243. Summary Notes of the 568th Meeting of the National Security Council1


[Omitted here is a brief discussion of the political situation in France.]

The President: Asked Under Secretary Katzenbach to comment on the talks with the North Vietnamese in Paris.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: We are still in the propaganda phase. We have made serious proposals but have received no answer from the North Vietnamese who even refuse to acknowledge there are any North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. The Hanoi representatives are prepared to stay in Paris and even read the telephone directory if necessary to keep nonproductive talks going for a long time.

The President: The North Vietnamese made a pretty good trade. They get partial suspension of the bombing for merely sitting and talking in Paris.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: The fate of the discussions in Paris turns on the military situation in Vietnam.

The President: Why is Secretary Clifford optimistic?

Secretary Clifford: We are making progress in the talks in Paris.

The Paris talks are a propaganda-plus for us. The North Vietnamese public posture is suffering. Ambassador Harriman is taking a reasonable and positive position, resulting in public opinion gains for us. The absurd position taken by the North Vietnamese concerning their refusal to acknowledge that their troops are in South Vietnam is hurting them. This will lose them public support.
It is important that we have forced the North Vietnamese to talk even though we are still bombing a part of North Vietnam. For three years Hanoi has said it would not do this. In addition, the interdiction bombing which we are now doing is causing them more damage than our previous bombing program.
Hanoi has not issued an ultimatum stating that it would break up the Paris talks unless all of our bombing of North Vietnam stops.2

It is doubtful that the Paris talks were a good deal for the North Vietnamese. Our interdiction efforts continue and we are in a position to try for a deal more advantageous to us.

The North Vietnamese came to Paris to negotiate seriously. They hope to erode support for the war in the United States by causing high U.S. casualties. They will fail in this. They will conclude that they cannot prevail militarily and will then seek to negotiate a political solution of the war.3

The President: Asked for a study from CIA within the next two weeks which would be sent to the JCS for their comment, giving: a.

present rate of North Vietnamese losses and the length of time they can support such losses; b. the quality of the men being infiltrated into South Vietnam and the training they have received; and c. the number [Page 702] of officers available to them, i.e., the accuracy of reports that the North Vietnamese have a shortage of officers.4

USIA Director Marks: World press reaction to the Paris talks has been good. A study made by USIA of the world press supports this conclusion.5

[Omitted here is discussion of Germany and European security issues.]

The President: Turning again to Vietnam, asked for a joint State/Defense/CIA paper recommending what policy should be followed if there is no break in the Paris talks.6 The options are to hold the bombing of North Vietnam down to the 19th parallel as is now being done, move the bombing up to the 20th parallel, return to the bombing pattern we had before March 31, or return to the pre-March 31 bombing pattern, plus intensification.

There is no evidence that the North Vietnamese will negotiate seriously. They will do no more than remain in Paris to talk rather than negotiate until the next Administration takes over. We should be cautious and not say anything which might divide us from our South Vietnamese, Australian, Korean, and Philippine allies.

Ho Chi Minh’s objectives are to divide us from our allies and to divide us at home.

We should be cautious in making statements about what we expect to come out of the Paris talks. UK Foreign Minister Stewart may get something during his coming visit to Moscow. We are not making much progress. However, the North Vietnamese cannot do a Panmunjom, i.e., talk endlessly without progress, because time will run out on them on January 20 when a new Administration comes in.

Bromley Smith
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings File, Vol. 5, Tab 63. Secret; Sensitive; For the President Only. Those attending were the President, Humphrey, Rostow, Katzenbach, Clifford, Fowler, Nitze, McConnell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Walter J. Stoessel, Christian, Smith, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs Edward Fried. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) A summary and a partial transcript of the meeting are ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room. Nitze’s notes of the meeting are in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Nitze Papers, Defense Department, Deputy Secretary of Defense Notes, 1968, 4 of 6.
  2. In Intelligence Note No. 395 to Rusk, May 24, Hughes transmitted INR’s assessment that Xuan Thuy’s statement on May 22, “in case the official conversations do not produce results, the U.S. side must bear full and entire responsibility,” did not imply that the DRV was prepared to break off the talks but instead was a means of applying additional pressure on the U.S. delegation. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET) In a memorandum to the President, May 20, 9 a.m., Rostow noted that captured directives indicated that Hanoi foresaw no serious movement in Paris until the GVN had been weakened militarily. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. I)
  3. According to the transcript of the meeting, Clifford stated: “The President asked Nick, did he think they had a pretty good deal now. I don’t believe it’s a particularly good deal for them, in my opinion. Maybe we differ in that regard. I believe we’re doing a very respected job of interdiction as we are now—concentrating our bombing where we are. The fact is, I think they could get a better deal if they’d handle it skillfully. If they were to make some move that would result in our stopping the bombing entirely, they’d have a better deal than they have now. So all of the factors that have taken place indicate to me that they have come prepared to negotiate seriously and it is my belief that they will continue to negotiate seriously. As has been suggested, obviously the military phase is a very important factor. They have increased the level of their military activity in the South. Our casualties have increased as a result of that. I believe they’ll probably continue to do that on the basis that they can sustain from a public relations standpoint higher casualties better than we can. And I believe that by forcing us into a higher casualty position they hope to erode support back here. I don’t believe that they’ll be successful in that and I think the time will come when they will agree to some kind of disposition of the matter. I think that is their intention by accepting the President’s offer and the basis of that is, I believe, that they have reached the definite conclusion that they cannot prevail militarily in South Vietnam. And, therefore, if they conclude that they cannot prevail militarily, then I think they’re searching for the best type of solution that they can find. That’s the way I feel about it, Mr. President.” (Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room)
  4. According to the transcript of the meeting, the President also stated: “Clark and I had a little disagreement. That is what he is talking about. Clark’s young enough and fresh enough and dashing enough and adventurous enough still to be very hopeful on this thing and I want people like that and I always like to have them. Back home a man nominated another fellow for an office and the fellow called his wife right quick and said, ‘Come here, mama, I want you to hear what Mr. Collier’s got to say.’ So, when I get in these meetings from time to time and I’ve been reading these cables all morning, I say ‘Come here, mama, I want you to hear what Mr. Clifford’s got to say.’ You can read them and kind of draw certain deductions and conclusions from them that are at least pleasing to me. If we’re not always in complete agreement on them, I hope he’s right and [not that] he’s wrong.”
  5. The study has not been found.
  6. See Document 248.