153. Notes of Meeting1



  • The President
  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary Clifford
  • Walt Rostow
  • General Wheeler
  • Harry McPherson
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

Secretary Rusk: We’re waiting for a flash from Saigon.

The President: I’m concerned about not getting the South Vietnamese aboard but they bought one day, three days, and we were hesitant [Page 447] to extend that for their sake. But if they’re agreeable, we’ll go longer. Some set of circumstances might intervene to hurt them. If we irritate the Koreans and make them think we’ve sold out, that’s bad. We must say we’ll talk with the Koreans constantly.

It’s important that the GVN will be present.

  • —that the DMZ will be respected,
  • —that cities must be protected,
  • —that psychological campaign be mounted,
  • —that our elections have nothing to do with it.

We could have made a deal in April but we didn’t because we didn’t get the above. Our military commanders say we ought to do this. We’re losing nothing by bombing halt.

10:15 a.m.

The President: It is a pure question of when you all are agreed on statement.

Thieu plans to talk at 7:00 p.m. Washington time.

What does Bus say?

General Wheeler: We can issue orders at midday—stop bombing by midnight.

The President: Can we agree on how to best communicate with Australia, Thailand?

Walt Rostow: We can even employ a special ambassador to hold their hand.

Secretary Rusk: Harriman must employ more tact and diplomacy with our allies.

The President: I like the 6th as meeting time. What if we announce at 7:00 tonight. 7 Wednesday2 to 7 on the 6th is 168 hours.

12 o’clock bombing halt. I would like to speak at 9:30 p.m.

Secretary Clifford: In television speech, we must answer to American people the question “Why now?” What can we say about the DMZ and the cities?

Walt Rostow: In consultations with President Thieu. We must surface on background the DMZ and the cities.

Harry McPherson: The President has said all along he would not stop the bombing if it threatened our men. Nixon signed on to this. So did the Platform committee. We must sign on to this.

[Page 448]

The President: April-July-August: give time sequence to what happened.

Secretary Clifford: We didn’t reach an understanding until Sunday. It is important to state this. Talks will not continue unless cities aren’t attacked and the DMZ not violated.

Secretary Rusk: In mid-October they agreed to seat the GVN. In the past weekend these issues came into focus.

Flash message has been on the way for 45 minutes.

The President: We must watch to see how much the Asia lobby is in this. See what tie-ins Nixon’s law firm has. I told another man I was very disgusted if people didn’t get aboard. Nixon man implied that it would be better. No question but what Dirksen called and I wouldn’t give him much3 and that they put the old Asian group to work.

Secretary Rusk: There is a conflict. What do we say about the DMZ and the cities?

The President: Say nothing about it. Get AP and UPI to watch DMZ and the cities.

Secretary Rusk: Averell and Cy would not want to say anything about it.

William Bundy: Let it leak.

The President: You could say “it is obvious.” I have felt since September that we are willing and anxious to take any step which would lower the tempo of the war, which would get productive discussions, and that they would not take advantage of our restraint. I talked to General Abrams.

I have reason to believe we can have productive talks. I signed on Monday. General Abrams is for it.

Productive talks on November 6.

Abrams, JCS said a military disadvantage would not result.

Harry McPherson: We need to say DMZ and cities to answer questions about the JCS and Abrams’ position.

Secretary Clifford: Backgrounders will have a lot to do with the flavor of the stories. The President refused for five and one-half months to stop the bombing. What have they done different now than before?

We have one clear understanding: GVN present at conference table.

But the President has been placing concern on the DMZ and the cities. What agreement do you have on this?

[Page 449]

We must say we have made it clear they can’t violate DMZ or attack cities—if so, we will take appropriate action. I would like to say there is a “clear understanding.”

General Wheeler: We know they understand if they violate cities and the DMZ we are required to respond.

Secretary Rusk: The message does not give “green light.” FM called in Bunker—gave him a very negative answer in a letter to the President.

The President: What do we say in backgrounders:

GVN in talks.
Can’t allow DMZ and cities.

Secretary Rusk: Keep an eye on DMZ and cities.

Secretary Clifford: I want to go as far as you will let me—not violate cities and DMZ.

Secretary Rusk: There is no contract. There is a clear understanding.

Secretary Clifford: Prompt military action would be required if the DMZ and the cities are violated.

The President: We do not have a contract with North Vietnam.

Secretary Clifford: We have an agreement with North Vietnam on the GVN. We must say we have an understanding on GVN and DMZ.

Secretary Clifford: What about a flat statement of understanding.

Harry McPherson: Tom Johnson has suggested “we have said that the DMZ and the cities be respected.”

