22. Notes of Meeting1



  • The President
  • Ambassador Harriman
  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary Clifford
  • General Wheeler
  • Walt Rostow
  • CIA Director Helms
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

Secretary Clifford: We met with the Senate Committee this morning. They spent one and a-half hours on Vietnam.2

CIA Director Helms: I had five and a-half hours with the same Committee yesterday, two hours on Vietnam.

Secretary Clifford: Senator Russell, Senator Jackson, Senator Allott, Senator Mundt, Senator Symington and Senator Kuchel asked questions.

The President: What is Senator Russell asking?

Secretary Clifford: He is asking, “how do we get out of the predicament in Vietnam?” He wants to know which direction we go to bring the war to an end. Senator Stennis wants to bomb and mine Haiphong. The other direction is Paris. “Do we go this way?” There was discouragement in the Committee.

Senator Russell says there is increasing impatience in the country.

Senator Stennis said within three months after the election we will get this problem solved. He says we should have brought military force to bear.

The President: What is the military predicament?

General Wheeler: In South Vietnam we are in “satisfactory” situation. We have the initiative. We have forestalled every major effort. The ARVN have performed well.

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I see no reason for concern. We are on a sound military basis for continuation of talks.

In the North, they are rebuilding LOC’s and their facilities. They are moving much matériel south.

The President: Have we lost or gained by the action of March 31?

General Wheeler: We lost something psychologically, nothing militarily at this time.

Secretary Rusk: We only gave up 10% of our sorties because of March 31.

General Wheeler: Senators Stennis, Russell and Allott implied we made a mistake on March 31.

Secretary Clifford: I told the Committee we were there to prevent the subjugation of the South Vietnamese.

General Wheeler: You made a good statement, Clark (Secretary Clifford).

[Omitted here is discussion of defense appropriations, aircraft sales to Israel, the Pueblo crisis; the status of U.S. bases in Spain, Cambodia, and Czechoslovakia; and the ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.]

Paris Talks

Secretary Rusk: Averell and I have talked. Attacks on cities, willingness to talk with Saigon and the DMZ are three areas we have to get movement on.3

Anything we do must be done before October 20. Otherwise we will have made bad gamble and lost.

Secretary Rusk: We are grateful for how Harriman has done his work. Jorden and Kaplan have done a good job.

Secretary Rusk: We are in disastrous situation on aid.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting began at 1:43 p.m. at the White House. Clifford and Wheeler left at 2:40 p.m.; Rusk, Helms, and Harriman left at 2:55 p.m.; and Rostow, Christian, and Tom Johnson left at 3:10 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. Reference is to hearings on Defense appropriations by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
  3. In spite of this assurance to the contrary, in a telephone conversation with Rusk on September 23, the President expressed doubts about the emphasis which Harriman gave to these three points during his discussions with the North Vietnamese. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, September 23, 1968, 9:37 a.m., Tape F6809.03, PNO 1-2)