103. Notes of Meeting1


  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary Clifford
  • General Wheeler
  • Walt Rostow
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

Walt Rostow: Bill Jorden thinks they will back off for five days.2

General Wheeler: You could stand it. The problem is related to morale, particularly the Vietnamese morale. The sooner there is an actual meeting with the GVN present, the better the performance of the ARVN and the U.S. forces will be.

Secretary Rusk: We need to get this in the announcement—the inclusion of the GVN.

The President: Why do they need more than one day?

Secretary Rusk: To get people there.

The President: I’d rather not stop bombing until we get them there.

Secretary Rusk: I guess they understand that this is to get away from the “condition” set by a halt in the bombing.

[Page 283]

The President: What is the weather?

General Wheeler: It is terrible. The monsoon season has hit. The roads are practically impassable. The effects on the ARVN of a long delay could be bad—not in terms of physical damage, but in terms of morale. McConnell said if we were to stop the bombing, now is the time to do it.

The President: If they used the week badly it could hurt us.

General Wheeler: I’m more concerned about the effect on the ARVN. They have been doing well. They will sit on their hands if the effect is bad. I am a one-day man.

Secretary Rusk: A week is too long. Two weeks are impossible.

There could be a meeting at 3 p.m.
We could stop the bombing at midnight Friday, and announce Friday evening here, which is Saturday morning Saigon time.

The President: We could go Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. On their Monday meeting, it would be held.

General Wheeler: 12 midnight Saigon time is noon here. 1500 hours Paris time is 10 p.m. Saigon time, 10 a.m. Washington time Monday, the 28th.

Walt Rostow: With the ambiguity in Thieu’s statement,3 Ambassador Bunker should ask Thieu whether we could live through it.

The President: I worry about the morale.

Secretary Clifford: There is a missing factor here. I don’t know what happened since last week.

The President: The implications of the negotiators were that they didn’t have an agreement they thought they had.

Secretary Clifford: I thought we had an agreement. Why did we consult with the allies?

Secretary Rusk: Hanoi came up with changes in timing.

The President: We thought they said they would have negotiations the next day.

Secretary Rusk: Hanoi didn’t have this buttoned up with the NLF.

[Page 284]

The President: I don’t think we have an agreement now.

Secretary Clifford: Neither do I.

Prime Minister Gorton had a press conference.

Secretary Rusk: What is your reaction?

Secretary Clifford: The agreement must be solid and firm.

The President: I agree.

Secretary Clifford: We may need to get it in writing.

When I left here Monday,4 I thought we had a deal. On Tuesday, I learned we didn’t have a deal since the Paris delegation had to go back to Hanoi.

We must have a kind of agreement whereby:

The bombing is stopped as of a certain time.
The time when the meeting is to be held with the NLF and the GVN present is determined. We must get it in writing.

Secretary Rusk: Take it easy on written requirements.

Secretary Clifford: Nobody told me they had gone back on it.

The President: Mac Bundy said we ought to stop it. Vice President Humphrey said the same thing.

Secretary Clifford: There is no need to go back to the troop contributors.

The President: I must get Abrams on board.

Walt Rostow: We must have them honor the DMZ or Abe [Abrams] will respond instantly. He and Thieu must know they must stand firm.

The President: What is the deal now? Get Cy and Averell to insure we understand each other. Get Bunker and Abe to please tell us what problems this will cause us. Are they together on times?

Secretary Rusk: If each side can talk, time is the key factor.

Secretary Clifford: Mr. President, your approach is the right one. What is the deal? Write it out.

  • In three days, send a cable to Cy and Averell to see if they’re aboard.
  • See if Bunker and Abe agree.
  • See if Hanoi is aboard and the Soviets are aboard.

The President: Get the language.

Secretary Clifford: They can name the participants.

General Wheeler: They must name the GVN.

Secretary Clifford: Get this square with Thieu.

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The President: He has worse problems at home than I do with Fulbright. He has problems with his Senate and his people, too.

Secretary Rusk: It was Thieu who insisted that there not be a mention of NLF in the joint statement. They want to treat the NLF as non-existent.

The first of the meetings will be for the birds.

We have debacles. That’s why we have diplomats. We are the Department of Debacles.

Here are the conditions:

The bombing ceases as of a certain time. Reconnaissance continues.
There is a meeting within three days. A time is announced for the meeting, e.g. midnight Friday Saigon time, 3 p.m. Paris time, noon, Washington time.
The DMZ is not violated. If so, Abrams responds.
The cities are not attacked. If so, there is a response.
The GVN are present at the negotiating sessions.

The meeting is 3 p.m. Monday Paris time.

They proposed the 24th or 25th.

General Wheeler: This is an example.

Secretary Rusk: I would put this as a hard proposal.

Secretary Clifford: If we have trouble over a date, the whole thing will collapse.

Walt Rostow: Cy is convinced they understand the DMZ and cities part. What we say is important. Can we get Thieu aboard?

Secretary Rusk: Yes.

Walt Rostow: We cannot treat the NLF as an entity. The delay cannot be too long.

Secretary Rusk: This weekend is the last chance. We cannot do it directly before or afterwards.

Secretary Clifford: Publicity has extracted the sting of politics.

Secretary Rusk: Nixon seems to be comfortable.

Secretary Clifford: We should say we have an agreement; we will stop the bombing; we will do it within three days.

Walt Rostow: This would be to Bunker-Abrams.

  1. Source: Johnson Library. Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Oval Office, with the President and Rusk entering at 11:59 a.m.; Clifford, Wheeler, and Rostow at 12:01 p.m.; and Christian and Tom Johnson at 12:10. Clifford and Rostow left at 12:50 p.m., Wheeler at 12:55, and Rusk at 12:56, while Christian and Tom Johnson accompanied the President for a walk on the South Lawn. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. In a memorandum to the President, October 22, 12:00 p.m. Rostow wrote: “Bill Jorden just called and said he wished to lay before me at this critical moment his views. He believes the other side is in a mood to settle: they have backed off on recce; they have backed off on a joint communiqué. The issue now is, first, time. He believes that they would accept five days. He recommends that we be ‘adjustable’ and not insist on two or three days. He does not believe that it would be easy to explain a hang-up and failure of negotiation on a question of 48 or 72 hours.” Rostow also noted that Jorden listed the text of a secret minute as the “second hang-up issue.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3]) In a memorandum to the President, October 22, 5:30 p.m., Rostow wrote: “In a casual classified telephone conversation, I asked Jorden: Why are we insisting on a week? Is it merely to make political trouble in Saigon? He said: I think it is to preserve the myth that the NLF had to get from the jungle in Tay Ninh province, to Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Peking, Moscow, and Paris—after the bombing stops. That would take five days if it were the truth.” (Ibid.)
  3. In response to comments in an October 20 televised interview of Humphrey which were critical of Thieu’s stance on the negotiations, Thieu noted on October 22 that he was “willing and ready to take any action which can hasten the establishment of a just and honorable peace” and that he would drop his opposition to the bombing halt when it became clear that the DRV would join the GVN in de-escalating the war and in direct negotiations. See The New York Times, October 21 and 22, 1968, and Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, November 23-30, 1968, p. 23041.
  4. October 21.