83. Notes of Meeting1

CMC mutters he had to be back at W.Hse. again last nite (but on another matter unspecified).

0845 CMC: “There have been so many leaks, I think I now have the right to get out from under LBJ order to keep quiet. Now that it's all leaked all over the world I want you men to have the background.

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I've been hearing radio reports—some of them grossly inaccurate—& you men have to know I was called early Mon2 am & told to be at WHse. Rusk, Rostow & Helms were there—we were given docs to read.3

Over Sat & Sun, in a private talk between Harriman & Vance, the other side for 1st time had indicated GVN could sit at the table in Paris. This was a sensational breakthru.

At a previous NSC meeting (when Geo Ball was there)4 the discussion had been as to what we could take as a minimum consideration (for stopping bombing).

  • —Presence of GVN
  • —Demilitarization of DMZ
  • —Agreement not to shell Saigon & urban centers
  • Geo Ball had said he'd waive all three!
  • —I (CMC) had said I'd settle for #1—GVN at table.

This to be a condition precedent

the other 2 could be conditions subsequent

If they could agree to that one understanding, we could start talks—but we'd break off if they violated grossly the other 2.

This is about how the talks in recent weeks have developed.

Word has come back that this was going to be acceptable to Hanoi.

All day Monday phone to Rusk/Vance in Paris etc etc—

—discussions of Releases, backgrounders, conferences—

All thought out in detail.

All we needed was final word from Harriman & Vance that it was firm & when these talks could start—how soon after a (theoretical) Mon. p.m. announcement by LBJ of bombing end—we thought it could start in 48 hrs! We shot word out to Saigon—we even worked out who the GVN's man would be.

It all hinged on our testing Hanoi's good faith—if they shelled the cities etc etc—we'd know they didn't mean it, & we'd break off & resume bombing. This was the logic I (CMC) got LBJ to go along with.

But Mon. nite, still no firm “O.K.” from NVN am's man in Paris.

We talked on Tues5—we worked out Press statements. We checked at lunch Tues about LBJ's 16 pt checklist. Had Bunker talked to Thieu etc etc etc—& system from LBJ to talk to all 3 candidates etc.

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But Tues aft/even a new element was into the act. For the FIRST time in all the Paris talks, Xuan Thuy raised the point that Hanoi wld have to get NLF permission & consent & there would have to be NLF representation!

He said in effect—“Stop the bombing, & we'll try to get NLF representation to Paris” no assurance as to when, how etc etc etc.

We said—use your NLF Paris reps!

Xuan Thuy—“No, they're just newspaper men!”

Vance urged—“Go ahead & stop the bombing!”

CMC/Rusk/Rostow threshed around for hours. CMC says “I took the position we couldn't stop the bombing until we knew when the talks were going to start … we couldn't stop with no assurance as to whether we would have to wait for day after day after day or ever—for other side. So, now, we'll agree to:

  • —no signed agreement
  • —we'd stop the bombing if productive talks … start promptly we want/insist/GVN man there

we Don’t care whether NLF man is there or not—it's OK with us—but we won't stop the bombing without knowing for a certainty there'll be a fast start.”

From my seat, this reluctance by Hanoi casts a real suspicion …

We were prepared to stop the bombing last Monday nite & they knew it—but then they threw the hooker at us that they would have to dicker with NLF & this could take weeks!!!

The deal was to have been:

A)
—Westop the bombing in return for:
B)
—They agree to talks with GVN sitting in

When we were ready to do A, they suddenly put B into a vague never-never future.

CMC argument to LBJ:

For LBJ to stop, now, he'll be unable to show what he got in return! Because he would have gotten nothing. & he'd be subject to violent political criticism for doing it, all on grounds of LBJ trickery, for dom. pol. reasons.

CMC even angrier at some TV commentators who now say “Thieu vetoed the whole idea”—this will cause endless trouble.

CMC reveals that at one pt, LBJ had all JCS at WHse. (incl. Westmoreland in from the Hospital!) to be sure he had support & wouldn't be shot down from the rear!6

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CMC says Harriman & Vance keep the Russians informed & Moscow is up on all this.

What we've done is disintegrate/end the NLF & so they have hardly anything left by way of strength.

CMC refers back to Monday—LBJ most of Monday still wanted all-three conditions & it took a lot of arguing to get him around to accepting anything.

LBJ is absolutely wild at Mac Bundy. He thinks Bundy's speech7 screwed it all up! We know from intercepts how Hanoi was elated by Bundy!

In the meantime, we're to hit VC as hard as we can with everything—the B[attleship] N. Jersey is South—we hit Laos too.

CMC spoke for 1 hr. & 10 mins. last night with Muskie by phone on “Round the World Tour d'horizon” (this was by arrangement worked out by GME[lsey] with Muskie's Admin. Ass't.).

(Dean Rusk calls at 10:00 to scream at us to keep quiet on V Nam!)

  1. Source: Johnson Library, George M. Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts (1 of 2). No classification marking. This was a regular daily meeting of the Secretary of Defense's top civilian advisers. The attendees are not indicated but usually included Clifford, Nitze, Warnke, Goulding, Elsey, and Pursley. Also see Clark M. Clifford with Richard Holbrooke, Counsel to the President: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 1991), p. 491.
  2. Monday, October 14.
  3. See Document 67.
  4. See Document 35.
  5. See Document 72.
  6. See Document 69.
  7. See Document 63.