could take place and be maintained only if serious talks take place and if circumstances are maintained consistent with serious talks.
(2) At the last meeting you asked a question./2/ Our response is: We are prepared, depending on your response to this representation as a whole, to order the cessation of bombing and all other acts involving the use of force against the territory of the DRV if you agree to begin serious talks the next day in which representatives of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam will participate on our side.
/2/See Document 58.
(3) As we said on October 11, it is also absolutely essential that there be no misunderstanding on the following two points, which describe the situation following a cessation of all bombardment in which the President's ability to maintain that situation would be affected by certain facts of life.
(4) The simple fact is that military activities in and certain military activities near the DMZ would not be consistent with serious talks, such as firing of artillery, rockets and mortars from, across and within the DMZ; movements of armed forces from, across and within the DMZ; and the massing or movement of forces near the DMZ in a manner threatening to the other side. These restraints would, of course, be observed by both sides.
(5) The other simple fact is that indiscriminate armed attacks against major cities in South Vietnam would not be consistent with such talks. End Message.
3. We have used the phrase that would permit reconnaissance, which they may question. We believe it important that they have a clear understanding that we will in fact continue a limited program of unarmed reconnaissance after the bombing stops. Our own research into the record here indicates that we have repeatedly used the general terms "bombing" or "bombardment," and that starting with the Vance/Lau conversation of July (Paris 18012, paragraph 4)/3/ we spelled out repeatedly the longer and more exact term "bombing and all other acts involving the use of force". In an earlier conversation, Lau had asked about "other acts of war" and Vance had said that we would have to discuss what this involved at a later point. So far as we can tell, the issue has not come up in any of the private talks since September 7. Thus, as we see it, we could be faced with the possibility of misunderstanding or purported misunderstanding with the North Vietnamese. Thus, if we were to get into a script of a formal session at which the inclusion of the GVN was agreed, while reconnaissance continued then or thereafter, Hanoi might claim a breach of faith. Therefore, we think that you should emphasize the longer formula in the message "and other acts involving the use of force." Beyond this point, there are several alternatives:
/3/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 299.
a. You could volunteer a listing of examples of such "other acts." This would include naval, air, and artillery bombardment and also such acts as commando raids, which have been included in past Hanoi listings. It would omit, but without initially calling attention to it, unarmed reconnaissance. If the North Vietnamese then specifically raise the question of unarmed reconnaissance, you would state that both sides would be expected to take necessary measures to verify the state of affairs, and that in practice we could not possibly be satisfied that we knew the facts unless we conducted limited and discreet unarmed reconnaissance. (FYI. SecDef and JCS will require some low level flights End FYI) Such reconnaissance clearly does not involve the use of force, and in the circumstances it could not possibly be regarded as an act of war. Hence, we would expect that it would continue.
b. Without volunteering a list of examples, you would be prepared to respond to any North Vietnamese probing of the phrase along the same lines as in a. above. In the absence of a probe, we would rely on repetition of the phrase as establishing the point.
c. As a supplement to b., we might go concurrently to the Soviets in order both to list the acts we expected to stop, and expressly to indicate that we would not stop unarmed reconnaissance.
We would appreciate your judgment among these possibilities.
4. We would also appreciate your views on the time schedule that we envisage. The GVN is now on board and we may be going out today to the TCCs whenever we have your comments on these draft instructions. Hopefully they will be on board by early this week. If it turns out that we can nail down our agreements and understandings with the DRV in one private session, the cessation of bombing could follow soon thereafter. We would appreciate your judgment as to the possible need for more than one meeting to wrap up the arrangements. The maintenance of total security, to mention but one factor, argues for moving as rapidly as possible, and we see no need to aim at one day of the week rather than another, since we could always hold a special plenary session the day after the cessation in order to formalize and make public the inclusion of the GVN.
5. Obviously requirements of secrecy would preclude special GVN delegation from Saigon at first plenary meeting following cessation but there could be token representation drawn from Vietnamese observer delegation. This seems to us desirable since it publicly nails down GVN presence./4/
/4/In telegram 22390 from Paris, October 14, the delegation approved the instructions with only semantic modifications. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)
66. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France/1/
Washington, October 14, 1968, 1735Z.
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Text as received from the White House and approved by Read.
254719/Todel 1263. 1. Your comments are requested urgently on the following exchange with Bunker and Abrams:
A. Literally eyes only for Amb Bunker and Gen Abrams from Walt Rostow./2/
/2/Telegram CAP 82572 from Rostow to Abrams and Bunker via the CIA Saigon Station, October 14, 0248Z.
You should know that one of the major concerns of the President at the moment is that we examine with utmost care the loop-holes and contingencies in the deal we are considering to make sure it is as copper-plated as we can make it.
For example, he wishes you to examine the possibility that Hanoi is simply seeking a respite to prepare for a later offensive, creating ad interim an atmosphere of hopeful expectations and euphoria which would make it difficult for us to resume bombing of the North and otherwise maintain the remarkable momentum on the ground you have achieved and which explains so much of what may now be hopeful in the current situation.
1. Taking into account the enemy's weather and supply situation and prospects and taking into account the complexity of the diplomatic problems that may lie ahead, what would be a reasonable and secure interval in which to assess whether Hanoi is seriously interested in making peace, once "serious" negotiations start?
For example, it took only a month to wind up the 1954 Geneva negotiation once it became serious about June 20. Would thirty days now be a reasonable interval before we seriously considered a bombing resumption? Please give us your joint assessment.
2. Are you confident you can maintain the morale, fighting spirit, and momentum of the ARVN and our own forces once serious negotiations start?
3. You may wish to consider on a contingency basis the standing rules of engagement you would recommend required to protect the security and morale of our forces and those of our allies in the face of minor DMZ violations, to which the field commander would have the authority to respond without recourse to Washington and the level of infraction, involving more substantial violation and retaliation, which would require and justify recourse to Washington.
4. In view of your judgment that the enemy may move promptly after a bombing cessation for a cease-fire, we trust you are designing and preparing to recommend a cease-fire proposal highly advantageous to our side which we would put into negotiation if such a proposition were put to us.
B. Fm: Ambassador Bunker and General Abrams 284./3/
/3/Telegram CAS 284 from Bunker and Abrams to Rostow via the CIA Saigon Station, October 14, 1425Z.
To: The White House, eyes only Walt Rostow.
Ref: CAP 82572.
1. We have, of course, been examining this latest move of Hanoi and the Soviets from every conceivable point of view, including the four question areas posed in your message. Some of our views are in Saigon's 40117,/4/ but we have taken another close look as a result of your telegram.
2. It is impossible to say in advance whether Hanoi wants seriously to negotiate a compromise, or is using this latest move only as a means of getting the bombing stopped knowing that it will be difficult to resume later, either by the President or his successor. One can argue that Hanoi may have both these objectives in mind, and they will move in whichever direction they think holds out the greatest hope of gain for them.
3. We think Hanoi's decision to agree to the GVN entering the discussions is of the greatest significance. It suggests that Hanoi has abandoned all hope of a military victory or of a unilateral US withdrawal by the next administration. If this is so, Hanoi's alternatives are to try to negotiate a settlement on a basis most favorable to them, or to return to protracted guerrilla warfare. On balance we think that at the outset at least Hanoi will enter these negotiations with serious purpose.
4. We think their negotiating objectives will be:
A. Cease-fire in place;
B. Mutual withdrawal of forces; and
C. Coalition government.
5. We think they will put these forward early in the negotiations. All three are simple conceptions with strong propaganda features from their point of view, and each is designed to give us trouble. Since we are not going to agree on simple conceptions such as these, we must expect extended negotiations while we hammer out solutions which are acceptable to us and the GVN. We will be working up proposals to handle each of these, and assume Washington and Paris are doing likewise.
6. Our relative bargaining positions, assuming the wider talks start in a week or so, will be important. Both our short and long term bargaining positions are strong. The VC/NVA can do little damage with their regular forces during the next two or three months which they need for rest and resupply. As for the long term Hanoi threw everything they could into this year's offensives, and failed. We do not see how they can make a greater effort or even a comparable one again.
