77. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Senator Mike Mansfield 1
Mansfield: Yes sir.
President: This thing I talked to you about yesterday.2 They do not—they welched on it.
President: So, I thought I ought to tell you because you had more information than anybody else. And I don’t want no other human to know it, so I wouldn’t say anything about it, but the facts were these. When we went over the GVN with them, they said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” And when we went over the other two things, the cities and the DMZ, why, we stopped and paused, and went real slow so they would get the full impact and there’d be no misunderstanding, and they listened to that and nodded, and raised no objection. We went all the way through it, and they said, “This is all fine, but,” he said, “you say here that you’ll meet the next day with us with the Government of Vietnam. We have to have the NLF, and we Don’t know how long it will take to get them.” Now we said, “Well, that’s all right. We’ll be glad if you’ll go get them.” They said, “No, we think you better stop bombing and then we’ll go look for them.” Now we said, “No, you said in your talks that if we would stop bombing that you’d be willing to start discussions the next day. This is your language, and so we’re ready to take this language.” Well they said, “We Don’t know whether Hanoi’d approve this. We have to go back to Hanoi.”3
So, that’s a lot of wrangle on that, and our interpretation is that we had a couple of unfortunate speeches, and that they’re trying to see if we’re going to get any weaker here. [McGeorge] Bundy went out and made a fool speech about withdrawing troops and getting them down to a hundred thousand—our pulling out and it costing too much.4 Just today, and then while they was—just before they went into the meeting, [Page 214] Hubert came out and said that he was going to stop it period, no comma, no semi-colon, just plain outright stop it.5 So of course, that was big flashes to both of them. We Don’t know—they said anyway that they’ve got to go back to Hanoi and talk to them. Our people interpret that as an indication that something’s come up—that they’ve got some new intelligence—because the three things that we have had that we kind of understood. It really doesn’t represent much change on our part. It doesn’t represent much change on their part, except for the GVN. Now, they’re not arguing about that. They’re not saying they Don’t want to. So, we will just have to take the position that every—that we do have these discussions back and forth. But Vance didn’t come over here for any new instructions. We didn’t give him anything at all. I just told him, “For God sakes, to try to get some kind of peace in my time, that I had given up everything to try to do it, and I wanted it honorable but I wanted it.” And I told Averell the same thing. And I told Thieu that, and Thieu did play ball with us. And Huong played ball with us. And the son-of-a-bitch out there, the Senate—Foreign Minister, whatever his name is,6 he leaked the story when I told him. He said he’s expecting them to sign right away, and of course he looks like an ass today.
But I just thought that in the light of all the background that you ought to know that the ball’s in their court. That we are ready and willing and anxious and eager to sit down with them tomorrow, with the NLF. And they said, “Well, we have to go and look up the [Central] Committee, it’s somewhere in South Vietnam.” We said, “Well, you’ve got a lot of representatives here. You’ve got spokesmen. You’ve got press. And why Don’t you bring one of them in, and we’ll do the same thing. We’ll bring in some South Vietnamese. It’s just purely symbolic for both of them.” And Vance tried to get them to do that but they said no.
So our interpretation is that we had two unfortunate speeches and we’ll have to ride them out a few days and see what happens. I can’t believe that they’d pay much attention to speeches. But something changed their mind. The Rusk folks—the diplomats—think that they got some, some key here. Nixon has said something. I thought he’d had some effect, but he kept quiet. He did send Smathers down and wanted to know if we’d stop the bombing, and I didn’t tell him anything. I just said, “Our position is the same as it’s always been. We’re anxious to stop it. We want to stop it. And if they’ll meet with the GVN, and not bomb the room we’re in—not blow us up, why we’ll sure do it.” But [Page 215]that’s been our position all along. I’ve said it publicly—at San Antonio—a hundred times, and that’s all it is. When and if it gets beyond that, before we stop the bombing, I’m going to talk to every candidate. You can tell Nixon that, you can tell Humphrey and everybody else, and I am before I stop it. That doesn’t mean, though, before I sign up. But I’m telling you more than I’m telling any human except Rusk and Clifford, and I just want you to help me and advise me, and—how would you interpret their pulling out?
