310. Notes of Meeting1
PRESIDENT JOHNSON’S NOTES ON MEETING IN CABINET ROOM WITH RICHARD NIXON. JOINED LATER BY SECRETARY RUSK, TOM JOHNSON AND WALT ROSTOW
In talking with Richard Nixon, the President said:
“We have said to very responsible people—first, we have got talks set off with the Soviets. It is a question of timing and date on both offensive [Page 894] and defensive weapons. Now when you do that, that would likely include a lot of other things—the Middle East, very well Vietnam, probably North Korea and things of that nature. We don’t know what time or date that will be. We will get on it early. We have asked them to set a date and they have asked us to set a date. I would assume it will be sometime within the next few weeks.
“Second, they have said in effect to us, you ought to conduct a certain course in Vietnam, which we considered unreasonable. We have in effect said to them, we will be glad to consider your suggestions. Now if we did that, what would you theorize the other side would do? In other words, you being responsible, and being the power? Now they have two in their court right this moment. Now the Vice President indicating that he might stop the bombing would be a very bad thing right at this moment when you are stopping it for nothing. You are giving it away free right when they are responding to us and what they would be willing to give in Paris.”
The President then asked Mr. Nixon if he followed what he was saying.
Mr. Nixon replied:
“Yes, the Vietnamese. In other words, your people Thompson-Harriman have informed the Soviets, look here it is really the ball on their side of the net. You have three proceedings to de-escalate.”
The President said that was correct. He then asked Mr. Nixon if we did stop the bombing, what would he say that they would do?
Mr. Nixon said that in terms of stopping the bombing that would mean the bombing—everything North across the line on the South. In other words, that is what the President is prepared to do with a bombing pause.
The President then said:
“We don’t say we will get it, but it’s the Communist line of attack. You ask Edgar Hoover. You have seen these things come and go. One time it’s a pause, the next time it is something else. The next time it is Nixon, the next time it is McCarthy, the next time it is the Texas Rangers. The line at the moment with them all is just stop the bombing—just stop the bombing altogether. First, it was stop the bombing in Hanoi and Haiphong. Now we stopped 90 percent of the population and 78 percent of the area. Now then they come in and say we’ll do some more if you will react to it at all—March the 31st. Now I said we have taken the first step. Now if you will take a step we will take other steps. But they are not doing that.”
Mr. Nixon asked if it were the North Vietnamese and the Soviets also.[Page 895]
The President answered that that was correct—the North Vietnam powers.
The President said:
“Now in these talks—the Russians come along and put on a campaign right now. We rather think they are behind the campaign. Yesterday it was written in the Record—Javits, Hatfield, Morse—all got up and just raised hell for Johnson to stop the bombing now.2 What that meant was that my son-in-law down in the DMZ with the rifle company would have to take 30 percent more cuts than they have ever faced there before because we are stopping 30 percent of them that are coming through there.”
Mr. Nixon said that he had been informed he had a nephew out there too now, and the President told them that he conducted himself like he had someone out here.
Mr. Nixon told the President he did not want him to get involved in their fights because it was not necessary, as they would handle that on the Republican side, but the reason that he thought the Rockefeller proposal was rather silly actually was that we have proved our good faith and that is what he said in the answer.3 He said that he did not know what more we could do and asked the President if this was his position basically that we have to do anything more to prove our good faith?
The President told Mr. Nixon that time and time again we have proved our good faith and in each instance it has been rejected. He said: “Bobby Kennedy come in this office and asked for two things—one, he recommended Bill Moyersto be appointed Secretary of State to succeed Dean Rusk. I turned that down forthwith. I never knew Dean Rusk until I came in this Administration. He has acted wisely and ably in my judgment every day.”
Mr. Nixon said he concurred in that.
The President went on to say:[Page 896]
“Now the second thing is—would we have a pause and how long. Oh, two or three days and that would do it. I was convinced it would not do any good, but I called in the Joint Chiefs and they said it would not do any harm so we put on a pause for a week—eight days. They did not respond to it. Since that time we have had about six different pauses, unilateral, on our own, including one 37 days.4 The 37 days was a Russian pause. They started it. They have more contacts back here than you do. We are meeting with folks every day, but we have been up on the Hill. We have seen everybody on down, these very able top flight men and, of course, we know who they see and who they talk to naturally.”
