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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 97-122

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

Washington, October 21, 1968, 10:40 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3]. Top Secret; Harvan Double Plus; Literally Eyes Only for the President. The notation "ps" on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.

Mr. President:

Herewith a pessimistic analysis of this morning's meeting./2/ I am not sure it is right, but we ought to consider it.

/2/See Document 95.

They ask for three things, any one of which alone could destroy the Saigon government; all three certainly would:

--our acceptance of their theological language about an "unconditional" bombing halt;

--a long delay before the first "serious" negotiating meeting;

--4 powers rather than our-side-your-side.

They may believe that our anxiety for a bombing halt and forward movement for domestic political purposes is so great we would fall into the trap of opening up this kind of gap between Washington and Saigon. Even the Chinese Communists are bringing the election into the bombing halt question.

Communists always think in terms of what they call "inner contradictions" in the camp of their enemies.

It is possible that:

--they have no interest in forward progress unless it broke the GVN or greatly strained the U.S.-GVN relation;

--they are taking our temperature on the pre-election question, in which case Sect. Rusk might quickly disabuse Dobrynin;

--they may be waiting to see if Vice President Humphrey wins, whom they may regard as an easier negotiating partner;

--they may accept our terms, if we hold steady.



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

Washington, October 22, 1968, 0110Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Secret; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. Drafted and approved by Rusk and cleared by Read. Repeated to Saigon.

259261/Todel 1359. For Harriman and Bunker from the Secretary.

I have just seen Dobrynin to bring him up-to-date on the October 21 meeting in Paris./2/ I reviewed the discussion with regard to a joint written communiqué, the problem as between a "Four Party Conference" and a "your side-our side meeting," the question of timing for an initial meeting and the Hanoi suggestion that preparatory meetings should discuss procedural matters and the agenda.

/2/See Document 95.

To my surprise, I discovered that Dobrynin had reported inaccurately my earlier conversation with him about the possibility of stopping the bombing two or three days before an established date for a meeting. I had said to him that, for example, if a meeting is set for a Monday we might be able to stop the bombing on the preceding Friday or Saturday. He said that he had reported to Moscow that if the bombing were stopped on Monday there could be a meeting on Friday or Saturday. This may be partly responsible for the retreat by Thuy to "a week." Dobrynin said he would immediately straighten out that misunderstanding.

I pointed out to Dobrynin that everyone in this situation has many formal or procedural preoccupations on such questions as status, recognition, for whom individual representatives might speak, etc. I said that, although we ourselves have a good many formal problems, our approach has been to brush all those aside in order to come to grips with the substance of making peace. I pointed out that we could spend weeks or months discussing such questions without touching substance. We have made a good beginning by having actual discussions go on between the USG and the DRV in which technical questions have been subordinated. We meet regularly without place names or flags and alternate the privilege of speaking first. These talks have been serious and we see no reason why enlarged serious talks could not proceed on the same basis. As for an agenda, we hope to avoid months of debate about the adoption of a formal agenda. Each side has said that any question which anyone wishes to raise can be discussed. When it is our time to speak first, we can raise any questions on our minds. When the other side speaks first, they can do the same. There is no need to go through time consuming debates of the types that are all too familiar in diplomatic history. What is important is that those most directly concerned sit down under informal circumstances and talk about peace, even though each representative present might have radically different views about the formal and procedural questions.

I strongly underlined the timing factor and told Dobrynin that Thuy began by saying that the NLF had indicated that "as soon as possible" could mean a few weeks. I repeated Harriman's comment that one week was too long. I repeated the suggestion that the first meetings might be with temporary representatives who could be replaced by more permanent representatives at a later stage.

For Harriman:

If I may say so, you handled the meeting on October 21 very well indeed. My own reaction is that it would be a mistake for us to become embroiled in negotiating such matters as a joint communiqué, the procedures of a "Four Party Conference" and an agreed complete agenda. The opportunities for delay are unlimited. We are in a much stronger position to say that we should brush all such questions aside and get down to "serious talks" on the substance of peace on the basis of forms and procedures already established in the Paris talks.

Further, I don't see how we can very well expect to negotiate what the various parties will say about it. Each has his own problems and points of view and requirements in managing his own situation. Such agreements would, in any event, break down promptly because there would be no control over what is said and we would already have taken the major public step of stopping the bombing. Another cable takes up some of these questions./3/

/3/See Document 107.

We shall be discussing these matters further at the Tuesday lunch-eon/4/ and we expect to have further comments at that time.

/4/See Document 103.

Hopefully, Thuy was merely trying to see whether he could get a few more drops out of the turnip and is in position to go further than he indicated in your Monday meeting. Obviously, his effort to establish a formally acknowledged status for the NLF runs head on into the central question which we have not only with Saigon but with other allies, quite apart from our own similar views on the matter.



99. Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)/1/

Washington, October 22, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3]. Secret; Nodis; Harvan Double Plus. In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of the report to the President, October 22, 9:30 a.m., Rostow wrote: "Herewith the Soviet proposition." The notation "ps" on the covering note indicates that the President saw the report. Vance's written report on the meeting was sent in telegram 22750 from Paris, October 22. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)

Cy Vance called on the secure phone at 8:00 a.m.

1. Oberemko phoned Vance last night to ask for a late evening or early morning meeting. They met at 9:30 a.m. this morning for 2-1/2 hours.

2. Oberemko said he had met with the DRV delegation after their private meeting yesterday with us./2/ Oberemko had found them "emotional" and "suspicious", and after discussion with them Oberemko had come to the conclusion that some of their problems came from misunderstandings in the translation process. He said that he had had the same difficulty in communicating with the DRV himself.

/2/See Document 95.

3. Oberemko said that both sides were showing stubbornness and it was now up to a third party to try to resolve the situation by putting forward a "common sense solution".

4. Oberemko, "acting under the general instructions given by his government", then put forward the following proposal: "The United States gives the order to stop bombardment on October 24 or October 25. A meeting with representatives of the United States, DRV, the NLF, and the GVN is held in Paris on November 1 or November 2."

5. Vance said that he would report to Washington immediately. Oberemko said that he planned to deliver the identical proposal to the DRV as soon as he left Vance. Oberemko said he hoped we could get back to him today because of the urgency of the matter and Vance said only that he would report back to Oberemko as soon as possible and before we communicated with the DRV on the Oberemko proposal.

6. Oberemko referred to the question of a joint communiqué or joint minute and Vance said we were opposed. Oberemko said it was not the business of his government whether the DRV and U.S. reached an oral or written understanding. The Soviet Union was trying to get an agreement on principle.

7. Oberemko said it was essential that we take the initiative in calling the next meeting after we had heard from Washington regarding the Oberemko proposal. Since the DRV had called the last one it was impossible for them to take the initiative on the next private meeting.

8. It was clear to Vance from the discussion that the language in the first sentence of the proposal is intended to mean that bombing would stop on the 24th or 25th, not merely that orders to stop would be issued on those dates. It was also made clear that if the bombing stopped on the 24th the meeting would occur on the 1st; if the bombing stopped on the 25th, the meeting would occur on the 2nd. The time interval was chosen according to Oberemko to split the difference between our "two or three-day" proposal and the minimum interpretation of the other side's "several weeks" proposal which the Soviets interpreted as meaning two weeks. Oberemko said the language he had put forward in the second sentence of the proposal was intended to avoid our insistence on "our side/your-side" language and to avoid the DRV insistence on "four power" meeting or conference. Oberemko said on the latter point he understood from the Dobrynin/Rusk conversations that Secretary Rusk had agreed that the nomenclature for the meeting was not essential.

9. Question of unconditional cessation was discussed briefly. Vance said that he was sure Oberemko understood that if, for example, there was indiscriminate rocketing of cities following cessation no President could maintain cessation. Oberemko said he understood but we were stating an exaggerated case. We should be content to rest on the statement that the other side would know what to do and the understandings already reached.


Vance called back at 8:45 to say that Oberemko had phoned him to say that he had seen the DRV representatives following his discussion with Vance this morning and Oberemko made an appointment to come to see Vance at 2:30 p.m. Paris time this afternoon./3/

/3/See Document 101.



Harriman and Vance recommend accepting the Soviet proposal in principle. They believe that in our answer we should use the agreed phrase that "the U.S. will stop all air, naval, and artillery bombardment and all other acts involving the use of force on or within the territory of the DRV" on the date to be specified. They also suggest that we rearrange the order of the representatives named in the second sentence so that it would refer first to the U.S., second to the GVN, third to the DRV, and fourth to the NLF. Harriman added the view that the fact the Soviets have become so involved in the resolution of this issue means that they will have a big stake in seeing that the subsequent negotiations are successful.


100. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk/1/

Washington, October 22, 1968, 9:50 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 22, 1968, 9:50 a.m., Tape F6810.05, PNO 10. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.

President: Hello.

Rusk: Mr. President, I just had a brief word with Cy Vance./2/ Oberemko, the Russian, had just walked into his office for a second meeting and had gotten simply as far as saying that he was having great trouble with the Hanoi delegation. And when I called Vance out to the phone, I told Vance that a week was impossible; that he had already taken that view over there on two occasions; that our real position was one day. In fact, I personally don't see why, if we stop the bombing, they can't meet the next day, but if 2 to 3 days would make any difference, we could do that. I was hoping if we do that we could do it over a weekend so that the psychology would be that Saturday and Sunday aren't working days anyhow, and if we stopped on Friday night and the meeting is on Monday morning, most people would accept that. He said he would hold to the 2 to 3 days business and report back to us on this present talk that is now going on with the Russian. I'm very disappointed and really amazed that Dobrynin got this thing fouled up because he just turned it around--thought if we stopped the bombing on Monday then there would be a meeting on Friday or Saturday, where I had said that if we had a meeting on Monday, we could stop it on the Saturday preceding. So it may be that the Russians sort of got bugged in on the idea that a week was possible and they have been pressing Hanoi for a week, and now a week won't work, so the thing becomes unhooked again.

President: I think there are three things that we have to bear in mind. First, I do not believe the Saigon government, from the cables I have been reading, with Ky with all his problems and their attitude out there, I don't believe they can stop the bombing for a week and just sit there and say nothing, and what happens in that week would be very dangerous. That government has a million men. Second, I know I can't--I just can't sit here and say nothing for a whole damn week after we stop it with a week before the elections. Now, I wouldn't have any hesitancy, if they want to wait--give them a week's time and then stop the bombing and meet the next day or wait 10 days. As a matter of fact, I had rather do that anyway. I am very fearful that while it is unjustified and uncalled for and untrue, I am very fearful that the politicians will say we are doing this just a week before elections. And I rather think the Communists may be having some of that in mind, and I don't want to play their game and allow them to use me as a Charlie McCarthy. Therefore, if they're unwilling to take the position they took, that they could have serious discussions the day after the bombing stopped, then I am very uninterested in their proposal. I would wait, if they want me to give them a week or 10 days to go get the NLF, that's all right. But after we stop the bombing, I expect them to be ready to move and have their tennis shoes on.

/2/Rusk received a call from Vance in Paris at 9:40 a.m. (Ibid., Dean Rusk Appointment Books, 1968-1969)

Rusk: Right. I agree.

President: Okay.

Rusk: Fine.


101. Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)/1/

Washington, October 22, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3]. Secret; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of the report to the President, October 22, 11:25 a.m., Rostow wrote: "Here is Cy Vance's latest, plus a note of mine printed for the 12 o'clock meeting. The Russians are obviously trying very hard to pull this off--and in a hurry." The notation "ps" on the covering note indicates that the President saw the report and the attached memorandum. Vance's written report on the meeting was sent in telegram 22763 from Paris, October 22. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968) Rostow's "note" is Document 102.

Cy Vance called on the secure phone at 10:25 a.m.

1. Oberemko (hereafter "O") had just left. O said it seemed to him that things were moving "step by step" but with great difficulty towards an understanding.

2. O had just seen Thuy and Lau and recounted to them the O/CV conversation of this morning/2/ and put to the DRV representatives the proposal he had already given to Vance. O said he would not give CV the whole conversation with the DRV but its essence. The DRV considered necessary two basic considerations: (1) That we accept the principle of complete and unconditional cessation of bombardment (and again O said it was up to us and the DRV to agree on the exact language); (2) if they would agree not to use the "four party" language they would be unwilling to have us use "our side/your side" language or "two side" language. The DRV agrees to the language suggested by the Soviets of referring to a meeting with representatives of the U.S., GVN, DRV, and NLF.

/2/See Document 99.

3. If there is agreement on these two principles, the DRV is prepared to meet with us and try to work out a final agreement on the date of cessation on the 24th or 25th, and the date of the first meeting on the 1st and 2nd.

4. O said he recommended to the DRV against a joint communiqué and they agreed. O said they would insist however on a secret minute. O said they really did mean to keep it secret.

5. The DRV would like to raise with us in private discussion the question of how to agree to announce these actions to the press. Vance said this would raise a lot of problems and they could not hope to control what we say to the press and O did not demur.

6. At the conclusion of O's meeting with the DRV reps, the latter said "a final agreement on this matter is possible now; it is possible today". O said they were taking "very seriously" the developments of the last 24 hours.

7. O said the DRV was ready to meet with us any time today.

8. Vance told O that he had been in touch with the Department and the period between the 24th and 25th and the 1st and 2nd was too long. O said if the U.S. has something that is less than that period we should come back with such a suggestion but he could tell us flatly that if we stuck on the two or three day proposal the DRV answer would "obviously be no". O said if we wish to go back through him with a shorter time period suggestion he would deliver the message to the DRV but would not do so unless we wished him to.

9. Vance asked what O meant when he said the DRV would not use the words "four party" if we did not mention the "our side/your side" or "two side" formula. Vance said it was one thing to assume the possibility of language in a secret minute which avoided either phrase but the DRV could not hope to control what we said or the GVN said publicly thereafter. O said the DRV was not suggesting that. O said he did not think the DRV expected us to abandon the public posture that the meeting was essentially based on the our side your side formula.



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

Washington, October 22, 1968, 11:05 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3]. Secret; Harvan Double Plus. Rostow transmitted the memorandum, which is marked "For noon meeting," to the President; see footnote 1, Document 101.

Mr. President:

For the Vietnamese meeting at 12 o'clock, here are some points on the timing of the first your-side-our-side session:

1. Oberemko's proposition this morning was nothing more or less than the final position taken yesterday by Thuy:

--Thuy fell back from a "four-power conference" to naming the four participants;

--Thuy fell back from a meeting some weeks after the bombing halt to one week.

2. It was the DRV which suggested that "serious talks" could start the next day after a bombing cessation; and they have now accepted the view that "serious talks" involve the participation of the GVN. On Sept. 15 Le Duc Tho told Harriman and Vance "the DRV would be willing to meet the next day after a bombing cessation and discuss the agenda items with 'serious intent and good will.'"/2/

/2/See Document 14.

3. A week's bombing halt without visible GVN participation in Paris would put the greatest possible strain on the GVN. Its participation is the one solid and overt sign of the understanding at which we have arrived.

4. We will, of course, have to background on the DMZ, and we can either point to that or point to Abrams' executing his standing orders on rules of engagement in case of DMZ violations. But we need the change in the character of the meetings in Paris to validate the deal in South Vietnam and keep the politicians quiet.

5. Much the same is talk at home where you have emphasized to all three candidates the critical nature of GVN participation as part of the quid pro quo for a bombing cessation.

6. I have put the question on the military implications to Gen. Wheeler. He will formulate his views. In general, I suspect that the military effects of political uneasiness will rank higher in Abrams' mind than anything the enemy might do to take advantage in one week of the bombing cessation; although we should be conscious that there are some reports of an attack on Saigon scheduled for late October or early November.