7. On the other hand they are strongly entrenched in the VC controlled areas, where they control about 3700 hamlets, and another 3900 hamlets are contested. We will have to pay a price to extend our power into these areas, for the VC are good at guerrilla and irregular force fighting on their home grounds. However it is what we must now do. Fighting defensively, they will try to make any extension of our control as costly as possible for us. This is where they will concentrate their military effort as the wider negotiations start. As we push against them in these areas, which we mean to do, they will resist and there will be heavy fighting of the ambush and guerrilla type. We must also expect sabotage and guerrilla type activity in the cities.
8. Meantime they will be negotiating in all seriousness for as much as possible of the three objectives listed in para 4.
9. We do not think it possible to fix in advance, even in rough terms, the length of the interval that should be allowed before we consider whether Hanoi is serious or whether a bombing resumption is called for. We think we should have a pretty clear picture of Hanoi's intentions in a month or two, particularly if the negotiating meetings are frequent. By the end of the year, we should also have a pretty good idea of the morale of VC/NVA forces as well as our ability to move into and establish ourselves in the contested areas.
10. Our main problems as we see them will be to justify to the Congress and the American people our unwillingness to agree to a cease-fire in place and our opposition to a coalition, or, to put it in another way, justifying to the American public further casualties while we negotiate for a successful outcome of our enormous effort here.
11. We believe here that 1968--however difficult it was for us--has been a disaster for Hanoi. We must convince the American people that the tide has turned in our favor, and we can only do this if we can show progress in moving into contested areas, rising defections from the Communist ranks, heavy Communist casualties, comparatively light casualties on our side, withdrawal of some American units, the takeover of more and more of the war by ARVN, etc. That will also be convincing to Hanoi, and will determine their negotiating tactics.
12. When the GVN joins the talks, we must insist on closed sessions, or closed along with open sessions, otherwise we cannot regard the talks as serious. Given the complexity of the problems and the strong bargaining cards that each side holds, with the best will in the world, we think it is likely to take some months to produce solutions and agreements, and indeed we may be in negotiations for a very long time.
13. Following is our reply to your question 2.
A. Maintaining the morale, fighting spirit and momentum of US and ARVN forces is absolutely essential. Directives have gone out on the US and GVN side to intensify our offensive operations against infrastructure, guerrillas and local forces in order to extend government control, at the same time maintaining unrelenting pressure against his main forces. It is an offensive against the enemy "system."
B. We are planning now the form and shape of a message to the troops if an announcement is made. This message will be critically important to establishing a positive atmosphere. It will be tied to the results of our operations so far and the offensive described above. We will disseminate it in a massive effort.
C. We are completely confident that the morale, fighting spirit and momentum can be sustained.
14. Following is General Abrams' reply to your third question on the contingency of enemy violation of the DMZ. The basic rules of engagement should include the following:
A. Every commander will retain the inherent right and responsibility to conduct operations for the self-defense of his forces.
B. In case of attack by fire or ground attacks by small units (up to a battalion in size) across the demarcation line, COMUSMACV should have the authority to conduct a timely and adequate response against the attacking force, to include destruction of enemy forces penetrating across the line. No US ground forces would cross the line without specific orders from the highest authority. (Comment: It is envisaged that small ground probes would be counteracted by response in kind, but of decisive superiority.)
C. Enemy artillery fire would be responded to with heavy counter-battery fire and air attack until enemy weapons are silenced. In case SAM's are fired at our aircraft we would destroy his SAM installations and immediate supporting facilities.
D. In case of substantial or general attacks across the demarcation line by ground (including artillery) or air action requiring response going beyond local action, authorization of highest authority would be sought immediately for such action, including resumption of the bombardment of NVN.
2. Request also your best estimate, already given us preliminarily by phone, of meaning of the Tho departure for Hanoi?/5/
/5/In telegram 22391/Delto 825 from Paris, October 14, 2115Z, Harriman and Vance wrote: "We are in general agreement with the constructive and thoughtful comments of Ambassador Bunker and General Abrams. We have no information on which to base a meaningful estimate as to the reasons for Tho's departure for Hanoi. Our best present guess is that (A) He had given us the DRV rock bottom position on cessation of the bombing and he could contribute nothing further to this phase of the negotiations; (B) He is needed in Hanoi to participate in formulation of positions to be taken in negotiations which would follow cessation of bombing." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [3 of 3]) In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of telegram 22391 to the President, October 14, 6:30 p.m., Rostow wrote: "Herewith Paris: Agree with Bunker and Abrams' message and, therefore, his proposed rules of engagement. Present their best guess as to the reason for Tho's departure."
67. Draft Notes of Meeting/1/
Washington, October 14, 1968.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Secret; Eyes Only for the President. Christian and Tom Johnson joined the meeting at 10 a.m., and it concluded at 12:07 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) These notes, drafted by Rostow on October 16, cover only the part of the meeting prior to 10 a.m. For the rest of the meeting, see Document 68. A complete transcript is in the Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
Meeting with the President, Monday, October 14, 9:40 a.m., in the Cabinet Room.
Secretary Rusk informed the President that all present had now been briefed on events since Friday./2/ The President might wish to get their reactions and then consider next steps.
The President, noting a question raised by Thieu, asked why infiltration was not involved in our formula.
General Wheeler explained that it was difficult to monitor infiltration performance unilaterally and that it was better to keep our bombing of Laos going. Secretary Rusk underlined the critical importance of the apparent acceptance by Hanoi of GVN participation. This was a real turning point and would so be understood in Asia and the world, as well as by the VC in the South.
The President asked: Why is participation of the NLF being accepted? Secretary Rusk responded that this would not be a three-cornered confrontation; that is, with Saigon and the NLF together confronting Hanoi on the one side and Washington on the other. The arrangement would be our side-your side.
But the real importance was that Hanoi, which had vowed never to talk to the "Thieu-Ky clique," was now prepared to acknowledge the reality of the GVN. This means that there can be no settlement in Vietnam without the assent of the GVN. We have always said that there would be no problem in having the views of the NLF heard.
GVN participation could have a major effect on the political and psychological situation inside South Vietnam; the Chieu Hoi rates should go up; there should be more defectors; etc. Vance had told Secretary Rusk that the acceptance of the GVN was the most difficult of all our conditions. Vance, in fact, believed that they would never accept. Acceptance of the GVN will be fully understood by our Asian friends. Critical issues of face and prestige are involved for Hanoi, as well as favorable factors for Saigon.
The President then asked: Suppose they do accept the GVN and nothing happens in a month or for several weeks? What if we have a stalemate in the talks? What do we do then?
Secretary Rusk replied that if there are no attacks across the DMZ or on population centers, we could go a month or so in a stalemate. But if there is a buildup for later large military operations, that would be a different matter. We should give them until about December 1st before we resume bombing, to see if the talks in fact become serious. If they attack across the DMZ or attack the cities, then we could resume at any time according to the conditions we have put to them.
On the other hand, Secretary Rusk pointed out there would be costs in resuming the bombing too soon; for example, in 10 days. Before we resume we must be in a position to demonstrate that we tested their good faith. Then we could publish our record.
Mr. Helms said that the CIA had been brainstorming the situation developing in Paris over recent weeks. They saw the one great danger in the situation--the one hole--the one great vulnerability--in our position was the question of GVN participation. If the GVN did not participate, all his experts believed there was doubt that the GVN could hold steady. It would probably collapse. Hanoi's concession on the GVN is therefore very important. It is the one thing that fills in the big hole in our negotiating position. It is very significant. Helms agreed fully with the evaluation of Secretary Rusk. Secretary Rusk said that it was his impression that the CIA analysts believed that Hanoi would never accept the GVN at the table. Helms confirmed this as correct.
The President then asked about reconnaissance. Does our formula permit us to continue reconnaissance? Secretary Rusk said that our instruction, referring to "acts of force" rather than "acts of war," would permit reconnaissance. Moreover, he had just bluntly made the point to Dobrynin, who did not react negatively.
The President then asked: Do they understand the "facts of life" about the DMZ and the cities?
Secretary Rusk said that if the other side accepted in silence our statement of the "facts of life", we should be prepared to move on that "assumption."
The President asked: What if we stop bombing and they hit the cities?
Secretary Rusk said that we would have to resume bombing. What they do will determine our behavior. If they violate the "facts of life," we would be back with "business as usual."
