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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 123-141

October 26-31, 1968: The Bombing Halt

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

Washington, October 26, 1968, 11:05 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 26, 1968, 11:05 a.m., Tape F6810.07, PNO 8. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. The Daily Diary entry regarding this telephone call reads: "Discussion of things talked about in Paris this morning, recognizing participants in talks, the Russians, timing, and election day." (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

Rusk: On the Russians on this point, they've agreed on that second paragraph on the basis of prior discussions./2/ And the U.S. has said that the RVN will be present and the DRV has said that the NLF will be present. Accordingly, the meeting will include representatives of the four. But there was no agreement on the "without conditions" paragraph.

/2/For text of the statement, see footnote 4, Document 116.

President: Can we sell that to South Vietnam?

Rusk: Oh, I think so. Yeah.

President: I didn't like that statement.

Rusk: As a secret minute, I think that there's a fair chance that it will remain private for quite a while, but--

President: Does that put us in a little compromising position to recognize them as a representative? From the position that we took all along when Bobby [Kennedy] was trying to bring them to the table--

Rusk: No, I think that--

President: And we said, well, they'll have no chance having their voice heard. And you remember how careful you were, and how you made me be careful not to ever bring them there as a separate entity.

Rusk: Well, the--

President: I'm just looking how we defend ourselves now with Nixon and these folks./3/ What's my answer to that?

/3/The President telephoned Clifford on October 25 to discuss a newspaper story in which Nixon campaign spokesman Herbert Klein charged the President with using the negotiations to try to influence the election in Humphrey's favor. Johnson advised the following course of action to knock down the story: "Now what I think we ought to say is that when this wild [man] as the old Nixon--with the re-emergence of the old Nixon involving your name, the first thing you did was to try to ascertain what he was talking about and what the facts were; that you thought his preceding sentence was pretty good--minding his tongue because it was delicate; that you certainly agreed that he ought to mind his tongue, and it is delicate. Number one. Number two, that you found out that Mr. Califano had never attended any meeting in connection with the negotiations; that his duties are confined to solely--he advises on domestic matters. That number two, and that no top official has discussed--has talked--to Mr. Ball since he resigned from the government in connection with these negotiations. None of the top Washington officials have discussed it with him. Number three, that you have not had any such discussions that related to politics in any manner, shape, or form, nor would you permit them in your presence. And number four, that it is an insult to Mr. Vance who is carrying on a very great service--duty--for his country, and that you can expect things to happen in the waning days of the campaign, but that you do remind Mr. Nixon that the statement he wrote several weeks ago is good advice for himself as well as other candidates." (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Clifford, October 25, 1968, 5:37 p.m., Tape F6810.07, PNO 7)

Rusk: The fact is that we've been talking since the first of April with people whose existence we don't recognize, and this has nothing to do with recognizing status. Everybody at the table will have a different view as to the status of the other party. We don't--

President: Is this in any way inconsistent with anything that you and I said in 1964 and [196]5?

Rusk: No. I think you said there will be no insuperable obstacles to getting their views. The South Vietnamese will take the view that these fellows are part of the North Vietnamese delegation. We'll be--we won't debate that or contradict it. We don't have to embrace it.

President: We have to have that last sentence, though?

Rusk: I think we have to. Yes.

President: They insist on that?

Rusk: Yeah. That's right.

President: And that's the purpose?

Rusk: Right. Now, the "without conditions" thing is not agreed and the interval is not agreed. They've come back saying that if we stop bombing on the 27th--that's tomorrow--that a meeting could occur on November 2d. Now, I'm trying to run down--I haven't finished the work on it yet--as to whether they, as Dobrynin thought, had actually moved to 4 days. I don't recall that myself.

President: No, I've never heard of it, and I think that he was just thinking that that is what our boy Jorden was trying to peddle--5 days--and that is why they got 10, so it would look like half. I think we ought to counter to move it up now to maybe the 6th or the 7th [of November].

Rusk: Yes. Uh-huh.

President: Because I don't believe we can stand this thing before the election--the 2d or 3d.

Rusk: You mean the meeting or the stopping of the bombing?

President: Yes. We could stop [and have] the meeting maybe the 7th or something--8th. Maybe we could stop the bombing election morning. Or maybe that night so that it doesn't affect the election.

Rusk: Mm-hmm.

President: Maybe--the election is the 5th as I recall it. Is that Tuesday on your calendar? I don't have one.

Rusk: Yeah, that's right.

President: So, we might be able to the night of the 4th--that night at midnight--stop the bombing. And you figure then it wouldn't come out until, I guess, we ought to the 5th. They ought to stop it--

Rusk: Election evening.

President: Election evening, and that would be the 5th, and then we could--

Rusk: You're likely to be charged then with deliberately holding off because of the election.

President: Well, I think that's right, and I think that we oughtn't to try to pull a quickie here the day of the election to affect it. I'd rather be charged with--in other words we are not agreeing on this thing yet; we're not close to it. But I think that we ought to be awfully careful we don't get tied here to November 2d or 3d because I don't believe it is manageable. I think it just looks like we have been pulled in by the Balls, and I mean George Balls, not--

Rusk: Yeah.

President: We could--

Rusk: Well, it would be a little hard--if they were to close the gap here--it would be a little hard for us to pull back on that.

President: That is right, but that is what--it's not any harder for us to pull back before they accept than it is for them. They are delaying us. Now, why don't we put in there, and say, "Okay, if this gives you trouble, and we have problems here," and we've never told them to be anything but tentative. I've just been very careful about this. Maybe we ought to take a little more time and do this thing when we won't be in a partisanship. We could do it on the 6th instead of the 2d, or work into that some way--I don't know.

Rusk: I think the thing to do on that would be to just [tell] Harriman and Vance that we are just not in a great hurry here; that the other fellows have got to meet us and take their time. Don't go rushing around asking for quick meetings; let them ask for the next meeting.

President: That is what I would do. I would just sure do that.

Rusk: And then maybe this will take care of it.

President: Of course, you have to bear in mind Averell will tell [Drew] Pearson that--

Rusk: Well, I wouldn't--that was the reason why I thought that we ought not to say anything to Averell that has anything to do with the election, you see.

President: Yes, that is right.

Rusk: Well, let me do some--are you going to be here today?

President: No. I am going to be speaking in West Virginia and Kentucky and all around./4/ And I think that'll give you some things--you can just say the President is out Saturday and Sunday, and maybe if you need to we'll have meetings here Monday or Tuesday, but we'll--

/4/For the President's remarks in Kentucky and West Virginia that day, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pp. 1072-1087.

Rusk: That will get us a little time.

President: We've got to have a little time. Then I think I would work in that anything we do will have to be cleared with the [Congressional] leaders and everything, and doing it the day or two before election will look awful suspicious.

Rusk: Right.

President: Getting Cy's cooperation anyway. You think about it, and we will talk about it tomorrow when I get back. But it looks like to me we take less danger doing it election day or the day after than we do just before. Now, what is your gut reaction?

Rusk: Well, I frankly feel that we--that if they should--by some miracle they should close the gap on our present basis, we ought to go ahead; that we shouldn't delay it because of the election. I think that we can give the candidates and the leaders and to some extent the public a chronology here that will show that this has had a chronology of its own. I think the charge that we were deliberately delaying it for the election would be a very serious one where fighting is concerned. But I think that the other side is going to take care of your problem. I just don't know. I have no real judgment as to what the effect of this would be on the election itself. I think it's a mixed bag. I doubt that it's going to have much effect on it.

President: Thank you.

 

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

Washington, October 26, 1968, 11:20 a.m.

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

Mr. President:

Herewith a lucid report from Cy Vance on a 5-hour hassle./2/

/2/The delegation transmitted its full report of the meeting in telegram 22992 from Paris, October 26. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)

On the three points:

--Agreement on the statement of participation and a good lucid reference to "prior discussions";

--Some movement on "without conditions"; but the interjection of a supplementary sentence (marked) "Representatives of the DRV understand that this move is made without reciprocity";

--They came down from a week to 6 days.

Comment: I do not know whether the Soviet Union will weigh in with them on the basis of my talk. But I doubt they have had a chance to weigh in. Nevertheless, the movements today suggest that they are trying to find agreement rather than merely to stonewall.

Walt

 

Attachment

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

Washington, October 26, 1968.

Cy Vance called on the Secure Phone (10:15-10:30 a.m.)

1. Harriman, Vance met with Thuy and Lau at the latter's place for 5 hours, starting at 0930 (Paris time).

2. Pursuant to instructions and Vance's phone discussion yesterday with Secretary Rusk, Harriman and Vance made a major effort to get the DRV to give up the idea of an agreed written document, but the DRV continued to insist on an agreed secret minute.

3. Agreement was reached on essentially our language for Para B of such a minute as follows.

"B. On the basis of prior discussions, it is agreed that a meeting to find a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem will be held in Paris on (date and time). The US has said that the RVN will be present, and the DRV has said that the NLF will be present. Accordingly, the meeting will include representatives of the DRV, NLF, RVN and US." (Note: new words underscored)/3/

/3/Printed here in italics.

4. On Para A, the DRV maintained its insistence on inclusion of the words "without conditions" which Harriman and Vance rejected. At one point the DRV suggested alternative language to the quoted words to the effect that "US representatives stated that President Johnson in statements concerning cessation of bombing will not use the word "conditional", but they added a second sentence to the alternative proposal that "Reps of the DRV understand that this move is made without reciprocity", and Harriman rejected this proposal.

5. Thuy again asserted that the time interval could be discussed when and if agreement was reached on the minute. However, after much discussion the DRV representative finally stated that they proposed that if we stop bombing anytime on the 27th of October, the meeting would occur on November 2--a six day interval. Harriman and Vance said 3 days was our outside position.

BHR

 

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

October 26, 1968, 11:47 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Russell, October 26, 1968, 11:47 a.m., Tape F6810.07, PNO 10-11. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. The President, in Washington, phoned Russell at Winder, Georgia. The entry for this meeting in the Daily Diary reads: "talk about Lynda's baby, general discussion of current status of peace moves and Paris talks, politics, General Abrams." (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

[Omitted here is discussion of family matters.]

President: So, I called you this morning. We're still wrestling on this general subject. We spent a long time with Kosygin [who] came in and leveled with me pretty heavy yesterday--said they got to do it and now's the time and go ahead and quit arguing about details./2/ While his letter was coming, we were talking to his man. I had initiated it ahead of time, and I told him that I wanted to be positive. Not only did these people understand--the North Vietnamese--that the GVN had to be present, which they had never agreed to before, but they had to also understand that we had the rules of engagement that had already been sent to Abrams that required him to act simultaneously with a response if the DMZ were violated or if the cities were shelled; that they had not agreed to that; we understood that; maybe they couldn't. We wanted to be sure there was no language barrier and that all of them understood it. And, most important, we wanted to be sure the Russians understood it and that they felt like we were justified in acting on that assumption.

/2/See Document 122.

So, we laid it down pretty hard to the Ambassador. While we were talking to him, my personal representative--not in the State Department, one of my men--in came the Kosygin blast to really go now, and we're still fighting on three points. One was who would attend the meeting, how we'd announce it. And we had agreed on that, Vance said this morning, and we will have a secret paper which says "on the basis of prior discussions, it is agreed that a meeting to find a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem will be held in Paris on date and time to be filled out. The U.S. has said that the RVN will be present and the DRV has said that the NLF will be present. Accordingly, the meeting will include representatives of the DRV and NLF, RVN and US."/3/ So, that--

/3/See Document 124.

Russell: I thought they'd already agreed to that some time ago.

President: Well, they--they--this is arguing about a secret minute, so it would be in writing, you see. They have implied--no, they've always held against this. But the last week, the breakthrough, if there has been one, has been that they have implied that [if] everything else could be worked out, they would let them come in. And that is what we are getting. Our people think that will give the Government of South Vietnam a hell of a boost in South Vietnam. It is tantamount to saying that they recognize this elected government. They let them come in, and I say, why didn't it have the same effect on the NLF, but the diplomats say it doesn't, and Bunker says it doesn't. So, anyway, they think that we are getting a hell of a lot.

Russell: I understand that, but I guess its all right. I knew, of course, that they were going to bring the Viet Cong in there if they [we] brought in the Vietnamese Government.

President: Now, the next one on paragraph A, the DRV maintained its insistence on inclusion of the words "without conditions." Now, we realize it is without conditions, although in effect by our telling them the DMZ and the cities that it really is a condition. Do you follow me?

Russell: Yes, sir.

President: Now, they want to put in the secret minute "without conditions," and I don't agree to that because I think that would make my other story look inconsistent. Do you follow me there?

Russell: Yes, I do, and I think it would make you look bad too.

President: Yes, but--

Russell: You don't have to spell out what the conditions are. But if you say "without conditions," why that looks like you have surrendered a point that they were insisting on here 6 months ago.

President: At one point the DRV suggested alternative language to the quoted words to the effect that U.S. representatives stated that President Johnson in statements concerning cessation of bombing will not use the word "conditional." But they added a second sentence to the alternative proposal that "representatives of the DRV understand this move is made without reciprocity." We rejected this proposal. Now, we agree that they're not agreeing to conditions, Dick, and we agree that we're not getting reciprocity. But we are telling them what they're going to get, and we are just stopping it for a day or two. And if we don't get that, if they don't try to de-escalate by these two things--the cities and the others--then we'll go back to bombing. It won't make any difference what happens. But I still think that we cannot have any language like that. But I would hate like hell for it to knock off our agreement. But, anyway, that's one point that is holding.

Now, the second one is--Thieu again asserted that the time interval could be discussed when and if the agreement was reached on the minute. However, after much discussion, the DRV representative finally stated that they proposed that if we stop bombing any time on X day the meeting could occur within a 6-day interval. So they have come down from 10 to a week to 6 days, and we're still 3 days. Harriman and Vance said 3 days was our outside position. Now, that's where we are now. Now, the question is, do I want to let this go and have the record show that I could have gotten it and let somebody else come in and agree to it right after election, or do I want to do it myself. That's one question. The second question is how will it look to everybody in the country, and in the world, and in history, and in every other way. I do not want this war to go on one minute more. I want to de-escalate it as quick as I can. On the other hand, it seems I'd have a hell of a lot less problems with the country and with the world and with history if I did it the day after the election instead of the day before, or a couple of days before.

Now, that is what I'd like to get your real reaction on. Buzz Wheeler says that he and Abrams have got to have 2 days notice before so they can re-position their troops, so they can re-position their bombing orders for Laos and South Vietnam, and get extra targets and things of that kind.

