261. Notes of Meeting1

NOTES ON THE PRESIDENT’S TUESDAY LUNCHEON

THOSE ATTENDING THE MEETING WERE

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

The President: The Trejos meeting was a good one. They have some population problems and are not too happy about all the conditions placed on World Bank loans.2

Are they still in Saigon, Clark?

Secretary Clifford: We are in some trouble. It does not appear to be too serious. Westy (General Westmoreland) said they always can infiltrate small groups in.

Westy said a linear defense system around Saigon is not practical. It would take two divisions and would not do much better.

General Wheeler: The Vietnamese appointed General [Nguyen Van] Minh to run the Saigon defense—ARVN, police, RF and PF.

The President: Would you brief us, Dick? (CIA Director Helms)

Director Helms: There are new elements around Khesanh. There were 83 defectors to ARVN last night. Heavy men and material flow continues into the South. There have been no MIG flights below 20th. We found 100 mm weapons around DMZ. Thieu disagrees on general mobilization in the House.

Walt Rostow: General Abrams and Ambassador Berger called on Ky. He was in a black mood. He talked of resigning over men shot up [Page 751]by our helicopter.3 We have a potential problem with Ky and General Thang. Killing his allies has put him very down in the dumps. It is a very serious problem.

The President: What happened on that chopper, Bus?

General Wheeler: South Vietnam called for chopper support. One rocket of flight of three went erratic. It landed in the command post area and killed the men who directed the operation. This was an accident. It was unfortunate.

Secretary Clifford: The President may want to show great concern. One of the men killed was Ky’s brother-in-law. It is something of a national tragedy. The President may want to send some Government official to the funeral. Real concern must be shown. Ky may not think it was an accident.

The President: How do you get through the Senate with only Senator Young against you?

General Wheeler: I have a simple recipe—stay out of politics.

The President: Where are we on Thieu’s visit?

Secretary Rusk: A visit to Washington during June wouldn’t be good with all these demonstrations.

Secretary Clifford: General Wheeler and I need to go to South Vietnam after General Abrams gets in. I want to get closer to the situation. We may go in July, depending on the President’s wishes.

Walt Rostow: Warren Christopher4 says mid or late July would be best from Resurrection City standpoint (July 24–25 open) for Thieu visit. Your calendar has the above dates open.

Secretary Clifford: I was for Thieu coming before. Now with Paris going on I would be for indefinite postponement.

The President: What effect will the convention have on Thieu’s visit?

Secretary Clifford: I don’t know.

The President: Do you believe Ky may think we did that deliberately?

[Page 752]

Secretary Clifford: Some indications are that he may feel that.

The President: Is it true that a man can buy his way out of the South Vietnamese draft?

General Wheeler: Not that I know of.

The President: I thought it was good that 83 men came over to our side.

I get long letters from my reporter out there—Chuck Robb.5 He said all the peasants want is to be left alone.

[Omitted here are brief discussions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Arab-Israeli dispute.]

The President: The President read Chuck Robb’s letter to him about fighting in Vietnam, Lynda and hope that HHH would be next President.

[Omitted here is additional discussion of the Arab-Israeli dispute and the world financial situation.]

19th and 20th Parallel

The President: Ambassador Harriman recommends deferring this.6

Secretary Rusk: I am for air to air action now. We can hold up 48 hours on ground action. Let’s take gradual approach.

Secretary Clifford: Cy Vance went over reconnaissance approach. He said he would prefer specific targets. The Joint Chiefs have those targets.

Secretary Rusk: Let’s hit them and not say anything about it.

General Wheeler: We reviewed targeting. We located two bridges on railroads and a railroad siding. The railroad is being used.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. Fortas and Taylor are listed as attending but their presence was not recorded in the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid.)
  2. Prior to this luncheon, the President met with Jose Joaquin Trejos Fernandez, President of Costa Rica.
  3. On June 2 a rocket launched from a U.S. helicopter destroyed a school building that was being used as a command post during the fighting in Saigon. Killed in the explosion were seven high-ranking South Vietnamese officials. Most of those killed or injured were associates of Ky. Among the dead was Lieutenant Colonel Pho Quoc Chu, Ky’s brother-in-law. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Thieu was able to further consolidate his power at Ky’s expense by relieving Ky allies Nguyen Ngoc Loan as National Police Chief and Van Van Cua as Mayor of Saigon. See The New York Times, June 3–9, 1968.
  4. Deputy Attorney General.
  5. On June 3 intelligence information indicated that the Viet Cong were planning to kidnap Captain Charles Robb, President Johnson’s son-in-law. By June 5 his unit was ordered to relocate and an effort was to be made to keep his location confidential. (Memoranda from Rostow to the President, June 3 and June 5, and memorandum from Carver to Rostow, June 5; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Report of VC Plan to Kidnap Capt. Robb) Johnson discussed this kidnapping effort in a June 3 telephone conversation with Russell. (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Russell, June 3, 1968, 11:45 a.m., Tape F6806.01, PNO 3)
  6. In telegram 15453/Delto 231 from Paris, June 4, Harriman advised against bombing urban areas in the DRV in response to the attacks on Saigon because the North Vietnamese would break off the Paris talks. In addition, such an exchange represented “a modification of the March 31st offer.” (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. III) Rusk transmitted this telegram to the President at 10:45 a.m.; the notation “ps” on the covering memorandum indicates that the President saw it. (Ibid.)