69. Notes of Meeting1

NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH

  • Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford
  • Secretary of State Dean Rusk
  • General Earle Wheeler
  • Admiral Thomas Moorer
  • General Leonard Chapman
  • General John McConnell
  • General Bruce Palmer
  • Bromley Smith
  • Walt Rostow
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

Joining the Meeting:

  • Senator Richard Russell
  • General William Westmoreland

Walt Rostow: In the course of discussions with the Soviets on missile talks, the question of the Middle East and Vietnam was raised.

With the Czech crisis, the environment for a Summit with the Soviets diminished. The President raised with the Soviets the question of Vietnam.

The language to Kosygin read:

“Setting all political arguments aside, the simple fact is that the President could not maintain a cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam unless it were very promptly evident to him, to the American people, and to our allies, that such an action was, indeed, a step toward peace. A cessation of bombing which would be followed by abuses of the DMZ, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese attacks on cities or such populated areas as provincial capitals, or a refusal of the authorities in Hanoi to enter promptly into serious political discussions which included the elected government of the Republic of Vietnam, could simply not be sustained.”2

Points included as conditions for a bombing halt:

(1)
Inclusion of the GVN at Paris talks
(2)
No attacks on the cities
(3)
Respect for the DMZ.

The Soviets would not march in with all three points. Secretary Rusk stressed that the Soviets should push on one essential point—inclusion of South Vietnam at the Paris talks.

[Page 186]

Last Friday,3 a private meeting was held in Paris.4

The critical passages from this discussion:

[Omitted here is the text of telegram 22253/Delto 817 from Paris, October 11.]

The President sent a message on cessation of the bombing and rules of engagement. We want your (General Abrams and Ambassador Bunker) response.

The message was received from Abrams and Bunker that they could live with the cessation if the three points are included.5

Ambassador Bunker said he thought they were moving the conflict from the battlefield to the conference table.

The number two man in the Soviet Embassy in Paris called Ambassador Vance in on Saturday.6 He said there could not be a bombing halt without participation of the GVN. Also, Vance stressed DMZ and the attacks on the cities.

He dictated the following passage:

[Omitted here is the text of Oberemko's message as reported in telegram 22313/Delto 820 from Paris, October 12.]

Walt Rostow: It was similar.

The Soviet representative said there are differing views in Hanoi. He said if bombing were halted serious talks could begin.

Thieu concurred in instructions given Harriman and Vance.

There is a later cable. He is ready to go along to try to see if they are serious about stopping the war.7

A message was sent to Bunker to examine loop-holes and contingencies—including the possibility of the enemy needing rest to get ready to hit us again.8

Asked four questions of Bunker/Abrams:

(1)
How long should we wait?
(2)
Can morale be maintained?
(3)
Rules of engagement?
(4)
Is a cease-fire proposal to our advantage—one we can arrange?

They responded:

(1)
Impossible to tell what the enemy can do.
(2)
Hanoi given up militarily; trying to get best negotiations possible.
(3)
Hanoi doesn't believe next administration will pull out.

Hanoi failed in this year's major offensives.

They will seek:

(1)
Cease-fire
(2)
Removal of foreign forces
(3)
Coalition government.

They think we should know something within a month.

Bunker says they are against

(a)
coalition government and
(b)
a cease-fire in place.

They said 1968 has been a devastating year for Hanoi.

He sent rules of engagement.

(1)
Continued strong pressure in South
(2)
Message to troops
(3)
Morale can be sustained.

Rules:

(A)
All commanders can conduct self-defense actions.
(B)
Response to attacks across DMZ.
(C)
Artillery fire will be responded to by destruction of unit firing.
(D)
If came across DMZ or struck cities, resumption of bombing would be recommended.

A draft message was sent to Paris this morning. (Attachment A)9

It includes:

(1.)
Serious talks must take place.
(2.)
If GVN included day after cessation, bombing will be halted.
(3.)
After halt, conditions must permit President to continue it.
(4.)
Respect for the DMZ.
(5.)
Armed attacks against major cities not permitted.
(6.)
Reconnaissance will continue, unarmed.

This would include cessation of Naval, air and artillery attacks.

Reconnaissance must include both high and low level flights as well as drones.

We asked for their views on draft instructions. GVN are aboard.

Maintenance for total security is required.

The President: (1) On September 17 Harriman came here.10

[Page 188]

I told him what we were confronted with. We were interested in

(a)
GVN at talks.
(b)
No attacks on cities.
(c)
Respect for DMZ.

(2) On October 3, Vance came home. I talked with him October 6 and October 7.11 I told him the same thing.

At 2:22, Senator Russell entered the meeting.

The President: I asked them what would happen if bombing stopped.

I told them we could not stop it if:

  • GVN were not included.
  • —They abused the DMZ.
  • —They attacked the cities.

