86. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk1

President: Dean, well what’s your evaluation today?

Rusk: Well. I think there’s about one chance in three that we’ll hear from them by the end of the week. That’s about the way it sounds to me.

President: Why do you make it so low?

Rusk: Well, the way these fellows turn around. If they have got to go to the NLF and the NLF has got to go to their Central Committee, that sort of thing, I just think it may take a little time. I think that Averell and Cy are inclined to think that the answer will be yes, but I am not quite as optimistic as that.

President: You got all of your people to quit talking?

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Rusk: I’ve really buttoned up the fellows here. Vietnam is just a forbidden subject over here. I did try to get NBC [television] today to come off of this business about we’re being hung up by a great debate between us and Saigon. I just told them very much on a background basis that the allies are in agreement. The problem is Hanoi. Get them started in that direction instead of our quarreling with Saigon. That’s not very good.

President: I don’t know why Bunker didn’t call them in for a little backgrounder and say this is just a deliberate untruth and there’s not anything here that’s holding up anything—that we have kicked the ball and the ball is in their court, and they can have peace any time they want it. Now we can’t make up their minds. We have already taken action. It is up to them, and quit saying anything here about Saigon. And I just think we oughtn’t send Thieu anymore stuff. To hell with him. I don’t care. I am just tired of the son-of-a-bitch making that kind of stuff. It is just awful that his Foreign Minister and all that stuff just cause us all this damn trouble.2 I feel about the same way about these little jerks that have got one battalion over there. I don’t think it’s necessary for us to stop our bombers because some goddamn fellow is back in the back woods and this son-of-a-bitch Gorton—I don’t like that either.3

Rusk: Yeah.

President: You are going to have a great problem with me, Mr. Rusk, in getting my consent to go out there and do a goddamn thing except a simultaneous announcement. I’m getting ready to say something at 4 o’clock—we’ll tell them at 3:30—but I am not going to come in here and let them screw up this thing and give us the pain and anguish and misery that they do for nothing. It serves no purpose.

Rusk: Well, that statement of Gorton’s is the worst single thing that has happened, I think.

President: He is an erratic, no good fellow—I knew that the first time I saw him. And I think that Thieu is absolutely disgraceful, but he’s got more control over his people than I guess that you and I have. And I just hope—I don’t know who is reading these reports back from Averell. Does that have pretty general distribution over there?

Rusk: Oh, no. This particular HARVAN Double Plus Series is Ben Read, Bill Bundy, and myself, and Habib, who has gone back to join the delegation in Paris—he’s a member of the delegation.

President: That’s all right, but you make sure they tell me—they come in everyday and tell me that State says so and so. You be sure Bill Bundy is not talking to anybody.

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Rusk: Oh, I am sure he’s not.

President: All right. What about—do you think that they’ll report back before this weekend?

Rusk: I think there’s a chance they could come back at almost any time because I would be very much surprised if the Russians were not working on this very hard the way Dobrynin welcomed my telephone call yesterday morning4 about the 2 to 3 days thing. I just illustrate—I said if they will meet on Monday we could stop the bombing on Friday or Saturday, and he was very glad to have that, and my guess is that the Russians are working on this very hard.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Middle East.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, October 17, 1968, 4:47 p.m., Tape F6810.05, PNO 2. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.
  2. See Document 75.
  3. Gorton stated that he soon expected Johnson to make a statement regarding the complete cessation of the bombing. See The New York Times, October 17, 1968.
  4. No record of this conversation was found.