Secretary Rusk noted that we had just pulled back the New Jersey from around the Vinh area to a point closer to the DMZ.
The President pressed on. He said he did not wish our understanding to be "fuzzy." It was necessary that there be clarity among us. If they take advantage and violate the "facts of life" as we have stated them, what do we do?
Secretary Rusk said we would resume bombing and disclose the full record. Life magazine had referred to the President and the Secretary of State as the "two lonely men." They would still be here./3/
/3/A notation at the end of these notes reads: "At this point, note-taking was picked up by Tom Johnson."
[Omitted here is discussion of European security issues.]
68. Notes of Meeting/1/
Washington, October 14, 1968.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Eyes Only for the President. These notes, taken by Tom Johnson, cover only the portion of the meeting after 10 a.m.; for the earlier part of the meeting, see Document 67. The President temporarily left the meeting at 11:21 a.m. and returned at 11:30 a.m. The meeting concluded at 12:07 p.m. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) A complete transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
THOSE ATTENDING THE MEETING WERE
[Omitted here is discussion of European security issues.]
The President: What do you think of Abrams' views?/2/
/2/See Document 66.
General Wheeler: I agree with Abrams' views.
The President: Do you anticipate problems if we stop bombing if they include the Government of South Vietnam at the Conference Table, assuming we believe they will A. stop shelling of cities and B. not take advantage of the DMZ.
General Wheeler: No sir.
The President: Can we restart the bombing easily if they violate the cities or the DMZ?
General Wheeler: Yes, sir.
The President: What would happen militarily
--if the DMZ is not violated,
--if cities are not shelled, and they go "all out" on the ground?
General Wheeler: They couldn't get off the ground if they try to step up attacks. I agree with Abrams that it would take them two months to get back up to strength.
The President: I hear we are only operating in the cities.
General Wheeler: That's not true. We are out in the countryside.
The ARVN are doing an excellent job. We captured more weapons and killed many enemy last week.
If we get these three conditions it's okay. If they mount an offensive across the DMZ or on cities, we restart.
The President: You've been in this pause before. You're no virgin, Bus. Who will help you get started back?
General Wheeler: You, Sir, and me, and Secretary Rusk and Secretary Clifford.
The President: How will the Joint Chiefs of Staff feel?
General Wheeler: They will not be opposed to it. At least one will favor it. One will be reluctant. Others won't object to it.
I remember 37-day pause well. It was undertaken on the basis of pious hope. This is undertaken on the basis of three points.
The President: The Soviets said they needed at least 12 days and no more than 20 to get serious talks going.
What about the Soviets?
Secretary Rusk: We should hear soon.
Walt Rostow: The Communists will test us with minor violations. There should be rules of engagement for Abrams. I doubt that they would start with attacks across the DMZ or on the cities. We should tell the Soviets we have given field commanders freedom to respond to violations.
The President: I thought we had told Abrams that.
General Wheeler: We have put that in cable./3/
/3/See Document 66.
Walt Rostow: We must have this.
Secretary Rusk: If we get 15 rounds Abrams should be able to plaster the area from which this attack was launched.
Walt Rostow: If they will accept the GVN and are ready for serious talks, they won't break them up over engagements in the field.
The President: I feel they are hurting as a result of tenacity and endurance of our people. The ARVN has improved, but I doubt they feel they are going to bring about peace very quickly.
We must have solid answers to back up our taking this action. I won't continue fighting if there is reasonable prospect for getting terms. But I am not as optimistic as my colleagues.
If we expect they won't hit cities, violate the DMZ, and they will accept the GVN at the table, we can accept this as "almost anything." This will give us an opportunity for substantive discussions. All we have for taking firepower away is talks.
General Wheeler: The weather is bad in the DMZ area. There is six inches of rain predicted today. If the integrity of the DMZ is maintained, this is a military advantage to us. We can use sorties in Laos along the trail that would be used otherwise along the DMZ.
President: What do we give up?
Wheeler: Some pressure.
The President: But you shift it to Laos.
General Wheeler: That is correct.
Secretary Rusk: Abrams expresses considerable confidence. But if Hanoi demands new government in Saigon it might appeal to the New York Times. We will reject it. We do not want a "give away" schedule.
George Christian: They will cooperate for a period because they have endorsed the Vice President.
The President: It's hard to sell a house at my price of $40,000 if Lady Bird tells the buyer at the door that she would sell it for $35,000--or if a Mac Bundy would sell it for $30,000--or another Administration man wants to sell it for $25,000.
We must sell our case on: 1. We don't give up much. 2. We can get back if it doesn't work.
Secretary Rusk: A speech by Bundy at this time was bad./4/ This might throw Hanoi off the track.
/4/See Document 63.
Walt Rostow: I told him that. He said he must decide on the timing for himself.
Secretary Rusk: Hanoi could have come unhooked because of this.
Secretary Rusk: We must go to troop-contributing countries first to consult them.
The President: I do not know what I want to do yet here. This is not an easy decision for me. Many people will call it a "cheap political trick."
General Taylor: The pitfalls and loopholes are there. We must look at the contingencies and how we deal with them--the marginal infractions and rocket attacks.
Secretary Rusk: We made it clear to the Russians and to Hanoi.
General Taylor: Abrams and Thieu said they may propose a ceasefire. We can't take off pressure in the South. There would be another Panmunjom.
Also, air reconnaissance must be part of the deal. We must also determine how the NLF will fit into that.
The President: Does "acts of war" include reconnaissance?
Secretary Rusk: It has been interpreted that way at times. We must and will have reconnaissance, particularly along the DMZ.
The President: Should we talk to the candidates first?
General Taylor: If elected, I would.
Secretary Rusk: Nixon is aware of all three points. He has great interest in getting this as far down the line as possible. Nixon wants a little more time if we move.
The President: He made that clear to me.
Secretary Rusk: I am concerned about the troop contributors. Thailand and Korea will understand. Gorton is more of a problem./5/
/5/Australian Prime Minister John Gorton.
Secretary Rusk: The sequence:
1. Go to troop contributors today.
The President: Go to Vance-Harriman first.
Secretary Rusk: Go to:
The President: How many in State know?
Secretary Rusk: Four.
Secretary Clifford: The major equation is elementary. Taking Hanoi at its word and seeing if it really means what it says.
They said if we stop bombing North of the DMZ they will get down to serious talks.
I think they have dropped their Four Points in Paris.
The President: Do you think stopping the bombing will do it? What about "other acts of war?"
Secretary Clifford: I think "stopping bombing" and "acts of war" does not include that. It includes planes dropping bombs and naval shelling.
The President: I thought other acts of war would include reconnaissance.
Secretary Clifford: I cannot go into it blindfolded. We have--must have--high-level, low-level and drones. We are going to test their good faith.
You keep three conditions: 1. GVN, 2. Cities, 3. DMZ.
There has been a shift by them on 1. The GVN. It is a condition precedent. And we have made 2. DMZ and 3. Cities assumptions. (Conditions subsequent).
We must let them know we will not accept mass infiltration across the DMZ or attacks on the cities.
If they do either, we restart the bombing. You can lay firm predicate for resumption.
The President: Would you favor resumption of bombing if they violate any of these three?
Secretary Clifford: Yes, Sir, I would.
The President: If they know what will happen and we know what will happen then that's good.
The President: They have implied they would have the GVN in talks and understand the other two points. Don't we have more today than ever before?
Secretary Rusk: Yes, we do.
Secretary Clifford: Yes, we do have.
I think there will be a lowering of level of combat when this happens.
Abrams has shown more flexibility and mobility than Westmoreland.
The President: I do not agree. I think Abrams has inherited most of this from Westmoreland.
The President: When Secretary Clifford came in, we made decisions on M16's and other things that have helped.
Secretary Clifford: There will be diminution in level of combat. I would not let up.
The President: What does "respect the DMZ" mean? What does "shelling cities" mean?
Secretary Clifford: The shelling of cities is easy to ascertain.
Secretary Rusk: With the first rocket--we would raise hell with the Hanoi delegation. With 20 rockets--we would do some bombing.
The President: Abrams lists four rules of engagement. Do you agree with them?
Secretary Rusk: Yes.
Secretary Clifford: Yes. The real threat is staging of 20,000 men or so North of the DMZ. We would warn the delegation and slug them.
