313. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 82324. Secretaries Rusk and Clifford and I discussed at length this morning the question of a prompt reply to the Pope.2 There was no agreed conclusion, but these points emerged.

In general, we felt that we ought to wait a week or so before making a major substantive initiative on Vietnam to see where the attack on Saigon, etc., comes out. So far as Moscow was concerned it was also felt some time should pass before raising the Vietnam question.
With respect to the Pope as a channel for a serious communication, Clark Clifford had the strongest possible reservations: in part because it would undercut Paris,3 but even more because it would undercut the possibility of using the Russians if we planned something like his (Clifford’s) proposal. He feels that if we surface our hard, minimum terms via the Pope, it would be difficult to engage the Russians. Secretary Rusk explained the underlying reasons for our desire to keep a channel open and active in Rome. Clifford recommends that we draft a friendly reply to the Pope which would not, however, use him as the channel for communicating our minimum terms for stage two.
Secretary Rusk, on the other hand, has grave reservations about Clifford’s proposition; that is, the President launching a public bombing cessation, on the basis of what we assume, without first exploring it via Paris.
We talked at length about whether we would settle for a firm DMZ proposition, with Secretary Rusk and I feeling that it would be wholly satisfactory if it were firmly nailed down. Clifford was less certain.
With respect to a total bombing halt on the assumption of what Hanoi might do, it was agreed that the critical question was whether the President felt he would be able politically to go back to bombing if the assumption was not fulfilled.

We shall meet again for lunch on Tuesday at 12:30 P.M. and hope to have something more lucid for you to consider upon your return.4

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence, Pope Paul VI. Top Secret; Sensitive; Literally Eyes Only for the President. Received at the LBJ Ranch Communication Center at 2:25 p.m. CDT.
  2. The Pope’s letter is Document 312.
  3. Reference is to the ongoing Paris peace talks.
  4. No further documentation relating to communications through the Vatican was found.