278. Notes on Telephone Conversation Between Secretary of Defense Clifford and the Ambassador at Large (Harriman)1

C: First let me welcome you back. Second, I want to bring to your attention a situation that has been developing here because I have been [Page 800] informed that we are all to meet at the White House for breakfast tomorrow.2

Harriman Yes Bill Bundy is here with me and we were discussing it.

C: Apparently is on two matters. You are to report to the President on the situation in Paris; the reason for its being so early is because Dean (Secy Rusk) is getting off for Iceland.3 Another item to be discussed is one that Bill Bundy can fill you in on, the code name is Antwerp.4

Harriman He has just been telling me about it; it doesn’t look as if there’s much in it.

C: Yes. I wanted to give you a little bit of background. I was asked about the situation in Paris during my press conference and in a very guarded manner I indicated by expression that bits and straws are in the wind that could indicate some slight movement.5 I was very guarded but I wanted to give you the background for indicating, even in that background manner, optimism. There is a great deal of pressure on the President at this time to relate Saigon and Hanoi. He gets it every day. He is informed that it’s terrible with our position with SVN, our own troops and even our posture in the world for us to permit Saigon to be shelled while Hanoi is not touched. He is beginning to get restive. Tied up with this approach is, I think, an effort on the part of some to indicate that perhaps nothing at all will ever come out of Paris. And the tie-up between the 2 arguments is that when it is suggested, he might go ahead and order bombing of Hanoi or issue an ultimatum. The obvious answer is that that could break up the talks.6

Harriman It would break it up alright.

C: Then the attitude of some very militarist gentleman will, as a matter of fact say that talks will not amount to much so we are not giving up [Page 801] very much. What I think we must do is if there is ever any occasion in the most guarded manner to indicate that something is happening …

Harriman I supported what you said in Paris, in Boston and in Washington, but I also had to say that when the NVNamese said we made no progress, of course not since they are to blame. On this other thing—you saw what Huong said—unthinkable that they should recommend bombing Hanoi [and] killing innocent people …

C: I did see that. You will find at the breakfast tomorrow that this is going to come up for discussion.

H. I was very strong for sending somebody to Moscow—somebody of authority; I don’t know whether you saw my letter to Zorthian (?) [Zorin].7 We must give it to them before we go in. Dobrynin said they were told they were going to talk to us. I’m going to see him tomorrow,8 but I think we ought to bring these fellows in. I’ll be here until the middle of next week and hope you’ll give me a half hour or so, and as you know I agreed fully with that letter.

C: I continue to feel that we missed the opportunity.

Harriman The opportunity is still there.

C: Well, I just wanted you to know the background.

Harriman One thing we got them to do is they’re fighting down there.

C: Yes, I consider that to be a straw—obviously we can’t make much of it but we have to keep up encouragement.

Harriman One thing Cy and I fully agree on—he is a very good partner, we agree—I look forward to seeing you, Clark, thanks for calling. I think you said exactly the right thing and I supported it.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Subject File, Clifford, Clark, 1963–68. No classification marking.
  2. See Document 279.
  3. Rusk was in Reykjavik June 22–26 to attend the NATO Ministerial meeting.
  4. See footnotes 2 and 3, Document 277.
  5. At a Pentagon news conference on June 20, Clifford listed what he considered to be “bits and straws that indicate that there is some movement” at the Paris talks, including Tho’s arrival and the informal chats during breaks at the Majestic. Harriman affirmed the signs of progress in a statement to the press the next day. See The New York Times, June 21 and 22, 1968. In a June 21 news conference, however, Rusk downplayed the significance of any progress at Paris by noting: “Of course, we are a long way from substance when we have to point to the fact that coffee breaks are becoming longer, that the atmosphere is somewhat more informal, that there may be opportunities for a little more give and take.” See Department of State Bulletin, July 8, 1968, pp. 33–38.
  6. At a meeting earlier that day, Clifford briefed the President and the Cabinet on the enemy’s shelling of Saigon and continuing infiltration. He concluded: “I think that they’re making a very serious propaganda mistake to bomb and kill civilians in Saigon. It doesn’t seem to make any sense. It’s not contributing in any way to their military posture or military force. They think they’re accomplishing something. I believe they’re hurting themselves.” (Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room)
  7. Not found.
  8. See Document 280.