189. Notes of Meeting1



  • The President
  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary Clifford
  • General Wheeler
  • Ambassador Bunker
  • Walt Rostow
  • George Christian
  • Jim Jones

Ambassador Bunker arrived at the Aspen House at 8 a.m. The President met him at the helicopter pad.

The President discussed the advisability of canceling the Austrian dinner.2 The consensus was that it should go on if at all possible.

Ambassador Bunker: Thieu is acting like a leader. The Vietnamese forces did better than the press indicated. None of the things the enemy expected to happen happened.

President Thieu has moved ahead on a great many fronts—mobilization, upped it from 65,000; civil side, 14 new province chiefs and will be putting in more, increased taxes by decree and put tax bill to the assembly, ten draft laws on various subjects, closed black market and bars and nightclubs.

He and Ky are working together better. On April 2 their joint press conference tried to put to rest the division—put Ky in charge of Civil Defense. Ky will preside over several councils; and Ky was very [Page 556] pleased. They’re conferring together two or three times a day. I’ve always thought it was manageable.

Ky would like to replace Prime Minister Loc, who is not very effective. He is leaning toward Tranh Van Huong, the best of the lot.

There’s uneasiness about the negotiations. Thieu is calling in corps commanders today to soothe them.3

Everything is in the right direction. Since November 1 this government has really made quite substantial advances.

The Tet offensive gave them confidence, spurred them on. They reacted well on recovery.

The Vietnamese forces are doing well.

General Wheeler: They have more actions going for them than before Tet.

Secretaries Clifford and Rusk: Did the attitude of the American people (Ambassador Diem’s message)4 cause some of this?

Ambassador Bunker: He was very helpful. As far as I can see, the Tet offensive had more effect in the United States than in Vietnam.

It caused a physical and psychological damage, uncertainty, questions about security. But this phase has passed because of good reaction of the military.

Thang carrying on many more initiatives in tough IV Corps where the Viet Cong have been for twenty years. They are making steady progress and much faster progress. There were many elements of strength we didn’t realize were there.

Thieu says Tet offensive based on weakness and not strength … wanted to get to negotiations and willing to sacrifice men to get in better posture.

Thieu thinks they will make one more big effort this summer—to keep the pressure on in I Corps and Highlands; harass cities—airfield—try to hold on to as much real estate as they can, so they can go to negotiations and say “we control a lot of territory.”

The President: What are the big problems now?

Ambassador Bunker: In the Vietnam forces, some changes of command are needed, more equipment and sophisticated weapons. It is very important for their morale to get better guns.

They’re trying to do almost too much. We need to help them on what they can do.

[Page 557]

The negotiations are very sensitive to them. We have to move with deliberate speed; they are worried, apprehensive. I didn’t get to him on the announcement we would talk until thirty minutes after he heard it on the radio.

The indications of sensitivity are: They think they need an Ambassador here who is not quite as close to the United States as Bui Diem.

It is important that I have time to talk to Thieu before the next step. The PF are vulnerable to propaganda. The Viet Cong tell them peace is coming.5

Secretary Rusk: Can’t we do it the other way around?

Ambassador Bunker: They’re under cover, hard to find. But we can do something here.

General Wheeler: They’ve had good intelligence of attack in Pleiku area. They’re trying to spoil it.

(There was then a short break in the meeting.)6

(Ambassador Harriman and Secretary Bundy were invited to fly up for lunch.)

Secretary Rusk: If we do better militarily, will news coverage from Vietnam improve?

Ambassador Bunker: Oh Lord, I don’t know.

Mr. Rostow: How serious is the stagnation in the economy?

Ambassador Bunker: Beginning to pick up. Commodities are moving from the Delta. Viet Cong concentrating more on road interdiction. Moving convoys by water to Delta and back with rice.

The President directed Secretary Rusk at 9:35 a.m. to have Bundy dispatch a reply to DRV.7

[Page 558]

Mr. Rostow: Where is pacification?

Ambassador Bunker: Chieu Hoi low, but better than reports. We are getting out into countryside. Most of RD teams are back. Thieu very good on pacification; wants to simplify system and Komer agrees. Concentrate on hamlets where population is and along the routes of communication.

