238. Notes of Meeting1



  • The President
  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary Clifford
  • Robert Murphy (Nixon Staff)
  • General Wheeler
  • Walt Rostow
  • CIA Director Helms
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

The President: I talked about the possibility of meeting with the Soviets with Senator Fulbright and Bob Murphy, liaison with Nixon.

Secretary Clifford: I said we had meeting after meeting after Glassboro2 on missile talks. I think it was the best prepared effort I had seen. At the eleventh hour, they (Soviets) went into Czechoslovakia.

The Soviets can’t see how they can face the costs of the missile race.

They are ready for talks. We are ready. There is support for this at Defense. When Nixon comes in, it could be a year before you get back to the point where we are now.

We now have substantial nuclear superiority over the Soviets. If a freeze goes into effect, we would be ahead. They are gaining in ICBM and submarine field.

Robert Murphy: I don’t know if we have superiority or not, based on intelligence briefings and reports I have had. We need to cut down [Page 705] on expenses. We have something going. The bombing was stopped. South Vietnam will come to Paris.3

Secretary Rusk: An announcement will be made tonight.4

Secretary Clifford: I think it would be in President-Elect Nixon’s interest to get these talks started. During his term, I expect an agreement could be reached.

A number of forces are in position now to let talks begin. Then technicians can take over.

Items to be discussed:

  • Missiles
  • Vietnam
  • Korea
  • Mideast

Walt Rostow: The Soviets said they have done full staff work. They have a paper to hand us—a bargaining paper.

They are prepared to have agreed statement before we go.

We would go back and study papers each handed us.

Robert Murphy: That Communiqué would be a great achievement.

They use “equality of security.”

Secretary Rusk: We have used this.

Walt Rostow: This is Dobrynin talking to Rusk and me.

The President has long history of correspondence on Vietnam. We could lay out this. They seem to want to work the Mideast out.

Secretary Rusk: We were far down this track before Czechoslovakia.

Neither one of us has decisive influence on countries of the Mideast. But we both do have legitimate claims on Southeast Asia.

Robert Murphy: I have a reservation about summit meetings. The thought of another Glassboro would be unappealing.

The President: The question of preparation is not a relevant one. We have been prepared.

[Page 706]

Secretary Rusk: We are under pressure from non-nuclear countries to get going on these talks.

The level of talks is related to Vietnam and the Mideast. Every week that goes by without progress increases the danger.

Robert Murphy: On the balance, this should appeal to Mr. Nixon.5

The President: [While] We Don’t want to commit Mr. Nixon, we do want him to know of it.

Bus, any comment?

General Wheeler: No, Sir.

The President: Dick?

CIA Director Helms: No, Sir.

Secretary Rusk: North Vietnamese representatives told Cy Vance there is difference between what happens north of the 19th parallel and what happens south of the 19th parallel.

General Wheeler: We could probably live with it.

CIA Director Helms: We must keep our eyes south of the 19th. Not much north of the 19th.

Secretary Clifford: We are only firing drones north of the 19th.

General Wheeler: If there is a known AAA site or SAM site, the idea is for armed reconnaissance.

Robert Murphy: What is the infiltration?

CIA Director Helms: 7000 month. Still good deal of traffic.

Walt Rostow: That is a good figure.

CIA Director Helms: 410,000 since ‘65.

General Wheeler: Walters6 knows lots of North Vietnamese people. He saw Le Duc Tho and his people. He saw a very bleak situation in North Vietnam.

Walt Rostow: They have great respect for General Abrams, U.S. Forces. They have manpower problems.

Secretary Clifford: The Soviets have been limited in what they can do while we were bombing a sister Socialist State.

[Page 707]

Robert Murphy: It’s interesting that issue was never raised of bombing during the talks there except hitting the bridges over the Yalu River.

Walt Rostow: The report says they want peace, but they won’t come on their knees to Thieu.

Secretary Rusk: Let statements speak for themselves.

The President: When is Dobrynin going back?

Secretary Rusk: Tomorrow.

I’ll be on “Face-the-Nation” next Sunday.7 Next steps in Paris.

There will be a donnybrook over procedural questions.

One of the first questions of substantive matter will be a more formal agreement on the DMZ, cities and reconnaissance.

They will press for a political settlement. We cannot agree to type of political settlement they can agree to.

I would lean toward mutual withdrawal of forces.8

We would have to believe South Vietnam could look after the rag tag elements of the Viet Cong that would be left.

Robert Murphy: A ceasefire—wouldn’t you shoot for that first?

Secretary Rusk: We could ceasefire if troops were moving north.

The Viet Cong claim now they control 75% of the area.

Our figures show 69% of the South Vietnamese under GVN control—15% contested.

We need to get Laos back to independent basis and territorial accords on Cambodia.

I do not see how they could accept the terms we would find acceptable, or vice versa.

We have not had flags at the table so far. No name plates.

CIA Director Helms: On November 19, the North Vietnamese director and the Indonesian Foreign Minister9 said Hanoi would ask for a declaration of withdrawal of troops—after that they would talk.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Family Dining Room of the White House. Afterwards, the President met privately with Clifford, Rusk, and Helms for an additional quarter hour. The President left for the LBJ Ranch in Texas that evening and returned to Washington on December 2. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. Reference is to the Glassboro Summit held June 23-25, 1967. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Documents 217 ff.
  3. Two memoranda prepared on November 26 discussed future U.S. strategy in the expanded Paris talks. In a memorandum to Clifford, Warnke suggested continuing holding private U.S.-DRV bilateral talks on mutual withdrawal simultaneously with the expanded talks. (Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, VIET 092.2 (November) 1968) In a memorandum to Rusk, Bundy also called for continuing the private talks with the DRV on the DMZ and withdrawal, with other issues such as Laos, a cease-fire, and a holiday truce likely to emerge as well in these exchanges. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-S Files: Lot 74 D 164, Secretary-President Luncheons (2))
  4. See Department of State Bulletin, December 16, 1968, pp. 621-622.
  5. In a memorandum to the President, November 29, 9:43 a.m., Rostow noted Murphy’s comment on Nixon and his possible attendance at the proposed summit along with Johnson: “Frankly, he is blowing hot and cold.” (Johnson Library, Walt Rostow Files, Nixon & Transition) In a memorandum to the President, November 19, 2:35 p.m., Rostow cited a note transmitted to him by Murphy: “Nixon asks whether Cy could be asked tactfully and confidentially whether he would be willing to continue in Paris after January 20, depending, of course, on state of negotiations.” (Ibid.)
  6. Major General Vernon A. Walters, Defense Attaché at the Embassy in Paris.
  7. For full text of this December 1 interview, see Department of State Bulletin, December 23, 1968, pp. 645-650.
  8. In notes of a November 27 meeting between Clifford and his staff, Elsey recorded the following passage: “At Tuesday luncheon, CMC talked about withdrawal of troops; Rusk got into the matter ‘one of the early subjects to be taken up is withdrawal of troops.’ Rostow looked like he was kicked in the stomach. Major fallacy of Rostow position is that we’d have to keep troops there forever. (We then note that Bundy in last nite ‘backgrounder’ talked about withdrawal of troops so it looks more & more that Rostow is isolated from DoD & State.” (Johnson Library, George M. Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts (1 of 2))
  9. Adam Malik.