161. Notes of Meetings1

0845—CMC Thurs 31st Oct 68

We’ve been on a roller-coaster for days. I still can’t talk. We went almost all day on VNam except for luncheon with Bill Foster &Wiggins2 & then I went back over there. A decision was made that would be it—but I’ve thought that 2 or 3 times earlier this week that we’ve reached a firm decision in Paris with Hanoi. We had it at that 2 to 5:45 am meeting but Bunker took it to Thieu in Saigon & the whole thing exploded.

Thieu would not agree. Thieu objected that the agreement came too quickly—they couldn’t get their delegation to Paris for a meeting (CMC said he thought that a very fishy argument). A series of messages & Bunker was ordered to tell Thieu we should go ahead & they could get there. Thieu then had 4 objections—every one a substantial delay—Thieu saying he had to convene Congress—call his amb back from Paris for consultation.

“Some of us” were urging a hard position vis-à-vis SVNam; “some of us” were admitting they had problems. Another stiff message to Bunker. In reply came 5 additional objections! Insistence that NVNam hold separate meetings with GVN—(not just “our side” “your side” talks). This made everybody swing to CMC’s position that SVNam was framing us; was stalling deliberately.

So we’ve had a sharp, strenuous debate & Pres has listened for hours. “I have voiced greatest suspicion from outset of Thieu’s posture. I’ve been saying since Tues3 a.m.—we shld pick a day with Hanoi to stop bombing & to start talks—& tell Thieu.

A calamity if this chance gets by us. Others argued that to stop bombing on eve of election without Saigon’s support would look like a phony deal solely for U.S. election purposes.

I’ve felt this since 1st objection from Thieu came in—Thieu is playing for time—more time—still more time. LBJ has had a rough time. He [Page 465] hates dissension & he’s had it. Abrams yanked back in middle of night & cross-examined for 3 hrs. the other nite & performed admirably.4

By last nite, Pres. said he was ready to move—He ordered Bunker to tell Thieu he was going to stop bombing tonight & announce it & meeting in Paris would be on Wed. [November] 6th. A bitter fight on this date. If this goes thru I’ll give you more facts on Saigon.

Ben Read is “one of us” & works hard to keep CMC posted.

CMC says Thieu at one pt. would not see [Bunker]—Bunker had to see the For. Min. Bunker saw Thieu Wed. p.m. (Wash. D.C. time).5

(CMC reads excerpts of notes & meetings. CMC gives some anecdotes about how NVNam negotiators know what goes on in Saigon & have expressed “sympathy” with Harriman & Vance over U.S. problems in negotiating!!!)

CMC says this is the 3rd time he’s thought it was settled; it may not [be]. Bunker has always urged the SVNam. side—CMC deeply suspicious of Bunker’s firmness & hardness now.

Rusk has been exceedingly reasonable. It’s tough for those who’ve been in this for 5 or 6 years—those who have nursed SVNam on a bottle since infancy hate to see it turned down.

CMC’s prediction is that today Thieu will ask for more time & that Bunker will plead his case!

It is an enormous decision for Saigon—we’ve fought their war; now we’ve had it & they have to live with it!

All the J.C.S. & Abrams do go along with bombing halt.

CMC predicts many pressures on LBJ to change again today from his plan to announce at 8:00 pm tonight & announce bombing halt at 0800 tomorrow.

Bus Wheeler will flash out his orders at exactly when LBJ makes his statement for to stop bombing 12 hrs hence (or 0800 Friday).

The draft speech has been worked on (by H. McPherson) for some days.

CMC is handed at 0930 a copy of 302341 State to Bunker.6 “The Pres will issue order to stop bombing at 2000 Wash time 31st—(or 0900 1st Saigon time)—the order to take effect 12 hrs. later.” LBJ telling NVNam Wed nite D.C. time at Paris thru Harriman. LBJ “earnestly hopes” Thieu will join in announcement (at one pt, Thieu had agreed—then backed off).[Page 466]If Thieu unable to join, LBJ will do it unilaterally! U.S. says we’ve gone too far down the road to back off. (sep message: Vance reports Hanoi has been told & does agree to a Nov. 6th meeting)

(Bunker flashes back Thieu “rocked” by this ultimatum & pleads for time.)7

CMC at 0945 says he bets right now Thieu won’t go along! Thieu has been arrogant & difficult all week so that finally even Rusk has had it & even Rusk came around!!