Russell: Let's see, it's 11 days until election, isn't it? Yeah, 11 days until the election.

President: Yes. Well, it's presently what they would like to do now. They'd like to have the meeting on November 2d, and that would require halting the bombing on the 27th or 28th. Now I don't think we can do that because I am not going to have this unless I go meet Abrams and look at his rules of engagement and have him look me in the eye and tell me that he urges me to do this. I am just not going to do it unless I'm sure. Now, you heard those other fellows the other day say that, and you have seen his letter. I got in Momyer yesterday,/4/ and he said he definitely recommended it; that he thought it would be much more useful; he didn't want to say this publicly, but that he ran the bombers for a long time and that they need them more in Laos and South Vietnam than they do in North Vietnam. They'll do a hell of a lot more good beginning this week. And he said that will be true for 4 months.

/4/See Document 110.

Russell: Is that Abrams?

President: No, that is Momyer, who was the air commander out there.

Russell: Yes.

President: He has just been moved back to Langley [Air Force Base], and I got him to come up by himself. Did not tell him that the other Chiefs had even been in. Just said, "Now suppose you were President and you had this kind of proposition. What would you do?" And he said, "I would do it." He said, "It is an acceptable risk. Your destruction can be more effective in Laos with the weather such as it is and in South Vietnam than it can in North Vietnam." He said, "We can't get in there over 2 days a month beginning now and lasting at least 90 days and maybe a 120."

Russell: Did he give you that in writing?

President: I am sure he will. We took notes on him. That is in my note statement. Just like we took notes on what they all said the other day. Rostow takes notes on them all, and we got a quote from each General on saying that. And, of course, we would do it. I thought I might do this if it got that close to it. There's nobody I can talk to even in the government hardly without getting it out except Buzz Wheeler and Dean Rusk. So damn many doves in every department. And you--that's about all I can advise with or get it in the paper. But I thought I might have Abrams--Wheeler talked to me about it this morning--just fly into Honolulu a day or two before we had to, talk to him, and even if necessary just bring him on back here, and let him look all these leaders and candidates in the eye. He could probably be the most convincing man. I told Buzz Wheeler the other day that you had said that you thought his judgment would have about as much effect as anybody.

Russell: Well, I do.

President: He is not very eloquent, but he is tough and he tells you what he thinks. And the Commies are all out to get Westmoreland. I saw a report this morning--one of our Ambassadors down there said Westmoreland said the military ought to take over the country--it was Latin America where the Commies were, and they are trying to smear him, destroy him, I think, because he stood up out there. And he's able and loyal, and everybody--and I think a good deal of South Carolina background. I just think the sons-of-bitches are after him. I read this mean report this morning from a fellow named Corey who is a left-winger with the Look Magazine outfit that Kennedy had in Africa, and we moved to Chile. But it was awfully ugly on Westmoreland. I don't believe Westmoreland would ever say anything that ill-advised. I called Buzz Wheeler and he said it's unthinkable--that he wouldn't do anything like that at all. But they are smearing it all over. President Frei told the Ambassador that Westmoreland is saying that the military ought to take over Latin America.

Russell: Latin America?

President: Yeah, the military ought to take over Chile, for instance, if they have any problems like they did in Peru and Argentina and Brazil and all these other places. In other words, he is advocating military government instead of civilian.

Russell: I don't believe it. He may have done it in some one instance, some case where he knew the facts of it, the details of it, but I will be damned if I believe he is advocating any such thing as that.

President: He's got too much sense.

Russell: If he thought it--he has got too much sense to say it.

President: But they really, you know, put it on you. Look what they've done to Agnew. I think Agnew is a good man.

Russell: He's a decent fellow. Yes, sir, I've watched him, and what he says.

President: They're just smearing him.

Russell: He's a decent fellow, but they sure have driven him into the ground. They sure have.

President: So, what I--

Russell: Of course, he hasn't broke out with ability, but he's a decent man. He's an honorable man.

President: The questions he asked us in the briefing and the way he conducts himself, Dick, are very judicious. A judicious man and, I thought, a good man.

Russell: He is a good man. He is a better man than Nixon. I would rather have him for President.

President: Well, my problem then is would it be better? You see, all the Democrats are going to say that we called the damn thing after the election so we can elect Nixon.

Russell: Well--

President: And the Republicans are going to say we called it before the election to elect Humphrey. And we're not trying to elect--we don't give a damn about either one of them as far as--

Russell: It is a fact of political life that they will say that--some of them will, some of them won't. A great many of them won't. But, undoubtedly, there will be a great many that will say that. I don't see how you are going to avoid that, whichever way you turn, whatever you do.

President: Therefore--

Russell: If, well, you can get it tied down, I would not, though, Mr. President, agree to have it written in the minutes that we agreed without conditions, without reciprocity of any kind, on this thing. I'd just leave that up in the air--not mess with it. If they are going to put that in the minutes over there, that'll be published one of these days. I don't know. If that gets out before the election, they will holler politics from here to high heaven. This election will turn around pretty good now, in my opinion. I am in a very isolated spot, but I can smell.

[Omitted here is discussion of domestic political matters and the Presidential election.]

 

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

Washington, October 26, 1968, 12:16 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 26, 1968, 12:16 p.m., Tape F6810.07, PNO 12-13. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. The Daily Diary entry regarding this call reads: "current situation in Paris, Abrams and Bunker." (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A summary of the conversation is ibid.

President: Dean?

Rusk: Yes, sir?

President: I looked at this report from Read on Vance and Harriman this morning/2/--that the agreement on prior discussions and who's attending the meeting and all. I don't like the sentence, but that's already there. We can't do much about it if it's there.

/2/See Document 124.

Rusk: Well, I think on that, Mr. President, that there is a protocol practice which we'd bring into play. That is, since each side would have its own ribbon copy, and in our copy we would put the order in the way we want them.

President: Yeah.

Rusk: So we can deal with that that way. So, that leaves the condition point and the time point, and I'm prepared to stand pat.

President: Ah, the one thing I just don't think we can give on, and I've talked to other people about this like Russell/3/ and men that have some judgment of the Congress and the Senate throughout the country, we cannot take 5 years and say that we've got to have conditions, we've got to have reciprocity, we've got to know what the other side is doing, and come along and put in secretly that we did it without them. We just can't. He says you never could explain that or justify it. And he said, furthermore, suppose you have to start bombing back the next day, and then the only reason you've got is that they didn't comply with your conditions. That's the only justification. He said, when you let them put this in here, you make it very difficult to ever get back.

/3/See Document 125.

Rusk: Ah, what time are you leaving today, Mr. President?

President: I'm gonna leave about 1 o'clock, 1:30./4/

/4/The President left at 1:51 p.m. for a day-long trip to West Virginia and Kentucky. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary)

Rusk: I'm--what I'm working on now are two or three formulas that would make Hanoi mad but it might encourage them to drop the whole idea. For example, that Hanoi understands that this is not reciprocity, but understands the basis on which serious talks can be held, or the circumstances in which serious talks can be held. Or balance off that other thing.

President: I understand that it'd break up the conference. You know what I mean. That's what you're saying.

Rusk: In other words, put something back to them that is so obnoxious to them they might forget the whole thing and thereby perhaps reinforce what may be some advice from the Russians on this point.

President: Another thought. Russell says we could if we had to come up a day, provided we could get Bunker and Abrams in here and really talk to them. He said old man Bunker's name has been in the paper and everybody knows him and respects him, and he ought to just say this is why it's essential. And Abrams ought to just say, "Now, I assure this will not cost us lives, that we can let it do more good in Laos and South Vietnam than we can do in North Vietnam in the months ahead." And, he said, make it awfully hard on Nixon to question Bunker and Abrams, both career people, when they take the initiatives. He said that's why it's important that they be here.

Rusk: One of the problems is that at that particular moment it would be extremely important that they be there. Bunker and Abrams both are going to have quite a job of management in terms of not only the political side but--

President: Buzz says Abrams could be here without any trouble because he's got a good man who could do it if given the orders, and so forth. Russell, rather, urges Bunker. You think that Bunker's got to stay there?

Rusk: I think he's got quite a problem on his hands. I think this is just a lull moment. And if he can come--well, I can't imagine a time when it's more important for Bunker to be in Saigon to keep this thing planted down. Abrams would--could help considerably with mollifying Russell, and he could quote Bunker--give Bunker's views.

President: Yes, I guess that's what we better do. And Russell says we've got to have in writing that they recommend this. Otherwise, they'll say it isn't. But he said that if you've got in writing that the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense and Bunker and Abrams and all the Joint Chiefs urge you to do this, then you're on pretty safe ground and Nixon's on bad ground. But he says, don't give too long-- enough to ruin you in this country, and you must not ever yield an inch on the "without conditions" or stuff like that, because he says if you do, they'll say, "Well, hell, they could have done this all the time."

Rusk: Yeah.

President: And he said another thing, he says if you're going to have to, if you call this thing, we'll say, on November the 2d or the 3d, and the next day they don't mess with the DMZ or the cities, he said they'll be writing that from out there, and the people will in effect say, well, he did get some results. And if they do, you've got instant retaliation. So, you've protected yourself there. And he said he believed he'd just as soon that came before the election as afterward. What do you think about that?

Rusk: I think--I think that's all right. My own thought, Mr. President, was, unless you told me not to, that I would get a fellow like John Hightower in, others from AP and UP, a couple of reliable people, and give them a little backgrounding on this so that before very long in a matter of hours, why they'll be writing that there's something behind the scenes, the details of which are not fully exposed.

President: I think we have to do it and do it out there too.

Rusk: Yeah.

President: Okay. You call me before you leave to get anywhere, and I'll be here maybe til 1:30.

Rusk: All right. Bye.

 

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

Washington, October 26, 1968, 1951Z.

/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 cleared by Read and approved by Rusk.

262377/Todel 1394. Confirming outline and textual points in Secretary Rusk's secure telecon with Ambassador Vance at 2:00 PM EDT October 26.

1. You should not request next meeting, but may inform DRV representative you are ready to meet (no sooner than Sunday morning) when they wish to do so.

2. You are familiar with Soviet approach and we are hopeful that possible similar representations to other side will convince DRV that agreement on cessation and fact of prompt subsequent meeting with agreed participants is the important thing and that haggling over exact words of agreed language concern only "third rate details".

3. When next meeting does occur, you should make every effort to convince them that agreement on cessation and a prompt meeting thereafter with agreed participants is the essential thing, that agreed minute approach should be dropped, and that other points they are insisting on are "third rate details". You should stand firm on timing issue as indicated in State 261543./2/

/2/In telegram 261543/Todel 1382 to Paris, October 25, the Department urged Harriman and Vance to obtain North Vietnamese agreement on the removal from the secret minute of the phrase "without conditions," as well as the list of participants. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan/Double Plus, Vol. III)

4. If foregoing representations do not get them to drop insistence on agreed minute, you are authorized to propose any of the following changes:

(a) (In Para A) "On the basis of our discussions, the United States, having reason to believe that the other side intends to join seriously with our side in deescalating the war in Vietnam and in moving toward peace, will stop without preconditions all air, naval, etc."; or

(b) (At end of Para A in form acceptable to us, add sentence:) "The USG and the DRV agree that in announcing and acknowledging the cessation neither side will use the words 'conditional' or 'unconditional'."

(c) With respect to Paragraph B our only difficulty is with stated order of representatives. Suggest you propose to DRV that this matter be handled in customary diplomatic fashion with two ribbon copy originals initialed by both sides, our copy containing our preferred order (RVN, US, DRV, NLF) and theirs any order they wish.

5. Finally, you should make clear once again that whatever degree of agreement is achieved is subject to final approval here.

Rusk

 

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

Paris, October 27, 1968, 1830Z.

/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 2:13 p.m.

22993/Delto 883. From Harriman and Vance.

1. We met 3:30 p.m. October 27 with Thuy and Lau for about 1 hour 15 minutes. Same people present on both sides./2/

/2/The full report of the meeting was transmitted in telegram 22994/Delto 884 from Paris, October 27. (Ibid.) According to a situation report by Read, October 27, Vance called the Department on the secure phone and stated: "We have now got everything we have asked for. We should accept. The times proposed for cessation fit well with the timing of possible announcements in Washington and Saigon." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II)

2. We opened with a statement urging the dropping of the idea of their proposal for an agreed minute.

3. Thuy replied by insisting on an agreed minute. He then said that in the interest of going forward to a quick settlement he was tabling a draft. He said that we had not been able to agree on the use of the words "without condition" in the minute. We had, however, said that they could make their announcement in any way they wish and that we would have no objection if they said unconditional. Finally he referred to a previous meeting in which we said that statements by the President or the United States Government related to the cessation of bombing would not use the word "conditional."

4. He then tabled his text of an agreed minute as follows:

"1. The United States will stop all air, naval and artillery bombardment and all other acts involving the use of force against the entire territory of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam as of ---- hours GMT on October ---- , 1968.

"2. A meeting to find a peaceful settlement to the Viet-Nam problem will be held in Paris on November 2, 1968. The Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam has said that South Viet-Nam National Front for Liberation will be present, and the United States has said that the Republic of Viet-Nam will be present. Accordingly, the meeting will include the representatives of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam, the South Viet-Nam National Front for Liberation, the Republic of Viet-Nam and the United States."

5. We asked for a brief recess and, upon return, we noted that they had dropped the phrase "on the basis of our discussions" in both paragraphs. We thought that the decision to put it in was wise and it should stay in both places. Thuy replied that this was not necessary because the contents of the minute were a result of discussions. This was obvious to anyone and it was not a subject worth arguing about for very long. They had suggested points which we had not found necessary and we had suggested points which they had not found necessary.

6. Thuy said that he would prefer that there would be no time specified for the meeting on November 2, as they were not sure what time they could get their delegations here. It was agreed, however, that the meeting would be as early as possible on November 2.

7. We said we understood what they had said and would take their proposal under consideration. We then settled the question of normal diplomatic usage in the order of naming countries. Names could be changed as each wishes in its own copy.

8. We recessed briefly and we then raised the question of the time of the cessation of bombing. After a brief introductory statement, Thuy said that there remained only the question of the interval between the cessation of bombing and the date of the meeting. He has communicated with Hanoi and the Front. The Front would have a long way to come. This was a reality which he suggested that we take into account. He asked whether it was possible that the bombing could stop earlier than October 30. We replied that we could not agree to that. Thuy then noted that we had suggested 1600 hours GMT October 30, and he then suggested that the time should be 0001 hours GMT October 30. He added that if it could be earlier it would be better.