7. We told the TCC's, "since whole objective of bombing cessation would be to move on to serious talks, we must have clear understanding that such talks would get under way at once and would include the GVN on our side of the table. . . ."



103. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 22, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library. Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Oval Office, with the President and Rusk entering at 11:59 a.m.; Clifford, Wheeler, and Rostow at 12:01 p.m.; and Christian and Tom Johnson at 12:10. Clifford and Rostow left at 12:50 p.m., Wheeler at 12:55, and Rusk at 12:56, while Christian and Tom Johnson accompanied the President for a walk on the South Lawn. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)


Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
General Wheeler
Walt Rostow
George Christian
Tom Johnson

Walt Rostow: Bill Jorden thinks they will back off for five days./2/

/2/In a memorandum to the President, October 22, 12:00 p.m. Rostow wrote: "Bill Jorden just called and said he wished to lay before me at this critical moment his views. He believes the other side is in a mood to settle: they have backed off on recce; they have backed off on a joint communiqué. The issue now is, first, time. He believes that they would accept five days. He recommends that we be 'adjustable' and not insist on two or three days. He does not believe that it would be easy to explain a hang-up and failure of negotiation on a question of 48 or 72 hours." Rostow also noted that Jorden listed the text of a secret minute as the "second hang-up issue." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3]) In a memorandum to the President, October 22, 5:30 p.m., Rostow wrote: "In a casual classified telephone conversation, I asked Jorden: Why are we insisting on a week? Is it merely to make political trouble in Saigon? He said: I think it is to preserve the myth that the NLF had to get from the jungle in Tay Ninh province, to Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Peking, Moscow, and Paris--after the bombing stops. That would take five days if it were the truth." (Ibid.)

General Wheeler: You could stand it. The problem is related to morale, particularly the Vietnamese morale. The sooner there is an actual meeting with the GVN present, the better the performance of the ARVN and the U.S. forces will be.

Secretary Rusk: We need to get this in the announcement--the inclusion of the GVN.

The President: Why do they need more than one day?

Secretary Rusk: To get people there.

The President: I'd rather not stop bombing until we get them there.

Secretary Rusk: I guess they understand that this is to get away from the "condition" set by a halt in the bombing.

The President: What is the weather?

General Wheeler: It is terrible. The monsoon season has hit. The roads are practically impassable. The effects on the ARVN of a long delay could be bad--not in terms of physical damage, but in terms of morale. McConnell said if we were to stop the bombing, now is the time to do it.

The President: If they used the week badly it could hurt us.

General Wheeler: I'm more concerned about the effect on the ARVN. They have been doing well. They will sit on their hands if the effect is bad. I am a one-day man.

Secretary Rusk: A week is too long. Two weeks are impossible.

1. There could be a meeting at 3 p.m.

2. We could stop the bombing at midnight Friday, and announce Friday evening here, which is Saturday morning Saigon time.

The President: We could go Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. On their Monday meeting, it would be held.

General Wheeler: 12 midnight Saigon time is noon here. 1500 hours Paris time is 10 p.m. Saigon time, 10 a.m. Washington time Monday, the 28th.

Walt Rostow: With the ambiguity in Thieu's statement,/3/ Ambassador Bunker should ask Thieu whether we could live through it.

/3/In response to comments in an October 20 televised interview of Humphrey which were critical of Thieu's stance on the negotiations, Thieu noted on October 22 that he was "willing and ready to take any action which can hasten the establishment of a just and honorable peace" and that he would drop his opposition to the bombing halt when it became clear that the DRV would join the GVN in de-escalating the war and in direct negotiations. See The New York Times, October 21 and 22, 1968, and Keesing's Contemporary Archives, November 23-30, 1968, p. 23041.

The President: I worry about the morale.

Secretary Clifford: There is a missing factor here. I don't know what happened since last week.

The President: The implications of the negotiators were that they didn't have an agreement they thought they had.

Secretary Clifford: I thought we had an agreement. Why did we consult with the allies?

Secretary Rusk: Hanoi came up with changes in timing.

The President: We thought they said they would have negotiations the next day.

Secretary Rusk: Hanoi didn't have this buttoned up with the NLF.

The President: I don't think we have an agreement now.

Secretary Clifford: Neither do I.

Prime Minister Gorton had a press conference.

Secretary Rusk: What is your reaction?

Secretary Clifford: The agreement must be solid and firm.

The President: I agree.

Secretary Clifford: We may need to get it in writing.

When I left here Monday,/4/ I thought we had a deal. On Tuesday, I learned we didn't have a deal since the Paris delegation had to go back to Hanoi.

/4/October 21.

We must have a kind of agreement whereby:

(a) The bombing is stopped as of a certain time.

(b) The time when the meeting is to be held with the NLF and the GVN present is determined. We must get it in writing.

Secretary Rusk: Take it easy on written requirements.

Secretary Clifford: Nobody told me they had gone back on it.

The President: Mac Bundy said we ought to stop it. Vice President Humphrey said the same thing.

Secretary Clifford: There is no need to go back to the troop contributors.

The President: I must get Abrams on board.

Walt Rostow: We must have them honor the DMZ or Abe [Abrams] will respond instantly. He and Thieu must know they must stand firm.

The President: What is the deal now? Get Cy and Averell to insure we understand each other. Get Bunker and Abe to please tell us what problems this will cause us. Are they together on times?

Secretary Rusk: If each side can talk, time is the key factor.

Secretary Clifford: Mr. President, your approach is the right one. What is the deal? Write it out.

In three days, send a cable to Cy and Averell to see if they're aboard.

See if Bunker and Abe agree.

See if Hanoi is aboard and the Soviets are aboard.

The President: Get the language.

Secretary Clifford: They can name the participants.

General Wheeler: They must name the GVN.

Secretary Clifford: Get this square with Thieu.

The President: He has worse problems at home than I do with Fulbright. He has problems with his Senate and his people, too.

Secretary Rusk: It was Thieu who insisted that there not be a mention of NLF in the joint statement. They want to treat the NLF as non-existent.

The first of the meetings will be for the birds.

We have debacles. That's why we have diplomats. We are the Department of Debacles.

Here are the conditions:

(1) The bombing ceases as of a certain time. Reconnaissance continues.

(2) There is a meeting within three days. A time is announced for the meeting, e.g. midnight Friday Saigon time, 3 p.m. Paris time, noon, Washington time.

(3) The DMZ is not violated. If so, Abrams responds.

(4) The cities are not attacked. If so, there is a response.

(5) The GVN are present at the negotiating sessions.

The meeting is 3 p.m. Monday Paris time.

They proposed the 24th or 25th.

General Wheeler: This is an example.

Secretary Rusk: I would put this as a hard proposal.

Secretary Clifford: If we have trouble over a date, the whole thing will collapse.

Walt Rostow: Cy is convinced they understand the DMZ and cities part. What we say is important. Can we get Thieu aboard?

Secretary Rusk: Yes.

Walt Rostow: We cannot treat the NLF as an entity. The delay cannot be too long.

Secretary Rusk: This weekend is the last chance. We cannot do it directly before or afterwards.

Secretary Clifford: Publicity has extracted the sting of politics.

Secretary Rusk: Nixon seems to be comfortable.

Secretary Clifford: We should say we have an agreement; we will stop the bombing; we will do it within three days.

Walt Rostow: This would be to Bunker-Abrams.


104. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 22, 1968, 1:20-2:24 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the mansion of the White House. Clifford, Rusk, Wheeler, Helms, and Rostow entered at 1:22 p.m., and lunch began at 1:35 p.m.; Rostow left at 2:22 p.m., Rusk and Helms at 2:24 p.m., and Clifford and Wheeler at 2:33 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)


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

Secretary Rusk: We ought to put a medal on George Christian and Bob McCloskey for the way they have handled the last few days.

The President: (Read proposed cable to Bunker and Abrams). Insert A./2/

/2/The text is the same as that transmitted in Document 105.

I want to know what the military view is of this--the military effects and morale.

I want to know if Abrams thinks we should stop the bombing.

How much can we tell the South Vietnamese?

Secretary Rusk: The first day--A. Bombing. B. Meeting.

Walt Rostow: The orders will have to go out twenty-four hours before.

General Wheeler: 9:00 a.m. Saigon time Saturday./3/

/3/October 26.

Secretary Rusk: Yes.

General Wheeler: Should we refer to reconnaissance?

The President: Yes.

Walt Rostow: Reconnaissance will continue.

The President: When would we announce?

Secretary Rusk: It would be a joint announcement between you and Thieu.

(Statement, Insert B)/4/

/4/This insert, dated October 21, reads: "Representatives of the so-called National Liberation Front--or others--may accompany the Hanoi delegation. I wish to make it crystal clear that neither the United States Government nor the government of the Republic of Vietnam in Saigon recognizes the NLF as an independent entity, let alone as a government. We shall deal with the other side as a team constituted as Hanoi authorities wish it to be constituted. Our side--that is, our own representatives and those of the Republic of Vietnam--will operate as a single closely coordinated team, with representatives of one or the other government taking the lead on specific issues, depending on their content and our respective interests and responsibilities." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [2 of 3])

9:00 p. m. Friday, 9:30 Television Statement. Thieu will go on too.

The President: When do we stop?

Secretary Rusk: Noon our time Friday.

George Christian: It will leak Friday afternoon.

Secretary Rusk: Are the fellows out of North Vietnam?

General Wheeler: They are on their way.

Secretary Clifford: The actual date of the meeting should be in the message.

Walt Rostow: Would Thieu approve announcing having the GVN Representative at the meeting?--Bunker should ask him.

The President: Nixon will ask me if this isn't like putting a fox in the chicken coop. [Laughter]/5/

/5/Handwritten bracketed insertion in the source text.

Secretary Clifford: It seems Thieu gains enormously to have the GVN at the Table.

The President: We do, in effect, recognize them by letting them sit down with us.

Secretary Rusk: It's about like letting Stokely Carmichael/6/ sit at Cabinet meeting.

/6/A leader of the Black Panthers, a militant political organization in the United States.

Secretary Clifford: It still seems like greater benefit than detriment.

The President: Factually, that's correct.

Secretary Rusk: Emotionally, that's not correct.

Walt Rostow: The South Vietnamese are afraid of how we play them in Conference--push them toward accepting a slippery slope--jam into coalition government.

[Omitted here is a discussion of issues in relations with Latin American countries.]

The President: Are we agreed on the language of the announcement?

Secretary Rusk: We do not want to negotiate a joint statement.

We should reserve question of timing.

The President: Do you feel the same way?

Secretary Clifford: Yes.

Walt Rostow: The GVN has gone to work soberly. We should make a checkout with Bunker.

Secretary Rusk: This is a little like Warsaw plan. If they see they can get a week out of us they will hold out./7/

/7/Reference is to the Marigold initiative conducted through Polish auspices. See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volume IV, passim.

The President: You should see Dobrynin as soon as you can. (Secretary Rusk)

[Omitted here is discussion of a wide range of issues, including a decision to delay the withdrawal of military dependents from Vietnam.]


105. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, October 22, 1968, 1910Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. Draft text received from the White House, cleared by Read, and approved by Rusk.

259404. Deliver literally eyes only to Ambassador Bunker when he arises. For Ambassador and General Abrams from Secretary Rusk.

We are now at a point where we must come back to the North Vietnamese in Paris with a hard proposition on the time of a bombing cessation and the related time of a meeting, which would include the GVN.

We propose the following and wish to have your urgent evaluation of its effects on the political viability of the GVN and what effects it will have, if any, on the military situation and on the morale of our own forces and the ARVN. The GVN is not to be consulted at this time.

This is what we would propose to tell the Hanoi delegation in Paris.

"1. Bombing and other acts of force against North Vietnam will cease as of a certain time; for example, midnight Friday, Saigon time, October 25.

2. A meeting, including the Government of the Republic of Vietnam, will take place within three days from the date of the bombing cessation; for example, at 3:00 p.m., Monday, Paris time, October 28.

3. The date of the Paris meeting will be made known at the time of the announcement of the bombing cessation; for example, at 9:00 a.m., Saigon time, Saturday, October 25."

Of course, our other conditions still hold: that is, our understanding that recce will continue; that North Vietnam will not violate the DMZ, and that General Abrams will have standing orders to respond if such violations take place; and that the cities will not be attacked, and that we intend to respond against North Vietnam in the face of such violation of our understanding.



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

Washington, October 22, 1968, 5:24 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Clifford, October 22, 1968, 5:24 p.m., Tape F6810.05, PNO 12. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.

Clifford: Steps that the President can take in a dignified and honorable way to lower the level of combat and look toward a resolution of the conflict constitutes the course to follow. Now, it is my belief that the public will understand that the President does not control the timing--that you have been trying all along--

President: Now wait a minute right on that point. Maybe that ought to be one of the leads in the speech we are making. Maybe the little statement they have been working on ought to go a little deeper and maybe you ought to think about that and say: "Now, my fellow citizens, the President does not control these events. If I could have for 5 years I would have, or 5 months ago I would have, or 5 days ago I would have. I'm not the sole master of this fate here. There are a lot of other people involved." Maybe we ought to say that. Now just put that down--"the President does not control." I'm afraid we are not explaining these things well enough to the people and letting them see that he does not. Now go ahead. Pardon me for interrupting your thought, but I want to get what I can out of it as you go along.

Clifford: That's all right. Interrupt me at any time. And I think in that regard you go back to a good starting point of September of 1967 and you tell the people what you said at that time. You have been making efforts for some time before that--all kinds, any opportunity came up that offered any possibility perhaps of bringing the war to a conclusion, you investigated it. You made a public statement in San Antonio in September of 1967./2/ You wanted to find the road to peace then. You said publicly that you would stop the bombing if they would just start talks that were productive--some such language as that.

/2/See footnote 6, Document 35.

Now, I think what you want to do also is tie-in, at some stage, that for the talks to be productive the GVN has to participate, and let that be a thread that runs throughout it. "The talks are going to be productive. Here's the Government in South Vietnam now. Obviously, it has to play an important part in these matters." Then I think you talk about the fact that Hanoi rebuffed your San Antonio offer, both publicly and privately, and then you touch on the fact that you continued your efforts to no avail. Then I think you get up to March 31st/3/ and you tried again, unilaterally cutting back the number of troops to be sent, turning the burden over to the South Vietnamese, and cutting the bombing back, and getting the talks started. And all along during this period--I think you might have some thread in there--that they would not sit down and talk on substantive matters. And we'd have to get Rusk's consent, but I think if we can develop the theme in there that always they said, "No, we'll never consider the Government of Vietnam," or something like that, "We'll never talk to them." Of course, that constituted an absolute roadblock in getting any talks started. But you continued, nevertheless, always searching for peace. During these talks which have gone on week after week after week by every conceivable bid, they have remained adamant.

/3/Reference is to the President's March 31 speech; see Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 169.

Then, I think we want to emphasize the point it was they who changed their approach. Now, I say again, you have to watch the language; get Rusk's consent in there. But we can bring this down to the fact that it was they who finally informed us at one stage that they would agree to the GVN sitting down, and so then the negotiations, productive talks, substantive talks which could lead toward the end of the war, could begin, and the reason the matter came up at this time is because they decided to change their position.

Now the one wonderful thing about it is, it's the truth, and it shows that here is the President who has worked on this in September 1967--it's now more than a year ago--constant weekly efforts. Finally, they choose now. Why they chose now, I wouldn't say that in a speech, but that's it--we do not know. It isn't up to them to tell us. Now, there'll be any number of writers, I have already seen. I think the public would understand. They have chosen now because perhaps they feel they would like to take a try at this administration to see what kind of a deal they could get. And it-s been a year, and they are running out of time. You don't say it--people will understand it.

