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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 142-169

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

Washington, October 29, 1968, 1252Z.

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

262983. For Ambassador Bunker Only. The following message from President Johnson to President Thieu should be delivered at earliest appropriate opportunity:

Begin Text

October 29, 1968

Dear President Thieu:

As we come to this critical but hopeful moment in our joint struggle, I wish to tell you directly what is on my mind and heart.

First, that we have come so far is due to the efforts of yourself, Vice President Ky, and your other colleagues in building the constitutional government, expanding the armed forces of Vietnam, and gathering strength after the shock of the Tet attacks. I'm sure you would also agree that the armed forces of your allies, led by General Westmoreland and now by General Abrams have helped.

Second, I have told General Abrams, and I am sure you have instructed your forces, that we must maintain every bit of military pressure we can summon within South Vietnam and in Laos. This is a time for more military pressure on the enemy, not less.

Third, I trust you will mount a major political and psychological effort in the days ahead to bring the VC over to your side. After all, Hanoi has recognized that there can be no peace in South Vietnam without the assent of your government. The DMZ will be closed--if, the bombing cessation is to continue. The enemy forces have suffered one tactical defeat after another. Surely the basis must be there for a drawing of the VC to your side.

Fourth, I know the question of the NLF in the Paris talks is awkward for you. But you can feel sure that we shall make clear that no question of recognition by the U.S. is involved. And you can do so. Your people can also be sure that we have no intention of imposing a coalition government upon them. On the other hand, I count on you to move towards reconciliation and peace in South Vietnam in the spirit of our talks at Honolulu in July and of our communiqué.

Fifth, I trust that we shall now work together in Paris in the same spirit of brotherhood in which we have stood side by side in the battle. You, Vice President Ky, and I have seen some rough times together. You both honored your commitment to me at Guam. Now we must reaffirm that commitment as the possibility of the honorable peace we all want becomes more real. At Paris Hanoi gave us thus far--in the end--all we demanded. I deeply believe that if we continue to stand together we can get all the essentials we both seek.

Finally, I count on you to lead all South Vietnamese nationalists towards that political unity that will be necessary if we are to consolidate the victory our fighting men have brought within our grasp and make worthwhile the suffering of the people of Vietnam and the sacrifices of their allies.

You can count on Ambassador Bunker, General Abrams, and me to be at your side in the days ahead as we have been in the years that are behind us.

Sincerely, Lyndon B. Johnson. End Text



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

Washington, October 29, 1968, 1328Z.

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

262985. For Bunker from the Secretary. Confirming telephone call with Secretary,/2/ you are informed as follows:

/2/Rusk called Bunker on a secure telephone three times this day: at 6:05 a.m., 7:50 a.m., and 10:12 a.m. (Johnson Library, Dean Rusk Appointment Books, 1968-1969) No records of these conversations have been found.

(1) The President has decided that he must proceed on the basis of the joint position agreed between himself and President Thieu as outlined in the joint communiqué and orders have been positioned accordingly.

(2) We consider that we have gotten everything we asked or anticipated at this stage in the Paris talks.

(3) Everything we have done has been cleared with President Thieu. The basis of the position, as set forth in Saigon's 40178 and 40220/3/ has also been cleared with the TCC's.

/3/See Document 64 and footnote 2 thereto.

(4) We are astonished that the question of timing is raised as a last minute objection. Thieu had agreed to "next day," and stated that the time interval of twenty-four-forty-eight hours caused no problem, and has agreed to a joint communiqué in which the time sequence is fully set forth.

(5) We have disturbing information from political circles that certain political elements in the United States have attempted to intervene in Saigon; we also have one report that the same political circles have given indications to Hanoi that would be disastrous for South Viet-Nam. If these facts became known, the American people would react furiously and our joint effort with South Viet-Nam would be completely undermined.

(6) President Johnson is President with full responsibility until January 20, 1969. He is the best friend which South Viet-Nam has in the entire world. He has tried at every step to keep in the closest touch with President Thieu and has acted together with him even on courses of action which have caused the President the gravest difficulties both at home and internationally. The President expects President Thieu's understanding and full cooperation in the present situation.

General Abrams concurs in this message.

Please see President Thieu immediately at the request of our President and obtain his concurrence with the program as presently outlined.



144. Memorandum From the Deputy Director of Plans, Central Intelligence Agency (Karamessines) to Secretary of State Rusk and the President's Special Assistant (Rostow)/1/

Washington, October 29, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. 3. Secret; Sensitive.

Presidential Views Concerning the Bombing Halt and the Paris Talks

1. [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

2. Between 23 and 25 October 1968, President Nguyen Van Thieu continued to hold discussions with a number of government officials concerning a bombing halt and the Paris talks. Among others, Thieu spoke with Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky, the Prime Minister, Thieu's Special Assistant Nguyen Phu Duc, the Interior and Foreign Ministers, possibly Ambassador Bui Diem, and the Chairmen of the Upper and Lower Houses.

3. While speaking with the Legislative Chairmen, the President said he had told the Americans that he had instructed several people to contact Hanoi to determine if Hanoi felt the time was propitious to engage in talks. If the DRV does not feel the time right, the Americans had been informed that the Paris talks as well as the fighting in Vietnam would continue as is. However, if Hanoi judges the occasion right, Hanoi must then talk directly to Saigon to resolve the issues. It is imperative though, that Hanoi be serious about wanting to engage in talks. Thieu added parenthetically that if Hanoi would not agree to talks with the GVN Ambassador, Thieu would be willing to dispatch a GVN Cabinet Minister to handle the discussions. If the DRV is serious, the two sides could sit down and discuss the future of Vietnam, the question of peace, or any and all issues that either side cared to bring up.

4. The President continued, then if Hanoi "tells me to recognize the NLF, I would be willing to make that sacrifice. However, if Hanoi demands a coalition government, I would say that is unacceptable. If Hanoi asks to return to nationalist activities, I would say OK."

5. Thieu said that he was willing to see the talks drag on for months or even a year, as long as NVN was serious about the talks. They should not be used for bickering or propaganda purposes, Thieu explained, and once the talks commence, the North Vietnamese "will realize that I am serious". Thieu reiterated that it did not matter if the NLF was included in the NVN delegation. However, he would never let NVN tell the GVN to talk with the NLF.

6. Thieu was obviously concerned that NVN was guaranteeing nothing in return for a bombing halt. He stated he had told the Americans that reciprocity was the most important issue. In Thieu's opinion, the best reciprocal act would be for Hanoi to begin talks with the GVN, rather than a military de-escalation or troop withdrawal from the DMZ.

7. He was also concerned that the U.S. Government wished to do something "dramatic" in order to help Humphrey on 5 November. The inclusion of the NLF at Paris would aid Humphrey, said Thieu, but the benefits are short-range. Thieu told Vice President Ky on 25 October that he was afraid the U.S. would force the GVN to deal with the NLF. He observed, however, that the U.S. was caught between the DRV and the GVN positions on the status of the NLF at a conference.

8. Ky said he felt Thieu should propose that a three-way conference be convened including the GVN, U.S. and DRV. Thieu responded that the Americans had told him that Hanoi may refer to a three-way conference between the DRV, the U.S. and the NLF. Thieu felt, however, that if the DRV would not accept the inclusion of the NLF within the DRV delegation, then Hanoi was not yet ready to engage in serious talks.

9. The President also mentioned that he was having difficulty with the Americans in that they were urging him not to speak to the press or make public statements to avoid leaks on the US/GVN talks. Thieu noted that he was trying to convey the impression that he was a man of peace who would die, not for the world, but for the people of SVN.


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

Washington, October 29, 1968, 8:50 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Nixon, Richard--Vietnam. Confidential; Sensitive; Eyes Only.

Mr. President:

I have been considering the explosive possibilities of the information that we now have on how certain Republicans may have inflamed the South Vietnamese to behave as they have been behaving.

There is no hard evidence that Mr. Nixon himself is involved. Exactly what the Republicans have been saying to Bui Diem is not wholly clear as opposed to the conclusions that Bui Diem is drawing from what they have said./2/

/2/On October 23 and October 27 Bui Diem reported to Saigon the advice of the Nixon campaign to abort the understanding reached in Paris by refusing to attend the expanded talks. Copies of these messages are in the Johnson Library, South Vietnam and U.S. Policies (the so-called "X-File"); see also Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), pp. 197-200; Bui Diem, et al., In the Jaws of History, pp. 245-245; Clifford, Counsel to the President, pp. 581-584; Robert Dallek, Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 586-587; and Bundy, A Tangled Web, pp. 41-42.

Beyond that, the materials are so explosive that they could gravely damage the country whether Mr. Nixon is elected or not. If they get out in their present form, they could be the subject of one of the most acrimonious debates we have ever witnessed.

For the larger good of the country, you may wish to consider finding an occasion to talk with Mr. Nixon, making these points:

1. Here is the sort of thing we have been getting.

2. I do not believe that you personally have been involved in this.

3. It is not clear that some of your supporters have, necessarily, done anything out of line.

4. But what is clear is that this kind of talk is inflaming the inexperienced South Vietnamese who do not understand our constitution or our political life.

5. You might then tell him, assuming that we transit today's crisis, how difficult it has been and your feeling that the Vietnamese image of some of these conversations with Republicans may have played some part.

Therefore, in the months ahead he may wish to caution his men to be exceedingly circumspect in dealing with inexperienced and impressionable South Vietnamese.

W.W. Rostow/3/

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


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

Washington, October 29, 1968, 10:30 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 29, 1968, 10:30 a.m., Tape F68.07, PNO 9. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. According to the Daily Diary, the President called Rusk "re timing--peace talks." (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

President: Yes? Yes?

Rusk: Hello, Mr. President. I just heard from Bunker./2/ He made the pitch as we put it, emphasizing that you had to go ahead; that the terms are known about by the South Vietnamese and the TCCs; Thieu and Ky both agree that they had known about these terms. Bunker emphasized the first meeting could be procedural with local representatives, and that the other delegation get there as soon as they could; that you had been the best friend that they had and it was important that they work with you on this. Thieu came back and said that they were in a meeting of the [National] Security Council--their Security Council. He emphasized--insisted--that they had to have more time; that they couldn't have their delegation turn up there as a minor delegation; that they had to have some leeway there. They did go back into the Security Council meeting and talk about it further in the light of Ellsworth's presentation. Ellsworth--when I said to Ellsworth that I thought this might be a stall, he said he wasn't at all sure about it. He said to me that it may well be this time factor is the problem. He himself then raised the question what would happen if we postpone the outside of the action for 24 hours and then postpone the meeting for 24 or even--not from Saturday,/3/ and perhaps not to Sunday but until Monday. I told him I couldn't postpone anything at this point; I'd have to talk to you about it. But it looks like the possibility of a 24-hour shift on both ends. Maybe the thing will have to try here.

/2/See footnote 2, Document 143.

/3/November 2.

President: What did Vance say?

Rusk: Vance is under the gun--he's coming in on the phone now--he's under the gun from the Hanoi delegation for a meeting which has been agreed now for 6 p.m., which is noon our time. Now, I think what is on Hanoi's mind is that they've been told that it will take us 24 hours to issue the orders, and that time has already gone by, and they haven't been notified that we are issuing the orders. They don't know that we've reduced that to 12. And, of course, they don't know about this latest wrinkle that's developed.

President: And then they may be getting a little of this bait, too, from the other side.

Rusk: Well, they may have some intelligence or intercepts, or something like that, to throw some light on it. But, I think we--it might make a difference if we could put the whole operation forward 24 hours and try to do it in a tidy way rather than a great tumult here at the very end.

President: Does he quote either Ky or Thieu at any length that this is the only objection?

Rusk: They insist that this is the only objection. Now, when I challenged the good faith of that, Ellsworth, who's been very tough on this, said that he wasn't at all sure that this may not really be the real problem.

President: Why wasn't it raised on 1 day and 3 days?

Rusk: Well, I don't know. I think what they've been doing--he said that these people--he said, "Our people out here don't move like Anglo-Saxons are expecting them to move, and they let things like this drag, and then all of a sudden they've got a problem on their hands." But if we could get Saigon aboard by another 24 hours, then we could try that on the delegation in Paris.

President: Well, I'd try that on Cy right now and see what Cy says. I'd talk to Clark [Clifford], and tell him what you said./4/ And then I'd--you didn't talk to Cy before you talked to Bunker?

/4/See Document 147.

Rusk: I talked to him, yes.

President: What did he say about [John] Mitchell?

Rusk: He said he just knew who he was; that he wouldn't put it past him at all to do something like this, but he didn't have any real knowledge of him, and didn't know him really. But he's alert to the nature of the problem, and I gave him some of this background. Shall I ask Cy what he himself thinks about a 24 hour--moving the whole thing forward 24 hours?


President: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I'd talk to Clark; then I'd talk to Cy; then we'll talk back. Maybe we'll talk on the phone. They're watching things awfully carefully. CBS--you better really close up and watch Bundy and Nick [Katzenbach] and them so we don't put many talks to anybody today. CBS announced at 10 o'clock that they thought we were meeting at noon--

Rusk: I said to--

President: To declare the halt. And that's--I don't know whether [Marvin] Kalb's got that or Dan Rather, but Dan Rather quotes it.

Rusk: All right, sir. So, I'll talk to Clark.

President: And then talk to Cy.

Rusk: All right; sure will.

President: And then call me.

Rusk: Bye.


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

Washington, October 29, 1968, 10:37 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 29, 1968, 10:37 a.m., Tape F6810.08, PNO 4. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. According to the Daily Diary, Rusk called the President "re timing, peace talks." (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

Rusk: Hello?

President: Yes? Yes?

Rusk: I talked to Cy. He is proposing a postponement. He'll try to get 2 hours. He thinks he may get--that he may have to hear them, because they seem to be pretty insistent--say, within an hour's time. But if so, he would only listen. Now, I spoke to him about the possibility--I told him that this was only an idea and was not in any sense a point of view or instruction--the possibility that both days might be moved forward 24 hours to give us a little more time here. His first reaction was that that was bad faith. I told him that I did not think so; that they had caused some problems with their 16 hours, and that 24 hours on both ends would be better than telling them no, and he agreed with that. So we've got two delegations we're working on at the present time.

I come back to Clark's position, Mr. President. You may want to call Clark and talk to him directly about it. I feel myself that this thing could blow up into the biggest mess we've ever had if we're not careful here. And if we have to take a little more time to work on it, it's better to do that than to demonstrate to everybody that we insisted on going ahead against our allies. There would be more than one involved, and this would confirm in everybody's view that the only reason we insisted on going ahead under these circumstances were because of domestic politics. I mean, I think I would confirm that fairly well, and we can't use the information we have because of its classification to rebut any of that. But I think you ought to talk directly to Clark, and I'll be available if you want to call me back.

President: Do you have any feeling that there's a need for a meeting?

Rusk: Well, I think there's not much we can go on until we get this answer back from the meeting of the [South Vietnamese National] Security Council in Saigon.

President: We'll decide at the meeting then./2/

/2/See Document 148.

Rusk: All right. Fine.


148. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 29, 1968, 1-2:20 p.m.

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


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

Secretary Clifford: I thought final clearance with Thieu was mere formality. I thought we said--now, here's the time. What happened?

The President: We don't know. I challenged Ellsworth. He said they are sitting on their hands.

General Taylor: They were barred from talking with anybody.

Secretary Rusk: I am annoyed to beat hell, but it is not unusual for this to develop.

These things get complicated. Look at the Middle East.

General Abrams: When we talked to Thieu, Bunker went through it and reviewed it. I reviewed the military situation. This was the 13th and 14th.

General Taylor: Did he raise the matter of consultations?

General Abrams: No. He was asked to postpone it. But he gave a decision. It was unequivocal. He took it, understood it; marched right up to the plate and swung.

Walt Rostow: He handled it well then.

Secretary Rusk: We got 2 and 1/2 hour delay.

The President: What is the situation in Saigon?

Secretary Rusk: They are meeting with the NSC./2/ It's 2:00 a.m. in Saigon now.

/2/Reference is to the South Vietnamese NSC.

General Abrams: I am sure it's the first time the NSC has met at this time of night, even during Tet.

