39. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Vice President Humphrey 1

President: Hello?

Vice President: Mr. President?

President: Hi.

Vice President: How are you this evening?

President: Fine.

Vice President: Say, I’m going to be on your TV in about 5 minutes.2

President: All right, I’ll turn it on.

Vice President: On NBC, and I thought I should have called you a little earlier, but they had me taping here all day and I’ve been about half-dead.

President: Is it taped?

Vice President: Yeah, it’s taped.

President: Good. Well, I’ll turn it on.

[Page 104]

Vice President: And it points out the things that we’ve done here on Vietnam. And it’s about the arms control as well as the non-proliferation treaty and it says, for example, that we’ve given the time for Asian nations to strengthen themselves and work together and so we see a stronger Southeast Asia—a stronger South Vietnam—contrasted with a few months ago when peace negotiations were started. And there are new circumstances which will face the new President, in light of these circumstances, and assuming no marked changes in the present situation, how would I proceed. And let me make clear first what I would not do. I would not undertake a unilateral withdrawal. Peace would not be served by weakness or withdrawal and I make that very clear. Nor would I escalate the level of violence in either the South or the North. We seek to de-escalate. The platform of the Democratic Party says the President should take reasonable risks to find peace. North Vietnam, according to its own statement, has said it will proceed to prompt and good faith negotiations if we stop present limited bombing. But we must always think of the protection of our troops. As President, I would be willing to stop the bombing of the North as an acceptable risk for peace because I believe it could lead to success in the negotiations and a shorter war.

President: Now does that mean without any—

Vice President: No. Wait a minute. This would be the best protection of our troops. [Quoting from his speech:] “But in weighing that risk and before taking action, I would place key importance on evidence—direct or indirect, by deed or word—of the Communists’ willingness to restore the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam.”

President: Now would you just want evidence on that one point? You know our negotiating position. We have three. The South Vietnamese—Bunker tells us that that government and those million men they have would really go into chaos if we divided up in Paris their future without their having a chance to appear.

Vice President: Yes.

President: We would be willing to have the NLF appear, but about the most important condition we think we’ve got to have is not that we decide their fate without their presence, as Hitler and Chamberlain did to Czechoslovakia. Now—

Vice President: Yeah, well, we say that they must proceed with good faith negotiations, and if they—

President: Now, would that include—well, you see, there are these three points. This is one of them. I gather from what you’re saying that you would require evidence—direct or indirect, deed or word—of their willingness to restore the DMZ. Now that would give us some protection for our men if you would—

[Page 105]

Vice President: Yes, sir.

President: If that is a condition.

Vice President: That’s right.

President: Now there are two other things that we say they ought to do if we stop the bombing. One is—not shell the cities. And two—to let the GVN come in and we’d let the NLF come in. Now they have not agreed to any of these three up to now. Would this be your only condition?

Vice President: That would be my only specific, except that I’d say that they’d have to have good faith in negotiations. They’d have to show good faith. I said here, “North Vietnam has said it would proceed to prompt and good faith negotiations if we would stop the present limited bombing of the North.” And then I say, “If the Government of North Vietnam were to show bad faith we would, of course, reserve the right to resume the bombing. And in weighing that risk and before taking any action, I would place key importance on evidence—direct or indirect, by deed or word—of the Communists’ willingness to restore the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam.” I Don’t say that’s exclusive, but I say that’s one thing above all that they must do.

President: Well, there’s two other things that you want to remember. Number one, we’ve got 500,000 men. They’ve got a million.

Vice President: Yeah.

President: Now we Don’t want to divide up North or South Vietnam without both of them being present, so that ought to be understood before we give up our whole card that if we bring them in they wouldn’t walk out. Negotiate in good faith with whom? With both of us, you see. The second thing is we couldn’t very well keep the bombing stopped very long, I think, from a practical standpoint if they shell the cities.

Vice President: Yeah. Well, that’s what we would mean by “good faith negotiations.”

President: Okay.

Vice President: I’ll tell you what. I want you to look at this and I’ve got a lot of stuff in there that we’ve done. I’ve built up the record so that we have a complete statement about the Constitution and the elections and the improvement of the economy and the fact that’s what happened to the other nations of Southeast Asia and their regional development, and then we come down on the non-proliferation treaty at the end and Mr. Nixon’s point of view on it. I would just like to hear from you afterwards what you think. I had to stake out some positions, as you know, and I think I’ve done it carefully here without jeopardizing what you’re trying to do.

[Page 106]

President: You do require evidence of direct or indirect, or deed or word, on the restoration of the DMZ?

Vice President: Absolutely.

President: Before you stop it?

Vice President: That’s absolutely right. I say just exactly, “in weighing that risk and before taking any action, I would place key importance on the evidence—direct or indirect, by deed or word—of the Communists’ willingness to restore” it.

President: I’ll turn it on. Thank you.

Vice President: God bless you. Thank you.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Humphrey, September 30, 1968, 7:30 p.m., Tape F6810.01, PNO 4. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. Humphrey called from Salt Lake City, Utah. Rostow was with the President in the Oval Office during the conversation. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. See Document 40.