9. We said that we would report his proposal to our government and will inform him of our reply as soon as possible. In response to our question of how late he would be available for a meeting, he replied he would meet at any time, day or night, when we had a reply.

10. We said that the announcement of the cessation of bombing would also include an announcement of the date of the meeting on November 2. Neither side would say anything publicly until the time of the announcement. They asked what the interval between the cessation of the bombing and the announcement would be. We said that the announcement would probably be made at approximately the same time as the announcement of the cessation of bombing. We would inform them in advance of that time. He asked that we inform him as soon as possible.

11. We closed the meeting by saying that we wanted to make it clear that we are not authorized to agree to their proposals. We would meet with them again as soon as we received instructions from our government.

Harriman

 

129. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 27, 1968, 7:45-10 p.m.

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

NOTES ON PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH GROUP OF FOREIGN POLICY ADVISERS ON SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27, 1968

THOSE ATTENDING THE MEETING WERE
The President
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
General Wheeler
General Taylor
Walt Rostow
Tom Johnson

(Attachment A--Rostow Packet to President--Eyes Only--10/27/68.)/2/

/2/Rostow's memorandum to the President, October 27, 4 p.m., with nine attachments, also contained an agenda for the meeting. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II [1 of 2])

Secretary Clifford: The President stops the bombing on Tuesday./3/ He says four-way talks begin Saturday.

/3/October 29.

The President: Isn't that longer than three days?

Secretary Rusk: It is three days plus 9-15 hours.

The President: What do we do?

Secretary Rusk: We go ahead with it.

The President: Why?

Secretary Rusk: I smell Vodka and Caviar in it. We have substantial compliance with this. The Soviets have moved in.

The President: Why do we have to yield?

Secretary Rusk: They have made the major step.

Secretary Clifford: If ten steps separated us, they have taken eight and we have taken 2.

Secretary Rusk: I would say it is nine to one.

The President: What is the reason for the extra day?

Secretary Rusk: Both have proposed the 30th. It is just a different hour.

The Russians have the major effort here. We can't break it up over a matter of hours. I say that although you know I was a next day man.

The President: So was I. What happened?

Secretary Rusk: Does it hurt us?

The President: I think so. Every minute we delay the more dangerous it is for us, for the South Vietnamese. Every moment will be agony for us until we get the GVN in the talks.

Walt Rostow: A report that there are no shells across the DMZ will be more important than the timing of the talks. Thieu is concerned about the NLF being separate entity. This might leak out of Saigon.

Secretary Rusk: It might leak out on basis of the orders issued.

General Wheeler: Yes, it might. They will pick up the fact that the planes are flying in a different direction. I think it will leak from Washington first--either from State or the Pentagon.

The President: I agree.

The President: No other civilian except me.

General Wheeler: Only NMICC message men. It goes out on "red rocket".

Secretary Clifford: Can you do that tomorrow?

Secretary Rusk: I would send Bunker the last cable from Paris./4/

/4/Document 128.

General Wheeler: I need twenty-four hours. Otherwise, some aircraft may be airborne and can't get the word.

Secretary Clifford: From October 30 to November 2 is three days on Greenwich Mean Time.

General Wheeler: What is the next step beyond this? What will North Vietnam lay on as next proposal? I guess it will be a cease-fire in places. This is dangerous. It would give them sanctuaries within South Vietnam. We should negotiate a cease-fire rather than accept one.

This is the most dangerous proposal we could tie on to.

Secretary Rusk: A cease-fire has to be associated with a withdrawal of forces.

General Taylor: I would echo those views. I am for bombing halt under the circumstances mentioned.

Walt Rostow: I wouldn't argue time, but we need to get Harriman back.

Walt Rostow: I agree with the points on a cease-fire. We want a total peace package.

General Wheeler: Harriman-Vance have been intrigued by 5000 man withdrawal on each side. We can't check their withdrawals.

Walt Rostow: They have got to be withdrawals to North Vietnam, not Cambodia.

The President: I smell blitzing. There is a lot in the air. Let's don't do anything that is fatal to us. See what it is we are getting. I still think this is a political move to affect this election.

Secretary Rusk: Even if it were so, it is in our interest to do this.

General Taylor: I have been a hard-nosed man, Mr. President, but I am for this. They are hurting. There also may be these ulterior motives.

The President: What do we have on cities and the DMZ from them. Do the Soviets know what we mean?

Secretary Rusk: The Soviets understand the three facts of life.

The President: We will call Abrams in to be damn sure he is ready to do this.

Secretary Rusk: I outlined these things to Gromyko./5/

/5/See footnote 9, Document 51.

The President: Is there anything we can put our teeth into?

Secretary Rusk: Yes, their willingness to proceed with clear understanding that if we don't get cities and the DMZ, we'll restart.

The President: What is the Soviet attitude? Do they think they'll respect it?

Secretary Rusk They can't sign a contract.

Walt Rostow: We have statement in Oslo./6/

/6/See Document 43.

The President: Do we have time to talk to the Soviets?

Secretary Rusk: I thought we crossed that bridge. It would be serious to reverse our field.

The President: I wanted to look at this again. I want the Soviets to fully understand this.

The President: I think we are being herded into this under pressure.

Do we need to talk to them again?

Secretary Rusk: I told the Foreign Minister that the DMZ and the cities were essential.

General Wheeler: What kind of contract do we have on the DMZ and the cities?

Secretary Rusk: No contract.

The President: I do not have any firm evidence to go on.

1. Do the Soviets really think this will go?

2. Do they understand we'll restart if the DMZ and the cities are not respected?

A. Tell the Soviets we don't see the reasons for the extra day.
B. Get Soviet assurance the GVN will be accepted.

I don't trust these people. I would like the Soviets' assurances on the DMZ and the cities. They might play that trick on us.

November 2 is a bad, dangerous date. Nearly everybody will interpret it as being connected with the campaign.

I don't know who the people are in Hanoi and Paris--their integrity or their trust. What is their reaction to the cities and the DMZ?

Secretary Rusk: They understand if the cities or the DMZ are violated, the deal is off.

Walt Rostow: They have positioned artillery so they could honor this.

Secretary Rusk: We said to Soviets to concentrate on the GVN problem and we'll concentrate on the other two points in Paris.

The President: Should we push them?

Secretary Rusk: I am concerned over the timing. It would be unfortunate to delay because of the elections.

General Taylor: What you say to the country is of utmost importance.

General Taylor: You can say all bets are off if the DMZ is violated.

The President: Close these gates.

1. Add-on on time.

2. Be very sure they understand all--that Abrams responds if they violate the DMZ or the cities.

I want:

A--Vance and Harriman
B--Soviets
C--Abrams
D--JCS

Then:

E--Leadership
F--Candidates

We may be motivated by evils we know not of. I would rather be stubborn and adamant rather than tricky, slick politician. They think everybody is working toward electing Humphrey by doing this. This is not what motivates us. I want to take it slow.

Do all of these people understand it?

A--Harriman and Vance: That Abrams would respond.
B--The Soviets: That Hanoi knows if the DMZ and the cities are not respected it means a resumption of the bombing immediately.
C--Abrams.
D--The JCS.

Tell Dobrynin we don't want 18 hours.

Be sure it isn't a 37-day pause./7/ I want to invite your comment on the DMZ and the cities.

/7/Reference is to the bombing pause of December 1965-January 1966.

I want to be more positive about what the Soviets said to us--not what we said to them.

I was disturbed when General Wheeler sent out a cable asking Abrams what would happen if we did stop the bombing./8/ That, it seemed, anticipated us.

/8/Not found.

Walt Rostow: Dobrynin said "He understands." He is an Ambassador.

The President: Does his government believe it?

Isn't it your assumption?

General Wheeler: You have Oberemko's statement. Also, Dobrynin. Also, letter from Chairman Kosygin./9/

/9/See Documents 119 and 122.

The most interesting thing is that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam dropped "without conditions." They may be trying to play American politics.

General Wheeler: The Soviets understand it--loud and clear.

The President: I want the Soviets to understand it; I want Harriman-Vance to understand it; and Nixon understands it.

General Wheeler: To go to the other governments would be dangerous.

The President: Thieu?

General Wheeler: No. Bunker should talk to Thieu.

Secretary Rusk: I want to hear back first on these two points.

The President: Do we let them announce it as "unconditional." I won't stand for that.

Let's not leave them under the impression that it is unconditional. We can't sell Nixon's and Russell's on that.

Secretary Rusk: I am not under any hallucinations.

The President: We can't say there are conditions and they say there are not any. I have my own credibility problems already.

Walt Rostow: We are free to say anything to our people. So are they.

The President: Read Harriman-Vance cable. (Incoming). (Attachment B)/10/

/10/Document 128.

I am troubled by two things:

A. Their saying "unconditional" and our saying "conditional."

B. The time being moved forward on the meeting.

Secretary Rusk: I'll see Dobrynin tonight. I'll also call Cy. (Cy Vance)./11/

/11/According to Rusk's appointment book, he did call Vance at 10:30 p.m. and then went home at 10:45 p.m. Although there is no indication of it in Rusk's appointment book, apparently he and Rostow then met with Dobrynin. (Johnson Library, Dean Rusk Appointment Books, 1968-1969) For Dobrynin's meeting with Rostow that evening, see Document 130.

The President: Tell Cy he may come back.

Secretary Rusk: It would be good for Abrams to come back.

General Wheeler: It would be good to have Abrams back.

Secretary Clifford: I agree.

Secretary Rusk: I agree.

General Taylor: I agree.

The President: Bring him back without publicity./12/

/12/Preparations had been made earlier for a meeting between the President and Abrams at Honolulu. (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, October 25, 8:40 a.m.; ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II [2 of 2]) In a memorandum to the President, October 25, 9:10 a.m., Rostow outlined questions for Johnson to raise with Abrams. (Ibid.)

Secretary Clifford: I am not sure Wheeler can't do everything Abrams can do and do it better. Abrams does not add anything to what General Wheeler can say.

The President: I disagree. He has color of military commander who is in field. He can say here are the conditions--he can assure that this won't risk lives. I want him to talk straight and direct. Russell said Abrams would be most effective.

All of you are playing with this like you have been living in another world--with a bunch of doves.

The Democrats and George Ball have been putting out that we were about to do this.

General Taylor: Abrams will say he can stand the bombing pause if the DMZ is respected and the cities are not attacked.

The President: All of you know how much I want peace, but we don't have anything to show for it.

General Taylor: I think they will respect the cities and the DMZ.

Secretary Clifford: You have a good story to tell. For five months we have told Hanoi we couldn't go ahead without the GVN present. Finally, they changed their position. They chose the time--not us.

The President: They say, so what?

Some say, sure, we get the GVN in--but Hanoi gets the NLF.

Secretary Clifford: What we wanted was to get to substantive discussions. They have capitulated. Since San Antonio, we have said we would stop the bombing and proceed on certain assumptions./13/

/13/See footnote 6, Document 35.

The President: I want to show people more than we have got.

Secretary Clifford: We have a lot to show. We could say we have informed them if they shell the cities and do not respect the DMZ the deal is off. We have told the Soviets that.

The conversation with Gromyko had this as part and parcel of the agreement.

We have Hanoi, Oberemko, Gromyko, Dobrynin understanding that.

The President: I don't think that. I do not see much they can quote that they have said to us.

Secretary Rusk: Let's not make a point with the Russians on these hours. We went to three days with your full knowledge and permission. This is the substantial agreement with our demands.

Secretary Clifford: I agree. We tell people we have agreed to talk on Saturday. I can't see where it is so important to do it Friday.

The President: I think they are whittling away at this.

Secretary Rusk: This isn't a difference we can stand on. It would seem to the Soviets that we are playing games.

Walt Rostow: What is the question.

The President: Tell them it gives us problems.

Walt Rostow: Is it advice we should proceed on understanding that Soviets know we will resume if the DMZ or the cities are violated?

Secretary Rusk: Soviets might go ahead and advise us to stop bombing.

Walt Rostow: If Bus needs 24 hours, we have to issue orders tomorrow at 7:00 p.m.

General Wheeler: I do not want to violate any agreement you all make.

Secretary Clifford: On the Soviet ship--the pilot jettisoned bombs about three miles away.

General Wheeler: One of our aircraft overflew islands.

 

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

Washington, October 27, 1968, midnight.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Chlodnick File. Secret; Harvan Double Plus.

Mr. President:

With the indicated typographical changes, I gave the attached to Dobrynin tonight. I told him they were rough notes and an oral communication, not in any sense formal governmental message. On the other hand, he should understand that they accurately reflected how the President feels at the moment.

I then explained bluntly the President's dilemma in having to take such a major step at such a critical political period in the U.S. with nothing more from Hanoi or Moscow than assent by silence. I indicated the importance that the President attached to some positive indication from the Soviet Union that there was reason to believe that it was Hanoi's intent to honor the understanding on the DMZ and the cities. I said this was not a matter of our forces being able to protect themselves, but it did relate to the full consequences in the U.S., in Vietnam, and on the world scene of our having to resume the bombing.

Dobrynin indicated that he understood the problem; that he did not know what positively the authorities in Moscow might be able to say to the President at this time, but he would solicit an early response, if a response could be given.

Dobrynin then reviewed the time factor involved if we were to hold to a first meeting on November 2.

I underlined the urgency of a response from Moscow, as he left.

W.W. Rostow/2/

/2/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

 

Attachment

Letter From President Johnson to Chairman Kosygin/3/

Washington, October 27, 1968.

/3/No classification marking. A notation on the attachment reads: "As dictated by the President."

The President has not made any decision on the discussions and does not intend to do so until he has talked to the leadership in Congress and appropriate committees and to the candidates. He also desires to have whatever understanding is reached carefully evaluated by Amb. Bunker and Gen. Abrams and expects to have their comments and recommendation in connection therewith. He is going back to Amb. Harriman and Amb. Vance tonight and urge them to make abundantly clear to the North Vietnamese the three points: that we expect the South Vietnamese to be received at the first meeting on Saturday,/4/ and that we will expect, while these discussions continue, that the DMZ and the cities will be respected. He is very anxious to have this clearly and succinctly repeated to the North Vietnamese so as to avoid any charge of deception and any risk of misunderstanding. Although he does not expect them to agree this is a condition or reciprocal action, he does expect them to understand that Gen. Abrams has been issued rules of engagement and that a failure to respect either the DMZ or the cities, that would trigger retaliation and disrupt the conference. The President feels it is better this understanding take place in advance before the bombing stops rather than have it stop and start again because of alleged misunderstanding.

