221. Notes of Meeting1


  • Notes of the President’s Meeting


  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary McNamara
  • Clark Clifford
  • Walt Rostow
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

The President opened the meeting by reading a memorandum from Bob Fleming on the network press coverage at 6:30 p.m. (Attachment A.)2

Secretary Rusk: We met early tonight. We have received a message from Ambassador Porter in Korea. He thinks the Pueblo incident and the Blue House plot are connected with North Korean support for North Vietnam.

We propose the following diplomatic action:

We should take this matter to the Security Council. In the United Nations there is a long and strong background for our position in Korea. This would gain time for us. It also would give the Secretary General reason to proceed with private discussions. I think we should take it there, although it is likely that no resolution will pass.
Send a telegram tonight to the Republic of Korea to get their agreement on what should be put to the United Nations.
Go to the 16 countries who as part of the UN forces had troops in Korea. We should inform them of the situation and get them nervous about it. We should alert them to the possibility of a renewed crisis in which they are involved.
We should go to Prime Minister Sato of Japan. He has substantial trade with North Korea. He may be able to bring some leverage to bear with North Korea.
We should go back to the Soviets and tell them that their first response was not enough.

The President: I think we should get Ambassador Goldberg down here tomorrow morning for an 8:30 breakfast. Can all of you make it?

Secretary Rusk: Secretary Fowler and I are having breakfast tomorrow to go over our positions prior to meeting with Wilbur Mills.

[Page 493]

The President: Why don’t the two of you come to the breakfast and then talk afterwards about your problem.

Dean, ask Goldberg to jot down his notes and recommendations. Tell him I do not have confidence in the UN but I do have faith in him (Ambassador Goldberg). I want him to know that we are not going to make decisions about things to put to the UN without him here.

Secretary McNamara: We do want moves which will buy us time. I propose the following steps:

1. Proceed to move armed forces from the U.S. and other places in the area to South Korea and South Korean waters. I propose moving about 250 aircraft in addition to those that are aboard the Enterprise.

The President: Why don’t we move the Enterprise back to Vietnam. We do not want them thinking we are diverting from our responsibilities there, do we?

Secretary McNamara: The Enterprise can remain off Korea without any effect whatever on our actions in Vietnam. It was going to the Gulf of Tonkin to supplant and not supplement any operations. We can keep the carrier it was to replace on station off Vietnam.

The President: Are you sure that we have enough air power and support to take care of the situation at Khesanh?

Secretary McNamara: We do have a problem, but I am reasonably confident that what General Wheeler and General Westmoreland have reported is satisfactory.

The President: What’s the strength of the North Korean air force?

Secretary McNamara: They have approximately 400 jets compared to 200 jets in South Korea.

The President: How does the aircraft we are sending compare with the North Koreans’?

Secretary McNamara: Our aircraft would be superior to the bulk of their air force. We propose to send, roughly 63 Air Force F–4’s; 33 Marine F–4’s; 50 F–100’s; 50 A–4’s; 30 F–8’s; 22 F–105’s; and possibly some other aircraft. The F–4’s and most of the other planes do have bombing capacity.

My second recommendation is that the President has authority to call up units of the reserves. I recommend that we activate selected Air Force and Marine units. There will be approximately 200 to 300 Air Force units involved. All of these units are in a high state of readiness. This would be calling up to active duty approximately 250 aircraft. These would become part of the strategic reserve taking the place of the 400 regular jets which we will have the capability of sending to South Korea.

The President authorized the Secretary to begin making initial plans and draw up the necessary papers for the dispatch of the aircraft [Page 494] to South Korea and the activation of the units suggested. The President stressed that he would authorize more than what has been suggested if it is considered necessary. He said he would prefer to have more than enough to take care of whatever job might be required.

Secretary McNamara: I propose, although there is some difference of opinion on this, that we move the USS Banner in to replace the Pueblo off North Korea. We are planning to send it into the area to join the Enterprise so that if we decide to move, it will be in position.

If we decide to replace the Pueblo with the Banner we should be prepared to cover it with air and other support units.

The President: First, Bob, I want you to be prepared to move and be ready to make these decisions effective after the breakfast tomorrow morning.

2. Take the tentative steps which are required to get ready for this action.

3. I would send 300 planes. Get more than you think you really need.

“Be ready to go when you come out of this meeting.”

Secretary McNamara: We also would like to send Oxcart flight over North Korea tomorrow. The President approved this action.

Secretary Rusk: Also under consideration is sending a drone over Wonsan. However this has not been recommended to the President.

If we put the Banner back on station, we must have adequate cover for it. A second incident in which we come out second best would be disastrous.

The President: What about the B–52’s? Should we send some in?

Secretary McNamara: They can operate easily from Okinawa. Flying time is only about 2–1/2 hours.

Walt Rostow: At what level do we propose to reapproach the Soviets on this subject? Do we reapproach them at the Thompson-Gromyko level?

The President: I see no difference in this situation than in the one in which Kosygin messaged me raising hell over Israel. The President then sent Tom Johnson into the Oval Office to get the hot line messages which had been exchanged during the Middle East crisis.3

The President read portions of Chairman Kosygin’s initial message to President Johnson on the situation in the Middle East.

Secretary Rusk: I think a message to Kosygin from the President would be appropriate at this time.

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The President: Go ahead and draft a message tonight for dispatch tomorrow. Make it strong.

Walt Rostow suggested that the message be sent through the hot line.

The President: I will not use the hot line on this. We will send it as quickly as possible by cable.

The President asked Clark Clifford if he expected any problems during the testimony on Thursday before the Congress.

Clark Clifford: I expect no real problems, although Senator Tower made a comment today that he was disappointed at the appointment. The Senator said he thought the President would now also be running the Defense Department as he is now running the White House and State Department.

The President asked Secretary McNamara if he had appointed a board to thoroughly investigate the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Secretary McNamara: Yes, a special representative was sent to review the matter. In addition the Navy appointed a special panel to investigate it.

We will have good men to testify if called upon.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings, Pueblo III. Top Secret. Drafted by Tom Johnson. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 219.