242. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

Here is Bill Bundyʼs proposed scenario.

I would only add this: October will be a month of prayer among Catholics for peace in Viet Nam. That fact will be politically important in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Therefore, if we go forward with this meeting, we ought to give a lot of thought to making the most of a common plea for peace at the meeting and give maximum emphasis to the civilian aspects of Vietnamese development:

  • —An appeal to the VC and an amnesty offer;
  • —The surfacing of work on a Vietnamese long-term development program;
  • —Forward movement on the Honolulu program; etc.

[Page 653]

As for Billʼs raising the question of the political impact of the conference—at home and abroad—I have these observations: the domestic effect is a matter on which only you can render a judgment; the impact abroad will depend, in the end, on whether the conference produced serious results and an authentic sense of forward movement. In turn, that will depend on having the conference as well prepared as we can by a small first-class, imaginative group.

If we go ahead, I would suggest that we put Bill Moyers, Bill Jorden, Bob Komer, Bill Leonhart, and Len Unger to work virtually full time from the moment you make a positive decision.

I just talked to George Ball to ascertain what Sec. Ruskʼs view was of the enterprise. He is reported as “very enthusiastic.”

Bill Jorden and I think Ky should initiate the meeting—the others should respond. Itʼs their war.


P.S. Now a wild idea. Send a message, in greatest secrecy, to Ho Chi Minh that you want to talk to him personally in, say, Rangoon. You win if he refuses or if he accepts.


Memorandum Prepared by the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy)2


  • Scenario and Issues on a Meeting of Chiefs of Government to Discuss Viet-Nam

The Proposal

The proposal is that a meeting be held in late October in Manila, to be attended by the Chiefs of Government of South Viet-Nam, the US, and the nations contributing military forces in South Viet-Nam—The Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and Thailand. Such a meeting would have the over-all purpose of presenting to the world a dramatic [Page 654] picture of the collective support being given to South Viet-Nam; it would provide an effective occasion for reviewing the military situation at least in general terms, but stress would be placed on the non-military programs and on the posture of South Viet-Nam, the US, and the other participants toward a peaceful settlement.

This memorandum discusses the possible sequence of actions in bringing about such a meeting, and the major issues that should be considered in making plans.

Possible Sequence of Actions

Both Holt and Holyoake have elections, and would feel very hurt if they were not privately consulted before the Asian participants are approached. We believe that both will see no political problem in the proposed meeting—and may well see some advantage. Nonetheless, we should have a quick turn-around with them before we approach the Asians. (Messages for this purpose will be drafted immediately.)
Our next approach should be to South Viet-Nam. Prime Minister Ky and Thieu should both be “consulted” but in a fashion that makes clear that we expect them to agree, and that also makes clear to Ky that this conference would essentially be in lieu of his visiting the US separately. (A message for this purpose will be drafted immediately.)
Marcos, Park, and Thanom should then be approached concurrently; at the same time confirming invitations should go to Holt and Holyoake. Part of our approach to Ky should be to get him to agree to be the inviting party jointly with us, but he should agree also that we will be the ones to handle the diplomatic exchanges in establishing the meeting. (Messages to this effect will be drafted immediately.)
Announcement of the conference could then follow. As one possibility, it should be done concurrently in Saigon and Washington, with confirming announcements in the other four capitals. Alternatively—and perhaps better—Marcos could make the announcement. In view of the minimum period of 2–3 days required to get concurrence from Australia and New Zealand and then from Viet-Nam, it might be possible for Marcos to make the announcement before he leaves US territory on the 27th. However, to seek an immediate announcement without those clearances might well involve serious adverse reactions in Viet-Nam and to a lesser extent in Australia and New Zealand.

In all of the above sequence, it would be desirable, although not essential, to have as clear a picture as possible on the scope of the conference, its duration, and other features. The question of dates should of course be firm in any event.

Issues Requiring Early Decision


Dates. While a successful late October conference would have many great and perhaps decisive advantages, we must reckon that many [Page 655] quarters in the US and significant elements of third-country opinion would relate the timing of the conference to the US elections. However successful the conference in fact turned out to be, its “image” would be up against considerable cynical advance comment and resistance. If Ky later had political trouble—and particularly if that trouble was attributed, however wrongly, to the conference—the possible eventual net loss might be serious. In other words, a conference in late October has possibly greater potential gains but also greater potential losses, than a conference after the US elections.

