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

Pres. cited Lodgeʼs Jan. 12 telegram2 giving outlook for 1966. Read paragraph 3 as against paragraph 10 and asked if this would cause us to rework our State of the Union message—the portion on direct contact. B felt it was a matter of how we word it. The fact there was a communication is in public domain. Pres. said they had used the language suggested by B this morning. B said he would look at the message and call the Pres. back.3

Pres. asked how B got along this morning with the SFRC.4 B told him he had met with them over 3 hours. He got the feeling it was a serious and honest effort to get to the base of the subject. They are troubled; there is not unfriendliness; they are sympathetic with the Presidentʼs problems. B said he had mentioned some of the Presidentʼs thoughts of this morning. B said his testimony was against the background of Mansfield having been with the Committee yesterday in long session. They were aware of the problems and donʼt see any solution other than the course being followed. Ball said one of the Senators told him the Committee suggested to Mansfield that they would like an opportunity to talk privately with the President—to consult in a friendly and sympathetic way, to give the President their ideas. B didnʼt think this would be desirable because it would lead to every other committee wanting to do the same thing. Pres. agreed this wouldnʼt work. B said Mansfield had not promised it to them and B knows he will protect the Pres. on it. So far as the general tone is concerned, B didnʼt get the same feeling that he had before House Committee of an undercurrent of criticism. Their problem is they donʼt know how to talk to their constituents. They donʼt know whether we see the light for a permanent advantage for the US at the end of the road. They are not convinced there is a way out. They are working hard on it and B hadnʼt heard anything about blowing everything up. Pres. asked about Fulbright; B replied he took his familiar line—he didnʼt see where we were going and why the commitment.

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B continued most questions were on the relationship between the Communist world—the split and what it meant in terms of settlement. They are seeing the whole problem in larger context than they did before. They see it as a serious problem of American policy vis-à-vis Communist effort. There was a much higher level of understanding than in the past and B believes over time we can bring them along on a sympathetic basis. This was true with not only Hickenlooper but Mundt as well.

Pres. said he would hate to rewrite the speech and asked that B look at it and give him his judgment.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Ball Papers, Vietnam II. No classification marking.
  2. Document 18.
  3. In a 2:25 p.m. conversation with President Johnson, Ball indicated that his preference was not to refer to direct contact between the United States and the DRV. (Johnson Library, Ball Papers, Vietnam II) In his State of the Union message delivered to a joint session of Congress that evening, President Johnson reviewed the peace offensive but did not mention direct contact. For text of the message, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966, Book I, pp. 3–12.
  4. For text of Ballʼs testimony, see Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Historical Series), vol. XVIII, pp. 39–104.