173. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

With respect to the Hanoi TPP:

Sect. McNamara is anxious that we permit attack by the four aircraft with Walleye at the earliest possible time. He fears that if we don’t conduct the attack immediately, we will get into George Brown’s visit to Moscow on May 18,2 then Buddha’s birthday;3 etc. As you know, he is quite prepared for a cutback in our targeting pattern; but he feels that it will be very difficult to hold unless the Hanoi TPP is out, and he can claim with the JCS that all the truly significant targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong area have been hit.
I do not know what position Sect. Rusk will take, but I do know they have been trying in the State Department to work up a way of using our cutback in targets to put some kind of direct or indirect pressure on the Russians to move us towards a settlement of the war. Such an effort does not necessarily imply that we should hold attack on the Hanoi TPP; but there could be argument that we hold that target as a “hostage.” Therefore, we face tomorrow two decisions:
  • —Should we attack the Hanoi TPP immediately?
  • —What, if anything, do we tell the Russians—and when—about our proposed change in bombing pattern?
If we take out the Hanoi TPP, there would be some virtue in discussing with them our proposed change in bombing pattern soon thereafter, if we talk to them at all. The reason: so they read it correctly as the end of one phase of our attack on North Viet Nam and not as a [Page 413] symbol of a new round of escalation. Dobrynin, incidentally, is not expected back until the end of the week at the earliest.
The central problem in talking with the Russians is that if we tell them that we’ve run out of good targets and are going to stand down, generally speaking, to the 20th parallel, they may simply heave a sigh of relief that some of the pressure is off them and go about their business. They will also tell Hanoi—which is having a quite rough time—and they will also relax (see attached report).4 What the Russians are afraid of is a confrontation that might arise from mining Haiphong or other operations in the North that would increase the pressure on them from Hanoi and from the demonstration of their relative impotence to defend a Communist country.
If we say anything to them, it might be that we propose to do this for a while. We obviously cannot stop bombing unconditionally and permanently, given what is happening across the DMZ; but they have a certain amount of time in hand in which to demonstrate what they can do to bring peace without serious bombing in the Hanoi/Haiphong area. We will be watching their efforts with interest.

In any case, I wanted you to have some feel for the issue that will be before you tomorrow at lunch.

W.W.R. 5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXXI. Top Secret.
  2. British Foreign Secretary Brown planned to visit Moscow May 19–26. Brown told Rusk that he did not think that the Soviets would be amenable to engaging in further peace moves, especially the resumption of their role as Geneva Co-chairman, at the present time. (Memorandum of conversation, May 10; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 UK) In telegram 4879 from Moscow, May 12, Ambassador Thompson also agreed that any such initiative would be “unlikely” to appeal to the Soviet leadership. (Ibid., POL 27–14 VIET S) However, in a May 12 memorandum to Rusk, Cooper recommended that Brown be authorized to submit a “revised, more elastic version” of the formula to bring about talks that specifically related Hanoi’s cessation of infiltration to an end in the U.S. troop build-up (and not to the initial step of a bombing halt). Rusk approved the measure. (Ibid.) On May 15 the request was transmitted to Bruce for delivery to Brown in telegram 194946 to London. (Ibid.)
  3. A military stand-down did occur on Buddha’s birthday, May 23.
  4. Not found.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.