The alternative date would appear to be in mid or late November, which would not have a favorable impact on our elections but would have somewhat less risks.

In the choice of dates, we do not see the Viet-Nam political situation as a predictable factor arguing either way. The Constituent Assembly will be in operation by late October, and will probably be continuing into November. It is just possible that it will have completed its work by early November, so that Ky would appear in a strong and favorable light in mid-November. On the other hand, the Constitution would represent a milestone on the election of some successor, so that Kyʼs authority and tenure might look more solid in late October.3

Level and Location. We agree completely that a meeting of Heads of Government is the proper level, and that the Philippines is an ideal location. In many ways, however, Manila itself might be less desirable than Baguio. However, this need not be decided before the conference is set up, and Marcos might even suggest a third site.
Scope. The following are considerations and possible useful points.
Since the meeting is based on military contributions, it would be incongruous to omit a review of the military situation. Moreover, the Koreans in particular would undoubtedly welcome and want this. However, we should probably try to confine this element to a simple review and forecast, with no implication that great new decisions on military strategy are being taken. This of course follows the Honolulu pattern.
On the non-military side, the South Vietnamese should play a leading role in presenting a progress report on the actions that have been taken in pacification, economic benefits, and the rest. The communique should stress these elements, and also the South Vietnamese presentation of their political timetable and progress. An additional element which might be stressed in this area is that of plans for post-war reconstruction [Page 656] and development, including the conversion of military facilities to civilian use. At the same time, this theme should not be so stressed as to convey the implication that the participants are confident of early victory.
The communique must contain a firm and clear statement of position on negotiations and the elements of a peaceful settlement. Here we must note that we have not had the fullest possible discussions with the South Vietnamese—although we plan to do so in the immediate future—and that we have never gone deeply into many of the issues with Korea, the Philippines, or Thailand. This suggests the practical need that each participant send its Foreign Secretary, and that the Foreign Secretaries meet separately in the early stages of the conference to hammer out the necessary communique language and to explore as much of the subject as can be profitably discussed. We would have to do careful advance work so that South Viet-Nam, through its able Foreign Minister—Tran Van Do—took as much of a lead as possible.
Duration. Because of time pressures on the Chiefs of Government, two days might have to be the duration of the actual conference, although a third day would have many advantages in cementing the picture of serious and deep discussions. With the time-change adjustment from a long Pacific trip there would be advantage if the President would plan to arrive at least a day before the opening of the conference.
The Philippine Angle. If the conference were held in Manila itself, a call by the President on President Marcos would not add significant time to the schedule. However, we must reckon that there would be significant Philippine pressures for the President to pay his respects to our bilateral relations with the Philippines through some separate speech, a separate reception, or otherwise. If the conference were held outside Manila, such actions might be even more pressed by Marcos.
Possible Additional Visits. It is understood that the President might consider going on to Australia. If so, this reinforces the importance of the first contact being made with Holt. As of now, we would suppose that Holt is fairly certain of reelection and that a Presidential visit would if anything enhance his chances. However, we must reckon that such a visit would involve the US deeply in Australian politics, and would be open to sharp criticism from Holtʼs opponents.

Working Preparations

To get a solid and effective discussion of the issues and particularly to get good presentations by the South Vietnamese, a small and not too conspicuous US team might be sent to Saigon a few days in advance to assist the Mission. Extensive work will obviously be required on all the non-military programs, and General Westmoreland should presumably work with the South Vietnamese military leaders so that they take as much of a role as possible in presenting the military picture. On the diplomatic side, we should try to have careful advance discussions in the various capitals to cover the issues and to prepare the way for the meetings of the Foreign Secretaries.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, International Meetings and Travel File, POTUS Trip, vol. 1. Secret. The source text is marked with an indication that the President saw the memorandum.
  2. Secret.
  3. In a telephone conversation at 12:40 p.m. on September 22, Ball told Rusk that the President wanted to move very fast on the Manila trip and was thinking in terms of October 18, adding that “this may be a little soon but this would be a way of heading off Ky.” (Telcon; Johnson Library, Ball Papers, Vietnam II)