So, I have reached the conclusion, Mr. President, that the best serv-ice to this country is to do it the way you have done it. And then when they finally change no matter what time it is, whether it is 2 weeks before the election, or one week before the election or whenever it is, when they change and a deal can be made, a decent and honorable deal, I think it's the President's responsibility to make it, and I believe that the country will applaud him. My own private notion is that from a practical standpoint, the country has been well prepared now for the last 8 days for some kind of an announcement that would indicate that there is going to be a stop of the bombing and there are going to be substantive talks. I think the country is looking forward with the greatest eagerness to that. I think there will be overwhelming support from the media. I do not believe--I disagree with Dick Russell on a point. I believe that the whole climate that exists now will not be construed to be a political stratagem. We worked too hard on it too long, and it would be an obtuse man who would think with all of this going on that he might swing an election by selecting a time such as this. And, my God, they know--

President: I wonder if we shouldn't say that it has nothing to do with it--don't want it to have anything to do with it and nobody should let anything interfere with it in some way.

Clifford: I missed the early part of that.

President: I wonder if we shouldn't say in this statement that it has nothing to do with these events, and it shouldn't have, and nobody else should take it into consideration. This is--everybody wants this.

Clifford: I think we would want to watch that wording with care, but I think something to say could be an affirmative.

President: All the candidates have assured me that they want peace as soon as they can get it.

Clifford: Yes, it seems to me it can be an affirmative statement and not defensive by saying this is something that we have worked toward. It is so transcendent in its importance that whenever the time came, no matter what its relationship might be to any other event this so transcends in importance, that we cannot be affected by other events taking place. We must grab the opportunity whenever it is presented to us. Something like that, which approaches it indirectly, but I think everybody would get it. But I think--I have felt for a long time--I have sung the same song--I have felt that during this last period of your administration, I had hoped and prayed, and I mean really prayed, that the time would come when there could be a cessation of the bombing even if it is unproductive because then your record will show that you have tried everything that there was to try.

President: Maybe we ought to say that. Maybe we ought to say I want this record to show that I have tried everything there was to try.

Clifford: "And that the circumstances are such that"--we have to be careful about that--"that circumstances are such that for the first time I am now free to stop the bombing because I know now that productive talks can take place"--something like that.

President: "And this will not cost additional American lives."

Clifford: "This will not cost"--

President: "Will not result in the loss of additional American lives." Well, now, then, you better not just do anything else besides get Russell Long taken care of and Juanita Roberts./4/ You better just spend your time. I started to ask Buzz today if he'd be willing to revert to one-star--that'll put yourself in her position. That would've been hard after 15 years in the service. Maybe you had better take your yellow pad and talk about and work on this for 5 or 10 minutes since you are going to have 500,000 words. See, there are just three people talking to me about this that have the overall broad picture--you and Walt and Dean and Buzz--four.

/4/The primary issue involving Senator Long was the location of military bases within his state. Juanita Roberts, an administrative assistant to the President and a colonel in the U.S. Army, had encountered difficulties regarding her reassignment upon the President's retirement.

Clifford: Uh-huh.

President: So maybe you better do this tonight and tomorrow while they are messing around so that we can look at how we say this to the American people--more important, I think, how we say it to Eisenhower and how we say it to Nixon and how we say it to Wallace and how we say it to Dirksen and how we say it to Jerry Ford. They are going to be mean, I'll just tell you, you can just see. I looked over these notes I made on Dick Russell, and he never would pin himself down. He finally said, "Well, I would give it a try."/5/

/5/See Document 69.

Clifford: Mm-hmm.

President: But I know this is going to be rough sailing. I know they are going to charge it. I think that most of these papers with all of this big circulation--I notice there's 22 million circulation endorsing Nixon and 4 million endorsing Humphrey. So the 22 million boys are going to be saying, "Oh, the old wheeler-dealer," and we have got to make this as persuasive as we can and work on it hard if we do it. You get your lead pencil out and yellow paper in the other hand and work on it for me today and tomorrow, will you?

Clifford: Yes, sir. Incidentally, Buzz Wheeler and I go out tomorrow--let's see just a minute--at 10:30 and give the briefings to General Eisenhower. You instructed me some months ago and I wrote him and got a lovely note. And then recently his man called and said that now he was feeling fine and wants very much to be brought up-to-date. We are going to take only a half hour and hit the high spots around the world.

President: That's good. Now, what are we going to do on this proposal?

Clifford: On our proposal that we worked the language up today?

President: Yes. What are we going to say about it to him? I had given serious thought of going to see him before I agreed to it.

Clifford: Well, I wouldn't mention that at all. I am not allowed to talk about that.

President: All right.

Clifford: And I am not going to get into it because if I talk to him and he says something--

President: Then he'll talk to the others. What should I do about talking to him? That worries me.

Clifford: I believe that--

President: First, I believe we've got to get signed on and then decide what to do about the other because if we talk to people beforehand--

Clifford: If you get signed on, then the day that--the afternoon or the evening that you go on TV or something of that kind, you might take a helicopter out there and spend a few minutes with him and tell him to keep it under his hat and there it is. That would seem to me to be about the way to do it.

President: All right. Will you work on this thing for me? Just a simple--just what you said there. Also, would you follow through on this for me?

[Omitted here is discussion of a personnel matter, base relocation, and legislative issues.]

President: And I said in there, I said one time I told Secretary Rusk to draft a message that we could send to Harriman which could be signed by all the candidates saying that we were going to stand as one where there was an undivided voice in our relations abroad and they could expect no division from us. I said before we got it drafted, "Why, that didn't seem wise to send it," and I didn't say that Humphrey had already blown it, but we didn't think it wise to send it. But I said these speeches don't help us. The Bundy speech--I don't know how much effect it had./6/ I don't know how much Humphrey's had yesterday./7/ I rather think that's why they went back home. I think that is what held it up. I think they are going to see--

/6/See Document 63.

/7/In a televised interview, Humphrey said that South Vietnam should not have "veto power" over the United States and urged cooperation on the part of Thieu. See The New York Times, October 21, 1968.

Clifford: I think the Bundy speech was more damaging.

President: They said all over the damn country that the Presidential adviser--and I guess you saw the intercept on it where it went back to where he is not even speaking for the country, not even speaking for his brother. Well, the way they go.

[Omitted here is discussion of issues involving Senator Long.]


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

Washington, October 22, 1968, 2340Z.

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

259895/Todel 1367. For Harriman from the Secretary.

After the Tuesday luncheon/2/ I saw Ambassador Dobrynin in order to make two or three comments on Vance's meetings today with Oberemko. I said that I appreciated the effort which Oberemko was making and expressed the hope that we could bring matters to a successful conclusion.

/2/See Document 104.

In commenting on Hanoi's insistence that we accept the principle of complete and unconditional cessation of bombardment, I pointed out that we had no intention of talking about conditions in anything we said but that for us to accept their language would seem to cancel all of the earlier discussion of the facts of life with which the Russians are familiar. I pointed out that what I was saying was for Russian ears and not necessarily for Hanoi. I added that this was a good example of the difficulty of agreeing on language, texts, communiqués, because such attempts would put the emphasis on differences which ought to be brushed aside in order to grapple with the real substance. For what it is worth, Dobrynin did not raise any objection to what I said.

I emphasized the importance of the timing problem and said that a week's gap between the cessation of the bombing and a first meeting was simply too long and was unmanageable from our point of view. I reminded him that, for many months, Hanoi has been saying or implying that there could be prompt talks just as soon as we stopped the bombing. On one occasion they used the phrase "the next day." I pointed out that we would have severe problems in managing our own situation both at home and abroad if there were substantial delay between the cessation and the first talks. Our original position was that the talks should be held "the next day;" we then had made a serious move in extending this period to a possible two or three days. We simply could not move to a week. He gave me a strong argument on this point, asserting that the difference in two or three days should not be that important. He said that if this were a discussion between his and our Governments, he did not believe that Moscow would stick on such a matter but that they were dealing with these strange people in Hanoi. My guess is that he was influenced by the error in his reporting recorded in State 259261/3/ and by the probability that the Soviets had pressed Hanoi to agree to a week. However, at the end, he made the personal suggestion that we take the first or the second of November as dates for the meeting proposed by Hanoi and count back to say the twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth, whichever date we could counterpropose. To this I merely stated that the sooner this matter is resolved the better and did not give him a reply. We will be in touch with you shortly about the reply you should make to Oberemko or Hanoi.

/3/Document 98.

I then told Dobrynin that some of our press were apparently being told by officers in his Embassy that the Soviets were playing an active and important role on the Viet-Nam matter at the present time and urged him to take steps to stop this kind of talk. He assured me that he was the only member of his Embassy who was aware of our exchanges but that it was possible someone in his Embassy had speculated because of his own disappearances to see me on short notices and at odd hours.

I concluded by telling him that there was some reason to believe that Hanoi might be preparing a major public statement which might break up or expose our recent talks before they reached a final conclusion. I told him it might be useful if the Soviets could advise Hanoi against such a course. He said he would report that but that, if Hanoi was planning to make such a statement tomorrow, time factors would be such as to prevent the Soviets from having much influence.



108. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk/1/

Washington, October 23, 1968, 9:20 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 23, 1968, 9:20 a.m., Tape F6810.06, PNO 1. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.

President: They've got to understand that we've got to play it straight, square and fair, for everybody, and lean over backwards to be sure we take no political advantage of it. Therefore, I think that we must say to Averell that what Clark said yesterday about the paragraph,/2/ that they said they'd have serious talks next day. That interests us. If it is in the far away future, that doesn't interest us. We think it ought to be the next day. We want to be flexible. We were ready to go an extra day. We might even go 2 days, such as--and then give them your date. But what I would do there is move it up to Dobrynin's November 2 and then 3 days ahead of that, which would be October 30 or something.

/2/See Document 106.

Rusk: Mm-hmm.

President: Even though it is not the weekend, I think that would help us some, and say, now, if you want November 2, we can understand that and we will give you 3 days--2 days--try to do 1 day. I would never go more than 3 days, 3-1/2 at the most. Let's just be prepared. Now then, we will have to see how we defend ourselves when they leak the 7th. We will have to think what they could do in that event and how dangerous it would be and what it would do to the Saigon government and what it would do to these other things. I'm a little surprised that Saigon gets on the board so easy--always on first flashes--this cable this morning./3/

/3/In telegram 40931 from Saigon, October 23, Bunker reported he saw "no serious" difficulties with the announcement of a bombing cessation. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968) The President paraphrased the text of this telegram in a telephone conversation with Russell; see Document 109.

Rusk: Yeah, yeah.

President: Looks like we made a terrible mistake. That may be part of their plan. It looks to me we would look like jackasses if we stopped bombing on November 2 and had to resume it on November 4. It just looks terrible. I could not do that 10 days before the election and have to resume it. So that is why that second date has some significance. So I think we have to say to him the GVN must be there and certainly make it abundantly clear that we are not agreeing to any unconditional stuff.

Rusk: Yeah.

President: That the GVN has got to be there. That they hear loud and clear once again in the language nobody can misunderstand that he has orders and they trigger it themselves--we don't. They need not come to Washington, but the moment they violate the DMZ, he operates--Abrams does. The moment they shell the cities, he operates. Doesn't make any difference how minor it is, we can adjust it. But we ought to tell them that even if it is minor, we are going to do it and that we'll give consideration to the 3 days before the 2d.

Rusk: Yes.

President: We've got to get it by their leak now so that we don't come up and agree on it that day. Then I think we have to go out to Abrams and say now this is what they'll agree to and then give him the exact paragraph that Harriman read to them. And I want a wire from you endorsing this if you do. If you don't, I want you to say so.

Rusk: Uh-huh.

President: Then I think we ought to do the Joint Chiefs the same way. And I think if we're ready to sign on and are going to sign on, I would think we would have to get all of the [Congressional] leadership in here, just like we did on the Missile Crisis, and tell them this and say, "I am deciding this, and I want to go around the table and let Dean Rusk tell you why he recommends it, let Buzz Wheeler tell you why he recommends it, and let every one of these men tell you instead of just having some guy in the Department leaking it." And then I think we have got to do the candidates the same way. Now you can imagine bringing three candidates in here with their hundred press men traveling with them and all that kind of stuff. It's just going to be a hell of a deal, but I'm not going to put this into effect before election unless I have had those candidates here first-hand--

Rusk: Yeah.

President: With us taking notes why Rusk recommended it, why Clifford recommended it, why Wheeler recommended it, why Abrams recommended it, and why Bunker recommended it. And they are going to have to take all of them on and do it openly if they question this thing. Now, they would like to not know much about it and come out and say, "Well, it wasn't done right."

Rusk: Mm-hmm.

President: So, we are going to have to make clear to Vance and Averell and let them know it is going to be a quickie. I think if you have doubts about it, you ought to discuss them a little later in the day. Now, Averell announced, according to UPI, that he's having another meeting tomorrow./4/ It's very unusual for him to announce these meetings the next day, so that meant everything was imminent.

/4/Harriman suggested that the two delegations would meet in secret the next day, an assertion regarded as a slip of the tongue. See The New York Times, October 24, 1968.

Rusk: I was curious about that to know whether or not he had checked that out with the North Vietnamese. But I will check on that. I haven't got any word on that yet.

President: I would imagine that--Walt says UPI says it is nonsense. Paris says--we've checked with Paris--UPI item Thursday morning, it's nonsense. Habib says they will knock it down via McCloskey. Now here is what I have in mind for Abrams: "I wish I could talk to you face to face at this moment of decision." I guess we cannot do that, but I wish I could while he's still in Honolulu. "Since we cannot do this, I wish to put to you bluntly the questions which are on my mind as I would put them if we could be together. First, if the enemy honors our understanding on the DMZ and the cities, will those actions constitute a significant military advantage to our forces and the ARVN? Second, will that advantage compensate for the loss of our bombing in North Vietnam south of the 19th parallel? Third, is it your estimate that the enemy will or will not honor those understandings? Fourth, if he does not honor those understandings, can standing orders for rules of engagement of the kind you and we have in mind to protect our forces and those of our allies for a period sufficient for us to make a basic estimate of enemy intentions and return if necessary to full-scale bombing of North Vietnam [be issued]? Fifth, knowing all you know of the position in Vietnam, if you were President, would you proceed with the proposed understanding?"

Rusk: Mm-hmm. Now, I think the question about does he think the enemy will observe them, I think that needs a phrase like "Do you have any information or reason to comment on whether you think the enemy will" because almost nobody can answer that question.

President: Is it your estimate that the enemy will or will not honor those understandings?

Rusk: What is your estimate?

President: If they are not, I am not going to do it, I'll tell you that. I'm not going to stop the bombing on November 1 and start it on November 2 because I would look like the biggest boob in the world.

Rusk: I think there is a 75-25 percent that they will.

President: Well, that's the kind of answer I would like to have from him. Maybe we ought to look this over again. We don't need to do this until we get with Paris. Tommy Thompson/5/ is going to a military hospital in Wiesbaden.

/5/Llewelyn E. Thompson, Ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Rusk: Yeah, he's there now.

President: What is it?

Rusk: It is a polyp, I don't know where, in his body, but it's a polyp that has to be removed. It looks like he might be out as much as a month.

President: Hmm. It's a hell of a time.

Rusk: Well, on Lou Harris,/6/ I frankly don't think much of that channel.

/6/Pollster Louis Harris had been in informal contact with Soviet diplomats.

President: I don't think much of him either, but--

Rusk: And I think we ought to--one thing Lou Harris might tell that fellow is that the best way to talk about things like this is for Dobrynin to talk to me.

President: Well, but he'll just go out and tell all of the reporters that we knocked him off. I'm for it but I have nothing to do with it. I have no trust in Lou Harris at all, but he calls up here every week.

