254. Notes of Meeting1


The President: Vance came in late last evening. He met with the Executive branch this morning.2 I wanted you to get all the information he has. We want your advice and suggestions.

We are concerned about our situation in Vietnam. We have shown restraint. They have shown none. We lost 1,100 men in the last two weeks.

Mr. Vance: I have little to add to what you already know.

Procedural discussions took two days and amounted to four total hours.

Substantive sections now are all from printed documents. Their room to improvise is quite limited.

Thumb-nail sketches on each member of the North Vietnamese delegation. Outlined they have background in propaganda.

They are using talks as a propaganda device. It seems a fight-and-talk strategy. Broadening of government in South Vietnam has been a step forward.

No tangible progress at conference table.

In public opinion, North Vietnam credibility has been shaken by denial of having troops in South.

U.S. has made constructive proposals.

We have sought to have private talks without success.

We need to get into private discussions.

We are going to be patient.

Things have gone about as expected.

Road will be long and difficult.

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Congressman Mahon: Are there reasons which would cause North Vietnam to engage in private talks or do they consider these talks merely a second front?

Mr. Vance: They may want to change their position. I do not know.

Congressman Ford: Do you discuss our military operations and theirs?

Mr. Vance: We have not been able to get into informal dialogue.

They charge us with being aggressors. They allege we violate 1954 accords.

They refuse to acknowledge they have troops in the South.

President: They have shown no restraint.

Mr. Vance: They say we should get first to the cessation of the bombing.

Bill Bates: What reason are they there?

Mr. Vance: They want to reach a solution on their terms. There will be compromise on down the road.

Senator Dirksen: Has instability in France affected talks?

Mr. Vance: Not yet.

Senator Young: Can they act without bowing to China or Russia?

Mr. Vance: Yes. They show that by fact they are talking. They went away from China’s advice.

Senator Russell: What do you mean they have admitted they have troops in South?

Congressman Boggs: Any private contact?

Mr. Vance: No.

Congressman Laird: Withdrawal of troops—was this same as declared in Manila?

Mr. Vance: Yes.

Senator Fulbright: Do they think we should stop all bombing before going on to substantive matters?

Mr. Vance: Yes.

Senator Fulbright: Could you have private talks about substantive matters before bombing is halted?

Mr. Vance: Yes.

Senator Mansfield: I am not discouraged.

I am delighted with line with patience.

Secretary Clifford:

1. We are going through stage of negotiations you must go through with the Communists.

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Lengthy conferences are not unusual.

I am hopeful about the meeting.

President made an exceedingly generous offer last September.

On March 31, President made a substantially tougher offer.

They accepted it. Why?

Something happened between September and March 31.

They concluded guerrilla war was a failure. They conducted Tet offensive. It was a dismal failure from their standpoint. They lost many men. They held no cities. They did not get government to fall.

They concluded they cannot win militarily in Vietnam.

So, they seek a political settlement in Paris.

We must stay with these negotiations as long as we can.

General Wheeler: Military activity in South has been substantial

  • —Just South of DMZ
  • —in Saigon area
  • —in Western highlands.

They have shown no signs of restraint in North.

107,000 men are being moved into Laos and South Vietnam.

28,000 May

37,000 April

20,000 May

The full number has not reached South Vietnam. There will be peak in June.

They have been rebuilding bridges north of 20th parallel on permanent basis. Rebuilt railroads. They have improved airfields.

There is no substantial movement of AA.

Senator Russell: What is policy in our forces on MiGs in South?

General Wheeler: If they penetrate south of 19° , we go after them. They could go south to 16°, near Danang. They may try to knock down a B–52.

Secretary Katzenbach: These have not been negotiations yet. Patience is important. So is firmness.

Objectives of North Vietnam.

Destroy Saigon government.
Split us from allies.
Seek to win propaganda war.

Secretary Katzenbach: There will be further efforts in South to strengthen their position in the South.

Exposure of North Vietnamese delegation to Western press. They have been exposed for what they are.

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President: We are grateful to Cy Vance.

Congressman Ford: From JCS point-of-view, are you in agreement with guidelines you have?

General Wheeler: Yes.

Support for war was low. In reducing bombing on March 31 to 20th, we lost very little because of bad weather.

We did take some psychological loss.

As weather gets better military costs get higher.

I thought we should limit ourselves to try to bring this miserable war to a close.

Senator Byrd: How long can we refrain from bombing north of 20th?

General Wheeler: It will depend on talks in Paris.

It will depend on political factors. We need to give diplomatic track a full chance of success.

Secretary Clifford: We have increased number of sorties south of 20th. We are concentrating now on Panhandle.

In March we knocked out—

  • 180 trucks of 1967 March
  • 680 trucks of 1968 March
  • 242 April 67
  • 765 April 68

Director Helms:


North Vietnam had political objective

  • —bring down South Vietnamese government.
  • —bring diviseness between U.S. and allies.
  • —cause dissent in U.S. over war.

40% of men coming down are for Saigon area.

World opinion has shifted since March 31.

Anti-Americanism has quieted.

The intelligence shows they intend to go all out.

President: Enemy wants to bring out division between Allies and show we were a country divided.3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. The meeting ended at 7:24 p.m. Those attending were the President, the Vice President, Rostow, Clifford, Katzenbach, Wheeler, Helms, Vance, Bundy, Tom Johnson, Mansfield, Dirksen, Fulbright, Hickenlooper, Russell, McCormack, Albert, Ford, Laird, Senators Robert Byrd and Milton Young and Congressmen Hale Boggs, Thomas Morgan, George Mahon, Leslie Arends, Frances Bolton, and William Bates. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. See Document 253.
  3. Vance met the next day with the Cabinet from 12:10 to 1:25 p.m., at which time the Paris negotiations were discussed. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) Notes of this meeting have not been found. Both the President and Vance made brief statements regarding the Paris talks following this meeting. See Department of State Bulletin, June 17, 1968, p. 780.