Secretary Rusk: What about orders to troops?

The President: I would be for giving them at 12:00 noon for 12:00 midnight halt.

Walt Rostow: Letter you write to Thieu will be important.

The President: Let’s go to Korea and advise them.

11:35 a.m. Ben Read enters.

I asked Bunker about 10:00 p.m. announcement. He said he would like to work on them and get Thieu to reconvene the Council.

Thieu is standing by at the Palace. He is expecting you to announce your decision. I asked Bunker if he knew of Thieu’s speech. He said it asked LBJ for more assurances from DRV.

(The President read attachments A and B.)4

Secretary Rusk: We are working against no deadline.

[Page 450]

11:44 a.m.

Secretary Rusk: Tell Hanoi to withdraw secret minute. Put it to Thieu.

Walt Rostow: Give him what assurances we can.

Secretary Clifford: What can we expect from Saigon?

The President: I want the meeting on the 6th. He has a speech at 7:00 a.m. I don’t want to speak after him. He’ll make some points on this.

His 7:00 o’clock speech troubles me.

Ben Read: Bunker thought they could telescope it to six days.

Secretary Rusk: We must bring Thieu along. There could be massive demonstrations against the embassy; the South Vietnamese Army could sit on its hands.

We will be asked why the GVN blew its stack.

The President: The closer you get to the elections, the more troubles you have.

Secretary Rusk: Let’s drag this fellow along. We must have him aboard.

The President: Will Thieu lobby our Allies?

What are your thoughts, Bus?

General Wheeler: It makes no difference to me. We can do it either time.

The President: We should do it at 7:00 p.m.

General Wheeler: It also would give Abrams a chance to work on Thieu.

The President: Would you favor a delay?

General Wheeler: Yes, under these conditions. I can swallow my disgust for practical reasons.

Bill Bundy: I would give Bunker another day. There will be two dissenters: The Thais and the Koreans.

Walt Rostow: You might propose an early meeting of the troop contributors.

Bill Bundy: That’s a good idea.

The President: Say we will stop unilaterally, tomorrow. Be prepared to stop at 12 or 7.

Secretary Clifford: We have known before how Thieu would react. Now they have been asked would you rather have three months of Johnson or four years of Nixon. Their whole approach is delay. This message is “horseshit.” This message is thoroughly insulting.

Secretary Rusk: This is not this surprising. Hanoi has tried to get us to resolve this before we start process of talks. So have the South Vietnamese. Both sides are pushing for key concession. [Page 451] Harry McPherson: If Thieu speaks tomorrow, if he talks to T.C.C.’s saying it is bum deal in Paris, and we come along and stop it, it is meaningless. If we do it first—say that we have a deal which gives the GVN the right to sit at the table, that’s good. If South Vietnam pisses it away, then it’s all on their back.

Secretary Rusk: We must have simultaneous statements. Thieu must delay.

Secretary Clifford: I think it is calculated, planned program to delay, to get through November 5.

If he makes the kind of speech I believe he will make, he will try to get you to change your mind.

If you are going to follow the right course, you must do it before Thieu does.

If Thieu broke with us, he could never get it back on the track.

I don’t think additional time will benefit Bunker.

The President: Give Bunker and Abrams up to 7 tomorrow night to deal with Thieu—also Ambassadors to deal with T.C.C. (Troop Contributing Countries) and to deal with Paris.

If Thieu won’t make complaints through Bunker rather than through other people and the press, I would be inclined to go ahead.

We can’t follow Thieu’s speech. Our own people will want to know if Bunker and Abrams are aboard.

General Wheeler: Dean will check with Bunker. Every hour that goes by lessens my confidence that we can do anything by 12:00 p.m. tonight.

The President: Talk to Paris.

Ben Read: They agreed to tear up secret minute.

The President: Tell Bunker we are ready to go tonight.

We are ready to get rid of secret minute.
Get 168 hours till next Wednesday.
Try to get Thieu’s speech moved back.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting began at 10:09 a.m. in the Cabinet Room with the President, Rusk, Clifford, Rostow, Wheeler, and McPherson in attendance. Christian joined the meeting at 10:15. Read was present for an undetermined period, left, and then returned at 11:30. At 10:24, the President left for the Oval Office to receive a telephone call from Russell. Bundy joined the meeting at 10:30. The President returned at 10:50 a.m. but left again for the Oval Office from 11:52 to noon. The meeting ended at 12:27 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) A summary and full transcript of this meeting are ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
  2. October 30.
  3. See Document 112.
  4. Not attached.