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204. Memorandum for the Record1

Meeting With the President, Monday, April 22, 1968, 6:00–9:00 p.m.

PRESENT

  • The President
  • Secretary Dean Rusk
  • Secretary Clark Clifford
  • Walt W. Rostow

The President asked Mr. Rostow to define the problem.

On the basis of the attached memorandum (Tab A),2 he said that we had come to a point where it was to our interest to attempt to break the deadlock on the site for “contacts.” Our objective should be:

  • —To produce a formula which would induce Hanoi to move, if it now faces real problems with a site and wishes to talk.
  • —To create a situation, if Hanoi would not move, which would convince our people that we had done all that was possible.

In the latter case we could resume full-scale military action with public support.

Mr. Rostow cited the list of possible initiatives to break the log jam, as developed by William Jorden, and suggested that the Secretary of State be heard.

Sec. Rusk said the best way to proceed was to raise with Hanoi the possibility of private ambassadorial talks in either Warsaw or Vientiane, narrowly addressed to arranging a mutually-agreed site for “contacts.”

The President indicated that he preferred Vientiane.

A draft was prepared, in line with Sec. Rusk's proposal, in which we would propose that the ambassadors in Vientiane meet for this narrow purpose; but we would withdraw Vientiane from our list of places for the proposed subsequent “contact.”

There were two reasons for the latter condition:

  • —Vientiane was one of the places on our list which Hanoi did not like, and it was judged fair to soften that point by withdrawing it from our “contact” list;
  • —The initiation of this principle would make it more difficult for Hanoi to propose Warsaw for the ambassadorial discussion of site, because we would have created the precedent that the place for discussion of site would not be the place for the contact itself.

The President continued to feel somewhat uneasy about proposing a site for private ambassadorial talks, which we had already proposed for “contact” and which they had refused.

Sec. Clifford then underlined his grave uneasiness with our proposing Vientiane. He suggested, instead, that we simply give Hanoi the option of listing, say, three locations which had not previously been considered by either side for the limited private discussions.

It was generally agreed this was about as fair a proposal as we could make; and our people would judge it so, if it were made public. Moreover, we would probably not have difficulties with our allies in private discussions to establish a site at almost any point Hanoi might suggest, since the talks would not be substantive. We could, therefore, take very considerable risk on this point.

After several drafts were formulated and examined, the attached was agreed by the President and dispatched by the Secretary of State to Vientiane for transmission to Hanoi. (Tab B)3

Underlying the discussion was agreement that there would be great frustration in the U.S. and difficulty in subsequently conducting the war at full throttle unless the President's initiative of March 31 resulted in some kind of contact with Hanoi and a clear demonstration that they were not operating in good faith.

WR
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Meeting Notes Files. Secret. The President had returned from visiting the LBJ Ranch in Texas earlier that day aboard Air Force One. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)
  2. Document 201.
  3. The text of telegram 151353 to Vientiane, April 23, was attached. The telegram requested Sullivan to pass to Chan a note which read: “The United States proposes that we give consideration to additional capitals, not previously considered by either side, for the sole purpose of private discussions to agree on a site and time for proposed contacts. The United States hopes that the DRV will find this suggestion reasonable and will indicate, say, three appropriate locations suitable for this limited purpose. The United States Government will give the response of the DRV prompt consideration.” (National Archives and Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/CROCODILE)