Rusk: Is he in town now? Should I get in touch with him?

President: I would just tell the White House operators to get Lou Harris and say this message that Jim Jones gave me that you called in for the President, I have it and we have these delicate things going on there and I am not sure that--we are seeing Dobrynin regularly and my guess is that we're getting everything that he gets and that if I were you I would just listen to the fellow and say nothing.

Rusk: All right.

President: And I would tell Lou Harris that too.

Rusk: Right.

President: Now you think about what we ought to say to Averell. I sure do want these instructions to Averell to be tight and hard and when the wire gets going, I want somebody to call them and tell them how we feel about them.

Rusk: All right.

President: I don't want any of this--in other words, I am not in any quickie on this and I want to take my time and I would suggest to--what was the last day they suggested?

Rusk: The 2nd of November.

President: Well, I would--

Rusk: Which is a Saturday.

President: It would be better--be wonderful--if it were Monday and wouldn't show up until Tuesday, wouldn't it? [Laughter] I am just afraid that our friends are going to think we're playing that election.

Rusk: Yeah.

President: Well, I think they are. I think that's why they're doing it. I don't think there is any question but what they are playing with this election. You and I can't have our reputations ruined the rest of our lives trying to get Humphrey elected. I'm going to try to elect him and I'm going to make television and radio [appearances] and drive into Michigan today and I'm going to Maryland tomorrow and I'm going to New York on Sunday with the ethnic groups. My grandson paraded with a flag for him yesterday in uniform. My wife flew all the way to Texas and back. John Connally got out and just stuck his tongue in his cheek and just went all over the state. But be damned if I am going to throw a peace for him. And I want you to protect me on this very, very carefully. Now, our other friends say they've felt for 8 or 10 months that we should do this--over at Defense--that each day is a great delay. But, I don't know whether Buzz, I guess he feels comfortable with this.

Rusk: Buzz is comfortable. I have no doubt about that. As a matter of fact, I think given the understanding on resuming the bombing if they do these two things, I think the other Chiefs are comfortable.

President: Yes. But how do we look if we have to resume it? That's the point. Suppose I stopped it today and had to resume it 2 days from now.

Rusk: Well, I think it wouldn't be 2 days. You couldn't very well do that. You couldn't get the kind of reaction unless there was a big attack on the cities and I think that would be understandable to everybody. But I think the Chiefs themselves are comfortable about this on that basis.

President: Well, we're going to get that paragraph down that you all worked out yesterday awful strong. See that it's read to them again and that they all understand it. And one thing I think that ought to be added is that they realize that he has these orders and they trigger it, not us--that when they--if they don't respect the DMZ and if they don't do these things, then they trigger this response. Somebody has got to tell them that so that they know we're not kidding and they cannot fool with it or play with it because I think we have got to make this awfully clear to Nixon. You're going to have to be thinking of what you say to Nixon or Wallace and the LeMays and the rest of them because I don't want to get their approval, but I damn sure want to get it to where they can't tear it down. So you work on that and we will meet later today.

Rusk: All right, fine.


109. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Senator Richard Russell/1/

Washington, October 23, 1968, 10:05 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Russell, October 23, 1968, 10:05 a.m., Tape F6810.06, PNO 2-4. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.

Russell: Hello?

President: How are you?

Russell: A bit shaky this morning. My emphysema's acting up on me. Hope you're well.

President: I'm doing fine. I'm so sorry--I thought you'd have some warmer weather down there.

Russell: We have beautiful weather here. I don't know what happened to me. Well, it's just drafts.

President: I won't keep you long. I just wanted to tell you that we are still wrestling with this very difficult subject and it gets worse everyday. Our friend that I have to rely on a good deal--Abrams--tells me that he only needs 2 hours notice; that from a political and military standpoint he would recommend this; that he thinks that it is desirable. The thing would be this in short: not much change since you heard about it, but we would take our action and at the moment we said the next day we would have meetings. They come back and say a week later. We've told them that in no case would we go longer than 2 or 3 days. They still insist on a week in between the time we act and they act on--

Russell: Is there any reason for that?

President: They imply they don't want it to look like a condition and they want to get folks in that area located down in the delta and the NLF crowd. That's their assumption. I said, "Okay, you take the next week to get them in and we will take our action." But we are hung up on that now, and my guess is that they will start leaking on account of the dovishness of the folks we have to deal with--the Soviets in the middle of it and all the papers are in the middle of it--and my judgment is they'll start putting it on me, that I have had 7 days and I would not act on the 7-day one--I have turned it down. I have turned it down as of this moment and said to them that we will do it in a day or 2 days or 3 days, but we're not going to sit there on our fanny and let you tear down the Saigon government by waiting 7 days and letting the people think that we've sold them out. You've got to act pretty soon to show that you are sitting down with the GVN. Now, we are giving our man out there instructions that he has authority to act on his own to respond to violations of the DMZ.

Russell: You mean Abrams?

President: Yes. He doesn't have to clear it. He can just respond. We're telling them--they're not agreeing, they will do anything on the DMZ or the cities--we are just telling them that if they do we will respond and they know what they are getting into.

Russell: Yes, I thought about that.

President: And that worries me because I would look like a boob before the election to call it off 1 day and start it 2 days later. The experienced diplomats don't think so. They think the Soviets are in this thing and they're worried and wouldn't let them do it and all that kind of stuff. But the net of it is--what you really get down to--we take our action and then they agree to sit down with the GVN. Now, our diplomats think that that puts the government in a hell of a good shape out there, that it says to all the NLF and the Communists that they've finally come around to doing something they said they'd never do--they really recognize them--and that it really strengthens that government when they do it. Now, if they wait a week, it may not be in existence.

Russell: It may not be in existence--I thought of that.

President: Now that's my problem. So, we are fighting on that one. Now on the DMZ, he can respond and on the cities he can respond. And our military people think--Wheeler thinks--that they can never do anything in that country unless they do hit the cities. So if they do agree not to hit the cities, it is a great military concession. At least if they don't agree to it, but just don't do it. They know that if they do it that all bets are off and we might even go back to where we were--Hanoi.

Russell: I don't think you have any option but to do that, Mr. President. Otherwise, it would make us look bad.

President: Now, the big damn question is this week. That's what worries me. I honestly don't have anybody that has the feel of this thing like you have it and like even I have it, even as far removed as I am from getting out with the people. I know--I saw LeMay yesterday--and he said it was going to be a wheeler-dealer trick, and I know that a lot of folks say, "Well, you had 5 years. Why did you do it 5 days beforehand?" On the other hand, if I put it off, they'll say, well, I could have done it and I wouldn't do it because I didn't want Humphrey. And I think I've just got to do what I think is right--when I get it in shape, when I think it is right. Now, I've been standing out here holding back and making everybody get aboard and now they've got aboard really on 7 days. I'm not going to take 7. I'm going back today and say, "Well, I'm going to take 1, but I would go up to 3." Now when they say no to that, the question is, do I try to ride it out having been offered 7 and turned it down or what. So--

Russell: God knows, I don't know. Those bastards are making problems. I sympathize with you in this thing because it gets down to where I don't know what to do and don't have any suggestions on what to do. Well, as the fellow that finally has to make the decision, I sure feel sorry as hell that I got that much advantage.

President: Here is what I think I would do. I think that I would stick on not going above 3 or 3-1/2.

Russell: I don't see how you can go much above that, Mr. President. I really don't.

President: Now, I may have to.

Russell: If they have any good faith, that's all they'll really need.

President: I may have to, but that is what I think. Now the next thing I think, if I did that I think then I'd have to go right back over the procedure I did the other day and get every one of those men to urge me to do it if they feel that way, just individually, every man that you sat at the table with the other day from across the river.

Russell: Yes.

President: Then I think I'd have to get a new, strong wire from Abrams. And then I think I'd have to get, when I was ready to sign on and I'd really made the decision, first of all, I'd like for it to be as late as it could. I don't want it to become an election issue, but--

Russell: Well, just don't do that.

President: Not if it's November 2nd or 3rd. That's what I'm talking about. I would like for it to be the 4th rather than today.

Russell: That's advisable.

President: You see, you have to take some time. You have to give your troops orders and you have to do things like that. Then I thought about meeting Abrams and really looking him in the eye and saying, "Now, you're damn sure that if I agree for you to stop--?" The weather is so bad, that's just terrible. Chuck [Robb] said they have had 30 inches of rain just in the last few weeks in Danang and they just can't even--[everything] they've got, it's just as wet as hell, and the airport is 4 inches under water. And they say they haven't got anybody--the enemy has nobody north of Danang--moved them all out. They're getting ready for this DMZ, getting them all on the other side of it or in Laos or in Cambodia. So they are apparently getting ready to respect it. But then I thought I might even see Abrams and just say to him, "Now you've got to be the man I rely on and I've got to have military advice. Are you goddamn sure that if I stop this that you've got enough advantages from doing it that justifies it. Now if you haven't, I'm not going to." I don't believe anybody can answer these folks on the merits of the decision except the military.

Russell: No, I--well, they have at least got to be part of it. Nobody else could do it without them.

President: The other day they were enthusiastic, and he seems to be more enthusiastic every time you talk to him. Let me read you, if I can here, I want to read you, if I've got it, his latest this morning./2/ I sent him a cable./3/ This is from the two of them--Bunker and Abrams: "If we have Thieu aboard and allow time for him to inform his leaders in advance, we see no serious difficulties here in respect to your questions, i.e. political viability with the GVN, effect on the military situation, or adverse effect on the morale of either our forces or those of the ARVN." We see no serious difficulties. "Two, Thieu has not been concerned with the cessation itself, but rather to the NLF participation. If the nature of that participation is clearly understood and properly handled publicly, he is not concerned. I hope to reach agreement on this at this afternoon's meeting. Three, assuming no further delay here with respect to the issues, when I have authority to notify him of the timetable which we would take up with Hanoi and to obtain his concurrence, I would work out with him the times when others here would be notified. Abrams says they will need 12 hours, but that the information can be restricted to the Chief of the JGS and General Lam, the I Corps commander, and General Troung, Commander of the 1st Division, which is in I. Assuming the timetable in your telegram, this would mean that Thieu would set a meeting next date to include the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, the Speakers of the Legislature and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I feel that Ky should be notified somewhat earlier, and I will tell Thieu that he could do this if he wished. I would remark that the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Legislature were strongly pressed to reveal what President Thieu had told them at the October 16 meeting and all three refused. The Legislature complained they were debating this whole issue without any knowledge of the facts. I therefore think we need not be too concerned about leaks at the top. We will discuss with Thieu how and when Ambassador Lam would be notified in advance." That's the Paris plan. Now, that is their last meeting. So what it narrows down to and consulting with you about, I am just trying to get a feel that I am on steady ground and just not jumping at the 7 days. I don't want to look bad in history and say I was offered something and I was just hard-headed and obstinate. But--

/2/See footnote 3, Document 108.

/3/See Document 105.

Russell: I don't know how in the hell they would really prove that you were ever offered that.

President: Oh, Harriman would just leak it all over the lot. He's already practically doing it. You see, those--George Ball and Harriman and them--are working so close together. Harriman has really--feels that he has an obligation to party as well as to country, and I just don't feel that way on this matter at all.

Russell: Well, on these people, I never really was fully confident of them.

President: I just don't want people to say that this man kept on a war when he could have settled it in 7 days. Now, my judgment is that we may not get anything out of them when we start talking except more Paris and I rather think they're doing it--the Soviets are doing it to affect the election. That's what I'm afraid of.

Russell: Well, they're smarter than I am if they can predict exactly what effect it is going to have on the election.

President: Well, I thought then I would get the [Congressional] leaders when I got ready to sign on and just get them to come in. And I thought I would just get the three principal candidates and just get them in, and say, "Now gentlemen, I want Secretary Rusk to tell you why he recommends this from a political standpoint. I want General Wheeler and Clifford to tell you why they recommend it from a military standpoint. I want to have Bunker and Abrams' wire read to you. Now, I can turn this down and walk away. I don't think the American people want to do it." And then just kind of say, kind of in the language you used the other day, "I am going to take a try at it, but Abrams has his orders that they can trigger a response if they move on either these fronts--either the cities or the DMZ. Now they have not agreed--repeat, not agreed--not to move. But they know if they do move we will respond and it may make us look foolish. But I think it's a gamble worth taking." Just say that to Wallace and Nixon and Humphrey right in their presence. I can't believe they could do a damn thing. When I told them that over the phone the other day, Wallace was just as meek as he could be. He said, "Mr. President," he said, "I am going to support the Commander in Chief whatever you decide." Nixon said, "Mr. President, you know I have said we will speak with one voice." Humphrey just said, "Thank you." But both of them supported my statement the other day when I told them over long distance telephone that this was the thing we were working on. And I don't know, they would bring one hundred newspapermen in each plane and it would be a big extravaganza. On the other hand, I'm afraid not to give them all of the details so that they would really know that I could justify it.

Russell: The only thing that disturbs me at all, Mr. President, is that we don't know definitely whether we've got any quid pro quo at all.

President: We do with the GVN.

Russell: What's that?

President: They tell us on the Government of Vietnam. Another thing I didn't propose--I didn't mention--I would propose to call in Dobrynin and say, "Now our relations are very serious between us and the Soviet Union. You recommended this and I want you to go back to your government and be damn sure that they recommend it. And I want you to know that if any of these three things don't work out, that I'm doing them because of my respect for your responsibility, and if they break loose, why you better hold your hat because I'm not going to be bound at all." So that they would have plenty of time to tell Hanoi that they were in effect bound by these three things.

Russell: Well, if they'd do that, then, I think, of course, that would be tremendously helpful. I think they can urge and suggest these things, but I don't think they've ever just told Hanoi that I think this is what you ought to do and do it now.

President: I think that's right.

Russell: Well--

President: What do you think is wrong with the scenario after we sign on, if we ever get an agreement?

Russell: Well, if you get the agreement, I think it's good. You've got everybody tied up then in the same boat.

President: Well, I mean--

Russell: If the thing folds up, everybody just goes, sits back and says that no fellow could have done a damn sight better than that.

President: Would you have the Cabinet in?

Russell: I just don't know about that.

President: It'll be 6 hours difference. Some of them would be in California and some will be in New England.

Russell: You can't afford to unless it is very firm, Mr. President.

President: That's right, that's right, and that's where I am. For instance, if I--

Russell: If it's very firm, I think that I would, because that's just a relief that we're moving completely on the picture.

President: Would you have the leaders with them or would you have two separate groups?

Russell: That's a hard question.

President: I believe two separate groups because I think that you might have a Rivers that might hit you or you might have a Fulbright that will hit you who'd say it could have been done all along. You might have a debate.

Russell: I guess that is right, although I must say that I am not very apprehensive about that. I think if you have the Joint Chiefs all there and they all say they'll sign up, and Rusk says he'll sign up, and Harriman and the other group, I don't think you will get a bad response out of them. I don't know about Rivers.

President: From the standpoint--

Russell: Oh, hell no, Rivers won't think about it if Westmoreland is there.

President: Well, if Westmoreland agrees, well then Rivers will agree. You're going to have to have them seated together. Seems like they ought to know something before they start asking questions.

Russell: Yes, I agree with that. Who do you think--just setting the President aside--who do you think is our strongest card on this--Abrams or Wheeler or Rusk--from the standpoint of the country, and even the Republicans, and Eisenhower, and Nixon, and so forth?

Russell: Frankly, I think it would be Abrams and Bunker. I wouldn't leave them out. Abrams is pretty well-known over the country and so is Bunker. The trouble is all may not know who Bunker is, but those that get out and make hell-raising speeches all know who Bunker is. I'd sure bring him in right along with Abrams. Let them come in together.

