55. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1

Rostow: Bob McNamara, sir, would like to get out by 10 o’clock an operational instruction about the area in which bombing may be resumed at the end of Tet.

President: Yes.

Rostow: May I read you his proposed message?

President: Yes, yes.

Rostow: “Prime Minister Wilson has asked that we defer resumption of military action against North Vietnamese targets until after Mr. Kosygin’s departure from Britain. We’ve told the Prime Ministers that North Vietnam’s use of the Tet cease-fire will substantially increase the volume of their re-supply activities north of the 17th parallel. We have stated we cannot defer beyond the end of the agreed upon cease-fire period attacks upon such supply activities. You are therefore authorized to resume military operations against North Vietnam at 0700 12 February from the 17th parallel as far north as the 20th parallel in accordance with previously existing instructions.”

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President: All right, now, wait a minute. The 12th—is that after he has left?

Rostow: No, sir, that’s before he leaves. That would be only in the restricted area between the 17th and 20th parallels where re-supply is taking place.

President: Well, would that comply with the Prime Minister’s request that we not start back bombing until Kosygin’s out of London?

Rostow: No. We made clear, however, in our message yesterday,2 that we would attack only in that restricted area. We told him yesterday, sir, that we are going to have to resume there.

President: All right, okay.

Rostow: Then we say we will plan to defer attacks in those portions of North Vietnam north of the 20th parallel until after Kosygin’s departure from Britain.

President: And we don’t set a time on his departure?

Rostow: No. We will notify you of that time.

President: Uh-huh, all right. Do we have any firm thing that he’s leaving Sunday3 night?

Rostow: It’s—that was the plan, and I assume he will keep to it. He’s having his final session at Chequers with the Prime Minister on Sunday.

President: Anything else from the Prime Minister?

Rostow: No, only the two messages you read, sir.4

President: What’s your evaluation of those?

Rostow: My evaluation is that the Chinese are trying to break relations with Russia and then blame a failure of Hanoi to win the war on the Russians’ connivance with the U.S. The Russians are going to blame the failure in part on the breakdown of transport through China, and they will use the occasion of the Chinese madness to strengthen their position in Hanoi, if possible, as they are already doing in North Korea, in the Communist Party in Japan, and Indonesia, and he [Kosygin] is positioning himself for the world and the Communist movement. Part of his reason for talking so openly is because he’s trying in the end to say, “These crazy Chinese killed the chance of Hanoi,” and he’s going to exploit this period of madness to try to reconsolidate Moscow control.

President: That’s the future Russia, but now what about the peace that we’re working on?

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Rostow: There’s not a damn thing in those messages that tells us whether it’ll come now or later.

President: All right, what do you think? Are you the 85–15 boy or are you the 95–5 boy?

Rostow: Oh, I’m 85–15, sir.

President: On London and Moscow, Prime Minister and Kosygin, do you think they’re going to develop anything?

Rostow: I think there’s a 15 percent chance, 15 to 20, I’d say, that something will emerge in the next weeks or months.

President: Oh, yes, I agree with that. But I’m talking about between now and Sunday night.

Rostow: That I put at five.

President: Yeah.

Rostow: That depends on only one thing, sir. That depends on what’s going through their head as they stare not at what’s happening in London but at your letter.5 That letter … they’re having to …

President: Well, I’d just as soon not have a damn bit of connection to London, and the better—the easier the better, because the first thing you’ll have, Bobby will have arranged the thing in London. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see that leak tomorrow—that he worked this all out with Wilson. Anybody that’d leak all this other stuff like he did—you just say this with Alsop.6 You better stay close with Alsop every day and tell him how ridiculous these things are without ever mentioning this fellow’s name. But you better just be very objective and show him that you’re carrying out the Alsop plan. And I’d sure give him the stuff on these ships, and I’d give it to him almost from the Joint Chiefs’ viewpoint, not McNamara. Let him …

Rostow: Okay, I’ll stay with Joe.

President: Yeah, go ahead and send that out.

Rostow: Yes, sir.

President: Fine.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rostow, February 11, 1967, 9:15 a.m., Tape F67.05, Side B, PNO 1. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. See Document 51.
  3. February 12.
  4. See Document 53.
  5. See Document 40.
  6. Joseph Alsop, a Washington Post and nationally-syndicated columnist.