Then CMC leans back, exhausted, but comes up saying “I think LBJ will stick with his decision—if Thieu does ask for delay, I think LBJ will go ahead anyway.”

Rusk keeps saying if we Don’t have Thieu with us, we may lose Thailand & Korea who will be very alarmed at our forcing “a coalition gov’t” & it might scare the hell out of them.

If this goes ahead, LBJ wants Rusk, CMC & Wheeler to give backgrounder! LBJ tells CMC to go on T.V.! “Cut a tape”!—

Here is weakness of our position

We have no agreement with Hanoi. The only “understanding” we have after 6 mos in Paris is that GVN can sit at table in Paris. “They” have not agreed on DMZ or on cities. We have been very clear; they say they “understand” our position on the DMZ & the cities—They have not “agreed.”

CMC says he goes back to San Antonio formula—He’d stop bombing when “prompt productive” talks would start; we’ve known all along no talks could be productive until GVN could be present; only now is that agreed to; we could not get anything until that pt. agreed to. It has now been done.

In addition to the GVN situation, we made very clear what our position is on DMZ & shelling; they have made it clear they understand, that if they violate, all bets are off. They say they want talks to continue. So this gives LBJ the basis for stopping, with minimal risks. We have told them if they “abuse” the DMZ or shell the urban centers, these actions would be most serious & would involve retaliation.


CMC now gets cc. of LBJ draft on phrases & words. All agree it’s a good draft. Then talk reverts to how to handle dirty Q. & A. Long talk goes on & on & on how CMC & Wheeler should comport themselves.

[Page 467]

10:30 Ben Read phones from State

Thieu & SVNamese “acting very badly.”

  • —He did go ahead & make a speech.
  • Thieu’s comments are most serious & clearly inimical & increases LBJ’s problems substantially.
  • Thieu had his Nat. Sec. Council, & then sent his For. Min. to talk to Bunker.
  • Bunker has demanded an audience with Thieu.

To add to commotion, sporadic small arms fire in Saigon & 8 [mm] rocket attacks on Saigon.

11:00 a.m.

News ticker clips come in—reporting Thieu’s comments to Press in Saigon. He makes it frightfully difficult. “Saigon does not agree with US terms”—“I don’t see any response from Hanoi.”

Thieu’s statements, CMC moans as he reads aloud, says “His Gov’t cannot agree”! “Thieu is playing a very dangerous game.”

All this will do is lend substantial fuel to charge that LBJ is doing this just for H.H.H. Had it been smooth, it would have been good.

We now consider maybe LBJ shld wait until next Wed & then go ahead without Thieu. This would avoid the U.S. domestic political charge.


More news ticker clips. Thieu on TV goes on record with a “hard line.”

CMC asks for reactions:

Nitze—go ahead as planned or wait until next Wed after election.

CMC then says—Yes, he even has argued this delay too. But LBJ last night decided to go ahead anyway.

CMC now “leaks” at 11:15 the bombshell: Bui Diem has been having conferences with leading U.S. Republicans who have told Saigon: “Don’t cooperate with LBJ; he’s only Pres. for 3 more months & Nixon will be in for 4 or 8 yrs. Make it hard for LBJ!”

And in N.Y.C., last week a Repub policy group gloated over fact they had “fixed it” so LBJ couldn’t stop the bombing before the election!

Thieu knew everything & was agreeable to all & cleared gov’t statements to be issued. Thieu in total cooperation until he began to get Bui Diem’s reports.

CMC knew this & that’s why he felt sure Thieu would stall for time until after election—all Thieu wanted was time to stall until after 5 Nov.

[Page 468]

CMC is handed an intercept by Hixon8 (just in) reported as Korean intercept—it shows V Pres Ky tells Koreans it’s all politics.9

Warnke—Alternatives: 1) Go ahead as planned. GME[lsey] strong for this & says so—we can’t let SVN run our show; we’d lose all face with USSR et al if we do. 2) Scrub the plan, because of the danger of Thieu & domes. political commt. & resume after 6th. 3) Blow the Republicans out of the water by openly stating it was all worked out with SVNam & was O.K. with them until Republicans got into act & threatened Thieu’s gov’t “that it would go hard with them for next four years” if they go along with a bombing halt pre-election on Nov. 5. Say a violation of Logan Act (1798).10

CMC at 1635 Thurs Oct 31

It’s been moving so fast it’s frenetic & hard to keep straight.