President: Would you meet either with Abrams or Bunker beforehand? That gives me a day or two time if I met them in Honolulu. It'd create a lot of talk, but I could do it on a weekend. It gives me--it moves me up a little closer to Tuesday.

Russell: That will, Mr. President, but you have to bear in mind that one of the candidates might break loose in the meantime. Have your boys talk to them. They know what you are doing. I'd have them come on in to Washington.

President: Well, they ought to be back out there when this goes into effect because Ky might start a coup or we got to respond if they violate.

Russell: Yes, sir, that's really what I'd like to do with Abrams.

President: I want to be sure that Abrams is not--

Russell: Oh, Mr. President, he's a solid fellow.

President: I want to just be sure.

Russell: If Abrams tells you anything in the cablegram, he will tell you the same thing when he sees you. That is my opinion. I have known him very light, not intimately, but I have known him for 2 or 3 years. [Other voices are heard on the line.] Who is it on this phone?

President: I don't know--a party conversation, it looks like. I will let you go. Much obliged.

Russell: Not at all. I certainly hope that it works out all right.

President: Thank you, my friend.


110. Memorandum for the Record/1/

Washington, October 23, 1968, 2:45 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3]. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting, which was held in the Cabinet Room, lasted from 2:44 p.m. to 3 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of this memorandum to the President, October 23, 7:10 p.m., Rostow wrote: "Herewith an account of your conversation this afternoon with General Momyer, for your files or any use you may have of it." The President made the following handwritten notation on the covering note: "Walt--Save this for Congressional briefing & have available.--L." A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.

Meeting with the President, October 23, 1968, 2:45 p.m.

The President, General William W. Momyer,/2/ W.W. Rostow

/2/Commander, Tactical Air Command, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia; Former Commander, Seventh Air Force, Vietnam. [Footnote in the source text.]

The President asked Mr. Rostow if he had reviewed the President's problem with General Momyer.

Mr. Rostow said he had not. He thought the President should present it to General Momyer himself.

The President stated that he confronted a dangerous decision. It could yield good results or bad. He did not wish to put General Momyer in the position of overriding the judgments of his military or political superior officers; but he wanted his personal best judgment on a wholly personal basis.

The President would have to make a decision on his own responsibility. He had consulted Bunker and Abrams and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as key civilians. But he also wanted the personal judgment on his decision from General Momyer before making up his mind.

For a long time, the President said, we had taken the position that we were willing to stop the bombing if the enemy would do "almost anything" by way of reciprocity. We had also said that we expected prompt and productive talks looking towards peace; and that we would assume the enemy would not take advantage of a bombing cessation.

Lately we have spelled out our position with some precision. First, the GVN must participate in the productive talks. This would confer a great benefit on the GVN. Hanoi had repeated over and over again it would never deal with these "lackeys" of the U.S. Second, we have made it clear that they must understand that if they violated the DMZ we would have to respond. General Abrams would have standing orders to respond if the DMZ were violated.

These two points were the essence of Harriman's initial instructions in Paris. Since then, we have added a third point as a result of the enemy's shelling the cities. We have said that they must understand that if they shell the cities, we would have to respond by bombing North Vietnam.

On these conditions we are considering whether we would stop on an agreement that the GVN would enter the substantive talks within a week.

We would shift our air power over to Laos. We have taken the view that with the heavy rains in the North Vietnamese panhandle our risks might not be too great. We would urge the other side to try to match the negotiating record of 1954 and wind up the negotiations in 30 days. During that period we would expect no attacks across the DMZ and no attacks on the cities.

The President then said he was conscious that there were certain dangers and pitfalls; for example, the other side might not show up for the first meeting. They might violate the DMZ or shell the cities, and we would be in the position of having to resume the bombing and having been duped on the basis of an inadequate agreement. We would have agreement that the GVN must take part in the talks; but this they could simply violate. They could claim that they heard what we said about the DMZ and the cities, but they didn't agree. The President is much concerned at the possibility of entering an agreement which is not sufficiently explicit and might lead to the charge that he was duped. Some of his advisers, on the other hand, say that we could present our record as having gone the last mile in good faith. The President does not wish to lose a great opportunity for peace, but he wished to share his concerns with General Momyer and seek his judgment. Gen. Momyer should know that only one civilian in the Pentagon is aware of the decision that now lies before the President, although all the members of the JCS, plus General Palmer, know about it. Very few civilians in the government know of what lies before the President.

The President then asked General Momyer for his judgment. General Momyer said: I presume that when we talk about a cessation of bombing we mean only North Vietnam, and that we would continue bombing in Laos and South Vietnam.

The President affirmed that this was the case and reminded General Momyer that we would only hold our hand in North Vietnam if they did not violate the DMZ. General Momyer said that we are now in the midst of the monsoon transition in Vietnam. The weather will be bad in the panhandle all the way from the 17th parallel to Hanoi. Bombing from the 17th to the 19th parallel for the next three months would have to be done by radar. That means that you cannot bomb trucks but only fixed points. The effectiveness of such bombing is low. We would normally concentrate our effort against trucks coming through Laos. If we can still do this, General Momyer said that, in his judgment, the risk being undertaken by the President was minimal at this period and for the next few months.

General Momyer went on to say that unless the enemy is engaged in a purposeful de-escalation, we must expect an increase in infiltration and truck movements through Laos. But if we can keep the pressure on in Laos the military risk of a bombing cessation against North Vietnam was "acceptable."

The President asked: Would we move all our sorties over to Laos, or would there be more than could be absorbed in Laos?

General Momyer said: Not all. Some would be allocated from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. But we could get better results from bombing in Laos and South Vietnam than in North Vietnam during the present monsoon period. He said, again, that we could only bomb by radar against such fixed points as ferries and fords between the 17th and 19th parallels in the kind of weather that is now upon us. He said this was the most favorable period, from a military point of view, for a bombing cessation. In his judgment, it would not endanger our troops in I Corps.

The President said that he had not wished to indicate the views of others before General Momyer rendered his judgment, but he might be interested to know that General McConnell had given him an evaluation precisely like his own. The JCS also agrees.

The President then turned to another question which, he said, he proposes to put to General Abrams. What is your guess--will the enemy violate the DMZ?

General Momyer said that if he intended to violate the DMZ substantially, he would have to redeploy his forces presently in North Vietnam and in Laos. This would take time in the present period of heavy rain. It might take him two months to get himself into position. It did not make much military sense for him to do so at this time.

The President then said that Secretary Rusk had given him an estimate of a 75% probability that the enemy would honor the DMZ.

General Momyer said he agreed because of the difficulty of moving troops and mounting an attack in the weather conditions which would obtain over the next several months.

General Momyer said he thought they might do a certain amount of desultory shelling across the DMZ to remind us they are there, but nothing like the attacks against Con Thien or Gio Linh where hundreds of shells were fired from or across the DMZ at our men.

General Momyer repeated: I believe the threat of violation is wholly "acceptable."

The President then put to General Momyer this question: If you were President, would you do it?

After a pause, General Momyer said, "Yes, sir." He explained that, given the low military risk, he would certainly do it if he had any reason to believe that this gave us the greatest possible opportunity to bring peace to Vietnam.

The President reassured General Momyer as the meeting closed that reconnaissance would continue. General Momyer thought this essential.



111. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 23, 1968, 4-4:31 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room.


The President
Secretary Rusk
General Wheeler
Secretary Clifford
Walt Rostow
Tom Johnson

The Group read over the Text./2/

/2/Reference is to draft instructions to Harriman and Vance, attached to a memorandum to the President from Rostow, October 23, 12:55 p.m. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. 2 [2 of 2]) See Document 113.

Secretary Clifford: You have firm military support.

The President: We do not know yet what we have from Hanoi.

General Momyer said you couldn't do much because of weather. If we get what we are asking for, he'll support it./3/

/3/See Document 110.

General Wheeler: The Chiefs said that the other day.

The President: I want maximum civilian and military support.

The people will ask why did I stop bombing if I had no firm agreement.

Secretary Rusk: There is a 5% chance the other side would like to put the President in the spot of stopping the bombing, then restarting.

Secretary Clifford: What we did yesterday was to get principles upon which this was based./4/

/4/See Document 103.

General Wheeler: This language sounds like an ultimatum. I would go back to earlier language: "The President cannot maintain bombing cessation in the face of violations."

Walt Rostow: I would use "facts of life" formulation.

Secretary Rusk: That's good. Soviets know the three facts of life well.

The President: We will stop bombing on October 31. They can make their announcement as they wish.

Secretary Rusk: We could argue all day about an "agreed minute."

Secretary Clifford: Bus and I had a wonderful time with Ike/5/ this morning.

/5/Former President Eisenhower.

General Wheeler: He was alright on Vietnam. He was concerned about the political situation in Saigon. He said if something comes up he should know about, let him know.


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

Washington, October 23, 1968, 6:02 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Dirksen, October 23, 1968, 6:02 p.m., Tape F6810.06, PNO 8. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.

President: Hello?

Dirksen: Yeah. Thanks for calling back. I had a call from Nixon. He's rather upset. He insisted that there was some hard evidence that something is going to happen; that there was a meeting and that you would probably go to the country on television with an announcement. I said, "Well, Dick, I don't know anything about it, but I will call and ascertain whatever the score is."

President: Well, Everett, I don't want to talk on the phone and in the papers, and the last experience I had the other day on this gimmick business and on my calling you on the phone twice gave us lots of embarrassment back here. Now, I have told Nixon, and I repeat to you, that I am trying as hard as I know how to get peace in Vietnam as quickly as I can. For that reason, I am not running. Now, when I have anything that I believe justifies or warrants consultation, I will initiate it, and until I do, I don't want to be handicapped with these public speeches and comments that would indicate it. For instance, when I answer your call, it's repeated in the paper that I called you twice and that I said so and so and so, and you demanded two or three conditions here that we discussed. Then Ford wonders why he wasn't called. Then McCormack comes down and says why he wasn't called. Then Humphrey says, "I understand you were talking to Nixon and Dirksen." So I am just in the middle. Now, what I am going to do on these things--I am working at it every day and every night. I am going on not television but radio Sunday night,/2/ but it's going to be a campaign speech--just as they go on every day and every night, and I don't call them and worry them about what they say. They denounce me every day, and people that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Now, if there's anything that involves their duties or their official positions that requires consultation, I'll get them on the phone, as I did the other day. Until then, I don't think it's good to be discussing these things.

/2/The President's radio address of October 27 is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pp. 1093-1096.

Dirksen: Let me give you two assurances: number one, this call never took place, and number two, I presume I'll have to call him back and say you will consult with him whenever there is something to consult about.

President: Just tell him that I have said all along what my position is, and he knows it, and I am looking at a transcript that I made when I talked to him the other day before you called me at his request./3/ I don't know--I don't know how I can do more than that.

/3/See Document 80.

Dirksen: I won't say anything about it. So I'll drop it right there.

President: Okay. I will be in touch with you if there is anything to consult about and I will be in touch with him when and if there is. There is not at this time anything that I would need his opinion on or any announcement I could make. Our position is pretty well known and their position is, I hope, going to be a better one. But I don't have any confirmation of this.

Dirksen: Well, be assured that this call never took place.

President: Okay.

Dirksen: All right.


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

Washington, October 23, 1968, 2152Z.

/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 Bundy, cleared by Rostow and Read, and approved by Rusk. Repeated priority to Saigon.

260480/Todel 1371. For Harriman and Vance.

As background to your meeting with Thuy, you should bear in mind the following points which are fundamental in Washington:

1. We are entering the climax of a Presidential campaign year. If and when you achieve an agreement in principle along the lines of the instruction which follows, the President will have to make sure he has firm civilian and military support for the step we are prepared to take; there will be political leaders to be talked to; there will be candidates who must be informed. The candidates will be scattered about the country. It may take as much time to go through this process as it may take the other side to bring NLF representatives from Tay Ninh province.

2. Before you give the other side even tentative approval to the arrangement we propose, you must make it very clear again what our understanding is with respect to the DMZ and the cities--on a "facts of life" basis.

3. Against this background instructions for your next private meeting follow:

Begin Instructions:

You should start with a clear and firm position presented orally along following lines:

a. We are prepared to stop the bombing, etc., on the basis of the discussions that we have held.

b. Your side has constantly emphasized that after a bombing cessation, talks would be promptly held. You have even mentioned "the next day." We still think that a substantive meeting including the GVN should be held the next day. However, in a maximum effort to reach agreement we have indicated there might be a two-three day interval between the cessation of bombing and a first meeting.

c. You should indicate that we are prepared to accept their suggested date of November 2 for the first meeting after the bombing cessation. We are not, however, prepared to stop the bombing in that case earlier than two or at the most three days before--which would be October 31 or October 30. That itself would require us to issue orders one or two days prior thereto.

d. You should make clear that, when we announce our action, we expect to announce the date of the meeting and the fact that represent-atives of the GVN will be present at it. They can make their announcement as they wish.

e. On representation, we agree on the substance--that the GVN will be alongside us, and that they will have the NLF alongside them. We see no need at all to haggle over "two sides" vs. "four parties." We look at it one way and they another. We all know who will be there, and that the question is participation not recognition.

f. We see no need for an agreed minute if we agree on what will happen and when. In particular, we are not prepared to agree to anything that goes beyond the concrete points agreed, as listed above. "Without condition" or "unconditional" are not acceptable in a joint minute, unless we also spell out what we have stated as facts of life. The same problem exists in characterizing the participation. If they are serious in wanting to get down to business, forms of words should not stop them. As the events take place either side will be free to make announcements or statements as it sees fit. If these should be at variance with what has in fact been agreed, they can be refuted both by words and by the facts as they unfold in compliance with the real understandings. The only assurance we will give is that no US official statement will use the word "conditional."

4. You should make a maximum effort to achieve agreement on these lines, making clear, however, that any agreement you reach must be subject to final review and clearance here and further notice to them or a short additional meeting.

5. If it appears that they insist on an agreed minute, you should ask for a recess long enough for plausible preparation of a handwritten copy of the following text:

A. On the basis of our discussions, all air, naval, and artillery bombardment and all other acts involving the use of force against the territory of the DRV will stop as of (date and time provisionally agreed).

B. It is agreed that meetings on the substance of a peaceful settlement in Viet-Nam will begin in Paris on (date and time provisionally agreed). The US has indicated that representatives of the RVN will be present, and the DRV has indicated that representatives of the NLF will be present. The foregoing in no way implies recognition of those represented at the meeting.

C. The date and time of the first Paris meeting will be made public at the time of announcement of the bombing cessation.

6. You should hold firm on the rest, reporting any remaining differences here. You will readily see why we have chosen this wording and why it is essential to adhere to it. Paragraph 5B in particular states the case exactly as we have presented it, and they have accepted it. At the same time, it avoids the straight listing--which has clear four-party implications--and any use of "our side" and "your side," which would simply lead to fruitless controversy.

7. Whatever degree of agreement is reached, we repeat that we must review it here--and perhaps with our allies--before it becomes final. This must be understood by all of us.



114. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, October 24, 1968, 0345Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. Received at 1:23 a.m. Repeated to Paris for Harriman and Vance.

41044. Ref: Saigon 40987./2/ Subject: Meeting with Thieu and Ky October 23; full account.

/2/In telegram 40987 from Saigon, October 23, the Embassy summarized the GVN's position on NLF representation as set forth at the meeting and requested from the Department "affirmation of our understandings and of our support" on the issue. (Ibid.)

