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

Rostow: Here’s the possible draft, sir. “We’ve considered the case for a further delay to receive a message from Hanoi beyond 10:00 a.m. British time, which you suggested. I’ve gone into this with my senior advisers, and we are prepared to hold for receipt of the North Vietnamese assurance until 11:00 a.m. Washington time, 4 p.m. your time.”

President: Add “postpone,” or “delay” or something. Hold is not a good word. Let’s say …

Rostow: “To delay"?

President: Let’s see if we can tie it to their suggestion, “to attempt to comply with the thoughts you expressed or imparted,” or something like that. Read what you’ve got there again.

Rostow: “I’ve gone into this with my senior advisers, and we are prepared to …”

President: “… and after carefully considering your suggestion and thorough evaluation of the problems you present, the problems here, and the morale …”

Rostow: That comes in later.

President: “… of our uniformed men, we are extending the time"—6 hours, is it?

Rostow: That’s right.

President: “Six hours.” Something like that. Then give your times.

Rostow: “After carefully considering your suggestions, the problems you present, and the problems …”

President: “… and the problems here.”

Rostow: “and the problems here, including …”

President: “… the morale of our uniformed men, we …”

Rostow: “We shall.”

President: “We are extending …”

Rostow: “We are extending.”

President: “… we are extending the time as you suggested, but feel national interest requires extending the time as you suggested as long as we feel the national interest permits …”—or something like [Page 157]that—”… for extending the time for six hours, which we believe, all factors considered, is as long as we can justify.”

Rostow: “… for 6 hours … as long … justify.”

President: “As long as we believe is advisable,” maybe.

Rostow: Yeah, I think that’s better.

President: “As long as we believe is advisable.”

Rostow: “As long as we believe is advisable.” Right.

President: I would say something, “Our senior military men have opposed not only Tet truce but all extensions thereto.”

Rostow: “You should understand …”

President: Yes. “I believe you would want to know that our military advisers have unanimously opposed not only Tet truce but all extensions thereto.”

Rostow: “Our senior military men.”

President: Yes, “have unanimously.” “Our Joint Chiefs and commanders in the field have unanimously opposed—Our Joint Chiefs and General Westmoreland—Our Joint Chiefs, CINCPAC, and General Westmoreland have unanimously opposed Tet truce and any extension thereto.” That’s true, isn’t it?

Rostow: Yes, sir.

President: Buzz had a pretty strong letter yesterday on it.2 I believe you would want to know.

Rostow: [inaudible]

President: Right. I’d say, “not only on the ground of morale but on the cost in human lives, in American lives—not only on the ground of morale but on the cost in American lives.”

Rostow: “… not only on the ground of morale but on the cost in American lives.”

President: All right. “Therefore …”—give them the times announcement.

Rostow: “Unless we get his assurance, military operations …”

President: I wouldn’t say “unless.” I’d say “we will wait for assurance until.”

Rostow: All right. “We will wait for assurance for a receipt.”

President: “We will wait for any information—we will wait for any forthcoming information—we will wait for any information that may be forthcoming until 11:00 o’clock our time and …” whatever it is.

[Page 158]

Rostow: “4:00 p.m. your time. Unless military operations against the North—unless we get that—I have assurance, military operations will resume between 11:00 a.m. and …”

President: I wouldn’t say “unless.” How’s that sentence go now? “We will wait until 11 our time for any information that may be forthcoming, and—but military operations will not be delayed beyond that point—that time.”

Rostow: “Military operations will resume between 11 a.m. and noon.”

President: That’s right—“will be authorized to resume, but may not resume—will be permitted,” is what I’d say. “Be expected to resume” or “permitted to resume.”

Rostow: All right … “permitted to resume” … “our time.” I had some more palaver, if you do want to hear that.

President: Yeah.

