223. Notes of Meeting1


  • Notes of the President’s Breakfast Meeting


  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary McNamara
  • Ambassador Goldberg
  • Walt Rostow
  • George Christian
  • Tom Johnson

Mr. Rostow: We have just received a message from President Park of the Republic of Korea. He is pleased that we are taking the matter to the Security Council and raising both the Pueblo incident and the Blue House incident.2

At the UN we can urge the following:

  • —Urge that the ship and men be returned.
  • —Urge the North Koreans to behave with respect to the 38th Parallel.
  • —Urge a resolution for return of the ship.

We must not do anything which would tie our hands in the United Nations.

Ambassador Goldberg: Going to the Security Council will give us time. There is a danger of getting our hands tied. The South Koreans also are sensitive to the North Koreans being heard before the United Nations.

The President: What are the gambles we take by going to the UN?

Ambassador Goldberg: It is best to urge a resolution demanding the return of the ship. I do not recommend a resolution asking the UN to condemn the action of the North Koreans. We should ask the UN to support a return to the Armistice Agreements. Of course the Soviets [Page 498] will veto that resolution, but taking this action will satisfy the diplomatic needs.3

It is interesting that Malik will be the Soviet representative today. You will remember that he was absent on the last vote which sent the UN forces to Korea. You can be certain that he will not be absent this time.

As I see it, we will get the following votes:

United States—Yes

Great Britain—Yes

Republic of China—Yes











Ambassador Goldberg said France has always been with us on the Korean issue, but he considered it questionable whether or not they will vote with us now.

The President urged that we send a message to President Ayub Khan of Pakistan telling him that we definitely need their support on a matter of this importance. However, the President and Ambassador Goldberg noted that Pakistan has problems with China and may vote no.

The President: Was the Turner Joy an intelligence ship? (This was one of the ships attacked during the Gulf of Tonkin.)

Secretary McNamara: The Turner Joy and the Pueblo are not the same type of ship. They do have some collection devices.

[Page 499]

Ambassador Goldberg: Returning to the UN votes, Korea has been a UN matter since 1950. We do need Pakistan’s vote. A Pakistani is president of the council. He expressed great personal support for us in a conversation yesterday.4 He is in a delicate position.

There is another alternative. We could use the good offices of the Secretary General. He has indicated some willingness to do this. We could put a time limit on the Secretary General. In the Security Council we could do much the same thing (put a time limit on it).

I would take the matter to the Security Council tomorrow. I think we should call for an urgent session. We may not get a resolution, but it will take care of our diplomatic situation.

The President: Why did the Soviets say in this message that they have passed along our position to North Korea?5

Secretary Rusk: It looks like an added measure on their part.

On the matter of the UN, a resolution which would be hostile to the U.S. would not receive more than 3 to 4 votes.

Ambassador Goldberg: Do we push a resolution to a vote? I would think we would do this only if we have 9 votes.

The President: Our primary objective is to gain time, to give all concerned an opportunity for reasoning together. It will give the Soviets time to bring influence to bear on North Korea if they will.

I want to raise a question about sending a carrier and other aircraft in. Doesn’t this raise a challenge to the enemy?

Ambassador Thompson says in his cable that this action seems paradoxical. I think that is worth considering. How will the North Koreans, Soviets, and the Chinese react to the show of force? Won’t it lessen our chances of getting the ship and the men out rather than increase them?

What I am asking is this: What’s our objective as far as all of this, particularly the action before the UN?

As I see it, our objective is to:

1. Spread out our actions before the UN to show them how serious this matter is and to show them how we have been mistreated.

[Page 500]

2. Give us time to try to work something out and to give the Soviets an opportunity to try to bring their influence to bear on the North Koreans.

3. Show the world we are not bellicose.

But there may be a conflict in our doing this before the UN and our sending new planes over there.

Can’t the Enterprise take care of the situation for a few days?

Secretary McNamara: We do need more air power in the area if we are attacked.

I see no difference between us having the Enterprise already there with increased air power available and putting in what we need to have to take care of the situation. We already have built up our position with the placement of the Enterprise in the area. To do what Ambassador Thompson has suggested (not putting any additional forces in there) would mean pulling the Enterprise off station.

