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

Mr. President:

Claiborne Pell came in at 6:00 tonight with the attached letter and memorandum of conversation for you.2

We’ve known one another a long time, but he began by saying quite formally that, as a Senator, he would like to ask for an interview with you. He said he had only asked to see you three times. Of these, two had turned out to be useful, in his judgment: that is, his presentation of his views on Germany and the railroads.

Now he was asking to talk with you directly face to face on Viet Nam.3

I promised to deliver his message.

He said that he was “disappointed” in the interview. He had flown over on Sunday night4 and returned on Monday night from Paris. Despite his disappointment, it should be noted: [Page 543]

  • Bo’s formula is exactly like Kosygin’s. They have dropped “permanent” in discussing a cessation of bombing;
  • —they say negotiations “will begin” rather than “could begin.”

I explained to Pell how difficult it would be to stop bombing if they continue to violate the DMZ and put pressure on our men in I Corps. He said it was for precisely that reason that he pushed “mutual de-escalation” as part of the package ending the bombing.

This request of Bo to see Pell fits in with a number of other indications we have had, stemming from North Vietnamese rather than from Eastern Europeans.

Since the roads in Laos are out with rain, the question to raise with the Vietnamese by one or another of our channels is simply this: if we stop bombing, will you stop crossing the DMZ?

If we wanted to make it more subtle and take into account the problem Kosygin raised with Wilson about the units now in the South, we could say: would you stop sending military units or formations across the DMZ? Implicitly that would mean that fighting would have to stop but they could still try to infiltrate replacement supplies into the South, if we couldn’t catch them.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President, 6/1–8/2/67, Vol. I. Confidential. The notation “L” on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. These attached documents, not printed, relate to Pell’s meeting of June 19 with Mai Van Bo, DRV commercial representative in France. In the memorandum of conversation, Pell recounted his 1-day trip to meet with Bo. According to Pell’s memorandum, Bo told him that the DRV would enter into negotiations with the United States if the bombing was ended “without condition.” Pell asked Bo, who was returning to Hanoi for consultations, to ask his superiors to consider an expanded pre-cessation agreement on mutual de-escalation. The Senator considered the meeting important due to Bo’s statement on bombing and an expressed “willingness to negotiate very shortly after cessation of bombing.” According to a de-briefing of Pell by Bundy on June 29, the Senator had missed a previously-arranged meeting with Bo on May 27 in Paris, a period when Pell traveled to the Pacem in Terris conference in Geneva. (Memorandum of conversation by Bundy, June 29; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET) During the same conference, Bo spoke along the same lines with Baggs and Ashmore; a report of the meeting is in a memorandum from Ashmore and Baggs to Katzenbach, June 14. (Ibid., POL 27–14 VIET/AZTEC)
  3. Johnson finally met with Pell to discuss his effort on July 13. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No notes of the meeting have been found. Rostow asked for the opinion of the State Department; Read reported in a July 31 memorandum: “The Department feels that as presented this formula would not be a workable solution to the Vietnamese conflict.” (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. 2 B, Misc. Memos) In early August Pell missed an opportunity to meet with Bo, but did receive a message from him on August 30 stating that Bo had “nothing new to say.” Pell sent it to Bundy on September 14, who forwarded it to the President. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Top Secret WPB Chron., Sep/Oct 1967)
  4. June 18.