Rostow: “In making this decision, I bore in mind their problems of transmittal in two ways. But I have also been conscious of the fact they have had the possibility of responding to this message with the 3 months since it was given to the Poles and you gave it to the Russians, in the 5 days since it was transmitted directly to Hanoi and given by you to Kosygin. If there is any interest in some such A–B proposition, there has been ample time for them to either agree or come back with a counter-proposal. Your gallant last-minute effort, which I was glad to back, is one on which they must move fast in any case. On receiving it, they must be either be ready to make a response …”

President: I wouldn’t say “on which I was glad to back"—“on which I agreed to—on which I consented to …”

Rostow: “On which I consented to support… “

President: No—“On which I consented to …”

Rostow: Oh, I see. I got it sir. “On which I consented to …” Got it.

President: Go ahead.

Rostow: “… is one which they must move fast in any case. On receiving it, they must either be ready to make a response or not. A few hours either way cannot be significant.”

President: I wouldn’t say “move fast.” I’d say “move.” That implies …

Rostow: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. “You must also bear in mind that the offer for a reciprocal deescalation remains available to them when we resume bombing the North.”

President: Cut out “also.” Just say “you must bear in mind” or say “bear in mind.”

[Page 159]

Rostow: Yes, sir. Right. “Bear in mind the offer for reciprocal de-escalation remains available to them when we resume bombing the North.”

President: “Bear in mind” what?

Rostow: “Bear in mind that the offer for a reciprocal de-escalation remains available to them when we resume bombing the North. The channel to open up discussions …”

President: I wouldn’t say that. “Bear in mind that the offer to"—what is it?

Rostow: “For a reciprocal de-escalation.”

President: “… for a reciprocal de-escalation has not been withdrawn.”

Rostow: I think that’s good—“has not been withdrawn …”

President: “… and can be accepted any moment they desire to do so—they may desire to do so. Even though operations are in effect, they could be suspended momentarily.”

Rostow: The way I have it there was—“I also had to bear in mind my responsibilities to the men in the field.” But you’ve already got that in. “They must be in a position to protect themselves. Right now supplies and weapons are moving down at a high rate.”

President: I’d leave that in right now.

Rostow: “Bearing in mind their safety and their morale, I could not spare my responsibilities for another extension beyond those 6 hours. Hope you have a good chance to catch up on sleep after this arduous and interesting week.”

President: I wouldn’t—I’d leave—I’d cut out the first sentence on troops, and the next one—read that second one you read. “Men and supplies are moving down right now.”

Rostow: “Right now supplies and weapons are moving down at a high rate,” which is true, incidentally, sir. “Bearing in mind their safety and their morale …”

President: “Bearing in mind the safety of more than a half million of our men—more than half a million of our men …”

Rostow: “I could not spare my responsibilities for an extension beyond those 6 hours.”

President: I want to make it positive. “I feel that to grant in part—to go along in part with your suggestion for an extension is—could be costly, but I am so anxious—but I desire so much to cooperate fully, I have extended it for an additional 6 hours.”

Rostow: Could you do that again, sir? “I feel that to go along in part with your suggestion for an extension …”

President: Now wait a minute. Read it again.

[Page 160]

Rostow: “Bearing in mind the safety of more than a half million of our men, I feel that to go along …”

President: “… in part with your suggestion …”

Rostow: “… to go along with part of your suggestion …”

President: “… by extending—I can go along in part—I should—bearing in mind …”—read that again.

Rostow: “Bearing in mind the safety of more than a half million of our men, I feel …”

President: “… that I should go along in part with your suggestion—I should go as far as possible to meet your suggestion—go as far as possible to meet your suggestion, and therefore am stretching the resumption time by another—by extending—stretching the beginning of military operations—stretching the beginning of military operations by extending the resumption time another 6 hours. Considering all the time and conversation that have gone on before, this …”3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rostow, February 12, 1967, 11:17 p.m., Tape F67.06, Side A, PNO 1. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. See Document 62.
  3. For the telegram as sent, see Document 74.