115. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk1

Rusk: In behind the scenes with Averell, particularly with Averell, but with Averell and Cy—they are entirely loyal in their talks with Hanoi. That’s something you can be assured of.

President: Yes, I think that’s right. But I think you and I have to be prepared for their lobbying with us à la the Shrivers or Nick or somebody else. I mean, I think—I don’t think there’s—I could tell that when they were here. Both of them. They want peace at any price and I think we just have to bear that in mind. Now, I think our strongest point is one you came up with. I’m sorry the Russians are shoving us like they are. You say you got a cable last night?2

Rusk: Yes.

President: They are shoving awfully hard because they are the peace-makers. And I am sorry they are, because that gives us some problems. But I wished they would keep quiet and then say “How bright a boy I am.” But I think our best point with both the doves and our own administration—Under Secretaries and even Secretaries of other Departments—is that Dobrynin suggested that we take the November 2d date and move as close to it as we felt we could.

Rusk: Right.

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President: That we have done. We feel like we ought to do that, and we just Don’t think that we ought to try to get something there that would destroy us here.

Rusk: Give some thought, Mr. President, to this point. There’s only one file of these HARVAN Double Plus cables in this building and Ben Read and I are the only ones that have physical possession of that file. Nick and Bill Bundy are the only two others who are familiar with it. Now consider whether—if you had a very clear private understanding with Clark—whether he should not have in his own safe a similar file.

President: Yes, I think that would be good.

Rusk: But emphasize to him that he just must not talk with anybody else over there about it because I think there is a little bit of a problem here.

President: Has he indicated anything?

Rusk: No. He hasn’t complained to me at all about it.

President: This is strictly diplomatic, isn’t it?

Rusk: Well, it is. But, you see, we have communicated with Harriman and Abrams without his being intimately involved in all of the records, you see, and it does also involve the armed forces and the military situation out there. So I think that it is a point you might want to think about. It would make things a little more comfortable in talking about telegrams—when you want to sit down with him and go over them and so forth you have the full background.

President: Yes, and maybe we ought to talk a little more, you and I, without always having a bigger group.

Rusk: I think that is right.

President: Well, let’s try to do that. You take some initiative, put your hat on, and come on over sometime and we will just sit down and you say, “These are the problems.”

Rusk: Yeah.

President: Now, I don’t want to yield much away from my November 2d or 3d date and I don’t want to go much more than the 3 days. I assume you know that.

Rusk: Yes. I made—I possibly made a mistake yesterday. Harriman had called back saying they wanted 7 days. I assumed you knew that and I didn’t report that specifically in.

President: No, I didn’t know that. I knew they wanted 7.

Rusk: They would like to go up to 7.

President: I knew they wanted 7. After he got our instructions he called?

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Rusk: No, no. This was before that. This was the day before yesterday.

President: I see. He said he wanted 7.

Rusk: That is right.

President: And you told him?

Rusk: I told him our real position was the next day and we had gone to 2 or 3 and it was just unmanageable to go to 7.

President: And what did he say?

Rusk: Well, I didn’t pursue it. I didn’t myself personally talk to him. I sent him a message on that.3

President: What did Cy say last night? Do you have a full report on that?

Rusk: Nick says Cy accepted it and will do his best on it. I think that Cy and Averell would both prefer that they have more wiggle room in stretching the days a little bit, you see.

President: What was your reaction? Why didn’t they take this up with you?

Rusk: I think it was probably the time of night. Normally they call the Under Secretary when it’s after 8:30.

President: Yeah, but Nick ought to have taken it up with you instead of me because you were familiar with it. But I was glad to give him my feel so he knows.

Rusk: I think your talk with Nick last night was useful, Mr. President, so he could understand more clearly what was really involved.4

President: Now, do you think—what was Cy’s reaction? What do you think about the idea yourself? Suppose it had just been presented to you. What would have been your reaction?

Rusk: Oh, I think so long as we do not retreat from the 2 or 3 days—

President: But suppose we had—what he had wanted us to do. Suppose I said—

Rusk: You mean the 7 days?

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President: Yes. What he was wanting us to do was to take the 2 extra days. I thought he was really trying to slyly scheme for 5 days. That is the way I interpreted it.

Rusk: He was trying to get the announcement made at the time of the issuing of the orders.

President: That’s right. That would have been 5 days.

Rusk: That’s right.

President: Now that is the way I interpreted it. What is your reaction to it?

Rusk: I really think we have got a major problem here that, if there is a public gap between the announcement of the bombing halt and the first meeting, that we are going to have trouble, and the longer the gap, the more trouble because this is the only thing tangible that we get out of it that can be visible almost immediately when you make the announcement. Now the rest of these things—the facts of life—will come up more or less de facto, but it’ll take several days at least to do that, and during that period we will have a terrible time with a lot of people here and I think with our allies. So that this question on a prompt meeting with the GVN is the only tangible thing we’ve got coming in the other direction after we take the major step of stopping the bombing—the minority plank in Chicago. So I have no problem on that at all, and those who argue that 2 or 3 days Don’t make any difference should just turn that around and remind themselves that if that’s true, it doesn’t make any difference to Hanoi. And therefore, we might just as well do something that will help us manage this problem. No, I have no problem on that at all. I am not a 7-day man at all.

President: Well, why do you think, then, that Cy is, as solid as he is, and that Nick would be as strong for this?

Rusk: Well, I think Nick was trying to accommodate Cy last night to see what your view would be on this point. But, you see, the fellows in Paris have only a piece of this action. They’ve got the problem there. And my guess is that Averell is 50 percent ambassador and 50 percent an experienced Democratic politician and that sometimes he gets those two hats confused. And they Don’t have the problem you have in dealing with Bunker and Abrams and Thieu and the political leadership here. So they are inclined to brush those things aside and say, “Well, this is what we ought to do,” and that kind of thing. But they only have a piece of the action, just as Thieu only has a piece of the action. He’s looking at it from his point of view, so he has got the elephant’s tail and Averell and Cy have got the elephant’s ear, but you have got the whole elephant and that’s something. What I mentioned yesterday—we are conducting five negotiations simultaneously here. What I meant was that each of these elements that we are dealing with has only a piece of [Page 325] it and you have got all of it and it makes it complicated to hold all of these people together. I think that so far, touch wood, this thing is shaping up reasonably well, and I think the South Vietnamese are moving along nicely now.

President: Anything we can do to keep the Russians from spilling over all the time?

Rusk: I talked to Dobrynin about that,5 and I was interested that a couple of the press people have told us that members of the Russian Embassy have canceled appointments and luncheons they had with them. So maybe Dobrynin did take some action back in his Embassy.

President: What do you think is coming out of Paris this morning? What’s your best guess?

Rusk: I don’t think we are going to get a deal this morning.

President: Thank you.

Rusk: Bye.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 24, 1968, 10:08 a.m., Tape F6810.06, PNO 8. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.
  2. See Document 101.
  3. See Document 113.
  4. In a telephone conversation beginning at 8:45 p.m. on October 23, the President and Katzenbach discussed Harriman’s recommendations regarding extending the interval between the cessation of bombing and the convening of the first negotiating session. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Katzenbach, October 23, 1968, 8:45 p.m., Tape F6810.06, PNO 9-10) In an October 24 memorandum to Rusk, Katzenbach noted: “I assume that the President attaches the most importance to the time gap; if this is true, I think we should be willing to give somewhat on the other issues.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 74 D 271, Nicholas Katzenbach Papers, NK Chron. 1968)
  5. See Document 107.