/4/November 2.

In addition, the President, in spite of the incidents around the 37-day pause, desires that your Government be informed of the assumption on which he is proceeding so as to avoid any deception or misunderstanding with respect to your government. He is proceeding on these assumptions in the belief that Mr. Kosygin understands them and "has reason to believe" that if the bombing stopped productive discussions could promptly follow. Of course productive discussions could not continue if the DMZ and the cities were not respected.

The President is very anxious to have any comments or reaction Mr. Kosygin may have to these three points, in light of Mr. Kosygin's letters of June and the other day (October 25)./5/ The President will carefully weigh Mr. Kosygin's observations before making a decision.

/5/For the June 5 letter, see Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 262. For the October 25 letter, see Document 122.

 

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

Washington, October 28, 1968, 12:40 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II [1 of 2]. Confidential; Literally Eyes Only. The notation "ps" on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.

Mr. President:

I understand well your reaction to George Ball, the New York Democrats, etc.

I understand well your reaction to the likelihood that Moscow and Hanoi are playing politics.

I understand well the certainty that some will accuse the President of playing politics.

But the tragic dilemma is that you will also be accused of playing politics if you let this slide--and politics against the party you lead. Harriman and the Russians will see to that.

I am not even sure the deal will be there to pick up after the election.

The only safety I have known over these difficult eight years has been to consult my judgment and my conscience. And I know that has also been your only solace.

There were four people in that room at dinner tonight, aside from yourself, who have lived Vietnam, with all its pain, since January 1961: Rusk, Taylor, Wheeler, and myself./2/

/2/The President dined with Rusk, Clifford, Taylor, Wheeler, Rostow, Christian, and Tom Johnson. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) Notes of their dinner conversation have not been found.

All of us know that, with all its uncertainties, we have the best deal we now can get--vastly better than any we thought we could get since 1961.

If we go ahead we know it may be tough. But with military and political determination we believe we can make it stick--not because we are so smart; but because your courage, the quality of our fighting men, and the resilience and simple gallantry of the South Vietnamese people give us the tools to make it stick.

We know we could be wrong.

But we laid our judgment on the line in much tougher and more ambiguous circumstances than these.

And none of us would know how to justify delay.

You know you can count on me. I delivered the message as hard to Dobrynin tonight as anything I've ever done. But I do wish you to know how I feel.

I would do anything I know how to do to ease the President's dilemma. But I do not believe all the prior consultations with the leadership, candidates, etc., can ease it. Only the President can decide. And whatever he decides, I'll be there.

Walt

 

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

Paris, October 28, 1968, 1025Z.

/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 6:17 a.m.

22996/Delto 885. Eyes only for the Secretary from Harriman and Vance.

Pursuant to telcon with Secretary,/2/ there follows the answer to the three questions he raised.

/2/See footnote 11, Document 129.

1. (A) We have raised the issues of the DMZ and indiscriminate attacks against the major cities and what we expect on the part of the DRV in respect to these two matters in 12 secret meetings with the DRV. Often these subjects were raised more than once in those meetings. In most cases both subjects were raised; in a few cases only one was raised. The discussion of these matters began in June and have continued until the present day, so that we have been consistently presenting our position in this regard to the other side.

(B) Our demand with respect to the DMZ has been: there will be no firing of artillery, rockets or mortars from across and within the DMZ; there will be no movement of troops from, across and within the DMZ; and there will be no massing or movement of troops near the DMZ in a manner threatening to the other side. Our demand with respect to the cities has been that there will be no indiscriminate attacks against major cities. These formulations are precisely in accordance with our instructions, as most recently expressed in State 254715./3/ ns for a settlement. (What Lau is saying when he speaks in this way is that while he will never admit to past violations of DMZ, he understands what will be necessary in the future.)llery fire across the DMZ, "you will see what will happen because our government has consistently respected the DMZ. Reality will give you the reply." This, Lau said, would create the favorable conditions for a settlement. (What Lau is saying when he speaks in this way is that while he will never admit to past violations of DMZ, he understands what will be necessary in the future.)

/3/Document 65.

(C) With respect to the indiscriminate attacks against major cities, we have not only raised this issue repeatedly in private sessions, but made it an issue in plenary meetings. In fact, with a few exceptions, there have been none for several months.

(D) Throughout our meetings when these subjects have been discussed, at no point has the other side given us any basis for believing that they did not understand precisely what we are talking about and what is expected of them.

(E) On October 11, pursuant to instructions (State 252815)/4/ and in accordance with Vance's discussions with the Secretary, we said, "In responding to your question, it is very important there be no misunderstanding between us. It is very important to understand that we are not talking about reciprocity or conditions but simply a fact that after cessation of all bombardment the President's ability to maintain that situation would be affected by certain elemental considerations.

/4/See footnote 4, Document 54.

"We do not look on them as a condition for stopping the bombing but as a description of the situation which would permit serious negotiations and thus the cessation to continue. You will understand, therefore, that the circumstances we have discussed in our various private meetings about military activity in and around the DMZ are essential to the maintenance of that situation. And, of course, you know from our various discussions that indiscriminate attacks launched against major cities would create a situation which would not permit serious talks and thus the maintenance of a cessation." We have repeated this in equally clear terms on subsequent occasions.

(F) In addition, in four meetings with the Soviet representative in Paris, we have raised the subject of the DMZ and attacks on the major cities and have told them that the bombing cessation could not be maintained if the DRV acted in bad faith with respect to these matters. He had been in regular and frequent contact with the DRV delegation. He had indicated to us that the DRV understands our position. We further understand that the Secretary has also raised these subjects with the Russians and has made our position clear.

(G) Finally, our continued refusal to include the words "without condition" in an agreed minute makes it crystal clear that although there are no "pre-conditions" there are circumstances or what some people might call "conditions subsequent," the occurrence of which would cause us to resume the bombing.

2. In our judgment, the DRV will carry out what we have demanded of them with respect to the DMZ and indiscriminate attacks against major cities. While we have not received direct affirmation that the DRV will abide by our demand--we are convinced they understand clearly what they are expected to do. As indicated above, this is confirmed by our discussions with Soviets. In addition, the DRV understands the consequences if they fail to live up to their part of the understanding, i.e., the bombing will be resumed. It is always possible that there will be some minor violations such as moving small numbers of men and supplies through the DMZ. These can be judged on the basis of the total circumstances in which they occur.

3. As we have previously stated on several occasions, the bombing should be resumed if our demands with respect to either the DMZ or the cities are violated.

Harriman

 

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

Paris, October 28, 1968, 1115Z.

/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 6:49 a.m.

22997/Delto 886. Eyes only--Personal for the Secretary from Harriman and Vance.

1. The debate over "conditions" for the cessation of bombing has been going on with the North Vietnamese since the first secret talks. You will recall that we developed Phase 1-Phase 2 proposal early in these talks as a means of getting around this problem. The idea then was that because the actions on their part would be taken in Phase 2, even though we had an understanding on them, they would not be looked upon as reciprocity.

2. As these discussions evolved away from Phase 1-Phase 2 and toward the concept of prior understandings, this same theological problem kept arising. The North Vietnamese kept insisting on the unconditional cessation and we kept insisting that our proposals were not conditions. At various times we described them as definitions of serious talks, actions which would give us "reason to believe," and as descriptions of a situation which would permit serious negotiations and thus the cessation of bombing to continue.

3. At our October 24 meeting/2/ we said for example, "We will make no reference to conditions. We do not look on these as conditions but as description of the situation which would permit serious negotiations and thus the cessation of bombing to continue. There should be prompt discussion and actions should be taken as we have mentioned when we were discussing Phase 2." In the same meeting we told Thuy: "We have said many times that we do not consider any of the matters we had discussed conditions, but we have discussed in many different ways the circumstances which would be necessary to permit serious talks to continue." Shortly after this statement, we said: "On this matter and others we have indicated that we will say what we believe is appropriate, and the DRV side will say what it considers appropriate."

/2/See Document 116.

4. We have stuck to the position that what we have been demanding in terms of the DMZ, the cities, prompt meetings and GVN participation is not a demand for reciprocity but circumstances which would permit prompt, serious talks and continuation of cessation of bombing. We have not accepted their definition of reciprocity. We believe that this had been done with the understanding and authority of Washington. In addition we believe that it has always been the understanding that each side would define its actions as it wishes and would be free to make its announcements and statements as it sees fit.

5. For example, the Department's 259261/3/ rejecting the idea of a joint communiqué, said: "Further I do not see how we can very well expect to negotiate what the various parties will say about it. Each has its 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". In State 260480,/4/ the Department said in the context of the question of "conditions": "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 facts as they unfold in compliance with the real understandings. The only assurance we will give is that no United States official statement will use word 'conditional.'"

/3/Document 98.

/4/Document 113.

6. It has been our understanding that we had no intention of talking about conditions. We have believed that was consistent with your conversations with Dobrynin.

7. We and the Department have always recognized that Hanoi would call the cessation "unconditional." In the Department's instruction on press handling (State 259838)/5/ the Department said: "We must recognize that Hanoi will almost certainly announce that the cessation has been unconditional."

/5/Dated October 22. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II)

8. We have always distinguished between what Hanoi calls conditions and what we call conditions. The fact that we have refused to add the words "without conditions" to an agreed minute has made clear to Hanoi that there is a relationship between the actions expected of them and the cessation of bombing, although we were not going to say so. We recognized this in our verbal assurances to them that we would not use the word "conditional" in our official statement.

9. It appears to us that Ambassador Bunker was operating on the same general assumption. For example, in Saigon's 40532,/6/ in a discussion of the joint US-GVN communiqué, he told Thieu: "The draft he (Thieu) had given us has too many things in it that look like demands or conditions. This is not the place to bring up the question of recognition . . . nor the way to tip off Hanoi's hand with respect to the things they will not do. We have indeed good reason to know what they will not do, but if we insist there is reciprocity, it would torpedo the whole exercise before we even get started."

/6/Dated October 17. (Ibid., HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. II)

10. When Thieu said that the public must have some indication of what it can expect if the bombing stops, Bunker replied: "The whole idea is that Hanoi can say anything it likes but the GVN will be there and can reply." In sum, we believe that our concept for getting around the problem of reciprocity has always been to avoid it by defining actions in our own way and letting Hanoi define them in its way.

11. This strategy had been successful. We have managed to get conditions accepted by not calling them conditions but letting the other side call them what it wishes.

Harriman

 

134. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)/1/

Washington, October 28, 1968, 10:31 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Wheeler, October 28, 1968, 10:31 a.m., Tape F68.07, PNO 6. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. The President called Wheeler at Clifford's office in the Pentagon. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A summary of the conversation is ibid.

President: The conditions have been referred to each time in the twelve meetings, sometimes more than once, that they [Harriman and Vance] do feel that it's understood./2/ And I don't think they say embraced, but that is thoroughly a part of the whole picture with the other side, and they themselves do recommend the resumption if our understanding is not carried out.

/2/See Document 132.

Wheeler: Right.

President: At midnight, Walt saw our other friend/3/ and told him that we didn't want to deceive anybody; that this was the basis; that we were going into this thing; we wanted them to understand it was that basis; and we were ready to have any--if they want to reject it, they could do it now; if they wanted to say they had reason to believe that we could make progress, we'd be glad to have them repeat that. In any event, before we actually took action, that this was the basis upon which we would take it. Namely, other folks would be present and the other two things would be respected.

/3/Reference is to Dobrynin; see Document 130.

Wheeler: Yes, sir.

President: And so he said he understood that; he would get that to his government. Now, our friend/4/ did not get off out there for some time--I imagine they had difficulties trying to keep it low-key. I very much want to see him before I take this fateful step. And I want the country to know that I've seen him--when I do take it I want them to know I've seen him.

/4/Reference is to General Abrams.

Wheeler: Yes, sir.

President: Now, I know that you've got to do some preparation too. And I had thought New York--I told Walt yesterday to tell him to get all packed and be sitting there ready where he could move pretty quickly. But when we got to him at 11, he finally got off at about 4:30, I think.

Wheeler: 3:30 our time.

President: 3:30 our time. His present plan--I thought it was 20 hours--I understand his present plan is 5 tomorrow morning. 5 doesn't bother me in the least in talking to him, but I don't know what you could do after 6./5/

/5/See Document 140.

Wheeler: Well, I'll have to take a look at it, sir.

President: You take a look at the whole picture and call me back. We ought to be hearing from these other people through the day. It may be that you'll want to take some preliminary steps where all you'll have to do is execute. But look at it very carefully. We don't want to have any more meetings than we have to. But we'll have to do a lot of things today if some of these folks come through.

Wheeler: All right, sir.

President: I think that you feel that you and all the men we met with the other day and this fellow will whole-heartedly recommend this step?

Wheeler: They will, sir. I'm positive of it.

President: Now, suppose that--suppose that they get you, we'd have to decide right quickly, but suppose that they did abuse one of the two other situations, either Saigon or the DMZ. Do you think that we--that everybody'd be ready to go right back where we were before?

Wheeler: I think we are. We'd be ready, sir, and I think the others have all expressed the same view. I think so. This was certainly my--

President: How do you think we look--on-again, off-again? Just look like, well, we tried to go the last mile, and they were sons-of-bitches?

Wheeler: It seems to me that you would be left in a strong position, sir. In other words, you've tried your best.

President: Okay, you look at this other thing, and we'll try to talk a little bit later. Walt'll be talking to you.

Wheeler: All right, sir.

President: There's about eight or ten things we have to do--have to go out to other governments; got all this other stuff--but I don't want to make the mistakes we made last time. I guess we have to talk to the [Congressional] leaders and the candidates. Now Walt--when was your last time for the effectiveness to meet our second deadline--our original orders go into effect?

Wheeler: 7 p.m. on the 29th.

President: Does that include the part they wanted included there? Is that it?

Wheeler: That includes the 16 hours extension.

President: Do I have that right, Buzz?

Wheeler: Yes, 7 p.m.

President: And that doesn't bother you any?

Wheeler: No, sir. We can do it if we can get it off by 7, but I don't see how you can under the circumstances. But I'll take a look and see what we can do, sir.

President: All right. Thank you.

Wheeler: Yes, sir.

 

135. Telephone Conversation Among President Johnson, the President's Special Assistant (Rostow), and Secretary of State Rusk/1/

Washington, October 28, 1968, 10:45 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Among Johnson, Rostow, and Rusk, October 28, 1968, 10:45 a.m., Tape F6810.08, PNO 7-8. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. A summary of the conversation is ibid. The President and Rostow spoke to Rusk through a speaker phone.