The President: Why does Abrams feel different today than he did in August about the bombing?
1. The DMZ agreement--will respect the deal.
General Wheeler: That is right, Sir. We are going to test their faith.
Secretary Clifford: Kosygin's letter said if you stopped the bombing substantial benefits would flow./6/ We now are taking him up. We need to send a letter to Kosygin from the President. It gives them a continuing responsibility.
/6/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 262.
The President: We said to Kosygin a meeting could bring about a start on limitation of offensive and defensive weapons. We said we would give thought to continuing to pursue these things despite Czechoslovakia.
Secretary Rusk talked to Gromyko and leveled with him on three points. He got no contract on it./7/
/7/See Document 47. According to a memorandum of conversation, October 15, Dobrynin, in discussions with Rusk, appeared amenable regarding the problems faced by the United States over the DRV's desire for an extended time lag between cessation and the start of the new round of talks. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Chlodnick File)
Secretary Clifford: In view of that we need to keep this working with Kosygin.
Secretary Clifford: The timing of it is important.
The desire of people to try this road is overwhelming. We will have much support.
The three candidates should not be notified ahead of time. A leak now would be damaging.
Secretary Rusk: My view of all this will be rather simple if true negotiating starts.
1. We have invested 28,000 dead and $75 billion.
2. I will not accept giving North Vietnam one-half of South Vietnam or a part of South Vietnam or a coalition government.
3. I will insist that the North Vietnamese in South Vietnam go home; that the North Vietnamese in Laos go home. And a return to the 1962 Geneva Accords.
Electoral tricks we must watch for. Nixon has been honorable on Vietnam. We must give him a chance to roll with this. We must give him a chance to know about this.
He has actually been more responsible on this than our own candidate.
Secretary Clifford: He must be told a day in advance that this is a decision the President has made.
Secretary Rusk: I would have the President call him and emphasize the need for discretion and gravity of the situation.
Secretary Clifford: As soon as the decision is made don't let the date of the election concern you. The weight of public opinion is for this. It is too unwise to brief candidates on this much ahead.
I expect Nixon would play it fair with you. The security factor is so important.
Secretary Clifford: Troop contributing countries: We do not have to get commitments from them. We have carried the whole load. Australians have lost few. The Thais have lost only a few hundred. We could get a leak too easily. We could notify them about the time of release.
Secretary Rusk: We have had excellent results with Park, New Zealand, and Australia. I do not trust Marcos at all to hold it./8/
/8/South Korean President Park Chung Hee and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos.
Walt Rostow: The Australian relationship is important.
Secretary Clifford: I recommend the President proceed on this. As soon as possible. There is more benefit than detriment. It will leave not a single stone unturned in your quest for peace.
General Wheeler: 1. Get comments of Harriman and Vance. 2. Based on that, go ahead and make a decision to stop bombing on the basis of three points. We must have Hanoi agreement on GVN.
The President: You do not think the military risks are significant?
General Wheeler: Abrams and his people can handle it.
I prefer these conditions to those at the time of the 37-day pause.
General Taylor: I would make sure the GVN are at the Conference Table--that reconnaissance will continue--that cities and the DMZ are respected.
The President: What will you get today that you won't get three weeks from now?
General Taylor: I do not have the same sense of urgency.
Secretary Clifford: There comes a time in the tide of men's affairs that it is a time to move.
It is away (three weeks) from the election. It will receive commendation of the world and the country. I consider it a very real point to get the job done now.
CIA Director Helms: Bunker and Abrams point to the stake of North Vietnam in this. Negotiations will be miserable. They are not down yet. Still, I would take this step.
Secretary Rusk: I agree you should go ahead as soon as possible.
The President: Why, Dean?
Secretary Rusk: There is a major shift on Hanoi's part on role of GVN. There also is a good chance of performance on cities and the DMZ.
On the negative side if we don't move we will be destroyed by the record now that they have agreed to do this. But, Hanoi is not buttoned up.
The President: I doubt if Hanoi is serious, but we must test if they are.
The President: Le Duc Tho left Paris this morning for Moscow. What is the significance of it?
CIA Director Helms: There may be disagreement with the Soviets in light of Bundy's speech.
Secretary Rusk: Hanoi may have gotten unhorsed and the Soviets are trying to stay on the horse.
The President: What are the facts on the two times Drew Pearson says we blew peace?
Secretary Rusk: I never heard of it.
Secretary Clifford: Neither have I.
The President: Get the Bunker-Abrams wire to Vance-Harriman./9/ I want them on board.
/9/See Document 66.
The President: Let's meet again this afternoon./10/
/10/See Document 69.
69. Notes of Meeting/1/
Washington, October 14, 1968.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Eyes Only for the President. The meeting began at 1:38 in the Cabinet Room. Christian joined the meeting at 2:17 p.m., Russell entered at 2:22 p.m., Rusk at 2:45 p.m., and Westmoreland at 3:15 p.m. The meeting ended at 3:40 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) Bromley Smith's notes of the meeting are ibid., Meeting Notes File, 7/68-12/68, and a complete transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH
Walt Rostow: In the course of discussions with the Soviets on missile talks, the question of the Middle East and Vietnam was raised.
With the Czech crisis, the environment for a Summit with the Soviets diminished. The President raised with the Soviets the question of Vietnam.
The language to Kosygin read:
"Setting all political arguments aside, the simple fact is that the President could not maintain a cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam unless it were very promptly evident to him, to the American people, and to our allies, that such an action was, indeed, a step toward peace. A cessation of bombing which would be followed by abuses of the DMZ, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese attacks on cities or such populated areas as provincial capitals, or a refusal of the authorities in Hanoi to enter promptly into serious political discussions which included the elected government of the Republic of Vietnam, could simply not be sustained."/2/
/2/See Document 47.
Points included as conditions for a bombing halt:
(1) Inclusion of the GVN at Paris talks
The Soviets would not march in with all three points. Secretary Rusk stressed that the Soviets should push on one essential point--inclusion of South Vietnam at the Paris talks.
Last Friday,/3/ a private meeting was held in Paris./4/
/4/See Document 58.
The critical passages from this discussion:
[Omitted here is the text of telegram 22253/Delto 817 from Paris, October 11.]
The President sent a message on cessation of the bombing and rules of engagement. We want your (General Abrams and Ambassador Bunker) response.
The message was received from Abrams and Bunker that they could live with the cessation if the three points are included./5/
/5/See Document 66.
Ambassador Bunker said he thought they were moving the conflict from the battlefield to the conference table.
The number two man in the Soviet Embassy in Paris called Ambassador Vance in on Saturday./6/ He said there could not be a bombing halt without participation of the GVN. Also, Vance stressed DMZ and the attacks on the cities.
/6/See Document 60.
He dictated the following passage:
[Omitted here is the text of Oberemko's message as reported in telegram 22313/Delto 820 from Paris, October 12.]
Walt Rostow: It was similar.
The Soviet representative said there are differing views in Hanoi. He said if bombing were halted serious talks could begin.
Thieu concurred in instructions given Harriman and Vance.
There is a later cable. He is ready to go along to try to see if they are serious about stopping the war./7/
A message was sent to Bunker to examine loop-holes and contingencies--including the possibility of the enemy needing rest to get ready to hit us again./8/
/8/See Document 66.
Asked four questions of Bunker/Abrams:
(1) How long should we wait?
(1) Impossible to tell what the enemy can do.
Hanoi failed in this year's major offensives.
They will seek:
They think we should know something within a month.
Bunker says they are against
(a) coalition government and
They said 1968 has been a devastating year for Hanoi.
He sent rules of engagement.
(1) Continued strong pressure in South
(A) All commanders can conduct self-defense actions.
A draft message was sent to Paris this morning. (Attachment A)/9/
/9/Printed as Document 74.
(1.) Serious talks must take place.
This would include cessation of Naval, air and artillery attacks.
Reconnaissance must include both high and low level flights as well as drones.
We asked for their views on draft instructions. GVN are aboard.
Maintenance for total security is required.
The President: (1) On September 17 Harriman came here./10/
/10/See Document 20.
I told him what we were confronted with. We were interested in
(a) GVN at talks.
(2) On October 3, Vance came home. I talked with him October 6 and October 7./11/ I told him the same thing.
