304. Notes of a Meeting1


  • The President, Rusk, McNamara, Acheson, Ball, Raborn, Valenti

Rusk: In my talks with Dobrynin and Gromyko, they said the Russians were not going to trade with or negotiate. We must deal with Hanoi and Peking. Therefore, there is nothing on Russian side to cause us to hold off bombing.

Perhaps we should bomb again, then pause, and then bomb again.

The President: I thought we were going to pause only 5 days

McNamara: To achieve proper objective, we should go 7 days. One advantage is we will answer Times.2 They wanted us to take a week. We can hold until Wednesday.

[Page 666]

The President: I would do it Monday. Start again then and that would make the pause six full days.

McNamara: We could start again on Tuesday evening our time.

Rusk: We can start bombing again—then get the Acheson-Ball plan3 all worked out. It will be launched by Quat.

Ball: Essentially the plan is worked out on a local basis—going from military to political action.

Rusk: Gromyko is interested in the Cambodian Conference. Sihanouk is pulling back on his original insistence that Viet Cong be represented at the conference. French and British have talked to Russians and urged them to move forward on Cambodian meeting.

I think we ought to get telegram to Taylor to get his reaction to the Acheson-Ball plan. It will take at least three weeks to get plan launched.

Tonight we don’t need any decisions—except when we start bombing and what we say about the resumption.

The President: If there was going to be any interest on part of Hanoi, we ought to have the reaction by now. You gave them notice on Tuesday. Monday will be six days. If you want to start the bombing on Tuesday, that’s okay.

We can tell the Congressional leadership—that we had some adjustments out there. To me it’s a pure question of what happens in this country. If we hold off this bombing longer, people are going to say “What in the world is happening.” We can inform Mansfield, the NY Times, but we will never satisfy the Times.

Now, if this is what you all want, we’ll go on Tuesday evening our time, but I would go Monday.

McNamara: What do we say to the press?

The President: We don’t need to disclose every piece of strategy to the press. I would say to Mansfield, Kennedy, Fulbright that we notified the other people—and for six days we have held off bombing. Nothing happened. We had no illusions that anything would happen. But we were willing to be surprised.

We are anxious to pursue every diplomatic adventure to get peace. But we can’t throw our gun away. We have laid off them for six days—meanwhile we have lost planes at Bien Hoa. No one has even thanked us for the pause.

McNamara: We ought to give this out on background. Mansfield ought to know Hanoi spit on our face.

[Page 667]

The President: I’m afraid if we play along with this group, we will wind up with no one on our side. We tried out their notion and got no results.

My judgement is the public has never wanted us to stop the bombing. We have stopped in deference to Mansfield and Fulbright, but we don’t want to do it too long else we lose our base of support.

The President: We will go Tuesday to satisfy you here tonight. I’d go Monday night myself. However, if you have good reasons, we’ll go when you say.

We ought to talk to the leadership and tell them what we did. We can tell them we used the time for reconnaissance—and in deference to Buddha’s birthday. We gave them all week. We told Dobrynin and we told Gromyko.

I’d call them in and tell them we are starting Monday night. And then you’ll be requested to delay again—by the NY Times.

McNamara: Let’s talk to the leaders on Monday and tell them we are starting again to bomb on Monday night.

The President: Rusk, do you buy that?

McNamara: Target #294 is military barracks 10 miles further north than we have ever gone. I urge to leave this target in. Our own military will say we have gone soft if we take it out again. Also it can be our message to Hanoi and Peking.

The President: What do you think about the threats from Russia about coming in?

Rusk: There is a flash point in the Hanoi area in how far you can go without bringing the Russians in. Gromyko said he was going to help North Viet Nam and help them decisively.

The President: What about the SAM sites?5 Question is whether we let the clock tick or whether we take them out now.

McNamara: We can’t go after the SAM sites unless you go after the MIG airfields. We don’t think we are at that point now. Most you would lose would be 3 or 4 crews. They don’t have one SAM operational right now.

We have to go after MIG airfields first. First.

B-52’s to plaster the airfields at night. There may be civilians involved since all bombs won’t hit target. Then fighter bombers go in. And then we take out the SAM’s

This is a major operation from the Hanoi point of view.

[Page 668]

Fair to say not more than one SAM site will be operational in 4 weeks.6

(At this point meeting interrupted by call from Bundy)

The President: Now, Rusk will talk to Fulbright and Mansfield—talk about your visit with Gromyko.

I think you ought to show the leaders we are open and receptive to ideas—but nothing happened on this particular idea.

For six days we didn’t touch them and we told them we weren’t going to touch them. And yet Gromyko was tougher than he has been in his talks with you, Dean.

Acheson: Important thing is you haven’t bombed in six days and now you are going to bomb again. This is good thing for people to know.

Rusk: I hope we can keep the barracks target off the first day’s bombing—perhaps put it on the third or fourth day.

McNamara: Yes, we will.

The President: Ball is going to say our bombing will be keyed to their aggression.

Acheson: Actually the plan is a series of pauses—in which we interpret the results each time.

Acheson: First, we put into effect a plan to strengthen the Viet Nam government. They announce the plan. We give the other side two weeks to think it over. For two weeks we will take no offensive action. We defend ourselves, but no offensive action. Government will send troops and officials into all provinces. Perhaps nothing will happen in one province and something will happen in another. But we will find out the temper of the other side. For if this works, the rebellion is over. We will have a practical plan to test the response.

The President: We want Taylor’s reaction to this—also I think we ought to put extra money into the USIA. Eisenhower thought we ought to spend much more than we are7—we have to give these people a will to fight and a will to win.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Meeting Notes File. No classification marking. The notes were taken by Valenti and transcribed later. The meeting was held in the President’s office.
  2. In an editorial on Sunday, May 16, dealing with the bombing pause, The New York Times called for an extension of the pause to allow additional time for negotiations to develop.
  3. See Documents 287 and 300.
  4. See Document 295.
  5. Reference is to a series of surface-to-air missile sites being established by Soviet technicians as an integrated anti-aircraft system in North Vietnam.
  6. McNamara and Rusk agreed, in a telephone conversation on May 17, that it would be “a great mistake” to attack the SAM missile sites. Rusk felt that such an attack would guarantee a rapid escalation of the conflict. (Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls)
  7. At President Johnson’s request, General Goodpaster briefed President Eisenhower on May 12 at his home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the bombing pause in Vietnam. Eisenhower thought the plan was a good one and put the onus on the North Vietnamese to respond. If they failed to respond positively, Eisenhower felt that the United States should return to the bombing campaign, and use “everything that can fly.” (Memorandum from General Goodpaster to President Johnson, May 13; Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, President Eisenhower)