Mr. Nixon said that he hoped so. He added that he thought that was a rather silly suggestion of Bobby Kennedy and McCarthy to suggest that Hoover should resign. He said you just don’t pull the rug out from under a man when he is doing a job.
The President said he would have been rather uncomfortable during the period of the last five years without Hoover in town. The President said that Mr. Rusk would visit with Mr. Nixon shortly. He added that the Russians sold the long pause and the first man he guessed they really sold it to was Mac Bundy. The President said he went out to lunch with them and they convinced him that if we would pause for twelve days they could deliver North Vietnam, that they would respond to that act. The Joint Chiefs did not think that twelve days would be dangerous, but felt psychologically it would injure our soldiers out there and some of our people here—that it would be just twelve days wasted. The President said:
“It is like picking cotton when it gets ready to be picked. Two or three days later they got hold of McNamara and they sold McNamara on it. I went to Texas and they all got to talking to Rusk and he would not buy it and finally this went on for several days and then Rusk called me and said that he thought in the light of things we ought to try it.
“I came back from Texas and met with General Wheeler and spent an hour and a half with him and he reviewed it all carefully with the Joint Chiefs. And he said that we could carry out their suggestion of not less than 12 and not more that 20 days advantage really to our side if I would pledge to him that I wouldn’t go more than 30 or 40 days. He sure did not want to give up much more than that time. The rain was on up there and they had a few holidays as I remember, during Christmas or Tet or something that would use up some of them that we wouldn’t actually lose much there, but we could get these planes and put them over there where we needed them and that he would go along [Page 897] although he wouldn’t recommend it or instigate it because of the psychological effect in the Congress.”
The President told Mr. Nixon that when he got it from the Joint Chiefs, he sent it out to General Taylor and he came in and reviewed the whole thing and he agreed that he would do the same thing. The President said neither of them would instigate it or recommend it or advise, but all of them would defend it. It was their feeling, however, that we could get back in business if we took that long a pause.
The President said he agreed to it and twelve days later it produced nothing, twenty days it produced nothing, thirty days it produced nothing and in thirty days the President said he started to try desperately to get back to the shore. He said by thirty-seven days he got back, but if it had been longer, he never would have got back because each day they would bring somebody in and keep them there and he could not bomb a Russian official or a Canadian official or anybody else in Hanoi so he had trouble. He said then finally one day they got it clear and got back in.
The President said the North Vietnamese were told that if they would show us that they were willing to stop anything, then the U.S. would take another move but did not say what that move would be. He said they had done nothing for three months. The President said:
“Now then we’ve got back and said this. If we would stop the bombing, to North Vietnam in private conversation, would you agree to the re-establishment of the DMZ, would you agree to stop your infiltration? Now if we do ours first, would you come along at a later time and agree to do that? We want to see if you are really sincere. Now let’s assume that you want us to stop and suppose we do stop, would you go to phase two? Now here is what is in phase two. Now you let us know how you feel about that before we actually act on the other. They have not responded. The word we received yesterday said they have it under serious consideration.”
Mr. Nixon asked if the President was talking about the North Vietnamese and he said that he was.
The President said:
“At the same time we said to the Russians you want us to stop the bombing. If we stop the bombing can you get them to stop this? You want a de-escalation. Now we are willing to de-escalate, but if we de-escalate, can you get them to de-escalate also? They are not giving us action on it. We assumed that if we had these discussions that they would respond to it, but they have never responded to it before.”[Page 898]
The President said that he had received a letter the day before from Kosygin.5 He said it was not on that, but it touched generally on the situation. The President said we were trying to arrange the time and the talks. He said he had not discussed this with any other candidate and wanted Mr. Nixon to keep it confidential. The President told him:
“So for this reason if you were the President and I was a Democratic nominee, I would do like I did when Eisenhower was President and that is about what you have said that I have read—’that I am not responsible for this country until I become President. I expect to be President on January the 20th, at which time I will take control of it and I will try to launch some initiatives and my judgments and do what I think is right. In the meantime, I don’t have all the information. I don’t have all the facts and I do not want to convey the impression that half a dozen people are speaking for this country or that we have got seven Commander-in-Chiefs trying to direct the affairs of this country. After I become President I plan to direct and assume my responsibility. Until then I do not plan to confuse and frustrate and make people wonder who is President of this country. ‘And that is what I’d do if I were running against you and you were President. I told one of the Democrats yesterday—I said, some of these days you are going to find the people are going to rise up and say who in the hell are for our men, who’s going to speak for our men, who’s going to support our men and you are going to be wishing you had supported us instead of letting Nixon do it and I think that it’s true.”