/11/The President spoke by telephone with Vance at 5:25 p.m. on October 6 and at 11:12 a.m. on October 7. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) No records of these conversations have been found.
At 2:22, Senator Russell entered the meeting.
The President: I asked them what would happen if bombing stopped.
I told them we could not stop it if:
--GVN were not included.
Soviets were told this. Rusk got impression they would do all they could on GVN--and that we could work on the other two points.
The President: I met with Secretary Clifford and General Wheeler this morning./12/
/12/See Document 67.
(To Senator Russell:) "Here are three statements."
--San Antonio formula/13/
/13/See footnote 6, Document 35.
/14/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 332.
/15/See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pp. 936-943.
(1) The weather has changed.
Secretary Clifford: For five months Hanoi has said if bombing is halted they will begin "serious" talks. They refused any conditions. They said they never would sit down with the GVN.
Now the situation has changed.
(1) We say GVN must be at the table.
If GVN are at table, we can talk but only if DMZ is respected and cities are not attacked.
We are at a point where their good faith must be tested. We are recommending that we stop the bombing to test their good faith. If they violate it, we will know they are not in good faith and resume without any limitations.
The President has an opportunity to take them at their word. I would recommend starting bombing again if they did not show good faith.
We would continue bombing in Laos.
At the moment, Laos is where we want to bomb because of monsoon season in North Vietnam.
They have said we must cease all acts of war. I do not consider reconnaissance an act of war. We cannot deal in the dark.
I always have feared a build-up north of the DMZ. If they did, we would have to destroy the build-up. The time has come now. They have changed their attitude toward GVN.
They recognize the existence of the government in South Vietnam; the partition of South Vietnam and North Vietnam; the effect on the Viet Cong would be damaging. To know North Vietnam has recognized the government of South Vietnam would be quite a psychological blow to the Viet Cong.
I do consider the risk to us as minor. It does not injure us to stop the bombing for awhile. We can go back with bombing if we need to. The timing is important.
There must be another exchange with Kosygin to say we are taking them up on their offer and getting them to use whatever leverage that is possible.
We must move on anything that might bring peace.
General Wheeler: After six months of stonewalling, North Vietnam has made a movement which I consider important.
Abrams' assessment is highly favorable. If we haven't already won the war militarily we are well on the way to it.
Thieu readily agreed to the formula. All believe we must continue reconnaissance in and around North Vietnam.
If the enemy violates this, we will resume our operations without limitations.
I recommend you make this approach to North Vietnam. If they accept the presence of GVN at conference table, we should proceed.
Secretary Rusk: North Vietnam is not clearly on board in this. The acceptance by North Vietnam of South Vietnam at the conference table is a recognition that the Viet Cong are not sole government in the South.
We must press for flat commitments by them after bombing is halted and talks are started on a new basis.
If there is violation of two points we go back to bombing. The Soviets will no longer be in a position where a sister Socialist state is being attacked.
The negotiations will be troublesome.
Bombing will restart if
cities are attacked.
DMZ is not respected.
GVN not permitted at table.
Bunker and Abrams met with Thieu./16/ He is entirely in favor of this step.
/16/See Document 64.
Walt Rostow: Bunker-Abrams said:
(1) Hanoi shifting from battlefield to conference table.
Beginning with KheSanh, B-52 attacks became devastating. Record withdrawal signaled end of third offensive.
Abrams believes it will take 2-3 months for NVN-VC to rebuild. Hanoi realizes U.S. will not disengage in Vietnam regardless of who is elected.
Victory has eluded Hanoi. Hanoi may feel its position never will be better than it is today.
NVN-VC forces have not collapsed.
Up to now, Hanoi's emphasis has been on military and not negotiations.
Abrams and Bunker concur in instructions on cessation of bombing.
Thieu made a decision on the spot to accept this on October 13.
Thieu said he is ready to go along. The problem is not to stop the bombing, but to stop the war.
At 3:15, General Westmoreland joined the meeting./17/
/17/Westmoreland's arrival was delayed due to medical tests he underwent at Walter Reed Army Hospital, followed by a ceremony for former President Dwight Eisenhower, who was also a patient at the hospital. (Memorandum for the Record by Westmoreland, March 22, 1971; U.S. Army Military History Institute, William C. Westmoreland Papers, History File, #34, TS-0106-80, Jul-31 Dec 1968)
The President: Read the San Antonio formula.
I said we would stop bombing when it would lead to
Their acceptance of the Government of Vietnam is some modification of their position. It does not represent a breakaway on our part from what we have stated.
Secretary Rusk: Acceptance of GVN is absolute. Other two points are self-policing.
The President: What is the difference between their not signing a contract on two and three?
Secretary Clifford: If they are in good faith, they won't shell cities or not respect the DMZ.
Our risk is limited.
Walt Rostow: Message sent to Harriman-Vance: (Attachment A)
Includes for a bombing halt:
(1) Serious talks take place
The President: I want your judgments and your views. I do not know when I will make a decision.
General McConnell: If you agree to unconditional cessation of the bombing, this would pre-empt your resumption of the bombing.
The President: If cities were attacked, If DMZ abused, we would resume.
Secretary Rusk: We have actually--(interrupted)
General McConnell: If you are to stop bombing, NOW is the time to do it. The weather will be bad in the panhandle.
I do not think they can attack the cities.
We would concentrate air operations in Laos this season anyhow.
I am concerned that they could mass troops and supplies without our knowing. Only two days a month would be good for reconnaissance.
We must continue reconnaissance.
I recommend going ahead.
Admiral Moorer: I subscribe to General McConnell's views. We must keep up the reconnaissance.
In III Corps area, Viet Cong might feel as though they are being deserted and initiate an action to break the deal.
General McConnell: I do not think the enemy can attack the cities.
Admiral Moorer: I recommend we proceed along the course as outlined.
General Chapman: The DRV are hurting. Bombing is a strong card. They will want to rebuild their strength. We must go all out in South Vietnam to build South Vietnam army and root out guerrillas.
We must carefully inform the troops and the U.S. public of this.
I support the proposal.
Admiral Moorer: Do we state that bombing will be resumed?
Secretary Rusk: Not at the beginning. It would be provocative.
General McConnell: If we resume, we want to be unrestricted.
Admiral Moorer: I agree to that.
General Palmer: Time has been running against the enemy. Hanoi doesn't have the same support from the Soviets that he used to have.
I would worry about a form of cease-fire.
Once the bombing is suspended it will be difficult to resume it.
The President: If they do not meet these three conditions, we will respond.
General Palmer: Based on what I know, I would go along with it.
Secretary Rusk: A cease-fire in place won't do. We would have to have free access to province capitals controlled by the GVN.
General Westmoreland: It would be chaos not to have GVN at the conference table.
The enemy can't seriously attack the cities. They can shell them some.
We must observe the safety of the troops and the morale of the GVN.
We can do this.
The weather is favorable. Northeast monsoon starts out with fury. The weather will improve in Laos for bombing.
Bombing in Laos is not under jeopardy.
The President: It will be increased.
General Westmoreland: Any massing north of the DMZ will be known. A few hours of each day will be O.K. for reconnaissance.
Communications intelligence will detect it as well.
During January, February and March there is a low fog which hangs over the area. Even helicopters can't fly. In the DMZ, North and South, this will be covered.
The enemy can be seriously affected in a major way.
This gives the GVN a great opportunity to wage a campaign to bring about defections.
I agree with this proposal with the restrictions placed on it.
With the proper psychological campaign we can get defections./18/
/18/In a memorandum for the record, March 22, 1971, Westmoreland wrote: "When I was called upon to comment, I stated that I wanted to be the devil's advocate. I expressed the opinion that we were trading off an important military asset for a questionable political result. I felt that the conditions that the North Vietnamese had presumed to agree to could be gradually eroded to the point that they would be meaningless. They could violate the agreement to an extent, but not to the point that we could publicly renege on our part of the assumed bargain and resume the bombing. They could progressively erode the constraints, and we would find ourselves politically helpless to do anything about it. Also, I pointed out that the enemy could commit violations of omission rather than commission." He noted that the reaction to his argument was "that if they did not adhere to the provisions that we outlined, that the bombing would be resumed." Westmoreland summarized the meeting in the following terms: "No decision was made at the meeting, but it was obvious to me that the political pressures associated with the forthcoming elections were encouraging concessions to the enemy without due consideration to future implications. Also, it seemed to me here that President Johnson was anticipating his role in history and wanted the record to show further that he was a peacemaker." (Ibid.) In a memorandum for the record, June 30, 1970, Palmer noted that he, McConnell, Moorer, Chapman, and Westmoreland all concurred in the plan. (Ibid.)
