30. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 82463. I now rate the possibilities of a positive response from Moscow and enough from Hanoi to proceed as one in three or one in four—no higher, but no lower.

On that still highly contingent basis, I thought you might wish to look at a draft statement announcing your decisions and your movements, to see how certain key sensitive matters might be dealt with:

  • —The GVN, whose stability and sense of confidence must be preserved;
  • —The Czech question;
  • —The NATO issue;
  • —The nature and limits of our understanding on the bombing cessation, so that your hands would not be tied should you have to resume.

At some point the Norwegians would have to step before the world and say Hanoi promised them no violation of the DMZ and prompt, serious, sincere negotiations.

Also, once the bombing stops, we have to push Moscow very hard to press for peace and to take a firm, unambiguous position to clear up Laos.

I have given thought to Bangkok; first or last?

The advantage of seeing the troop contributors immediately is obvious; but we will not know then:

  • —The immediate post-bombing state of the Paris talks;
  • —What the Russians are—and are not—prepared to do post-bombing, towards peace in Southeast Asia.

Therefore, I now lean to: Geneva; Brussels; Bangkok.

The advantage of Geneva first is to hold the Soviet feet to the fire on delivering in Paris, on Laos, etc. They have always said they could do more if we stopped bombing. We've got to nail it down in the first flush of the event.

I calculate something like this:

  • —By the end of this week we shall know whether Moscow and Hanoi will give us enough to proceed;
  • —Once you make a decision, it will take a few days to work out the scenario here, a few further days to get Bunker, Thieu, and Abrams aboard; get dates set for the Russians; inform Hanoi, if we so decide, so they can get out military and diplomatic instructions;
  • —I would guess you would want about three days in Geneva, two in Brussels, perhaps a stop in Paris; two days in Bangkok. With flying time, etc. perhaps eleven days. If talks opened in Geneva, for example, on October 7, you could be home for the weekend of October 19-20, I should guess.

Draft contingent text follows, which I have not showed to Sect. Rusk because of its highly tentative status.

Draft Contingency Presidential Statement

In recent weeks there have been intense private contacts, direct and indirect, with the authorities in Hanoi, including private meetings in Paris. There have also been a series of exchanges with the leaders of the Soviet Union. As a result of these exchanges, I have reached two conclusions.

First, I now judge that we have reason to believe the cessation of the bombardment of North Vietnam by U.S. forces could take place under conditions which involve no increase in the risk of casualties to the forces of the United States or to our allies.

I also have reason to believe that such a cessation of bombardment could lead to serious discussions which would move the war in Vietnam towards a settlement.

It is extremely important that the President not mislead our own people, our allies, or the world at large about these conclusions. We have made real progress, but I cannot guarantee at this stage the precise military or diplomatic behavior of the authorities in Hanoi after a bombing cessation. We shall have to assess that behavior with respect to military operations and diplomatic performance very carefully in the days ahead. But the other side knows well that our eyes will be focused on three specific matters:

  • —First, on whether the demilitarized zone is respected by their side as well as by our side.
  • —Second, whether there are attacks on the cities of South Vietnam. These could have the gravest consequences for the environment of diplomatic talks.
  • —Third, whether, in the light of the diplomatic positions we have already conveyed to the other side at great length, there are very prompt, serious negotiations looking towards the earliest possible peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. There can be no political settlement in South Vietnam without the full participation of the Government of Vietnam. We appear to agree with the authorities in Hanoi that the political settlement in South Vietnam must be reached by the people of South Vietnam—and that means the elected constitutional [Page 77]government of South Vietnam must play a leading role. There can be no definitive settlement of the demilitarized zone and other matters relating to the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962 without the full participation of the Government of Vietnam.

The bombardment of North Vietnam will cease on ————. We expect the new phase of serious, substantive discussion to open in Paris the next day, ————.

Let everyone be clear: the objective of what we are doing—the test—is prompt and serious movement towards peace. The bloodshed in Southeast Asia must end.

[Omitted here is the section of Rostow's proposed statement for the President concerning potential arms control talks, which is printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volume XIV, Document 305.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Chlodnick Files. Top Secret; Sensitive; Literally Eyes Only For the President. Received at the LBJ Ranch at 1:40 p.m. The notation “ps” on the telegram indicates that the President saw it.