234. Notes of Meeting1



  • The President
  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary Clifford
  • General Wheeler
  • CIA Director Helms
  • Ambassador Wiggins
  • Secretary Fowler
  • Walt Rostow
  • Ed Fried
  • Joe Sisco
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

Secretary Clifford: We lost three planes in 48 hours in North Vietnam.2 It is getting serious.

[Omitted here is discussion of the European monetary crisis.]

The President: We have three messages:

  • —Economic
  • —State of the Union
  • —Budget Message

Don’t tie me to a situation. I don’t know what I might do. I notice Rusk and Clifford are in disagreement.

Secretary Rusk: What are we in disagreement about?

[Page 697]

The President: About the basic Vietnam policy, so the press says. It’s imaginary, but we must watch it.3

I do not want to submit a reform message.

Mills seems reconciled at our not doing it.


General Wheeler: Situation is good. 230 violations of the DMZ since November 1. (Indications of enemy presence.) We fired 66 times into DMZ.

There have been 60 attacks on population centers. Nine in the last 24 hours. Three major attacks.

There have been 80 hostile reactions to reconnaissance planes. Two reconnaissance planes and one escort plane have been shot down. These were south of the 19th. No manned aircraft north of the 19th except at very high levels.

In route package one, there is much activity. Tactical reconnaissance in Laos.

General Abrams says pacification has stepped up. 3% population gain in the last month.

  • 69.8 percent under GVN control.
  • 14 contested.
  • 15.3 under Viet Cong control.

Chieu Hoi Program is up. The best month in attacking Viet Cong infrastructure.

General Abrams has a good assessment.

The enemy shifted from military to political.
The enemy recognizes our strategy. 69% of attacks on hamlets this month by the Viet Cong.

The tone is optimistic and driving.

The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese lost 2900 last week.

The President: Are there any second thoughts on the bombing halt?

General Wheeler: No second thoughts, but he said reconnaissance up to the 19th was essential.

The President: Anything to cause you to reassess the decision to halt bombing? [Page 698] General Wheeler: No.

The President: Any second thoughts by General Abrams?

General Wheeler: None as of this time.

Secretary Clifford: Late Friday4 we lost a reconnaissance plane with an armed escort.

You authorized armed escort to shoot back at facilities shooting at our aircraft. We decided to stand down reconnaissance until we had time to tell Hanoi. Cy told the North Vietnamese. At 7:00 p.m. Bus reissued reconnaissance. Three and one-half hours later we lost it.

We lost a Navy reconnaissance plane and AF-F4D escort craft.

The problem is ahead. There may be a buildup. We could bomb a village accidentally. We may be able to get out information with less provocation.5

[Omitted here is discussion of a possible summit with the Soviets, European security, and events in the Middle East.]

The President: There are two basic problems:

Position of allies.
Nixon doesn’t want it done too close to the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Secretary Clifford: The Germans and the British want to go ahead with talks with the Soviets.

The President: Tell Murphy that.

Secretary Clifford: The others feel if they go ahead with his okay. Don’t ask a girl if you should kiss her—go ahead and it’s all right.

The President: A meeting might help: 1. Vietnam. 2. Mideast. 3. Missile talks.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. This was the 594th meeting of the NSC and was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. These notes were taken by Tom Johnson; additional notes taken by Bromley Smith are ibid., National Security File, NSC Meetings File, Vol. V, Tab 76. A summary and a full transcript of the meeting are ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
  2. In addition to the unarmed reconnaissance aircraft shot down over North Vietnam on November 23, on November 25 an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft and an armed escort plane were shot down in separate incidents. Vance and Lau discussed these events in a private meeting on November 27. (Telegram 24610/Delto 997 from Paris, November 27; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968)
  3. Smith’s account of the President’s discussion at this point in the meeting reads: “A newspaper story alleges there is disagreement between Secretary Rusk and Clifford. (Secretary Rusk interjected to ask what are we disagreeing about now?) There is no reason for having stories about differing views in the Administration, particularly when such did not in fact exist. We do not want stories during the remainder of this Administration which report disagreements on Vietnam or any other subject.” (Ibid.)
  4. November 22.
  5. According to Smith’s notes, Clifford said: “The problem is as follows: we go into North Vietnam on escorted reconnaissance missions. They shoot at our planes. We reply with attacks on the ground, possibly including villages. What should we do in the brief period until the talks in Paris get going? Once these talks begin we can take up the subject of the North Vietnamese firing on our reconnaissance planes. Meanwhile, can we get the information we must have without provocation? We are using drones and low-level flights now and we shall be looking to see if there may be ways in which we can obtain comparable information in a different way. It would be a tragedy if this problem of reconnaissance derailed the Paris talks.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings File, Vol. V, Tab 76)