Pacification’s weakness is that it comes from the top—needs to come from the bottom.

When attack came, they largely bypassed hamlets and attacked cities and towns. Before Tet we figured 5400 hamlets were secure—this is down by 800, but only 200 were attacked and are either contested or under VC control.

In going into negotiations, let’s keep in mind we are strong and not weak.8

Thieu thinks May–October will be enemy’s next big effort. But we’ll never again be surprised. We can defeat them, or we may spoil it before it ever comes off.

I try to be objective. The Tet offensive was harmful, but mostly psychological.

Mr. Rostow: How prepared are they for negotiations?

Ambassador Bunker: Not at all. They think those who want to live under Marxism should go north.

[Page 559]

Mr. Rostow: Have they given any thought to the Viet Cong coming in as a political party, but not in government?

Ambassador Bunker: Not as a party. They realize NLF is highly organized and disciplined, coalition would lead to a takeover like Czechoslovakia.

From the standpoint of the GVN this is not a good time for negotiations. In three or four months they’ll be stronger.

Secretary Clifford: If they are getting stronger, etc., why do they feel such a concern for the NLF?

Ambassador Bunker: They are not afraid of them militarily, but politically. They are fearful if they take to their bosom, they’ll end up running the show.

Walt Rostow: You can reject a coalition if you hold the line, but we are for a one-man, one-vote proposition. The Constitution bars Communism, but does not ban land reform party.

(At this point there was a picture break on the patio—10:45 a.m.)

Ambassador Bunker: It would be a good idea to ask Thieu to meet you in Honolulu just before you see Park.

The President: Get Gorton9 settled down on his date to come here—that leaves several others. Meet Thieu there, send him back out, announce date for State visit.10

I will be in Honolulu early part of next week for a day with Thieu and a day with Park—Monday11 and Tuesday … Thieu on Monday and Park on Tuesday.

Dean, get out to Gorton and others that when the situation makes possible we will be seeing Thieu, not for policy change but to make ready for his visit later.

Ambassador Bunker: Put it up to Thieu to see if he wants to bring Ky.

The President: On the matter of reserves, how much do you recommend on the first call-up?

[Page 560]

Secretary Clifford: 24,500, and do it tomorrow.12

The President: Will Thieu make the 135,000?

Ambassador Bunker: It looks O.K. He wants to do 135,000 plus another 25,000.

The President: What about our equipment for them?

General Wheeler: I think we’ll make it.

Secretary Clifford: Combat units of ARVN have M–16s by June 68, RF and PF in July [will have] 3/4 of M–16s that come out will be going to ARVN.

General Wheeler: From a practical point of view, must arm U.S. troops with M–16 first or the roof will blow off the Capital.

The President: Buzz, are we taking a gamble on not trying to stop infiltration except in Panhandle?

General Wheeler: We lost a little by pulling back. But not on the Hanoi-Haiphong cutback. We are losing something from Than Hoa south to the 19th parallel. We wish we could give a good hard knock in the next day or two.

Secretary Clifford: We feel comfortable with the 19th to avoid mistakes.

General Wheeler: Between Laos Panhandle and strikes above DMZ, we’re using as many sorties as we ever did.

(Averell Harriman and William Bundy arrived at 12:40 p.m.)13

Mr. Harriman: Geneva has many advantages from our point. New Delhi, if in Asia, for the larger talks.

(At this point, the meeting was recessed for lunch.)

The President: Could this be a Tet ploy?

Secretary Rusk: I think they want to get rid of all the bombing of NVN. They seem to want to go through with their part of war full-scale. The first talks will be tough. Hang in there. Either get them to make concessions or get them to take the responsibility for breaking off the talks.

[Page 561]

Walt Rostow: Their military position is not strong, but they think their political position in the United States is strong.

Ambassador Bunker: I agree. I think they’re doing it to exploit our position here.

The President: Would they have come along with feelers if we hadn’t made our speech?

Mr. Bundy: They may have been wanting to tease us. And quickness with which they responded indicated they might have had something in mind, but probably not what resulted.