President: Can he [Abrams] get here sooner than he can? I was under the impression he was ready to go. It was 20 hours at 11 last night. It looks like now it won't be until tomorrow morning at--

Rostow: 5:30 [a.m.].

President: 5:30.

Rusk: Mm-hmm.

President: If they question them, I want to talk to him before we get signed onto something. I'm hoping maybe that Buzz can prepare them and then execute after we have our conversation--

Rusk: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

President: At 6 o'clock in the morning. I wanted to ask you two or three things. One, what is your feeling about the time to see the [Congressional] leadership and the candidates? Must it be before the order is sent out or should it be before it goes into effect?

Rusk: I would think that before it goes into effect and before the announcement. I think that the problem is that when you see them, you almost have to go straight into the announcement because they just won't hold it, I'm afraid. And so, I would think, if you were to go into effect, say, tomorrow evening, that you'd probably want to see them sometime late tomorrow afternoon to explain to them. And I think at that point it would be a matter of your explaining to them why you have taken your decision rather than asking them to vote on it because I think this is a matter where the President carries a unique responsibility. But I don't think--the principal reason I would shorten the time between the two is that I just don't think it would hold.

President: Is there any likelihood of adjustment in that time in any way? Is that too complicated?

Rusk: Well, I think the present time, unless the whole thing on the whole schedule is, say, put off 24 hours, I think the present time is pretty fairly locked on, I mean, in terms of relationships and the various factors. I think there may be an operational question about pushing the button tomorrow morning and having an announcement tomorrow evening in terms of contacts with various people that we'd have to--Bunker with Thieu, for example, is the primary one. I'm not so all that concerned about the--some of the allies, but we'd have to give them at least 2 or 3 hours advance notice. I'm sorry that Abrams can't get back sooner. I was hoping that he'd be in here this evening.

President: Yes, I thought he could. But he can't do it, I guess. They told me it was 20 hours.

Rusk: Uh-huh.

President: But when we got down to it, he just says 5:30 tomorrow morning.

Rusk: Uh-huh.

President: We'll have to look into that and see what the delay is. First, he was delayed getting off for 4-1/2 hours longer than we thought.

Rusk: Maybe, I don't know, do you, in view of what you've already got in cables and what the [Joint] Chiefs are prepared to say today, I don't know whether you want to postpone this until you actually have a final talk with Abrams.

President: I don't want to act on it until I do--

Rusk: I see.

President: Because then I might be on-again, off-again.

Rusk: I see. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

President: What I'd really like to do, I wouldn't object to in effect--well, you see what got it screwed up, you've got to add in 16 hours onto the product--

Rusk: Mm-hmm.

President: [Added to the time] of it, and it's that 16 hours that makes a difference. You don't think that 3 or 4 of those would be manageable? Suppose--

Rusk: Well, I think for probably what we could do, if we had to have extra time, would be to, say, postpone the meeting until Sunday/2/ instead of Saturday, and just put the whole thing forward 24 hours.

/2/November 3.

President: At that point it would be too close to the election, you see.

Rusk: Yeah. I think it's better to shoot for Saturday if we can.

President: I wondered--

Rusk: Although I think the announcement is the key thing, rather than the actual, in my own judgment.

President: Suppose we made the announcement at, say, 9:30 tomorrow night.

Rusk: Right.

President: And that would give us 12 hours before. Did Buzz say 12 hours or Abrams say 12 hours?

Rostow: Abrams did so. Buzz said 24.

President: Buzz said 24. Abrams said 12. That would give us until 9:30 in the morning. That's what I'd really like to do if I could. 9:30 here would be, what, 10:30 [p.m.] out there?

Rusk: Ah, yes.

President: At night? Is that too late for Thieu?

Rusk: No, I think that would be all right as far as Thieu is concerned.

President: If we made the time 9:30 in the morning, that would give you whatever time you needed. It would be 10:30 in the morning [sic].

Rusk: It might be difficult to get some of our troop-contributing countries in that time frame. But we can--we can--let me just check the possibilities on that.

President: Give some thought, I don't know if it would work, but we could say to Buzz: reposition everybody, the military, the top military, and we would try to say to you firm at 9:30 tomorrow morning. And we would shoot for a 9:30 announcement tomorrow evening, and we would ask for a 7 o'clock meeting tomorrow evening with the leadership and the candidates.

Rusk: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Now, you could--you might, if you wanted to, knock an hour or so off of that by seeing Abrams earlier--say, see him around 7:30 [a.m.], that kind of thing, and have your talk with him when he first gets in.

Rostow: You think we ought to be thinking of the 12-hour difference, rounding out the troop contributors a little earlier in the evening.

Rusk: I'm trying to figure out a way to get to some of the people like Park and Thanom, people like that, the Prime Minister of Australia, before the middle of the night because that would create some sensation in some of these places.

President: Well, let's look at, then, Thieu at 8 o'clock, see what that does, and we'll check his schedule and see why he's so long.

Rusk: All right.

President: And, now, it looks to me like we have to go over the draft announcement carefully.

Rusk: Did you see that telegram from Bunker about the joint announcement going in this morning indicating that Thieu had said, "Well, that's--we have about everything we can possibly expect," or words to that effect? He seems to be very--quite pleased with the draft announcement./3/

/3/See Document 136.

President: That part of the Presidential letter to Thieu?

Rusk: Yes. I think that's a good letter, and I would send that along with the instructions to Bunker.

President: As part of the draft?

Rusk: When you push the button.

President: That message to the troop contributors--

Rusk: I'm sorry. I didn't get the last.

President: That message to the troop contributors--have you reviewed that?

Rusk: I've got to--I'll look at that right away. I haven't seen that.

President: The President's statement's got to be worked on by your Department come today.

Rusk: Right. Right.

President: Satisfied with the Presidential letter to Kosygin?/4/

/4/Document 141.

Rusk: I think that's all right for now. I think we ought to get going on more detail just as soon as this action is taken. But I think as a first message, that's all right.

President: What else do you think I would need to do?

Rusk: I--I think on your business of seeing the candidates--did you have in mind seeing them together or separately? I can see problems about seeing them together. I don't know that you would want those fellows, or that they would want, to be in the same room together under present circumstances. And I think that in your talk with Nixon, you might want to say some things very direct to him. For example, remind him that the Republican party is a stockholder in this situation; that they were in power when Vietnam was divided and the North became Communist as a threat to Laos and South Vietnam and Thailand; that they were the ones who made the SEATO treaty; and that they were the ones who recommended to--President Eisenhower was the one who recommended to President Kennedy we put troops in Southeast Asia. And remind him that the record here is such that they're shareholders in this problem so that he doesn't get too gay about it. I think my own suggestion would be that you try, if you can, see these people separately, if you can.

President: Have four briefings then, I guess./5/

/5/For the briefings of the candidates and of the Congressional Leadership, see Document 166 and footnote 7 thereto.

Rusk: Yes. I think that the candidates you might be able to take care of, well, I think in terms of--with Hubert, you could probably spend 15 minutes with him, not more than that. With Nixon, it might be 30 to 45. And not more than 30 minutes with Wallace. Now, if Wallace doesn't want to come in, we maybe just tell him towards the end of the business on the phone. It sort of builds him up to have him come and sit with the three. I think you'll have problems with the three sitting in the same room.

President: What do you think about the Leadership?

Rusk: I think they will be generally acquiescent but skeptical. I think they will have a measure of skepticism, as all of us will have. The Secretary of State cannot base his good faith to the President on what some Communists say, or don't say, or do, even if we had a treaty with red ribbons on it, and the President is not in a position to guarantee to the Leadership exactly what the Communists are going to do. We can say that in our best judgment the chances are sufficiently good to make this step worthwhile, and we don't want to lose any chance that seems promising. And, as a minimum, it would transform the real relationship with the Soviets to this situation in Southeast Asia because if a fellow Socialist country is not under attack, they haven't got a leg to stand on. And our--the possibility of putting major pressures on the Soviet Union are multiplied several times when a step like this is taken. But you and I can't guarantee to the Leadership exactly what would happen. What we can say is it's our judgment the situation is such that it is a wise move to make and there's a fair chance it will be a real step toward peace.

President: What--old Mansfield's going to be out in Arlington; Dirksen's going to be in Illinois; Albert's going to be in Oklahoma; McCormack's not going to want to fly--he's going to be at Boston. What would you think about just having a conference call with them?

Rusk: I think that would be--how many did you have in mind having in--maybe 10 or 12?

President: I might just confine it to those four top leaders.

Rusk: And as well as the Republican side?

President: Yes.

Rusk: Uh-huh.

President: I said Dirksen and Ford.

Rusk: Dirksen--Oh, I see, Dirksen and Ford.

President: Dirksen's going to be in Illinois. Mansfield, and Albert--

Rusk: And the Speaker?

President: And the Speaker. There'd be five.

Rusk: I'd be in favor of a smaller number the better. First place, it holds better. And secondly, you don't create a sense of monumental crisis by getting 30 or 40 people in here from all over the country with special flights and things of that sort. And maybe a conference call will take care of it. If anyone of them then wants to see you, he can come right on in and see you.

President: 'Cause you know after they hang up the phone they'll be talking.

Rusk: Well, you'll have to do your best to emphasize the timing factors and pledge them not to say anything about it until you do. I think that in the conference call, they're likely to be a little better behaved on charges and counter-charges or anything of that sort. And Nixon on Sunday, despite, yesterday on, despite on some of the other things he said, pretty well left the pulpit on this particular subject. I think if he was smart he would roll with it. My guess is he will.

President: See, North Vietnam's official radio tonight said North Vietnam is ready to accept any conditions in return for a U.S. bombing halt.

Rusk: Well, that's right. Well, they're playing that line publicly, and I told Cy and Averell that they'll have to make it clear that if North Vietnam does that, that we will have to--that we will be free to reply.

President: Well, now, what did you say to them about the--about their saying it's unconditional after our talk last night?

Rusk: I told them that we were disturbed about that--that when they added that extra phrase that we would not object if they called it unconditional; that that looked like an assertion of the "without conditions" in our understanding with them in a way that's to our disadvantage. And that we will probably have to ask them to make it clear to the other side when they see them next that if they claim this is unconditional that we will be free to reply. I regret myself that they just didn't say that each side will be free to say what it wants to about it and leave it at that, so that we're not tied in any way.

President: Why? What would we say?

Rusk: Well, he saw the point. He said he agreed it would have been better if they hadn't specified that particular point.

President: I said, how will we reply?

Rusk: Well, I think we'll, in the first place, background some press to go ahead with the speculation that we've already seen in the papers about what the terms are and urge them to give attention to the facts on the ground, and in fact to watch the DMZ and to watch the cities, and that will get them writing that there were understandings about the cities and the DMZ. I think if it's Hanoi Radio or Nhan Dan editorials or something like that that a formal reply by the President or Secretary of State may not be required. I think that it could be the press is going to be writing on the basis of our opening statements that there were understandings involved here that were not being made public fully, and the people will generally rest with that for awhile.

President: When, would you think, if we announced, say, tomorrow night at 9:30, the halt, would you expect to enforce on both use of the DMZ and the cities?

Rusk: I wouldn't do it in the official papers. I would let it be done--I would let it be done by a backgrounding.

President: I'm not talking about the statement. I'm talking about a fact out there--the performance on their part. You would expect them to start performing the same time we'd start?

Rusk: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.

President: Well, will they observe that in 2 or 3 days?

Rusk: They ought to be able to. They ought to be able to.

Rostow: Every day they shell the South Vietnamese capital.

Rusk: I don't know whether you saw the intelligence this morning about the movement of four additional regiments in the northern part of South Vietnam--an artillery regiment and three other regiments withdrawing from Quang Tri province in the north into the North and one of them into Laos. That kind of thing, I think, is quite significant here and could be used with the Leadership. But that--that's the sort of thing Abrams would be up-to-date on and could get you the material on in which to work on that.

President: I gather you think it would be better to have a conference call with them than to have the five of them brought in.

Rusk: Well, there's got to be only five. I don't think there's too much difference on that.

President: We got Dirksen stirring up a lot of stuff in Chicago before he leaves, you know.

Rusk: I think what you might do is have a conference call. If things get too rough, then tell them to come on in. But I would think that you would not have too much difficulty on a conference call.

President: Would you try to figure out if we make a 9:30 announcement tomorrow night, we could reposition them today, and we could meet with Abrams early in the morning--6 or 7.

Rusk: Right.

President: And we could give Buzz the full 12 hours Abrams needed to reposition today, where he'd have 24 really but he'd have 12 before he executed. And then we see--got to see when Harriman and Vance inform their folks.

Rusk: I think we ought--myself, I think we ought to inform them secretly as soon as we issue the order so that they can get their guys on the road and we don't argue with them about the Saturday meeting.

President: All right. Well, you look at the 9:30 [p.m.], see what trouble it gives you. Or, I guess, 8 o'clock is what you--the last you suggested--look at what 8 o'clock does to you.

Rusk: If we can push a button at 8 o'clock here, we'll try to work out a scenario and see what happens, and then we can adjust it if it goes beyond 8 o'clock.

President: We'll talk back in a little bit.

Rusk: Right.

President: If you'll do that, and then you make a list of everything you need to do.

Rusk: All right, sir. Fine.

 

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

Saigon, October 28, 1968, 1545Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II [2 of 2]. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. Received at 12:15 p.m. Repeated to Paris for Harriman and Vance. In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of this telegram to the President, October 28, Rostow wrote: "Herewith Bunker's account of his meeting with Thieu and Ky on the joint statement. The proposed paragraph sidelined in red on page 2 [a reference to paragraph 2(B)] is stronger than, I believe, Sect. Rusk would like to see it. But I do believe that the GVN has a right to protect its position at this delicate moment. I am quite sure that Hanoi will seek to protect its position before its people without excessive concern for sensibilities in Saigon or Washington. But you will wish to get Sect. Rusk's judgment." The notation "ps" on the covering note indicates that the President saw the telegram.

41356. Ref: Saigon 41323./2/

/2/Dated October 28. (Ibid.)

Subject: Joint meeting October 28.

1. The meeting with Thieu, Ky and Thanh took place in the late afternoon, and the fact that more than half the time was taken up by exchanges between the Vietnamese (mostly between Ky and Thieu) showed how necessary it had been. I can report that at the end of the meeting (attended on our side also by Berger and Herz) we reached agreement on a somewhat changed joint announcement, but one which I believe we can accept and which the GVN believes will make it easier for them to cope with criticism that they had agreed to meet with the NLF. It was not easy.

