137. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State (Ball) and Secretary of Defense McNamara1

Ball said they had sent something over to him they had worked up—a proposal to try to use the two co-chairmen—British and USSR to get something started.

The background is Harlech came in late yesterday afternoon2 and the British had received a fellow from the Soviet Union about reinvigorating the co-chairmen report. We drafted something3 to see if it would not be possible to use the co-chairmen as an approach toward moving this in some kind of a political track with the idea that this would avoid a conference. All we are suggesting is they might do some exploring with various parties. It would avoid going into the Security Council where the Soviet Union would be pushed into the position of being the advocate for the Communist side. If the Soviets are accepted this will give them a chance to avoid getting mixed in deeper because they could say that they are acting as the impartial party.

Ball told McN he went to the WH this morning and had a long session with Mac [Bundy] and the President.4 The President exposed his own philosophy. The paper took a strong position of any initiative on our side which would involve our making a public approach initiating machinery for settlement. Ball asked McN to think about the possibility of stirring the British up so they could talk to their Soviet colleagues about coming back to both the US and Hanoi with a request for a statement of our positions. On this basis if they chose to do so they could see what they wanted to do but without in any way looking like our initiative. McN asked what the President’s reaction had been to this. Ball said he was interested but wanted to think about it. McN thought it important not to be hooked to it because of his strong feeling about initiatives on our part. McN asked what our answer to the press would be if they asked our reaction to the British bringing the parties together. Ball said, if asked we would be glad to make a statement.

McN thought there would be some merit in this and he thought we had to move toward negotiation.

Ball said the advantage of this is that it would not get us into a conference and tie our hands.

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McN asked about Adlai’s two page statement.5 Ball said Stevenson recommends that Thant take an initiative. This would probably get us into a seven power conference or into a position where the SecGen is asking us to come in to a conference where we would look bad if we did not agree to do so.

McN thought it better if we went into the Security Council because we know that China and Hanoi are not going to come before the Security Council.

Ball said in the statement that was sent over this morning the first and last paragraphs would be taken out. This was on the assumption that we would make an approach ourselves to the co-chairmen. The central part is a statement of our position. It has been revised a little but it is substantially the same.

Ball said it was possible the President would want to have a talk before the NSC.6

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Ball Papers, Vietnam I. No classification marking.
  2. See Document 135.
  3. Apparently a reference to Document 136.
  4. See footnote 1, Document 136.
  5. Not further identified.
  6. Ball, McNamara, and Rusk met with the President for about 20 minutes prior to the NSC meeting, which began at 5:25 p.m. on February 18. No other record of this pre-meeting discussion has been found. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary)