67. Draft Notes of Meeting1

Meeting with the President, Monday, October 14, 9:40 a.m., in the Cabinet Room.

PRESENT

  • Secretary Rusk, Secretary Clifford, General Wheeler, Mr. Helms, General Taylor, Mr. Rostow (later joined by Mr. Christian and Mr. T. Johnson)

Secretary Rusk informed the President that all present had now been briefed on events since Friday.2 The President might wish to get their reactions and then consider next steps.

The President, noting a question raised by Thieu, asked why infiltration was not involved in our formula.

General Wheeler explained that it was difficult to monitor infiltration performance unilaterally and that it was better to keep our bombing of Laos going. Secretary Rusk underlined the critical importance of the apparent acceptance by Hanoi of GVN participation. This was a real turning point and would so be understood in Asia and the world, as well as by the VC in the South.

The President asked: Why is participation of the NLF being accepted? Secretary Rusk responded that this would not be a three-cornered confrontation; that is, with Saigon and the NLF together confronting Hanoi on the one side and Washington on the other. The arrangement would be our side-your side.

But the real importance was that Hanoi, which had vowed never to talk to the “Thieu-Ky clique,” was now prepared to acknowledge the reality of the GVN. This means that there can be no settlement in Vietnam without the assent of the GVN. We have always said that there would be no problem in having the views of the NLF heard.

GVN participation could have a major effect on the political and psychological situation inside South Vietnam; the Chieu Hoi rates should go up; there should be more defectors; etc. Vance had told Secretary Rusk that the acceptance of the GVN was the most difficult of [Page 176]all our conditions. Vance, in fact, believed that they would never accept. Acceptance of the GVN will be fully understood by our Asian friends. Critical issues of face and prestige are involved for Hanoi, as well as favorable factors for Saigon.

The President then asked: Suppose they do accept the GVN and nothing happens in a month or for several weeks? What if we have a stalemate in the talks? What do we do then?

Secretary Rusk replied that if there are no attacks across the DMZ or on population centers, we could go a month or so in a stalemate. But if there is a buildup for later large military operations, that would be a different matter. We should give them until about December 1st before we resume bombing, to see if the talks in fact become serious. If they attack across the DMZ or attack the cities, then we could resume at any time according to the conditions we have put to them.

On the other hand, Secretary Rusk pointed out there would be costs in resuming the bombing too soon; for example, in 10 days. Before we resume we must be in a position to demonstrate that we tested their good faith. Then we could publish our record.

Mr. Helms said that the CIA had been brainstorming the situation developing in Paris over recent weeks. They saw the one great danger in the situation—the one hole—the one great vulnerability—in our position was the question of GVN participation. If the GVN did not participate, all his experts believed there was doubt that the GVN could hold steady. It would probably collapse. Hanoi's concession on the GVN is therefore very important. It is the one thing that fills in the big hole in our negotiating position. It is very significant. Helms agreed fully with the evaluation of Secretary Rusk. Secretary Rusk said that it was his impression that the CIA analysts believed that Hanoi would never accept the GVN at the table. Helms confirmed this as correct.

The President then asked about reconnaissance. Does our formula permit us to continue reconnaissance? Secretary Rusk said that our instruction, referring to “acts of force” rather than “acts of war,” would permit reconnaissance. Moreover, he had just bluntly made the point to Dobrynin, who did not react negatively.

The President then asked: Do they understand the “facts of life” about the DMZ and the cities?

Secretary Rusk said that if the other side accepted in silence our statement of the “facts of life", we should be prepared to move on that “assumption.”

The President asked: What if we stop bombing and they hit the cities?

[Page 177]

Secretary Rusk said that we would have to resume bombing. What they do will determine our behavior. If they violate the “facts of life,” we would be back with “business as usual.”

Secretary Rusk noted that we had just pulled back the New Jersey from around the Vinh area to a point closer to the DMZ.

The President pressed on. He said he did not wish our understanding to be “fuzzy.” It was necessary that there be clarity among us. If they take advantage and violate the “facts of life” as we have stated them, what do we do?

Secretary Rusk said we would resume bombing and disclose the full record. Life magazine had referred to the President and the Secretary of State as the “two lonely men.” They would still be here.3

[Omitted here is discussion of European security issues.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Secret; Eyes Only for the President. Christian and Tom Johnson joined the meeting at 10 a.m., and it concluded at 12:07 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) These notes, drafted by Rostow on October 16, cover only the part of the meeting prior to 10 a.m. For the rest of the meeting, see Document 68. A complete transcript is in the Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
  2. October 11.
  3. A notation at the end of these notes reads: “At this point, note-taking was picked up by Tom Johnson.”