19. Memorandum of Conversation1

  • Secretary Rusk
  • W. Averell Harriman

I had a half-hour’s talk with Dean before going over to the White House. Nick Katzenbach came in at the end of it.2 The atmosphere was completely different from last night.3 It was relaxed and cordial.

Dean said the President had very much in mind that there were three elements that had to be dealt with, and that in talking to him I should understand this. One was military activities in the DMZ area. The second was what Dean called attacks on the cities. I told him it would be better to speak of attacks on Saigon and other principal cities. [Page 48]I explained the difference between hitting Saigon and a provincial capital like Tay Ninh. He listened without comment. The third point was the participation of the GVN. I told him Cy and I thought the DRV had a clear understanding on the DMZ and had told us as much as we would get. We had dealt with shelling of Saigon last June, though there had been some additional shelling recently. I didn’t think there would be so much difficulty establishing the world opinion on that question.

Dean argued the need for referring to other attacks in our discussions was not conclusive, except Dean stated the subject was definitely on the President’s mind. I maintained reference to Lau/Vance talks had dealt with that and could only be determined at “serious discussions” after end of bombing on basis of reciprocal deescalation, etc.

On the third point I stated that I thought we had not had a satisfactory answer from Le Duc Tho. He had only agreed to talk about it at the serious discussions. We had commented that each has a different point of view but we’ll discuss it.

I told Dean that I thought Cy and I ought to have more authority to go back on Friday’s meeting4 indicating that we felt we’d made real progress and an understanding on the DMZ matter, but that inclusion of GVN was a point which needed to be clarified. I said we wanted to be able to tell Tho that the President (or the Government) was gratified with the progress we had made on the DMZ but the question of GVN was holding up any action. I wanted to be able to go as far as we could in implying that this issue was the one that had to be settled before action could be taken on the cessation of the bombing.

I gave Dean my opinion about the meeting with Kosygin.5 If the President arranged to see him before ending the bombing, little or nothing would result, whereas if the bombing stopped before he saw him, I felt that the talks could be extremely useful, both as it related to Viet-Nam and the other matters he wished to discuss (Middle East and nuclear). The Secretary encouraged me to make all these points frankly with the President.

W. Averell Harriman 6
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Subject File, Rusk, Dean—1968-69. Top Secret; Nodis. Harriman’s summary version of this conversation is ibid., Confidential File, July-September—General. Harriman had returned to the United States 2 days before to attend a family funeral.
  2. Rusk met with Harriman from 11:30 a.m. to 12:07 p.m. Katzenbach joined the meeting at 11:55 a.m. (Johnson Library, Dean Rusk Appointment Book, 1968-1969)
  3. The previous evening Harriman met over dinner with Rusk, Katzenbach, Bundy, and Read. In his memorandum of the conversation, September 16, Harriman noted: “Rusk made a hard-line argument with Nick, saying: ‘If Hanoi is serious it would give us the word,’ since, from his experience, Eastern ‘face’ was a farce. They could get around it if they wanted to. Nick argued well, speaking of North Viet-Nam’s ideology rather than face, and U.S. interests.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips & Missions, 1968-69, Paris Peace Talks, Memoranda of Conversations)
  4. For the meeting at Paris on September 20, see Document 24.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 18.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.