2. Changes represented by the redraft of the joint announcement (septel)/3/ are as follows:

/3/Telegram 41355 from Saigon, October 28. (Ibid., Harvan/Double Plus, Vol. IV)

A. Second and third paragraphs are switched. It is not clear to me why the GVN prefers it that way, but since no substantive change whatever is involved, and since we had to oppose more important changes that Thieu and Ky tried to make, I accepted this without argument and recommended that it be confirmed.

B. The last paragraph to be reworded (1) to get away from the idea of "the next meeting," which carried the implication to the GVN that they were being included in something that had been going on for some time, rather than being there at the beginning of the substantive talks with North Viet-Nam; (2) use of the word "delegations" to describe GVN and US attendance, by which they hope to confer more status on the GVN representatives; (3) deletion of the sentence beginning "the other side," which the GVN now considers unnecessary; and (4) amendment of the last sentence to make it read: "The two Presidents wish to make it clear that neither the Government of the Republic of Viet-Nam nor the United States Government recognizes the so-called National Liberation Front as an entity independent of North Viet-Nam.

3. Ky, who apparently made the greatest difficulties during the discussions, came up to me after the meeting and said he had worked hard to find a compromise. Perhaps he did so in the end since after numerous attempts to present the future meetings as involving only three delegations, which I rejected, Ky finally said, "I think it is better that we openly recognize that the NLF will be there." It was Ky, apparently, who offered to drop as unnecessary, the phrase about the other side being constituted by Hanoi "as they wish it to be constituted." He said, "The reality is that we accept the Front at the conference." The most important thing from the GVN point of view, as Thieu emphasized, is to make the last sentence of the joint announcement (about non-recognition of the NLF) as strong as possible.

4. Since the GVN in the end gave up their attempts to picture the meetings as consisting of only three participants, I just wish to record that discussion was long and difficult. At one point Thieu asked me if I had received binding instructions from my government that the conference must not be pictured as taking place between three delegations. I answered in the affirmative. Earlier in the discussion I pointed out once more that since Hanoi wished the meetings to be four-power, and Saigon wishes them to be three-power, the only possible basis for talks was to be silent on the point. Ky understood this well, even while trying to squeeze us. He said: "I understand your problem. You can't have a conference if Hanoi won't come--or if Saigon won't come." But he kept trying, nevertheless, to find some formulation that would have made it appear that there was only one delegation on the other side.

5. After agreement was reached on the text (septel), Ky said, "Quite frankly, we are not satisfied, but with such material we can explain, only it will be difficult to convince the people. If the conference lasts many months, our problem will be to prevent a disintegration of morale on our side." I repeated, with some emphasis, that this is entirely the wrong way of looking at the meeting with the North Vietnamese if it eventuates: the GVN should present it as a victory, it will have forced the DRV to negotiate with them, the talks will be a sign that the DRV despairs of obtaining its goals on the battlefield, that it recognizes that it cannot subvert or intimidate the South Vietnamese. Besides, we will be at the side of the GVN both at the talks and in pushing our military advantages in South Viet-Nam, so that the danger of disintegration should be entirely on the other side.

6. There was still much apprehension on the GVN side about being faced with accomplished facts at the first meeting: they wanted to know how we could avoid press photographers at all meetings including the first. They stressed that pictures showing the GVN sitting across from the NLF as if the latter were a co-equal delegation would be extremely troublesome here. Thanh also said he wished to go over the points covered in all our recent discussions to draft agreed understandings, so that we would have a record of what had been decided with respect both to substance and procedure. At the end it was Thanh himself who used the word "agreement" to describe the outcome of today's joint meeting.

7. I urge approval of this agreement which it seems to me meets our requirements while giving the Vietnamese something they can live with. It has not been an easy decision for them.

8. We agreed to meet soon again to discuss substantive issues that may come up early if there are serious talks.

Bunker

 

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

Washington, October 28, 1968, 1:25 p.m.

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

Mr. President:

Brooding on Bus Wheeler's dilemma and assuming that you do not wish to issue final orders until you have a face-to-face talk with Gen. Abrams, I believe there are two fundamental options:

--send out an instruction tonight to Harriman and Vance to get with the North Vietnamese and say that mechanical arrangements are such that we really need back those 16 hours;

--if they kick and scream at this, slide the whole arrangement 24 hours.

The problem with 24 hours is that these highly correct North Vietnamese diplomats, French-trained, may not wish to have a meeting on Sunday, November 3. They may therefore offer us Monday, November 4.

In any case, this is a problem you may wish to discuss with Sect. Rusk perhaps at the late afternoon meeting you mentioned.

Walt

P.S. I think our argument would have greater credibility with the North Vietnamese if we frankly explained to them that you wish to have a last-minute conference with General Abrams in Washington, which cannot take place until tomorrow morning.

P.P.S. Another alternative: If the North Vietnamese do not want to give us back the 16 hours and we do not wish the first meeting to be closer to the election, we can tell them that our time problems are such that, even with a maximum effort, we cannot guarantee that every unit will get the word by the time of the bombing cessation. Therefore, they should not complain if there is some spill over for, say, 7 hours after the time we specify.

FYI: The main problem is not the Air units or the Navy, it is the forward Infantry and Artillery battalions. In short, we would be asking them for a de facto 7-hour extension on the time of the bombing cessation.

Walt

 

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

Washington, October 28, 1968, 2 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Chlodnick File. Secret; Eyes Only; Harvan Double Plus.

Mr. President:

You asked for an analysis of the attached document to the President from Kosygin./2/

/2/Attached is a translation of the Russian text of the note.

1. There are three points of substance:

--A. The Soviet leaders report that the Vietnamese leaders have "told us as well about the seriousness of their intentions."

--B. "The most recent facts . . . convincingly prove . . . ."

I presume this refers to the Hanoi cave-in on "without conditions" and acceptance of three days, at our insistence and, perhaps, Soviet urging.

--C. "It seems to us that doubts . . . are without foundation."

2. Taken by themselves, these statements do not amount to a great deal; although it is significant that, for the first time, Moscow is responsive to our request that they commit themselves about the intent and integrity of Hanoi.

3. However, when the Soviet reply is placed side by side with the attached memorandum,/3/ which I gave last night to Dobrynin and which stimulated the Soviet reply, the two documents taken together represent something more substantial in dealing with the leadership, etc., than the Soviet document taken by itself.

/3/Document 130.

4. My own assessment--which is also General Taylor's, who has gone over this with me--is that this is about all we might expect from the Soviet Union at this juncture.

Walt

 

Attachment

Note From Chairman Kosygin to President Johnson/4/

Moscow, October 28, 1968.

/4/No classification marking.

The progress made at the meetings in Paris between representatives of the DRV and the United States on the halt of the bombings of the DRV, on the opening of political negotiations and on the participants of these negotiations, is being noted with satisfaction in Moscow.

The representatives of the United States in Paris have had more than once an opportunity [to get convinced in]/5/ to become sure of the seriousness of intentions of the Vietnamese side in the search for mutually acceptable solutions. The Vietnamese leaders have repeatedly told us as well about the seriousness of their intentions. The most recent facts, in our view, convincingly prove that the Vietnamese side is doing everything possible to put an end to the war in Vietnam and reach a peaceful settlement on the basis of respect for the legitimate rights of the Vietnamese people.

/5/Brackets in the source text.

In this connection, it seems to us that doubts with regard to the position of the Vietnamese side are without foundation (groundless).

 

139. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 28, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting lasted from 6:40 to 7:55 p.m. and was held in the Cabinet Room. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A summary and full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.

NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
General Wheeler
Director Helms
Walt Rostow
General Taylor
Tom Johnson

Secretary Rusk: We must carefully prepare the briefings for the candidates and the T.V. speech.

Secretary Clifford: Hanoi chose Sunday/2/ as the day to relent and accept the GVN at the conference table.

/2/October 27.

Walt Rostow: Mid-month was time.

General Taylor: He should say he hasn't settled the war. It is just another step.

Walt Rostow: Should Bunker inform Thieu alone that you might make a decision tomorrow?

The President: How does this differ from before when he leaked it?

Secretary Rusk: We must have Thieu aboard.

The President: A burnt child dreads fire.

Secretary Rusk: So do I.

The President: I will not make a decision until Tuesday morning.

The suggested cessation time is 0800 hours, October 30. The President has made no decision on this proposal.

When do you want to make the announcement?

Secretary Clifford: An extra 14 or 16 hours does not bother me. If Abrams gets here and is aboard, you notify Wheeler. He'll notify McCain that bombing is to stop, as of 7 p.m. tomorrow evening.

General Wheeler: It will leak in Washington and in Saigon. I would make the announcement as soon thereafter as possible.

Secretary Clifford: Will it be on TV?

The President: That depends on Secretary Clifford's speech. "I want to know what kind of dress I have before I agree to go to the dance."

Walt Rostow: Should Thieu be sent a Presidential letter?

The President: Only if a decision to go is made.

General Wheeler: If I can get the red-rocket message by 6 a.m. they can stand down by 7 p.m.--a total of 13 hours.

I would have to set up the red-rocket system for between 0500 and 0600 tomorrow. Can we do that?

The President: What is Abrams' schedule?

General Wheeler: At 5:15 he was in Alaska. At 0330 a.m. he arrives at Andrews.

Secretary Rusk: The ground forces should pull out of the DMZ. It is a three mile area.

General Wheeler: We move in only on patrols.

The President: Should the battalion be pulled out of the DMZ?

General Wheeler: It is O.K. with me.

Secretary Clifford: If we have boys in there they will shoot at us.

Walt Rostow: Not if they are serious.

The President: I do not want to abandon the DMZ. We need information.

General Wheeler: We can include the DMZ.

The President: Let's take this up with Abrams.

General Wheeler: "You should position your forces south of the southern boundary of the DMZ"; this language could be inserted.

The President: What do we do if he comes across the DMZ?

General Wheeler: He has immediate authority to respond.

The President: Do you assume that North Vietnam will move out of the DMZ?

General Wheeler: Yes, sir. That's the language.

We do not go across PMDL.

Secretary Clifford: Have we ever been across it?

General Wheeler: Only on a covert basis.

General Taylor: What about the attack on reconnaissance planes?

General Wheeler: Two phases below 19¼.

(1) Make shallow, short, high-speed penetrations.

(2) Regular reconnaissance program.

Tab D/3/ has to do with covert operations.

/3/Not attached.

The President: When do we go to the troop-contributors?

Secretary Rusk: After the decision.

The President: Do we have everything we want?

Secretary Rusk: The message said: What is your view. Do they understand the facts of life? Do the Viet Cong and Hanoi think they would abide by the facts of life?

They responded "events will give our answer."

The record is as hard as it can be short of a contract.

I told the Soviets last night you know what the three facts of life are./4/

/4/See Document 130.

They came back and said we should stop the bombing. North Vietnam understands these matters and that our doubts were "groundless."

We didn't want anybody to charge us with deception.

The President: What about the leadership and the candidates?

Secretary Rusk: I would see them separately between 4 and 6.

I would start with Vice President Humphrey.

Secretary Clifford: Only one factor remains--has a deal been made?

General Taylor: Walt's paper is a good one./5/

/5/Document 130.

Secretary Rusk: Don't try to "interpret" the other side. Don't try to read their minds.

The President: Should the candidates come in the same room?

Secretary Clifford: It increases the level of the event.

The President: We haven't gone into this much with the candidates.

Secretary Clifford: Hanoi finally yielded on the question of the GVN.

General Taylor: Are we going to touch base with Hanoi-Vietcong again?

Director Helms: If the candidates called to Washington, they would flash the President has stopped the bombing.

The President: Have you looked at the speech?/6/

/6/Reference is to drafts of the President's October 31 speech; see Document 169.

Secretary Clifford: I think it is a good speech.

The President: We have got to say moments of encouragement were wiped away with time of encouragement.

We must say that the timing was in their hands.

General Taylor: Say this is not the final victory--only a step on the way.

The President: I'll see Abe as soon as he gets here./7/

/7/See Document 140.

 

140. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 29, 1968, 2:30 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Eyes Only. The meeting lasted until 5:05 a.m. and was held in the Cabinet Room. It resumed at 6:20 and continued until 7:35 a.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.

NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
General Wheeler
General Abrams
General Taylor
Director Richard Helms
Walt Rostow
Harry McPherson
George Christian
Tom Johnson

The President: I thought I'd review how this developed./2/

/2/The following statement by the President came from a memorandum and briefing paper prepared by McPherson, both dated October 28. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II [1 of 2])

On June 5, I received a letter from Chairman Kosygin telling me that he and his colleagues had grounds to believe that a cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam could contribute to a breakthrough in the situation and produce prospects for a peaceful settlement./3/

/3/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 262.

After a further series of exchanges, I communicated the following to the Soviet leaders on September 15:/4/

/4/See Document 18.

"Setting all political arguments aside, the simple fact is that the President could not maintain a cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam unless it were very promptly evident to him, to the American people, and to our allies, that such an action was, indeed, a step toward peace. A cessation of bombing which would be followed by

--abuses of the DMZ,

--Viet Cong and North Vietnamese attacks on cities or such populated areas as provincial capitals,

--or a refusal of the authorities in Hanoi to enter promptly into serious political discussions which included the elected government of the Republic of Vietnam, could simply not be sustained."

On October 2 we were informed that a further exchange of views could prove useful. Such an exchange did take place between Secretary Rusk and Foreign Minister Gromyko in New York on October 6./5/

/5/See Document 47 and footnote 3 thereto.

Meanwhile, I discussed our three points with Ambassador Harriman, whom I saw on September 17, and with Ambassador Vance, whom I saw on October 3./6/ Both fully understood our position.

/6/See Documents 20 and 49.

At a meeting in Paris on October 11, the Hanoi delegation put to us this question: Would we stop the bombing when we had a clear answer to the question of GVN participation as a party in the negotiations that would follow a cessation of the bombing?/7/

/7/See Document 58.

After underlining our other two positions--on the DMZ and the cities--Harriman said he would have to refer the question to Washington.

At this point we consulted Ambassador Bunker and General Abrams, asking them their frank views on an instruction to Harriman which would demand a prior agreement on GVN participation--and an understanding of what would be required to continue a bombing cessation: namely, that the DMZ be respected and the South Vietnamese cities not be attacked.

