73. Summary Notes of the 581st Meeting of the National Security Council1

Conte/Long and Symington Amendments—Vietnam

In the absence of the President, Secretary Rusk asked Under Secretary Katzenbach to present the issues confronting the government in providing military aid under the limitations imposed by the Conte/Long and Symington Amendments.2

Under Secretary Katzenbach: State Department officials failed to convince members of Congress of the advantages of a flexible policy in [Page 212]dealing with military aid to poor or underdeveloped countries. The result is a series of amendments requiring the Executive Branch to limit military assistance and economic assistance if recipient countries refuse to hold down their levels of military spending.

The Vice President: We should get people in business and the labor unions to work on the sponsors of the restrictive amendments—i.e., Conte, Symington and Long. The Latin American Council, headed by Mr. Rockefeller, should be enlisted.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: Representative Conte and Senator Long won’t listen to our statements concerning the effect of their amendments to the aid bill.

Secretary Rusk: The value of the amendments is as a threat to invoke on them. Once invoked, they are no longer useful.

The Vice President: We should get groups in local areas to put pressure on Congressmen. This is an election year. We should also lay it on the line with the Congressional leadership.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: Peru is the prize case. President Belaunde will fall if he says no to his military leaders’ demands for modern jet fighters—Mirages or F–5’s.

Secretary Fowler: The Treasury Department has kept a $40,000,000 loan off of the agenda of the Inter-American Bank because if it comes up for action we will have to vote no. We can delay no more than thirty days at which time we will have to fish or cut bait.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: We could send a special envoy to talk to Peruvian President Belaunde. Belaunde could give a little and with this we could then explain to Congress how we intend to proceed.

The President entered the Cabinet Room at 12:25 accompanied by Mr. Clark Clifford. He asked General Wheeler to discuss the military situation in Vietnam following the Tet offensive.

[Here follows discussion of the military situation in Vietnam and the state of negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea over the Pueblo incident.]

The President: At 1:30 P.M. the President turned to consideration of the Conte/Long and Symington amendments. The Vice President and Assistant Secretary Oliver should visit Latin America. Following Senator Gore’s trip to Latin America he took a constructive attitude toward Latin American problems. We should send several Senators to Latin America within the next 60 days. Under Secretary Katzenbach should also go.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: Summarized the origin of the Conte/Long and Symington amendments citing the Indian-Pakistan war, the Arab-Israeli problem, and the request for F–5s. The most serious problem arises with Peru and other Latin American countries. If we act to [Page 213]limit the sale of sophisticated weapons to Peru, they are liable to end up with a military dictator. Every other Latin American country will be against us. Serious problems also arise with Jordan and Morocco. Lesser problems arise with Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria and the Congo.

The President: Why don’t you call in the legislators who are the roughest on this problem and talk it out with them.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: We are taking Congress seriously but some of our problems are summarized in the paper you have.

The President: Secretary McNamara and Clark Clifford should work on Symington.

Secretary Fowler: The Peruvian loan must be kept off the agenda of the Inter-American Bank for the present.

Under Secretary Katzenbach: The Symington amendment creates a situation which is liveable but put together with the Conte/Long amendment, we face an impossible problem.

The President: Get the Cabinet officers together with those House and Senate officials most concerned. A list should be made of those who would be most helpful and perhaps Clark Clifford should be added to those meeting with the legislators.

Bromley Smith
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, National Security Council File, NSC Meetings, Vol. 5, Tab 63, 2/7/68, Conte/Long and Symington Amendments to Foreign Assistance Act, Box 2. Secret; Sensitive; For the President Only. Drafted by Bromley Smith. The source text is misdated September 7, 1968. Another account of this meeting was prepared by Tom Johnson. (Ibid., Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings)
  2. Sponsored by Representative Silvio O. Conte (R.-Massachusetts) and Senator Russell B. Long (D.-Louisiana). For text of amendment, see the Foreign Assistance and Related Agencies Appropriation Act of 1968, P.L. 90–249, approved on January 2, 1968. (Title I Military Assistance (81 Stat. 937) and Sec. 119 (81 Stat. 940)) The Symington amendment introduced by Senator Stuart Symington (D.-Missouri) required the President, when furnishing development assistance under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and making sales under the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954, to take into account (1) “the percentage of the recipient or purchasing country’s budget which is devoted to military purposes, and (2) the degree to which the recipient or purchasing country is using its foreign exchange resources to acquire military equipment.” (The Foreign Assistance Act of 1967, P.L. 90–137, approved on November 14, 1967; 81 Stat. 459)