263. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State (Ball) and President Johnson 1

Ball informed the Pres that he had sent him a long memorandum describing exactly what we were doing and proposing including some draft letters.2

Pres asked Ball to give him the gist of what was being transmitted. President told Ball he wanted him here because he was inspiring, stimulating and “shoving” just as he had on two or three other occasions in this field. Pres said even if all this comes to naught he would feel better. He said he had to survive this thing. He has 3 more years to go and he said he wanted Ball sitting at the bridge calling the signals and he is not to let “them” talk him out of “it”. Pres told Ball to get his Dutch toes in concrete and is to say “this is what the man (the Pres) wants and I am here to shove.”

Ball told the Pres that Harriman left tonight at 8:00 and while enroute we are expecting clearance from the Polish Govt so he will go straight to Warsaw and will plan to spend a couple of days with the Poles. Ball said we had asked the Hungarian Govt whether they would like to have H come there. We have had an indication from the Charge that the Govt wants to be active in this. They have asked clarification of 2 or 3 of the things we gave them and Dobrynin told Thompson the Charge (Hungarian) had been in touch with him regularly. Ball said we think something significant might come from the Hungarian efforts. However, Ball said, we don’t want to send Harriman there unless they want him but we do want to have him available and at their option so he can be helpful to them. We don’t want to take a chance of Harriman’s coming in and having them close-up by saying he has embarrassed them by coming.

Pres said this is all right, however, he would not worry about the Hungarians. Pres thinks Harriman should go to Hungary in any event. He said we could always find reasons for his not going. Pres said he would not hesitate to take the responsibility.

Re the Yugoslavs Ball said we had not been able to set it up with Tito. He has left Brioni but we would keep working on it.

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Ball said he thought we would have an answer from the Hungarians tomorrow and in the meantime H would go on to Warsaw and we would not lose any time. H will try to get the Polish govt to start moving.

Ball said we had sent an Aide-Memoire to Amb. Byroade in Rangoon to deliver to the NVN Consul General there.3 This was our appraisal of the best fellow to deal with on a fast basis and this is the fellow U Thant would have used last fall. Ball said he was going to have Goldberg tell Thant tonight what we were doing so he will know what we are talking about. Ball explained this was a formal way we could deal with the Govt and we would have an absolute record made. It should be delivered tomorrow as early as possible.

Goldberg should be leaving for Rome tonight at 2:00 Ball said. However, there is one problem, Ball told the Pres. Fanfani tendered his resignation today to Moro over the La Pira incident4 and apparently it appears that the Italian Govt is in a shakey position. Ball said he was concerned that since Goldberg was associated with Fanfani in the La Pira incident that the Italian press would say we are interfering in domestic politics. The Pres interrupted to say he wanted a Jew seeing the Pope. Ball said the problem was that since Goldberg was a high official in the Govt he would have to see the Italian officials. Pres said this had nothing to do with it. Goldberg is to call on the Pope and get right on to Paris.

Pres said Goldberg is to tell the Pope we appreciate what he said about the Christmas truce and we are responding to what he said about a truce on New Years and we want him to get busy and get some action of us and get right into Hanoi. Pres said what he liked best was a Jew talking to a Catholic. Ball said we would send Goldberg on but he wanted to alert the Pres to the difficulties that might arise. Pres said Goldberg should say he could not discuss the La Pira incident at all. It is an internal matter.

Ball said on the UK, Canada, France, Germany and Italy we have drafted letters from the President.5 Re Italy when Goldberg sees the Pope he would also deliver this letter from the Pres to Fanfani which would be a courtesy. Ball said we were trying to get the letters out tonight. Pres said he would look at them the minute they reach the Ranch.

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Ball read the Wilson letter and the President approved. He suggested that Ball add that he is restricting this information to a very few and he would hope that Wilson, etc. would do the same.

Pres also said he preferred something other than the statement “the first of the year”. He suggested “for a more extended period”, or “for many days”. Pres said he did not want to be committed. Ball said he would fix this.

Pres said he thought someone should talk to Pearson. Ball said he could go up. Pres said he would rather Ball stay here. Pres thought MacBundy could perhaps meet Pearson in Philadelphia or go to Ottawa.

Pres said Ball should be sure to have a letter from him to the Pope for Goldberg to deliver. It should thank him for the Christmas truce and the New Year’s truce so the Pope would feel we were complying. Ball said he would do this.

Pres said he was depending on Ball as his lawyer and his devil’s advocate. Pres said Ball was not to let “them” talk him out of anything. Pres said Ball should stay right on it until we are sure we have bled it for all it is worth.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Papers of George Ball, Telephone Conversations, Presidential Conversations. No classification marking. The President was in Texas; Ball was in Washington.
  2. Dated December 28. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  3. See Document 257.
  4. Italian law professer and ex-Mayor of Florence Giorgio La Pira went to Hanoi for discussions with DRV officials. He then transmitted a peace feeler from the DRV through Italian Foreign Minister Fanfani to Goldberg; see Documents 205 and 207. When La Pira’s identity was leaked by the Italian press and his connection to Hanoi revealed, the DRV disassociated itself from the peace feeler.
  5. The text of the letter from President Johnson to Prime Minister Moro of Italy is in telegram 1362 to Rome, December 29; the letter to Pope Paul VI is in telegram 1363 to Rome, December 29; the letter to British Prime Minister Wilson is in telegram 3677 to London, December 29; and the letter to French President De Gaulle is in telegram 2899 to Paris, December 29. (All in Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)