182. Memorandum for the Record of a Conversation Between President Johnson and Prime Minister Pearson 1

The President and the Prime Minister began by talking briefly and lightly about immediate problems of politics in their two countries. The President gave the Prime Minister greetings from Senator Magnuson,2 and the Prime Minister commented wryly on the problems of lumber and fish. The Prime Minister explained the great political difficulty and importance of changing the national flag of Canada, and the President remarked that he had as many troubles as he wanted, too.

The conversation then turned to Southeast Asia. The Prime Minister opened by saying that in his brief conversation with McGeorge Bundy 3 he had agreed on the importance of sending Mr. Seaborn to Vietnam as soon as possible, and he made it clear that he thought this could be arranged in the coming week. He spoke warmly of Mr. Seaborn’s qualifications, and made clear his entire readiness to have a Canadian officer play this important role of reporting accurately the purposes of the United States Government and the meaning of any actions in which it might be involved.

The President thanked the Prime Minister and gave a general summary of his view of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. The U.S. was not interested in starting wars, but in keeping peace. The U.S. had no desire to threaten any government in the area, and wanted nothing more than the restoration of peace in countries which were now under attack from outside. The U.S. was not going to be pushed out, but the Prime Minister could be absolutely sure that the President intended to follow a policy of peace.

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The Prime Minister expressed his satisfaction in this general exposition and said he fully understood the very difficult and important problems which the U.S. faced in Southeast Asia. He agreed that the U.S. could not simply pull out and that it must continue its support for governments which were not always very good at supporting themselves, difficult as this task might be. The Prime Minister said that, on the other hand, he did think it would be dangerous to move in directions which had recently been mentioned by Senator Goldwater,4 and that any drastic escalation would give great problems both in Canada and internationally. The Prime Minister said that it would be a different matter if action could be carefully limited and directed in the interdiction of supply lines from North to South.

The President firmly interjected that the Prime Minister could be absolutely sure that the present Administration had no interest at all in the kind of thing which Senator Goldwater had mentioned. The President himself was a man of peace, and his Administration was going to be an Administration of peace. If it did become necessary, against the President’s own hopes and desires, to act against the North, the President’s intention was that such action should be carefully limited.

The Prime Minister expressed his satisfaction at the President’s comment and said that he thought it would be very important to have targets carefully defined and sharply delimited. It would be one thing to attack a bridge or an oil tank, but quite another to shower bombs on a village full of women and children.

The President expressed his clear agreement.

The President and the Prime Minister then talked briefly about more general aspects of the problem. The President indicated the next immediate courses of action were to be the subject of the Honolulu meeting, and thanked the Prime Minister again for his cooperation in the matter of Mr. Seaborn’s special assignment.5 The conversation [Page 396] then became informal and social, and the President introduced the Prime Minister to members of his family and others guests in the Presidential suite.

The Prime Minister later informed me that at a moment when I was out of the room, he had mentioned to the President the important meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London in July, and had said that he would be glad to know of any special U.S. views which it might be helpful for Canada to know about at the time of such a meeting. He told me that the President had expressed interest, and I undertook to make sure that we would be in a position to offer such close consultation before the Prime Minister’s meeting.

McG.B. 6
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL CAN–US. Top Secret; Exdis. Drafted by McGeorge Bundy on May 30. The President was in New York for a Democratic Party fundraising dinner and gala.
  2. Senator Warren G. Magnuson of Washington.
  3. No record of this conversation has been found.
  4. Senator Barry M. Goldwater in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination suggested on May 24 that “low yield atomic weapons” be used as defoliants along South Vietnam’s borders and that the United States employ a conventional bombing campaign to attack roads, railroads, and bridges used in supplying the insurgency in South Vietnam.
  5. While Pearson and Johnson were meeting in New York, Sullivan met with Canadian Foreign Minister Martin and Seaborn in Ottawa. Sullivan found Canadian officials to be of a similar mind to Pearson, and noted: “While Foreign Minister Martin seemed a little nervous about the prospect of ‘expanding the war’, External Affairs officials readily assented to the use of Seaborn as an interlocutor. It was stipulated that he need not agree with or associate his Government with the substance of some of the messages he would be asked to transmit. The only thing required was faithful transmission of the messages.”

    Seaborn, who struck Sullivan as an alert, intelligent and steady officer, readily agreed to these conditions and has made immediate plans for an accelerated departure.” (Telegram 2133 to Saigon, May 30; Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)

  6. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.