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

Rusk: On the Russians on this point, they’ve agreed on that second paragraph on the basis of prior discussions.2 And the U.S. has said that the RVN will be present and the DRV has said that the NLF will be present. Accordingly, the meeting will include representatives of the four. But there was no agreement on the “without conditions” paragraph.

President: Can we sell that to South Vietnam?

Rusk: Oh, I think so. Yeah.

President: I didn’t like that statement.

Rusk: As a secret minute, I think that there’s a fair chance that it will remain private for quite a while, but—

President: Does that put us in a little compromising position to recognize them as a representative? From the position that we took all along when Bobby [Kennedy] was trying to bring them to the table—

Rusk: No, I think that—

President: And we said, well, they’ll have no chance having their voice heard. And you remember how careful you were, and how you made me be careful not to ever bring them there as a separate entity.

Rusk: Well, the—

President: I’m just looking how we defend ourselves now with Nixon and these folks.3 What’s my answer to that?

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Rusk: The fact is that we’ve been talking since the first of April with people whose existence we Don’t recognize, and this has nothing to do with recognizing status. Everybody at the table will have a different view as to the status of the other party. We Don’t—

President: Is this in any way inconsistent with anything that you and I said in 1964 and [196]5?

Rusk: No. I think you said there will be no insuperable obstacles to getting their views. The South Vietnamese will take the view that these fellows are part of the North Vietnamese delegation. We’ll be—we won’t debate that or contradict it. We Don’t have to embrace it.

President: We have to have that last sentence, though?

Rusk: I think we have to. Yes.

President: They insist on that?

Rusk: Yeah. That’s right.

President: And that’s the purpose?

Rusk: Right. Now, the “without conditions” thing is not agreed and the interval is not agreed. They’ve come back saying that if we stop bombing on the 27th—that’s tomorrow—that a meeting could occur on November 2d. Now, I’m trying to run down—I haven’t finished the work on it yet—as to whether they, as Dobrynin thought, had actually moved to 4 days. I don’t recall that myself.

President: No, I’ve never heard of it, and I think that he was just thinking that that is what our boy Jorden was trying to peddle—5 days—and that is why they got 10, so it would look like half. I think we ought to counter to move it up now to maybe the 6th or the 7th [of November].

Rusk: Yes. Uh-huh.

President: Because I don’t believe we can stand this thing before the election—the 2d or 3d.

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Rusk: You mean the meeting or the stopping of the bombing?

President: Yes. We could stop [and have] the meeting maybe the 7th or something—8th. Maybe we could stop the bombing election morning. Or maybe that night so that it doesn’t affect the election.

Rusk: Mm-hmm.

President: Maybe—the election is the 5th as I recall it. Is that Tuesday on your calendar? I don’t have one.

Rusk: Yeah, that’s right.

President: So, we might be able to the night of the 4th—that night at midnight—stop the bombing. And you figure then it wouldn’t come out until, I guess, we ought to the 5th. They ought to stop it—

Rusk: Election evening.

President: Election evening, and that would be the 5th, and then we could—

Rusk: You’re likely to be charged then with deliberately holding off because of the election.

President: Well, I think that’s right, and I think that we oughtn’t to try to pull a quickie here the day of the election to affect it. I’d rather be charged with—in other words we are not agreeing on this thing yet; we’re not close to it. But I think that we ought to be awfully careful we Don’t get tied here to November 2d or 3d because I don’t believe it is manageable. I think it just looks like we have been pulled in by the Balls, and I mean George Balls, not—

Rusk: Yeah.

President: We could—

Rusk: Well, it would be a little hard—if they were to close the gap here—it would be a little hard for us to pull back on that.

President: That is right, but that is what—it’s not any harder for us to pull back before they accept than it is for them. They are delaying us. Now, why Don’t we put in there, and say, “Okay, if this gives you trouble, and we have problems here,” and we’ve never told them to be anything but tentative. I’ve just been very careful about this. Maybe we ought to take a little more time and do this thing when we won’t be in a partisanship. We could do it on the 6th instead of the 2d, or work into that some way—I don’t know.

Rusk: I think the thing to do on that would be to just [tell] Harriman and Vance that we are just not in a great hurry here; that the other fellows have got to meet us and take their time. Don’t go rushing around asking for quick meetings; let them ask for the next meeting.

President: That is what I would do. I would just sure do that.

Rusk: And then maybe this will take care of it.

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President: Of course, you have to bear in mind Averell will tell [Drew] Pearson that—

Rusk: Well, I wouldn’t—that was the reason why I thought that we ought not to say anything to Averell that has anything to do with the election, you see.

President: Yes, that is right.

Rusk: Well, let me do some—are you going to be here today?

President: No. I am going to be speaking in West Virginia and Kentucky and all around.4 And I think that’ll give you some things—you can just say the President is out Saturday and Sunday, and maybe if you need to we’ll have meetings here Monday or Tuesday, but we’ll—

Rusk: That will get us a little time.

President: We’ve got to have a little time. Then I think I would work in that anything we do will have to be cleared with the [Congressional] leaders and everything, and doing it the day or two before election will look awful suspicious.

Rusk: Right.

President: Getting Cy’s cooperation anyway. You think about it, and we will talk about it tomorrow when I get back. But it looks like to me we take less danger doing it election day or the day after than we do just before. Now, what is your gut reaction?

Rusk: Well, I frankly feel that we—that if they should—by some miracle they should close the gap on our present basis, we ought to go ahead; that we shouldn’t delay it because of the election. I think that we can give the candidates and the leaders and to some extent the public a chronology here that will show that this has had a chronology of its own. I think the charge that we were deliberately delaying it for the election would be a very serious one where fighting is concerned. But I think that the other side is going to take care of your problem. I just Don’t know. I have no real judgment as to what the effect of this would be on the election itself. I think it’s a mixed bag. I doubt that it’s going to have much effect on it.

President: Thank you.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 26, 1968, 11:05 a.m., Tape F6810.07, PNO 8. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. The Daily Diary entry regarding this telephone call reads: “Discussion of things talked about in Paris this morning, recognizing participants in talks, the Russians, timing, and election day.” (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. For text of the statement, see footnote 4, Document 116.
  3. The President telephoned Clifford on October 25 to discuss a newspaper story in which Nixon campaign spokesman Herbert Klein charged the President with using the negotiations to try to influence the election in Humphrey’s favor. Johnson advised the following course of action to knock down the story: “Now what I think we ought to say is that when this wild [man] as the old Nixon—with the re-emergence of the old Nixon involving your name, the first thing you did was to try to ascertain what he was talking about and what the facts were; that you thought his preceding sentence was pretty good—minding his tongue because it was delicate; that you certainly agreed that he ought to mind his tongue, and it is delicate. Number one. Number two, that you found out that Mr. Califano had never attended any meeting in connection with the negotiations; that his duties are confined to solely—he advises on domestic matters. That number two, and that no top official has discussed—has talked—to Mr. Ball since he resigned from the government in connection with these negotiations. None of the top Washington officials have discussed it with him. Number three, that you have not had any such discussions that related to politics in any manner, shape, or form, nor would you permit them in your presence. And number four, that it is an insult to Mr. Vance who is carrying on a very great service—duty—for his country, and that you can expect things to happen in the waning days of the campaign, but that you do remind Mr. Nixon that the statement he wrote several weeks ago is good advice for himself as well as other candidates.” (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Clifford, October 25, 1968, 5:37 p.m., Tape F6810.07, PNO 7)
  4. For the President’s remarks in Kentucky and West Virginia that day, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pp. 1072-1087.