Mr. Nixon said as the President knew he (Nixon) had supported the commitment in Vietnam. He said he did not agree on the basis that we got dragged into it. He said the President and he knew that the reason we were there is in order to try to have peace in the Pacific. He said if you don’t stop aggression there you aren’t going to have peace in the Pacific. He said the way it was conducted was the President’s responsibility, but it was the commitment that is very, very important there.
Mr. Nixon said:
“There are terrible pressures regarding Vietnam. You see, I’ve been down there, my God—I was talking to the House members the other day, and I was talking to the Senate members and they said you know Ford stood very firm on that. You’ve just got to get a commitment. There is a whole group that believes we are losing the war, we’ve already lost. That’s the line. Now the briefing I had, of course, put a different view on that. I think the problem that we have now is that really—to put it quite frankly here—like Henry Clay, who was probably one of the least principled men who ever ran for the Presidency, but he [Page 899] used to say that he’d rather be right than to be President. I think you have to realize, and I’m sure you do, that what may be the right thing may be politically wrong in this country. You know the country is running away from us. Frankly, the press, I don’t say that in any mean and bitter sense, but they have begun finally to get through.”
Mr. Nixon then asked the President if he felt that way also and the President said that he did. Mr. Nixon then said as a example he had talked with a newspaper man who said Jack Valenti6 had told him that the President was planning to have a bombing pause between the two conventions and he said people then start running to Nixon and saying that he had to play tough until after the election if he wanted to win.
The President said that he had not seen Jack Valenti in months, that he would never discuss this kind of subject with him, and that he would have a bombing pause any time he could get anybody to underwrite the other side and he never would until he did.
Mr. Nixon went on to say:
“Let me say one thing. I would never put any credence in any of these stories but the only reason I raise it is to point out how serious it was and the real problem that we have. The problem that we have now and speaking as a party man, I want to do the right thing—is to be able, and I’m not here to write a statement for the platform today and I’ll take on some of the Congress, but to be able to write a statement that doesn’t run basically against Javits and now Morton, and a lot of guys up there don’t know better. That’s our problem. You hear for example, and I don’t carry tales to you, but this is all around town too that I understand that Hubert is under tremendous pressure. He’s got to fight McCarthy a political year is bad, but fighting this kind in a political year is the worst. So I suppose Hubert—and I respect him and admire him. He’s a hell of a man. He looks here, here’s McCarthy. He’s a hard man. Hubert is a guy that really should be over there with those people because he’s supporting them. I think he really believes it is right. And so he gets a bunch of guys in and says now what can he be for. I think he’ll have to come up with a bombing pause.” He asked the President if he agreed and the President said he did not believe that he would. He said he thought there would be pressure on him to. He said Humphrey asked the President the night before what he thought about it and the President said he thought it was absolutely ridiculous.
The President then reiterated that if the North Vietnamese would guarantee to us that they would establish a DMZ and would not infiltrate [Page 900] it, that he had already given them something for nothing and why give them any more.
Mr. Nixon said that eventually he would have to take a position on this and he hoped it would be a responsible one. He said, “If it is, it may be politically awfully hard to sell, but we have to do it. That’s the real thing.”
The President said:
“Well, now here is the basic mis-assumption that a good many people in this country are making and I may be wrong, but this is my best judgment. My best judgment is that we’re not losing the war. We’re winning it. Now my best judgment is we’re very close to winning it. My best judgment is that they will make another all-out grasp sometime the latter part of July to the 15th of August. They expect it now any day. And if they do, our people think they are ready for it. They hope they do. Westmoreland said to me, I hope they do. I said—how can you hope? He said that I would rather get them by the thousands than run them one by one. They told me that in Honolulu and it shocked the whole group there.”
Mr. Nixon said then we are pretty close to winning there?
