252. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

Herewith notes for 5:30 p.m. briefing of Mr. Nixon.

1. Viet-Nam

“Facts of Life”
  • —no attacks yet on major cities.
  • —little or no shelling from or across the DMZ.
  • —no massing of forces at the DMZ.
  • DMZ being violated by presence of small North Vietnamese forces, which we attack heavily when spotted. We also run patrols into southern half of DMZ, in part to capture personnel and demonstrate in Paris that it is North Vietnamese and not NLF forces which are violating the DMZ.
  • —We have protested strongly to Hanoi, and plan, as first order of business when the new talks begin, to take up DMZ.
  • —Reconnaissance being intensively conducted up to the 19th parallel and by drones and high-level aircraft north of the 19th parallel. The enemy has been firing on our aircraft. Our military are empowered to strike back on air-to-ground as well as on air-to-air basis. We have thus far lost four recce manned aircraft over North Vietnam.
  • —Thus, the enemy has partially complied with our understandings. Abrams does not believe there is any substantial danger at the DMZ and at I Corps at the moment. The major cities have not been attacked. But when talks start, we obviously have a major job in getting at the problems of DMZ violation and recce.

Military Situation

For several months many of the enemy’s main force units have been pulled back into North Vietnam, Laos, and the Cambodian border area. This gave the ARVN and Abrams a great opportunity to extend government control of the countryside, which they have done at a rate of better than 3% a month for the last two months. (It was actually 3.5% in November.) VC-controlled population has apparently dropped to 13.4%; the contested areas are about 13.3%. Therefore, more than 73% of the population lives in relative security under government control. Pacification progress is moving about three times our best sustained period in the past. The pacification offensive has been accompanied by systematic attacks on the VC infrastructure.

The President would underline that the fact that we can move against the enemy in this way, while negotiations are going forward, is the major difference between this negotiation and Panmunjom, where military action around the 38th parallel in Korea could not affect significantly the enemy’s bargaining assets.

It now looks as though—at any moment—the enemy is about to kick off an offensive. Elements of five divisions have been assembled opposite Saigon to the west. Abrams’ intelligence has been excellent and precise. We shall now see whether the offensive occurs and what happens.

It could raise two major issues for decision:

  • —Should we permit hot pursuit some modest distance into the Cambodian sanctuary where many of these forces have been assembled?
  • —If they actually get into Saigon—or shell Saigon substantially—should we resume bombing for, say, a 48-hour interval?

Our intelligence people believe there are two major reasons for this enemy effort if it takes place. First, they have, since 1954, always accompanied a new phase of negotiations with a military offensive to demonstrate their strength. Second, they may well feel they must slow up this pacification offensive, or negotiate with indecent haste in Paris—since their political assets in the South are draining away. But the risk they are taking is that Abrams and the ARVN will throttle this offensive in a way which will look to the world like a major setback. That is Abrams’ intent and mission; but they have concentrated a very high proportion of their usable forces opposite Saigon, and it may be quite rough.

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2. Paris

The opening of the new phase of the talks is hung up on two procedural matters which have considerable symbolic and political meaning to Hanoi and Saigon:

—The Order of Speaking.

It is agreed that names will be drawn at random from a hat; but Hanoi wants four names drawn and the order of speaking determined in that way, to underline this as a “four power” conference. We and the GVN want only two names drawn, symbolizing our view that this is a “your-side-our-side” conference. The two members of each side would then speak.

—The Shape of the Tables.

Hanoi wanted four separate tables—a rectangle, or four segmented arcs to symbolize a four-power conference. We want two parallel tables. Hanoi suggested a round table. We have not yet finally decided our position, and will be talking it over with the GVN in Paris.

There is some inconclusive intelligence that Hanoi is rather anxious to get down to serious substantive discussion; but that is not evident in the way they have been handling these procedural issues. Thus far, Ky and his delegation have behaved correctly and spoken temperately in public. There is no basis for today’s story that the US and GVN delegations are split; although some differences—at some stages in the complex negotiation—would be quite normal.

[Omitted here is a review of the Arab-Israeli dispute, the status of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the issues surrounding the return of the crew of the Pueblo.]

W.W. Rostow
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Nixon and Transition. Secret. In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of the memorandum to the President, December 12, 3:15 p.m., Rostow wrote: “Herewith notes covering all the items you asked me to prepare, plus Pueblo, in this order: Vietnam; Paris; Arab-Israeli dispute; NPT; Pueblo. I have not put anything down on the Summit because I do not know where you came out last night with Sec. Rusk and what precisely you wish to say to Mr. Nixon today. I don’t know whether Nixon will be bringing with him any of his staff; but you may wish to talk alone with him about the Summit. I made these notes rather lengthy but have marked key passages to permit you to proceed more tersely if you wish to do so.” The President’s Daily Diary records the President’s meeting with Nixon. The entry for 5:35 to 7:25 p.m. reads: “President departed Oval Office to meet President-Elect and Mrs. Richard M. Nixon and daughter Tricia. President met the Nixons on the South Grounds, proceeded from there to Oval Office with President-Elect Nixon. Mrs. Nixon and Tricia went to the Mansion.” During the meeting, the President made a telephone call to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The meeting ended at 7:25 p.m., when the President and Nixon proceeded to the White House Mansion. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) No other record of the meeting between Johnson and Nixon has been found.