Since I talked this am

  • —I went to [meeting on nuclear] Stockpile for 20 mins.
  • —we went at 12:25 to LBJWalt, Wheeler, CMC & I.11

We looked at everything. LBJ indicated he was inclined to go ahead. CMC: I made argument which was least damaging & he decided to go ahead with it. This does [show] much substantial progress toward substantive [Page 469] talks & a step toward peace. The political connotations would wash out. If he does not take advantage, & Hanoi & USSR break away—he’d never dig himself out of that hole.

We went to WHse theatre & checked film of his speech—(he’d just done it). He is going to do it on film tonight rather than live.

Then Bunker phoned in—Thieu still had some objections but was coming around.

Thieu still has objections—

  • #1 Thieu wanted LBJ moved up to 8:00 tonight (CMC had thought it was 8:00—anyway) LBJ not now inclined to worry about it.
  • #2 Thieu wanted Pres to state to him flatly that LBJ would assure Thieu flatly that—as a result of cessation of bombing—NVNam wld not escalate. LBJ says a damn fool request—answer will be that “LBJ has reason to believe NVNam will de-escalate.”
  • #3 Thieu’s 3rd point—He can’t get delegation there by Nov 6th. State Dept agreed with Thieu—lv it open. CMC exploded—that would be an invitation to disaster to stop bombing with open-ended & no commitment on a date. So LBJ agreed.

LBJ has called CMC12—he’s dissatisfied with Wheeler’s statement—it’s too weak. Get a stronger one!

CMC said it would be disastrous to ask for a letter that’s stronger. Arm twisting would get out. LBJ relented.

CMC now reads to our group the Wheeler letter.13

We discuss CMC’s proposed statement & a briefing paper prepared under Rostow’s direction.14

About 5:30 Thurs 31 Oct

GME raised Ike15 question. Wheeler was to see him.

CMC: He’s had a setback today!

(GME doubts—he thinks Ike is holding out to help Nixon.)

  1. Source: Johnson Library, George M. Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts [1 of 2]. No classification marking. The notes begin with the regular meeting of the Secretary of Defense’s “8:30 Group” and continue throughout the day. Nitze’s brief notes on the same series of meetings is in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Nitze Papers, Defense Department, Deputy Secretary of Defense Notes, 1968 [6 of 6].
  2. William Foster, Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and James Russell Wiggins, Representative to the United Nations.
  3. October 29.
  4. See Document 140.
  5. See Document 159.
  6. Telegram 302341 to Saigon, October 31. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968)
  7. See Document 159.
  8. Robert C. Hixon, Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense.
  9. An undated intelligence telegram passed by Rostow to the President. (Johnson Library, South Vietnam and U.S. Policies)
  10. Reference is to the Logan Act of 1798 on treasonous activities.
  11. According to the Daily Diary, at 12:36 p.m. in the Oval Office, the President met with Rostow, McPherson, Wheeler, and Clifford. The Diary reads: “The President reviewed all aspects of present probe—how to get Saigon to sign on once again to step we are taking today. Asked whether, in fact, we were not winning the war and enemy being defeated militarily. Was enemy washed up? Secy. Clifford said in his opinion enemy was definitely washed up. Hence we ought to go ahead and seek progress in peace talks.” When Rostow left the room for 5 minutes at 1:05 p.m., the President asked Wheeler whether the Joint Chiefs solidly supported the decision. Wheeler affirmed that they were fully supportive of it. The meeting ended at 1:35 p.m. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) Notes of the meeting have not been found. Following a JCS meeting that morning from 9 to 10:30 a.m., Wheeler sent the President memorandum CM-3743-68, October 31, in which he wrote: “The Joint Chiefs of Staff, after thorough discussion, agreed as follows: a. In the light of the understandings reached in Paris between our negotiators and those of the DRV, the military situation in Vietnam is such that cessation of bombing and other acts of force against the DRV constitute a perfectly acceptable military risk. b. They hope the current problem of reaching agreement with the GVN can be handled in such a way that the effectiveness and prestige of the current government in Vietnam would not be jeopardized. c. They will, of course, support the decision of the President.” (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [1 of 2]) In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of Wheeler’s memorandum to the President, October 31, 11:20 a.m., Rostow summarized the JCS position and added: “They do need the 12 hours.”
  12. The President called Clifford at 3:53 p.m. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No record of the conversation has been found.
  13. Not further identified.
  14. Not found.
  15. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.