The President said he wouldn’t say that exactly, but he would say that we are very close to letting the world know that they are out of business almost. He told Mr. Nixon they had suffered over 120,000 losses since January and they just could not keep on suffering that. He said the reason—there were two things.
“In the first place, I am not an amateur in this office and I don’t love this power that they all talk about a great deal. But I carefully calculated this thing from August of last year and I told McNamara in August that if he wanted to go to the World Bank he could. He said he’d stay over here as long as I wanted and I said you go on. And he said—’does that mean that you’re not going to run.’ I said no, but I had told John Connally. He had told me that he wouldn’t run for Governor. If I thought I needed him and wanted that Delegation and wanted him to be out in front and I told him that if I were in his place I wouldn’t run for Governor. Now you can take two things into your consideration. He came back in October. He asked me if there had been any change and I told him no. He was the only one I talked to.”
Mr. Nixon said that Connally was a good man.
The President then told Mr. Nixon that he had a statement and decided to put it in his State of the Union but then he didn’t. He said he figured March 31st was the last day he could—that Truman had done it he believed on March 30th and he felt it would be unfair to not go on and announce it, not waiting if he were going to run because he wanted everybody to have a chance. He said he did not care who it was.[Page 901]
“I thought I understood Bobby’s reasoning pretty well, and so I concluded that I could not get a tax bill and I had to keep the country fiscally sound and save the dollar, that I couldn’t get them to the Conference table and I had no chance for peace if I did not, that I could not clean up Vietnam during my time, doubtful if I ever could but certainly I couldn’t between now and January as a candidate. Now the question was—was it more important for me to be a candidate and try to take another four years to do these things, or to drop the candidacy part and try to do them now. Well, I concluded the latter, rather long. I’m happy I did. I’ve got my tax bill. I’m getting along better with the other things. I don’t think that you can get hurt by our continuing our present posture there as candidates. I’m talking about as long as you take the position that you support our men, and you certainly want to see them supported and do a good job that you are not responsible for all of these decisions we are making, but when you are—you will assume that responsibility. Now I told Humphrey that is the way I would play it. I said if you play it any other way you ought to say this: ‘I have no authority to speak for the Administration.’ This does not represent its policy at all and don’t you leave the impression that Humphrey is saying things that means Johnson because what you’re saying doesn’t mean Johnson.”
Mr. Nixon told the President:
“One thing that I want to assure you of, which I am sure you know, is we have come to the end of a line and we have got to look back and nobody at this time wants to make any decision to prolong this damn war a day longer or one that ended it and then have another one in four or five years. I have always put it in terms of winning the peace—not winning over North Vietnam. Winning the peace—so that is the thing I am particularly interested in.”
The President told Mr. Nixon that his position on that he thought was a pretty sound one.
Mr. Nixon said:
“Another thing I want to say is strictly personal between us. As you well know, the campaigns are going to be rough, but you can be sure that there will be nothing personal. I’ve kept that out and intend to continue to in respect to what you’ve done. I have said many times that you are the hardest working President that we have ever had in this office. I believe this.”
The President said that he had tried.
Mr. Nixon said beyond that on this issue that they had to do the right thing and the only thing that he would appreciate would be if the President would just keep him posted—that he’d be standing out there.[Page 902]
The President said:
“I think you have been very responsible. No person has been of more help to me as President than President Eisenhower, my fellow predecessor, and I hope that whoever is President that I can be of help to them.”
Secretary Rusk joined the meeting and the President reviewed briefly the points that he had touched on with Mr. Nixon. He suggested Secretary Rusk might want to give Mr. Nixon his evaluation of the situation. He told Secretary Rusk that he thought Mr. Nixon’s attitude in connection with what had been done in our relations with other nations had been a responsible one and that the President wanted to help him with any facts that we have that would be of value to him and the other candidates so that they don’t get misled or so they don’t mislead somebody else.
Mr. Nixon said that Bob Ellsworth, his advisor, might want to talk with the President about Mr. Nixon going to the Soviet Union between Conventions. He said he would only do it if he thought that he could be helpful and only for the purpose of listening so that he could know these people.
[Omitted here is discussion of the situation in Czechoslovakia.]
Mr. Nixon asked if there was any way that the Czechoslovakia situation could be put on the scales in the Vietnam situation—was there any way that we could “play the game or is that too dangerous?”