1. At the meeting summarized in reftel, I first went over the ground covered in my conversations with Thieu on October 20 (Saigon 40710)/3/ and with Thanh on October 21 (Saigon 40760),/4/ explaining why the "our side/your side" formula is the only one that will enable us to get down to serious talks. Ky, who had also been over most of these points in his talk with Berger October 22 (Saigon 40866),/5/ listened attentively. This was the only occasion I have witnessed so far when Ky and Thieu consulted each other repeatedly and at length before formulating their positions, and when Thieu acted as spokesman the latter repeatedly stated he agreed with the President.

/3/See footnote 2, Document 94.

/4/Dated October 21. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. II)

/5/Dated October 22. (Ibid., HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. III)

2. Thieu said the GVN has a major problem and wishes to work with us in trying to solve it. From their point of view the bombing halt is not a very important matter. What is important is to convince the Vietnamese people that it would lead to an end to the war and that Hanoi will be obliged to talk with Saigon. His principal worry, Thieu said, is that the Vietnamese people would not understand if the GVN sits sown at the same table with the NLF. They would react with a wave of fear and despair which could result in mass desertions from the RF and PF, a precipitous drop in the Chieu Hoi program, and the stalling of the pacification offensive, and in the cities: panic sales, Communist propaganda, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations by Catholics and the Buddhists, and perhaps mutiny (not a coup) among some of the armed forces. At any rate, the morale of the people would suffer a grave blow.

3. I replied that perhaps I had misjudged the present Government of Vietnam. I had thought, and had so reported to Washington, that it has considerable strength and stability. If the President, the Vice President, and Prime Minister exerted leadership and went before the people and explained the Paris talks as something that had been forced upon Hanoi and as a move toward peace which the GVN is making from a position of strength, it seemed to me the people would understand. It should not be too difficult to explain that in effect Hanoi, having failed to win militarily, was now obliged to talk with the GVN after having said for years that the GVN does not represent the people of South Vietnam, etc. Berger added it must be extremely embarrassing for the NLF, which claims to be the sole representative of the South Vietnamese, to be in a position where Hanoi would have to talk to the GVN.

4. Thieu then developed the ideas that the US should obtain from the DRV some undertaking that Hanoi was "sincere" in wishing to talk with Saigon; that there must also be assurances that Hanoi would resort to no tricks or propaganda or jockeying to put the NLF in some special position; and, finally, that we must work out the procedural problems so that the other side would not be able to claim that we were conferring some improved status on the NLF. We replied that while we would work with the GVN on the procedural problems we could not guarantee that Hanoi wouldn't try every trick in the book and pull out all stops in its propaganda. The point was, we said, that we had outfought the enemy in Vietnam, faced him down in Paris, and are in a strong position to beat him also in the negotiations. Remarked that so far we have carried the burden of propaganda alone in Paris and it's high time for the GVN to have their own spokesman there. Since they have the better story they should not be afraid to compete with the Communists in propaganda.

5. Ky thereupon said the GVN was not unwilling to accept the risk of going into negotiations, all they were asking was some help in explaining to their own people that they were not being forced to negotiate with the NLF. I said, "It is your leadership, Mr. Vice President, that can swing your people." Ky said the leadership is there but they were up against a problem of deep public suspicion. I referred to the joint statement on which we had agreed and which would show why we were stopping the bombing and sitting down with the other side. Ky then said it might be sufficient to reach an understanding that if the GVN said "We are going to Paris to talk with Hanoi," the DRV would at least not contradict them and claim that the GVN was being forced to go to Paris to talk with the NLF.

6. Ky finally said the GVN was really asking us to help them "save face." We said it is Hanoi and the NLF whose face needs saving, not the GVN which will be leading from strength. They will be able to say that Hanoi has been forced to come to the conference table. It will not matter if the DRV brings along their southern branch. There followed a long discussion in Vietnamese between Thieu and Ky, and finally the latter said: "We have to accept the risk, but we still need some insurance." I said I could think of no better insurance than the military commitment and political support of the United States. Ky said the timing is bad, people will think we are giving in to the Communists because of the imminence of our elections. I explained that the elections had nothing to do with it, that for five months we had been trying to get the DRV to accept some de-escalation and to talk with the GVN, we had made no concession, it was the other side that was accepting our conditions.

7. Thieu recapitulated the three points (paragraph 4 above, and paragraph 2 reftel), adding "We have to be sure that we get those things before we can go into the conference." I replied along the lines set forth in paragraph 3 reftel. Thieu said they needed agreement with Hanoi on the procedural matters before they could go into talks, but toward the end of the discussion he was less categorical about this than before. We agreed Berger would follow up on the procedural aspects with Thanh. In conclusion I said it now looked as if the DRV had met the conditions for talks put forward by President Johnson and it only remained to agree on dates for a bombing halt and substantive talks. I said we hoped they understood that if the other side gave us satisfaction in the matter of dates, we would have to move to stop the bombing. Thieu said, "We are not afraid of competing with the Communists, but we need help in persuading our people that we have not been forced to negotiate with the NLF"./6/

/6/Karamessines sent a memorandum to Rostow and Rusk, October 24, noting that a source close to the South Vietnamese leadership advised that "it is useless for the Americans to try to persuade Ky and Thieu on the basis for what is best for Vietnam and should argue rather for the need for the GVN to swallow a bad pill now in return for American assurances of firm future backing on the question of clear primacy over the NLF in Paris talks." (Central Intelligence Agency, DDO Files, Job 79-207A, Folder 1)



115. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk/1/

Washington, October 24, 1968, 10:08 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 24, 1968, 10:08 a.m., Tape F6810.06, PNO 8. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.

Rusk: In behind the scenes with Averell, particularly with Averell, but with Averell and Cy--they are entirely loyal in their talks with Hanoi. That's something you can be assured of.

President: Yes, I think that's right. But I think you and I have to be prepared for their lobbying with us à la the Shrivers or Nick or somebody else. I mean, I think--I don't think there's--I could tell that when they were here. Both of them. They want peace at any price and I think we just have to bear that in mind. Now, I think our strongest point is one you came up with. I'm sorry the Russians are shoving us like they are. You say you got a cable last night?/2/

/2/See Document 101.

Rusk: Yes.

President: They are shoving awfully hard because they are the peace-makers. And I am sorry they are, because that gives us some problems. But I wished they would keep quiet and then say "How bright a boy I am." But I think our best point with both the doves and our own administration--Under Secretaries and even Secretaries of other Departments--is that Dobrynin suggested that we take the November 2d date and move as close to it as we felt we could.

Rusk: Right.

President: That we have done. We feel like we ought to do that, and we just don't think that we ought to try to get something there that would destroy us here.

Rusk: Give some thought, Mr. President, to this point. There's only one file of these Harvan Double Plus cables in this building and Ben Read and I are the only ones that have physical possession of that file. Nick and Bill Bundy are the only two others who are familiar with it. Now consider whether--if you had a very clear private understanding with Clark--whether he should not have in his own safe a similar file.

President: Yes, I think that would be good.

Rusk: But emphasize to him that he just must not talk with anybody else over there about it because I think there is a little bit of a problem here.

President: Has he indicated anything?

Rusk: No. He hasn't complained to me at all about it.

President: This is strictly diplomatic, isn't it?

Rusk: Well, it is. But, you see, we have communicated with Harriman and Abrams without his being intimately involved in all of the records, you see, and it does also involve the armed forces and the military situation out there. So I think that it is a point you might want to think about. It would make things a little more comfortable in talking about telegrams--when you want to sit down with him and go over them and so forth you have the full background.

President: Yes, and maybe we ought to talk a little more, you and I, without always having a bigger group.

Rusk: I think that is right.

President: Well, let's try to do that. You take some initiative, put your hat on, and come on over sometime and we will just sit down and you say, "These are the problems."

Rusk: Yeah.

President: Now, I don't want to yield much away from my November 2d or 3d date and I don't want to go much more than the 3 days. I assume you know that.

Rusk: Yes. I made--I possibly made a mistake yesterday. Harriman had called back saying they wanted 7 days. I assumed you knew that and I didn't report that specifically in.

President: No, I didn't know that. I knew they wanted 7.

Rusk: They would like to go up to 7.

President: I knew they wanted 7. After he got our instructions he called?

Rusk: No, no. This was before that. This was the day before yesterday.

President: I see. He said he wanted 7.

Rusk: That is right.

President: And you told him?

Rusk: I told him our real position was the next day and we had gone to 2 or 3 and it was just unmanageable to go to 7.

President: And what did he say?

Rusk: Well, I didn't pursue it. I didn't myself personally talk to him. I sent him a message on that./3/

/3/See Document 113.

President: What did Cy say last night? Do you have a full report on that?

Rusk: Nick says Cy accepted it and will do his best on it. I think that Cy and Averell would both prefer that they have more wiggle room in stretching the days a little bit, you see.

President: What was your reaction? Why didn't they take this up with you?

Rusk: I think it was probably the time of night. Normally they call the Under Secretary when it's after 8:30.

President: Yeah, but Nick ought to have taken it up with you instead of me because you were familiar with it. But I was glad to give him my feel so he knows.

Rusk: I think your talk with Nick last night was useful, Mr. President, so he could understand more clearly what was really involved./4/

/4/In a telephone conversation beginning at 8:45 p.m. on October 23, the President and Katzenbach discussed Harriman's recommendations regarding extending the interval between the cessation of bombing and the convening of the first negotiating session. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Katzenbach, October 23, 1968, 8:45 p.m., Tape F6810.06, PNO 9-10) In an October 24 memorandum to Rusk, Katzenbach noted: "I assume that the President attaches the most importance to the time gap; if this is true, I think we should be willing to give somewhat on the other issues." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 74 D 271, Nicholas Katzenbach Papers, NK Chron. 1968)

President: Now, do you think--what was Cy's reaction? What do you think about the idea yourself? Suppose it had just been presented to you. What would have been your reaction?

Rusk: Oh, I think so long as we do not retreat from the 2 or 3 days--

President: But suppose we had--what he had wanted us to do. Suppose I said--

Rusk: You mean the 7 days?

President: Yes. What he was wanting us to do was to take the 2 extra days. I thought he was really trying to slyly scheme for 5 days. That is the way I interpreted it.

Rusk: He was trying to get the announcement made at the time of the issuing of the orders.

President: That's right. That would have been 5 days.

Rusk: That's right.

President: Now that is the way I interpreted it. What is your reaction to it?

Rusk: I really think we have got a major problem here that, if there is a public gap between the announcement of the bombing halt and the first meeting, that we are going to have trouble, and the longer the gap, the more trouble because this is the only thing tangible that we get out of it that can be visible almost immediately when you make the announcement. Now the rest of these things--the facts of life--will come up more or less de facto, but it'll take several days at least to do that, and during that period we will have a terrible time with a lot of people here and I think with our allies. So that this question on a prompt meeting with the GVN is the only tangible thing we've got coming in the other direction after we take the major step of stopping the bombing--the minority plank in Chicago. So I have no problem on that at all, and those who argue that 2 or 3 days don't make any difference should just turn that around and remind themselves that if that's true, it doesn't make any difference to Hanoi. And therefore, we might just as well do something that will help us manage this problem. No, I have no problem on that at all. I am not a 7-day man at all.

President: Well, why do you think, then, that Cy is, as solid as he is, and that Nick would be as strong for this?

Rusk: Well, I think Nick was trying to accommodate Cy last night to see what your view would be on this point. But, you see, the fellows in Paris have only a piece of this action. They've got the problem there. And my guess is that Averell is 50 percent ambassador and 50 percent an experienced Democratic politician and that sometimes he gets those two hats confused. And they don't have the problem you have in dealing with Bunker and Abrams and Thieu and the political leadership here. So they are inclined to brush those things aside and say, "Well, this is what we ought to do," and that kind of thing. But they only have a piece of the action, just as Thieu only has a piece of the action. He's looking at it from his point of view, so he has got the elephant's tail and Averell and Cy have got the elephant's ear, but you have got the whole elephant and that's something. What I mentioned yesterday--we are conducting five negotiations simultaneously here. What I meant was that each of these elements that we are dealing with has only a piece of it and you have got all of it and it makes it complicated to hold all of these people together. I think that so far, touch wood, this thing is shaping up reasonably well, and I think the South Vietnamese are moving along nicely now.

President: Anything we can do to keep the Russians from spilling over all the time?

Rusk: I talked to Dobrynin about that,5/ and I was interested that a couple of the press people have told us that members of the Russian Embassy have canceled appointments and luncheons they had with them. So maybe Dobrynin did take some action back in his Embassy.

/5/See Document 107.

President: What do you think is coming out of Paris this morning? What's your best guess?

Rusk: I don't think we are going to get a deal this morning.

President: Thank you.

Rusk: Bye.


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

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II [2 of 2]. Secret; Nodis; Harvan Double Plus. The notation "ps" on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it and the attached report.

Washington, October 24, 1968, 1:20 p.m.

Mr. President:

Herewith the haggle in Paris this morning, plus the reference telegram with our text marked on pages 4-5 in red (at paperclip)./2/ Here are the debating points.

/2/Full summaries of this meeting between the delegations were transmitted in telegrams 22908/Delto 874 and 22914/Delto 877 from Paris, October 24. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)

1. They want to insert the words "without condition" in paragraph A but are prepared to accept also "on the basis of our discussions."

Comment: We could, perhaps, live with this because we have put our conditions in the form of facts of life which would permit serious negotiations to proceed.

2. They propose, instead of the underlined language at the top of page 5 in the attached: "a meeting including representatives of the DRV, NLF, U.S. and RVN will be held in Paris on November 2, 1968."

Comment: The introduction of "representatives of" is an improvement over their proposal; but we will have to see what Ellsworth thinks.

3. Their text "In order to find a peaceful settlement to the Viet-Nam problem" seems all right to me as a substitute for "meetings on the substance of a peaceful settlement in Viet-Nam."

4. They agree to the principle that the date and time of the first Paris meeting be made public at the time of the announcement, but they don't want it in the minute. They have not accepted our two or three days but, at this time, are still holding out for a week.

I assume Sec. Rusk will be forwarding suggestions to you for the next round in the haggle.




Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)

Washington, October 24, 1968.

Vance called on the secure phone at noon

1. Harriman and Vance met at our request with Thuy and Lau for four plus hours at 11:30 a.m. (Paris time) today.

2. In summary Vance said it had been tough bargaining all the way but the DRV had moved towards our position on several points, and in particular had for the first time given us directly a firm date of November 2 for a first post cessation meeting including the GVN--even though they still attached some qualifications undesirable from our viewpoint.

3. Harriman and Vance followed exactly the instructions contained in yesterday's instructions (State 260480)./3/ In particular Harriman and Vance stated twice the precise nature of our essential understandings on the DMZ and the cities and the DRV did not enter objections and "did not unravel".

/3/Document 113.

4. Thuy tabled a draft joint communiqué and draft joint minute/4/ which contained a number of objectionable elements from our point of view and Harriman and Vance rejected these documents and stated our reasons for so doing.

/4/The draft communiqué read: "On October --, 1968, the representatives of the Government of the USA informed the representatives of the Government of the DRV that the President would order the cessation without any conditions of all air, naval and artillery bombardment and all other acts involving the use of force on the whole territory of the DRV, with effect from ---- hours GMT, October --, 1968. The representative of the Government of the DRV took note of this communication. After the realization of the above-mentioned cessation, without condition, of the bombing, a conference including the DRV, the NLF, the USA and the Republic of South Vietnam will be held in Paris on ------ with a view of finding a peaceful solution to the Vietnam problem." The draft minute consisted of two paragraphs: A, which read "On the basis of our discussions, the United States will stop without conditions all air, naval and artillery bombardment and all other actions involving the use of force on the entire territory of the DRV on ---- date at ---- hours GMT," and B, which read "In order to find a peaceful settlement to the Vietnam problem, a meeting including the DRVN, the NLF, the USA and the RVN wncoming)-October 1968)n ------." (Telegram 22908/Delto 874 from Paris, October 24; (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)

5. Harriman and Vance then said that if the U.S. and DRV could reach agreement on the date of a meeting on November 2, the earlier date of cessation, the composition of the first post cessation meeting, and the wording on all three points we would agree to the principle of a joint secret minute.