Soviets were told this. Rusk got impression they would do all they could on GVN—and that we could work on the other two points.

The President: I met with Secretary Clifford and General Wheeler this morning.12

(To Senator Russell:) “Here are three statements.”

  • —San Antonio formula13
  • —August—Detroit14
  • —New Orleans—won't increase U.S. casualties.15
(1)
The weather has changed.
(2)
Troops are moving out.

Secretary Clifford: For five months Hanoi has said if bombing is halted they will begin “serious” talks. They refused any conditions. They said they never would sit down with the GVN.

Now the situation has changed.

(1)
We say GVN must be at the table.
(2)
Hanoi now prepared to accept GVN at table.
(3)
Enemy military situation has deteriorated.
(4)
We are recommending that there be a shift of emphasis.
[Page 189]

If GVN are at table, we can talk but only if DMZ is respected and cities are not attacked.

We are at a point where their good faith must be tested. We are recommending that we stop the bombing to test their good faith. If they violate it, we will know they are not in good faith and resume without any limitations.

The President has an opportunity to take them at their word. I would recommend starting bombing again if they did not show good faith.

We would continue bombing in Laos.

At the moment, Laos is where we want to bomb because of monsoon season in North Vietnam.

They have said we must cease all acts of war. I do not consider reconnaissance an act of war. We cannot deal in the dark.

I always have feared a build-up north of the DMZ. If they did, we would have to destroy the build-up. The time has come now. They have changed their attitude toward GVN.

They recognize the existence of the government in South Vietnam; the partition of South Vietnam and North Vietnam; the effect on the Viet Cong would be damaging. To know North Vietnam has recognized the government of South Vietnam would be quite a psychological blow to the Viet Cong.

I do consider the risk to us as minor. It does not injure us to stop the bombing for awhile. We can go back with bombing if we need to. The timing is important.

There must be another exchange with Kosygin to say we are taking them up on their offer and getting them to use whatever leverage that is possible.

We must move on anything that might bring peace.

General Wheeler: After six months of stonewalling, North Vietnam has made a movement which I consider important.

Abrams' assessment is highly favorable. If we haven't already won the war militarily we are well on the way to it.

Thieu readily agreed to the formula. All believe we must continue reconnaissance in and around North Vietnam.

If the enemy violates this, we will resume our operations without limitations.

I recommend you make this approach to North Vietnam. If they accept the presence of GVN at conference table, we should proceed.

Secretary Rusk: North Vietnam is not clearly on board in this. The acceptance by North Vietnam of South Vietnam at the conference table is a recognition that the Viet Cong are not sole government in the South.

[Page 190]

We must press for flat commitments by them after bombing is halted and talks are started on a new basis.

If there is violation of two points we go back to bombing. The Soviets will no longer be in a position where a sister Socialist state is being attacked.

The negotiations will be troublesome.

Bombing will restart if

  • cities are attacked.
  • DMZ is not respected.
  • GVN not permitted at table.

Bunker and Abrams met with Thieu.16 He is entirely in favor of this step.

Walt Rostow: Bunker-Abrams said:

(1)
Hanoi shifting from battlefield to conference table.
(2)
Lost 150,000 killed in action and B52 killed in action and captures and injured and desertions. [sic]
(3)
Strengthening of ARVN.
(4)
Inability to mount offensives in recent months.

Beginning with KheSanh, B-52 attacks became devastating. Record withdrawal signaled end of third offensive.

Abrams believes it will take 2-3 months for NVN-VC to rebuild. Hanoi realizes U.S. will not disengage in Vietnam regardless of who is elected.

Victory has eluded Hanoi. Hanoi may feel its position never will be better than it is today.

NVN-VC forces have not collapsed.

Up to now, Hanoi's emphasis has been on military and not negotiations.

Abrams and Bunker concur in instructions on cessation of bombing.

Thieu made a decision on the spot to accept this on October 13.

Thieu said he is ready to go along. The problem is not to stop the bombing, but to stop the war.

At 3:15, General Westmoreland joined the meeting.17

[Page 191]

The President: Read the San Antonio formula.

I said we would stop bombing when it would lead to

  • productive discussions
  • provided they would not take advantage of the cessation.

Their acceptance of the Government of Vietnam is some modification of their position. It does not represent a breakaway on our part from what we have stated.

Secretary Rusk: Acceptance of GVN is absolute. Other two points are self-policing.

The President: What is the difference between their not signing a contract on two and three?

Secretary Clifford: If they are in good faith, they won't shell cities or not respect the DMZ .

Our risk is limited.

Walt Rostow: Message sent to Harriman-Vance: (Attachment A)

Includes for a bombing halt:

(1)
Serious talks take place
(2)
GVN participation and
(3)
Cities not attacked
(4)
DMZ respected.

The President: I want your judgments and your views. I do not know when I will make a decision.

