246. Notes of Meeting1

[Omitted here is discussion of the situation in the Middle East.]

President Johnson asked Secretary Rusk to report on Paris and then introduce Ambassador Harriman.

Secretary Rusk reported that we were pleased that President Thieu announced that his delegation would arrive in Paris by the end of this week. He said we anticipate some rather complicated negotiations ahead of us, but he was pleased that we are able to call upon the services of Ambassador Harriman and Ambassador Vance. Secretary Rusk, in introducing Harriman, said that this Nation is once again very fortunate to have available to it the dedicated public service of Harriman, whose performance in this field is already legendary. Secretary Rusk said we have some hard bargaining, some hard negotiating, and some hard fighting still ahead of us.

Ambassador Harriman then said that he was pleased to have Cy Vance as a partner. He said the present situation was not as they had hoped, they had expected the serious new session to start on November 6th and that North Vietnam understood that none of those serious sessions [Page 728] could continue and for the bombing cessation to be maintained they had to do certain things. He outlined the same things that the President had been setting out, one with respect to the DMZ, two, not shelling the cities, etc.

Ambassador Harriman then reported on the talks thus far. He said there were two basic subjects to discuss. One is a political settlement which he hoped the Vietnamese will get together and work out a political settlement. [sic] He said they were very far apart. He said that we were supporting the position of the Government which is a constitutional—a democratic constitution; that the VC are rebels against the Government and that if they lay down their arms, they can join in the political life of the country.

He reported that the other side maintains that there must be an agreement and that there should be a coalition government, in which they would expect Vietnam to control so the talks had been stalled. He said there had been a lot of propaganda on both sides. He wanted to make it plain to them that the U.S. is supporting the South Vietnamese in their contention and that the other side is the aggressor and must come to terms.

Ambassador Harriman said:

“On the other side, there are some questions which relate to the Manila communiqué and mutual withdrawal of armed forces. We take the position that the United States Government will withdraw its forces as the other side withdraws its armed forces, the North Vietnamese. Then I would hope that we could do two things.

“First, we must affix the restoring of DMZ. Nothing can be done until that is settled. We would then, I would hope, have some thoughts about the mutual withdrawal between now and the 20th, insofar as we’ll really discuss it. Whether any agreement can be reached before that time, I wouldn’t want to predict. There is one subject which is of interest, and that is that Hanoi seems to want to continue bilateral talks. They even went so far as to say that they were impressed with your (the President’s) Johns Hopkins speech, although they take the regular communist line on American aid—they even went so far as to say that the Marshall Plan was a scheme of the United States to invade Europe. Now that’s the words that Stalin used—that’s the words he used in 1948. And they still maintain it. But they do show an interest in being independent of Peking and not too dependent on Moscow.”

Harriman went on to say that they are quite proud of the fact that they are trying to be French and they are enormously interested in Western technology. They are fascinated by the idea of American rights, and he feels that is an asset that we have in the discussions.

[Page 729]

Ambassador Harriman said that the Soviet Union at the moment had great influence on Hanoi—greater than Peking—and the Soviet Union was helpful in the September and October efforts in getting the North Vietnamese to drop some of their outrageous demands and also to glean some of the proposals that we had made.2

The President called on Secretary Clifford to give a brief statement on the military situation as he saw it, which he did and brought the group up to date on what was happening on the military front. He said the great majority of the contacts that we were having in South Vietnam are the result of the searching efforts of General Abrams and his troops to find the enemy and, if possible, to destroy them. He reported that they thought this had been exceedingly successful.

Secretary Clifford went on to say that while he says we are having success with our military efforts in South Vietnam, he does not wish to suggest that the enemy is being affected in such a manner that he cannot carry on his military efforts. He can do so. If he chooses to mount some important offensive, he can bring the men down and can supply them and can arm them to do so.

Secretary Clifford then gave a report on the number of casualties on each side. He said that while there had been some withdrawals of enemy troops from South Vietnam, he estimated there were still a force in the neighborhood of 300,000 of the enemy still there. That consists of Viet Cong regulars, North Vietnamese regular soldiers, guerrillas that are spread throughout all four corps, and administrative service personnel, of which there are a great many.

The President then asked Charles Murphy to report on some of his problems with the transition. He reported it was his feeling that the transition was going relatively smoothly and there had been no major problems. He said he believed it was apparent that the initiative which [Page 730] the President took to provide an early start for planning for the transition is proving its merit.

He reported there had been one problem that occurred from time to time where there have been unauthorized requests for information or other help that have been addressed directly to the agencies by persons purporting to be for Mr. Nixon. He told them that all of their requests should be channeled through their contact who was Mr. Lincoln.3

[Omitted here is discussion of the budget and the Presidential transition.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room. No classification marking. The meeting, which lasted from 12:04 to 1:30 p.m., was a formal meeting of the Cabinet. Harriman joined the meeting at 12:30 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. Harriman met with the President after the meeting from 1:47 to 2:01 p.m. (Ibid.) Notes of the meeting have not been found. Harriman later compiled the full text of his remarks at this meeting in an undated paper. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Subject Files, Johnson, Lyndon, 1968-69) In a memorandum attached to his remarks dated January 4, 1969, Harriman wrote: “After my statement at the Cabinet meeting (attached), several people came up—I particularly remember John Macy, who said it was the clearest statement he had ever heard about Viet-Nam. As the President was leaving the State Department, and was sitting in his car (after his speech at the Human Rights meeting), his last remark to me was, ‘That was a fine statement you made at the Cabinet meeting.’ It occurred to me that several people must have mentioned it to him or else he wouldn’t have thought of it.” The President was at the State Department that evening to deliver remarks in honor of the Presidential Commission for the Observance of Human Rights Year 1968, of which Harriman was the Chairman. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary)
  3. Frank Lincoln, a Nixon transition team representative.