187. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Richard Nixon 1
Nixon: Mr. President?
Nixon: This is Dick Nixon.
President: Yes, Dick.
Nixon: I just wanted you to know that I got a report from Everett Dirksen with regard to your call,2 and I just went on “Meet the Press,” and I said that—on “Meet the Press"—that I had given you my personal assurance that I would do everything possible to cooperate both before the election and, if elected, after the election, and that if you felt, and if the Secretary of State felt, that anything would be useful that I could do, that I would do it, that I felt Saigon should come to the conference table, that if you felt it was necessary to go there, or to go to Paris, either one. I just wanted you to know that I feel very, very strongly about this, and any rumblings around about somebody trying to sabotage the Saigon government's attitude certainly—certainly have no—absolutely no credibility, as far as I am concerned.
President: That's—I'm very happy to hear that, Dick, because that is taking place.[Page 539]
Nixon: No, I—
President: Now here is the history of it. I didn't want to call you, but I wanted you—
Nixon: That China Lobby thing is something that—
President: I wanted you to know what happened. The UPI ran a story, quoting, I guess it was [Robert] Finch, [who] said “a highly placed aide to Nixon today said the South Vietnamese decision to boycott the Paris talks did not jibe with the assurances given the major Presidential candidates by Johnson.” Then it says, “Nixon said the advisor felt that Saigon's refusal to attend the expanded negotiations could jeopardize the military and diplomatic situation in Vietnam and domestically reflect the credibility of the administration's action to halt the bombing of North Vietnam.”3 Now, I went back—I want to give you the dates of these things. This has been going on, as I told you before, since June, on this three-point basis. Number one, that they take the GVN into the conference, and two and three, that they not shell the cities and that they not abuse the DMZ.
President: We knew we could never get them to agree to it. You asked me one time, “Do they have to agree to all three?” And I said, “I don’t want to put it that way, but they have to know that if they do it, that we'll resume the bombing.” Now, I don’t know what led to this, but in the early part of October, they came in and said, “Now, if we would let the GVN come in, would you need anything else? What else would you need?” We, of course, we came back with these other points. They ran off, then, to Hanoi. I thought it was because they had heard some speeches made in this country that indicated that that was to their interest, and that they just wouldn't take it up. I told you that, in effect, in the October 15 [sic] talk—these three points.4
Nixon: That's right.
President: Now, the other day, we had talked—we had talked to Thieu on October 13 and stressed that we had to have these points, and he agreed.5 On October 15 we reviewed it with him again. And he balked at a 36-hour period between stopping the bombing and the conference. On October 23 he agreed to a 3-day delay.6 On October 28 we agreed to the communiqué—that we would both make a joint announcement—[Page 540]
President: When and if we could clear it with them—get them signed on.7 Then the traffic goes out that Nixon will do better by you. Now, that goes to Thieu. I didn't say, as I said to you the other day, I didn't say that it was with your knowledge. I hope it wasn't.
Nixon: [Laughter] As a matter of fact, I'm not privy to what you were doing, of course. The whole point is this. I think one thing we have to understand here is this. You know and I know that within the hawk-dove complex out there, as there is here, and that everybody is saying, now after the election, what will happen. And, of course, there is some thought that Hanoi would rather deal now than deal later.
President: Oh, yes.
Nixon: They think Nixon will be tougher, and I understand that. That's one of the reasons you felt you had to go forward with the pause. But the point I'm making is this. My God, I would never do anything to encourage Hanoi—I mean Saigon—not to come to the table, because basically that was what you got out of the bombing pause. Good God, we want them over in Paris. We've got to get them to Paris, or you can't have a peace.
President: Well, I think that if you take that position, you're on very, very sound ground, and—
Nixon: That's what I said.
President: And I think it's very much in the interest of your—
Nixon: I said that the major thing that the President insisted upon and got was the right of Saigon to be at that conference table, and they must be at the conference table, and I believe they should be, and that's why I said, I just felt, I felt I ought to emphasize it. Nobody knows who is going to win this, but if I do, I said, if I'm President-elect, I personally pledge to President Johnson I would do anything. And I want to amplify that by—emphasize it—by saying that I will do, if he and Secretary Rusk indicate that my presence in Paris, or Saigon—and incidentally, I want you to know that I'll do that, I'll go out there and talk to Thieu if it's necessary.
