22. Notes of Meeting1

NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT’S MEETING WITH THE DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP

The President said U.S. forces are moving in reinforcements to prepare for a major concentrated attack around Khesanh. The President said that the Communists are making a major build up in this area.2

The President described the capture this morning of a U.S. communication ship off the coast of North Korea. He said confidentially that early reports indicated that several U.S. Navy personnel had been wounded as a result of the incident. There may have been shots fired. The ship was surrounded by North Korean boats and forced to port. He said this could develop into a major international problem.3

The President said the U.S. Government and the South Vietnamese government are doing all they can to get Hanoi to discuss peace. “Hanoi changed from would and could to will talk, but they will not say when. They will not discuss anything but North Vietnam. They will not talk unless we cease all military activities. We must know what ceasing all military activities really means.”

The President said the U.S. Government thinks it has caught the Soviets paying off some of the anti-war people in this country.

The President said U.S. troops crossed into Cambodia yesterday trying to protect themselves. There was no way to avoid this in effort to save their own lives. The Vice President said he was sorry that [Page 58]Secretary Rusk had to apologize for the incident. The President said it is really a question that we cannot violate even one inch of territorial integrity.4

The President said there could be a major upsurge in infiltration in the next quarter. The increased intensity of enemy activity indicates a major effort. Intelligence reports show a great similarity between what is happening at Khesanh and what happened at Dien Bien Phu. The President said there is no firm indication that North Vietnam will back down on any of its conditions.

The President said that there is a rapid deterioration of the strength of the Viet Cong. They are having to replace their manpower with North Vietnamese. The current campaign is a short-term surge effort designed to gain political advantages.

The President reviewed the last 48 hours. Reports show that a full scale attack on Khesanh is imminent. There also is a strong possibility of attack on Camp Carroll and multi-battalion attacks on Danang. In addition, country-wide terrorism is expected with attack on Pleiku and enemy violence in and around Saigon.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Confidential. The meeting was held in the White House. Those present at the meeting were the President; Vice President Humphrey; Senators Mansfield, Russell Long, Robert Byrd, McCormack, and Albert; Representative Hale Boggs; and several White House officials. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. The NVA siege of Khe Sanh began on January 22. In a telephone conversation with the President at 8:27 a.m. that morning, McNamara reported: “You undoubtedly know that we think the long-expected attack on Khe Sanh in South Vietnam has been initiated. Substantial artillery and mortar fire and ground action is taking place there. General Westmoreland believes he is fully prepared to meet it.” (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and McNamara, January 22, 8:27 a.m., Tape F68.01, Side A, PNO 5)
  3. Reference is to the North Korean seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo.
  4. In a February 1 memorandum to Calhoun, General Phillip Davidson, head of MACV intelligence, submitted the final report of his investigation on the border episode. The report was transmitted to the Department in airgram A–406 from Saigon, February 8. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S) On January 22 Rusk expressed regret over the crossing into Cambodian territory by allied forces during a clash with the enemy. See The New York Times, January 23, 1968. For background, see footnote 4, Document 14.