15. Notes of Meeting1

CMC [Clifford] tells re week-end at Camp David.2 He had 2 of best talks on V. Nam since becoming Sec Def 1-1/2 hrs Sat nite & 2 hrs on Sunday. When HARVAN’s 3,000 word cable came to Camp David—it shows for 1st time some movement by NVN ams.3

Sat, pm

CMC went over his plan again: “we’ve been on dead center for 5 mos. we have to get something in return for stopping the bombing & I have a way—a plan—etc. etc.”

LBJ had felt, he said, CMC just wanted to quit the bombing, without concession. He was re-assured.

Then came, Sun, the long message. I said, “It proves the NVN ams are there, meaning business.”

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We agreed, if Czech stays quiet for a week, LBJ will send a message to Kosygin to revive a meeting with K. on Strat[egic] weapons & he’ll try for an assurance with K. that we’ll stop bombing if the other side will give certain assurances.

Nitze at this pt. explodes! “It’s asinine—it’s ‘pissing’ away an advantage we have! It’ll undo the N.Atlantic alliance if LBJ gets into bed with Kosygin.”

Warnke sides with Nitze, but much more mildly. He too thinks movement is going on without the Russians.

CMC expresses astonishment at Nitze’s objections—"You, Paul, wanted to get the Russians into act.”

“Yes,” says Nitze, “but that was before Czechoslovakia & before NVN ams started to move!!!”

Elsey & Warnke argue that this won’t work because timetable won’t work; it’ll take too long. We’ll have an election before you can get the Russians in!

CMC grows irritated! “I’m for anything that will get the Pres. to stop the bombing!”

Nitze—"No, I’m not!! Not if it means doing things contrary to our national interest! Wrecking NATO by playing footsie with Kosygin wld do so!”

CMC—"All of you are trying to think logically. You Don’t realize LBJ’s mood. It’s: ‘I’m God-damned if I’ll stop the bombing without something from the other side!’”

The discussion breaks off at 0925 to prepare for 0930 Staff meeting (Averell Harriman calls in to set date—He is just coming in from Paris—Max Taylor calls—CMC refuses to take call.)

CMC—"Do not deprecate the concept of finding the means of persuading the Pres to stop the bombing in the N[orth] & until we get it stopped we can’t get anyplace. I’m ready to take risks elsewhere, anywhere!”

Nitze explodes again: “I feel passionately, not to jeopardize U.S. boys, ever, any time, any place & there is no need now to play into Soviet hands & it would terribly … to do so!”

  1. Source: Johnson Library, George Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts [1 of 2]. No classification marking. Drafted by Elsey. This meeting is the regular 8:30 a.m. staff meeting of Secretary of Defense Clifford, which included, in addition to Clifford, Nitze, Warnke, Elsey, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Phil G. Goulding, and military assistant Colonel Robert Pursley. For additional information on the group, see Clark Clifford with Richard Holbrooke, Counsel to the President: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 1991), p. 491.
  2. Clifford spent both September 14 and 15 with the President at Camp David. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No other record of these conversations has been found.
  3. Reference is to telegram 20873/Delto 733 from Paris, September 15. See footnote 2, Document 14.