Secretary Clifford: I have trouble with the fact that nothing in the last few days has gone irregularly. The President said he would stop the bombing, if he got productive talks. We said the GVN had to be at the table. They have been kept closely advised. We have friends on the NSC--sure we do. I thought Thieu said we were going in the right direction. It looks like Thieu is going bad on the deal. It looks ominous, even sinister. His excuse is lame--that he didn't have the time./3/

/3/Intelligence reports from Karamessines to Rostow and Rusk clearly described Thieu's intransigence. An October 26 memorandum suggested that Thieu would "never negotiate with the NLF as an equal;" another dated October 28 noted Thieu's brother Nguyen Van Kieu's statement that "his brother would never concede to the Americans and was prepared to leave the Presidency if the Americans cut off financial aid to the GVN or to die if there was an attempt against his life" and that Thieu's preference was for "a respected name in history to living shamelessly like a dog obeying its master's every command." Another memorandum, dated October 29, mentioned Thieu's belief that "the U.S. would force the GVN to deal with the NLF" due to the need to help Humphrey in the U.S. Presidential elections. (Central Intelligence Agency, DDO Files, Job 79-207A, DDO and Agency Papers for Role in 1968 Bombing Halt in Vietnam)

General Abrams: They talked about flags, name-plates, etc. It was overcome by logic. It does represent a long list of things that had to be settled with them.

Secretary Rusk: We have had the same problem with Hanoi at Paris. There is a problem of face. We can't say Hanoi has face--and Saigon does not.

CIA Director Helms showed the President intercepts of conversations.

General Abrams: When you get down to reality, this type of thing is possible.

Secretary Rusk: These things are tough.

Walt Rostow: It is a tough moment to walk into the room with Hanoi.

General Abrams: I don't think anybody could produce anything when Thieu got concerned about a coup. Maybe it reflects the uncertainty he feels.

The President: Summarize it.

Secretary Rusk: Recommend you wait to hear from Bunker. I take the long view. President Kennedy said we would make a battle there to save South Vietnam. That set us on course. After the Tonkin Gulf, you put in troops to keep South Vietnam from being overrun. We have invested 29,000 dead and $75 billion. We must be careful not to flush this down the drain. But we do have the right to expect cooperation from South Vietnam. Thieu and Ky agreed to this. Bunker said they needed more time. South Vietnam does not want a low-level represent-ative to sit at the table for them. I do not know what is really in the minds of the NSC. If they are playing domestic political politics here, it is a different matter.

If they insist this is a matter of timing, I suggest we go ahead and set time convenient to them. But we should not sacrifice everything by creating a confrontation with our Asian allies. The issues are too grave. We should meet with Dobrynin so that the Soviets are not confused about our attitude.

General Wheeler: Should we meet with Bui Diem?

Secretary Rusk: If we did this yesterday or the day before. Maybe we could though./4/

/4/See Document 154.

Harry McPherson: What is the worst result out of NSC?

Secretary Rusk: If they cannot agree to a ceasefire before November 7 or agree to meeting before November 10, we know they are playing politics. If they agree to Monday I would proceed.

The President: Does anybody have anything to say?

Secretary Clifford: I thought South Vietnam wanted to be at the talks. We have now reached an agreement. They have had five months to think about who it would be. We have an enormous investment. They put Bunker off. Then he sees them. Then he must see them again. Then they must have an NSC meeting.

They are trying to decide what is best--a Johnson Administration or a Nixon Administration to go on with. Bunker may not be putting it to them stiffly enough. I consider this a deep issue of good faith.

Secretary Rusk: What if Nixon's people say be tough. They read the polls. They are whip-sawed too. They have a problem.

Secretary Clifford: They have a moral obligation to go along with us. We said there were months of hard bargaining ahead. It is a matter of good faith. They may think they will get a better deal from the next President. I think they have left us in an almost impossible position--Saigon throws a wrench in the wheel just as we are about to go on this. We cannot move in face of public opposition from Vietnam and other Asian allies.

The great weight of opinion is with us.

The President: Isn't it a case of you losing more than you gain.

Secretary Rusk: The GOP may be giving them advice. HHH has also scared them.

The President: They may just be testing HHH. If I were Thieu I wouldn't feel very kindly about it. I think we have to go through with it, making every effort to take them with us. It is not of world-shaking importance whether it's November 2, 4, 6 or 8. Let's see if they're serious.

General Taylor: Is this request for a delay ineptitude or actual need to touch bases--or is it a doublecross?

The political factor has been waved at them. There is a murky relationship. It may be sinister, or it may be ineptitude. We have so much at stake that we can afford some slippage.

The President: Nixon will doublecross them after November 5. All this publicity, Gorton, HHH, Mac Bundy--all had an effect on Nixon. When the GOP could do it with us, they went to work on the Embassy. They made Bui Diem think he could get a better deal from Nixon than us.

I am trying to do what I ought to do if I can do it--if it's right.

Based on Abrams' views, the JCS views, and all of you, I was ready to go. I was 80% ready before General Abrams came here. Now I am ready to go.

We should try to take South Vietnam with us. We must tell him we are ready to go. If you can't take South Vietnam and South Korea with you, you may have to reassess this situation.

Secretary Rusk: If you were doing this for political reasons you would have done this before the conventions.

The President: I got damn good cold out of this.

General Wheeler: This can be ineptitude or skullduggery. We must be guided by what they are up to. If it is serious, 24 hours is in order. If they play politics, I would take a hard line. You still have playing room on the field. The length of the NSC meeting does not disturb me.

The President: I think Ky is getting just as independent as Hubert.

Walt Rostow: We could say we will start meeting on a three-way basis if they can't get a delegation.

Secretary Rusk: What are their capabilities?

General Abrams: They don't do any bombing up there.

The President: Can they bomb?

General Abrams: Yes.

The President: Could we stop them?

General Abrams: Not really.

The President: Who gives them fuel?

General Abrams: We do.

The President: What would they use?

General Abrams: A-1's.

Harry McPherson: Wouldn't we lose them?

General Wheeler: No more than jets.

Secretary Clifford: We are down to one-fourth of the planes we lost before.

General Abrams: I would try to work around the time of the meeting. You can't work over there with them mad--and all of our relationships.

The President: When are you going back?

General Abrams: Whenever you say.

The President: I am ready now.

Secretary Rusk: "I sleep better when I know you are at your post."

The President: Who runs things when you are away?

General Abrams: General Goodpaster. He, Ambassador Berger, Ambassador Bunker and I are lockstep on this all the way.

Secretary Clifford: I do not think you can get by without announcing General Abrams' visit. You can say you intended to see him in Honolulu, but couldn't. You can say you asked him back to review work. I think you are better off to announce it--to meet it head on.

The President: Well, I'm not sure. I would like to get him back to his base first. If they raise it, that's okay.

General Abrams: There are three plane crews, three men on emergency leave, two other enlisted men. All plane crews sworn to secrecy.

General Taylor: We are stretching our luck to think we can.

George Christian: Every movement of military commanders is not public.

General Abrams: I would like to get back. I will go into CamRanh.

The President: The NSC met--it was bad news. They said we couldn't do it for four reasons.

1. Unconstitutional,

2. More time needed,

3. November 2 is too quick,

4. Harriman insulted them, saying they couldn't veto.

This may mean that everything we have done is in vain. There is no basic change--no breakthrough./5/

/5/In a memorandum to the President entitled "The Bombing Halt and U.S. Politics," October 29, 2:50 p.m., Rostow wrote: "Seen as coolly as I can, this is Saigon's view: Hanoi and Moscow have tried to time the bombing halt to help Humphrey. They believe President Johnson either wishes to time the bombing halt to help Humphrey or has been put in the position where Hanoi and Moscow can control the timing. They are afraid of Humphrey and want Nixon elected. They believe it is fair, under these circumstances, to use their bargaining leverage to prevent a bombing halt before November 5. In this position they may have been encouraged, to an extent we cannot specify yet, by some in the Nixon entourage." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [2 of 2])

The President has been wanting to see General Abrams. Been wanting to see him at some place. It looked like travel this week-end. General Abrams came. We reviewed the whole military situation with him. Can't be more specific than that. Don't say when he got here or when he left.

Gave him Distinguished Service Medal today.

General Abrams has returned.


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

Washington, October 29, 1968, 3:35 p.m.

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

Mr. President:

At Tab A is the Bunker report you already know.

At Tab B is Vance's telephonic report of his conversation with Lau.

We do owe it to Hanoi to tell them by 6 p.m. that we are not stopping the bombing tonight because, I would guess, they have already issued orders to their forces to obey at the DMZ and the cities--and, perhaps, not to fire on our recce aircraft.

We shall be considering this as a first item at 4:30 and probably be in touch with you from Sect. Rusk's office.


P.S. At Tab C/2/ is the passage between Harriman and Lam, which I sent to you some time ago, which, I believe, is the basis for the second of Thanh's four points.

/2/Not attached.

W. W. R./3/

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

Tab A

Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)/4/

Washington, October 29, 1968.

/4/Secret; Nodis; Harvan; Double Plus.

Ambassador Bunker called secure from Saigon at 2:00 p.m. EST (3:00 a.m. Saigon time, 10/30)/5/

/5/A full report on this meeting was transmitted in telegram 41450 from Saigon, October 29. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)

1. Bunker had just returned from the Palace where he had been asked to go to see Foreign Minister Thanh after the NSC meeting had concluded.

2. Thanh raised four points with Bunker on behalf of the GVN Leadership:

(1) Under the SVN constitution the President is required to consult with Leaders of the Assembly and the Leaders would have to be convened and possibly a plenary session of the Assembly in order to approve going ahead with negotiations./6/

/6/In telegram 263695 to Saigon, October 30, the Department interpreted this issue in the following manner: "Whatever the constitutional role of the Assembly in relation to peace talks, it should be possible for Thieu to meet this through full consultation and any debate after repeat after the GVN representative has taken his seat." (Ibid.)

(2) President Thieu had been disturbed by a report from Ambassador Lam in Paris in which Lam claimed that Harriman had stated that the US was not opposed to a separate NLF delegation and the US could not force the DRV to negotiate with the GVN directly./7/ Bunker pointed out our whole position was based on the "our side/your side" formula and that we had made it clear to the GVN that we could not tell Hanoi how to organize its side; just as Hanoi could not tell us how to organize our side.

/7/The discussion between Harriman and Lam was reported in telegram 23126 from Paris, October 29. (Ibid.)

(3) Questions of procedure must be settled before the GVN would go to the first meeting because it did not want that first meeting to be disrupted. Bunker made it clear we could not settle procedures in advance but would present a united front with the GVN on procedures at that time.

(4) Thieu and Ky need more time for preparation. The GVN delegation is not ready and cannot get ready by November 2.

3. Thieu had gone to bed but would be sending a personal message to President Johnson later Wednesday morning./8/

/8/Telegram 41543, October 30. (Ibid.)

4. Bunker stated in summary that it is clear the GVN is not ready to proceed. Bunker told Thanh that he would have to report to Washington that the GVN was not willing to go ahead for the four reasons given by the Foreign Minister. Thanh said that President Thieu intends to instruct Lam to return to Saigon. Bunker told Thanh that Bui Diem should come in and discuss these problems with us in Washington./9/

/9/See Document 154.

5. Bunker suggests that we consider giving the GVN 24 more hours before cessation and perhaps two days more (until November 4) for the first meeting, but he does not know whether such a proposal would be accepted.



Tab B

Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)/10/

Washington, October 29, 1968.

/10/Secret; Nodis; Harvan; Double Plus.

Ambassador Vance called at 3:00 p.m. on the secure phone (9:00 p.m. Paris time)

1. Vance opened his meeting with Lau in accordance with instructions from the Secretary with a statement that he had not yet received instructions./11/ Vance stated that there were a number of complexities in the picture on our side because of the allied elements, the need for consultations here and in other capitals and the time zone differences. He said we had worked intensively on the problem and as soon as he received instructions he would let Lau know.

/11/Although still subject to modification up to the point of execution, the Department sent Vance the following instructions: "1. Orders have been issued to stop all air, naval, and artillery bombardment and all other acts involving the use of force against the territory of the DRV as of 0001 GMT Wednesday. We cannot guarantee that all units will receive these orders in time to put them into effect at the designated hour, but if not, they will be doing so as soon as they receive their orders shortly thereafter. 2. Tell the DRV our announcement will be at the time of cessation. 3. Agree with the DRV to announce tomorrow morning Paris time that the regular Wednesday meeting is canceled." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [2 of 2]) In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of these instructions to the President, October 29, 12:30 p.m., Rostow commented: "Quite a cliff-hanger."

2. Lau asked Vance to explain what our problems were. He asked if the shift of time (from 1600 GMT to 0001 GMT) was what had caused us difficulties. If so, Lau said, let him know and the DRV would take it into consideration. If the U.S. could not accept the secret minute we should also let him know that fact. Lau said he understood that we had complexities but again asked us to let him know what our problems were.

3. At the end of the brief meeting Lau said if the U.S. was not going to stop the bombing tonight at the time the DRV had proposed, we should let him know before midnight (Paris time)--"that is only fair".

4. Comment:

Vance thinks that if we do not intend to order cessation tonight we should let Lau know by midnight Paris time. Vance believes that the DRV may be prepared to drop its demand for a secret minute if we insist, particularly if we are able to indicate to them that we are prepared to stop the bombing at 1600 GMT Wednesday, as we originally proposed.



150. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 29, 1968, 6:28-7:40 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. The ending time is taken from the President's Daily Diary. (Ibid.) A summary and full transcript of this meeting are ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.


The President
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
Walt Rostow
George Christian
Tom Johnson

Secretary Rusk: You should see these two telegrams./2/

/2/Presumably a reference to the telegrams from Saigon and Paris cited in footnotes 5 and 7, Document 149.

The President: Read George Christian's briefing on General Abrams' visit.

Secretary Clifford: It is hard for Abrams to get on an aircraft and depart unseen. We can't brief everybody.

The President: Read George Christian's memorandum to the President:

"Our luck just ran out. Abrams was seen by somebody in the Defense Department, prompting press inquiries from CBS. I gave them the guidelines we discussed and have now advised other reporters of his visit in order to diminish the mystery as much as I could. A transcript will be sent in as soon as possible."

Secretary Rusk: Mood of Hanoi delegation.

Three alternatives, possibly four.

1. Forget it--let thing go over.

Add some days to the five and a-half months we have spent working on this.

We need to talk to the Soviets. It will be a setback for our relationship. It's a shame. Today a Soviet diplomat told a Frenchman after Vietnam, we could move to settlement on the basis of 1962 accords.

2. Go back and insist upon the 2nd. Hard to meet that timing.

3. Meet on the 4th--look as though we made concessions to South Vietnam.

4. If we don't get agreement, make a unilateral declaration. We have a major problem on our hands. They may figure they help Nixon by staying put.

We need to get Ellsworth back in touch with Thieu.

It is a very unhappy situation. One possibility is November 4. They will try to hold up until after our elections.

My own preference: try for the 4th, or say arrangements have been made for the GVN to sit at the talks. We can say the GVN can come when he wants to.

The President: Are you together on a recommended course?

Secretary Clifford: At lunch we thought Saigon's approach might be due to ineptitude or other considerations [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].

It is due to the fact they want to push this over. They do not want to affect Nixon adversely.

1. They tried to dredge up reasons for the delay:

A. Need for legislature to meet.
B. Harriman said something about the NLF.

C. Questions of procedure must be taken up.
D. Saigon cannot be ready for November 2 because Thieu and Ky cannot be ready. They do not want to participate in what the President is trying to do.

2. The President has been urged to stop the bombing. You took solid position. Now, three days before the election, you decide to stop the bombing.

We did have an understanding on the GVN presence at the talks. This constitutes something of a problem. We have established the principle that the GVN will be at the talks.

We're faced with the fact that the meeting of the GVN leaders will be all over town. The President may have to clear the air with a sharp, clear statement tomorrow.

We might do well to consider the fact that we talked in good faith with the Soviets. You can't get by with nothing.

You might choose alternative one--do nothing and let Wednesday/3/ meetings go on.

/3/October 30.

Two, get Bunker to tell Thieu we will slide along for 24 hours.

Tell them the President will make a public statement, stopping bombing, and there would be a meeting on November 4. Tell Thieu to come along. This is the way it will go. Tell them none of the reasons have any validity. Tell Thieu either Thieu goes along or we go alone.

Although sometimes doing nothing is better, this is not the time.

I feel it is inappropriate for us, after bearing these burdens for so many years, to turn this over to Thieu and his people and a new Administration.

We know this is a decent, honorable deal. All your advisers can live with it.