Senator Russell: I can't deal with this with limited amount of knowledge. The Viet Cong may terrorize the cities.
You all mention "good faith." In our relations with the Soviets, we should indicate how long we will stand by and do nothing.
Secretary Rusk: We should know within four to six weeks.
Secretary Clifford: We should set no limits so long as they do not take advantage of our restraint.
I think we would make a mistake to set a time limit.
Senator Russell: It will be hard to restart the bombing. Soviets need some time in mind as a deadline.
The President: Did we tell the Soviets thirty days?
Walt Rostow: No.
Senator Russell: Do the Soviets and North Vietnam know we expect to continue bombing if this doesn't work?
The President: Yes.
Senator Russell: I hope the suggestion is as our military leaders think it is. It will be hard to resume.
General McConnell: The President assured us we could restart it if we needed to. That's the only reason I went along.
Senator Russell: If that is so, I would hope the program would work.
Secretary Clifford: We are willing to give up bombing for three acts on their part--(1) including the GVN (2) DMZ and (3) no attacks on the cities.
If they stick to all three, we are not being damaged.
Senator Russell: I would perhaps agree with you if I knew something about the enemy morale problems, supply problems, and know we can police this.
The President: I want us to be agreed on this before I go.
Senator Russell: This is a most agonizing war. The most agonizing any President or any Secretary of State or any Secretary of Defense ever faced.
Senator Russell: This is O.K., but the U.S. people won't agree to keep the troops over there when the war is not going on.
The President: On a 37-day bombing pause, the Soviets told us 12 days probably would be sufficient but no more than 20.
General Wheeler said he would not recommend it, but would support it.
I am not brave just because it's at the end of my term. I will not proceed unless both Secretaries and all JCS support it.
Secretary Clifford: This is different from the 37-day pause. The GVN come into the talks. We have the DMZ and cities as a test of their good will.
This makes it easier to start.
Secretary Rusk: Most precious asset has been the morale of our forces. Can this be sustained?
General Westmoreland: The Communists have violated prior ceasefires. They may erode this agreement. If that happens, we will have problems with morale. How far do we go before we resume the bombing? We will have trouble if erosion occurs.
Abrams' approach is very practical. I see no problem.
The President: I want us to know what we are getting into now.
What is the reaction of the country going to be and reaction of the Senate?
Senator Russell: We are in the midst of the political campaign. Reactions will vary. The press will hail this. You will be charged with politics.
What everybody wants is an end of the war. It's been a miserable war--worse than Korea.
Secretary Rusk: No decision has been made in relationship to domestic politics.
Senator Russell: I know that.
Admiral Moorer: I think we should make it clear.
Senator Russell: Senate wants to get out of the war--some by exterminating North Vietnam--others by bringing all troops home on the next convoy.
My committee will give it a chance. There will be some skepticism. Everybody wants to get this to a conclusion.
You've given North Vietnam every chance to show good faith. They haven't.
George Christian: The reaction will be good from the press and media. Political charges of helping Vice President Humphrey will be made.
Secretary Clifford: The public can be educated to two factors:
(1) North Vietnam has not been doing well in the war.
The President: I will be charged with doing this to influence the election.
Nixon will be disappointed.
The doves will criticize us for not doing it before now.
If this is not a way of stopping it, I don't think I'll have another opportunity.
I do not have much confidence in the Soviets or North Vietnam.
I don't think they will accept this.
If they accept it, I do not think they will honor it.
General Westmoreland: Militarily, the enemy is BANKRUPT.
We must assume he will accept GVN, honor DMZ, doesn't attack the cities.
Then can you justify resuming the bombing for their foot-dragging on a political act?
The President: We are testing him.
Senator Russell: The U.S. people will take a "wait-and-see" attitude.
Secretary Clifford: The decision to move at this time is not based on our initiative. It is based on Hanoi's initiative. They said they will bring the GVN into the talks.
Secretary Clifford: By stopping the bombing now, we do not give up much?
General McConnell: We do not give up much, no.
The President: What effect does a "no" decision by me have?
Mac Bundy picked the worst time possible to make his speech./19/
/19/See Document 63.
Senator Russell: There is little else that can be done.
The President: We said to the Soviets on September 17 that they could take the heat off Czechoslovakia by talks on Mideast./20/
/20/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. XIV, Document 300.
Senator Russell: It's worth a try.
70. Notes of Meeting/1/
Washington, October 14, 1968.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Eyes Only for the President. Eyes Only for the President. The meeting lasted from 7:15 until 8 p.m. and was held in the Cabinet Room. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
NOTES OF THE MEETING OF THE PRESIDENT WITH
The President: Senator Smathers said the word is out that we are making an effort to throw the election to Humphrey. He said Nixon had been told of it. Nixon told Smathers he did not want the President to be pulled into this, that wrong results could flow. Nixon said he is afraid we would be misled.
Senator Smathers said he assured Nixon that the President would move if an opportunity for peace presented itself./2/
/2/The President, along with Jones, met with Smathers from 6:55 to 7:15 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
Secretary Clifford: I doubt it would have any effect on the campaign.
The President: Both sides think it would.
Secretary Rusk: George Ball is coming down tomorrow./3/ I will give him nothing.
/3/Rusk met with Ball from 11:25 to 11:55 a.m. at the State Department. (Ibid., Dean Rusk Appointment Book, 1968-1969) No record of the meeting has been found.
Secretary Clifford: The people have made up their minds on the election already.
Mark Twain said "when in doubt do right."/4/
/4/According to the full transcript, Clifford stated: "I can understand how Mr. Nixon feels. He doesn't want anything that could possibly rock the boat. He likes the shape that it is in now and any little new development might rock the boat, so he would be opposed to it. But what's the matter with rocking the boat? Remember what Mark Twain once said that occasionally is relevant. He said, 'When in doubt, do right.'" (Ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room)
The President: That is right. But let's not be pulled in.
When does Paris want it announced?
Secretary Rusk: By midnight tomorrow.
There was a discussion of the draft cable outgoing to ambassadors in troop-contributing countries.
The President: Do the Joint Chiefs of Staff feel we are on solid ground completely? Do all of you think this is the right course?
General Wheeler: Yes, sir. We have unanimous agreement. Abrams is strong for it.
The President: Do you know this is what we ought to do?
Secretary Rusk: Yes, sir.
Secretary Clifford: I have absolutely no doubt that this is right.
The President: All right, go ahead and execute (7:39 p.m. EDT).
The decision was made to send out the draft cable--attachment A./5/
/5/Attachment A was sent as telegram 255243 to Bangkok, Seoul, and Saigon (repeated to Canberra, Manila, Paris, and Wellington), October 15. In it the Department discussed the evolution of the breakthrough in Paris and requested allied concurrence in the understanding to end the bombing and begin substantive negotiations. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan/Double Plus, Vol. I)
Senator Russell said we need to do this.
In San Antonio, we said
In Detroit, we said
In New Orleans, we said
We are in close touch with our negotiators.
Gorton, Holyoake will take it. The Koreans, Thais will give us trouble.
Secretary Rusk: Let's amend the GVN so that South Vietnam are at the table the next day.
The President: Are we all in agreement that we should stop the bombing if the GVN are there?
If the GVN are not there do we resume the bombing?
Secretary Rusk: Yes, if they don't agree to sit down.
Secretary Clifford: I agree.
The President: Do we resume bombing if they hit cities or attack across DMZ?
Secretary Rusk: Yes.
Secretary Clifford: Yes.
The question is, should we place any limitation on the bombing?
Secretary Rusk: No limitation. It will depend on circumstances and the degree of violation as to what we do.
Secretary Clifford: I am aboard.
Secretary Rusk: I am aboard.
General Wheeler: I agree. So do all of the Chiefs.
The President: I do not want to be the one to have it said about that one man died tomorrow who could have been saved because of this plan.
