172. Notes of Meeting1

Pres[ident]: I believe we should brief the House and Senate on the bombing restrictions. It may be we should brief the press.

C[lifford]: I have been on the phone all morning about it.

K[atzenbach]: Mood on Hill is terrible.2 I think you should say you are going up to the 20th parallel. We must do this—otherwise, we take Hanoi off the hook. 1st target selected was a bad one.

P[resident]: I wouldn’t amend the decision. I would clarify it. Tell them where the line is if necessary.

Pres.: We stopped hitting 90% of the population and we have nothing in return. Did you tell Fulbright it was 20th parallel?

C: It was Saturday evening.3 I told him it was the 20th parallel.

Pres.: I want the 4 of you to meet with them on it. Show them the Tass comments.4 Momyer scared me about the order we already had issued. Said NVN trucks were running with lights on.

W[alt] R[ostow]: Trucks are now running with lights on at night. They are getting a lot of them through.

Pres.: I think they have 12 inches and they want 6.

C[lark] C[lifford]: Russell was concerned about us limiting ourselves at a time when men are coming through. He thought pause was a mistake.

Pres.: What was the theory of taking out the 20th parallel?

Katzenbach Wanted to relate the pause functionally rather than geographically.

G[eorge] C[hristian]: The problem is that speech5 said we are stopping bombing in area of DMZ. This attack was 200 miles north of the DMZ.

[Page 502]

C: If we limit ourselves below 20th they will take advantage of it. It would be grave mistake to go below 20th parallel. Odds are 100 to 1 Hanoi will turn us down. Best thing we can do is to show a continuing effort. We have done that. We told Dobrynin it was 20th parallel.6

Pres.: Military can say they intend to bomb right up to 20th parallel.

Helms: Impression of speech was it was squeezed tight to DMZ.

Clifford: Might prepare clear statement of where we are—to give intent. Give statement to press and to Congress.

Pres.: Statement won’t stop it. Have to have briefings on the Hill.

Clifford: I think everything we need to say can be put in a statement.

Katzenbach: Can’t you say concentration will be so. [south] of Vien, with certain targets north.

Clifford: Nothing wrong with that.

Pres.: Read section of speech given Sunday night (insert). Does that trouble any of you?

Wheeler: Not I.

P: 1st call I got after speech was Mrs. McCarthy; Ted Kennedy; Ernest Gruening; George McGovern. I knew something was wrong when all of them approved.

(Harry McPherson enters with text of remarks which was shown Fulbright and Mansfield.)7

C: I do not think all of us should go up with a briefing, which …

R[ostow]: It is 180 degrees from DMZ to 20th parallel.

P: How far was this target from DMZ?

W[heeler]: 205 nautical miles.

C: 90% of our sorties have been along DMZ. Only 10% up in the northern [part]. The President’s purpose was to take a unilateral step to reduce significantly the level of violence. Consequently, attacks have halted in the area of North Vietnam containing almost 90% of its population and three-fourths of its land. In the remaining quarter of NVN—from the 20th parallel just north of Thanh Hoa south to the DMZ—where in the President’s words “the movement of troops and supplies are a threat to allied forward positions,” attacks are continuing. This area—known as the Panhandle—is the funnel through which troops & supplies must flow both directly south to the DMZ & west to the Ho Chi Minh trail directly to the battlefront.

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P: Mansfield got impression it was “just” north of DMZ. This pause is only going to aggravate the hawks and won’t please the doves.

WR: I thought Dobrynin took it seriously and would report it so. We took cities and main population centers off.8

[Omitted here is discussion of the situation in the Middle East and the Pueblo crisis. Additional unattributed remarks written presumably by the President read: “1. Refer troop level to Pentagon. 2. No more troops levels until I approve. Where they are used against our men. Over 90% of sorties were within 50 mi. of DMZ. In no event bombing will not be north of 20th parallel.”]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. Transcribed from a handwritten text. The meeting, which took place at a luncheon in the Mansion of the White House, began at 1:01 p.m., but there is no indication when it ended. The President returned to the Oval Office from the Mansion at 4:55 p.m. Those attending were the President, Clifford, Katzenbach, Helms, Wheeler, Rostow, Christian, and Tom Johnson. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. That morning on the Senate floor, Fulbright led an attack on the bombing cutback, describing it as “not a significant change at all” and a move that was unlikely to induce North Vietnam to enter into negotiations. Mansfield noted that the President’s “inexact language” left room for interpretation of the extent of the halt. See The New York Times, April 3, 1968.
  3. March 30.
  4. On April 1 the Soviet news agency Tass described the offer by Johnson as not conforming to DRV demands to enter into talks, as reported in The New York Times, April 3, 1968.
  5. See Document 169.
  6. See Document 168.
  7. McPherson came in at 1:37 p.m. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary)
  8. The next day the administration released a statement specifying the 20th parallel as the restriction line and explaining that the President had left the reference vague so that the United States would not be committed to a fixed sanctuary. See The New York Times, April 3, 1968.