71. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary of State Dean Rusk
  • Governor Harriman

When I telephoned the Secretary to tell him of the unsatisfactory reply we had from Macovescu’s visit to Hanoi, he asked me to stop in. I showed him the specific message and told him that in addition, Macovescu had reported verbally that the Hanoi officials had stated that our point of view was unacceptable as it made the stopping of bombing conditional.2 This confirmed the rejection of the San Antonio formula. I explained that the only glimmer of light was Macovescu’s statement that the Romanian Government was prepared to pass any further messages to Hanoi. The Secretary said he thought we should close out this channel, thanking the Government, and specifically for Macovescu’s personal efforts. I agreed, with the comment that Hanoi seems to be trying several channels in addition to the Romanians. I pointed to the strange one through Rome and the new one through Algard, the Norwegian Ambassador in Peking.3 This indicated, I said, that Hanoi was trying out several channels as negotiation feelers—perhaps substantiating one guess that Hanoi had expected general disarray in the United States as well as in the South Vietnam Government, which would lead to negotiations at any price.

Dean asked whether we had answered the Rome feelers. I said I didn’t recall that we had but would see that some answer was prepared. [Page 198] We discussed the reply that had gone to Oslo and he agreed that we should await developments there.

I asked him if he had read Senator Mansfield’s inexcusable speech in Maine, and since he hadn’t and his New York Times was in front of him, I suggested he look at it mentioning that it was on page 8. He read about half of it and said, “well, if we’re all wrong we’ll be spending the rest of our time in Hobe Sound or otherwise these men will have to eat their words”.4

He said that the gloom in World War II was much worse than now. I replied that in London in January 1942 there was gossip of Churchill’s Government collapsing; Beaverbrook really believed that he was going to be called by the King to take the Prime Ministership. Dean said he didn’t see why we should be so distressed. I said that I thought there should be a review of the military program. That Westmoreland had been consistently proven wrong in his military judgment. I wasn’t at all sure that his military plans were right; that I could not sit in Washington and suggest a military program, but I felt the program should be reviewed. I hoped that the President would not commit himself to Westmoreland. Our pacification program had received a major blow. As far as I was concerned I did not know what our military plan should be but I was not at all sure Westmoreland was on the right track. To this he made no reply. I mentioned my memorandum (of February 9)5 in which I pointed out my opinion that we must have a broadly based government—perhaps this was the time to get rid of Loc, the Prime Minister, who reports indicated was no good. I suggested Huang, or some other political leader, or else Thieu’s idea of a broadly based advisory committee which would have real functions not just scenery.

He again repeated that he didn’t see why we should be discouraged; that perhaps he was wrong. He referred to the depression in World War II. I said that that was quite different. Then I was not depressed because I was convinced of our own capacity. The problem today is not our capacity but the capacity of the South Vietnamese to develop a government with the will and spirit; we had to work through them; we could not do the job ourselves. I pointed to the encouragement of the better fighting of the ARVN and other South Vietnamese units without any unit defection but we had no information on individual dissenters. He agreed we should find out how rapidly and how many of the Tet vacationers returned to their units. He also agreed that [Page 199] the clearance of Saigon and other cities had been done largely by Vietnamese troops and should be given credit. However, he spoke about the continued great losses of the Viet Cong. I said that I didn’t know yet whether the VC had expected to take such losses and thought them worthwhile. I could not agree with Westmoreland’s optimism about attrition. There was some evidence that the Vietnamese Communists were quite ready to accept the ratio of loss as being favorable to their side (I was referring not to this last period but to the previous period). On the whole, I got the impression that, although he admitted that he might be wrong, he did not indicate there should be any change in plans, programs, etc.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, General-February 1968. Secret; Nodis/Personal; Packers. Drafted by Harriman. This memorandum of conversation was transmitted to the Embassy in Romania in telegram 117922 to Bucharest, February 20. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PACKERS)
  2. In a conversation with Harriman and Davidson, February 12, Bogdan discussed Macovescu’s meetings in Hanoi with Dong and Trinh during the period January 22–28. As a result of these contacts, Bogdan noted, his government put forth a new interpretation of a formula for peace involving “new conditions” created for a “new step towards a solution through negotiations.” These “Romanian considerations” consisted of an unconditional cessation of bombing by the United States, followed, after “a convenient period of time” for the United States to “prove” that it had in fact terminated hostilities, by talks “on questions of interest to the two parties.” According to the memorandum of conversation, “the Governor stated his unofficial reaction is that Hanoi does not wish talks and he commented that Hanoi had paid no attention to cigars.” (Ibid.) Macovescu later expanded on the particulars of his visit to Hanoi in conversations with Harriman on March 2 and with Rusk on March 4. (Memoranda of conversation, March 2 and March 4; ibid.)
  3. See Document 66.
  4. In a speech at the University of Maine on February 11, Mansfield described the South Vietnamese political structure as insecure and unstable and declared his opposition to any effort by the United States to “insure that any political structure shall be enshrined over the smoldering ruins of a devastated Vietnam.” See The New York Times, February 12, 1968.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 62.