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

President: Yeah.

Rostow: I gave David [Bruce] the line. He says that he’d just like to put down his own view of this matter and he’ll file something. He [Page 154] said my feelings won’t be hurt. He just wants to put something down on paper.

President: Oh, he’s wants to be a Goddamned peace-maker.

Rostow: Its very hard to discourage him. He said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. By the way, I don’t feel very strongly. I don’t think anything will come of it.” But he has this vision of Kosygin being the one fellow who was really, because of his fear of the Chinese, really trying to push this thing, and he’d like him to have enough time to talk to his colleagues. The other thing is Bill Bundy told me this was a flight that would be 4 hours. I checked with the NMCC. They say its 4 hours and 50 minutes. And I found a pilot who says that with that kind of plane it might take 5 hours and 35 minutes. So, he might not touch down before the bombing began, but I don’t really think that’s a federal case. But in any case, sir—so David will be filing. We don’t have to tell the British anything right now. I gave—I told David that he would …

President: I wished he wouldn’t file it. Why do we want this in our file when they investigate us? Why in the hell didn’t he just tell you …

Rostow: I tried, very, very hard just for that reason. I didn’t want to say this on the line. I gave him a flat instruction, and it said when you come back, you’ve got time. You don’t have to file now. You don’t have to tell the British right away. Give it to them—they’ve all gone to sleep anyway—give it to them in the morning whatever the time is. And don’t pay any attention to this, but I want to give you my impressions, and …

President: What did he tell you—did he give them to you then? Did he give them to you on the phone?

Rostow: He sure did. I could write an essay on them.

President: Well, why does he want to make a record of them?

Rostow: Well, I don’t know, I guess, he said he wanted Secretary Rusk to consider it, and so on.

President: Tell him you’ll convey them to him.

Rostow: He couldn’t have had … [laughing]. He knew that I’d turned it off to speak to you, and I said, “Now here are the four points,” and I gave them to him. One—we bought his language and his timing. Two—they’ve had it 3 months. Three—they had it direct since Tuesday.2 Four—there’s no reason why if they buy any such proposal they can’t come back when the bombing’s stopped and march through it loud and clear. And he said, well, it might give him a chance to talk to his colleagues or something. He’s for us.

[Page 155]

President: Now who says that he wants to talk to his colleagues? Did he say that? Did Kosygin say that?

Rostow: Of course he didn’t. Kosygin was wholly correct. All Kosygin said was—one, I will transmit. He did not say he will back this. Two—I will sit aside; he said, “I may be regarded as a traitor because this will leave a hundred thousand fellows down there at the mercy of everybody.” Three, he said “That ain’t much time.” But we didn’t fake up the time. Can’t Wilson do arithmetic? Well, sir, I’m just reporting it, sir. I’m just going to open the cot back here, and I’ll be here all night to pick up. So don’t you worry about it. But I do think …

President: Wonder what we’re going to do about it, though? If he goes to—Bruce just wants to make it hard on us, doesn’t he?

Rostow: No, I don’t believe that’s right, sir. I think …

President: Well, is there anything he can tell you about why he hadn’t already told you?

Rostow: No, sir.

President: Why—why then?

Rostow: I guess he wanted just to get them to Secretary Rusk—I don’t know why he wants to file the wires.

President: Why don’t you have Rusk call him and tell him?

Rostow: All right, sir.

President: Have you talked to Rusk lately?

Rostow: Not in the last half hour.

President: Does he favor going ahead?

Rostow: Yes, he does. He’s the one that keeps saying they should have the information and …

President: Answer—he does go ahead. McNamara favors going ahead too.

Rostow: That’s right.

President: I’ll call Rusk and ask him to call this fellow and tell him that he doesn’t want him worrying him in the middle of the night; that he’s glad to get his views and debate it with him and resolve it, and so he ought to tell him.3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rostow, February 12, 1967, 11:03 p.m., Tape F67.05, Side B, PNO 5. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. February 10.
  3. In a telephone conversation later that evening, Rusk told President Johnson that Bruce had agreed not to send the telegram containing his summary of events. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, February 12, 1967, 11:08 p.m., Tape F67.05, Side B, PNO 7)