The President: Secretary McNamara, you look at where you are going to get units and tell me the minimum time that it required to move in an emergency.

Secretary McNamara: I have all of that information now, Mr. President. In addition I have an Executive Order for the President’s signature which will authorize the call up of the reserve units (Attachment A).6

In addition I have two press releases which I want George Christian to review and change if necessary. The first press release announces the call up. The second press release announces the actual sending of additional units to South Korea.

We can move the USS Kitty Hawk into the area without public knowledge. She is only two days steaming-time away.

The Joint Chiefs feel very strongly that they do not want to move the Enterprise. It would be wasted effort to replace it with another ship. We propose sending 303 air craft to South Korea. We propose to call up 332 air craft.

Ambassador Goldberg: I would recommend not making public announcement of the call up. I think you should go ahead with the action without public announcement and we will do everything to settle this matter diplomatically. However, the call up will strengthen my position before the UN and will show the seriousness of the situation. I do not see any conflict between the call up and what we will be doing diplomatically. In that I disagree with Ambassador Thompson.

[Page 501]

Walt Rostow: As I see it, international law states that the seizure of a ship of the high seas justifies counteraction and equivalent reprisal.

The President: Walt, I do not want to win the argument and lose the sale.

The President then read again the Thompson cable. He stressed the sentence “They (the Communists) always react negatively to a show of force.”7

Walt Rostow: Mr. President, this was not the lesson of the Cuban missile crises or the Berlin crises.

Secretary McNamara: The North Korean air force has substantial superiority over the South Korean air force. If we have trouble we need to reenforce.

The President: But when we send out vast armada, won’t the Soviets and the Chinese say that they must be ready to protect their little brothers?

Won’t this really increase the tension? Is this a move to defer South Korea? What are we going to do after the aircraft are there? Where does all of this lead us?

Secretary McNamara: I think we will be closer to doing something diplomatically with a call up than without. I would recommend the call up today. I would defer public knowledge of the actual movement of the aircraft. For your information, I ordered diverted 10,000 tons of bombs enroute to South Vietnam. We do not have sufficient bombs in South Korea.

However, we must announce the call up. This will leak. Men have to be called from their homes. There is no way it would hold.

Secretary Rusk: I would announce the call up today. I would go before the Security Council with the matter. By tomorrow evening, we can announce that we are actually sending these squadrons to Korea.

Ambassador Goldberg: I would proceed with stand-by arrangements without announcement. We will parallel these efforts with diplomatic discussions.

Secretary McNamara: The President must sign an Executive Order. There is no way we can do this (make the call up) without public announcement.

[Page 502]

George Christian: It would not hold to try to keep from having a public announcement.

Secretary Rusk: The North Koreans may have decided to make a try at South Korea. We must jar the North Koreans loose from the idea of taking South Korea. This call up may do just that (prevent the North Koreans from thinking about offensive action against South Korea).

The President: Bob (Secretary McNamara), we must assume they have calculated what our response will be to this. Will this action (calling up reserve units and sending aircraft to South Korea) jeopardize our position elsewhere, particularly in Berlin?

Secretary McNamara: No, we have other units here and a number of units in Europe. In this country we have aircraft we could move to Berlin. In my opinion, we are in very good shape. The 332 aircraft that we are calling up are cats and dogs, but the 303 aircraft which are being sent to South Korea are in very good shape.

The President: What can we do to bring Congress in on this?

We have got to have a good discussion to see if the Fulbrights represent this country. If they do, we are committing a grave error to send men out. You remember how much trouble we got into on the Tonkin Gulf incident.

I think that Senator Dodd, Senator Thurmond and Senator Russell will balance off what might be said by Senators Fulbright, Mansfield and others.

Secretary McNamara: The President has the authority to call the reserves. It would be valuable to ask for legislation extending the tours of duty of those now serving.

The President: That legislation would put the boys (U.S. troops) on their side. We must keep them on our side.

Secretary McNamara: The best action we could ask for in the Congress would be for involuntary extension. It would permit us to keep on active service a sizeable number of highly qualified personnel.

Ambassador Goldberg: Have you consulted with Congressional leaders?

The President: We need to go to the Congress on this matter.

Secretary Rusk: I do not recognize Senator Church by the statement he made today. He virtually asked for a declaration of war against Korea. He is a hot Korean supporter.