President: Well, I think—
Nixon: Or whatever you want.
President: My judgment is, now, that from what I see and hear, that—let me read you what I said to you the other day,8 because apparently, I don’t know whether you remember it or not: “While this was [Page 541]going on,” talking of these moves on these three points, “we had gone out and talked to all of our allied countries, and they had tentatively agreed. Now, since that time, with our campaign going on here, we have had some minor problems develop. First, there have been some speeches that we ought to withdraw troops, or that we should stop the bombing without obtaining anything in return.”
Nixon: I remember that.
President: “Or, some of our folks, including some of the old China Lobby, are going around and implying to some of the folks that they might get a better deal out of somebody that was not involved in this. Now that's made it difficult on me, and it's slowed things down some. I know that none of you candidates are responsible for it because I'm looking at what you said to me when we talked last October 15.” [sic] Now, that's what I said. And I thought the Finch remark was very much out of place, saying that I had left a wrong impression, because, I thought, and I think now, that Thieu will come to the conference. But I had a firm agreement with him two or three times on the joint communiqué and everything else until he got this word. When I talked to you, I still thought that we could get him, and I think we can. But I tell you, we had problems.
Nixon: That was the impression I had when the three of us talked—the impression I had when you talked to the three of us—that you were confident he was going to come, you know, that Thieu was going to come, and of course, that was what the backgrounder in Washington indicated, too. And I just assumed he would come.
President: Well, we knew we had problems, Dick.
Nixon: You still think he's going to come?
President: Well, we Don’t see what else he can do. If we stay together, we just think that no people are going to support an effort where a man will not talk to anybody.
Nixon: Well, one thing I said, and I thought you would be interested in this. I made the point, which I feel very strongly about—let's suppose I win. Now, all right, then you've got Johnson and Nixon. I pointed out that I have stood fairly close to you, as I said in answers to Larry Spivak.9 I said I have disagreed with the conduct of the war, but I agree that, and I use those terms, that I think President Johnson has got a bad rap on terms of the commitment; that we're there to try to stop aggression and avoid another war. And I said—then I went on to say—I said the critical period could be the 60 days before the inauguration. And at that point, if we can present a united front, the—it seems to me that we [Page 542]might make the breakthrough that couldn't be made later. And I honestly believe that.
President: Yes, I—
Nixon: These people, I think you will agree, well, I think you've told me earlier, that these people over in Hanoi, to a certain extent, hold on because they think we're divided in this country. Now, once we've had an election, and you have, if it's Nixon, and you have a Republican, and Johnson, a Democrat, it seems to me that's an awful, awful strong case.
President: Yes, Dick—
Nixon: I just want you to know that I'm not trying to interfere with your conduct of it. I'll only do what you and Rusk want me to do. But I'll do anything—
President: Well, that's good, Dick.
Nixon: Because anything—we've got to get this damn war over with. I also want you to know this. I said to our mutual friend George [Smathers] today—I'm going down to Florida after the election, and I really feel this, and I feel this very deeply—that I think you've got the bad rap on this thing. I think the war apparently now is about where it could be brought to an end. And if we get it down now, fine, that's what we ought to do. The quicker the better, and the hell with the political credit. Believe me, that's the way I feel.
President: Well, that's fine, Dick, and we'll talk about it right after. I don’t think they're going to do anything now. The important thing is for your people not to tell the South Vietnamese. If they tell them just what you tell me, why it'll be the best for all concerned.
Nixon: I said publicly, on “Meet the Press” today, I said, look, and that's the only thing, I don’t talk to anybody else, I said publicly, I said that South Vietnam ought to come to the conference table, and if the President feels that I can be helpful in getting them to come, I'll go there.
President: That's fine. You tell brother Finch that I told all of you the other day that we did have problems with these folks, and just what I said, because I didn't mislead you. I told you that we had—
Nixon: You didn't mislead me. I told the press today that I felt that—I got the impression that they were coming.