Secretary Rusk thought the sacrifice that we would make in either place would be unacceptable. He said there was not much room there so far as the physical construction is concerned.
Secretary Rusk said on the Paris talks just to sum it up very quickly—the two delegations are there without an agreed agenda, the U.S. is there on the basis of the President’s March 31st speech, the Hanoi delegation is there on the basis of their April 3rd statement which said the only purpose is to get us to come to a decision if all of the bombing stopped.7
Secretary Rusk said to a certain degree we have been talking past each other. He said that he felt Hanoi had lost some ground in the world opinion and the propaganda side. Their claim that they had no troops in South Vietnam was just laughed at and their rocket attacks on Saigon while the talks in Paris were going on bounced back on them. There is no way to know why they let up on this—whether it was for propaganda reasons or what. He said that what we were really trying to find out was the answer to one simple question—what would happen if the [Page 903] bombing were stopped. He said nobody in the world—no human being is thus far able to tell us. Hanoi refuses to and no one else is able to.
Secretary Rusk said:
“I’ll make one remark that ought to be very closely held and that is that Hanoi is saying, at the moment, that they are giving serious consideration to what we’ve said on this subject. They have not yet answered. They have apparently not had their own answer from Hanoi. We think they are at least thinking it over. We have no reason to be encouraged about it, or discouraged about it. It’s the Hanoi delegation in Paris.”
Secretary Rusk went on to say that there was no doubt but what was happening in North Vietnam was the principal interest of the Soviet Union and all across this country. On the other hand, the Soviets are unable to say what would happen if we stopped the bombing. He said they sort of leave general enticements that the atmosphere would be improved, what might happen and that sort of thing, but even with the capacity of the Soviet Union and the United States to have the most secret communications they are unable to tell us what would happen if we stopped the bombing. We do think the Soviets have been discussing these problems with Hanoi. We’re inclined to believe—to the extent they have some influence to say to Hanoi—at least try to be serious about this. But we don’t expect Moscow to go out in advance of Hanoi, and even in a somewhat public position because I think they are nervous about just pushing Hanoi, holding it in the arms of Peking among other things.
Mr. Nixon asked if they felt they could pull the plug on the supplies because of Peking and Secretary Rusk said that was right. He said he also thought that they were ideologically motivated and if Hanoi should get away with it in Southeast Asia, the leadership of the Communist world would be involved. Secretary Rusk said we were working that side of the street too.
The President said we have said in effect the same thing to the Soviets and said: “If we stop the bombing would you see that certain things are done? To neither of those questions do we have operational answers.”
Mr. Nixon said:
“It’s too bad we have an election at this time and they say why not stop the bombing and so on and so forth. I frankly didn’t intend to go in that direction, but it does show you how far your own advisers can go, particularly on this point, and I think as I said to the President earlier that our problem here is American public opinion which really thinks, well, let’s go the extra mile and that is, how far can you go without getting something in return. Now as far as you see it at the present [Page 904] time, this is just one bit of leverage, a very important bit of leverage that you have left in order to get them to do something. Is this an important military aspect?”
Secretary Rusk reported that it was because we were knocking out an awful lot of trucks. He said we had been knocking the dickens out of them, and units that have been moving down and things of that type.
Mr. Nixon said the thing he wanted to know was whether there was any indication that they would do something. He wanted to know if they were hurting so much that they might be willing to do something.
Secretary Rusk said he felt that in the last ten days they were more interested in the problem and were willing to listen, although they haven’t said too much yet. They say they are seriously considering it. He said:
“The fact that the war has been prosecuted against them so effectively brings them to the point that they now might consider trying to find a way to de-escalate. Let me remind you of something—going back twenty years. There were no objective reasons why the communists had to stop the bringing in of guerrillas into Greece. There was no objective reason why they had to lift the Berlin blockade when they did. When the Korean War was highly [finally?] drawing to conclusion, heavens there were 600 million Chinese back there that they were not brought into the thing, you see. In other words, there is a physical capability to continue something of this sort, but long before you get to that there is a possibility that for reasons of their own, which we do not fully understand, they decided that they had better bring it to an end in some fashion.”
Mr. Nixon spoke up and said “you never know.”