General McConnell: If you agree to unconditional cessation of the bombing, this would pre-empt your resumption of the bombing.

The President: If cities were attacked, If DMZ abused, we would resume.

Secretary Rusk: We have actually—(interrupted)

General McConnell: If you are to stop bombing, NOW is the time to do it. The weather will be bad in the panhandle.

I do not think they can attack the cities.

We would concentrate air operations in Laos this season anyhow.

I am concerned that they could mass troops and supplies without our knowing. Only two days a month would be good for reconnaissance.

We must continue reconnaissance.

I recommend going ahead.

Admiral Moorer: I subscribe to General McConnell's views. We must keep up the reconnaissance.

In III Corps area, Viet Cong might feel as though they are being deserted and initiate an action to break the deal.

[Page 192]

General McConnell: I do not think the enemy can attack the cities.

Admiral Moorer: I recommend we proceed along the course as outlined.

General Chapman: The DRV are hurting. Bombing is a strong card. They will want to rebuild their strength. We must go all out in South Vietnam to build South Vietnam army and root out guerrillas.

We must carefully inform the troops and the U.S. public of this.

I support the proposal.

Admiral Moorer: Do we state that bombing will be resumed?

Secretary Rusk: Not at the beginning. It would be provocative.

General McConnell: If we resume, we want to be unrestricted.

Admiral Moorer: I agree to that.

General Palmer: Time has been running against the enemy. Hanoi doesn't have the same support from the Soviets that he used to have.

I would worry about a form of cease-fire.

Once the bombing is suspended it will be difficult to resume it.

The President: If they do not meet these three conditions, we will respond.

General Palmer: Based on what I know, I would go along with it.

Secretary Rusk: A cease-fire in place won't do. We would have to have free access to province capitals controlled by the GVN.

General Westmoreland: It would be chaos not to have GVN at the conference table.

The enemy can't seriously attack the cities. They can shell them some.

We must observe the safety of the troops and the morale of the GVN.

We can do this.

The weather is favorable. Northeast monsoon starts out with fury. The weather will improve in Laos for bombing.

Bombing in Laos is not under jeopardy.

The President: It will be increased.

General Westmoreland: Any massing north of the DMZ will be known. A few hours of each day will be O.K. for reconnaissance.

Communications intelligence will detect it as well.

During January, February and March there is a low fog which hangs over the area. Even helicopters can't fly. In the DMZ, North and South, this will be covered.

The enemy can be seriously affected in a major way.

This gives the GVN a great opportunity to wage a campaign to bring about defections.

[Page 193]

I agree with this proposal with the restrictions placed on it.

With the proper psychological campaign we can get defections.18

Senator Russell: I can't deal with this with limited amount of knowledge. The Viet Cong may terrorize the cities.

You all mention “good faith.” In our relations with the Soviets, we should indicate how long we will stand by and do nothing.

Secretary Rusk: We should know within four to six weeks.

Secretary Clifford: We should set no limits so long as they do not take advantage of our restraint.

I think we would make a mistake to set a time limit.

Senator Russell: It will be hard to restart the bombing. Soviets need some time in mind as a deadline.

The President: Did we tell the Soviets thirty days?

Walt Rostow: No.

Senator Russell: Do the Soviets and North Vietnam know we expect to continue bombing if this doesn't work?

The President: Yes.

Senator Russell: I hope the suggestion is as our military leaders think it is. It will be hard to resume.

General McConnell: The President assured us we could restart it if we needed to. That's the only reason I went along.

Senator Russell: If that is so, I would hope the program would work.

Secretary Clifford: We are willing to give up bombing for three acts on their part—(1) including the GVN (2) DMZ and (3) no attacks on the cities.

[Page 194]

If they stick to all three, we are not being damaged.

Senator Russell: I would perhaps agree with you if I knew something about the enemy morale problems, supply problems, and know we can police this.

The President: I want us to be agreed on this before I go.

Senator Russell: This is a most agonizing war. The most agonizing any President or any Secretary of State or any Secretary of Defense ever faced.

Senator Russell: This is O.K., but the U.S. people won't agree to keep the troops over there when the war is not going on.

The President: On a 37-day bombing pause, the Soviets told us 12 days probably would be sufficient but no more than 20.

General Wheeler said he would not recommend it, but would support it.

I am not brave just because it's at the end of my term. I will not proceed unless both Secretaries and all JCS support it.

Secretary Clifford: This is different from the 37-day pause. The GVN come into the talks. We have the DMZ and cities as a test of their good will.

This makes it easier to start.

Secretary Rusk: Most precious asset has been the morale of our forces. Can this be sustained?

General Westmoreland: The Communists have violated prior ceasefires. They may erode this agreement. If that happens, we will have problems with morale. How far do we go before we resume the bombing? We will have trouble if erosion occurs.

