340. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President’s Conversation with Prime Minister Pearson of Canada, May 25, 1967


  • The President
  • Canadian Prime Minister Pearson
  • (See attached list of others who were present)2

(The President and the Prime Minister lunched together, each with only two key advisers, in the dining room of the Prime Minister’s residence. Afterwards, they talked privately together for some minutes. Subsequent to their private conversation, the talks shifted to the sitting room. The following summarizes the conversation which took place in the sitting room.)3

Import of Canadian Oil into the U.S.

After indicating, in response to a query by Secretary Martin, that he and the President had talked of Vietnam when they were alone, the Prime Minister asked the President about the prospects for shipping Canadian oil in through Chicago. He said, with a smile, that the situation in the Middle East, about which they had been talking at lunch, shows how important it is not to be dependent on Middle East sources of oil.

The President responded that he had been talking along these lines only the night before with a group of Texas oilmen.4

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The Prime Minister remarked jokingly that after all, Canadian oil is all Texas-owned anyway and therefore the money all flows back into the United States in one form or another.

The President commented that the Executive Branch of the Government was generally more sympathetic than the Congress on matters of this kind. For example, there is considerable pressure right now from the Congress on dairy products; next week it might be meat. In his judgment, this also raised the possibility of not being able to rely on voluntary restraints.

Kennedy Round

The Prime Minister asked what effect pressures of this kind would have on the prospects for implementation of the Kennedy Round.

The President responded that he thought it was manageable. He recalled that President Franklin Roosevelt had once remarked to him just after his election for a third term that when you get a mandate you ought to execute it within six months.

The Prime Minister then wryly asked, “Have you ever had a minority?”

The President replied by citing his own experience some years ago when he had encountered a 13-0 vote against him in a committee with a Democratic majority and reminisced about some of his legislative experiences.


The Prime Minister indicated he had been having his own Parliamentary difficulties. He referred to a major debate on Vietnam which had just taken place in the House of Commons. The situation had been difficult for him since there were many, even some in his own party, who were pressing for the Government to oppose U.S. policy. It seemed to him that the bombing of North Vietnam had somehow become a symbol in Canada and in other countries.

The President agreed, saying that it had become a symbol because of very skillful propaganda. There were, in fact, very superior people in the U.S., too, who were always chanting “stop the bombing.” But one had to remember there are real problems involved. In the first place, we don’t want to tie our own hands. In the second place, we have pride too. Why should we always make the unrequited move?

The President deplored the one-sided demands which are always made on the United States, particularly since we had already stopped the bombing six times. The only result every time was increased casualties for the U.S. We even tried a cessation of 37 days and nothing came of it. It is always the same. Most recently, we have said we would stop the bombing “if you, Ho Chi Minh, will stop infiltrating.” We had [Page 717] said we will also stop augmenting, but Ho Chi Minh rejected any such proposal.

The President reiterated that every time we stop bombing we lose men’s lives, our own men’s lives, and the blood is on his hands. He said he had recently been taken to task by his daughter’s date, a young man who had suffered a severe head wound in Vietnam, for agreeing to pauses in the bombing. These men hold him responsible for the casualties accruing during such pauses.

The President went on about the futility of unilateral moves. He said that every time he accedes to such a suggestion he ends up behind his own goal line. Yet, every week we say in some way to the Communist camp that we are willing to stop if we can see the slightest indication of a response from their side.

The real trouble is, the President went on, that the enemy won’t stop. What they want is Thailand, Laos, and the rest of Southeast Asia. This is a fundamental fact which has to be understood. For that matter, Communist mortars kill more people than our own bombing.

The Prime Minister asked about the chances of a cease-fire proposal.

The President thought the proposal had about as much appeal as a proposal to become a Yankee would have had to his Confederate grandmother.

The Prime Minister admitted that the President was right, but he said that was one of the disadvantages. He could talk this way to the President but he couldn’t do so to Ho Chi Minh.

The President reiterated that last week we had said we were prepared to give up the bombing. But the question always is, what will the other side do? We never get an answer to this question. He thought it perhaps ought to be the price of making a suggestion that it be multilateral, or at least two-sided.