Secretary Clifford: If they play us for fools, Buzz and I have some choice targets we want to recognize.

Mr. Harriman: They broke the ’62 agreements before the ink was dry. We should see positive results.

The President: The stronger we are offensively, the better our position on negotiations will be.

The group agreed with the President.

The President: Thieu is doing better on TV—reaching a lot of people?

Ambassador Bunker: Yes—and also radio. He is making shorter speeches. He does very well.

2:30 p.m.:

The President: Are we all agreed on draft instructions to Ambassador Harriman? Mr. Clifford?

Secretary Clifford: Yes, sir.14

The President: Gen. Wheeler?

General Wheeler: Yes, sir.

Ambassador Bunker: I have a couple of questions. Can they continue to infiltrate 10,000 and let them continue to use Laos as a corridor? There they’ve built up all-weather roads.

Secretary Rusk: Our assumption has been there would be no more than the general level at the time the San Antonio formula was presented. Perhaps we should talk about reduced infiltration.

[Page 562]

General Wheeler: 6,500 last September.

The President: So they’ve about doubled.

Secretary Clifford: The condition at the time of San Antonio was my position with the Congress.

Ambassador Bunker: The present increases may be able to make up the terrific losses which have occurred.

Ambassador Harriman: What is the most important military de-escalation they can take?

Ambassador Bunker debated whether Laos should be included in efforts to reduce infiltration.

Secretary Rusk and General Wheeler: We ought to at least insist that all parties subscribe to the 1962 Geneva accords. We should re-establish the DMZ.

Ambassador Bunker: The most important thing is to keep Thieu going—don’t let him think we’re selling him out.15

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Meeting Notes File. Top Secret. Drafted by Christian. The notes are a digest of a series of meetings that occurred on April 9 at Camp David. Bunker arrived at Camp David at 8 a.m. with Rusk, McNamara, and Wheeler, and immediately joined the President, Rostow, Christian, and Jones. After breakfast the group met in the living room of the Aspen Lodge from 9:04 until 10:30 a.m. Following brief remarks to a group of reporters, the group continued to meet from 10:50 until 12:25 p.m., when the President left to greet Bundy and Harriman at the helipad. A working lunch began at 12:50 and lasted until 1:25 p.m., when the President retired for a nap. The President rejoined the discussion at 2:15 p.m. The meeting ended at 4:15 p.m., and the President, accompanied by Bunker and Harriman, answered reporters’ questions. Those who had arrived that day returned to Washington at 4:30 p.m. by helicopter. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) For the President’s statements to the press, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book I, pp. 500–502.
  2. Reference is to the scheduled dinner the next day with Austrian Chancellor Josef Klaus.
  3. In an April 8 memorandum to Katzenbach, Habib described the widespread fears of a U.S. “sell out” among South Vietnamese governmental and political leadership. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET)
  4. Not found.
  5. In an April 6 memorandum to Bunker, Komer described Thieu’s acceleration of recruitment for the RVNAF and an administrative revision of the four corps but cautioned about the administrative and military “foul-up” that could come from poor planning for the build-up. (U.S. Army Center of Military History, Dep CORDS/MACV Files, Westmoreland Memos, RWK 1967–1968)
  6. The President made a telephone call to Tom Johnson at 9:04 a.m. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary)
  7. In telegram 5720 from Vientiane, April 9, Sullivan reported that Chan gave him a letter which read: “Pursuant to the note of 8 April 1968, we wish to inform you that, if the government of the United States agrees with the choice of Phnom Penh for the preliminary meeting, the ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to the Kingdom of Cambodia Nguyen Thuong will make contact 12 April 1968 at Phnom Penh with the American representative having the rank of ambassador. This will be a preliminary contact designed to prepare official conversations between the two parties.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/CROCODILE) The message, received in the Department at 2:18 a.m., was sent to Camp David as telegram CAP 80762 where it was received at 7:45 a.m. (Ibid.) The message was preceded by a Radio Hanoi broadcast the previous evening which also offered Phnom Penh as a site for the talks. (The New York Times, April 9, 1968) While the DRV preferred the Vientiane channel, the message was also passed through Moscow. (Telegram 143634 to Moscow and New Delhi and telegram 3435 from Moscow, both April 9; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/CROCODILE)