Abrams' approach is very practical. I see no problem.

The President: I want us to know what we are getting into now.

What is the reaction of the country going to be and reaction of the Senate?

Senator Russell: We are in the midst of the political campaign. Reactions will vary. The press will hail this. You will be charged with politics.

What everybody wants is an end of the war. It's been a miserable war—worse than Korea.

Secretary Rusk: No decision has been made in relationship to domestic politics.

Senator Russell: I know that.

Admiral Moorer: I think we should make it clear.

Senator Russell: Senate wants to get out of the war—some by exterminating North Vietnam—others by bringing all troops home on the next convoy.

[Page 195]

My committee will give it a chance. There will be some skepticism. Everybody wants to get this to a conclusion.

You've given North Vietnam every chance to show good faith. They haven't.

George Christian: The reaction will be good from the press and media. Political charges of helping Vice President Humphrey will be made.

Secretary Clifford: The public can be educated to two factors:

(1)
North Vietnam has not been doing well in the war.
(2)
North Vietnam may have chosen to deal with this administration rather than the next.

The President: I will be charged with doing this to influence the election.

Nixon will be disappointed.

The doves will criticize us for not doing it before now.

If this is not a way of stopping it, I don’t think I'll have another opportunity.

I do not have much confidence in the Soviets or North Vietnam.

I don’t think they will accept this.

If they accept it, I do not think they will honor it.

General Westmoreland: Militarily, the enemy is BANKRUPT.

We must assume he will accept GVN, honor DMZ, doesn't attack the cities.

Then can you justify resuming the bombing for their foot-dragging on a political act?

The President: We are testing him.

Senator Russell: The U.S. people will take a “wait-and-see” attitude.

Secretary Clifford: The decision to move at this time is not based on our initiative. It is based on Hanoi's initiative. They said they will bring the GVN into the talks.

Secretary Clifford: By stopping the bombing now, we do not give up much?

General McConnell: We do not give up much, no.

The President: What effect does a “no” decision by me have?

Mac Bundy picked the worst time possible to make his speech.19

Senator Russell: There is little else that can be done.

[Page 196]

The President: We said to the Soviets on September 17 that they could take the heat off Czechoslovakia by talks on Mideast.20

Senator Russell: It's worth a try.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. Eyes Only for the President. The meeting began at 1:38 in the Cabinet Room. Christian joined the meeting at 2:17 p.m., Russell entered at 2:22 p.m., Rusk at 2:45 p.m., and Westmoreland at 3:15 p.m. The meeting ended at 3:40 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) Bromley Smith's notes of the meeting are ibid., Meeting Notes File, 7/68-12/68, and a complete transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
  2. See Document 47.
  3. October 11.
  4. See Document 58.
  5. See Document 66.
  6. See Document 60.
  7. Document 64.
  8. See Document 66.
  9. Printed as Document 74.
  10. See Document 20.
  11. The President spoke by telephone with Vance at 5:25 p.m. on October 6 and at 11:12 a.m. on October 7. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) No records of these conversations have been found.
  12. See Document 67.
  13. See footnote 6, Document 35.
  14. See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 332.
  15. See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pp. 936-943.
  16. See Document 64.
  17. Westmoreland's arrival was delayed due to medical tests he underwent at Walter Reed Army Hospital, followed by a ceremony for former President Dwight Eisenhower, who was also a patient at the hospital. (Memorandum for the Record by Westmoreland, March 22, 1971; U.S. Army Military History Institute, William C. Westmoreland Papers, History File, #34, TS-0106-80, Jul-31 Dec 1968)
  18. In a memorandum for the record, March 22, 1971, Westmoreland wrote: “When I was called upon to comment, I stated that I wanted to be the devil's advocate. I expressed the opinion that we were trading off an important military asset for a questionable political result. I felt that the conditions that the North Vietnamese had presumed to agree to could be gradually eroded to the point that they would be meaningless. They could violate the agreement to an extent, but not to the point that we could publicly renege on our part of the assumed bargain and resume the bombing. They could progressively erode the constraints, and we would find ourselves politically helpless to do anything about it. Also, I pointed out that the enemy could commit violations of omission rather than commission.” He noted that the reaction to his argument was “that if they did not adhere to the provisions that we outlined, that the bombing would be resumed.” Westmoreland summarized the meeting in the following terms: “No decision was made at the meeting, but it was obvious to me that the political pressures associated with the forthcoming elections were encouraging concessions to the enemy without due consideration to future implications. Also, it seemed to me here that President Johnson was anticipating his role in history and wanted the record to show further that he was a peacemaker.” (Ibid.) In a memorandum for the record, June 30, 1970, Palmer noted that he, McConnell, Moorer, Chapman, and Westmoreland all concurred in the plan. (Ibid.)
  19. See Document 63.
  20. See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. XIV, Document 300.