This seems to be in the other camp's hands. I do not have a strong definitive plan.

The President: We have never gone so far that we have to do something. The fact that we worked with the Soviets doesn't bother me. They pushed and shoved.

Saigon may see this as a political deal. They may think this would help HHH. They know the Vice President would be softer. I do not want to help them put over a man who has this attitude toward us.

That's one reason I wanted to talk to Abrams. The JCS relieved my fears on the pause.

We don't want to tear ourselves to pieces over this, with the Vietnamese and South Korea. Doing it before the election would be interpreted as political. The Nixon forces have been working on South Vietnam.

We must reassess this.

We can't walk out, quit, split. We have got to hold together. We must tell them we won't stand for their vetoing this. Look at the Bundy speech, the Vice President's Salt Lake City speech,/4/ and you see reasons for Saigon's concern.

/4/See Documents 63 and 40, respectively.

It may be better to wait.

The best choice:

Say to Bunker, now we have attained what we worked for. We must not let this get away from us. You must emphasize that the country [omission in the source text]. It may be we can't trust these people. We have got to get the family together. Why don't we stop the bombing right now. Nobody can force us to continue bombing. I do not feel good about a quickie before the election.

Secretary Rusk: If we go alone the only conclusion is that we went ahead only for political reasons.

Walt Rostow: Can we go to the Soviets?

The President: The Soviets didn't answer my letter./5/

/5/See Document 141.

Walt Rostow: Delay it one week. Get the election out of it.

The President: Let's don't go it alone. I know what forces are at work. I would postpone a day or two before I broke up the alliance. They can shove you around. It is almost impossible with the people in our camp making these speeches.

Thieu and the others are voting for a man they see as one who will stick with it--Nixon.

Bunker must take Thieu up on the mountain and really let him know what the facts are.

1. The bombing not as significant because of the weather. We'll compensate with emphasis in Laos.

2. If he blows this deal, God help him. He has no right to act this way. His people may not like this NLF thing.

Secretary Clifford: There is great merit in what you say. Thieu and his associates are not reading the situation clearly here.

The President: I agree with that.

We must get over the situation to him as we see it.

1. If he keeps us from moving, God help South Vietnam--because I can't help him anymore, neither can anyone else who has my job.

2. There will be criticism.

Secretary Clifford: Thieu must know he must deal with the same military and a Democratic Congress and the same leaders.

The President: If we abandon Korea, Thailand and South Vietnam's 1,000,000.

General Wheeler: Let me send a message to Goodpaster. I can get him to see General Vien and give him the same treatment Bunker gave Thieu. I am frankly disgusted. We can't permit our allies to dictate what are policies of the United States.

The President: I think we have a basic weakness. Thieu doesn't realize what he is doing to himself. The American people will know that just as soon as we got sight of the promised land they blew it.

We have to give him time.

Secretary Rusk: Let's go back on 24-hour, 4 November basis.

The President: (Read note on conversation between Cy Vance and Ben Read)./6/

/6/In an October 29 note to Rostow, Bromley Smith relayed the report conveyed telephonically by Vance to Read at 6:30 p.m. on that day's activity in Paris: "Vance saw the No. 3 man in the Soviet Embassy in Paris upon the Russians' insistence. The Russians (sic) said he was under great pressure for a report on status of negotiations. Chairman Kosygin was waiting to hear. Vance gave a skeleton report of his conversation this afternoon with Lau. He told him that we would not be acting at 0001 GMT (7 p.m. tonight). The Russians asked whether we would be staying with our schedule of 1600 GMT (11 a.m. tomorrow). Vance said he had no instructions on this second point. The Russian concluded by stating that the Soviet Government has great interest in seeing the matter satisfactorily resolved." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [2 of 2]) In a second note to Rostow that day, Smith described Vance's second call: "Cy Vance phoned Ben Read again at 6:40 to say: Harriman, Vance and Habib feel very strongly--more strongly than they did earlier--about the importance of sticking to the 1600 GMT (11 a.m. tomorrow) action. They all agree that the Russian question about this matter reinforces their view that it is important to stay with a time which we have earlier conveyed to the Russians. General Ginsburgh points out that the Russian interest in the 1600 GMT action could be used in Saigon in reinforcing the necessity of our sticking to this time. However, only Secretary Rusk and you are in a position to decide the extent to which we've committed ourselves to the Soviets." (Ibid.)


Tell Kosygin the best laid plans of mice and men often come to naught.


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

Washington, October 30, 1968, 0232Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. Drafted from text as received from the White House. Repeated to Paris as Todel 1408.

263699. 1. You should see Thieu at the earliest possible time Wednesday morning to convey the following as an oral message from the President. If Thieu attempts to make himself unavailable, you should insist that the message is of the utmost gravity and that our President could not understand any reluctance on the part of Thieu to see you at once. Message is:

a. The President is convinced that we have obtained from the other side the essential elements in our requirements at this stage of the war and on negotiations. At every step of the way the President has consulted closely with President Thieu and has proceeded on the basis of the agreement between the two.

b. On the basis of commitments made by Thieu and Ky, the constitutional leaders of the GVN, President Johnson has gone forward in making engagements to others all of which are known to Thieu. He cannot now withdraw from those engagements.

c. The American people have joined in a great battle in Southeast Asia, for more than 5 years, in which we have accepted great sacrifices in men and material. The purpose of this effort was to obtain a chance to talk about peace on a reasonable basis. Now that we have reached that point, we must not let it get away from us.

d. The President is deeply concerned that President Thieu does not sufficiently understand the American people and their government. If President Thieu makes himself responsible for preventing the very peace talks which have cost so much to obtain, the people of this country would never forget the man responsible. No American leader could rescue the position of such a person with the American people. If President Thieu keeps us from moving at this moment of opportunity, God help South Vietnam, because no President could maintain the support of the American people.

e. President Thieu should also understand that the Government of the United States includes the United States Congress and that the leaders of the U.S. Congress and most of its membership will be the same in January as in the past few years. The President and the Secretary of State must be, under our Constitution, completely candid with our Congressional leaders as to how this situation developed and who was responsible for frustrating it. The President wants President Thieu to know that the Congress would take charge of this situation and would completely undermine and would withdraw the support of the United States from the effort in Vietnam.

f. The President also wants President Thieu to understand that the attitude of the American military leadership is of crucial importance to his own country. Our top military men are unanimous that the understandings reached in Paris provide a substantial military benefit to U.S. and allied forces in the field. These men, who have been responsible for the conduct of the battle, will respond with disgust to a rejection of this present opportunity for petty and trivial reasons. Obviously, the elections will have no effect upon our military leadership since they are professional and non-political in character under our Constitution.

g. President Thieu should understand that President Johnson is faced with the gravest possible problems. The first is a judgment as to whether there can exist a relationship of confidence between the Presidents of the United States and of South Vietnam. The second is a judgment which the President must make as to his obligations to the United States, to the American people, and the American national interests. This raises the serious possibility of proceeding alone. We cannot force South Vietnam to do something which it does not wish to do; South Vietnam cannot force us to do something which we consider contrary to our interests. No one can levy upon us a necessity to give the lives of our men and our planes for the bombing of North Vietnam or for the defense of South Vietnam unless the U.S. considers it in our national interest to make that sacrifice. Does President Thieu want President Johnson to go alone? If so, can President Thieu himself go alone?

h. Surely President Thieu understands full well that President Johnson will be President of the United States, with all the responsibilities of that office, until January 20, 1969. The President will make the decisions for the United States while he holds that office; the decisions which are required in the next three months could be vital to the future of South Vietnam.

i. The President can understand if there might be individuals in the South Vietnamese government who may be speculating about the internal politics of the United States. He wishes President Thieu to understand that decisions based upon such speculation carry the gravest danger because the American people would react in fury if they should discover that lives were being lost because people of other countries were trying to intrude their own judgments into the judgments of the American people about our future leadership. The President removed himself from the internal politics of the United States on March 31st in order to deal with questions of war and peace on their merits; it would be intolerable if those with whom he is working should fail to adopt the same attitude.

2. The President has considered carefully the points raised by Foreign Minister Thanh with Ambassador Bunker./2/ He observes that the constitutional point has been raised only at this last moment, following weeks of closest consultation and agreement between our two governments. He cannot accept responsibility for Ambassador Lam's reporting supposed conversations with Ambassador Harriman because he knows that the position of the United States Government has been stated clearly by Ambassador Bunker to President Thieu himself on these matters. Questions of procedure are potentially troublesome but the informal precedents which have already been followed in Paris would meet most of South Vietnam's concern; in any event, it would be for the delegations in Paris to work out these tertiary points.

/2/See footnote 5, Document 149.

The President has taken into account the desire of President Thieu and Vice President Ky to have somewhat more time. He observes that their problems are not related to the cessation of the bombing but are related to the timing of a following meeting and the problems of producing an effective South Vietnamese delegation. The President believes, therefore, that it should meet President Thieu's problem if the date of the cessation of bombing were moved forward for 24 hours and the first meeting should be scheduled in Paris on Monday, November 3. We cannot guarantee that other side will accept this, but we will be ready to find out.

3. Finally, the President is completely unable to understand why, after all the consultation which has occurred between the United States, the GVN, and the TCC's, considerations of secondary importance should be raised at the last minute as an obstacle to a previously agreed procedure. The United States has engaged aspects of its own good faith in pressing these matters upon the other side. And we must maintain our traditional reputation of good faith. But the good faith of the Government of South Vietnam is also at stake. For that to be surrendered for reasons such as those which have been thus far advanced would be profligate in the extreme and would leave the Government of South Vietnam with little credence or credit before the world in the conduct of its own affairs and in its attempt to establish its independence and national survival.

4. Please, therefore, underline with every personal resource you can, the utter gravity of this moment in the relations between the Government of the United States and Republic of Vietnam.

5. If you and General Goodpaster think it desirable, you should authorize him to use any elements of this message for a very frank, direct talk with General Vien, Chief of the Joint General Staff./3/

/3/The telegram is unsigned.


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

Washington, October 30, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [2 of 2]. Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of this report to the President, October 30, 7:55 a.m., Rostow wrote: "Herewith the situation in Paris, including the tea break conversation. I do believe that, unless there is a break in Saigon within the next hour or so reported to us, we should have Vance tell Lau that: The 'complexities' referred to yesterday prevent our proceeding at 7:00 p.m. our time; we are still at work to resolve those complexities; we shall be in touch with them again within the next, say, 8 hours." The notation "ps" on the covering note indicates that the President saw the report.

Phone Call From Vance, 0645, October 30

1. Vance had just consulted with Harriman and Habib after the regular Wednesday meeting./2/ All were agreed that:

/2/The delegation reported on the meeting in telegram 23142/Delto 895 from Paris, October 30. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)

--the cessation and announcement should be 0800 Saigon local on the 31st (7 tonight our time). They believe this is far preferable to 2400 Saigon local.

--the date of the first meeting could be November 4 or later as the President sees fit. They will do all they can to get acceptance (and, from the previous call, are reasonably confident Hanoi would buy).

2. They all also continue to feel that a response in Paris not later than 1100 our time is vital. At the tea break, Thuy repeated what Lau had said to Vance last night about dates and times--implying that the timing of the 30th for cessation and the 2nd for the meeting had great meaning to them. Thuy also made remarks to the effect that we spoke one way and acted another, clearly suggesting doubt of our good faith./3/

/3/In telegram 23141/Delto 894 from Paris, October 30, Harriman and Vance reported the following: "Thuy said that for the DRV's part he would like to remark that the U.S. has been holding talks with an attitude which is not serious and not correct. The United States says things in one way and does them in another. When the DRV promises something, it carries it out." (Ibid.)

3. Bundy told Vance that his recommendation of a response in Paris by 1100 our time made things extremely difficult if Bunker had not been heard from by then. Vance's recommendation should be made in cable form with supporting reasons, so that the President could weigh it with all factors.4 We should also put our minds on whether there was any partial response that would ease things but not commit us till we knew where we stood in Saigon.

4 In a memorandum to the President, October 30, 7:30 a.m., Rostow noted: "Vance would like the cessation and announcement at 7 p.m. tonight. He believes an 11 a.m. tomorrow announcement would cause 'real difficulty', but he does not argue it would be turned down. (If they are serious they would, of course, accept either time.)" (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [2 of 2]) In telegram 23140/Delto 893 from Paris, October 30, Harriman and Vance wrote: "Pursuant to telcon with Bundy, we make the following recommendation. That we be authorized to say to Lau before 1600 Paris time this afternoon the following: 'As I told you, we are working on the matter intensively. We hope to be able to resolve the matter in a manner satisfactory to both of us. We need a little more time and will be in touch with you as soon as possible.'" (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)


153. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 30, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting began at 10:09 a.m. in the Cabinet Room with the President, Rusk, Clifford, Rostow, Wheeler, and McPherson in attendance. Christian joined the meeting at 10:15. Read was present for an undetermined period, left, and then returned at 11:30. At 10:24, the President left for the Oval Office to receive a telephone call from Russell. Bundy joined the meeting at 10:30. The President returned at 10:50 a.m. but left again for the Oval Office from 11:52 to noon. The meeting ended at 12:27 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A summary and full transcript of this meeting are ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.


The President
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
Walt Rostow
General Wheeler
Harry McPherson
George Christian
Tom Johnson

Secretary Rusk: We're waiting for a flash from Saigon.

The President: I'm concerned about not getting the South Vietnamese aboard but they bought one day, three days, and we were hesitant to extend that for their sake. But if they're agreeable, we'll go longer. Some set of circumstances might intervene to hurt them. If we irritate the Koreans and make them think we've sold out, that's bad. We must say we'll talk with the Koreans constantly.

It's important that the GVN will be present.

--that the DMZ will be respected,
--that cities must be protected,
--that psychological campaign be mounted,
--that our elections have nothing to do with it.

We could have made a deal in April but we didn't because we didn't get the above. Our military commanders say we ought to do this. We're losing nothing by bombing halt.

10:15 a.m.

The President: It is a pure question of when you all are agreed on statement.

Thieu plans to talk at 7:00 p.m. Washington time.

What does Bus say?

General Wheeler: We can issue orders at midday--stop bombing by midnight.

The President: Can we agree on how to best communicate with Australia, Thailand?

Walt Rostow: We can even employ a special ambassador to hold their hand.

Secretary Rusk: Harriman must employ more tact and diplomacy with our allies.

The President: I like the 6th as meeting time. What if we announce at 7:00 tonight. 7 Wednesday/2/ to 7 on the 6th is 168 hours.

/2/October 30.

12 o'clock bombing halt. I would like to speak at 9:30 p.m.

Secretary Clifford: In television speech, we must answer to American people the question "Why now?" What can we say about the DMZ and the cities?

Walt Rostow: In consultations with President Thieu. We must surface on background the DMZ and the cities.

Harry McPherson: The President has said all along he would not stop the bombing if it threatened our men. Nixon signed on to this. So did the Platform committee. We must sign on to this.

The President: April-July-August: give time sequence to what happened.

Secretary Clifford: We didn't reach an understanding until Sunday. It is important to state this. Talks will not continue unless cities aren't attacked and the DMZ not violated.

Secretary Rusk: In mid-October they agreed to seat the GVN. In the past weekend these issues came into focus.

Flash message has been on the way for 45 minutes.

The President: We must watch to see how much the Asia lobby is in this. See what tie-ins Nixon's law firm has. I told another man I was very disgusted if people didn't get aboard. Nixon man implied that it would be better. No question but what Dirksen called and I wouldn't give him much/3/ and that they put the old Asian group to work.

/3/See Document 112.

Secretary Rusk: There is a conflict. What do we say about the DMZ and the cities?

The President: Say nothing about it. Get AP and UPI to watch DMZ and the cities.

Secretary Rusk: Averell and Cy would not want to say anything about it.

William Bundy: Let it leak.

The President: You could say "it is obvious." I have felt since September that we are willing and anxious to take any step which would lower the tempo of the war, which would get productive discussions, and that they would not take advantage of our restraint. I talked to General Abrams.

I have reason to believe we can have productive talks. I signed on Monday. General Abrams is for it.

Productive talks on November 6.

Abrams, JCS said a military disadvantage would not result.

Harry McPherson: We need to say DMZ and cities to answer questions about the JCS and Abrams' position.

Secretary Clifford: Backgrounders will have a lot to do with the flavor of the stories. The President refused for five and one-half months to stop the bombing. What have they done different now than before?