I do not think it will happen, but there is a chance.
We'll try it. We'll be scared, but let's try it.
71. Information Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/
Washington, October 15, 1968, 7:30 a.m.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 9/30-10/22/68, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [3 of 3]. Secret; Harvan/Double Plus. The notation "ps" on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
Cy Vance called from Paris to report the following:
Thuy called him personally on the telephone--the first time he has ever done this. He asked: Are you ready for a meeting this morning? (Paris time.) Cy said no. Thuy then asked, could you be ready for a meeting at 3:00 p.m.? (Paris time.) Cy said no. Cy then said he would be willing to set up a meeting, tentatively, for 9:00 p.m. (Paris time; 4:00 p.m. our time). He did so on the assumption that we would then have the TCC replies and an execute order from us in hand on his instructions, which are now pre-positioned in Paris for a go ahead.
Cy does not know what Thuy has in mind. He and Harriman believe that Thuy has the authority to agree on GVN participation and express "understanding" on the DMZ and the cities. He does not know how they will make out on reconnaissance, but is implicitly optimistic.
(Habib, on the other hand, rather doubts that Thuy will have the authority to give a final assent without a check with Hanoi. In fact, Habib's theory is Tho is going back to Hanoi to help explain to and persuade his colleagues if we should come through.)
Vance is very much worried about a leak in the wake of our informing the TCC's.
Vance would like to be able to tell Thuy--if he agrees on the GVN, understands on the DMZ, cities and recce--that we would stop the bombing tomorrow.
Attached is a possible scenario which Bob Ginsburgh and I have worked out this morning, made up before Cy Vance's telephone call, but roughly consistent with it.
This scenario is based on the notion that we would announce tonight that the bombing will cease tomorrow.
You should know that Bus Wheeler wants 24 hours for two reasons:
--To make sure that everyone gets the word and there are no mistakes;
--To try to get out of North Vietnam (south of the 20th parallel) certain agents we have put in there, to whom we owe something.
As between waiting 24 hours and announcing the "bombing has stopped" and saying the "bombing will stop tomorrow," I favor the latter to minimize the possibility of leaks.
All of this is, of course, based on the assumption that Harriman and Vance are right; that is, Thuy has positive pre-positioned instructions on all our points. There are ample opportunities in this scenario for a holdup--or worse.
P.S. We have no TCC responses yet but expect them very soon./2/
/2/Rostow added the following handwritten note: "Correction: Thanom now aboard. W."
/3/This attachment was handwritten by Rostow.
Possible Sequence of Events
72. Notes of Meeting/1/
Washington, October 15, 1968, 1:12-2:24 p.m.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. Rusk and Clifford left the meeting at 1:50 p.m.; Helms, Wheeler, and Rostow departed at 2:20 p.m.; Christian and Tom Johnson remained until 2:35 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)
NOTES ON THE PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH THE
THOSE ATTENDING THE MEETING WERE
The President: Senator Mansfield said the announcement is "expected." I will be surprised if it is not on evening news.
Secretary Rusk: Bunker says he needs 24 hours.
The President: Smathers called on me. He said Nixon people think a "political trick" is planned./2/
/2/See footnote 2, Document 70.
General Wheeler: 1. We have two teams in North Vietnam of 20 men. It will take 24 hours. 2. I have to get a reconnaissance program. 3. We must position forces in the DMZ. 4. We must get the rules of engagement. 5. We must set guidelines for reprisals.
I need the President's authority to draft programs when you give word.
Secretary Clifford: No leak of any kind has ever come from the Joint Staff.
The President: I think the odds are 50-50 they won't do it.
Secretary Clifford: We need to draft initial orders.
General Wheeler: Ten people will be involved.
The President: Only military?
General Wheeler: Yes.
The President: Okay. Which civilians know?
Secretary Clifford: Only me, no others.
George Christian: I doubt if it will hold thru today. The New York Times story by Rick Smith and Marvin Kalb at 8:00 a.m. today may be put together./3/
/3/This story reported that the United States was putting forth a new proposal to end the bombing. See The New York Times, October 16, 1968.
The President: Tell Bunker to get Thieu moving on telling his people now.
Thieu must tell Ky, Prime Minister, and Defense Minister and draft a statement.
The President: Making the bombing order not effective for 24 hours is okay. We cannot delay announcement.
The President signed "Futherance" papers at 1:37 p.m.
Walt Rostow: The worst thing is for Ky to learn of this from a press leak or from one of troop-contributing countries.
Rostow called the situation room to arrange secure phone call from Rusk to Bunker (1:40 p.m. EDT).
The President read letter to Kosygin on bombing halt. (Attachment A)/4/
/4/See footnote 2, Document 18.
The following are remarks of the President made previously on reciprocity.
News Conference on February 2, 1967/5/
/5/See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book I, pp. 128-134.
"Q. Mr. President, we have said in the past that we would be willing to suspend the bombing of North Vietnam in exchange for some suitable step by the other side. Are you prepared at all to tell us what kind of other steps the other side should take for this suspension of bombing?
The President: Just almost any step. As far as we can see, they have not taken any yet.
And we would be glad to explore any reciprocal action that they or any of their spokesmen would care to suggest.
We have made one proposal after the other. We would like to have a cease-fire. We would be very glad to stop our bombing, as we have on two previous occasions, if we could have any indication of reciprocal action."
News Conference of March 9, 1967/6/
/6/See ibid., pp. 303-312.
"Q. Mr. President, sir, one point that some of your critics on Vietnam have discussed in the past week is the question of whether or not what we would ask in return for stopping the bombing has changed in the past year.
They say that a year ago, apparently we would have settled for simply getting talks if we stopped, whereas, now you are speaking of the need for reciprocal military action. Could you discuss this?
The President: We have talked about reciprocal military action in every pause we have had, Mr. Bailey./7/
/7/Charles W. Bailey, reporter for The Minneapolis Star and Tribune and The Des Moines Register and Tribune.
We have had five pauses now.
On the first pause of 5 days we made it very clear that we were taking this action and we would keep our ear to the receiver and listen intently for any indication from the enemy that he would take reciprocal action.
Later, we had a 37-day pause. We were told before we went into that pause by some of the same people who are recommending a pause now, or urging a pause now, that if we would go into it for 12 days or at the most 20 days, we could get reciprocal action.
We went 37 days. They gave us no indication that they were willing to take any reciprocal action.
We have just finished a pause of six days during the Tet period.
At the beginning of each of these pauses we made it clear that we were going to pause, ask our men to withhold action, and give them an opportunity to agree to come to conditional discussions, unconditional discussions, any kind of discussion. We have just completed that 6-day pause.
So I would respond to your question by saying at the beginning of each pause we made it clear that we would take action, we would listen intently for action on their part. We have. We have heard the same story every time.
"Q. Mr. President, you and Secretary Rusk have both talked of a military quid pro quo and reciprocal action in exchange for a halt in the bombing. I wonder if you could be specific and say what we would require from the other side as part of this quid pro quo?
The President: I think a good, general way to express it is what I said at my last press conference--just almost any reciprocal action on their part. We have said that we would be glad to stop our invasion of North Vietnam, if they would stop their invasion of South Vietnam.
We would be glad to halt our bombing if they would halt their aggression and their infiltration. We are prepared to discuss anything that they are willing to discuss. But they are not willing to discuss anything, as of now."
Tennessee Legislature, March 15, 1967/8/
/8/See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book I, pp. 348-354.
"But reciprocity must be the fundamental principle of any reduction in hostilities. The United States cannot and will not reduce its activities unless and until there is some reduction on the other side."
News Conference of July 18, 1967/9/
/9/See ibid., Book II, pp. 699-705.
"Q. Mr. President, may I follow up Mr. Deakin's question and your answer? Is the United States position that we would only be willing to stop the bombing if there were reciprocal action on their side?
The President: The United States position is that we are ready to meet with them any time to discuss arrangements for bringing the war to an end on an equitable and just basis. We have never been able to get them or any of their friends to bring them to a conference table.
Until we can, we are not able to explore with them what they might be willing to do. We hear from travelers and from self-appointed spokesmen from time to time this and that. On occasions we have attempted to confirm it, and we have negotiated directly with them.