The President said if we thought we were hurting because we had lost 10,000 men out of 200 million, imagine what must be happening to them when they have lost 100 odd thousand out of a much smaller population.
Mr. Nixon said he had felt that way for a long time but then you get this loud propaganda that we are confronted with. He expressed concern on the stand that some of the Republicans had taken and he said it might be a pretty hard decision on the part of the candidate not to run—to run away from it.
Secretary Rusk said he might make one frivolous remark on this—that there were about a dozen elements involved in this matter of peace settlement in Vietnam and his mathematicians tell him that you get 40 million different combinations out of those elements. He said that all sorts of people have come forward with all sorts of readjustments of various elements that we have been talking about for a long time. He said the trouble with all of them is that Hanoi says no to all of them. He pointed out that there were a lot of proposals made that do not involve [Page 905] Washington. He said, in fact they were not even in Hanoi, that Hanoi continues to say no to all of them.
Mr. Nixon said that it was the idea too—the Rockefeller proposal, like so many others very well intended, but this is done in order to do our good faith. He said what we had been doing was trying to prove our good faith. He said you would find out that 78% of the land there in North Vietnam is untouched.
The President said that was one of the seven or eight good faith news he pointed out. He said there had been five or six pauses and he did not know how many different propositions—25 or 30. Secretary Rusk said at least 30.
The President said:
“Thirty various proposals that were made by the United Nations or by India, or by Great Britain or by somebody else, by the Pope. We found that out that they said no to all of them. We made just five or six pauses and now we stopped the bombing over Hanoi and Haiphong and said—now you give us some little indication to show us that you’re interested and we’ll stop some more. But he said no, we’re right at this stage where we have said we are going to continue as we are unless and until you can give us some indication that the next move we make will not endanger our own American boys’ lives.”
Mr. Nixon agreed that he had to say that.
The President said:
“I said to a man last night, as I told you. Do you think that I, as Commander-in-Chief, ought to look that boy in the eye and say to him, I’m going to stop the bombing and he said why and I say so 30 percent more trucks can hit you tomorrow. If it were South of the DMZ, I’d say okay, I’ll tell you why I stopped so we wouldn’t go across the DMZ. I’d tell you why I stopped because they quit shelling Saigon. But when I look at him and he says why did you stop and I would say so 30 percent more trucks can hit you, that’s not a very good answer. That’s the only answer I’ve got now. Now if any of these fellows give me another answer, if Reischauer or McCarthy or anybody can give me another answer, I am willing to consider it. Or North Vietnam, but it’s apparent they don’t.”
Secretary Rusk said that those who say they are not going to do anything that would get in the way or complicate the Paris talks are in the strongest possible position because in fact, at this moment, almost anything can happen in Paris. In other words, if you make any comments later, it depends on how this thing moves.
Mr. Nixon said, “Well, it is the right position. As I have said several times, you can only have one President at a time and one Secretary of State and who else can negotiate.” Secretary Rusk told him he would be [Page 906] surprised at how many Secretaries of State we have got in this country at the moment.
The President recounted the incident when Walt Rostow briefed President Eisenhower on Tet and he asked President Eisenhower: “What will come out of Tet. Do you predict that thing will hold up there and they will have a change of Government and we will have a lot more problems?”
President Eisenhower said “Well, here is what I say. I say that they did not have a military victory. They may have, speaking of the North Vietnamese, they may gain a psychological victory. We’ll have to see what develops in the way of the press and the turn of events and so forth. But I think all of us agree that it was somewhat of a psychological victory but they paid in a kamikaze way. They paid a very heavy price for that victory.” Rostow then gave President Eisenhower a rundown on the situation.
The President pointed out that they said two or three things at Honolulu that he thought Mr. Nixon ought to know for his peace people—namely, the one man, one vote, let them participate, form the Constitution.
Mr. Nixon asked how that could be defined in relation to the whole jazz about Coalition Government.
Mr. Rostow answered by saying that on the political side, everybody in South Vietnam is against a Coalition unless they have decided upon it, that Coalition can be either one in which Communists take over. He said there had been some Coalition Governments in Eastern Europe which were a way to take over the power and there had been some Cosmetic-Communist menaces that have to come out so that Hanoi understands this and they were after Tet certainly to get a Coalition Government in Eastern European type.