They responded as follows: "General Abrams and I interpret the exchange with Hanoi as a fairly clear indication that Hanoi is ready for a tactical shift from the battlefield to the conference table. We concur in the instruction to Harriman and Vance, and believe Hanoi will give indications that it finds paragraph one (GVN participation) 'acceptable,' and paragraphs two and three (DMZ and the cities) 'understandable.' We would regard such a response as meeting our essential requirements for a cessation of the bombing."/8/

/8/See Document 61.

Meanwhile, we received through the Soviet Embassy in Paris a side message from the Hanoi delegation that they would agree to the participation of the GVN after bombing stopped./9/

/9/See Document 60.

On this basis, we went to President Thieu. He said "so long as we are going to press the offensive in the South and in Laos, and so long as we are prepared to resume the bombing if they violate the DMZ or attack the main cities," he is ready to go along. "After all," he said, "the problem is not to stop the bombing, but to stop the war, and we must try this path to see if they are serious."/10/

/10/See Document 62.

On Monday morning, October 14, Secretary Clifford and General Wheeler, just back from Europe, were briefed along with Mr. Helms, and General Maxwell Taylor./11/ It was the strong recommendation of Secretary Rusk, Secretary Clifford, and General Wheeler that we should interpret the shift in Hanoi's position as representing a possibility of serious movement towards peace. They believed that the risks were low and manageable. Mr. Helms and General Taylor concurred.

/11/See Documents 67 and 68.

At 1:30 p.m. on Monday, October 14, I met with all the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We went over the same ground./12/ I polled the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff individually. They concurred unanimously.

/12/See Document 69.

We then consulted the other troop contributing countries. They all supported the course of action that President Thieu and I had agreed was wise.

We then instructed Harriman and Vance to put the proposition to the North Vietnamese, including a meeting with the GVN present "the next day."/13/ They had earlier said substantive discussions could start the day after the bombing cessation.

/13/See Document 65.

At this point Hanoi balked. They said the next day was impossible.

We have just had two weeks of very hard negotiations in which Hanoi sought the following:

--first, a communiqué in which we accepted the concept that a bombing halt was "unconditional,"

--second, a period of--at first--"weeks" then two weeks; then one week between the bombing halt and the first meeting with the GVN present,

--third, a statement about the subsequent talks which would elevate them to being a "four-power conference." This was designed to inflate the status of the NLF and greatly embarrass Saigon.

On our side we insisted that--although we did not plan to have representatives of the government talk about "conditions"--we would not sign a document which said the bombing halt was "unconditional."

We insisted that the gap between bombing cessation and the first talks could not be more than about three days.

In a meeting on Sunday afternoon in Paris, October 27, they fully met our position./14/ We have reached a rather simple understanding, the essence of which is that we will stop all air, naval and artillery bombardment, and all other acts involving the use of force against North Vietnam, as of 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, October 29th.

/14/See Document 128.

We have agreed that a meeting dealing with the substantive issues will be held in Paris on Saturday, November 2. The meeting will include representatives of the U.S., South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the NLF.

Let me summarize the understanding.

--Hanoi has agreed in a secret minute and in our discussions to begin serious talks toward peace in Vietnam--talks which would include representatives of the Government of South Vietnam.

--We have made it clear to them that a continuation of the bombing cessation was dependent, first, on respect for the DMZ, and second, upon there being no attacks on the cities.

--The Soviet Union, which has played a part in this negotiation, knows these circumstances intimately. Their understanding has been reaffirmed at the highest level in the last few days.

--Both Hanoi and Moscow are clear that we shall continue reconnaissance of North Vietnam. That is why we agreed to stop only acts of force and not acts of war.

As we have always said, there is no obstacle to the NLF having an opportunity to express its view on a settlement. But no recognition of the NLF is involved.

That is where we stand.

It is the universal judgment of our diplomatic and military authorities that North Vietnam's acceptance of GVN participation is a major event--potentially setting the stage for an honorable settlement of the war. Many experts felt Hanoi would never do this. Until now Hanoi has endlessly repeated they would never talk to the Thieu government. But there can be no settlement without the assent of the constitutional government of Vietnam in Saigon. We have consistently maintained that position, because the whole purpose of our involvement in this conflict required that the people of South Vietnam participate in deciding their own destiny.

As for the DMZ and the cities, we expect that they will act on their understanding that the continuance of the bombing cessation is

you should know that we are thoroughly prepared to respond if they violate those conditions. General Abrams has standing orders which he believes will protect his forces and our allies at the DMZ, should a violation be attempted.al Abrams has standing orders which he believes will protect his forces and our allies at the DMZ, should a violation be attempted.

The agreement at which we have arrived is, then, precisely the one which--as I have told all three Presidential candidates--we have been seeking in recent months. We have given away nothing to reach this agreement. It is wholly consistent with my public statements.

Every single military and diplomatic adviser has urged me to take this step.

Because election is Tuesday,/15/ it is said there is political implication to what is being done.

/15/November 5.

As of Sunday, they agreed to have GVN present.

We went back to the Soviets about the seriousness of NVN. The Soviets say Hanoi has told them about the "seriousness of this"--our doubts are "without foundation."

This is the first time Moscow has been responsive to this matter on seriousness.

We have raised the matter in 12 separate meetings since June in Paris--on matter of cities and DMZ.

Our negotiators believe DRV will abide by our command. Always possible there will be small violations. We believe if it is a major violation we should resume.

Do you think they will violate the DMZ and the cities?

General Abrams: I think they will abide by it on DMZ.

On cities, I am not sure. I am concerned about Saigon.

In 3rd Corps area, they are strong. They are along Cambodian border.

It's the only place left they could cause any trouble.

I moved First Cavalry into that area. They have reduced capability along DMZ.

They have some capability at DaNang.

Everything we see (intelligence officer) indicates they will go at Saigon again. They haven't given up the idea.

Walt Rostow: What is earliest they could hit Saigon?

General Abrams: I am talking about a half dozen rockets or a few (25-50) sappers into Saigon. The threat is of half dozen rockets or 25-50 sappers.

The President: If the enemy honors our agreement, will this be an advantage militarily?

General Abrams: Yes.

The President: Will it compensate for lack of bombing up to the 19¼ parallel?

General Abrams: Yes, Sir, it will.

We think they have shifted tactics from the battlefield to the conference table (on October 12).

Evidence since then is more convincing that this is a sound move.

The President: Do you think they will honor the DMZ?

General Abrams: Yes.

Secretary Rusk: Saigon is easy.

General Abrams: It is easy for him to stop it with orders.

The President: Can we return to full-scale bombing easily if they attack?

General Abrams: Yes, very easily.

The President: In August we said stopping the bombing will increase enemy capability several fold. Why can we stop bombing now?

General Abrams:

1) Interdiction in Panhandle has been successful.

2) They haven't replaced it in the region.

There isn't enough enemy left in I Corps to keep 1st Cavalry Division up there. The enemy has not been found in Quang Tri. The enemy moved out.

He cannot cause mischief he could have caused in August.

I have no problems standing behind what I said in August and behind what I say now.

Secretary Rusk: In August we said nothing about protecting the DMZ.

General Abrams: That's right.

The President: We said we could do this without causing further casualties. Can we do this now?

General Abrams: Yes Sir, we can.

The President: I am going to put more weight on your judgment than anybody else. Can we do this without additional casualties?

General Abrams: Yes, we can.

The President: How would you reapply air power? I understand weather is bad in the DMZ and Panhandle. Can we get more mileage pound-for-pound in Laos and the DMZ rather than in NVN?

General Abrams: Yes Sir. The weather is beginning to change in Laos. The bulk of bombing [would be?] in Laos.

We had 1,000 trucks a day sighted in Laos last year. We are seeking a better balance of power between Laos and Cambodia.

This is kind of same thing we would be doing anyway.

We have new, 90-day sensors. We could be completed in placing these above and in the DMZ to check the pattern of their activity, if they do go back on their word.

The President: What will this do to the morale of our men and the ARVN?

General Abrams: I don't believe it will have measurable effect on the morale.

As we saw it, military campaign for 1968 had proven to be a failure for the enemy from his standpoint.

He still has local forces, guerrillas, and infrastructure. We agreed we had to make intensive drive at guerrillas and infrastructure. We have now come to the stage of war we have always wanted to get. Rolls of NVN is rolled back--we can hit infrastructure.

Focus of commanders was to hit infrastructure.

Everybody is focused on this. It fits the situation to tee.

Attention already has been directed to dirty work that has to be done.

The President: Is there any deterioration in quality of enemy?

General Abrams: Yes, Sir.

We picked up more weapons than number of enemy dead in one action along the DMZ.

In Delta, Chieu Hoi defector rate is 50 per day. Situation has begun to deteriorate there. In Base Area 270, principal staff officers were hurt badly.

Difficult part is infrastructure and guerrillas. We must get them out.

The President: What is the quality of ARVN?

General Abrams: Good. They are giving better account of themselves. They killed 40%-50% of enemy; lost 50%-60% of allied KIA.

We have one problem division--18th. It's no good. They will replace commander.

The President: How many divisions?

General Abrams: 11 with airborne.

The President: How many poor?

General Abrams: One.

The President: How many superior?

General Abrams: 4; 1 unsatisfactory, 6 satisfactory. They keep improving.

The President: Do they all have M-16's?

General Abrams: Yes.

The President: Has that made a difference?

General Abrams: Yes. They have more confidence.

General Abrams: RF and PF have M-16's. It is quite a prestige item. It's membership in club.

The President: How are you going to keep the pressure on?

General Abrams: Keep pressure on main force. Redouble efforts on guerrillas and infrastructure. It's hard work, but it is pressure that is needed now.

The President: Does he think he is in deep trouble?

General Abrams: Yes.

The President: Since when?

General Abrams: Sometime in September he came to this conclusion. Sometime in September instructions went out from Hanoi. They made new assessment that they were in trouble.

Lot of changes in movement in highlands.

The President: Should we mount massive psychological warfare campaign in South against the enemy?

General Abrams: General Goodpaster and I have talked about this. We must revamp and redesign the psychological warfare.

The President: Does General Goodpaster think we should stop it?

General Abrams: Yes.

The President: What about 7th Air successor?

General Abrams: He'll be for it.

The President: General Momyer was for it. Said in effect this is what we would do anyway.

General Abrams: I am blessed with four good men: Goodpaster, Brown, Zumwalt and Cushman./16/ They don't belong to any service. They belong to the U.S. Government.

/16/Lieutenant General Andrew Goodpaster, Deputy Commander, MACV; Lieutenant General George S. Brown, Commander, 7th Air Force; Rear Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Commander of Naval Forces in Vietnam and Chief of the Naval Advisory Group; and Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman, Commander, III Marine Amphibious Force.

The President: Is there anything we could do here to enable you to increase pressure in remaining months?

General Abrams: We are working hard on equipping and training ARVN. The ARVN is having to readjust tactics. Americans have been flexible.

ARVN is doing what they learned to do two years ago. We have new techniques. First ARVN Division has been quick to change.

The President: What about enemy strength along the Cambodian border? Are you prepared to handle it and the situation in Saigon?

General Abrams: Yes, Sir.

General Wheeler: More and more supplies are now being found in Cambodia. We are going to have to go after Cambodian sanctuaries. It is intolerable. We must do something about it.

Secretary Rusk: Do they get arms through Sihanoukville?

General Abrams: Yes, they do.

They are moving supplies through there, according to agent reports.

We have had Prairie Fire teams in there.

In 3 and 4 Corps, arms and ammunition are coming through Sihanoukville.

General Wheeler: The Australian Ambassador there isn't worth a damn. He told me there wasn't a single NVN in Cambodia.

The President: This is a critical period here. In light of what you know, do you have any reluctance or hesitance to stop the bombing?

General Abrams: No, Sir.

The President: If you were President, would you do it?

General Abrams: I have no reservations about doing it. I know it is stepping into a cesspool of comment.

I do think it is right thing to do. It is the proper thing to do.

The President: Will the men accept it?

General Abrams: Yes, Sir.

Secretary Clifford: For 5-1/2 months we have had negotiations. North Vietnam had been adamant against permitting GVN to sit. Now, they have agreed. Why--what is your estimate of reasons?

General Abrams: What I think is not too profound.

Sometime in 1967 they made the decision to make an all-out military effort to topple the South Vietnamese people--drive wedge between the U.S. Government and the GVN.

They put on massive infiltration. 246,000 infiltrated in 1968.

Brought in new rockets, AK-47, mortars, artillery, recoilless rifles.

In 1968 they sent everything that was practicable.

They made that effort and tried to sustain it. We were in a certain defensive role.

If they look at it, they must see:

1) GVN is stronger.
2) ARVN are stronger.

Faced with that, they must find some other way to achieve what they seek than this particular route.

They now accept the role of sitting down at the table and insulting the GVN.

Secretary Rusk: We have lost 28,000 men. We can't stand another coup. Do they understand this can't happen?

General Abrams: Yes, they understand that.

Secretary Rusk: Will this action precipitate a coup?

General Abrams: No, Sir.

They know it's the end of the U.S. Government in Vietnam if they have a coup. Berger has done good work on this.

Secretary Clifford: In shifting bombing, can you use all air strength--including naval air?

General Abrams: Yes, I think so.

I need to meet Admiral McCain, 7th AF and 7th Fleet to integrate naval air into this effort. It can be done.

Secretary Clifford: You have been there for quite some time. What will be the effect on the VC when they learn Hanoi has permitted GVN to sit at conference table?

General Abrams: The whole structure in South Vietnam will have problems with this thing. This whole thing will cause them problems. It will be tough to keep hard core with them.

Secretary Clifford: Is it your opinion Hanoi will get into talks with sincere effort to find peace--or is this a ploy on their part?

General Abrams: Top people in Hanoi can't abandon their objectives.

(3:58 a.m.--Rostow hands President a cable.)/17/

/17/Not identified.

General Abrams: They will talk a lot about administrative machinery. Terrorism will continue. I would doubt that large unit engagements will continue. They will try to make more of a government out of NLF.

General Taylor: I want views on ceasefire.

The President: You want to comment on that?

General Abrams: First, public image is in favor of ceasefire.

How a ceasefire is arranged is important. We must talk about how to make it work.

We have to see that mechanics of ceasefire won't place GVN in a difficult position. They must be able to exercise authority over their country.

GVN would want good bit to say about it.

It is something that should come on terms acceptable to us.

General Taylor: How would you go about it?

General Abrams: You could experiment with it by increments.

General Wheeler: I don't see how negotiations of ceasefire can precede pace of political settlement in Paris. Cart is Paris; Horse is situation in South Vietnam.