The President cited recent reports to the effect that the Middle East now confronts us with a dilemma, i.e., to choose between the Middle East and Vietnam. These were dangerous in both Cairo and Moscow. We could deal with both. He thought there ought to be no misunderstanding whatsoever of our determination regarding Vietnam. We will do what we have to do and we will pay what we have to pay in terms of money, men, and forces.

The President emphasized that we have fought a limited war with limited objectives. He had maintained this course against the advice of all his military advisers. Our aims are limited. All we want is self-determination. We have over 40 other countries in alliances with us and we will keep our word. We don’t want to imperialize or colonize anybody. We are willing to stop, but it has to be both sides.

The Prime Minister interjected that he was not suggesting cessation for a short period. He understood that the President’s military advisers would argue as they do. That’s their job. But others, he thought, more clearly see that what the U.S. is after is a political and not a military objective.

The President agreed, but stressed again that cessation can’t be unilateral. The North Vietnamese won’t even say to their best friends what they might do. He thought it ought also to be recognized that if we offered such a unilateral move and it failed, the situation might be worse.

Foreign Minister Martin then asked, “But don’t you stand to lose more by perhaps inevitable escalation?” The President responded simply that unilateral appeals carry no weight with us.

Mr. Martin noted that the Canadian Government’s public position was not that there should be a unilateral move on the part of the U.S., and he cited his own four-point proposal.

The Prime Minister said his Government was under great pressure in Canada on Vietnam and was trying to stand up to it because they thought they were right in doing so. He asked, however, what about the public stance of the North Vietnamese that they will talk if the United States ceases bombing.

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The President responded that he understood the Prime Minister was under pressure and he appreciated his support. He went on to say, however, that he would trade conversation for conversation, but he would not trade bombing for conversation. The U.S. simply cannot stop unilaterally. If he tried to do so he would have a revolution on his hands.

Middle East5

With apparent reference to the earlier conversation at lunch, the Prime Minister said he thought the best course was to seek quadripartite agreement in the Security Council and that the U.S. should be most careful not to reject efforts toward this end. We must also be careful to avoid a tripartite position opposed by the Soviets and the UAR. If necessary, the U.S. and U.K. should accept quadripartite talks outside the U.N. French interests parallel those of the U.S. and the U.K. in the Near East. We must seek to strengthen French feeling on this and through them seek the quadripartite position.

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The President responded that he would consider quadripartite talks only in the framework of the U.N.

As the session was breaking up, a message was brought in to the Prime Minister from British Prime Minister Wilson with information which Wilson asked be passed to the President immediately.6 It contained the following points:

George Brown reported that the Soviet attitude on the Near East was not particularly encouraging.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eban told the British that any Israeli “first strike” would be withheld until he returned from his talks in Washington. If nothing had been worked out by then, Israel will have to strike first.
The British support De Gaulle’s proposal even if this means talks outside the U.N. The Foreign Office suggests we seek quadripartite talks at the level of our permanent delegates at the U.N. or, if the USSR prefers, at the Summit.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 67 D 586, CF 185. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Rodger P. Davies and Rufus Z. Smith and approved by Rostow on May 29. The meeting was held at Prime Minister Pearson’s summer residence at Lake Harrington where President Johnson and the Prime Minister flew following a joint appearance at the Expo ′67 World’s Fair in Montreal. A separate memorandum of their conversation, prepared by John Vought of the staff of the Embassy in Ottawa is in Department of State, Canadian Desk Files: Lot 70 D 89, Pol 7 Visits.
  2. Not printed.
  3. According to a July 26 memorandum prepared by Ambassador Butterworth, the major item of discussion at the luncheon was the Arab-Israeli crisis: “the basic position the President took hellip; and that by the Prime Minister were repeated in the general discussion hellip; in the living room.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 67 D 586, CF 185)
  4. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Johnson met with two Texas oil men for an off-the-record discussion of “industry problems” at 7:35 p.m. on May 24. (Johnson Library)
  5. On May 16 the United Arab Republic declared a state of emergency. Two days later it ordered UN peacekeeping forces to leave its side of the border with Israel. On May 21 both the UAR and Israel mobilized their armed forces. On May 23 the UAR closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and on May 24 it “sealed” the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping.
  6. Dated May 26. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence, United Kingdom, Vol. 6, Prime Minister Wilson)