156. Message From President Johnson to Prime Minister Wilson 1

Dean Rusk has told me of his private talk with you about the problem of POL in Haiphong and Hanoi.2 Specific orders have not yet been issued but I see no way of avoiding such action, given the expansion of the illegal corridor through Laos, the continuing buildup of North Vietnamese forces in South Viet Nam, the growing abuse of Cambodian neutrality, and the absence of any indication in Hanoi of a serious interest in peace.

We expect costly fighting during the Monsoon season, the first engagements of which have undoubtedly come to your attention. I must do what I can to reduce our casualties at the hands of those who are moving in from the north.

I deeply hope that you will find a way to maintain solidarity with us on Viet-Nam despite what you have said in the House of Commons about Haiphong and Hanoi.3 We are not talking about an air assault on civilian centers but a specific attack on POL installations with a direct relevance to the fighting in the south. I hope that you can give further thought to your own interests and commitments in Southeast Asia under the SEATO Treaty. Dean tells me that, in his talk with you and your colleagues, several references were made to the “revival of SEATO.” South Viet Nam and five signatories of SEATO are not talking about a revival but are committing troops to repel an armed attack from the north. Nor do I believe that your role as co-chairman means that Britain should stand aside; the other co-chairman is furnishing large quantities of sophisticated arms and other assistance to North Viet Nam and is, therefore, an active partner in the effort to take over South Viet Nam by force.

I know that you have some problems about Viet Nam, as do I. But I believe that it is sound for us to base our policy on the simple principles of the Geneva Accords and the SEATO Treaty, and on the assumption that North Viet Nam will not be permitted to seize South Viet Nam. Since [Page 427] we are determined about the latter point, much of the present criticism will come right at the end of the day.

I gather Dean spoke to you of the possible combination of points which would put a different cast upon disassociation by you from a decision to strike the POL. Quite frankly, I earnestly hope that you will not find it necessary to speak in terms of disassociation. But it would be important to us if you could include the following elements:

You were informed of the possibility that such an action would, in our minds, become necessary.
You expressed your own views to us in accordance with statements which you have already made in the House of Commons.
The particular step taken by U.S. forces was directed specifically to POL storage and not against civilian centers or installations.
Since Britain does not have troops engaged in the fighting, it is not easy or appropriate for Britain to determine the particular military action which may be necessary under different circumstances.
It is a great pity that Hanoi and Peiping have been so unresponsive to unprecedented efforts by the U.S. and others to bring this problem from the battlefield to the conference table.
Britain is satisfied that U.S. forces have no designs against civilian populations and are taking every possible precaution to avoid civilian casualties.
Britain as a member of SEATO fully understands and supports the determination of its fellow SEATO members to insure the safety and the self-determination of South Viet Nam.

I would hope that you could in this context affirm your support for the effort in Viet Nam and your understanding that it is Hanoi which is blocking the path to peace.

The timing of a visit to Washington is somewhat complicated. You and I agree that there should be a good deal of blue sky between your visit and possible action in Viet Nam. That alone would suggest that the month of June is out, as we now look at the calendar of events. When we get into July, I shall expect to be away for almost a full week surrounding July 4th. You have Pompidouʼs visit on July 6–8 and your possible visit to Moscow on July 9–10. I have just suggested to President Senghor that he come here July 11–13.

It appears, therefore, anything before mid-July is blocked by our respective calendars.

If you feel a talk at that time is essential, we can say now that we expect it to be held in mid- or late July, leaving the precise dates open for further determination. In response to questions as to why you are coming, perhaps we both should simply say that we have felt occasional talks to be worthwhile and that a number of matters of mutual interest could [Page 428] be usefully discussed, and that mid-July appears to be a mutually convenient time.

I was much interested in what Dean told me of your talks about Rhodesia and the maritime strike. You have my best wishes in bringing both of these troublesome matters to an early conclusion.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, vol. 6. Top Secret; Personal; Exdis. The message was drafted by Rusk, reviewed by the President, and redrafted by Rusk and Rostow in light of the Presidentʼs instructions. Rostow informed Read in a June 14 memorandum that the message had been sent that day and that an information copy had gone to McNamara. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  2. Rusk met with Wilson in London on June 10.
  3. In telegram 5768 from London, June 2, Bruce reported that on February 8 Wilson stated in the House of Commons: “We have made it clear in Washington that we could not support any extension of the bombing against North Vietnam by stages to Hanoi and Haiphong.” (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)