    Bundy’s reply, transmitted in telegram 143729 to Saigon, April 9, reads in part: “The USG notes that agreement has now been reached that there should be contacts between representatives of the two sides at the rank of Ambassador. We affirm that the American representative will be Ambassador Averell Harriman. In its note of April 4 the USG expressed a preference for Geneva as the place for contacts between representatives of the two sides. The note of the DRV of April 8 expresses preference for Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh presents difficulties for the USG because of technical problems arising from the absence of a United States mission at that location. Therefore, the USG suggests any alternative location equally convenient to both sides, specifically, Vientiane, Rangoon, Djakarta, or New Delhi. Any of these locations would be acceptable to the USG if agreeable to the host Government. Ambassador Harriman would be prepared to meet with a representative of the DRV at a mutually agreed location on Monday, April 15, or as soon thereafter as is agreeable to the DRV. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, the USG notes that none of the Americans recently in Hanoi has been authorized to represent the USG on any of the matters which are the subject of this exchange of notes.” (Ibid.)

  8. In an April 8 memorandum to Bunker, Komer argued that as a result of the enemy’s defeat at Tet, “our bargaining position is a lot stronger than Washington seems to think.” He noted that this position would erode if cleavage between Washington and Saigon arose. “Yet if we can’t convince Washington, we’ll be in a descending spiral out here,” Komer concluded. (U.S. Army Center for Military History, Dep CORDS/MACV Files, Chron. File, Komer (1968))
  9. John Gorton, Australian Prime Minister.
  10. Telegram 144253 to Saigon, April 9, instructed the Embassy to deliver a message from the President inviting Thieu to meet with him at Honolulu on April 18. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence, Pres. Thieu Correspondence) When Thieu expressed reluctance due to the fact that he had yet to determine a replacement for Loc (who for the time being remained Prime Minister), Rostow sent a message from Camp David to Bunker and Bundy in Washington requesting that Thieu come to Honolulu on April 17 or April 18 if possible. A notation on the message, dated April 10, reads: “Amb. Bunker talked with the President—President agreed message should not be sent.” (Ibid., Country File, Vietnam, 1 EE (4), Post Tet Political Activity) Bunker called the President at 2:22 p.m. on the afternoon of April 10 soon after the President had returned to the White House. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  11. April 8.
  12. In a press conference on April 11, Clifford announced the call-up of 24,500 reservists and a new troop ceiling of 549,000. He also stated: “We have concluded that Americans will not need always to do more and more but rather that the increased effectiveness of the South Vietnamese government and the South Vietnamese forces will now permit us to level off our effort and in due time to begin the gradual process of reduction.” For text of Clifford’s remarks, see Department of State Bulletin, April 29, 1968, pp. 552–554, and The New York Times, April 12, 1968.
  13. Before he went to Camp David, Harriman met with Nitze and Warnke at the Pentagon to discuss the military aspects of the upcoming negotiations with the North Vietnamese. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Chronological Files, April 1968)
  14. In notes of the meeting in a memorandum for his personal files, dated April 9, Harriman observed: “Bunker seems to lack an understanding that President Johnson has the balance of this year to carry out his policies, and that there is little chance that American opinion will support a 30-billion dollar war in Vietnam, with the present rate of losses, for much longer. He has not adjusted himself to the realities of the American people’s unwillingness to continue indefinitely at the present rate.” He also described Clifford’s intervention to prevent alteration of instructions for the negotiating team by recommending that Bunker’s proposals be given to the negotiators only as guidance. “There is no doubt that Clifford’s initiative saved the instructions from mutilation,” he concluded. (Ibid.)
  15. Following this meeting and the departure of the guests, the President and Christian met with Sharp. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) According to notes of this meeting, Sharp discussed military matters in Vietnam and recommended Admiral John McCain as his replacement for CINCPAC. (Ibid., Meeting Notes File) On April 11 the President named Abrams as COMUSMACV and designated Goodpaster as Abrams’ deputy.