6. After leaving the room to confer together privately two or three times, Harriman and Vance tabled, section by section, the three part minute contained in paragraph 5 of the instructions.

7. In paragraph A they accepted our language with two exceptions: (1) Because of our repeated insistence on the understandings regarding DMZ and cities, Thuy said they insisted on insertion of the words "without condition" after the words "use of force" in our text; and (2) they did not agree on our October 31 or October 30 suggestions for the date of cessation--see below. Harriman and Vance said they accepted our phrase "on the basis of our discussions" only after much argument.

8. Thuy and Lau rejected the language we tabled in paragraph B and tabled their own draft as follows: "B. In order to find a peaceful settlement to the Viet-Nam problem, a meeting including the DRV, NLF, U.S. and RVN will be held in Paris on (November 2, 1968--see below)". Thuy said if we preferred they would be agreeable to alter this language to read "A meeting including representatives of ------".

9. Thuy and Lau agreed to the principle stated in paragraph C of our minute, i.e. that the date and time of the first Paris meeting be made public at the time of the announcement of the bombing cessation--but they argued that this point should not be included in a joint minute. They place importance on the public announcement at the time of cessation.

10. At the conclusion of the meeting Thuy said that if we agreed on paragraphs A and B of the secret minute in the form they preferred as indicated above, he would accept November 2 as the date of the first meeting following cessation and we could then discuss between us the exact time for the actual cessation of bombing. It is clear to Harriman and Vance that they will bargain hard for a date earlier than October 30 for cessation.

11. At one point Lau suggested cessation on the 26th and first meeting on the 2nd.

12. Harriman and Vance told the DRV representative it would take "one or two days to implement orders to stop bombing" and they did not take issue with that fact. At one stage they asked whether we could announce the coming cessation at the time the stop bombing orders were issued, but Harriman and Vance said this would not be acceptable.

13. Thuy and Lau made it entirely clear that in their view the joint minute would be kept secret between the US and the DRV (and Harriman and Vance believe their acceptance of the words "on the basis of our discussions" in paragraph A makes this pledge of secrecy credible).

14. Finally, Harriman and Vance told the DRV representatives they were not in a position to agree even provisionally on any of the points at issue but that they would report promptly and fully to Washington.

Benjamin H. Read


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

Washington, October 24, 1968, 3:20 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II [2 of 2]. Secret; Harvan Double Plus.

Mr. President:

Bob Ginsburgh and I have been trying to figure out what it is that makes Hanoi stick so hard on a period longer than 3 days. For what it is worth, neither of us believes they are entering this with the intent quickly to grossly violate the DMZ or otherwise to undertake some outrageous military action that would force you to re-start the bombing. Our reasons for that view are:

--First, they do not have either a present capability or the weather to do anything very significant in a short period of time;

--Basically their military and political position is deteriorating; they are moving toward the best settlement they can get, cautiously and carefully;

--A full scale reopening of the bombing and an end to negotiations--including the bombing of Hanoi-Haiphong--is not what they now want to see happen.

Then, why a period longer than 3 days?

We believe they are trying in every way they can to save face and dignity as they go into this phase of negotiations. That is why they are trying to balance "unconditional" with our facts of life. They probably also want to be able, after the bombing stops, to have the photographers take pictures of the NLF man getting on board a plane at Phnom Penh--or Hanoi--with a bunch of roses and a propaganda statement. They want it to appear that they sent this fellow to Paris only after the bombing actually stopped, or--as the conversation today suggested--after we had announced the time of a bombing cessation. In short, we think this is a matter of their saving face (given the travel time from Vietnam to Paris) rather than a sinister plot; although their saving face in these circumstances does have some marginal effect on their subsequent negotiating ability.

This analysis--for what it is worth--doesn't bear on some of the issues that have concerned you. But I thought you might wish to know how two of us, after examining the alternatives, came out on this matter.



118. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/

Washington, October 24, 1968, 2054Z.

/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 and approved by Bundy and cleared by Read. Repeated to Paris as Todel 1377.

260990. Ref: (A) Saigon 40987,/2/ (B) Paris 22740,/3/ (C) Saigon 40788./4/

/2/Dated October 21. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. III)

/3/Dated October 22. (Ibid.)

/4/Document 96.

1. We are pleased that Berger and Herz were able to reach agreement ad referendum with Thanh on considerable range of procedural problems. Based on previous exchanges (reftels), we assume that following represents substance of points agreed on, and would appreciate your confirmation and comments on specific points raised.

(a) Flags and Nameplates. There will be neither flags nor nameplates on the tables on either side.

(b) Name for the Conference. We note that USDel Paris has proposed "Paris Conference" or "Paris Conference on Viet-Nam" whereas our own preference would be to stick with "Paris Talks". Can we assume that GVN has agreed to term "Paris Talks"?

(c) Order of Entrance. We assume the GVN wishes to precede us at first meeting and that they will indicate their desires on doing so for any other meetings.

(d) Chairmanship of Delegation. We assume GVN has agreed that there will be no designated chairman of delegation but that heads of each delegation on our side are co-equals.

(e) Opening Statement. We assume GVN understands that its opening statement should not be deliberately provocative and that whatever they say about the NLF or the DRV can be matched by equally noxious statements by other side. Has GVN indicated its thoughts on main lines of opening statement?

(f) References to Other Side. We assume GVN is prepared to refer to NLF as "the other side". Is Thanh still thinking in terms of having GVN delegation make statement asserting that NLF representatives are part of DRV delegation, etc., every time "a member of the North Vietnamese delegation" purports to speak on behalf of NLF (point 5 of Thanh's October 21 memorandum--Ref (C))?

2. Although not specifically mentioned in reference A, we assume that, on seating arrangements, Thanh has agreed to arrangement of two separate tables facing each other, with each delegation on our side of table arranging itself beginning at center and going right and left. Can we take it that GVN desires to tail off to right in a position of honor while US goes to left? Under this arrangement principals would sit side by side in center of our side of the table.

3. As to Thanh's request that the US "join the GVN delegation" in statements that they would make about the NLF, we concur with Berger's point that there is no difference between us on substance, although we might not use exactly the same words as the GVN delegation. At same time, we would not want to give GVN the impression that we intend to follow them if they plan to reiterate mechanistically a set formula on NLF status along the lines of paragraph 5 of Thanh's memorandum.

4. On Thanh's point that "question of internal politics of the Republic of Viet-Nam cannot be raised by either side at the conference" (based on paragraph 8D of his October 21 memorandum), we concur with Embassy's explanation that US position has all along been that each side must be free to bring up anything it likes. Clearly we cannot accede to Thanh's request for agreement that neither of us will discuss internal GVN matters, but we see no point in making an issue of this at this juncture and agree that it must be left for later resolution./5/

/5/Thanh later would attempt to reassure Vietnamese political leaders that Thieu was not being pressured by Bunker into accepting a cessation that lacked reciprocity. (Memorandum from Karamessines to Rostow and Rusk, October 31; Central Intelligence Agency, DDO Files, Job 79-207A, DDO and Agency Papers for Role in 1968 Bombing Halt in Vietnam)

5. As to Thanh's request for assurances that any agreement coming out of the negotiations would not be signed by the NLF, we concur with Embassy's observation that this problem seemed highly premature and that we could face it when the time comes. As Embassy has already pointed out to Thanh, what was in the document would be more important than signatures (Saigon 40885)./6/

/6/Dated October 22. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. III)



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

Paris, October 24, 1968, 2332Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. Received at 8:11 p.m.

22913/Delto 876. From Vance.

1. I met briefly with Oberemko evening October 24 at Soviet Embassy. Negroponte was also present. Oberemko had met with North Vietnamese delegation and appeared well informed on the present state of play.

2. I told Oberemko we had met for four hours in a very difficult session and that there was sharp disagreement between us at the end of the meeting centering on: (A) The time of cessation; (B) DRV insistence on inclusion of words "without conditions" in proposed minute; (C) Description of participation. I told Oberemko that we had reported to our government what had transpired at today's meeting and were awaiting further instructions from Washington./2/

/2/See Document 116.

3. Oberemko then said that, although there was disagreement, he believed that we were not so far apart that it was impossible to reach a compromise. Oberemko said he thought that the United States should agree to latest DRV formulation on participation issue, i.e., naming of four participants without reference to two sides or four parties. I responded by repeating what we had proposed and said I felt our position was a reasonable one.

4. Upon the inclusion of the term "without conditions," Oberemko urged that we agree to this in a secret minute. Oberemko said that agreement to "without conditions" should be viewed in overall context of the proposed minute which, as a result of today's meeting, would include "on the basis of our discussions." Oberemko said he had been shown the exact wording which we had supplied the North Vietnamese. He said, "I know your position. You've got it there. Everyone knows what it means."

5. On the issue of date, Oberemko said that previously the DRV position on the interval between the cessation of bombing and the start of conversations was two weeks. Now it was ten days, and he thought it would be possible to find a compromise which would be acceptable. I said that as I had told him previously, this was a matter of the utmost importance to my government and that our position was two or three days.

6. Oberemko said that he thought we were very close to a solution and that he hoped we would be able to find a way to reach it. He said, as I knew, his government was deeply interested in finding a solution and that he was acting under the instructions of his government. I said we appreciated his efforts and that I would be in touch with him when there was something to talk about./3/

/3/A report by Read on a telephone call from Vance at 5:30 p.m. noted: "Oberemko said he had visited the DRV delegation after the private meeting today. Vance started to say that they had had some tough bargaining and Oberemko cut in to say that he knew all about the meeting. Oberemko told Vance that when we got agreement on including the words 'on the basis of our discussions'--'You (Vance and Harriman) have got it there. Everyone knows what that means.' Oberemko urged us to find a middle ground on the remaining language and time differences." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II [2 of 2]) In a covering note transmitting Read's report to the President, October 24, 6:05 p.m., Rostow wrote: "This fellow Oberemko really knows what the negotiation is about." (Ibid.)



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

Paris, October 25, 1968, 1054Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. Received at 7:17 a.m. Repeated to Saigon.

22926/Delto 878. Ref: State 260990./2/

/2/Document 118.

1. Following comments are keyed to numbering of State 260990 on procedural problems, and take into account state of play with DRV, as appropriate.

(A) Flags and nameplates. We have been pressing same line with Lam as contained reftel. May we assume on the basis of Saigon 41093/3/ that GVN will change Lam's instructions?

/3/In telegram 41093 from Saigon October 24, the Embassy reported on a meeting between Thanh and Berger and Herz in which they found Thanh generally agreeable on procedural issues. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decisions, Vol. II)

(B) Name for the conference. With both Thuy and Lam, as reported in Paris 22914,/4/ para 17, and Paris 22912,/5/ respectively we have talked of the next phase as "meetings". Moreover, in accordance with instructions, we used the word "meetings" in our draft minute (Paris 22914, para 36). The DRV has agreed to the term "meetings", and we believe it wise to stick to it rather than to use "talks." Thus we believe name would best be "Paris meetings" or "Paris meetings on Viet-Nam". Final agreement, of course, will be part of negotiations on procedure.

/4/See footnote 2, Document 116.

/5/In telegram 22912/Delto 875 from Paris, October 24, the Embassy reported on a meeting between Lam and Habib on procedural matters. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. III)

(C) Order of entrance. We concur in reftel positions.

(D) Chairmanship of delegation. Concur with reftel.

(E) Opening statement. Concur reftel. Please note also the question of the order of speaking, on which we want to remain flexible until later. This will be a question of tactics which we can decide here. Embassy Saigon should not agree on this without reference to Paris.

(F) References to other side. We concur with reftel, with amplification as contained in Paris 22912, para 6E.

2. Seating. Concur. We hope Lam will be receiving new instructions on this point before he starts building an elevated chair for himself. See Paris 22912, para 6F.

3. Wish to make clear that we do not intend to engage in unbusinesslike behavior. There does not appear to be a difference in substance based on what Lam has been saying.

4. Concur with Embassy's explanation that each side must be free to bring up anything it likes.

5. Concur. We already made this point to Lam.



121. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 25, 1968, 12:38-1:20 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting 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.


The President
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
General Wheeler
General Taylor

Walt Rostow
Tom Johnson

General Taylor: This looks like a phony to me./2/

/2/Reference is to the joint draft minute; see footnote 4, Document 116.

The President: You fool the world with this. You do it with no conditions attached whatsoever. That old dog won't hunt.

Secretary Rusk: Hanoi would surface this secret message on "without conditions" if we had to resume bombing.

General Taylor: It's tricky.

Secretary Clifford: Is it a condition?

The President: Credibility would be a word of yesteryear if this happened.

Secretary Clifford: We could say we can't go on with talks if they attacked cities or moved across the DMZ.

If they are peaceful, we'll be peaceful. If they aren't we won't be either.

Walt Rostow: Backgrounding would say they held their concept on "unconditional"; we held our language in terms of facts of life. Plus we could say we gave Abrams standing orders.

Secretary Clifford: What did the President get for halting the bombing? The presence of the GVN at the negotiation table.

Secretary Rusk: We could say you will have to wait a few days to see on the other things except the GVN at the table.

The President: I don't believe we can sell it that way.

Secretary Clifford: We proceed on the assumption they won't take advantage of the cessation. We could say this would be our assumption.

I would take out the words "without conditions." This is a fallback position.

General Wheeler: The escape hatch is "on the basis of our discussions." I agree with Clark and Dean. I would not let negotiations fail on that point.

General Abrams' execution order could be printed on the front page of the Washington Post.

--If they come across the DMZ, he destroys them.
--If they use artillery, he attacks sites.

A commander is always responsible for security of his troops. In instructions, reprisals are permitted.

General Taylor: Hanoi will see this as a victory for them, not as a victory for us.

The President: Read UPI Ticker item (UPI 61:12:09) Attachment A./3/

/3/Not attached. The reference is likely to the President's statement in a news conference the previous afternoon that "there has been no basic change, no breakthrough" in the Paris negotiations. See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, p. 1064.

The President: We won't stop the bombing unless--GVN is at the table, and they respect the DMZ and they won't shell the cities.

You can't say I don't have conditions. I think they will do it just to make asses of us--accept this--then hit us--and force us to resume the bombing. I think they are trying to use this to affect the election.

We must have a reason to believe the GVN will come in. While that is going on, they will respect the cities and the DMZ.

Secretary Rusk: They said they could be at the meeting on November 2.

We must stay with this if we go with it. Time is putting pressure on them. Let's keep this language out.

Secretary Clifford: If this deal goes through, could you have a cable from Harriman and Vance that:

a. The GVN will be at the table
b. That there is a chance for productive talks.

We have told Hanoi if they shell the cities and take advantage of the DMZ, we must protect ourselves. They could say that on the basis of our discussions we believe this.

I am not sure it is more than a hope.

Secretary Clifford: We misled the President on the 19th parallel. You aren't giving up much with the weather like this.

Take out "without conditions." What about Dean's suggestion of using "without preconditions."

Secretary Rusk: We lay out the three facts of life. They attack, we resume the bombing.

What do we tell the leadership?

The other side knows we won't keep bombing off if they attack.

The President: I have had one of three conditions.

Walt Rostow: We said to the Candidates: The facts of life are:

1. GVN
2. The Cities
3. The DMZ

The President: I am not sure Hanoi knows this.

Walt Rostow: Cy said he had done it eight times.

