226. Notes of Meeting1



  • The President
  • Secretary Clifford
  • Secretary Rusk
  • CIA Director Helms
  • Walt Rostow
  • General Johnson
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

Secretary Rusk: The delegation is small. Daniel Davidson is a good man. The Staff is very good, and I would go ahead. We are bringing Kaplan in to help on press problems. Also, Bill Sullivan has a personal knowledge of NVN’s chief negotiator. Do you have any objections?

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The President: No objections.

Secretary Clifford: No objections. It is better to start with a small staff.

Secretary Rusk: I told Cy and Averell to expect the President to be involved with these decisions.

General Johnson: Who would substitute for General Goodpaster when he is due to report to Vietnam?

The President: Maxwell Taylor has a lot of diplomatic and military background.2

Secretary Rusk: I agree with you about Max Taylor, but a lot can happen between now and June.

Secretary Clifford: The best thing we can do is to get peace in Vietnam.

The President: I want Rusk and Clifford and Helms to brief Bobby [Kennedy] when he wants it.

Secretary Rusk: If I were a candidate I would not accept a briefing.

The President: Why? A man’s judgment is no better than his information.

Secretary Rusk: They aren’t interested in information.

George Christian: It wouldn’t appeal to the group he is appealing to.

Secretary Clifford: I had a good visit with Fulbright.

Secretary Rusk: Do you know the difference between rape and seduction?

Secretary Clifford: I have read about both; I have not been involved in either (laughter).

Secretary Clifford: Friday, May 17, is date we have chosen on MAP program. We had good discussion about Vietnam. He wanted Mansfield and John Sherman Cooper at the discussions in Paris.

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Fulbright wanted to know how seriously the President wanted peace. I told him, “Bill, about 50 times as much as you do.”

The President: I have told the press that consultations would be helpful. I rely closely on Rusk, but I would hear from Ball, Rostow, Goldberg and Clifford.

Everybody’s judgment is important, if we reached point where we need the judgment of Congress, we would go to Mansfield and McCormack and Dirksen. I told the Leadership that we have to depend on senior people like Mansfield and Dirksen.

Secretary Rusk: We would like to use Leonhart and Wyn Brown3 while Bundy is so involved. Both are discreet men.

Walt Rostow: Leonhart has responsibilities to a staff of 15. He doesn’t want it to collapse.

Secretary Rusk: We need the best backstopping team we can get.

The President: Any matters arising where Congress is concerned, we will take up with Mansfield and Dirksen, McCormack and Ford. The normal procedure would be Senator Mansfield and Senator Dirksen. The ranking Committeeman is Hickenlooper.

[Omitted here is discussion of an NIE on the Soviet Union.]

The President: Should we have a second meeting with Harriman and Vance?

Secretary Rusk: Yes, we should have another meeting.4 “Our side, your side” approach is a good one. We should not pull our punches. We should not understate our own case. I hope Averell will start off with a firm position. We ought to press for more than the Clifford formula. We need to make them face up to the hard issues including the no advantage formula.

The President: You (Secretary Clifford) and Dean go over everything with them. We want them to be tough traders. Let’s not put our minimum condition on the table first.

Bombing Between 19th and 20th Parallel

Secretary Clifford: We are now confining bombing below 19th.

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General Johnson: The Air Force wants to go up to 20th. Others do not want to do anything to upset the sitting down at the table this week on the 10th. A violation might occur.5

Secretary Clifford: If a plane goes over the 20th Parallel, we would kick ourselves forever.

The President: When would the first meeting be?

Secretary Rusk: Friday.6

The President: What’s happening in the South?

Walt Rostow: The attack squads are being contained.

General Johnson: (Showed map of Saigon).7

The President: I am uncomfortable about infiltration.

[Omitted here is discussion of the NATO troop meeting and the Poor People’s March on Washington.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. In a May 7 background paper for the President, Rostow listed as negotiating issues requiring policy guidance the right to undertake reconnaissance flights, the need to make explicit the assumptions upon which the halt was based, the “possibilities for significant formal chatter” regarding substantive issues, the participation of the GVN and NLF, further mutual de-escalation and the mechanisms for disengagement, allied participation in any settlement, and as proposed by Vance, the specific agenda and tactics to follow in the talks. (Ibid., National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Meetings with the President, May–June 1968 [2])
  2. In a May 8 memorandum to Wheeler, Harold Johnson noted: “I failed to identify another topic that I raised concerning replacement for Goodpaster on the negotiation delegation. Rusk pointed out Bunker’s affinity for Palmer. I informed him that Palmer would probably be leaving about 15 June to become Vice Chief of Staff and would not be available. I also said that Abrams probably could get along without Goodpaster for some period of time but that Andy would be needed eventually. There was a long silence when the President finally said that the man in whom he had confidence and liked the way that he conveyed his ideas was General Taylor. Thus, it is conceivable that he may replace Goodpaster on the delegation. I advance this now because I could foresee some reservations among the Chiefs. I have not mentioned it to them, however.” (U.S. Army Military History Institute, Harold K. Johnson Papers, 199–208)
  3. William Leonhart of the NSC Staff and Winthrop Brown, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Liaison with the Governors.
  4. See Document 227.
  5. In a May 7 memorandum to Wheeler, Harold Johnson noted: “Rolling Thunder was raised and I showed a map of the targets in relation to the 20th parallel. Forces are in position. I reported that the JCS were agreed that no actions taken this week should jeopardize the initiation of talks with North Vietnam. I said that there was confidence that strikes against these targets could be controlled but that there could not be an absolute assurance that an inadvertent crossing of the 20th parallel would not occur. The discussion was desultory. The President was assured that forces were in position and that strikes could be initiated promptly following a decision. There was no decision and I did not press for one.” (U.S. Army Military History Institute, Harold K. Johnson Papers, 199–208) A joint State-Defense message sent as telegram 160360 to Vientiane, May 8, transmitted the approval of a “change in rules to permit daylight bombing in Laos with entry and/or departure across Western Laos border.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  6. May 10.
  7. Major fighting had taken place over the last 2 days, notably in Saigon, where skirmishes with VC units continued for a week.