We have one clear understanding: GVN present at conference table.

But the President has been placing concern on the DMZ and the cities. What agreement do you have on this?

We must say we have made it clear they can't violate DMZ or attack cities--if so, we will take appropriate action. I would like to say there is a "clear understanding."

General Wheeler: We know they understand if they violate cities and the DMZ we are required to respond.

Secretary Rusk: The message does not give "green light." FM called in Bunker--gave him a very negative answer in a letter to the President.

The President: What do we say in backgrounders:

1. GVN in talks.
2. Can't allow DMZ and cities.

Secretary Rusk: Keep an eye on DMZ and cities.

Secretary Clifford: I want to go as far as you will let me--not violate cities and DMZ.

Secretary Rusk: There is no contract. There is a clear understanding.

Secretary Clifford: Prompt military action would be required if the DMZ and the cities are violated.

The President: We do not have a contract with North Vietnam.

Secretary Clifford: We have an agreement with North Vietnam on the GVN. We must say we have an understanding on GVN and DMZ.

Secretary Clifford: What about a flat statement of understanding.

Harry McPherson: Tom Johnson has suggested "we have said that the DMZ and the cities be respected."

Secretary Rusk: What about orders to troops?

The President: I would be for giving them at 12:00 noon for 12:00 midnight halt.

Walt Rostow: Letter you write to Thieu will be important.

The President: Let's go to Korea and advise them.

11:35 a.m. Ben Read enters.

I asked Bunker about 10:00 p.m. announcement. He said he would like to work on them and get Thieu to reconvene the Council.

Thieu is standing by at the Palace. He is expecting you to announce your decision. I asked Bunker if he knew of Thieu's speech. He said it asked LBJ for more assurances from DRV.

(The President read attachments A and B.)/4/

/4/Not attached.

Secretary Rusk: We are working against no deadline.

11:44 a.m.

Secretary Rusk: Tell Hanoi to withdraw secret minute. Put it to Thieu.

Walt Rostow: Give him what assurances we can.

Secretary Clifford: What can we expect from Saigon?

The President: I want the meeting on the 6th. He has a speech at 7:00 a.m. I don't want to speak after him. He'll make some points on this.

His 7:00 o'clock speech troubles me.

Ben Read: Bunker thought they could telescope it to six days.

Secretary Rusk: We must bring Thieu along. There could be massive demonstrations against the embassy; the South Vietnamese Army could sit on its hands.

We will be asked why the GVN blew its stack.

The President: The closer you get to the elections, the more troubles you have.

Secretary Rusk: Let's drag this fellow along. We must have him aboard.

The President: Will Thieu lobby our Allies?

What are your thoughts, Bus?

General Wheeler: It makes no difference to me. We can do it either time.

The President: We should do it at 7:00 p.m.

General Wheeler: It also would give Abrams a chance to work on Thieu.

The President: Would you favor a delay?

General Wheeler: Yes, under these conditions. I can swallow my disgust for practical reasons.

Bill Bundy: I would give Bunker another day. There will be two dissenters: The Thais and the Koreans.

Walt Rostow: You might propose an early meeting of the troop contributors.

Bill Bundy: That's a good idea.

The President: Say we will stop unilaterally, tomorrow.

Be prepared to stop at 12 or 7.

Secretary Clifford: We have known before how Thieu would react. Now they have been asked would you rather have three months of Johnson or four years of Nixon. Their whole approach is delay. This message is "horseshit." This message is thoroughly insulting.

Secretary Rusk: This is not this surprising. Hanoi has tried to get us to resolve this before we start process of talks. So have the South Vietnamese. Both sides are pushing for key concession.

Harry McPherson: If Thieu speaks tomorrow, if he talks to T.C.C.'s saying it is bum deal in Paris, and we come along and stop it, it is meaningless. If we do it first--say that we have a deal which gives the GVN the right to sit at the table, that's good. If South Vietnam pisses it away, then it's all on their back.

Secretary Rusk: We must have simultaneous statements. Thieu must delay.

Secretary Clifford: I think it is calculated, planned program to delay, to get through November 5.

If he makes the kind of speech I believe he will make, he will try to get you to change your mind.

If you are going to follow the right course, you must do it before Thieu does.

If Thieu broke with us, he could never get it back on the track.

I don't think additional time will benefit Bunker.

The President: Give Bunker and Abrams up to 7 tomorrow night to deal with Thieu--also Ambassadors to deal with T.C.C. (Troop Contributing Countries) and to deal with Paris.

If Thieu won't make complaints through Bunker rather than through other people and the press, I would be inclined to go ahead.

We can't follow Thieu's speech. Our own people will want to know if Bunker and Abrams are aboard.

General Wheeler: Dean will check with Bunker. Every hour that goes by lessens my confidence that we can do anything by 12:00 p.m. tonight.

The President: Talk to Paris.

Ben Read: They agreed to tear up secret minute.

The President: Tell Bunker we are ready to go tonight.

1. We are ready to get rid of secret minute.
2. Get 168 hours till next Wednesday.
3. Try to get Thieu's speech moved back.


154. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassies in Vietnam and France/1/

Washington, October 30, 1968, 1836Z.

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

263808/Todel 1411. For Harriman and Vance.

1. Bui Diem, acting on Thieu's instructions, called on Bundy October 30 to review Bunker's October 29 presentation to Thieu, and Thanh's statements to Bunker following Thieu's meeting with NSC and Upper and Lower House presidents./2/ According to Bui Diem, Thanh emphasized four points:

/2/See Document 149. Bui Diem recalled the October 30 meeting in his memoir, In the Jaws of History, pp. 240-242.

A. Lam's cable from Paris reporting what Harriman had allegedly told him (US would not oppose NLF as distinct entity, US could not force DRV to give advance assurances that it would talk directly with GVN, what guarantee could US obtain that Hanoi would keep promises on implementing de-escalation) had thrown into doubt agreement that had been reached on joint announcement as well as assurances given in US October 25 memorandum.

B. GVN proposed that procedures and physical arrangements be settled before first meeting in order to avoid any risk of "shock" and difficulties.

C. Upper and Lower House presidents had raised many constitutional problems, including government's obligation under Article 39 to consult Assembly before engaging in negotiations.

D. GVN needed more time to settle these internal and constitutional problems; moreover, in view of Lam's cable, Thieu had asked Lam to return to Saigon immediately.

2. According to Bui Diem's account, Bunker replied that Lam had misunderstood what had been told him in Paris; North Viet-Nam had refused to talks procedures in advance; the constitutional problem was a new one of which he had not yet been informed; and he would clarify with Harriman what had been said to Lam. Bunker had emphasized the tension between their two governments that would arise if this matter were not satisfactorily resolved and had asked for GVN cooperation. Thanh said GVN considered it indispensable that Hanoi authorities accept without any question the conditions for de-escalation and the holding of direct talks with the GVN. To go into a conference with no promises by Hanoi, Thanh said, would be disastrous and would be considered surrender by our people.

3. Bui Diem said he had been instructed to ask us to bring this message to the President and Secretary and said Thieu intended to send a letter to the President today.

4. In response Bundy made three points:

A. Ambassador Bunker speaks directly with the authority of the President and further GVN messages to other capitals are not helpful. Lam had completely misquoted the conversation with Harriman; the verbatim account of this conversation had in the meantime been conveyed to Thanh. It was vital to deal in one place only and this was very poor professional procedure on Lam's part. The October 25 memorandum and the agreed joint communiqué remained absolutely valid.

B. On the other points mentioned by Bui Diem, Bundy said, Bunker had already been authorized to cover these with Thieu and we did not wish to make any additional comment whatsoever.

C. The GVN had understood for weeks and months the exact nature of the participation formula that had been agreed upon, and we had gone ahead on that basis. In the meantime there had been no changes in the circumstances to warrant a change in the GVN attitude. We had every reason to believe that the other side understood completely what was involved with respect to observing the understanding reached on both participation and military matters.

5. Bundy then gave Bui Diem for his information the essence of the President's oral message to Thieu,/3/ emphasizing the utterly non-partisan nature of the Administration's decision and the extremely grave consequences if the GVN were not to associate itself with this decision.

/3/See Document 151.

6. Bui Diem, who took careful notes, appeared to be sobered by this presentation, and promised he would immediately report to Saigon, emphasizing that Thieu should convey views to Bunker as the President's representative, the GVN should avoid dealing with the same problem in different capitals, and that substantive points raised in Thieu's instructions had in the meantime been fully dealt with by Ambassador Bunker.

7. In conclusion Bundy emphasized the very serious situation we would quickly face if everyone did not hold their tongues. Bui Diem seemed to get this point also./4/

/4/[text not declassified]



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

Washington, October 30, 1968, 1850Z.

/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. Repeated to Paris for the delegation as Todel 1412. Drafted from a telephone conversation between Rusk and Bunker, cleared by Read, and approved by Rusk.

263813. This cable is to confirm the following points made in Secretary Rusk's secure telephone conversation with Ambassador Bunker at 1300 (Washington time) Wednesday./2/

/2/According to Rusk's appointment book, he spoke briefly with Bunker over secure telephone from Read's office beginning at 12:45 p.m. (Johnson Library, Dean Rusk Appointment Books, 1968-1969)

1. The President is prepared to give Ambassador Bunker the extra time requested by ordering cessation of bombing to take effect 2400 (Saigon time) on Thursday October 31, if--(a) Ambassador Bunker thinks there is a 50-50 chance of improving the situation with the additional time; and (b) Thieu can be prevented from "blowing the situation" with the speech he is taping on Thursday evening or in some other manner. Otherwise the President is prepared to order cessation of bombing at an earlier time.

2. In discussing the situation with Thieu Amb. Bunker will be able to give him assurances that:

(a) The secret minute requirement has been withdrawn by the DRV in Paris today;/3/

/3/In telegram 41539 from Saigon, October 30, Bunker noted that he had not told Thieu about the secret minute because of suspicions about U.S. motives that would arise among the GVN leadership. He also recommended that the Department instruct the Paris delegation to request that the DRV modify the secret minute, "for unless the last sentence is removed the secret minute could blow up on us in the most dangerous manner." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968)

(b) We are prepared to give him the extra time needed until the first expanded meeting in Paris next Wednesday November 6;

(c) We will make public that our view of the NLF is the same as Saigon's;

(d) We are prepared to give the GVN the leading role in all matters which come up in Paris involving SVN internal affairs; and

(e) We are prepared to work with the DRV on procedural matters for the November 6 meeting in advance of that meeting.

3. At the same time you should make clear to Thieu that "if he breaks with us, we are finished." "The American people will not take this."

4. Having received your views on the foregoing by phone already, we will attempt to convey to you the President's views on these issues in time for your next meeting with Thieu, which we understand will be at "daybreak".



156. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, October 30, 1968, 4 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Although the meeting, held in the Cabinet Room, actually began at 3 p.m. with Rusk, Clifford, Wheeler, Rostow, McPherson, Christian, and Tom Johnson attending, these notes cover only the period from when the President joined the meeting at 3:56 until it ended at 5:18. The President, McPherson, and Christian met earlier that day from 12:27 to 1:40 p.m. to work on McPherson's draft of the President's speech. Christian and McPherson continued to work on another draft of the speech until the 3 p.m. meeting. The President approved a version of the speech at 4:55 p.m., and he asked Staff Assistant Charles Maguire to review the speech at 5:50. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.


Secretary Rusk

Secretary Clifford

General Wheeler

Walt Rostow

Harry McPherson

George Christian

Tom Johnson



The President: When are we stopping it?

Secretary Rusk: Stop at 11:00 a.m.--announced.

The President: Let's stop it so I can announce at 7 today or at 7 tomorrow.

General Wheeler: We can stop it at 0800 Saigon time or 7:00 p.m. tomorrow. There is nothing to do.

Clark Clifford: Do we have information about Thieu making speech?

The President: Make it the day after tomorrow if possible.

Secretary Rusk: What about the timing?

The President: Announce it at 7 p.m. tomorrow.

Clark Clifford and Dean Rusk background, perhaps even appear on television.

Orders go out at 12 noon. This means stopping it--cessation--at midnight tomorrow (1 p.m. on November 1, Saigon time).

We would have from 6 to 8 to work on Congress and Candidates.

I talked to Dirksen once before. He wrote an article on how "we could reasonably hope for GVN to be recognized by sitting at talks."

George Christian: I will send the Press home now.

Clark Clifford: If orders go out at 12 noon tomorrow to stop bombing at 12 midnight, what is the possibility of a leak?

General Wheeler: There is a chance of a leak from Saigon.

The President: It would be 2-3 in the morning.

General Wheeler: You would have a better chance of security. If it goes out at 12:00 Washington time, it is 1:00 a.m. in Saigon.

Secretary Rusk: When do we tell the Hanoi delegation?

The President: I would tell them as late as possible.

Secretary Rusk: Say to them: "The President is ordering a complete halt in the bombing at ____ time."

The President: Why not hold off on issuing orders until I made speech?

Secretary Rusk: Orders issued when?

The President: At 8 p.m. I speak Thursday/2/ (EST). Make issue of orders at 8 p.m. Thursday. Make effective 8 a.m. Friday.

/2/October 31.

1300 Zulu
2100 Saigon on 1st

Secretary Rusk: We should notify Hanoi tomorrow morning.

We can guarantee there won't be a leak out of Paris. Tell them we don't expect incidents.

General Wheeler: 12 hours will do it.

The President: I thought Hanoi already agreed to it.

Have Vance call them now. Tell them we have 8 allies, candidates and Congressmen to deal with.

Tell them we are going to proceed at 8-9 o'clock, early evening if we can understand that you are aboard.

I want all of you to go on television.

Secretary Rusk: ("Today")/3/

/3/Reference is to the morning news and variety television show.

Clark Clifford: (Joseph Benti)/4/

/4/Journalist Joseph Benti.

Let's concentrate on our embassies, Saigon and Hanoi between 6-8, or 7-8.

Secretary Rusk: Times will be "ungodly" in Australia, New Zealand.

Walt Rostow: 6 p.m. EST = NZ 11 a.m. Cambodia 9 a.m. Korea 8 a.m.

EST 5 p.m. is 7 a.m. in Korea

Secretary Rusk: We'll have trouble with Park./5/

/5/South Korean President Park Chung-hee.

The President: Nobody is notified 3 hours before announcement.

The President: I want to say reason I did what I did on March 31 was, as Clark Clifford said, to "test the good faith" of North Vietnam.

"I have determined tonight to give a fair test to that good faith."


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

Washington, October 30, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. IV [1 of 2]. Secret; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus.

Phone Call from Vance, 2150, October 30, 1968

1. Vance reported that the mission had been accomplished--complete agreement on all points had been reached./2/

/2/In telegram 23201/Delto 902 from Paris, October 30, Vance reported on a meeting he and Habib had with Lau and Vy that afternoon, and specifically noted the following: "Lau said that whether or not our agreement is recorded in the minute is not very important. The problem is to come to agreement. Lau said that the reason the DRV had raised the question of a minute was to see whether the U.S. words conformed to its actions. Lau said that if we changed the contents of the minute from the way it was worded the other day then his Minister could not agree. Lau added that his Minister's view was that 'we do not need a minute any longer so that you do not use the minute as a pretext for delaying the cessation of bombing.' As Lau had said, we have agreed on the date of a meeting, on the content of the minute, and now the only remaining question is that of signing the minute and the question of time of cessation of bombing." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)

2. The North Vietnamese fully understood the necessity for secrecy; they will say nothing until after our announcement.

3. Vance will meet Lau Saturday/3/ to discuss procedures for the first meeting.

/3/November 1.

4. Vance said the Soviets had been pressing to see him anytime between now and morning, and he requested guidance. He was reluctant to go ahead for fear of leaks. We said we saw no advantage or disadvantage and would leave the decision to his discretion. Mr. Rostow, when informed afterward of the conversation, advised against informing the Soviets. His views were then relayed, at 2215, to Vance, who said they had just reached the same conclusion themselves and would not be seeing the Soviets. This word was passed to Mr. Rostow.



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

Paris, October 31, 1968, 0452Z.

/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 12:23 a.m.

23202/Delto 903. From Harriman and Vance.

