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

President: Yes? Yes?

Rusk: Hello, Mr. President. I just heard from Bunker.2 He made the pitch as we put it, emphasizing that you had to go ahead; that the terms are known about by the South Vietnamese and the TCCs; Thieu and Ky both agree that they had known about these terms. Bunker emphasized the first meeting could be procedural with local representatives, and that the other delegation get there as soon as they could; that you had been the best friend that they had and it was important that they work with you on this. Thieu came back and said that they were in a meeting of the [National] Security Council—their Security Council. He emphasized—insisted—that they had to have more time; that they couldn’t have their delegation turn up there as a minor delegation; that they had to have some leeway there. They did go back into the Security Council meeting and talk about it further in the light of Ellsworth’s presentation. Ellsworth—when I said to Ellsworth that I thought this might be a stall, he said he wasn’t at all sure about it. He said to me that it may well be this time factor is the problem. He himself then raised the question what would happen if we postpone the outside of the action for 24 hours and then postpone the meeting for 24 or even—not from Saturday,3 and perhaps [Page 425] not to Sunday but until Monday. I told him I couldn’t postpone anything at this point; I’d have to talk to you about it. But it looks like the possibility of a 24-hour shift on both ends. Maybe the thing will have to try here.

President: What did Vance say?

Rusk: Vance is under the gun—he’s coming in on the phone now—he’s under the gun from the Hanoi delegation for a meeting which has been agreed now for 6 p.m., which is noon our time. Now, I think what is on Hanoi’s mind is that they’ve been told that it will take us 24 hours to issue the orders, and that time has already gone by, and they haven’t been notified that we are issuing the orders. They Don’t know that we’ve reduced that to 12. And, of course, they Don’t know about this latest wrinkle that’s developed.

President: And then they may be getting a little of this bait, too, from the other side.

Rusk: Well, they may have some intelligence or intercepts, or something like that, to throw some light on it. But, I think we—it might make a difference if we could put the whole operation forward 24 hours and try to do it in a tidy way rather than a great tumult here at the very end.

President: Does he quote either Ky or Thieu at any length that this is the only objection?

Rusk: They insist that this is the only objection. Now, when I challenged the good faith of that, Ellsworth, who’s been very tough on this, said that he wasn’t at all sure that this may not really be the real problem.

President: Why wasn’t it raised on 1 day and 3 days?

Rusk: Well, I don’t know. I think what they’ve been doing—he said that these people—he said, “Our people out here Don’t move like Anglo-Saxons are expecting them to move, and they let things like this drag, and then all of a sudden they’ve got a problem on their hands.” But if we could get Saigon aboard by another 24 hours, then we could try that on the delegation in Paris.

President: Well, I’d try that on Cy right now and see what Cy says. I’d talk to Clark [Clifford], and tell him what you said.4 And then I’d—you didn’t talk to Cy before you talked to Bunker?

Rusk: I talked to him, yes.

President: What did he say about [John] Mitchell?

Rusk: He said he just knew who he was; that he wouldn’t put it past him at all to do something like this, but he didn’t have any real knowledge [Page 426] of him, and didn’t know him really. But he’s alert to the nature of the problem, and I gave him some of this background. Shall I ask Cy what he himself thinks about a 24 hour—moving the whole thing forward 24 hours?

President: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I’d talk to Clark; then I’d talk to Cy; then we’ll talk back. Maybe we’ll talk on the phone. They’re watching things awfully carefully. CBS—you better really close up and watch Bundy and Nick [Katzenbach] and them so we Don’t put many talks to anybody today. CBS announced at 10 o’clock that they thought we were meeting at noon—

Rusk: I said to—

President: To declare the halt. And that’s—I don’t know whether [Marvin] Kalb’s got that or Dan Rather, but Dan Rather quotes it.

Rusk: All right, sir. So, I’ll talk to Clark.

President: And then talk to Cy.

Rusk: All right; sure will.

President: And then call me.

Rusk: Bye.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 29, 1968, 10:30 a.m., Tape F68.07, PNO 9. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. According to the Daily Diary, the President called Rusk “re timing—peace talks.” (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 143.
  3. November 2.
  4. See Document 147.