Secretary Rusk: I do not expect this to be wound up in a month. This may go on while you men wrap it up in South Vietnam.

General Abrams: I subscribe to that 100%.

The President: Will they make their 1-million-man mark this year?

General Abrams: They may already have passed it. They are at 835,000.

The President: How much trouble is the President having?

General Abrams: He is stronger. The Prime Minister is a great boost to him.

The President: Is Ky a threat, a dangerous threat?

General Abrams: He's not helpful. Thieu can't bring himself to trust him. These fellows have survived a few bad turns of events. There is some justification for their suspicions.

Thieu may enjoy keeping Ky's suspicions aroused.

But the Vice President is smart enough and sensitive enough not to do anything to overturn the apple cart.

General Abrams: A few spirited fellows might be tempted to do something on their own.

General Brown keeps a close eye on the SVN aircraft loading. Some of Ky's old squadron are in Bien Hoa. We watch them.

General Taylor: Will General Minh be a help or hindrance?

General Abrams: So far, he has been neutral.

Walt Rostow: Do you believe offensive is primarily answer to maintaining the morale of our men and ARVN?

Does the maintenance of offensive seem to be main bargaining tool in Paris?

General Abrams: That's right. This is just one step. There is still much to be done. The loudest voice in Paris is what we accomplish in South Vietnam.

Walt Rostow: We agree.

Secretary Rusk: That's right.

General Wheeler: I want to sit down with Abe on execute orders and rules of engagement. Rules of engagement were largely drawn up by Abe. I need to get messages off.

The President: What if they hit cities? What if they hit Saigon?

General Abrams: One of the things to be considered would be resumption.

The President: What are cities most likely to be hit?

General Abrams: Saigon and Danang are most likely to be hit. They have people west of Danang.

Resuming the bombing will be difficult. A most difficult problem is also Cambodia--those sanctuaries.

The President: Let's put high priority on that, Dean.

Walt Rostow: Soviets plan diplomatic mission to Cambodia. Secretary Rusk may talk to Dobrynin on this.

The President: Do I issue order to stop all acts of force against NVN in light of indication they will sit with GVN--get into serious talks promptly--knowing they must not abuse DMZ and cities?

Will we ever know more to test them than now?

The next few days will be difficult.

Secretary Rusk, do you have any hesitancy or reluctance in my taking this action?

Secretary Rusk: No. We should know it does not mean peace. There is a reasonable chance. I will return to where we are if there is no response.

Secretary Clifford: This is a culmination of events begun with San Antonio speech./18/ It has taken a year of setbacks and losses before they will sit down and negotiate.

/18/See footnote 6, Document 35.

Militarily, we are protected by:

1) Reconnaissance against North Vietnam
2) They know they must exercise restraint at DMZ and cities.

We'll resume bombing if they fail to show good faith.

I recommend this without reservations.

General Wheeler: I think this is as much a symbol of defeat as erection of Berlin Wall. They have been clobbered. If they don't act in good faith, I would urge resumption and really let them have it. I would use fire hose rather than eye-dropper.

Dick Helms: I think it would be a mistake not to take this step. Having GVN recognized will be psychological blow to NLF.

General Taylor: I predate this to 1965 when you committed troops. You changed game.

I fear delay, a long drag-out. I fear reaction at home, temper this a good step, progress, but victory is not with us.

The President: You, Clark Clifford, Dean Rusk, and Harry McPherson should work on a speech. All of you go over Kosygin letter (Attachment B)./19/

/19/Not attached but printed as Document 141.

Also, go over Abrams letter (Attachment C)./20/

/20/Not attached.

Get Russ Wiggins down here at once. Get the JCS to talk about this today.

General Wheeler: General McConnell is in Southeast Asia. Talk to General Ryan.

The President: When do we hear from Bunker?

Secretary Rusk: He started a meeting an hour ago. We'll get phone call and flash message.

General Wheeler: We've selected 15 targets in the Than Hoa area in the event of major attack on the cities.

Walt Rostow: If in public statement, you asked Ambassador Harriman to return to Washington for consultation prior to Saturday meeting?

The President: It is difficult to have a visit from them without problems, but I'll consider that.

(Secretary Rusk read message that NLF delegation may be on way through China to Paris.)

[Let's wait until we get word from Bunker on talks with Thieu.]/21/

/21/Brackets in the source text.

Walt Rostow: We must deal with troop contributors.

The President: When do we plan to do this? We want to delay as much as possible. We'll tell our candidates at 5:30 or 6:00.

Secretary Rusk: We do not want to wait too long on troop contributors.

Walt Rostow: Korea and Thailand held.

Clark Clifford: Australia always held before under Holt. Not under this man.

The President: General, will you be missed in Saigon today?

General Abrams: No Sir, I would like to think so. I don't have much dealings with the press.

General Abrams: Foreign Minister called in fellows before, including fellow from Philippines./22/

/22/See Document 75.

Walt Rostow: We must inform Paris.

Secretary Rusk: We must predict they will use word "unconditional." Do we honor Dobrynin's request of advance word?

The President: Do it as late as you can. I must tell candidates before anybody else.

George Christian: Any clue today will tip our hand.

Jim Jones:

Times:

Saigon--13 hours ahead
Australia--15
Korea--14
Thailand--13

The President: Don't give it 2 hours before announcement.

Secretary Rusk: We don't want allies to flare up on us.

At 5:00 a.m.

The President: How long has Bunker been there?

Walt Rostow: 1-1/2 hours.

5:00 Went to Mansion: General Abrams, Harry McPherson, Jim Jones

5:12 Up to "Sitting Room":

The President, Harry, Jim, George and Tom.

The President: It's good to be the last one. It was unanimous.

Tough to be a candidate and peace seeker at the same time.

Where will Nixon be at 5:00 p.m.? Where will Wallace be at 5:00? HHH?

Have a phone they can cram right up their butts.

5:30

President answers phone.

Haven't heard from Bunker yet.

5:43

Phone Call--Harry answers and hands phone to the President.

Bunker had not seen him as late as 4:55. They are fumbling.

5:50

Signed letter to Kosygin.

Gave letter to Jim Jones

President sat around waiting for phone call.

6:04

Phone call to President from Dean Rusk.

The President held the phone in his right hand. He held his glasses in his left hand--the sides of glasses in his mouth. George Christian was on the President's left.

He says Thieu says 3 days is too short and that he can't get delegation there.

Ky must be talked to. Can't do until 9:00 a.m. our time.

We'll meet back.

Wants to send Ky as adviser. Can't do it in 3 days.

Looks like delay. May be something to report that Nixon is trying to handle this like another Fortas matter./23/

/23/Reference is to the partisan fight over the nomination that year of the President's friend Associate Justice Abe Fortas to the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

That's the old Nixon. He may be jittery. May have made mistake attacking him on Sunday, but I had to. He told me at Al Smith Dinner we could really do business after his election./24/

/24/See Document 80 and footnote 5 thereto.

6:15

To the Cabinet Room

The President, Jim Jones, George Christian and Walt Rostow.

The President showed the cables.

6:17 Rusk enters.

New Meeting with:

The President

Walt Rostow

Secretary Rusk

George Christian

Secretary Clifford

Jim Jones

General Taylor

Tom Johnson

Richard Helms

 

The President: We may give serious thought to say this would rock the world if it were said he was conniving with Republicans. We are going to get what we can out of not bombing.

This is an execute order. There is plane there to take them. Can you imagine what people would say if this were to be known; that we have all these conditions met and then Nixon's conniving with them kept us from getting it.

If we go public--and they object--we have a real problem on our hands.

Thieu is seeing Ky.

He said 3 days are too short.

The President: Didn't he say one day originally?

Secretary Rusk: We should let Thieu know that we know this. Tell him we know this from political circles.

We may have to put this thing off 24 hours. We must make major effort to get this thing lined up.

The President: The only way to line it up is to proceed.

[The President read Eugene Rostow's note of October 29:

"Walt:

I had a further talk with my informant about the luncheon conversation he attended yesterday.

The man who spoke was a member of the banking community, a colleague, a man he has known for many years, and one in whose honesty he has absolute confidence. The speaker is reputed to be very close to Nixon--as close as Gabriel Hauge (it was not Hauge). (He feels he cannot give me his name.)

The conversation was in the context of a professional discussion about the future of the financial markets in the next term.

The speaker said he thought the prospects for a bombing halt or a cease-fire were dim, because Nixon was playing the problem as he did the Fortas affair--to block. He was taking public positions intended to achieve that end. They would incite Saigon to be difficult, and Hanoi to wait.

Part of his strategy was an expectation that an offensive would break out soon, that we would have to spend a great deal more (and incur more casualties)--a fact which would adversely affect the stock market and the bond market. NVN offensive action was a definite element in their thinking about the future.

These difficulties would make it easier for Nixon to settle after January. Like Ike in 1953, he would be able to settle on terms which the President could not accept, blaming the deterioration of the situation between now and January or February on his predecessor.

Gene"]/25/

/25/Brackets in the source text.

The President: It all adds up.

Thieu delayed seeing Bunker.

Tell Thieu we cleared this before. Tell him we are going to try to have peace talks. If we let this country know he blocked us, we wouldn't have much support for SVN in this country.

I don't think you'll get anything out of Ky.

We can't have different positions.

Go ahead and execute orders.

Secretary Clifford: What word do we have from Bunker?

Secretary Rusk: Bunker tried to see him at 12. Wouldn't see him before 4. Said he could not give us an answer until 9:00 a.m.

Walt Rostow: One more point--The President of the United States remains President until January 20, 1969.

The President: I have no doubt there is some substance in this. This is honest, reliable, prominent man who reports this.

Secretary Rusk: Bunker was disturbed that he wasn't able to budge Thieu off this.

Secretary Rusk: Do we move now or take more time and work this out? SVN are ok, but they are capable of being nuts.

General Wheeler: I would like to make one additional point: MACV does not command directly the Vietnamese forces. They do have Air Forces. They could fly across DMZ and drop bombs. They could shoot artillery across DMZ.

Clark Clifford: What reasons does Thieu give?

Secretary Rusk: 3 days is too short.

Clark Clifford: Is this just a ploy--or does it have merit to it? They can get a man to Paris in 24 hours. They could utilize SVN Ambassador to Paris.

Walt Rostow: They could have organized a delegation.

General Wheeler: I have 12 hours to get orders out.

Walt Rostow: We could gain time by telling delegation there might be some lapover in first 12 hours with possibility of incidents.

Clark Clifford: They said 3 days are too short.

Secretary Rusk: The under-the-table stuff is what may be responsible.

Clark Clifford: Did Thieu have to meet with Ky?

Secretary Rusk: Yes, between now and 9 p.m. Saigon time.

Clark Clifford: If they have understood it all along, it does not appear to be a meritorious suggestion. Their objection does not have merit. They can get a man to Paris. It seems to me they are playing extraordinary games.

Their situation could become so grave under President Johnson's term in office that it would be untenable. We need to take hard look at this. It seems reprehensible and utterly without merit.

Secretary Rusk: I'll call Bunker back.

--Got all we wanted in Paris.
--Political circles tell us they have intervened in Saigon.
--Same circles gave assurances to Hanoi.
--If became known it would be disaster.
--President is best friend South Vietnam has.
--President has made decision--expects SVN to cooperate.
--Let's not give orders until we get one bounce-back there.
--Tell Hanoi we would understand if meeting went to late Saturday.

Clark Clifford: There are two courses:

1) Hold up Wheeler--wait and see what Thieu says.
2) Tell Thieu this is plan--

If they refuse to go along, would be extremely serious. Under 2), we would say it is too late to turn back. It is will of President and American people.

Secretary Rusk: Unless we have Thieu aboard, we cannot tell other troop contributors he is aboard. That would hurt us with South Koreans and Thais.

I would tell Thieu we have made decision--not issued orders.

Dick Helms: I feel you should go ahead. I think we should get Thieu aboard. Price they would like to charge is too high. This is a psychological moment. It is undesirable to have these people believe they have highjacked us out of this. Thieu will be harder to deal with at 9 than at 4.

Secretary Rusk: Ky is a guy who is capable of committing suicide.

We've invested 29,000 killed and $70 billion.

The whole thing could blow up.

The allies could come apart.

If we had public blowup it would be a disaster.

 

141. Letter From President Johnson to Chairman Kosygin/1/

Washington, October 29, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Vietnam: July-December 1968. No classification marking. In a meeting with Harriman the previous day, Bogomolov stressed the Soviet Government's interest in receiving an indication of the next American move. In a memorandum of conversation, Harriman noted: "Then Bogomolov said he was most anxious to know as soon as possible in order that they could inform Moscow. I told him that we would tell him some time during the course of the evening whether we had received a message or not, and give him such information as was appropriate." (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Trips and Missions, Paris Peace Talks, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Cables--Outgoing #27-53)

Dear Mr. Chairman:

On Sunday I heard from Ambassador Harriman and Ambassador Vance in Paris that an understanding has been reached with the representatives from Hanoi which has permitted me to order this morning a total cessation of the bombardment of North Vietnam starting seven p.m. Eastern Standard Time, October 29.

In reaching the decision to go forward with this step, I have constantly borne in mind the communications you and I have had on this subject. It has mattered to me that you reported that you and your colleagues have reason to believe this step could yield good results and that we should have no doubts about the seriousness of North Vietnamese intentions in the pursuit of peace. Our recent indirect exchanges via Ambassador Dobrynin, and Secretary Rusk's talks with Foreign Minister Gromyko in New York played an important part in my decision, as well as certain communications from your representatives in Paris.

Now that the bombing of North Vietnam is stopping, I hope and expect the full weight of the Soviet Union will be thrown into the balance to bring very quickly a firm, stable peace to Southeast Asia.

With so many dangerous problems elsewhere in the world, it would be good for our two nations and for all humanity if this very dangerous conflict were behind us.

I would very much hope to see the Soviet Union exercising its full responsibilities as Co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference of 1962 to bring an early peace to Laos as well as to Vietnam. Without a full and faithful honoring of the Geneva Accords of 1962, there cannot be peace in Southeast Asia.

You will find us, in the days ahead, seeking to negotiate this settlement in good faith, asking of North Vietnam nothing more than loyalty to international commitments it has already formally undertaken and looking forward to the day when it can develop a good life for its people in collaboration with the other states of Southeast Asia.

We shall shortly be giving you our views on these matters in more detail. But I wanted you to have this prompt message about the major decision we have just made.

Sincerely,

Lyndon B. Johnson

 

 

 


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