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

Rostow: Mr. President, there are three things of which you should be apprised. You may want me to come up and talk about them, but I’ll tick them off on the phone for you now. One—the North Vietnamese in Moscow have called our man in and said that they have transmitted the President’s message to Ho Chi Minh. It was received, and a reply will be forthcoming. It doesn’t say when.2

President: All right—when did this happen?

Rostow: This just arrived about 15 minutes ago.

President: All right.

Rostow: Two—David Bruce has been on the phone, and Secretary Rusk and Bob McNamara are together, David Bruce was apparently vehement in saying that if we resume bombing even in the southern part of North Vietnam, it’s his judgment that we will remove the possibility of Kosygin’s being helpful for some time to come.3 That’s—I have not talked to David, but Bob and Secretary Rusk are talking about that.

President: Well, now wait a minute—until he leaves, you mean?

Rostow: That’s right.

President: Well, he’s not talking beyond the time he leaves, is he?

Rostow: No, sir.

President: He’s just saying that we shouldn’t do any bombing until Kosygin gets out.

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Rostow: That is correct sir. I told him to get back with you when they talk about this. Time is short because the message should go out about 10 o’clock.

President: Why is it—he’s not afraid of getting hit in London, is he?

Rostow: That’s exactly what I thought [laughing]—I don’t—see, well I can’t—I didn’t hear David, and I just don’t know how solid this is or why. But I just wanted to report that I was informed of this conversation and I wanted to inform you that …

President: All right. Who informed you of it?

Rostow: Ben Read informed me of the conversation. And that’s the second one. The third thing which Ben Read told me about is that they’re having great trouble in London with the tense of our informing, you know—“has stopped” versus “will stop.” And I pointed out to him two things. One—they say it runs contrary to our statement by the Secretary of State that we would act on the future tense. I pointed out to him two things. One—that the deal we’re now talking about is different from any we have ever talked about before. It involves as part of the package the cutting down of augmentation. So it is in diplomatic terms a new situation. The second thing I pointed out to him is that we cannot be put in a position of negotiating about this language with intermediaries; that it would be one thing if we were confronted with Hanoi saying, “Gee this language is difficult for us.” It’s quite a different thing for us to have our position cut back by some intermediaries. In any case, Secretary Rusk and Bob are [convinced] of that point—that the boys in London who are playing around with this thing are playing around with the tense of our language.

President: Now who is that? Is that Kosygin doing that, or is that …

Rostow: No, I think it’s Cooper and Bruce and the British and Soldatov,4 who’s left behind and is part of Kosygin’s party. I just wanted to give you a situation report, sir, so you know what’s going on. I don’t want you to get all behind us in all this, and I’ve got no recommendations—if I had to make them, I’d make them. But I think the first thing to do is for you to know what’s going on. Those three things you should know.

President: All right, what are you—what would be your recommendations?

Rostow: Uhh … I think we can hold the bombing until Kosygin goes, one. Two—I would not change one letter of what we have now said until we hear directly and are dealing directly with Hanoi.

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President: I agree with that. I agree with both of them.

Rostow: That’s my feeling about it.

President: Are they going to want a meeting?

Rostow: I shall find out. I shall talk directly now to Secretary Rusk, but I didn’t want to leave you a little behind, sir.5

President: Fine.

Rostow: Thank you.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rostow, February 11, 1967, 9:49 a.m., Tape F67.05, Side B, PNO 2. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. Thompson reported this exchange in telegram 3451 from Moscow, February 11. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER)
  3. See Document 56.
  4. Alexandr Soldatov, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister.
  5. In a telephone call to the President at 10:08 a.m., Rostow reported that McNamara would “hold his message” and that a meeting would be set up for noon. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rostow, February 11, 1967, 10:08 a.m., Tape F67.05, Side B, PNO 3) The President met with Rostow, Rusk, McNamara, Bundy, and Katzenbach from 12:23 p.m. through 2:26 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) No record of the meeting has been found.