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78. Memorandum of Conversation1

MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION WITH THE PRESIDENT

I talked with the President at noon today alone. [Omitted here is brief discussion of domestic issues.]

He then said, “Now what will I say to U Thant?”2 I said I had prepared a memorandum as he had asked me to, which he read over and said gave him a good review.3 I said on the basis of this record he has[Page 220] every right to tell U Thant that there has been no indication from Hanoi yet that they seriously want negotiations. They want the U.S. surrender.

I said I was still hopeful, however, that they were moving in that direction and that I hoped that we could get talks started before the autumn. He said that would be most desirable. I said they should understand the chance they are running in the election for a tougher U.S. position. He said, “I'm afraid they don't understand that.”

I said I was afraid our military did not recognize that it wasn't just the North Vietnamese we were fighting. We were fighting North Vietnam with the full, determined support of the Soviet Union and Red China; that I thought Westmoreland's attrition rate was acceptable to the North since the manpower situation in Asia was unlimited. Also, Kosygin had told me that the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe had offered volunteers, and this offer was open. I am not sure that he liked that comment, but I went on to refer to the recent meetings of the Non-Communist Front. He readily agreed that this was the most important thing that had happened, and did not dispute my statement that this Front would be strong enough to deal with the VC or elements of the NLF, which is not true of the Saigon Government. He did not appear to disagree also with the statement that I felt the eventual solution lay in South Vietnam, even though talks between us and Hanoi might have to come first.

As I left he thanked me for my support and I commented that I thought I should continue to be very blunt off the record and rather careful on the record, as I was still his representative in peace negotiations which should be non-political. This position I would change when the elections grew nearer. I feel sure he fully agrees.

W. Averell Harriman 4
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Chronological File, February 1968. Secret; For Personal Files Only; Absolutely No Distribution. Drafted by Harriman. The meeting began at 12:37 p.m. and lasted until 1 p.m. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary)
  2. The President met with Thant the next day; see Document 80.
  3. Harriman brought to the meeting a memorandum entitled “Our Efforts To Seek a Peaceful Settlement of the Vietnam Conflict,” which detailed the numerous efforts since 1964 of the Johnson administration to seek a peaceful resolution of the war. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Chronological File, February 1968) In a February 19 memorandum to Warnke, Under Secretary of the Air Force Townsend Hoopes decried the administration's dour predictions of the prospects for peace talks following Tet, noting that “only in circumstances under which Hanoi can demonstrate a degree of military muscle [and] can make clear that NVN has remaining strengths and alternatives, will it be willing to accept the risk of serious bargaining from which it knows there will emerge a compromise solution—i.e., something less than its stated war objectives.” (Johnson Library, Alain Enthoven Papers, Alternative Strategies 1968)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.