I think the last position stated by Mr. Ho Chi Minh is a safe statement of their viewpoint. I refer you--as I did Mr. Deakin--to their position as enumerated in that letter. Our position is that we would be glad to meet tomorrow, next week, or any time to discuss conditionally or unconditionally, on any basis, to see what they would be willing to do."
San Antonio, September 29, 1967/10/
/10/See footnote 6, Document 35.
"The United States is willing to stop all aerial and naval bombardment of North Vietnam when this will lead promptly to productive discussions. We, of course, assume that while discussions proceed, North Vietnam would not take advantage of the bombing cessation or limitation."
News Conference, September 30, 1967/11/
/11/See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book II, pp. 882-886.
"Q. Mr. President, in the past you have mentioned a reciprocal move by North Vietnam as a condition for our either halting or decreasing the bombing. Last night in your San Antonio speech, you did not mention this reciprocity. Was this not mentioning it any change in our policy or any softening of our position?
The President: I will let that speech stand for itself. I don't agree, necessarily, with the first part of your statement, that in the past when I only referred to it I referred to it in a certain way. That is your statement and not mine."
Detroit, August 19, 1968/12/
/12/See ibid., 1968-69, Book II, pp. 896-903.
"This administration does not intend to move further until it has good reason to believe that the other side intends seriously to join us in de-escalating the war and moving seriously toward peace."
New Orleans, September 10, 1968/13/
/13/See ibid., pp. 936-943.
". . . The Commander in Chief has insisted that the bombing will not stop until we are confident that it will not lead to an increase in American casualties. That is why we have placed such emphasis on re-establishing the DMZ."
End of remarks of the President made previously on reciprocity.
At 1:52 p.m. Secretary Rusk leaves to talk to Ambassador Bunker on secure phone.
CIA Director Helms: The CIA sent a report today on the situation in Vietnam.
--No enemy military objectives achieved.
The President: Can we stop bombing at midnight Wednesday?/14/
General Wheeler: I'll check. If we got orders out tonight we could knock off at midnight, October 16 or 12:00 noon in Saigon on the 17th.
I would like to send message and get teams out.
CIA Director Helms: That is clandestine.
The President: Okay, go ahead.
General Wheeler: Okay, I'll go ahead.
The President: The New Jersey is doing a good job./15/
/15/Since September 29 the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey had been acting in support of U.S. Marine and ARVN operations from its position off the coast of Vietnam.
General Wheeler: I need proposed rules of engagement Abe sent.
Walt Rostow: There is equipment trouble in Saigon. We are standing by for repair.
1. On Briefing Candidates
Have all of them on a conference call.
2. Text of Announcement
Approved by Clifford with one deletion.
Talk to them by phone.
A. Start with Kosygin's letter./16/
/16/See Document 9.
B. Mrs. Gandhi letter./17/
C. Views of House & Senate.
D. Wouldn't stop unless it leads to stopping war.
E. Rusk talked to Gromyko. Told him three things./18/
/18/See Document 47.
1. Inclusion of GVN.
F. September 17, told Harriman.19
/19/See Documents 19-21.
G. October 5, 6. 7, Vance told./20/
/20/See Document 49.
H. Hanoi said they might permit GVN to sit in.
I. Met with Joint Chiefs of Staff--all signed on.
J. Talked to all troop-contributors. They agreed.
K. No top military or diplomatic leader disagreed.
L. If they shell cities, or abuse DMZ, we'll restart possibly.
M. Offer each man a chance to come. If they take advantage we are prepared.
Wheeler and Clifford--Military
6. Talk to Eisenhower.
/21/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 299.
7. Letter to Kosygin
Clifford and Rusk draft it.
8. Letter to Wilson--Rusk.
2:24 p.m. CIA Director Richard Helms looked at the President, shook hands and said "good luck."
73. Notes of Meeting/1/
Washington, October 15, 1968.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Oval Office, where the President and McPherson had been since 7:25 p.m. Rusk, Clifford, and Read arrived at 7:32, Tom Johnson at 7:33, and Bundy at 7:34. The President called Rostow at 7:55 p.m. Rusk, Read, Tom Johnson, and Bundy left at 7:50, and Clifford remained until 8:12. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)
NOTES ON MEETING WITH FOREIGN POLICY GROUP
THOSE ATTENDING THE MEETING WERE
Ben Read: Hanoi said they could not get the NLF to Paris a day after the bombing stopped if this were done now. Hanoi said it is impossible to get the NLF representatives to town that soon. They said they are not authorized to speak for the NLF. They would not agree to seating the NLF press representatives who are in Paris because "We do not speak for the NLF."
Vance and Harriman say the announcement should state that talks should begin as soon as the NLF and the GVN get to Paris./2/
/2/In telegram 22466 from Paris, October 15. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I)
The President: When did they say the bombing should stop?
Ben Read: Vance and Harriman did not say. I did not ask.
Secretary Rusk: We do not know if the NLF will send a delegation.
The President: Does the NLF have to send a delegation?
Secretary Rusk: Yes.
The President: Why don't we say that we will stop the bombing 24 hours after the GVN and the NLF are at the table?
Secretary Rusk: We do not know if we really have this thing buttoned up.
The President: We will not stop the bombing if I do not know that serious talks will start with the GVN at the table.
Secretary Rusk: Why don't we get a certain date?
Ben Read: Vance and Harriman think we should go ahead. Their exact quote was: "Don't hang up on this."
The President: No.
Secretary Rusk: We must flash the Troop Contributors and tell them that we will not move on this until a day is certain when the talks will begin with the GVN and NLF present.
The President: I think we should do that. Say to them that anytime the NLF can get there and the GVN are seated we are prepared to stop the bombing 24 hours in advance.
Secretary Rusk: That is good. We will say that the United States Government will stop the bombing 24 hours in advance of the time the GVN delegates are there, and when Hanoi can get the NLF delegates there.
Bill Bundy: I agree. It is the only way to keep the Armed Services with us.
Secretary Clifford: We must make it clear that we have no intention of stopping the bombing until we know the date of the meeting at which the GVN will be present.
Walt Rostow: We do not care about the NLF.
Secretary Clifford: We will stop the bombing 24 hours before such a meeting.
For Cy Vance and Averell Harriman, we say that the presence of the GVN there at the first meeting is only symbolic. We just need a warm body.
Secretary Rusk: They said that too.
The President: Let's do everything possible to make sure that this thing is held tightly. I hope all of you will just close up the State Department and lock the doors.
74. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France/1/
Washington, October 15, 1968, 1059Z.
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan/Double Plus. Drafted by Read; cleared by Rostow, Bundy, Katzenbach, and Read; and approved by Rusk.
255269/Todel 1277. Reference: State 254715, Paris 22390./2/
/2/See Document 65 and footnote 4 thereto.
This message must not be executed and next private meeting must not be requested until you receive go ahead from Washington, but we thought prepositioning cleared text would help you plan next step.
Begin Message: You should now seek private meeting soonest with Thuy to deliver instruction set forth in State 254715, with following modifications based in part on your 22390:
1. In paragraph 2 of the oral message strike the phrase "as a whole" and at the end of the complete five paragraph message add the question "What is your response?"
If the DRV representatives express any objection to our points on the DMZ or the cities you should inform them that this is a matter which would have the most serious consequences and require basic reappraisal by the USG.
Note: We prefer that you retain language indicating that serious talks should begin the next day as set forth in the oral message paragraph 2 rather than the alternative which you have suggested, since we attach importance to visible meeting including GVN the day following cessation.
2. On reconnaissance you should emphasize strongly, by repeating or otherwise calling attention to the phrase "all other acts involving use of force" in paragraph 2 of the message. If the DRV probes the meaning of this phrase you should then proceed as set forth in 3a to list examples of such "other acts". End Message./3/
/3/In a situation report, October 15, 1:30 p.m., Read noted: "In accordance with the instructions from the Secretary, I phoned Cy Vance on the secure line just before he left for the 8:00 p.m. (Paris time) meeting with Thuy. I told him that if Hanoi's response was favorable in all respects tonight he should tell Thuy Washington would act promptly in a day or two and that he would let Thuy know as soon as possible when such actions would be taken." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968) Thuy's negative response was reported in telegram 22466/Delto 827 from Paris, October 16. (Ibid.)
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