1. We met with Xuan Thuy and Lau from 1:30 to 3 a.m. local time October 31 at a new location of theirs in Choisy-le-Roi.

2. We opened by reading the following prepared statement:

"Your Excellency, this afternoon Ambassador Lau said that you were prepared to dispense with an agreed secret minute./2/ Is that correct? (At this point Thuy asked that we complete our statement before his comments. We said that what we were going to say would be based on his answer and contingent upon agreement to dispense with a minute.)

/2/See footnote 2, Document 157.

"In that case, I am authorized to inform you that the President is going to issue orders in the early evening of October 31, namely seven or eight o'clock Washington time which is 2400 GMT October 31 or 0100 GMT November 1 to stop all air, naval, and artillery bombardment and all other acts involving the use of force against the entire territory of the DRV. Those orders will be fully effective twelve hours later. The President will make an announcement of this action at about the time the orders are issued. In this connection, I must of course, emphasize the necessity for absolute secrecy until he makes the announcement.

"The meeting of the type agreed upon will not be held before November 6. We will be in touch with you on the exact time of such a meeting but it will not be before next Wednesday November 6.

"This action is being taken on the basis of all the conversations we have had, taking into account what you have said and what we have said.

"Can I report to my government that you agree to the foregoing?"

3. Thuy asked that we repeat our statement in its entirety for clarity. We repeated the statement.

4. Thuy then asked for a recess to consult with Lau and Vy.

5. After a 30 minute break, Thuy returned and said he would like to express some views. He said that for nearly six months of conversations in Paris, the DRV has been demanding that the United States unconditionally cease the bombing and all other acts of war against the entire territory of the DRV. This evening as on our previous meetings, the United States side said that it was prepared to stop all air, naval, and artillery bombardment and all other acts involving the use of force against the entire territory of the DRV. The DRV side understands the bombing cessation will be unconditional. The US side has also said that in substance this is cessation of bombing without any condition of reciprocity and in the statements of the US Government there will be no mention of the word conditional.

6. In regard to the meeting to find a peaceful settlement of the Viet-Nam problem, the US has said that the Republic of Viet-Nam will be present and the DRV has said that the NLF will be present and accordingly the meeting will include representatives of the DRV, SVN-NLF, the RVN and the US. This point Thuy said has been agreed between us.

7. Regarding the question of putting this into a minute, Thuy said that he has proposed a number of different views, but the US had objected. As Thuy had said to Harriman at Wednesday's tea break and as Lau had told Vance on October 29,/3/ the reason for raising the question of a minute was to see whether the words and actions of the United States conformed to each other. The DRV side feels that these words and actions are not in harmony and, knowing this, Thuy said, he did not insist on the writing of a minute. He therefore reaffirmed what Lau had said on October 29 and what Thuy had said in Wednesday's tea break--that he was dropping the request for a minute.

/3/See Document 149.

8. Regarding the date of the cessation of bombing and the date of a meeting, Thuy said that previously we had suggested October 30 for the bombing cessation and November 2 for the meeting. Now we were suggesting that the bombing stop on October 31 and the meeting be held not before November 6. Thuy said the important matter was the interval between the cessation and the meeting allowed sufficient time for the NLF representatives to come to Paris. Now, Thuy said, the date of cessation is postponed and the date of a meeting is postponed but the interval is sufficient to allow time for the Front to come and therefore the DRV agrees.

9. Thuy said the US also requests that the DRV keep this matter secret until the order has been announced by the President. He said the DRV is prepared to keep it secret. This means the DRV will not make any broadcasts, will not publish in any newspapers and will not make any official announcements before the announcement by the President. For his part, here in Paris, Thuy would not say anything. If anyone asks he will simply reply "There is nothing new." On this point, we replied that we would do the same.

10. In brief, Thuy said, he agreed with our proposal today, but he wanted to say that previously there had been points agreed upon and thereafter the US had changed. From now on, both sides should carry out their agreements correctly. Thuy remarked that no doubt we had realized throughout our private talks that the DRV has shown goodwill and serious intent. The DRV also wants to put aside all differences so that we can come to an agreement. No doubt, Thuy said, the US realizes that the DRV has come with a real desire to find a settlement but this involves two sides. The US should show goodwill just as the DRV side has, and then our future work will be dealt with smoothly.

11. We said we had no comment on what Thuy had said. He had mentioned some of the things that he had said in the past as well as some of our past remarks. Since he had gone into this detail we thought we should raise some of the things we have said about serious and productive talks. We were sure that they have in mind the things which we have pointed out to them which would affect the maintenance of serious talks. We were sure they knew what they were. So, we accepted their statement that they want serious talks.

12. We added, for the sake of clarity, and in light of what they had said about October 31, order to stop the bombing will be issued at seven or eight p.m. Washington time October 31 which is 2400 GMT October 31 or 0100 GMT November 1. It will take 12 hours before the order becomes fully effective so that means it will be effective November 1. We were sure that Ambassador Lau as a military man knew that some military units could not receive and therefore carry out these orders immediately because they were not in direct contact with higher headquarters. Thus it would be 12 hours before the order would be completely effective. Lau nodded acknowledgment.

13. Thuy asked if we intended to inform the host government, France, before the actual announcement. We said we had no such plan. Therefore, Thuy said, we would inform the French after bombing cessation. We noted, in this connection there was the problem of secrecy and avoiding leaks which we considered very important.

14. Thuy said that if we tell the French in advance, it would leak and added that the house in which we were meeting belonged to the Vietnamese themselves and nothing would leak out of it.

15. Finally, we said that the United States is good for its word and will carry it out. We have made a statement today which the US intends to carry out. We then adjourned for some tea. At that time it was agreed that Vance and Lau would meet on Saturday/4/ to go over the arrangements related to the convening of our first meeting.

/4/November 2.



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

Washington, October 31, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. IV [1 of 2]. Secret; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus.

SitRep as of 0500

Bunker had three meetings on the morning of October 31 (Saigon time):

1. Thieu (forty minutes). Bunker put the case in the most forceful, sympathetic but unrelenting terms. Bunker cannot tell us what Thieu's decision will be: he was obviously rocked, but there was no time for Thieu to give a considered view. Thieu said he would call a meeting that afternoon of the National Security Council and the two heads of Parliament. Thieu asked Bunker to explain to Thanh the US position on a) the GVN taking the lead on matters concerning it, b) our offer to have private meetings with Hanoi before the firm meeting, c) "the question of the other side." (Saigon 41586)/2/

/2/Dated October 31. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)

2. Thanh (at 1100). Bunker went over his instructions, answered three questions (on GVN taking the lead, how we would deal with internal SVN matters at a conference in view of GVN position they would refuse to discuss these, whether we would discuss procedures with the DRV before direct talks begin), read the key sentence on the NLF from the President's talk to the nation, and went over the time schedule. Bunker stressed 1) our hope to have the GVN with us, but our determination to go ahead without them if necessary, 2) the imperative need for tight security (Saigon 41618)./3/

/3/Dated October 31. (Ibid.)

3. Ky (at 1145 for almost an hour). Ky recognized that if the GVN agreed to talk with Hanoi the NLF will have to be present, and there will have to be concessions. He would use his influence in the Security Council meeting to persuade the Council of the necessity for moving together with the U.S. On the basis of Ky's statesmanlike presentation, Bunker believes there is a better than 50-50 chance the NSC will go along with us. (Saigon 41589)/3/

As of 0635--Ambassador Bunker telephoned to say that the NSC meeting was still in session; he would see Thieu immediately after it ended and would phone us right away.



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

Washington, October 31, 1968, 1115Z.

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

264436. 1. The President wishes you to hold, deliver, or modify these communications. You are quite free to use one without the other. The President is simply putting ammunition into your hands if you think it is helpful.

Message from President Johnson to President Thieu:/2/

/2/A similar message was sent to Ky in telegram 264437 to Saigon, October 31. (Ibid.)

"I have read Ambassador Bunker's preliminary report on this conversation with you.

There is little to add to what Ambassador Bunker has told you. But the hour is too late for division among us. The future would be bleak if that were so.

I have thought since early October that we would sit in Paris as one, determined to maintain freedom in South Viet-Nam and to stop the killing.

We must not throw away in Paris what we have won in South Viet-Nam.

Nor must either of our countries go it alone. I am committed to the course outlined to you by Ambassador Bunker. As you know, I went down this road this far only because I felt that you were beside me at every step--as I believe you were.

I so much hope that you are not leaving me in this critical hour.

I need your wisdom, patriotism, and courage in the critical days ahead.

You should know that I should be delighted to meet with you and the other chiefs of the contributing countries in the Pacific shortly after the first Paris session when the GVN is present, be it in Honolulu or at any other point in the Pacific convenient for us all."

Sincerely, Lyndon B. Johnson/3/

/3/The telegram is unsigned.


161. Notes of Meetings/1/

Washington, October 31, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, George M. Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts [1 of 2]. No classification marking. The notes begin with the regular meeting of the Secretary of Defense's "8:30 Group" and continue throughout the day. Nitze's brief notes on the same series of meetings is in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Nitze Papers, Defense Department, Deputy Secretary of Defense Notes, 1968 [6 of 6].

0845--CMC Thurs 31st Oct 68

We've been on a roller-coaster for days. I still can't talk. We went almost all day on VNam except for luncheon with Bill Foster & Wiggins/2/ & then I went back over there. A decision was made that would be it--but I've thought that 2 or 3 times earlier this week that we've reached a firm decision in Paris with Hanoi. We had it at that 2 to 5:45 am meeting but Bunker took it to Thieu in Saigon & the whole thing exploded.

/2/William Foster, Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and James Russell Wiggins, Representative to the United Nations.

Thieu would not agree. Thieu objected that the agreement came too quickly--they couldn't get their delegation to Paris for a meeting (CMC said he thought that a very fishy argument). A series of messages & Bunker was ordered to tell Thieu we should go ahead & they could get there. Thieu then had 4 objections--every one a substantial delay--Thieu saying he had to convene Congress--call his amb back from Paris for consultation.

"Some of us" were urging a hard position vis-ˆ-vis SVNam; "some of us" were admitting they had problems. Another stiff message to Bunker. In reply came 5 additional objections! Insistence that NVNam hold separate meetings with GVN--(not just "our side" "your side" talks). This made everybody swing to CMC's position that SVNam was framing us; was stalling deliberately.

So we've had a sharp, strenuous debate & Pres has listened for hours. "I have voiced greatest suspicion from outset of Thieu's posture. I've been saying since Tues/3/ a.m.--we shld pick a day with Hanoi to stop bombing & to start talks--& tell Thieu.

/3/October 29.

A calamity if this chance gets by us. Others argued that to stop bombing on eve of election without Saigon's support would look like a phony deal solely for U.S. election purposes.

I've felt this since 1st objection from Thieu came in--Thieu is playing for time--more time--still more time. LBJ has had a rough time. He hates dissension & he's had it. Abrams yanked back in middle of night & cross-examined for 3 hrs. the other nite & performed admirably./4/

/4/See Document 140.

By last nite, Pres. said he was ready to move--He ordered Bunker to tell Thieu he was going to stop bombing tonight & announce it & meeting in Paris would be on Wed. [November] 6th. A bitter fight on this date. If this goes thru I'll give you more facts on Saigon.

Ben Read is "one of us" & works hard to keep CMC posted.

CMC says Thieu at one pt. would not see [Bunker]--Bunker had to see the For. Min. Bunker saw Thieu Wed. p.m. (Wash. D.C. time)./5/

/5/See Document 159.

(CMC reads excerpts of notes & meetings. CMC gives some anecdotes about how NVNam negotiators know what goes on in Saigon & have expressed "sympathy" with Harriman & Vance over U.S. problems in negotiating!!!)

CMC says this is the 3rd time he's thought it was settled; it may not [be]. Bunker has always urged the SVNam. side--CMC deeply suspicious of Bunker's firmness & hardness now.

Rusk has been exceedingly reasonable. It's tough for those who've been in this for 5 or 6 years--those who have nursed SVNam on a bottle since infancy hate to see it turned down.

CMC's prediction is that today Thieu will ask for more time & that Bunker will plead his case!

It is an enormous decision for Saigon--we've fought their war; now we've had it & they have to live with it!

All the J.C.S. & Abrams do go along with bombing halt.

CMC predicts many pressures on LBJ to change again today from his plan to announce at 8:00 pm tonight & announce bombing halt at 0800 tomorrow.

Bus Wheeler will flash out his orders at exactly when LBJ makes his statement for to stop bombing 12 hrs hence (or 0800 Friday).

The draft speech has been worked on (by H. McPherson) for some days.

CMC is handed at 0930 a copy of 302341 State to Bunker./6/ "The Pres will issue order to stop bombing at 2000 Wash time 31st--(or 0900 1st Saigon time)--the order to take effect 12 hrs. later." LBJ telling NVNam Wed nite D.C. time at Paris thru Harriman. LBJ "earnestly hopes" Thieu will join in announcement (at one pt, Thieu had agreed--then backed off). If Thieu unable to join, LBJ will do it unilaterally! U.S. says we've gone too far down the road to back off. (sep message: Vance reports Hanoi has been told & does agree to a Nov. 6th meeting)

/6/Telegram 302341 to Saigon, October 31. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968)

(Bunker flashes back Thieu "rocked" by this ultimatum & pleads for time.)/7/

/7/See Document 159.

CMC at 0945 says he bets right now Thieu won't go along! Thieu has been arrogant & difficult all week so that finally even Rusk has had it & even Rusk came around!!


Then CMC leans back, exhausted, but comes up saying "I think LBJ will stick with his decision--if Thieu does ask for delay, I think LBJ will go ahead anyway."

Rusk keeps saying if we don't have Thieu with us, we may lose Thailand & Korea who will be very alarmed at our forcing "a coalition gov't" & it might scare the hell out of them.

If this goes ahead, LBJ wants Rusk, CMC & Wheeler to give backgrounder! LBJ tells CMC to go on T.V.! "Cut a tape"!--

Here is weakness of our position

We have no agreement with Hanoi. The only "understanding" we have after 6 mos in Paris is that GVN can sit at table in Paris. "They" have not agreed on DMZ or on cities. We have been very clear; they say they "understand" our position on the DMZ & the cities--They have not "agreed."

CMC says he goes back to San Antonio formula--He'd stop bombing when "prompt productive" talks would start; we've known all along no talks could be productive until GVN could be present; only now is that agreed to; we could not get anything until that pt. agreed to. It has now been done.

In addition to the GVN situation, we made very clear what our position is on DMZ & shelling; they have made it clear they understand, that if they violate, all bets are off. They say they want talks to continue. So this gives LBJ the basis for stopping, with minimal risks. We have told them if they "abuse" the DMZ or shell the urban centers, these actions would be most serious & would involve retaliation.


CMC now gets cc. of LBJ draft on phrases & words. All agree it's a good draft. Then talk reverts to how to handle dirty Q. & A. Long talk goes on & on & on how CMC & Wheeler should comport themselves.

10:30 Ben Read phones from State

Thieu & SVNamese "acting very badly."

--He did go ahead & make a speech.

--Thieu's comments are most serious & clearly inimical & increases LBJ's problems substantially.

--Thieu had his Nat. Sec. Council, & then sent his For. Min. to talk to Bunker.

--Bunker has demanded an audience with Thieu.

To add to commotion, sporadic small arms fire in Saigon & 8 [mm] rocket attacks on Saigon.

11:00 a.m.

News ticker clips come in--reporting Thieu's comments to Press in Saigon. He makes it frightfully difficult. "Saigon does not agree with US terms"--"I don't see any response from Hanoi."

Thieu's statements, CMC moans as he reads aloud, says "His Gov't cannot agree"! "Thieu is playing a very dangerous game."

All this will do is lend substantial fuel to charge that LBJ is doing this just for H.H.H. Had it been smooth, it would have been good.

We now consider maybe LBJ shld wait until next Wed & then go ahead without Thieu. This would avoid the U.S. domestic political charge.


More news ticker clips. Thieu on TV goes on record with a "hard line."

CMC asks for reactions:

Nitze--go ahead as planned or wait until next Wed after election.

CMC then says--Yes, he even has argued this delay too. But LBJ last night decided to go ahead anyway.

CMC now "leaks" at 11:15 the bombshell: Bui Diem has been having conferences with leading U.S. Republicans who have told Saigon: "Don't cooperate with LBJ; he's only Pres. for 3 more months & Nixon will be in for 4 or 8 yrs. Make it hard for LBJ!"

And in N.Y.C., last week a Repub policy group gloated over fact they had "fixed it" so LBJ couldn't stop the bombing before the election!

