171. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Senator J. William Fulbright1

Fulbright: Hello?

President: Hello?

Fulbright: Mr. President, Bill Fulbright.

President: Yes, Bill. How are you?

Fulbright: Well, I just wanted to congratulate you on a very great and unselfish act of statesmanship.

President: Well, thank you, Bill. I’m mighty glad to hear it.

Fulbright: I heard it last night and, of course, it was a big surprise to me. It was a very unusual circumstance. I happened to be out making a speech myself, and we suspended it and listened to yours. But you made a very fine impression, and if they don’t respond to it, well, I just can’t understand it at all.

President: We called in—I wanted to talk to you but we didn’t get to talk. They told me—Clark [Clifford] said he was going to talk to you. He thought you’d be back—was it Saturday2 night? Did you come back?

Fulbright: Yes. Clark did call me right after I got back from Arkansas.

President: Well, we talked to Dobrynin yesterday3—I wanted to tell you. We don’t want it out, but I asked him and told him we’d sent for Tommy [Thompson], and that we wanted to go as far as we could in this country without having mutiny in our own forces and that we were going to eliminate everything except that below the pass where they’re directly hitting the DMZ and Mu Gia Pass—that road that’s bumper to bumper. We felt if we didn’t protect that, well, we’d lose thousands of casualties and it would be reprehensible, but that we would be glad if they saw fit not to shove their crash program up our bottom there—to even pull out there if there’s any chance of talking or anything. And we felt that he had a real responsibility and we’d been doing pretty well with them. I knew that hadn’t admitted it, but Thompson thought we [Page 499] had a good record and we’d had lots of things—the consular treaty, and the exchange agreement, and now the non-proliferation. We had a lot of other things we had to live with, and this is a chance for them to show some responsibility. And they were furnishing this equipment, and we weren’t hell-bent on furnishing it and we didn’t want anything. We wanted to pull out. We never had wanted to be there. I’d asked them not to go in there in ’54, unless everybody go in with us. They were there when I came in as President. I had to get out or do the best I could. I’ve done the best I could. I’m sure I’ve goofed and made a lot of errors, but I’ve done the best I know how and I just wished that he’d get his people. Kosygin told me he thought I was—had done about what he expected, and he thought he could market my product at Glassboro, and gave me to believe he thought we were going pretty far. But I never did hear from him. I thought he ought to go all the way now. He [Dobrynin] didn’t say what he’d do—very courteous, very polite, seemed to be very pleased with what we were saying. I didn’t go into the last part of the speech. I thought, though, that it might have taken a little local play away from the proposal here at home. On the other hand, I thought it relieved us of any political connotations or the fact that we’re just trying to do what somebody wanted us to do to get votes. And most people thought it had a better impression in other capitals because it had that on it—that after all, nothing I want except peace. So, he went away, I think, impressed. And we are working very hard. We sent word to the Pope at the same time. We gave U Thant advances through Goldberg. I had General Ridgway and Mac Bundy and a large group of folks in here—about 15—last week, [including] George Ball, and we looked at everything we could do. They spent two days on the briefings and analyzing it. And this seemed to be the thing—we had, I need not tell you, strong divisions in our government on it. I’m going to try to go out and meet some of the military people in a few days to try to hold everything—keep them aboard, certainly, while this is going on.

Fulbright: I think you took a very courageous stand. I don’t know that I can do you a bit of good at all. I’d be willing to try, if you want me, to talk to any of these people. I have been on reasonable relations with Dobrynin and the Polish Ambassador, [and] the Yugoslavian Ambassador.4 I don’t know whether it’d do a damned bit of good, and I don’t want to do it unless you think it might. I just offer that. If there’s anything else I can do to try to persuade them that there’s an opportunity for them, [that] they ought not to pass it up.

[Page 500]

President: Yes, I think that would be good, and—

Fulbright: You want me to do that?

President: Yes. Yes, I think so. Let me see who we talk to and let me call you back or have Clark or Chip [Bohlen] call you.

Fulbright: The three that I know are the Russians, the Pole, and the Yugoslav. I don’t know the—

President: Well, I have the feeling that the Polish have been trying to help us and I believe the Yugoslavs too and I think it would be good to talk to both of them. And I think I would—I would say that we in this country, certainly the President, regardless of what we may differ on anything else, that we had rather find a way to stop the killing of our people, ours and theirs, more than anything else in the world and we’re trying to do it, and if this is not the way, and they’ve got a better one that would endure, we’d like to have it, and that now is the time to let Tommy Thompson and Averell [Harriman] go over there and start something.

Fulbright: Well, I think it is a good play. They really ought to respond. I think it may take them a few days because it probably comes as a great surprise and they’ve been fighting so damned long. It takes a few days for them to kind of—

President: Well, we’re prepared to stay for several weeks. We don’t want to do anything rushed. We talked about Rusk, we talked about Bohlen, we talked about different ones, and they finally thought that Averell had been handling all the talks at all the other countries. But we needed a professional, and so we decided—everybody thought Tommy Thompson was respected and if we had to get the Soviets, he would be the best one with them to use. I hope you think that’s all right.

Fulbright: Yes, he’s a good man.

President: I haven’t talked to him, but that’s what the Departmental people and Clark thought he would be the best. Clark suggested him to me and he’s being of a good deal of help. And I wish you’d spend whatever time you can with him because he respects you and likes you and I think that we can bring the government a little closer together in these days ahead when we all need to be that way.

Fulbright: Yes, Thompson is a good fellow. I like him. That’s fine. I’ll do what I can.

President: Thank you, Bill.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Fulbright, April 1, 1968, 4:03 p.m., Tape F6804.01, PNO 10. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.
  2. March 30.
  3. See Document 168.
  4. Jerzy Michalowski and Veljko Micunovic, respectively.