49. Memorandum for the Record1

Meeting with Ambassador Vance, October 3, 1968, 9:00-10:30 a.m.

Ambassador Vance reported to the President in his bedroom on the course of the negotiations in Paris.2

The President asked Amb. Vance if he was optimistic. He said he was. The President asked him for his reasons, and also put the same question to Mr. Rostow. They both suggested to the President that it was possible that Hanoi regarded itself in a military position and a political position vis-é-vis the government in Saigon in which its bargaining power was diminishing. Whatever the advantages might be in waiting for a new Administration on January 20, they might assess their problem as one in which the military situation was likely to deteriorate over [Page 129]coming months; the ARVN would expand, improve its equipment, and increase its confidence; and the Thieu government would gain in stability, acceptability, and legitimacy. Therefore, it was possible they might wish to settle the war sooner rather than later. The President expressed some skepticism. He then laid out his position under three headings:

  • —there must be private understanding of GVN participation in the negotiations after a bombing cessation;
  • —Hanoi must understand that the DMZ must not be violated;
  • —Hanoi must understand that the cities must not be attacked.

As with Amb. Harriman, the President said to Amb. Vance that it would be essential that the whole government be very close together and agreed on the resumption of bombing if these understandings were violated. Amb. Vance, without hesitation, indicated his agreement with this position. (See attached cables for confirmation of Harriman-Vance positions on resumption of bombing communicated to the President.)3

The President then suggested that Amb. Vance and Mr. Rostow go to Mr. Rostow's office and make sure the position as outlined by the President was perfectly clear between them.

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  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3]. Secret; HARVAN. Prepared by Rostow. In an attached covering memorandum transmitting this memorandum to the President, October 21, Rostow wrote: “Herewith memoranda for the record on your talks with Harriman (September 17) and with Vance (October 3). Also attached are the outgoing and incoming cables which confirm Harriman-Vance support for a bombing resumption if ‘our understandings’ are violated. You will note that I included the very sensitive reference to the Dobrynin communication of September 16. This means, of course, that these memoranda for the record should be handled with the highest security.” The notation “ps” on the covering memorandum indicates that the President saw the attached memoranda.
  2. The President met with Vance over breakfast in his bedroom from 8:30 a.m. to 10:10 a.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)
  3. See Document 45. In an undated letter to Ball, Harriman wrote: “Dear George, I am convinced that we can work out a situation which in my judgement would justify the risk of a San Antonio formula cessation of the bombing before the end of this month. This could have been done in latter part of July or early August but I believe we are somewhat better off militarily & psychologically in Vietnam now than then. The third wave attacks have failed & NVA/VC have suffered heavy losses. This will be our last chance before the election and I feel action now is essential to give Hubert a fighting chance. I hope you will give Cy enough time to fill you in on things here & get agreement on how we can cooperate. I am greatly disappointed to have missed you—send me any message through Cy.” He added a postscript: “We here all agree that if NVN ‘takes advantage’ President would have wide support for bombing again. I would certainly recommend it.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips and Missions, Paris Peace Talks, 1968, Chronological File, Dec. 1968-Jan. 1969)