The President: I am sure one of the reasons is that he has a Pocatello, Idaho, boy captured out there.

What concerns me is this. When we get the planes out there and all of the forces you have recommended, what do we do then?

[Page 503]

Secretary McNamara: The lowest form of military action is the minding of the coast of North Korea by air. They do have some ports of significant value, but in Wonsan. They do have patrol craft at Wonsan.

Secretary Rusk: What about grabbing some of their ships?

Secretary McNamara: We cannot find any of their ships. They have only 4 small vessels and they aren’t of much consequence.

The President: As I see it, these are the steps we should undertake:

Take our case to Pakistan and ask them to be with us on this matter
Send a message to Park. Tell him that the North Korean side probably will be heard if the matter is raised before the UN.
Bob (Secretary McNamara), sit down with the Joint Chiefs and see what we can ask of the Congress in the way of legislation to get an overt action by them in support of our show of force.
Get a letter to Kosygin explaining our position and the need for their doing what they can in this matter.
Send a message to Prime Minister Sato of Japan outlining the situation.
Put our view before all our ambassadors and attaches. We should meet again about noon (the meeting was scheduled for 1:15 for lunch in the Family Dining Room). I want to get Senator Russell’s judgment. He wants the Senate to go back on record in support of what we are doing. Let’s not let the Congress say we are going to war without consulting them.

Dean (Secretary Rusk), let’s get the Cabinet back together to discuss Ambassador Roth’s new proposal. It looks as though he has sold the proposal to Mills. I am concerned about financial panic in this country. Roth and Mills think this will stop everything except the textile business.

Secretary Fowler has done a good job. Don’t shove him. He is under a terrific strain.

Secretary Trowbridge went to the hospital last night with recurring chest pains. I am afraid he may have another heart situation. He had a heart attack two years ago.

Secretary McNamara then discussed the Executive Order which would call to active duty units of the Air Force Reserve.

The President: I would put in the letter to Kosygin that “I do not know what North Korea has in mind but I do know that neither you or I want to increase world tensions in this area.”

The complete text of the message to Chairman Kosygin is attached as Attachment B.8

[Page 504]

Secretary McNamara and General Wheeler should get the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk moving. Also get your unit Commanders alerted. “Anytime you have a world crisis we must have our tanks loaded, our caps on and our planes ready. Let’s not be accused of being unprepared.”

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings, Pueblo IV, 8:30 a.m. Top Secret. Drafted by Tom Johnson. The meeting was held at the White House.
  2. Pak’s message was relayed in telegram 3626 from Seoul, January 25. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US)
  3. Telegram 104660 to USUN, January 25, details these guidelines and transmits a draft resolution. (Ibid., UN 3 SC) Goldberg’s letter to the president of the Security Council, his statements made to that body on January 26 and 27, as well as a UNC report on Korea are in Department of State Bulletin, February 12, 1968, pp. 193–200. Although the Pueblo seizure was discussed by the Security Council, no vote was taken on a resolution. Instead the Council adopted a Canadian proposal suggesting the matter be discussed privately between members. Negotiations were held on January 28, but not resumed, and the matter was not returned to the Security Council for consideration. (Yearbook of the United Nations, 1968, pp. 168–173)
  4. A summary of the conversation was transmitted in telegram 3481 from USUN, January 24. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident,USUN Cables, Vol. I, January to March 1968)
  5. Reference is to telegram 2566 from Moscow, January 25, given to the President earlier that morning, which reports that Kuznetsov told Thompson that the North Koreans were informed of Thompson’s approach to the Soviets immediately after the seizure of the Pueblo. (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, January 25; ibid., Vol. I, Part B [through January]).
  6. Not printed. The text of the statement informing the public of the call-up of Air Force and Navy reserves made by the President on January 26 is in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book I, p. 77.
  7. In telegram 2566 from Moscow, January 25, Thomson included this statement after commenting that “the presence of our naval force off Wonsan will make it virtually impossible for the North Koreans to return our vessel and crew,” and the show of force would hinder the Soviets from acting as an intermediary or quietly exerting influence on the North Koreans to ease the crises. (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, January 25; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Korea—Pueblo Incident, Vol. I, Part B [through January])
  8. Reference is to Document 224.