122. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk1

President: [Robert Kennedy] is doing it all over Europe, and so on and so forth. So he brought it up himself. He has no business doing it. I told him not to go over there and start explaining Vietnam; talk about others things until they brought it up, [then] he could answer it. But he just did it. I think maybe we ought to send him something from what you said today.2 So, I guess that tickers will have it over there. So, you could say that we replied affirmatively, definitely, and positively, and they again said no.

Rusk: I’ll get my transcript right over to him.

President: I think that would be good. Now, I see you’re going to be on “Today,”3 in the morning. I think that if they ask that question—or they ought to ask it—on did we harden ourselves, I think we ought to say no. We’ve taken the position that if they want us to stop, they had to be reciprocate [sic], and say, “Now, don’t you think this would [Page 293] be unreasonable if we said to them we demand that you stop everything in South Vietnam while we continue to bomb; well, then, don’t you think its unreasonable when they say to us you stop everything and we’ll continue.” You’ve used that three or four times, and it always makes a hit with me and I think everybody else listening to it. And then I’d answer Bobby and hit him hard. Not Bobby himself, but I would just say that the President said, “We’ll do more than we’ve ever agreed to do before. We’ll not only stop bombing; if you’ll stop infiltrating, we’ll stop augmentation. We’ll do something extra. Now, if this doesn’t suit you, you tell us what you want to do,” and he left it wide open, and then came along. Nobody can defend Ho Chi Minh when he’s acting that way. Some something like that, because that’s got everybody confused. They say “Why did we get harder?” and we don’t really hit it head on, and I think we got to.

Rusk: I’ll do that in the morning. Thank you.

President: Right.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, March 28, 1967, 4:14 p.m., Tape F67.10, Side A, PNO 2. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. For Rusk’s statement, which was critical of the North Vietnamese leadership for its apparent rejection of the recent peace formula proposed by U Thant, see Department of State Bulletin, April 17, 1967, pp. 618–624.
  3. The “Today” show, a morning news program on broadcast television.