54. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

The meeting2 might be broken into two parts:

  • —a decision on the message to London which is urgent;
  • —a discussion of the other issue posed in the attached memorandum.3

With respect to the first part there are two questions:

  • —do we permit Wilson to go ahead with his formulation?
  • —do we extend Tet?4

I suggest, therefore, that you open the meeting by asking Secretary Rusk this question: Can we proceed down this track while resuming operations at the end of Tet (6:00 P.M. our time Saturday;5 the last we can stop it is a message dispatched 10:00 A.M. Saturday)?

When that is settled, we can march through the other issues.



Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson6

Mr. President:

Here are some of the questions we ought to answer in our own minds before we flash London, where a response is necessary by about 3:30 p.m., even though we do not have to decide all of them now or inform London now.

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How do we assure ourselves that infiltration has stopped? (The exact language of your letter to Ho7 is: “I am assured.”)

Possible answer: We stand down our bombing in the short run when we have Ho’s word backed by the UK/USSR. We do not move to the next step, however—“stop augmenting our forces”—until unilateral U.S. military surveillance and Westy’s judgment tell us infiltration has, in fact, stopped. In the longer run, we shall need our own unilateral surveillance, plus third country forces, to make this guarantee stick; for example, ICC countries, third country Asians, possibly even UK/USSR.

How many days before we stop augmenting our forces? What relation of that interval to our “assurance” infiltration has stopped? As indicated, we do not stop augmenting our forces until Westy tells us infiltration has stopped. (FYI. It was for this reason that I wanted the letter to Ho to contain the phrase “I am assured.” You have a right to say when you are assured.)

What is Hanoi’s choice of a channel for subsequent negotiation? Or do we have, if this deal goes through, merely a more limited war inside South Vietnam?

Obviously we must try to move as fast as possible towards negotiations to end the war inside South Vietnam.


If we negotiate bilaterally with Hanoi, how do we engage Saigon and NLF in military/political negotiations to end the fighting within South Vietnam?

This is a question of our persuading Ky to put himself into that posture and Hanoi persuading the NLF to respond. This is extremely delicate because Ky will have to know precisely how steady we are in all this:

  • —how tough we are going to be on guaranteeing that infiltration has stopped before we stop augmenting our forces;
  • —how firm we are going to be in interpreting the Manila pledge for troop withdrawals against withdrawals of North Vietnamese forces to the North;
  • —above all, that we shall be firm in insisting on carrying through an orderly constitutional process on a one-man one-vote basis and in sending the NLF into the Government in Saigon.


What do we say when bombing stops or we do not resume bombing at the end of Tet?

We shall have to make clear that we can only hold a “cat’s got our tongue” position for a relatively few days. The first explanation that bombing has stopped should be a straight military announcement by [Page 121] our military authorities in Saigon that their evidence indicates infiltration has stopped. This would remove from Hanoi the necessity publicly to announce that infiltration has stopped.

Now the urgent gut question: Do we extend the Tet truce? Part of the Tet truce? The fact is we must send a cable to Westy and Ky not later than 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.8 We cannot expect a response from Hanoi to the British until the hoped for Kosygin message for a day or so at least. Unless Hanoi or the NLF get in touch with Ky very promptly, and respond to his initiative, I would recommend that we resume the war in the South but continue to hold down the bombing of the North for a few days, with this possible exception: the bombing of the supplies and forces just North of the DMZ if there are any really ominous movements. The reason for this suggestion is that it will provide some security cover for the negotiation—we could allegedly hold the planes down for weather reasons—and we ought not to let the forces in the South sit still until we are clear that a negotiation to move towards peace is envisaged between ourselves and Hanoi on the one hand, and Saigon and the NLF on the other. Whatever we decide between now and 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, we must have Wilson tell Kosygin so that there can be no misunderstanding and no claim that we “blew a chance for peace.”
Do we permit Lodge to inform Ky? Who else should be informed if we respond positively on this message to London? If we give Wilson the assent to put in this piece of paper, I am confident that we are duty bound to inform Ky immediately. More than that, I think it necessary to give him a quite full picture of the track we envisage. It would not be very difficult to panic the government and the Constituent Assembly, which would be true disaster. From the moment we send that message, we must treat them as partners in this difficult venture of ending the war. It is also perfectly clear that Westy must know what we are up to. As for Holt, Park, etc., we could possibly wait until we have Hanoi’s response.

Should not the two Co-Chairmen reaffirm their support of the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962 and their responsibility for assuring that they will now be implemented? Should that assurance be public? Private?

Since what is envisaged here is something the two Co-Chairmen might, if they agree, send to Hanoi and Washington as an understanding, urging its acceptance, the issue of reassurance on the Geneva Accords can be separated. It is, however, our interest that publicly, or [Page 122] privately, (or both) this reaffirmation be one result of the London meeting of Kosygin and Wilson.9

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Sunflower Plus [2 of 2]. No classification marking.
  2. The President, Rusk, and McNamara met in the Cabinet Room from 3:19 to 5:12 p.m. to work out the message that would be sent to Kosygin. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) No notes of this meeting have been found. For the message, see Document 51.
  3. A handwritten notation in parentheses by Rostow reads “on its way in 5 minutes.” The memorandum is printed below.
  4. The President wrote “No” after this sentence.
  5. February 11.
  6. Top Secret; Sunflower.
  7. Document 40.
  8. The urgency was due to the fact that resumption of aerial bombardment was scheduled for 6 p.m. February 11; the latest that the President could counter-order the resumption would be at 10 a.m. that same day.
  9. In a memorandum to the President, February 11, 8:35 a.m., Rostow wrote: “I know it’s clarified in my mind, but what I think we have now is not an A–B proposal but an A–B–C–D proposal that makes sense and which we can justify to ourselves and before the world. A. Ho informs us that infiltration has stopped. B. On the basis of his assurance, we stop bombing the North. C. We surface in Saigon as a military fact that infiltration appears to have stopped and Hanoi either:—keeps silent; or—says we never did infiltrate, we are not infiltrating now, and invites people in to see. D. When that condition has been achieved and announced, we announce that further augmentation of our forces will not take place.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Sunflower [1 of 2])