Mr. Rostow then discussed at length the types of governments. After the review, Mr. Nixon said:
“So in effect they would allow a Nationalist Marxist Party. There would be no objection to that?” Mr. Rostow said that was correct.
Mr. Nixon then asked if their constitution did not use the term communist and he was told that it did.
Mr. Rostow pointed out there were three things. The first, was the one man, one vote and the marginal shift in its position. The President spoke up and said this was what they agreed to. He said this ought to be a little palatable to “your” people. It ought to be to the peaceniks or to the group, the Javits.
Mr. Rostow said the second was that Thieu and President Johnson agreed that they will be prepared any time they are ready, even before [Page 907] a political settlement, to talk about the total cessation of hostilities. He pointed out that we have conducted with the South Vietnamese a series of bi-weekly meetings between Ambassador Bunker and the Vietnamese leaders on major issues involved in making peace. He said they had a very complex, interesting session of all of the changes to be on the 1953 courts, for example. He said without fixed concepts, it is a complicated and difficult question. The two Presidents were prepared to make the proposition to Hanoi that any time they were prepared to sit down and talk seriously about the problems of how to handle this kind of war, we were prepared to do it. He went on to say that this is not any sort of a simple-minded cease fire, but it is serious subjects in very complex circumstances and Thieu is quite prepared to go forward.
[Omitted here is discussion of the USS Pueblo.]
Mr. Nixon made this point:
“Here is the argument that is made. They say now if you can get that Vietnamese thing off the plate then the Soviets would be willing to help out on a lot of things. They would help you out with the Pueblo. They’d help you out with this and that. What is the answer to that? I don’t believe it myself, but (interrupted).”
The President said he had said all along that if the Vietnamese problem was out of the way we could move along. He said he did not know of any period in the history when there had been more agreement with them than the Consular Agreement, had the Space Agreement, had the non-proliferation agreement and now are talking about offensive and defensive weapons. He said the U.S. feels that they are going to be guided by their own interests and we think it is to their interest as well as to our interest that North Korea turn these folks loose.
The President said:
“We think they are going to try to get them to do it, if they can. I thought that at Glassboro and I left Kosygin the proposition that we had made to him that he felt was not an unreasonable proposition.8 Nothing came out of it. I don’t know whether North Vietnam wouldn’t follow his suggestions or whether his own people wouldn’t follow them when he got back. We don’t ever know about those things. I don’t know whether if Vietnam was out of the way we would make any more progress with them or not. I seriously doubt that we would. I’m not able to prove it. The only answer I can give to it is that we have our responsibilities. We’re going to have to live up to them out there. As long as I am President we are going to and I am going to try to turn this thing over to whoever does just like it was turned over to me, keep the commitments that we will make.”[Page 908]
Mr. Nixon said:
“Let’s suppose that we chickened out basically. Call it any way you want it. It is going to be interpreted that way if we agree to a Coalition Government or any of the others. Let’s suppose that happens. I think we should all say that because I think it is true. The nations in that area are stronger today than they were three years ago because we have kept the cork in the bottle. But let’s suppose it happened today. What’s going to be the effect on Thailand and Malaysia and Japan, particularly Japan, or do they care any more?”
Secretary Rusk said privately they would rather have us stay in there. He said this is a very private part of the conversation about General Ne Win.9 Secretary Rusk said privately General Ne Win is a real hawk on Vietnam—Morarji Desai of India is very strong; Panto de Panas has recently won an election in that anti-American opposition there, and his brother is even stronger. They haven’t changed. He reported that the Philippinos are a little relaxed about it. They think they could be doing more than they are doing and we have been trying to get them to do it.
Mr. Nixon posed the following question:
“The fundamental point that I constantly try to bring up. I can only do it through the Republican side with these guys. I say well, look, let’s forget all the other arguments. Let’s forget the Domino Theory—the nations are now stronger, they can keep it, and after all we can withdraw and forget everything else. Let’s suppose that this war is ended in a way that it is interpreted, doesn’t make any difference what it is, interpreted as a defeat for us and a win for them. Doesn’t this have a massive effect on the cost at Peking and the cost in Moscow?”
