217. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

You may wish to consider calling in the members of the Vietnam negotiating team, plus the senior members of the government who will be backstopping the effort—if it ever begins—and talking to them along the following lines.

All members of the government must understand that in dealing with Hanoi—and their Communist friends—we are not dealing with diplomats in the old classical 19th Century tradition. They may well behave in formal diplomacy with correctness, skill, and lucidity. But they view diplomacy as the net outcome of their ability to influence the following factors during the negotiation itself:
  • —the military situation on the ground;
  • —the political situation inside South Vietnam;
  • —U.S.-GVN relations;
  • —“world opinion” and U.S. political forces that might bear on the Executive Branch.
As a government we shall, therefore, have to fight the battle on all these fronts, in addition to diplomacy itself. Our experience with the first month since the President’s March 31st statement already demonstrates this fact beyond doubt. Therefore, the President wishes the government to think automatically in terms of all these dimensions of the negotiation in relationship to one another and to working towards a total U.S. policy which advances our interests.
Beyond that the President wishes those concerned to know that one major reason that he withdrew from candidacy was to assure that the positions taken in the months ahead on Vietnam would be positions that he judged right in the U.S. interest, freed of any short-run U.S. political pressures. The President wishes peace in Southeast Asia at the earliest possible moment. He wishes all members of the government to apply to this end all the imagination, skill, experience and insight of which they are capable. But this Administration will only settle for an honorable peace as we understand it.
Therefore, the President asks all members of the government to operate as a united team. There will, of course, be differences of view among us and debates on this move or that move at one time or another. These debates and discussions must be kept wholly within the family. We are negotiating with Hanoi, not with each other. That negotiation should take place between governments and not between the U.S. government and the press.2
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Crocodile Paris to be filed. Confidential. The notation “ps” on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. In an effort to mute Congressional criticism of the site discussions, Johnson noted the following during a telephone conversation with Fulbright on May 2: “Now that is what is happening. This is in the Hue area. They’re getting ready to hit us, according to their intelligence and their conversations, in the next 10 days. They have brought down between 30 and 40 thousand men since March 31—since this offer. We haven’t brought in any, but we have that many more to face. If you are out there, that is what you are up against. We think they have brought between 75,000 and 100,000, since the Tet offensive, from North Vietnam. Now I don’t believe much that they are going to pick any site and I think they are using this. The pressure we ought to put on them is to put pressure on nearly any damn site in the world and that’s what you ought to be suggesting. Say, I don’t speak for anybody, but I don’t see what’s wrong with Bucharest, I don’t see what is wrong with Cairo, I don’t see what is wrong with the Vatican and the Pope—his secretary of state has been most sympathetic with them, I can assure you, just leaned over with their side. They’ve called for us to stop the bombing and they’ve called for them to stop their thing. There could not be a more neutral place. Bucharest is Communist, so I don’t guess they could cuss us there. Algeria is. I just can’t understand it. So let’s keep the heat on them and you help me do that instead of talking about this damn Cambodia. I know Mansfield loves Cambodia and he has great confidence in them, but they are running over with enemy troops now. Just like Poland is grinding around the clock to supply equipment. And I think it’s as reasonable to ask an allied group to go to Poland as it is to ask North Vietnam to go to Thailand.” (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Fulbright, May 2, 1968, 10:47 a.m., Tape F6804.03, PNO 8–10; this transcript prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian)