100. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk 1

President: Hello.

Rusk: Mr. President, I just had a brief word with Cy Vance.2 Oberemko, the Russian, had just walked into his office for a second meeting and had gotten simply as far as saying that he was having great trouble with the Hanoi delegation. And when I called Vance out to the phone, I told Vance that a week was impossible; that he had already taken that view over there on two occasions; that our real position was one day. In fact, I personally Don’t see why, if we stop the bombing, they can’t meet the next day, but if 2 to 3 days would make any difference, we could do that. I was hoping if we do that we could do it over a weekend so that the psychology would be that Saturday and Sunday aren’t working days anyhow, and if we stopped on Friday night and the meeting is on Monday morning, most people would accept that. He said he would hold to the 2 to 3 days business and report back to us on this present talk that is now going on with the Russian. I’m very disappointed and really amazed that Dobrynin got this thing fouled up because he just turned it around—thought if we stopped the bombing [Page 278]on Monday then there would be a meeting on Friday or Saturday, where I had said that if we had a meeting on Monday, we could stop it on the Saturday preceding. So it may be that the Russians sort of got bugged in on the idea that a week was possible and they have been pressing Hanoi for a week, and now a week won’t work, so the thing becomes unhooked again.

President: I think there are three things that we have to bear in mind. First, I do not believe the Saigon government, from the cables I have been reading, with Ky with all his problems and their attitude out there, I don’t believe they can stop the bombing for a week and just sit there and say nothing, and what happens in that week would be very dangerous. That government has a million men. Second, I know I can’t—I just can’t sit here and say nothing for a whole damn week after we stop it with a week before the elections. Now, I wouldn’t have any hesitancy, if they want to wait—give them a week’s time and then stop the bombing and meet the next day or wait 10 days. As a matter of fact, I had rather do that anyway. I am very fearful that while it is unjustified and uncalled for and untrue, I am very fearful that the politicians will say we are doing this just a week before elections. And I rather think the Communists may be having some of that in mind, and I don’t want to play their game and allow them to use me as a Charlie McCarthy. Therefore, if they’re unwilling to take the position they took, that they could have serious discussions the day after the bombing stopped, then I am very uninterested in their proposal. I would wait, if they want me to give them a week or 10 days to go get the NLF, that’s all right. But after we stop the bombing, I expect them to be ready to move and have their tennis shoes on.

Rusk: Right. I agree.

President: Okay.

Rusk: Fine.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 22, 1968, 9:50 a.m., Tape F6810.05, PNO 10. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.
  2. Rusk received a call from Vance in Paris at 9:40 a.m. (Ibid., Dean Rusk Appointment Books, 1968-1969)