41. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and George Ball 1

President: He [Vice President Humphrey] said to me that he would stop the bombing. And I said, “Without any conditions?", as I did to you the other day. And he said, “No, they would have to give me direct or indirect, word or deed or act that they’d restore the DMZ.” And I said, “Okay, now what would you do about the shelling of the cities and bringing in the Government of Vietnam?” “Well,” he said, “you couldn’t have discussions in good faith unless you talked to both the NLF and the Government of Vietnam too.” And I said, “Well, that’s all right. Is that what you mean by good faith?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “Well, how long do you think we could go if they were shelling the cities?” And he said, “I made clear that if they didn’t negotiate in good faith we would go back.” And I told him “all right” [and] that I would get his speech.2 I haven’t got it. They have a copy here but Walt [Rostow] has it and he is analyzing it. I haven’t talked to Dean [Rusk]. I have just talked to the Vice President and placed a call.3 I had a meeting going on. We’ve got the damn longshoremen out tonight and I had to issue a Taft-Hartley4 and we mean mess on that. And I just got in in time to hear him. I thought that—I think we’ll—I guess you are keeping up with these cables. We got a three-page cable from Abrams.5 Abrams thinks he and Bunker—that the one thing we have got to do is not let these folks out there fall out from under us and have another con deal or two and that we’ve got to keep saying to them that we are not going to make any agreement that they’re not involved because we will lose their million men that we’re going to rely on if we ever try to phase out.

Ball: Let me say that I talked to some of the press today, Mr. President, and I told them that implied in all of this was obviously the fact that both the South Vietnamese and the other side—the Communists—would want to bring the other side, but we couldn’t make a decision for anybody.

[Page 108]

President: That’s exactly right. Well, your television appearances and your press conference have made it very clear, and I wish that we could get them out of talking about Vietnam if they would tell the papers—if Nixon and Humphrey would tell the papers what you said on television. I saw you the other morning. I thought it was superb. I Don’t know why in the hell a fellow that can handle himself that way can’t work for me but I guess he did that long enough. But anyway, I hope they can get away with it. You know now, I guess, that the Foreign Minister of Hanoi is in Moscow. He’s there now. We think he’s there now trying to decide this thing. We got that from the most sensitive source you can imagine. I Don’t think the V.P. knows it or anybody else, but there are just three or four here, but he is there. We have made some steps that nobody knows about, not even the highest officials, that we are kind of hoping that Russia would help us and Hanoi would agree. What we’d like to do is show up some morning with the GVN and just the day before stop the bombing and then have some indication that they wouldn’t walk out of the room—it’d be bad if they did—and have some indication that they wouldn’t take advantage of us there at the DMZ. Now we are trying our best to get them on board on that. They have not said yes and they have not said no. They said, “What are you requiring? What do you insist on?” We said, “We Don’t insist on any guarantee, any promise, any assurance. We want to know, though, what would happen if we did so and so. Would you walk out?” Well, they said they have to talk to their country. When they get ready to talk to their country we find them in Hanoi—I mean Moscow. Now Don’t say that around any of those sources, but I will talk to you from time to time. Abrams says that the most important thing of everything we can do is not to let that government feel that we sell them out because he is using them and using them effectively and he is going to use them more effectively every day.

Ball: He is doing a terrific job.

President: Gene Black is back today.6 Gene Black says he has been there three times and he says that Huong and what they are doing to try to clean up the mess is having a hell of a good effect. He thinks that Tet did a good job on this crowd and scared them and they’re doing better than they have ever done. I Don’t know—I have heard so many reports I can’t tell, but we will see. And I just hope we can get away from—the best line that has been said in the campaign was your line that Johnson is not running against Humphrey. Johnson got out of the race. He is just [Page 109]going to be President until January 20. Now the whole question is let’s look at Nixon and let’s look at Humphrey and let’s see which one of these we want and let’s Don’t get down any rabbit trails. You just keep that up.

Ball: Right, Mr. President. Well, I’d like to keep in touch with you.

President: Well, you can any day. You call me any time you want to, any hour, and I’ll give you any information that we have—that I have.

Ball: That’s wonderful.

President: Okay.

Ball: Thanks.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Ball, September 30, 1968, 8:15 p.m., Tape F6810.01, PNO 6. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.
  2. See Document 40.
  3. See Document 39.
  4. A 1946 Congressional act that authorized the United States to impose a cooling-off period during labor disputes.
  5. See footnote 4, Document 38.
  6. Black, the President’s Special Adviser on Asian Economic and Social Development, had just returned from a trip to seven Asian nations including Vietnam. He reported on his trip in a meeting with the President at 12:47 p.m. on September 28. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No other record of the meeting has been found.