Mansfield: Just about the way you did. But I wouldn’t give up hope. I would keep pushing them.
President: We are. I told Rusk this morning to tell them that they said, well, that one day—they couldn’t get them there. We said: “Well, we’ll take one week.”
President: “Or if you want, why we’ll take one month. You just go on and get them. Lock them and put them in a goddamn trailer and get an oxcart to bring them if you want to. But the moment you deliver them, whenever you’re ready, we’re ready.”
President: And tell—they said, well, that they’re liable to interpret this one day—we said we’d meet the next day—as a condition, a new condition of the United States. That’s what the North Vietnamese said: “The United States is imposing a new condition when it says they’ll meet the next day.” And our people said: “No, that’s your language. In our talk, you said that if we stop the bombing, serious talks can begin the next day. So that’s what we’re doing.” Well, they said, “That’s interesting. But we’ll have to go to Hanoi. We Don’t have the authority.” Now this fellow’s gone back to Hanoi; after Bundy made his speech, he just lit out for Hanoi right quick. And I don’t know whether George Ball—George is a good man, but he’s not the brightest fellow all the time, and I think he advised Humphrey to make another statement. And another thing that’s real bad is that they were working on Humphrey’s speech over in Paris. That’s just inexcusable, Don’t you think?
Mansfield: I do indeed.
President: Well, I just thought you ought to know it because it may blow on us someday, and I couldn’t help it—didn’t know it until after it was over with. Cy Vance came back and I asked him what the hell they were doing listening to this speech. And he said, “Well, he had his superior, and Averell had been Democratic governor, and he felt very strong.” And I said, “Well, now, your first instruction was to have no politics in this.” He said, “Well, they talked to him.” I said, “Who’d you talk to?” He said he couldn’t remember. I just look at him and laughed. [Page 216]I said, “Cy, you Wall Street lawyer, you’re telling me a man come from the United States and talked to you about this and you can’t remember?” and laughed and said, “Yeah, George Ball’s partner.”7
Mansfield: George Ball’s partner?
President: Yeah. Um-hm. So it was messy. And then Averell had been meeting with George Ball the week before. And Averell’s a little bit old. I really wish I had Clifford in those negotiations because, God, he’s smart and able and tough on negotiators.
Mansfield: He can’t do it in his position.
President: No. No, he couldn’t. He’d be the war-monger, you know. I wouldn’t even let him go by there when he went to Germany this time. I could have Goldberg, but Goldberg just talks all the time. And he wants to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He says you’ve got to be for him, and Dirksen’s got to be for him, and everybody up there’s going to be for him if I’ve just got guts enough to name him.
Mansfield: Well you handled that right. You handled that right.
President: Well, I haven’t handled it yet. It’s still—
Mansfield: Well, that’s what I mean, the way you did.
[The President laughs.]
[Omitted here is discussion of the nomination of Special Assistant Harold Barefoot Sanders to a circuit court judicial appointment in Texas.]
President: Well, you please Don’t discuss this with anybody. When the newspaper men ask you about it, I think what I’d say is that you believe the man wants to stop the bombing more than anybody else—that Johnson has got more in it himself than anybody who’s in it everyday. But he has taken his position and he has offered his proposal, and as near as you can tell, there is not one thing that has been signed on over there. Now that’s a true, accurate statement, and all these rumors to the contrary notwithstanding. And then before anything comes, I will call you first.
Mansfield: Thanks. Bye.
- Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Mansfield, October 16, 1968, 9:34 a.m., Tape F68.07, PNO 1. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.↩
- The President met with Mansfield for approximately half an hour beginning at noon the previous day. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)↩
- See Document 76.↩
- See Document 63.↩
- See Document 40.↩
- Tran Chanh Thanh.↩
- George Fitzgibbon.↩