178. Notes of Meeting1

W[alt] R[ostow]: 1st item is what should we say this afternoon.

Pres[ident]: I have said we are studying it.

WR: We should add, “we are consulting with our allies.” That is a note we should strike.

Pres: I agree with Bill Bundy’s points of this morning.

Katz[enbach]: There are 2 points—1) Must say consulting w/ allies; 2) You should make an affirmative response. We should not create public appearance of hesitancy.

C[lark] C[lifford]: Showed Pres. the language of their translation.

Pres: O.K. Katzenbach, Clifford and Harriman go to treaty room and get Goldberg to go over it. We will issue it.

WR: Urgent cable to Saigon. We have a draft cable.2

Helms: Effect of this on GVN will be terrific.

Pres: We must prevent everybody from getting hopes up. We must be aware of it.

Katz: Nobody disagrees with that.

[Page 526]

WR: We can improve the pace of the negotiations by military means.

Pres: I would not change bombing order in north. If we have to go up to Route Package 4, let’s look at it here first because newspapers & critics will make it appear we are not of a peaceful mind. I don’t believe any Pres. has followed his advisers more closely or backed them more with his support. I have tried to be as restrained as I could.

CC: The debate in the Senate has been washed away by events. Hanoi responded in manner beyond (their) furthest dreams.

Pres: It’s easier to satisfy Ho Chi Minh than it is Fulbright.

CC: Let’s keep mil. pressure on in SVN & along DMZ. Also call up reserves. That has a salutary effect on Hanoi.

Pres: Look at Wisconsin—most pacifist state in Union. Nixon vote & Johnson vote & Reagan vote show support for our position vs. McCarthy.3

CC: Timing—when should it be released?

Taylor: We must get the GVN on board. Let’s not rush into it.

Pres: We are not rushing. Ought to do 2 things: 1) ought to go out to Bunker; 2) get statement out.

Goldberg: I agree. We cannot hesitate. For first time they have been willing to meet to discuss circumstances for a complete pause.

WR: Isn’t it to go into diplomatic contact saying Averell and Tommy [Thompson] are heading for Geneva?

Katzenbach Statement today has to be affirmative in view of past statements.

(Katz, Clifford, Goldberg retired to work on statement.)

Bundy: [I] have consultative messages ready to go.

Rostow: After this, have balanced statement to people urging unity—say exploring …

Pres: I don’t know. Let’s be awfully careful. Westmoreland didn’t want me to get into Tet. People who will violate that will violate anything. Let’s listen to old hands. That’s why I have Tommy & Averell & Max Taylor. Let’s look & think & get collective wisdom. Let’s look at it carefully. Time to keep your head is when everybody else loses theirs.

Thompson: What will objective of talks be?

Taylor: Should we push our agenda?

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Bundy: Contacts are one thing. Substantive talks are another. Talks are whole different area of sensitivity.

Taylor: We can explore dimensions of problems.

Thompson: The first thing is the San Antonio formula. Soviets—they worry about “productive.”

Harriman: That has been stretched out.

WR: Withdrawal of DRV from 2 northern provinces would be (in) return for stopping bombing in panhandle.

Wheeler: To stop bombing you want something tangible. You can measure withdrawal—also artillery & rocket attacks against DMZ. I want to monitor what they are doing w/recon. planes along DMZ.

Harriman: We must get to see what they will do.

Taylor: Under S.A. formula, I don’t see how you can.

Bundy: We said “attacks across the DMZ”. Have not said any movement along DMZ would be violation.

Wheeler: They have no right in DMZ. Neither do we.

Taylor: Talks should be (on) mutual de-escalation.

Harriman: There must be no danger to our men. The Pres.’ speech has supplanted S.A. speech.

Wheeler: I agree.

Taylor: S.A. formula has been mentioned in Pres.’ Sunday night speech.

Bundy: There must be over-flights. No give on that.

WR: Critical element will be what fellows are doing on the ground. If we are chewing them up we are in much better negotiation stance.

Harriman: If we can gradually reduce military action, that is good.

WR: Then get beefed up ICC into DMZ.

Thompson: What about our reinforcements?

Bundy: The gut issue is what is normal rate of infiltration.

Goldberg: I think you should give the statement personally.

[Unattributed remarks:] Changes—made a statement which includes the following paragraph with respect to peace in Vietnam & Southeast Asia. Copy of President’s statement inserted.

Bundy: We will have trouble from allies.

Harriman: You are only repeating what you have said all along. They will be just as angry if we …

Katzenbach: How about “as soon as we have consulted with govt. of SVN & other allies.”

Taylor: I like Nick’s formula.

CC: Let’s make it a clean & complete acceptance.

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Pres: How will we establish contact?

WR: Through Vientiane. One thing that can wreck this for us is for allies to collapse under us.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. Transcribed from Tom Johnson’s handwritten notes. Those attending the meeting, which lasted from 3:15 to 5:05 p.m., were the President, Clifford, Wheeler, Katzenbach, Bundy, Helms, Rostow, Goldberg, Harriman, Thompson, Christian, and Tom Johnson. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary)
  2. Telegram 141172 to Saigon, April 3. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  3. On April 2 McCarthy won the Democratic primary and Nixon won the Republican primary in Wisconsin. Small yet significant primary ballots were also cast for Johnson, whose name remained on the ballot, and for Reagan, who was not officially a candidate but represented the Republican conservative wing.