The President: Take out the condition stuff.

Secretary Rusk: I would say that we do not recognize the NLF by just listing them.

Secretary Clifford: I would not put in the line about recognition of the parties.

Secretary Rusk: South Vietnam is concerned about our recognizing the NLF.

The President: We imply recognition.

We'll have a hard time explaining this between now and the election.

Secretary Clifford: It's a test of good faith.

The President: Reads UPI ticker on LeMay. (Attachment B)/4/

/4/Not attached. General Curtis LeMay, running mate of independent candidate George Wallace, made several statements during the last week of October implying that a bombing halt would be ineffective in bringing about an end to the fighting in Vietnam. See The New York Times, October 23-27, 1968.


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

Washington, October 25, 1968, 9 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Chlodnick File. Secret; Harvan Double Plus; Literally Eyes Only for the President and Secretary of State.

Mr. President:

I received Amb. Dobrynin at my house at 5:00 p.m. today, October 25. After brief amenities, I told him that the President wished me to review with him, on the same basis that we had earlier met, his concerns about the present situation with respect to the Vietnam negotiations. I explained that the document I was about to give him was a personal oral communication reflecting what was on the President's mind.

He read the document carefully (Tab A).

With respect to para. 1, he said that only he, Dobrynin, knows fully about the Paris negotiations and communications between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Tcherniakov, his DCM, knows half the story. No one else in the Embassy has the knowledge to speak with any authority on what is happening about Vietnam. When I pointed out to him that we had stories alleged to be from diplomatic sources in London, he said he could not assume responsibility for the Embassy in London. I said that I had no doubt about the correctness of his own behavior in this matter but we were confronted with a fact; namely, that stories were appearing, allegedly from Soviet sources; and we were confronted with a second fact; namely, that almost every newspaper man who came into my office told me that his favorite Soviet contact was telling him hopeful things about the negotiations and how peace was about to break out due to the role of the Soviet Union. He said that he had issued instructions to everyone in his Embassy not to talk about Vietnam. We ended by my underlining what the memorandum said; namely, that this was a problem for the President for the reasons indicated.

Dobrynin then turned to substance. He said that he found the memorandum very "disappointing." He thought we were going back to matters which had long since been settled. As he understood the situation in Paris, there were three questions:

--First, how we refer to the participation of those who would take part in the talks. On this matter we had raised a "new point" by want-ing to get into the secret minute that participation "would not involve recognition." Everyone agreed that "recognition" was not involved.

--Second, there was the question that the bombing cessation would be "unconditional." He said this was not a matter, in his judgment, of great importance. It was not worth sacrificing the whole meeting on this matter. I interrupted to point out that my memorandum to him explained fully why we took the question of "unconditional" so seriously. Dobrynin said he now recognized that we attached great importance to the matter and would so report.

--Third, there was the question of the date of cessation of the bombardment. He attached great importance to the fact that the North Vietnamese had set a date; namely, November 2. He could not understand why a few days one way or the other were so important to us when there were such great issues at stake. We have been arguing, he said, for two weeks over the question of 2 days.

I said to him it was not quite so simple. From our point of view, we had in good faith put in a proposal in mid-October. We had chosen "the next day" because of what they had said about beginning serious talks the day after the bombing cessation. (Dobrynin said this was a new idea to him. He had not known that they had mentioned the next day.) I went on to say that having geared ourselves to a final decision on the basis of what had been exchanged, Hanoi negotiators had then unleashed a great many "rabbits": a four-power conference; a communiqué; a secret minute; several weeks "as a gap between the bombing cessation and the first meeting"; no conditions; etc. It was Hanoi's behavior with respect to these matters which had deeply concerned the President, because they might reflect a lack of understanding of the "facts of life" and a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the problems that we faced in moving forward, especially at so sensitive a political time.

After some elaboration by me of the kinds of pressures represented by recent items on the ticker in our political life, Dobrynin said: "I now understand better. I thought that this message would take us back very far to where we began some months ago; but I should like to clear up one serious point: in communicating this message to my government, should I say that the President will not proceed with the Paris negotiations until he gets a response from the Soviet government on the question raised?" I said that it was my impression that the President had merely asked me to convey to Ambassador Dobrynin and his government his present concerns. The question he was asking, however, was a serious diplomatic question and I would seek an answer.

I then called the President and put the issue to him. The President said, no. I do not wish to be that hard. I do not wish to commit myself to holding up the Paris negotiations. I would wish to know the reaction of the Soviet government to this situation.

After this clarification, Dobrynin returned to the three points at stake in the Paris talks. He said: You and I can talk with brutal frankness and if I understand what you are telling me, it is that on one point you are prepared to compromise. That is, you are prepared to see the participants listed. But on two points you intend to hold firm; that is, on "without conditions" and time. At about this point I received a telephone call from Ben Read who told me that we would be prepared to tell the North Vietnamese in the context of the secret minute that we did not plan to use in formal statements the phrase "conditions." I informed Ambassador Dobrynin of this fact and said that now we were prepared to compromise on one and a half of the three points. It was time for them to clear this underbrush away.

At this point Dobrynin volunteered the following. He had been privileged to get the reports from both our side and from the Hanoi delegation. He could attest from his personal knowledge that we had "many, many times" made clear the "facts of life." I asked: "Are you, Ambassador Dobrynin, prepared to tell me that they understand the 'facts of life'?" He said, "I can only say that from their reports to me as well as your reports to our people in Paris, you have expressed yourselves very clearly."

At almost exactly 6:00 p.m., as Ambassador Dobrynin was about to leave, he received at my home a telephone call from Tcherniakov, his DCM. Tcherniakov reported that a message to the President from Kosygin had just arrived, on Vietnam. We consulted together as to where the message should be delivered. We decided to minimize the chances of a leak about our contact and Tcherniakov would deliver the message to my house. Dobrynin then dispatched his car to pick up Tcherniakov, and we settled down to await him. (Up to this point, contrary to his custom, Dobrynin did not have a Scotch. He accepted, while awaiting Tcherniakov.)

During the interval, Dobrynin raised with me the question of missile talks. Where do we stand? I said that while the matter was still on the President's mind, he was much concentrated on the question of Vietnam. I then asked: "Was it true that the Warsaw Pact forces are moving out of Czechoslovakia?" He hastened to tell me that Bulgarian, Hungarian and Polish as well as some Soviet forces were moving out of Czechoslovakia. He added, gratuitously, that there never had been any German forces in Czechoslovakia--which, I take it, will be the Soviet mythology in the face of protests of the other occupying powers of Germany.

He indicated his view that it would be a good thing if we could get on with the missile talks.

I took the occasion of the break to say that, on a strictly personal basis, if I had any advice to give the leaders in Hanoi, it would be to go very rapidly for a definitive settlement in Southeast Asia once the new phase of talks opened, assuming we could surmount present problems. I recalled that it only took a month's hard work in Geneva in 1954. He asked me why I thought there was urgency. I said there were two reasons:

--First, there would be a wave of expectation and goodwill in the U.S. in the wake of a bombing cessation, quiet at the DMZ, quiet in the cities, and GVN participation in Paris. But he had to remember that this was a country which had a scar on its heart over Panmunjom. If the talks dragged on, there would be grave disappointment.

--Second, as he could see from the polls, this country was undergoing a swing towards conservatism. This has happened before in our history, but it was clear that something like 60% of the people were for Nixon or Wallace. I could not predict what would happen if there was protracted frustration in the movement towards peace. It was my personal judgment, however, that there would be strong pressures to apply more military power in Vietnam rather than less.

I concluded by saying that in my quite objective judgment, it would be wise for the leaders of Hanoi to seize this moment and work with President Johnson towards the position he first outlined in his Johns Hopkins speech;/2/ namely, a position in which an independent North Vietnam associated itself not with China but with the other countries of Southeast Asia in constructive efforts at development. Only in this way was North Vietnam likely to maintain its independence. (Dobrynin showed surprising interest and concentration as I made this point.)

/2/For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book I, pp. 394-399.

Tcherniakov then came in with the attached letter to the President from Kosygin (Tab B)./3/

/3/Not attached.

Dobrynin then gave me the following informal translation.

"Mr. President:

"Information we are receiving from official representatives of the United States as well as from the representatives of the DRV, shows that there is now beginning a very important movement in the U.S.-Vietnamese negotiations in Paris.

"Judging from this information, the position of the two sides on the cessation of bombardment, etc., is much closer. And the possibility of reaching an agreement on this question is quite real.

"By such an agreement we could lay the basis for a beginning of a breakthrough towards a political settlement of the Vietnam problem.

"If this possibility which now exists is missed--the development of events could go in a different direction.

"We are convinced that it is necessary that both sides show understanding and responsibility at this moment.

"In this connection, we should like to tell you quite frankly, Mr. President, that we are not completely convinced that the American side's actions in Paris have proceeded from this particular understanding of the situation.

"We are concerned that the achievement of an agreement in Paris on the cessation of the bombing of the DRV and the beginning of subsequent political talks with participation of the DRV, NLF, U.S. and the Saigon administration could be torpedoed because of details of third importance which, in reality, do not have any significance.

"We would like to hope that the government of the United States would understand its responsibility in connection with the present negotiations in Paris and would not let these negotiations to break but would use them to open the way to a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem, based on the respect of the legitimate rights and hopes of the Vietnamese people which correspond with the interest of the people of the United States and the peoples of the whole world."

On a wholly personal basis, I made the following observations to Dobrynin on this letter.

First, I would, of course, promptly communicate it to the President and to Secretary Rusk. Second, I found it good that on both sides there was an impulse to communicate when a matter of concern arose affecting the peace. Third, as my communication to him revealed, the President felt concerns of first importance in the light of the positions taken by North Vietnam, which Chairman Kosygin had described as third importance. The question of conditions and of timing were, from our point of view, major matters.

He said that the communication, which I had given him, and our discussion had made this clear and he would so inform his government.

As we went out to our respective cars, I looked at my watch and said: "Anatoliy, it is now midnight in Paris. You'd better get to work to clear up these issues of third importance." He said he would get busy but he didn't know what he could accomplish before the morning meeting in Paris.

Upon returning to my office, I then reported to the President that we had received the message from Kosygin and briefly summarized its substance.

The President instructed me that, after checking with Sec. Rusk, I should make the following points to Dobrynin.

"I have informed the President of Chairman Kosygin's message and he wished me to convey to you immediately the following points:

1. The President is gratified that both the Chairman and he were thinking of same problem at the same time.

2. The President has tried and is trying to find answers to these problems but has been unable to persuade the other side to meet us on acceptable terms. Perhaps Chairman Kosygin can help. Perhaps he can try to help move us closer.

3. The President wishes you to know that the points I made to you this afternoon are, in effect, his response to Chairman Kosygin. They represent the anxieties on the President's mind.

4. The President agrees with Chairman Kosygin that this is a critical phase. He would welcome any assistance the Chairman can give us in getting these issues solved. The President believes that, with the passage of a few more days, this possibility for progress might move away from us."

After briefing Sec. Rusk and reporting the President's four-point message, he suggested that I add the following additional point.

5. Therefore, the President believes that both sides should push these issues of third importance quickly aside and get on with the real business, which is making peace.

I then telephoned Ambassador Dobrynin and twice repeated these five points for urgent transmission to Moscow.

W.W. Rostow/4/

/4/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


Tab A

Washington, October 25, 1968.

The President wished me to review with you personally the situation in which we now find ourselves with respect to the Vietnam negotiation in Paris.

I recall that Sec. Rusk told Foreign Minister Gromyko that we would concentrate on certain aspects of the negotiation and that it would be helpful if you could concentrate on the problem of GVN participation./5/ But on this occasion the President wished me to review all the issues with you and to solicit your reaction and that of your government.

/5/See Document 47.

Here are the things that are most on the President's mind.

The situation is made very difficult by reports to the press apparently or allegedly from Soviet diplomatic sources, stating that we are very close to an agreement. These reports have the effect not only of generating an optimism which may not prove justified. They also create in those groups which are most strongly anti-Communist in our country, a sense that we are being led into some kind of trap. It would be extremely helpful at this delicate moment if Soviet diplomatic sources would not encourage the press in any particular direction and, in fact, if possible, not comment at all on the negotiation and its prospects.

2. Even more serious is this. The President is committed before his own people that a bombing cessation would not result in an increase in danger and casualties to US forces and those of our allies. It is for that reason that he has insisted that it is a fact of life that the bombing cessation could not be maintained if the DMZ were violated or the South Vietnamese cities attacked. We are not sure that Hanoi really understands how fundamental it is to the maintenance of a bombing cessation that these two operational conditions be observed. If we come to agreement in Paris, the President will issue standing instructions to General Abrams which would permit him to respond instantly to violations of the DMZ. The President and his colleagues are mutually committed to respond if the cities are attacked.

You know, Mr. Ambassador, that it has been and remains the President's intent to deal with the Soviet Union on the basis of respect and trust and good faith.

He would like to be able to deal with Hanoi on the same basis; because making a stable peace in Southeast Asia is a most serious matter for all the nations of the area, including North Vietnam. It is, therefore, exceedingly important that the Soviet Government and the Government in Hanoi be quite clear that all three of the points we have made--including the facts of life about the DMZ and the cities--are firmly understood. If there is any doubt in the minds of the Soviet leaders on this point, it would be a matter of the utmost importance to us.

There could be no outcome worse for all our efforts than to have a resumption of the bombing and the break up of what we have tried to achieve since March 31.

3. The Ambassador should be aware of the cost imposed on us by Hanoi's delay over minor matters such as a secret minute; its exact language; the form in which those participating in the conference will be mentioned. We tried to anticipate these problems by the your side-our side formula which, we believe, had advantages for everyone concerned. We tried to arrange it so that we moved very promptly from a bombing cessation into the substance of the search for peace. Now they move from a gap of the next day to a week. We have avoided in our conversations with North Vietnam the use of the word "conditions" by talking about "the facts of life." Now we are losing day after day and coming closer to the election in the United States. If the bombing is stopped this close to a Presidential election, our people will debate for years whether it had an effect or no effect. A great divisive force will be let loose in this country. The President intends to proceed as he has thus far proceeded on Vietnam in a manner wholly free of domestic politics. He is not delaying the negotiation at the present time: Hanoi is delaying it by this haggle over words. The President has not expedited the negotiation nor will he expedite it on the basis of the election. He is taking each step on the merits. But you, Mr. Ambassador, should be aware of the burden imposed on the President by the tactics of the other side at this time.

4. So far as the substance is concerned, the phrase "without conditions" gives us grave difficulty. We take a minute between ourselves and another government seriously. We have not tried to force the word "conditions" on Hanoi. We do not intend to use the word "conditions" in governmental statements. But we do not wish to mislead Hanoi in substance--nor our own people--about the "facts of life."

5. But the most important point the President wishes to leave with you, on which he invites your comment and that of your government, is the significance of all three of the points we have raised:

--the participation of the GVN;
--the maintenance of the DMZ;
--and the absence of attacks on the cities.

There would be great danger to us all if there is any misunderstanding on these three points, if the negotiators in Paris should succeed in the days ahead in finding a formula./6/

/6/In telegram 262321/Todel 1392 to Paris, October 26, the Department transmitted to Harriman and Vance a White House communication regarding the Rostow-Dobrynin meeting. It reads: "On the basis of Dobrynin's reaction, there is a reasonable possibility that the Soviets will regard your present instructions as a fair balance and support that position. We do not know--and even doubt--if Soviet communications will permit Moscow's influence to be brought to bear fully at the time of your morning session, taking into account the Dobrynin discussion. But Moscow may have sent a parallel general communication to Hanoi. In any case, we thought you should go into your morning session with this background and in reasonably good heart." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968)



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