18. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

As we consider the possible initiative with the Russians, I believe we should take certain steps and plan others—in the form of a scenario—to make sure all bases are covered.


A military assessment for the next several months, say mid-September to mid-November.

This should cover:

  • —enemy plans and intentions;
  • —our capacity to deal with them;
  • —current and prospective rates of infiltration;
  • —weather and probable supply movements through the Panhandle and Laos.

We know, in general, that the answers are: a stretched out harassing campaign, with an effort to consolidate politically in the countryside; we can cope well; low infiltration now, probably due to weather—possibly due to political plans: infiltration could rise sharply when Laos dries up from mid-October on; weather will deteriorate in Panhandle, improve in Laos. But we need an authoritative wrap-up from Abrams, for which we can ask at any time.


Contingency plans for applying more pressure to North Vietnam if you should judge diplomacy has failed.

Major candidates are:

  • —bombing Cambodian bases;
  • —bombing up to 20th parallel;
  • —bombing Hanoi-Haiphong;
  • —mining Haiphong;
  • —ground attacks into northern half of DMZ;
  • —ground attacks north of the DMZ.

Bus could be asked to work on this on a personal basis now, without staff. You may wish formally to engage Pentagon staff only if bombing halt is under way.


Rules of engagement during a bombing halt.

We had a good talk about this in Nick Katzenbach’s Vietnam group ten days ago. All hands agreed we would wish to strike back in case of DMZ violations promptly, with our response local rather than general, and about three times the weight of the particular provocation; for example, three shells for every one fired across the DMZ. But we may wish to start formal contingency planning on this.

If we go ahead with another message via Dobrynin, say, late today2 and we get a positive reply, you may wish, just for the record, to check with Thompson and Bohlen before moving—so that Russian experts will have been consulted.
With respect to Averell, the question may be more urgent: should he be told in general terms of the possibility of an approach via Moscow as a third party in the next several days?3

Not immediately urgent, but to be kept in mind as a checklist, if we move ahead:

  • —When do we tell Bunker, Thieu, and Abrams and how do we keep South Vietnamese from panicking?
  • —When do we tell Asian fighting allies?
  • —When do we tell NATO allies and how do we keep them from turning off efforts to strengthen NATO?
  • —How do we reassure Israelis that we are not going to sell them out with the Russians, while keeping the heat on them?
  • —How do we deal with the issue of Czechoslovakia?
  • —When do we talk to Congressional leadership?
  • —When do we inform the major candidates?

(The answer to a good many of these questions—in terms of substance—will come to a head in the drafting of a statement for the President announcing his forthcoming actions. Simultaneous announcement of a NATO meeting in Brussels, post-Geneva,4 and a meeting with fighting allies in Asia would help. The Czechoslovak issue [Page 47] will be difficult, although it could be helped by a public troop withdrawal schedule before Geneva.)

A final thought. If the bombing halt comes just before Geneva and we wish to hold Hanoi’s feet to the fire on performance in both Paris and on the ground, you may wish to keep the Geneva talks going until they do perform. Much the most interesting thing said in Paris yesterday was that serious discussions could begin “the next day.”5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Walt Rostow Files, Chlodnick File. Literally Eyes Only for the President and Secretary Rusk.
  2. Rostow met with Dobrynin that evening from 6 to 7:30 p.m. He transmitted a message from Johnson to the Soviet leadership that stated that, if the leaders of the Soviet Union were “prepared to advise on the basis of what now is being said” that accompanying action on the part of the DRV would be assured on a “de facto basis,” then the President “would take their advice with the utmost seriousness” in a decision to halt the bombing of North Vietnam. The full text of this message is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Document 299. In a memorandum to the President, September 16, 8:10 p.m., Rostow noted Dobrynin’s reaction: “He felt it important that, if the Soviet Union gave a positive reply to the message I had handed to him, that we not take such a reply as committing the Soviet Union to assuring the role we had envisaged for the GVN in negotiations.” See ibid., Document 300.
  3. The issue was discussed with Harriman in several conversations on September 17; see Documents 1921.
  4. Reference is to arms control talks being held in Geneva.
  5. See Document 14.