134. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)1

President: The conditions have been referred to each time in the twelve meetings, sometimes more than once, that they [Harriman and Vance] do feel that it's understood.2 And I don’t think they say embraced, but that is thoroughly a part of the whole picture with the other side, and they themselves do recommend the resumption if our understanding is not carried out.

Wheeler: Right.

President: At midnight, Walt saw our other friend3 and told him that we didn't want to deceive anybody; that this was the basis; that we were going into this thing; we wanted them to understand it was that basis; and we were ready to have any—if they want to reject it, they could do it now; if they wanted to say they had reason to believe that we could make progress, we'd be glad to have them repeat that. In any event, before we actually took action, that this was the basis upon which we would take it. Namely, other folks would be present and the other two things would be respected.

Wheeler: Yes, sir.

President: And so he said he understood that; he would get that to his government. Now, our friend4 did not get off out there for some time—I imagine they had difficulties trying to keep it low-key. I very much want to see him before I take this fateful step. And I want the country to know that I've seen him—when I do take it I want them to know I've seen him.

Wheeler: Yes, sir.

President: Now, I know that you've got to do some preparation too. And I had thought New York—I told Walt yesterday to tell him to get all packed and be sitting there ready where he could move pretty quickly. But when we got to him at 11, he finally got off at about 4:30, I think.

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Wheeler: 3:30 our time.

President: 3:30 our time. His present plan—I thought it was 20 hours—I understand his present plan is 5 tomorrow morning. 5 doesn't bother me in the least in talking to him, but I don’t know what you could do after 6.5

Wheeler: Well, I'll have to take a look at it, sir.

President: You take a look at the whole picture and call me back. We ought to be hearing from these other people through the day. It may be that you'll want to take some preliminary steps where all you'll have to do is execute. But look at it very carefully. We Don’t want to have any more meetings than we have to. But we'll have to do a lot of things today if some of these folks come through.

Wheeler: All right, sir.

President: I think that you feel that you and all the men we met with the other day and this fellow will whole-heartedly recommend this step?

Wheeler: They will, sir. I'm positive of it.

President: Now, suppose that—suppose that they get you, we'd have to decide right quickly, but suppose that they did abuse one of the two other situations, either Saigon or the DMZ. Do you think that we—that everybody'd be ready to go right back where we were before?

Wheeler: I think we are. We'd be ready, sir, and I think the others have all expressed the same view. I think so. This was certainly my—

President: How do you think we look—on-again, off-again? Just look like, well, we tried to go the last mile, and they were sons-of-bitches?

Wheeler: It seems to me that you would be left in a strong position, sir. In other words, you've tried your best.

President: Okay, you look at this other thing, and we'll try to talk a little bit later. Walt'll be talking to you.

Wheeler: All right, sir.

President: There's about eight or ten things we have to do—have to go out to other governments; got all this other stuff—but I don’t want to make the mistakes we made last time. I guess we have to talk to the [Congressional] leaders and the candidates. Now Walt—when was your last time for the effectiveness to meet our second deadline—our original orders go into effect?

Wheeler: 7 p.m. on the 29th.

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President: Does that include the part they wanted included there? Is that it?

Wheeler: That includes the 16 hours extension.

President: Do I have that right, Buzz?

Wheeler: Yes, 7 p.m.

President: And that doesn't bother you any?

Wheeler: No, sir. We can do it if we can get it off by 7, but I don’t see how you can under the circumstances. But I'll take a look and see what we can do, sir.

President: All right. Thank you.

Wheeler: Yes, sir.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Wheeler, October 28, 1968, 10:31 a.m., Tape F68.07, PNO 6. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. The President called Wheeler at Clifford's office in the Pentagon. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A summary of the conversation is ibid.
  2. See Document 132.
  3. Reference is to Dobrynin; see Document 130.
  4. Reference is to General Abrams.
  5. See Document 140.