Thieu knew everything & was agreeable to all & cleared gov't statements to be issued. Thieu in total cooperation until he began to get Bui Diem's reports.

CMC knew this & that's why he felt sure Thieu would stall for time until after election--all Thieu wanted was time to stall until after 5 Nov.

CMC is handed an intercept by Hixon/8/ (just in) reported as Korean intercept--it shows V Pres Ky tells Koreans it's all politics./9/

/8/Robert C. Hixon, Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense.

/9/An undated intelligence telegram passed by Rostow to the President. (Johnson Library, South Vietnam and U.S. Policies)

Warnke--Alternatives: 1) Go ahead as planned. GME[lsey] strong for this & says so--we can't let SVN run our show; we'd lose all face with USSR et al if we do. 2) Scrub the plan, because of the danger of Thieu & domes. political commt. & resume after 6th. 3) Blow the Republicans out of the water by openly stating it was all worked out with SVNam & was O.K. with them until Republicans got into act & threatened Thieu's gov't "that it would go hard with them for next four years" if they go along with a bombing halt pre-election on Nov. 5. Say a violation of Logan Act (1798)./10/

/10/Reference is to the Logan Act of 1798 on treasonous activities.

CMC at 1635 Thurs Oct 31

It's been moving so fast it's frenetic & hard to keep straight.

Since I talked this am

--I went to [meeting on nuclear] Stockpile for 20 mins.
--we went at 12:25 to LBJ--Walt, Wheeler, CMC & I./11/

/11/According to the Daily Diary, at 12:36 p.m. in the Oval Office, the President met with Rostow, McPherson, Wheeler, and Clifford. The Diary reads: "The President reviewed all aspects of present probe--how to get Saigon to sign on once again to step we are taking today. Asked whether, in fact, we were not winning the war and enemy being defeated militarily. Was enemy washed up? Secy. Clifford said in his opinion enemy was definitely washed up. Hence we ought to go ahead and seek progress in peace talks." When Rostow left the room for 5 minutes at 1:05 p.m., the President asked Wheeler whether the Joint Chiefs solidly supported the decision. Wheeler affirmed that they were fully supportive of it. The meeting ended at 1:35 p.m. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) Notes of the meeting have not been found. Following a JCS meeting that morning from 9 to 10:30 a.m., Wheeler sent the President memorandum CM-3743-68, October 31, in which he wrote: "The Joint Chiefs of Staff, after thorough discussion, agreed as follows: a. In the light of the understandings reached in Paris between our negotiators and those of the DRV, the military situation in Vietnam is such that cessation of bombing and other acts of force against the DRV constitute a perfectly acceptable military risk. b. They hope the current problem of reaching agreement with the GVN can be handled in such a way that the effectiveness and prestige of the current government in Vietnam would not be jeopardized. c. They will, of course, support the decision of the President." (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [1 of 2]) In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of Wheeler's memorandum to the President, October 31, 11:20 a.m., Rostow summarized the JCS position and added: "They do need the 12 hours."

We looked at everything. LBJ indicated he was inclined to go ahead. CMC: I made argument which was least damaging & he decided to go ahead with it. This does [show] much substantial progress toward substantive talks & a step toward peace. The political connotations would wash out. If he does not take advantage, & Hanoi & USSR break away--he'd never dig himself out of that hole.

We went to WHse theatre & checked film of his speech--(he'd just done it). He is going to do it on film tonight rather than live.

Then Bunker phoned in--Thieu still had some objections but was coming around.

Thieu still has objections--

#1 Thieu wanted LBJ moved up to 8:00 tonight (CMC had thought it was 8:00--anyway) LBJ not now inclined to worry about it.

#2 Thieu wanted Pres to state to him flatly that LBJ would assure Thieu flatly that--as a result of cessation of bombing--NVNam wld not escalate. LBJ says a damn fool request--answer will be that "LBJ has reason to believe NVNam will de-escalate."

#3 Thieu's 3rd point--He can't get delegation there by Nov 6th. State Dept agreed with Thieu--lv it open. CMC exploded--that would be an invitation to disaster to stop bombing with open-ended & no commitment on a date. So LBJ agreed.

LBJ has called CMC/12/--he's dissatisfied with Wheeler's statement--it's too weak. Get a stronger one!

/12/The President called Clifford at 3:53 p.m. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) No record of the conversation has been found.

CMC said it would be disastrous to ask for a letter that's stronger. Arm twisting would get out. LBJ relented.

CMC now reads to our group the Wheeler letter./13/

/13/Not further identified.

We discuss CMC's proposed statement & a briefing paper prepared under Rostow's direction./14/

/14/Not found.

About 5:30 Thurs 31 Oct

GME raised Ike/15/ question. Wheeler was to see him.

/15/Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

CMC: He's had a setback today!

(GME doubts--he thinks Ike is holding out to help Nixon.)


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

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

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [1 of 2]. Secret; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of this report to the President, October 31, 11:15 a.m., Rostow wrote: "Herewith an interim report of what has been going on in Saigon. The wrangle continues unresolved but Bunker is still in there fighting, armed by your letters." The notation "ps" on the covering note indicates that the President saw the report.

Ambassador Bunker's Aide Gave me the Following Information on the Secure Phone

1. The SVN National Security Council convened at 4:00 p.m. Saigon time (3:00 a.m. EST).

2. At 8:20 p.m. (7:20 a.m. EST) presumably after the NSC had recessed, Ambassador Bunker was asked to go to the Palace to see Foreign Minister Thanh.

3. Subsequently at about 10:15 Saigon time (9:15 EST) Bunker requested and obtained a meeting with President Thieu which is now going on.

4. Bunker called from the meeting to request delivery to him of President Johnson's letter to Thieu, which was sent over immediately.

5. At the meeting with Thieu which is now going on Ambassador Bunker was also advised by our Embassy of President Thieu's remarks at the ceremony for Unknown Soldiers, which occurred at a village ten miles out of Saigon at about mid-day after Bunker's last meeting with Thieu in the morning. The Embassy officer did not know Bunker's view of Thieu's remarks at the ceremony (see AP 187)./2/

/2/An Associated Press report in which Thieu stated that the termination of the bombing of the DRV was a unilateral act on the part of the United States. See The New York Times, November 1, 1968.

6. The Embassy does not have confirmation of the radio reports that Lam is returning to Saigon from Paris.

7. The Embassy officer confirmed that Saigon had received 8 rocket or mortar rounds in the last hour or two of which three were duds. There were two or three casualties, all Vietnamese.

8. There are also reports which the Embassy has received of a limited amount of arms fire in Saigon at the present but none of the reports have been confirmed as an actual combat situation.



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

Washington, October 31, 1968, 11:50 a.m.

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

Mr. President:

Suppose Thieu does not go along today./2/ I suggest that you consider the following:

/2/In a memorandum to the President, October 31, 11:50 a.m., Rostow noted the following intelligence report: "President Thieu's older brother told the South Korean Ambassador to South Vietnam that he believed that it would be better to deal with the next President, no matter who is elected, on issues pertaining to the peace conference. The South Korean Ambassador informed his government that, according to rumors, the U.S. did not expect President Thieu to take such a stubborn attitude." (Ibid., Memos to the President/Walt Rostow, October 29-31, 1968)

--first, have in Nixon alone. Give him the evidence--of which we have an important additional item--that the South Vietnamese are thinking that they can turn down this deal and get a better deal after the election. While sharing the information with Nixon, tell him flatly that you are confident that he has had nothing whatsoever to do with this;

--then give him the views of Abrams, the JCS, etc., on the deal;

--then give him the evidence that Hanoi may in fact be thinking of winding up the war very quickly indeed;

--you might remind him of the trouble that President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, and Sect. Dulles had when Syngman Rhee kicked up his heels towards the end of the Korean war;

--finally, tell him that it is your considered judgment that if it becomes known that Thieu is holding up a deal which would lower U.S. casualties and bring peace near, the basis in the United States for support of the enterprise would dissipate:

--in the government, including the military who are "disgusted;"
--in the Congress, even among pro-Vietnam leaders;
--in our public.

We simply cannot let these inexperienced men snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Therefore, you would ask him to join in a private message to Thieu, with the other candidates, along the following lines:

"We, the three Presidential candidates in the United States, have been kept fully informed on what the U.S. Government has been seeking in the negotiations in Paris.

"We have just been briefed by the President and other responsible officials of the Government, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We are convinced that what has been negotiated in Paris is exactly what the President told us he intended to achieve.

"We are also convinced that the consultations with your Government have been full and candid and the President had reason to believe that he could proceed with the support of the responsible leaders of the Government of Vietnam.

"We believe it would be most ill-advised, under these circumstances, for your Government not to participate in the Paris talks promptly. We believe the American people will not understand what will appear as an effort to protract the war at a time when movement towards peace with honor may be possible. The bases for Congressional and public support for Vietnam in the United States might be gravely weakened. /s/Nixon, Humphrey, Wallace."/3/

/3/See Document 166.



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

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. IV [1 of 3]. No classification marking. Rusk passed the letter to Dobrynin during a meeting at 10 p.m. on October 31. (Ibid., Dean Rusk Appointment Books, 1968-1969) A memorandum of conversation of this meeting, dated October 31, was drafted by Rusk. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips & Missions, Paris Peace Talks, Nodis for Harriman/Vance, HARVAN Plus: Cables Outgoing, #54-91)

Washington, October 31, 1968.

Dear Mr. Chairman:

On Sunday/2/ I heard from Ambassador Harriman and Ambassador Vance in Paris that an understanding has been reached with the representatives from Hanoi which has now, after some complexities among our allies, permitted me to order this evening a total cessation of the bombardment of North Vietnam starting early morning of November 1.

/2/October 27.

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.


Lyndon B. Johnson


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

Washington, October 31, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan/Double Plus, Vol. IV (1 of 2). Secret; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus.

Ambassador Bunker called on the secure phone at 2:40 p.m.

1. He had spent seven hours at the Palace with Thieu, Ky, and Thanh.

2. The GVN wants more time because their Security Council is not on board on the present draft joint announcement./2/ The GVN feels rushed and believes we have given the Communists more time than we have given them.

/2/An attached copy of the U.S.-GVN joint announcement reads: "President Lyndon B. Johnson of the United States of America and President Nguyen Van Thieu of the Republic of Vietnam announce that all air, naval, and artillery bombardment on or within the territory of North Vietnam will stop as of 8 a.m. tomorrow morning, Washington time. The two Presidents have issued the order to cease bombardment after earlier consultation with the Governments of Australia, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and the Republic of the Philippines, and with the Royal Thai Government. President Thieu and President Johnson have reached this common decision because President Johnson has assured President Thieu that he has good reason to believe that this action will bring about a de-escalation of the war and that NVN will enter into direct and serious talks with the GVN and the USG on the substance of a settlement for an honorable and secure peace. The two Presidents wish to make it clear that neither the Government of the Republic of Vietnam nor the United States Government recognizes the so-called National Liberation Front as an entity independent of North Vietnam."

3. On the joint announcement Thieu feels that if it were put out in the present form he would be questioned why he has "good reason to believe that the DRV intends to de-escalate the war and to enter into serious and direct talks" and that he would have to explain his reasons publicly.

4. However, if the joint announcement is amended in two respects, they would go with us on issuing the joint announcement at 8:00 p.m. EST tonight./3/ The changes are:

/3/In a memorandum to the President, October 31, 4:45 p.m., Rostow wrote: "I have checked on why Thieu wants 8 o'clock. It is simply: to complete the diplomacy; and give him minimum time to get his statement in shape in the light of that diplomacy. Although they should have been better prepared, they weren't, and feel very hard-pressed for time. Bunker concurs in this request for 8:00 p.m." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [1 of 2]) The following handwritten notation also appears on this memorandum: "Cleared & OK'd by phone. WR 4:45 p.m." According to the President's diary, Rostow called Johnson at 4:38 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) No record of this call has been found.

(1) Replace the third paragraph with the following: "President Thieu and President Johnson have reached this common decision because President Johnson has assured President Thieu that North Viet-Nam intends to de-escalate the war and to enter into direct and serious talks with the GVN and the USG on the substance of a settlement for an honorable and secure peace."

(2) Replace the first sentence of the fourth paragraph with the following sentence: "The first meeting of the direct talks will be convened in Paris at an early date after preliminary agreement on the basic ground rules of the talks."

Note: The rest of the joint announcement should remain the same as presently proposed with the time changes as noted on the attachment in paragraph 1.

5. If we could go along with their suggested changes, the GVN would not feel compelled to give public explanations about the DRV's private "understandings".

6. If we cannot accept their amendments, the GVN feels it must go back to consult its Security Council further and would like another 24 hours.

7. After prolonged argument the GVN gave up on its earlier insist-ence that we obtain DRV agreement that their side in the Paris talks would consist of only one delegation.


Ambassador Bunker says he hopes we can give the GVN our decision in the next hour. If we cannot accept their amendments, we should give them an additional 12 hours--not the full 24 hours requested./4/

/4/In a situation report, October 31, 3:15 p.m., Read wrote: "At Secretary Rusk's request, I called Ambassador Bunker and asked him (not for conveyance to the GVN) whether he thought the GVN would agree to the insertion of the underscored words in the GVN's suggested revised third para: '. . . President Johnson has assured President Thieu that President Johnson has good reason to believe that North Vietnam intends, etc.' . . . Bunker said he thinks he can sell that change to the GVN if we can buy their other amendments. He tried something similar earlier, but Thieu had asked him to submit the language in the form they recommended. If we accept their other changes he thinks he can get them to agree to our amendment without public disclosure of the 'reasons.' Bunker thinks the fourth para suggested by the GVN is not an 'indefinite stall'; that they would show good faith in proceeding to join the talks reasonably soon." (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. IV)

Ben Read


166. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Among President Johnson, Vice President Humphrey, Richard Nixon, and George Wallace/1/

October 31, 1968, 6:05 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, October 1968 [2 of 2]. No classification marking. Although the transcript, prepared by the White House staff, is derived from a recording of the telephone conversation, the recording has not been found. Jones was on the line to arrange the call. The President, at Washington, reached Humphrey at New York, Nixon at Newark, New Jersey, and Wallace at Norfolk, Virginia. The conversation lasted 16 minutes. Clifford, Rusk, Rostow, Wheeler, and Helms joined the President at 5:54 p.m. and remained with him until 6:35 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

Jones: Mr. Vice President?

Humphrey: Yes?

Jones: If you'll talk up. Can you hear me all right?

Humphrey: I hear you well.

Jones: Mr. Nixon?

Nixon: Yup.

Jones: And Governor Wallace?

Wallace: Yes, sir. I'm here.

Jones: All right. Hold on for the President.

President: Hello?

Humphrey: Mr. President?

Nixon: Yes? Hello?

President: Hubert? Are you and Dick and George on?

Humphrey: Yes, Mr. President.

Nixon: Yes.

Wallace: Yes.

Humphrey: We're all on.

President: Do you hear me all right?

Humphrey: Yes, sir.

Nixon: Yes, sir.

Wallace: Yes, sir.

President: I have with me Secretary Rusk and Clifford and General Wheeler and Mr. Helms of the CIA and Mr. Rostow. I'm reading from--I want to read a brief background to you from my conference call to you of October 16/2/ so you can get a predicate to what I'm about to say. I said then--this is in absolute confidence, any statement or any speeches or any comment at this time referring to the substance of this conversation will be injurious. I don't think there's any question about that and I know you would not want that to happen.

/2/See Document 80.

First, our position--the government's position today--is exactly what it was the last time all three of you were briefed. That position mainly is this. We're anxious to stop the bombing and would be willing to stop the bombing if they--Hanoi--would sit down with us, with the Government of South Vietnam present, and have productive discussions. We have told them that we did not think that we could have productive discussions if, while we were talking, they were shelling the cities, or if they were abusing the DMZ. That was on October 16th, when I talked to you. The next sentence said, "From time to time they have nibbled back and forth at these various items." Each time they do, there is a flurry of excitement, and so on and so forth.

Since that time, they have sent their man back to Hanoi. We have continued to have our regular weekly meetings and other meetings. We have been in touch with a good many Governments in the world, from Eastern Europe to India to the Soviet Union, all these people working every hour to try to (a) get them to accept the Government of South Vietnam--that they're all puppets and that they'd never sit down in a room with, and (b) trying to inform them that we would be glad to stop the bombing, but that the bombing could not continue stopped if they (a) shelled the cities or (b) if they abused the DMZ.