Secretary Rusk agreed that is right, but there is a danger in our own country—that’s the real problem. He said the most important thing in the world for a candidate is that if he were to become President his credibility would be respected by the other side in a moment of crisis. Mr. Rostow agreed with Mr. Rusk’s summation.
Mr. Nixon said he appreciated the time the President had given him. He said as he told the President earlier, the problem of the candidate is very complicated at the moment. He said he had always talked about the commitment. He said: “In other words, I could never see the argument that is made by some of my colleagues that say well, we shouldn’t be there but now since we’re there we are honor bound to stay. The main point is that we are there for a reason, as I understand it, and I think this is the fundamental point. I think your San Antonio speech was the one that laid it on the line so strong.”[Page 909]
Secretary Rusk said we were there for a reason that was almost unanimously agreed to by both parties when the commitment was made.
Mr. Nixon said:
“And I do want to say too that apart from any differences that we naturally have to have politically at this time that I have really admired the way that all of you have stood up under great fire. The way you handled yourself before that miserable questioning you had. I know some of the things that you’ve gone through in your background.”
Mr Nixon said what concerned him is what has happened to American public opinion, within a matter of six months starting with the Tet offensive. “It isn’t just the Gallup and Harris reports. You know you can sense it—Congressmen coming back. Congressmen have stood up before—just like a bunch of jelly at the present time. And the reason is—and this is the fundamental thing they raise such a fuss about. I have just been on the Hill and the fellow who has stood very firmly with me in this issue said you’ve got to change your position. I said why? And he said the war is lost. Now if you put it that way, that is what we’ve got to be concerned about. If that’s the case, then we’ve got to find a way to get out.”
Secretary Rusk said nobody told that to our fellows in Vietnam. They don’t feel that way out there. He said in the last few months they have captured 48 battalions worth of equipment from the other side.
The President asked Mr. Nixon if he wanted to address himself briefly that the war is lost and Mr. Nixon said he thought the President’s people covered it very well.
The President suggested he clear it with General Wheeler and General Abrams and specifically what has actually happened in numbers so he could bear that in mind. Mr. Nixon replied that he did not think he needed any convincing on that. He said he did not buy the idea that the war was lost—that if the President thought that he would have told him.
The President said a lot of the information was public record but if there were things Mr. Nixon wanted to know in the weeks ahead, he hoped he would feel free to pick up the telephone and call him.
Mr. Nixon said the only thing he would need information on, for example, if the President was going to move in the direction of a bombing pause or something of that sort, he would like to know because he did not intend to advocate one. He said he told the President that because there is a little discussion, but on the other hand, if the President was going to move in such a direction, he thought he should know so that they won’t be out there fighting a battle that has already been lost.
[Omitted here is discussion of impending foreign aid legislation.]
- Source: Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room. No classification marking. Tom Johnson joined the meeting at 6:33 p.m., and Rostow and Rusk at 6:40 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room. Tom Johnson’s handwritten notes of the meeting are ibid., Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Beginning at 11:15 a.m., Rusk met with Wallace to brief him, first at the State Department then at 12:20 p.m. at the White House. (Ibid., Dean Rusk Appointment Books, 1967–1969) The President joined Wallace’s briefing from 12:45 to 1:05 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)↩
- Javits and other Senators criticized the Honolulu Conference and called for an immediate halt to the bombing of North Vietnam. See The New York Times, July 26, 1968.↩
- At a news conference on July 13, Governor Nelson Rockefeller criticized the Johnson administration for not tabling a specific bargaining plan that would overcome the climate of mistrust on both sides at Paris. He proposed a four-phase plan beginning with a pullback by both sides and the insertion of an international peacekeeping force, followed by the withdrawal of most, but not all, foreign troops from South Vietnam and the cessation of military activity by the VC. Elections would follow, and U.S. troops would withdraw entirely. In the last phase, the DRV and the GVN would negotiate the process for reunification, at which point the buffering troops would depart. See ibid., July 14, 1968.↩
- Reference is to the bombing pause during the winter of 1965–1966.↩
- Not further identified.↩
- Special Assistant to the President, 1963–1966.↩
- See Documents 169 and 175.↩
- For documentation of the summit between Johnson and Kosygin at Glassboro in June 1967, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Documents 217 ff.↩
- Burmese Prime Minister Ne Win.↩