President: We want them to come, and hope they'll come, and really believe they'll come. I just Don’t think they can. But I—
Nixon: It's really a question of when they'll come.
President: That's right. I said, “Now, this has made it difficult and it has slowed things down a bit.” I don’t—I know that none of you candidates are responsible for it, because I'm looking at the transcript. And then I said—the Vice President said, when I asked for comments, “[Page 543]Thanks much.” Mr. Nixon said, “Well, as you know, this is consistent with my position. I made it very clear. I'll make no statements to undercut the negotiations. So we—I will stay right on that and hope that this thing works out.” Then Mr. Wallace said, “Mr. President, that's my position all along. You've stated and I agree with you that we shouldn't play politics so it might foul up the negotiations.”
Nixon: Incidentally, Wallace has been very good on that.
President: Yes he has. Both of you. I gave you the three quotes.
Nixon: LeMay has popped off, but Wallace has been good.
President: Well, I didn't want—when he said, “Nixon, said the senior advisor, felt that Saigon's refusal to attend would jeopardize the diplomatic situation and reflect the credibility of the Administration's action—”
Nixon: That's his point of view.
President: That his “highly-placed aide said the South Vietnamese decision to boycott did not jibe with the President's assurances.”
Nixon: I'd hit that right in the nose today. Herb Kaplow of NBC asked me the question. I wish you could have seen the program, because most of them thought it was pretty good.
President: Good. Good, Dick. Well, you just—
Nixon: Good gosh, you've got people on your own staff over there that Don’t, you know—George Ball and some of those guys are saying these God-awful things.
President: Well, George Ball is not on my staff. [Laughter]
Nixon: You know what I mean.
President: But what I've got, I've got both sides. Hanoi will look at one statement and the South Vietnamese will look at the other. You just see that your people Don’t tell the South Vietnamese that they're going to get any better deal out of the U.S. Government than a conference.
Nixon: Yeah, and also, we've got to make sure that Hanoi knows they're not going to get a better deal.
President: That's exactly right, and I'm doing that.
Nixon: And the main thing that we want to have is a good, strong personal understanding. I mean, after all, I trust you on this, and I've told everybody that. And that once this thing is over, there's nothing I would rather do, if I win the election, than to do anything that you think we have to do.
President: Dick, you noticed—you must—you must have noticed that when we proposed the date, the date was not November 2, as suggested, but November 6—
Nixon: Yeah, yeah, I know.[Page 544]
President: Before any meeting occurs.
Nixon: Yeah. Incidentally—
President: Smathers understands that.
Nixon: I visited Austin for the first time, and it's a beautiful city, I must say. We spoke in that new auditorium, the circular thing, and I didn't get over to your [Presidential] Library. That's where your Library is?
President: We haven't got it built yet, but you have to come. We're just starting on it.
Nixon: You talked about it. Oh, you're building it now?
President: We're building it now.
Nixon: But in Austin?
Nixon: I see, I see.
President: Well, I'll be in touch with you after Tuesday.10 And you see that your people that are talking to these folks make clear your position.
Nixon: You understand, of course, that this business—some of Humphrey's people have been gleeful. They said the bombing pause was going to help them, and so forth, etcetera, and our people say it hurts.
President: I'll tell you what I say. I say it doesn't affect the election one way or the other, because—
Nixon: I don’t think it does.
President: I've asked all the candidates to please support me, and the other day all three of them said, and you led it off, but all three of them said, “We'll back you, Mr. President.”
President: So, I say it ought not affect the election and I don’t think it will change one vote.
Nixon: Well, anyway, we'll have fun.
President: Thank you, Dick.
- Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Nixon, November 3, 1968, 1:54 p.m., Tape F6811.01, PNO 7. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. Nixon called from Los Angeles to the President at his Texas Ranch. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)↩
- See Document 181.↩
- For text of Finch's November 3 comment, see The New York Times, November 4, 1968.↩
- See Document 80.↩
- See Document 64.↩
- See Document 114.↩
- See Document 136.↩
- See Document 169.↩
- Moderator of the interview program “Meet the Press.”↩
- November 5.↩