On Sunday/3/ night, I was informed by Paris that there were very good indications that they would let the Government of Vietnam come and be present at the conference and that they fully understood what would happen if we stop the bombing and they shell the cities or abuse the DMZ. When I got back to Washington from New York, I went back to the Soviet Union and pointed out that I did not want to deceive anybody and didn't want them to be deceived, didn't want to stop the bombing and have to start it again, but I wanted to make it abundantly clear that if they would let the Government of Vietnam come to the meetings and if they thoroughly understood what would happen, then I wanted to seriously consider this matter. But I had doubts--repeat doubts--that the North Vietnamese would stop shelling the cities or would stop abusing the DMZ. The Soviet Union came back to me on Tuesday or Wednesday and said that my doubts were not justified./4/ Ambassador Harriman came back to me and said, "We have repeated to you at least 12 times--we've repeated to North Vietnam at least 12 times--in 12 meetings, and some meetings we repeated it several times--that we could not have a productive discussion in an atmosphere of shelling the cities or abusing the DMZ. Therefore, you may be sure we understand it." While this was going on, we'd gone out and talked to all of our allied countries, and at that time they all tentatively agreed that this was a wise move.

/3/October 27.

/4/See Document 138.

Now, since that time with our campaign on, we have had some minor problems develop. First, there have been some speeches that we ought to withdraw troops, or that we'd stop the bombing without any--obtaining anything in return, or some of our folks are--even including some of the old China lobbyists, they are going around and implying to some of the embassies and some of the others that they might get a better deal out of somebody that was not involved in this. Now that's made it difficult and it's held up things a little bit. And I know that none of you candidates are aware of it or responsible for it, because I'm looking in my transcript here, when we talked before, and I asked for your comments. The Vice President said he had no comment, but thanks very much. Vice President Nixon said, "Well, as you know, this is consistent with what my position has been all along and I made it very clear. I'll make no statements that will undercut the negotiations. So we'll just stay right on that and hope that this thing works out." And then Mr. Wallace said, "Yes, sir, Mr. President, that's been my position all along, too, the position you stated, and I agree with you that we shouldn't play any politics in this matter, so it might foul up the negotiations."

Now, I concluded last March that I couldn't as a candidate stop this war. And I concluded that I ought to stop it the first day I can. I'm going to try to stop it as soon as I can. Therefore, I am planning to issue an order--I'm meeting with the [National] Security Council tonight/5/--I'm planning to issue an order that will stop the bombing that will set a date for a meeting where the Government of Vietnam will appear, and I'm making it very clear to the intermediaries. I can't do it in public because they'll say it's a condition and reciprocal and we'll never get an agreement--and you must not make that statement either, but I think you ought to know it. And we're going to have to wait for 24/48/72 hours to see what happens at the DMZ and see what happens at the cities, and we may have to start the bombing just as fast as we stopped it. But I have considered this matter day and night since March 31st at least.

/5/See Document 167.

And last week I decided before I make this decision I wanted to get every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over here, and I did. And I went over this matter with them, and General McConnell, the Air Force Chief, said, "Mr. President, I recommend that you go ahead and do this." General Chapman of the Marines said, "I think, Mr. President, that you should go ahead with this." General Palmer, who was acting for General Westmoreland that day but who has been his deputy in Vietnam and just returned, and who handled the Dominican Republic for us, said, "Considering everything that has been brought up, I would go along with making this proposition." Senator Russell said, "It's worth a try." General Abrams then was called in. He rode all night and he got here at 2:30 [a.m.] and he stayed with us 'til he left about 4 [p.m.] the day before yesterday. He said he couldn't do much bombing in North Vietnam anyway in the next few days; that he could take that power and use it to good advantage in both Laos and South Vietnam; that he thought if we could get the Government of Vietnam at the table that it was advisable; and he thought in the light of what had happened in the last two/three months in the troops that they had moved that such action would not in any way increase the casualties of the American or allied troops and, therefore, he would strongly recommend this move. Ambassador Bunker took the same position. Secretary Rusk, Secretary Clifford, General Wheeler, all the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Ambassador, the Commanding General--General Andy Goodpaster, his deputy, took the same position./6/

/6/See Documents 67-70, 140, and 148.

Now, I'm meeting with the [National] Security Council and am going to review it with them. We've gone out to our allies--I don't know just--they approved it several days ago. But in the light of these overtures that have been surreptitiously made--the gossip that's gone on by some of the lobbies and the campaigners--I don't know just what will come out of that situation. We're in touch with it. We're on top of it. We're watching it. But we think that this is what we ought to do. Now, I would hope, and I'm going to say so in my statement tonight, that this would not be to anyone's advantage, except to the countries, to peace and to the men in Vietnam.

First of all, the conference won't be held until after the election, probably, we would hope, the 6th or 7th of November, or sometime in that period. We would hope that the Government of Vietnam would have time to get their men there and, of course, the other governments have got to get the NLF there. I would hope that all of you could say--like you said here the other day--that you felt that you didn't want to do anything to undercut the negotiations; that you recommended peace at the earliest possible date; this is not peace, this is not a settlement, this is just one step that indicates that if they do not shell the cities, and if they do not abuse the DMZ--both of those would be great military advantages for us at a time when we're giving up bombing that we can't do for the next 90 days anyway on account of the weather in North Vietnam. We can use that very effectively in other places.

I told General Abrams to return, to give them all he's got in South Vietnam and Laos, but be prepared for this order. The order will not go into effect for several hours after it's issued. It's got to go all over the Pacific, put out some 12 hours. I would think that when I get through with the Security Council sometime this evening from 8 [p.m.] on, I'll make a statement to the public. I have confidence enough in y'all that I've called you even before I've called my own legislative leaders./7/ I've told you every bit of the information I have. Every diplomatic and military adviser I have recommends this course.

/7/Following this conversation, from 6:28 to 6:35 p.m., the President held a conference call with the Congressional Leadership. A transcript of the conversation is in the Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, October 1968 [2 of 2]. No recording of it has been found. Senators Dirksen, Mansfield, and Thomas Kuchel and Representatives McCormack, Boggs, and Leslie Arends took part in the conversation with the President. Special Assistant Harold Barefoot Sanders subsequently informed Congressmen Ford and Albert of the substance of the call. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

I would not want it on my conscience that I had left the Presidential arena and refused to run to try to get peace, and then when they agreed, that I--the thing--the thing that I insisted on most, bringing the GVN into the table--that I said, "No, I've got to put it off because I'm concerned with an election." I'm not concerned with an election. Y'all are concerned with an election. I don't think this concerns an election. I think all of you want the same thing. So I thought if I laid it on the line that way and presented it to you, you would at least have a complete, full understanding of all the facts. I'll be glad to give you any of the written recommendations. All the files are open to you--be glad to show you what happened. Nobody will know whether it'll be a success or not until we really get into these discussions and these talks with the GVN present. If they shell the cities or if they abuse the DMZ, General Abrams already has his orders, and he is directed to respond immediately without even coming to Washington.

So it could be on-again, off-again planning. But all of my people from General Abrams to Goodpaster to all the Joint Chiefs of Staff--I even went down and got General Momyer who had been in charge of all our Air Force there for several years and who had just been brought in from Thailand to Langley Field, and had him in alone, and I didn't tell him what anybody else recommended. And he not only recommended, but he urged it./8/ I hope that y'all can give us the support because I think there's nothing more important to our country than to have an undivided group here at this time and let one man speak with a single voice to the Communist world and to the rest of the world. Over and out. And I'd be glad to have your comments.

/8/See Document 110.

Nixon: Could I ask one question, Mr. President? This is Dick Nixon. The--with regard to the talks, if--

President: A little louder, Dick.

Nixon: With regard to the talks, if they begin, and as I know, you've made it clear that they may not, but you think they may, does that mean at that point we will not be stopping activities in the South, except for--what you're stopping is simply the bombing?

President: Dick, the talks will be held. We have a firm agreement that the North Vietnamese will bring the NLF in and the South Vietnamese will be permitted to attend. We will stop the bombing only in the North where--in the confidence of the family, the American family--we practically have stopped it already anyway. We will take that same bombing that's taking place in the North today and apply it in Laos and in South Vietnam where we need it much more than we do in the North. In other words, I'm running a transportation company, and I run between Atlanta and New York. But the bridge is out between now and spring between here and New York. So, I'm going to put all my trucks going to Atlanta.

Nixon: Right. In other words, you will continue after the talks begin. You will--that doesn't mean that we will discontinue our activities and let them have the advantage that they had in Korea, for example, anything like that.

President: Not at all. We will discontinue our activities of bombing the North--

Nixon: That's all.

President: Unless they shell our cities or unless they abuse the DMZ. Both of those are valuable to us.

Nixon: Right.

President: But we will take the same airplanes that are bombing the North when they can get through with that weather and apply all of that military activity to South Vietnam in the hope that we can wind things up there.

Nixon: I've got it.

President: We don't want to brag about that publicly.

Nixon: No, no, no. I understand that. Just want to--

President: You see, when we stopped bombing Hanoi and Haiphong, we took in every plane that was going up there and we started putting it in the central panhandle. Now, the weather is bad in the panhandle. So we are pulling them out of there, but we are getting, we hope, three concessions for it. One, they agreed to--that the Government [of South Vietnam] can come to the conference table--these puppets that they said they would never sit down with. Second, we told them that if they shelled the cities or abused the DMZ, we would be back bombing tomorrow morning.

Nixon: But you are not going to state that publicly?

President: No. We can't state that publicly because they will consider it "ultimatum" or "threat" or "reciprocity" or "condition".

Nixon: The only thing you are going to state publicly is that the other people will be allowed to come to the conference.

President: You are right. And after November 5th, I will sit down--and I will do it before that, if you have time--with any of the three of you and go into this thing in detail. Now, my position is this. I can't wait. I have got every adviser, military/civilian/CIA/Ambassadors--Bunker, Goodpaster, Abrams--every one of them recommend this course. So, I am going to recommend it to the nation. I am going to issue the order. I would just hope you all would do likewise.

Nixon: Okay. Thank you.

Humphrey: Thank you.

Wallace: Mr. President, I just pray that everything you do works out fine, and I am praying for you.

President: Well, I need it. Any other comments?

Nixon: We'll back you up. Thank you, Mr. President.

Humphrey: We'll back you up, Mr. President.

Wallace: We'll back you, Mr. President.

President: Thank you very much.


167. Summary Notes of the 593rd Meeting of the National Security Council/1/

Washington, October 31, 1968, 6:40-6:50 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings File, Vol. 5, Tab 75. Secret; Sensitive; For the President Only. Prepared by Bromley Smith. Those attending the meeting, which was held in the Cabinet Room, were the President, Rusk, Katzenbach, Clifford, Nitze, Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor, Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius, Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown, Fowler, Helms, Wheeler, Westmoreland, Palmer, Moorer, Chapman, Acting Air Force Chief of Staff General John Ryan, Office of Emergency Preparedness Director Price Daniel, USIA Director Leonard Marks, Rostow, Smith, Deputy Special Counsel Lawrence Levinson, and Staff Assistants Robert Hardesty and Harry Middleton. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) According to the Daily Diary, the meeting ended at 6:48 p.m., at which time photographers entered. A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.

Vietnam--Bombing Halt

(Messrs Hardesty, Levinson and Middleton attended this meeting for the purpose of recording the President's presentation. Their full notes are filed with the President. These notes are merely confirmatory.)/2/

/2/The notes of these Presidential aides, which are in the President's Daily Diary for this date, read: "Because of the historical importance of this day and of this meeting, Larry Levinson, Harry Middleton and Bob Hardesty took notes and combined them into the following: The President was attired in a grey suit and grey tie. He spoke in a voice that seemed hoarse. His delivery was rapid and business-like. He stated: 'We are ready to announce that we are going to stop bombing North Vietnam. We have always held that conferences will not be productive unless the Government of Vietnam is represented; unless the other side refrains from shelling the cities; unless there is no violation of the DMZ. Hanoi has said that it is willing for South Vietnam to sit in on the meetings. We have let them know that any violation of the DMZ will trigger an attack from us. We have talked with the Soviet Union and others and they understand this. We will test their faith and see. I am going on the air at 8 p.m. tonight to talk to the Nation. Just before that, I will order the bombing to stop at 8 a.m. tomorrow. Negotiations will resume on November 6. If they are there, fine. If not, we will go on anyway. I've gotten the judgment of my advisers on this.' (At this point, the President read statements from his advisers: 'McConnell: Therefore, I recommend that you go ahead and do this. Rusk: I recommend that we proceed. I recommend that we proceed along the course as outlined. Chapman: I think we should go ahead with it. Palmer: Considering everything that has been brought up here, I would go along with making this proposition. Russell: It's worth a try. Westmoreland: But if the rules of engagement as suggested here are adopted, I see no problem. Abrams: I certainly subscribe to that a hundred percent.') 'They must respect the DMZ and the cities. It's worth the last mile. I'm willing to take that chance. All my advisers support me. If you have any differing opinions, I would like for you to say so. Bunker and Thieu are meeting. We hope to issue a joint statement. But if not, we will go ahead with our own. Do you have any objections?' (The President went around the table. There was prompt and unanimous agreement among those present. Among the comments: 'OK' 'Absolutely' 'Strong' 'The thing to do' 'The right decision.') 'Others who said wait a little while--you'll get a better deal from the other fellow. We're doing this to test their good faith. There will be some hard negotiating ahead.' Secretary Rusk interjected: 'There will be some hard fighting ahead.' The President replied: 'But this is worth a try. There will no doubt be charges of politics aris[ing]. But the next meeting won't be until November 6.'" (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

The President: Reviewed in summary form the Vietnam negotiations since October 9 when the new phase opened in Paris.

a. On October 14 he informed the three Presidential candidates that the DRV was prepared to sit down with representatives of the South Vietnamese government to negotiate.

b. Based on the San Antonio formula, we accepted their agreement to talk with the South Vietnamese. They understand that the talks cannot continue unless the DMZ remains quiet and there are no attacks on urban areas in South Vietnam.

c. We have talked to Soviet leaders.

d. We will go ahead with a bombing suspension and test the good faith of the North Vietnamese.

The President: Said he was going on the air at 8:00 P.M. this evening and would shortly order the bombing of North Vietnam halted at 8:00 A.M. tomorrow.

a. The first meeting with South Vietnam in attendance would be held on November 6, hopefully, or as soon thereafter as the South Vietnamese come to Paris.

b. Secretary Rusk and Secretary Clifford recommended that he proceed with the bombing suspension as proposed.

c. At an earlier meeting, the Chiefs of Staff had approved the proposed suspension. General McConnell, General Chapman, General Palmer, and later General Westmoreland and Admiral Moorer had all approved./3/

/3/See Document 69.

d. General Abrams had been called back quietly and had subscribed 100% to the proposed suspension.

The President: Said he believed it was worth going the last mile and that he was ready to take the chance involved in finding out whether a bombing suspension under the conditions proposed would get negotiations started to end the war.

a. He wanted to hear now any differing opinions.

b. He must leave the room promptly in order to await a call from Saigon from Ambassador Bunker who would know whether President Thieu would join in an announcement of the bombing suspension./4/

/4/In a note to the President, October 31, 7:15 p.m., Ginsburgh wrote: "Ben Read called. Bunker said Thieu still insists on two changes in the announcement. Sec. Rusk told Amb. Bunker that was unacceptable and the President is going ahead on the basis of the speech at 8:00 p.m. Ben said so we will not have a joint announcement unless Bunker can get him to change; and we don't know that he will even try." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [1 of 2])

The President: Asked each person in turn whether he had any doubts as to the action proposed. Every person agreed with the proposed action.

a. Two weeks ago we had a firm agreement with President Thieu to go along with us. Now, however, Thieu was hesitant and we are still in doubt as to whether South Vietnam would make a joint announcement.

b. Hard fighting is ahead of us.

c. He could not wave a wand to end the war in Vietnam.

Note: Following the conclusion of the NSC meeting,/5/ the President talked with several members as he was leaving the Cabinet Room. He explained to General Westmoreland that he had asked General Abrams to come to Washington to ask him face-to-face what had been reported by cable from Saigon, namely, from a military point of view, General Abrams fully supported the bombing suspension. To Air Force Secretary Brown, the President said he did not know why President Thieu had not gone along with us after first agreeing completely with the conditional bombing suspension. He said that members of the "China Lobby" may have gotten to someone in Saigon to suggest that if Saigon would hold out until after the elections, they might receive a better deal from a new Republican Administration.

