23. Notes of Meeting1
NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT’S TUESDAY NATIONAL SECURITY LUNCH[Page 59]
The President said he thinks that this incident is related to the whole picture. He said he would not be surprised if something happened in Berlin to coincide with what is going on in Vietnam and in Korea.
The President asked if we were confident of our situation around Khesanh.
The President asked General Wheeler if we had given General Westmoreland everything he needed.
General Westmoreland said, yes, sir.
General Wheeler said Westmoreland is confident of being able to handle the problem in Khesanh. He said that re-enforcements have been sent into the area and the weather is not continuously bad. Even in the event of bad weather there is sufficient artillery. In addition, the ARVN have sent a Ranger Battalion to the area to make this a joint effort.
The President pointed out that we have had a very good press from Saigon in the last two or three weeks.
Rostow said General Sidle is an excellent man who is moving the ARVN out front in the press. General Wheeler said Sidle has a good program and also is making Westmoreland more prominent in the news.
The President asked if anybody had heard from Senator Ted Kennedy on the refugee study.2 Walt Rostow said he had not.
Secretary McNamara said he saw a preliminary report from the field. Based on the questions asked, it appears the report will emphasize excessive fire from allied weapons is resulting in civilian casualties and refugees.
Walt Rostow asked should the incident be referred to the United Nations, involving the ship.
The President said this would be protective and would show a lack of malice on our part.
Secretary Rusk said we might like to take this to the Security Council. First, we should see what comes from the Mixed Armistice Commission.3[Page 60]
Director Helms said the Soviets have their own ships of this kind including two ships off the Korean coast to keep an eye on the Red Chinese. In addition, they have one ship off Guam.
With reference to the expected enemy offensive near Khesanh, General Wheeler said General Momyer is coordinating all air support.
Secretary McNamara said that the anti-personnel barrier has been defended for use around Khesanh.
General Wheeler said that “gravel” (ammunition used to blow up personnel) will be placed in the area tomorrow.
The President read portions of General Westmoreland’s cable outlining developments in the area and the potential terrorism which is expected in Saigon.4
[Omitted here is discussion of the Military Assistance Program and the provision of arms to Jordan.]
- Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. Those attending the meeting were the President, Rusk, McNamara, Clifford, Rostow, Helms, Wheeler, Christian, and Tom Johnson. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)↩
- Kennedy visited Vietnam to investigate refugee and medical care programs. Johnson saw Kennedy at a meeting for Democratic members of the Congressional labor committees on the morning of January 23, and asked to meet him the next day. In an off-the-record session on January 24, 11:35 a.m.–12:35 p.m., the President met with Kennedy, his administrative assistant David Burke, and Leonhart to discuss the Vietnam visit. (Ibid.) Notes of the meeting have not been found. Kennedy discussed his visit in a January 25 speech delivered at the World Affairs Council in Boston. In the speech, Kennedy suggested that many leaders in the U.S. military in Vietnam would support the enactment of a defensive enclave-like strategy that emphasized holding onto the heavily populated areas. See The New York Times, January 26, 1968.↩
- Reference is to the armistice commission deliberating on the Pueblo.↩
- Reference is to telegram MAC 01049 to Wheeler, January 22, in which Westmoreland concluded: “The bulk of our evidence suggests that the enemy is conducting a short-term surge effort, possibly designed to improve his chances of gaining his ends through political means, perhaps through negotiations leading to some form of coalition government.” (U.S. Army Center for Military History, William C. Westmoreland Papers, #29 History File)↩