/5/The President's Diary notes: "At the conclusion of the meeting, Walt Rostow commented--also in a hoarse voice--'This is the most sustained day and night effort I've had since the Cuban missile crisis.'" (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

Bromley Smith


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

Washington, October 31, 1968, 6:52 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Humphrey, October 31, 1968, 6:52 p.m., Tape F6810.09, PNO 4-5. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. A summary of this conversation is ibid. The Daily Diary noted: "The VP called Jim Jones for the President's guidance on what to say re Congr. Gerald Ford." (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

President: Hubert?

Vice President: Hello, Mr. President.

President: Glad to hear you, my friend.

Vice President: Glad to hear you, sir.

President: Hubert, there are two or three things that I would suggest. First, I will speak shortly after 8./2/ I just got the Joint Chiefs, all the civilian secretaries, the National Security group that normally meets with us. We are waiting on word from Bunker and Thieu. We may have--could have--disastrous consequences if Thieu and the Koreans and so forth don't go with us. They agreed to 2 or 3 weeks ago. But there's been a lot of talk out of the campaign that has influenced them, and they are, just like when you read the paper about what's happening in Minnesota, you get influenced by it. And the last few days the China crowd has been in it some. And they've been telling them Humphrey wouldn't stick with them at all, so they better put off and not let Johnson make any kind of peace because they will do a much better job; they'll be much tougher. The Ambassador has been sending that word back, and they have Thieu and them upset about the speech--if you stop the bombing, semi-colon, comma, period--you know. And they have had--we've been watching it very carefully, and I know about what I speak. I am looking at the whole cards.

/2/See Document 169.

Vice President: I know that.

President: So, I had Thieu on board 2 weeks ago, and he signed up, and we agreed on the text of a joint announcement./3/ And then Bundy's speech came along,/4/ and they decided they would have to go back to Hanoi, and they went back and considered it. And Abrams won a few more victories, so they decided to go along. And when they did, in the meantime, Nixon's folks--I don't know whether he had anything to do with it or not; I don't charge that he does, I can't prove it--but some of the people supporting him told Hanoi that they could--that he had no connection with this war, wasn't involved, that he could be more reasonable, didn't have any commitments, than anybody who had been fighting them for about 5 years. Then on the other side of the track, they told the South Vietnamese that if they don't sell out--let Johnson sell them out here at the conference table and bring into it the NLF--Humphrey is going to get beat, and they will have a bright future. So, they have just been holding for two weeks.

/3/See Document 143.

/4/See Document 63.

So, I finally took the bull by the horns and got Abrams in, got all the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, got every diplomat and every civilian--General Goodpaster, Bunker, Rusk, Katzenbach, Clifford--everybody, and they all agreed that A, we should stop the bombing. I want to issue an order to stop it tomorrow--that is number one. Number two, they've agreed with Vance that they will let the GVN come to the table. The GVN is debating now. They don't know what to do. They want to put it off. But they can come if they want to. If they don't, we'll go on and talk about what we need to. It'll be a very bad thing, though, if a million of their men get out, you know, and if Thailand gets upset, and if Korea thinks we are selling them out--white men.

But anyway, the thing they have done they have never done before is allow a prompt, productive discussion they don't take advantage of. Now, they've agreed that these puppets they said they would never sit down with can come and sit in the room with them and they will talk to them. Now, that is the major thing they've agreed to.

Vice President: Yes.

President: The second thing we agreed to is they will not shell the cities and they will not abuse the DMZ. Now, they have not agreed to, either. But we've told them that if they do, we have given rules of engagement to Abrams and that he can respond automatically, and that we could not have productive discussions if they were doing either.

Vice President: That's right.

President: So, we may stop it tonight and start it tomorrow night. And I have just said I'm going to say to everybody--from you to George Ball to Charles de Gaulle to North Vietnam to Mike Mansfield--that you have said to me: "Test their faith and stop the bombing."

Vice President: That's exactly right.

President: Now, I'm going to stop it, but I'm just going to start it just as quick as I stopped it if they take advantage and go to killing my boys.

Vice President: Well, Mr. President, we have all agreed on that.

President: But I told them that. Now, there are three things then, really. We can't say a word about it in the paper. Now, Rusk is very fearful of your position. He thinks that this is the best thing in the world for America, and what's good for America is you, but he said the temptation is going to be a lot of people to say we did this for you. So, for God's sake, we know--everybody knows--we don't play politics with human lives, but we did what's right and we couldn't wait. If we did, we might not have this offer a week from now after somebody was nominated. We don't know, and there may be at least 500 killed tomorrow anyway.

Now, this is the first time--they only agreed Sunday/5/ night. Monday and Tuesday we checked it out with the Soviets./6/ Wednesday we got Abrams back. And today I have acted. Now, this is the first time they would give us this assurance. So, if I were you, I would let the laurels come to me, and certainly I wouldn't crow about it or say that I've got this done because then it will look like--they are going to charge us anyway--that we are trying to act in collusion. Now, you and I know we're not. You and I know we're going to do what is right if it runs me out of the race and runs you out of the race.

/5/November 27.

/6/See Document 138.

Vice President: That's exactly right. I said last night, Mr. President, I'm not going to say one word about this, except that I'm grateful.

President: Well, now, every man there tonight said, "We back you up, Mr. President." And what I'd say if I were you, I'd say, "We can only have one voice in foreign affairs; our government has taken the position--I'm not going to undercut it; and that if I am President November 6th, the President-elect, the President has assured me and has assured Mr. Nixon and assured Mr. Wallace he wants us to come in and sit down and talk to him about it." Now there's not much you can get done between now and November 6th because that's the first day they are going to meet in Paris. In the meantime, I think it is just as well that we all say a prayer and thank God that we have moved this far.

Vice President: Let me tell you what I have said to George Christian so that--I've been sitting here in my room, I haven't left here because I didn't want to go downstairs and face anybody until I cleared everything. I would say, first of all, that if I come down people know that there's been a lot of talk around the TV and the radio, and there was some announcement that you were going to speak sometime after 8 o'clock.

President: It will be at 8 and you can tell them I told you all I was going to speak at 8--that I called you on a conference call, that I repeated to you what I had said the other day which you have known for many, many months, since the September [1967] San Antonio speech,/7/ that we would stop the bombing as soon as we could have "prompt, productive" discussions. Now we've got "prompt" discussions. They've agreed to meet November 6th. We've got "productive." They've agreed to let the government sit in with them. So that meets our standard of "productive." We said if they don't take advantage of them we'll continue. Now, we don't know whether they'll take advantage or not--you can't tell about the Communists. But we're going to give them a chance and test their good faith. If they take advantage of the DMZ and the cities, the rules of engagement have been given to Abrams and were laid out to him in a 2:30 a.m. meeting here the day before yesterday. He is to automatically respond, and we will have tested them and they will have failed. If they do act in good faith, then God help us, we make something.

/7/See footnote 6, Document 35.

Now, here's what Rusk said: "Special Notes to the Vice President/8/--Ask him to have his men say that the Vice President has been briefed as have all the candidates been given full information. Number one. Number two, suggest that he not attack other candidates on Vietnam unless the other candidates attack him unmercifully. Number three, tell the Vice President not to let his publicity people crow or take credit for his having done this. He should say that the decision was the President's, and has been in the making for many, many months. Even before he withdrew in March, the President said at San Antonio: 'prompt, productive,' and that 'they do not take advantage of'--those three words. But he, the Vice President, is joining with the President. He hopes that every American is hoping that the door is finally open to an early peace, and as far as you are concerned, whether you are President-elect or ex-Vice President, you will be in there working for peace."

/8/Rusk's notes for the President have not been found.

Now, he said that would give us--would kind of free us from the charge that we are operating for political reasons, and at the same time it will show that we treated them all alike. This is the thing, though, I told you last, oh, a month or so ago--March 31st I concluded that I've got to do this if I do anything else in my life, even keeping my family together, I've got to do this because they're out there and I just got to do it. So--

Vice President: I know it.

President: That's it. But you can say we had a conference call,/9/ and say what I talked about. Every man at the table the other day, I told them there are these three things. Now, we cannot tell the press about the DMZ and the cities because if we do they'll say that is reciprocity, and they'll start shelling them and we'll have to go back.

/9/See Document 166.

Vice President: Mr. President, I am not--the reason I wanted to--I've talked to Jim [Jones] and I've talked to George [Christian], and here was the only thing I wanted to ask you; I didn't want to say anything until after you have spoken.

President: That's all right. That's all right. What I would say is: "I don't know what the President is going to say. He told us, though, that he wanted to brief us, and he briefed us, and you'll see it at 8 o'clock and you'll get the same briefing we got."

Vice President: And I thought that after 8 o'clock what I would say is simply this: "That the President's action is an important new initiative towards peace. I fully support that initiative, and I am sure that a vast majority of the American people will support it. Let us hope that the negotiations in Paris will now move quickly and that Hanoi will negotiate in good faith."

President: Well, the only thing wrong with that is it's not our initiative. They have agreed. Clark [Clifford] wants to put this that we are testing their good faith. We made this last September. What I would try to say, if I could, is that it appears that Hanoi has been willing to agree to the prompt and productive discussions that we asked them last September to agree to.

Vice President: Now, let me just see. All right.

President: It appears that Hanoi has agreed to the prompt and productive discussions that we asked them last September to agree to. We said we'd stop the bombing if we could have "prompt and productive" discussions. Well, "prompt"--they said November 6th. That is pretty prompt. "Productive"--they've said the GVN could be there. So that's what we wanted. They said they'd never sit down with these folks. There is not nothing [sic] new about this. This is an old one. This just took them--what has happened, Hubert, they've lost 250,000 men, and so they've agreed to "prompt and productive." Now, the whole question is whether they're going to be successful or not, is whether we take advantage of them or they take advantage of us. Now, we've said that "You'll be taking advantage, you'll bust up the conference, if you shell the cities, if you abuse the DMZ."

Vice President: We are not going to say anything about that.

President: Not at all, not at all. But you can say "prompt and productive." And if they don't take advantage by doing things that oughtn't to be done, and you'll have to see whether they are taking advantage in the next few days, anybody can read the papers and see--nobody knows, I can't predict, the Joint Chiefs don't know. Our judgment is that they have already quit shelling the cities generally. They hit Saigon last night and again tonight to kind of stir us up a little. But they don't have the capability, and our judgment is that they are not abusing the DMZ much more because they are taking them out of the country instead of putting them in. But what we believe that--the correspondents--if I were you, Rusk is going to tell them in his backgrounder--say "prompt," that is the 6th, "productive," that is the GVN, "not to take advantage," well, you will just have to watch the paper and see what happens.

Vice President: On the "productive," can we say that the Government of South Vietnam--

President: Yes, yes.

Vice President: Will be in the--

President: Yes, sir, yes, sir. They agreed to it. That is what we have insisted all along--that they can come. So, it's not new on our part. It's new on their part.

Vice President: I have got you.

President: Okay.

Vice President: It appears that Hanoi has agreed to prompt and productive discussions as outlined in the San Antonio speech of September--that was the month of September. And then I can say that just simply--

President: And then say, "I hope that they do not take advantage of it. That we will have to let time tell." Now, here is what the man said about it. McConnell said--well, I told you about it. I read you what they all said. Every one of the Joint Chiefs. I have got everybody aboard, and as I understood it, every candidate tonight said we will back you. So--

Vice President: That's right.

President: So, all the Congressmen and Senators said the same thing. So, you go on and watch the television if you can at 8 o'clock, and you will get all the details.

Vice President: Now, as I go downstairs here because I have a reception, you must tell me so that I don't make a mistake. I'm going to have a lot of press down there asking me. Are we to inform them--am I to let them know, if they ask me, that there has been a conference call?

President: Yes, I think that is certainly all right. I would be candid. "Yes, the President told us the other day he would keep us informed--we would be the first to know it."

Vice President: Yes, sir.

President: "As a matter of fact, he hasn't issued his orders." Say--"he told us the other day, any developments we'd be the first to know it. He has called all of us and briefed us."

Vice President: Yes, sir.

President: "But I'm not going to make any comment until after the President speaks."

Vice President: That's right. I will say that "he has called all of us"--

President: Yes, yes.

Vice President: "But I withhold any comment until the President has spoken."

President: Yes, yes. Let me see if that is what Jim has told the others. I think that is what--just a second, let me see. Hello?

Vice President: Yes?

President: Jim says that they hadn't intended to do anything until 8 o'clock. But if you need to, what you can say is that "the President on October 15th told--let me see if that is okay--October 16th conference call at 11:41 [a.m.] that he would keep us briefed. He called us and briefed us again today, but he enjoined us to secrecy about the contents until his television speech at 8 o'clock."

Vice President: That is fine.

President: Then at 8 o'clock I'd say that "We all told the President we'd back him and we'd pray for him and that this is not a party matter--this is an American matter--and I'm glad that every candidate is for it." That way, it will keep them from attacking you for having a "fix-it" deal. This is dangerous because if they thought you and I were trying to fix something, it would hurt us. But if you take the position that you have been treated, briefed, like everybody else--

Vice President: That's exactly right.

President: That the President has to do this until the 20th and you and Nixon and Wallace all told him the other day that you hoped it'd come any minute--the first minute the better--to keep from killing boys. Now this is peace. This is just a discussion, but it looks like Hanoi has moved and we'll still have a lot of hard negotiations. You'll see that in my speech tonight.

Vice President: All right.

President: I tried to call Muriel [Humphrey]. I saw her on television yesterday morning. She was a doll. She was just wonderful. I thought your speech was good last night. I heard it. Then I had a long visit with Luci [Johnson] after she came in.

Vice President: That's sweet.

President: I think I have an awfully good one for Sunday night on nationwide TV.

Vice President: We've been talking about our programs, Mr. President. I want you to know one thing: if I can do half as good a job as you've done, if I am elected, I will be happy.

President: Well, you will do good. Have you ever seen my speech last night? You haven't seen the 15 minute TV [spot] that I did./10/

/10/The taped speech was broadcast on November 3. See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pp. 1110-1113.

Vice President: No, I didn't see it. But I will.

President: I will get you a film of it.

Vice President: I have been wanting to call you all the time.

President: Don't you do it. Don't you do it. Don't worry about me. You don't have to.

Vice President: I talk to Marvin [Watson]. I keep in touch.

President: Don't mess with me. You get people worried who are not going to vote for you.

Vice President: Well, God bless you.

President: Don't humor me.

Vice President: I think you're doing the right thing, Mr. President. Let's hope and pray it works.

President: I am trying to.

Vice President: God bless you.


169. Editorial Note

In a speech broadcast nationally at 8 p.m. on October 31, 1968, the President announced that the bombing of North Vietnam would cease at 8 a.m. Washington time on November 1. He also noted that four-party discussions could begin at the next plenary session in Paris on November 6, an occasion "at which representatives of the Government of South Vietnam are free to participate." For the full text of the speech, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pages 1099-1103. Special Counsel Harry McPherson finished drafting the speech only that afternoon; the President recorded the final parts of it between 1:35 and 1:53 p.m. The President watched the speech with family members in the Oval Office of the White House. His Diary records: "He said it was the most important decision he had ever made. He further said he was not sure it was the right decision but was what he felt had to be done. Said he couldn't guarantee Thieu what Thieu wanted. 'I could only tell him I was taking them on faith--that the times demanded this action. This is a step toward peace.'" (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary)

In a press conference the following day, Secretary of State Rusk commented on the speech: "President Johnson stated clearly last night that his decision to stop the bombing of North Vietnam was based upon specific expectations that the Government of South Vietnam will participate in the discussion of an honorable peace and that the action will bring about a de-escalation of the fighting. Some governments and leading personalities have, over many months, undertaken to tell us that something good would happen if we would stop the bombing of North Vietnam. It is now incumbent upon all of those who have taken that view to make a maximum effort to insure that their advice has substance to it. We have our own reasons to believe that our action is a constructive step, will open the way to serious talks, and will not endanger our own and allied forces in the field. But we shall also be interested in what others may do to insist upon actions by Hanoi that will move us toward peace." See Department of State Bulletin, November 18, 1968, pages 520-525.


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