248. Notes of Meeting1


  • Notes of the President’s Foreign Affairs Luncheon
[Page 572]


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

Secretary Rusk: What was the President’s reaction to the Leadership meeting this morning?2

The President: I thought we did very little good, very little harm. General Brown was not a good briefer. He does not speak with authority. We need to take the toughest questions we get and answer them with authority with Senator Dirksen and Congressman Ford.3 We should say we have gone to the United Nations and to other nations with this matter and that we intend to go to Panmunjom. Military power will not get these men back, but we should list a few of the military alternatives to show them how unattractive they are.

Senator Edward Kennedy says the Vietnamese government steals about 50% of each dollar. He is about to release a report outlining corruption in Vietnam.

To what do you attribute the confession by Captain Bucher, General Wheeler?

General Wheeler: The North Koreans could have used drugs. They probably gave him something to copy and required him to write it out in his own hand. This may have been a deal to get the ship and the men released.

The President: What about the possibility of this Officer having turned?

Secretary McNamara: The possibilities are very small. We have made a thorough check of his background. There is very little instability in his background.4

[Page 573]

General Wheeler: There is some worry at the United Nations that the Soviets are ready to surface portions of the ship’s log showing it to be in territorial waters.

The President: Is it typical of the Soviets to be so firm on a thing such as this (Soviets have charged several times that the ship was inside territorial waters)?

Secretary Rusk: The Soviets will say something knowing the facts to be to the contrary.

The President: I am jittery about the possibility of error. This Officer doesn’t look like the normal, prudent, alert Officer I would have handle Air Force One if it were on alert. We must always bear in mind the possibility that we are in the wrong.

Clark Clifford: What is our position if we are wrong, Dean?

Secretary Rusk: If we are convinced we are wrong, we would probably exchange a statement of regret.

The President: If we do not get the men back, what then?

Secretary Rusk: Even if the ship were to be found to have trespassed territorial waters, the North Koreans still had no right to do what they did.

The President: Where are we diplomatically?

Secretary Rusk: North Korea has accepted in writing our message. No date has been set for a meeting. North Korea has made no public statements on this, which is encouraging.

We do not know what will happen at Panmunjom. At the United Nations Ralph Bunche asked Ambassador Goldberg for permission to use the good offices of the Secretary General to send a Rumanian to North Korea. We advised Bunche that this did not bother us in principle.5 The Soviets may turn us down. The North Koreans said it was not the United Nation’s business.

Gromyko has asked for a gesture to reduce pressure and the challenge. He suggested that we might want to send the Enterprise southward. I do not really see where this would accomplish much.

Secretary McNamara: The Joint Chiefs would want to leave the Enterprise on station. The Air Force is now working on a plan to expand the landbased air power.

[Page 574]

Walt Rostow: We may want to tell the Soviets we beefed up air power in the South not only because of the Pueblo incident but because of increased infiltration and the attack on Blue House. We could tell the Soviets that since they have a security pact with the North Koreans they may want to interest themselves more in this matter.

General Wheeler: (Talking to Walt Rostow.) Somebody should talk with Drew Pearson about that article he had.6

Walt Rostow: (To General Wheeler.) Nobody is advising the President, to my knowledge who has been trigger-happy.

General Wheeler: Personally, I find none of the military courses of action particularly attractive.

Walt Rostow: We first had a message from the Soviets out of New Delhi that we should pretend that we had violated territorial waters.7

Clark Clifford: What if we say the ship strayed by accident into territorial waters?

Secretary Rusk: We must look to the best facts of this matter. Even if the ship were in territorial waters it was not proper to seize it.

CIA Director Helms: Throughout the history of Soviet law, their interpretation of what is espionage is considerably different from our own. In Soviet law, walking down a particular street or looking at a certain installation is espionage per se.

[Here follows discussion of the situation in Vietnam.]

Secretary McNamara: The independent panel will meet this Thursday, Friday and Saturday to review the Pueblo situation. George Ball will chair it. Admiral McDonald and General Mark Clark will meet as the other two members. Paul Nitze will coordinate it.

General Wheeler: General Clark is a hardliner whom you can count on.

The President: Should we have Senator Stennis and Congressman Rivers down for a briefing?

Secretary McNamara: Yes I believe this would be useful. I would also have Congressman Bates and Senator Margaret Chase Smith.8

[Page 575]

Director Helms: Congressman Rivers is more antagonistic than anyone.

Secretary Rusk: Who was on the Bay of Pigs investigation?

Secretary McNamara: General Taylor, Bobby Kennedy, and Allen Dulles.

[Here follows discussion of developments in Vietnam and potential problems in the Middle East.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings, Pueblo XI, 1:00 p.m. Top Secret. Drafted by Tom Johnson. The meeting was held at the White House. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid.)
  2. Notes of the President’s Meeting with the Democratic Leadership, January 30 from 8:30 until 10:06 a.m. are ibid., Pueblo X.
  3. The President met with Dirksen and Ford that evening from 6:04 to 7:55 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. (Notes of the President’s Meeting with the Republican Leadership, Senator Dirksen and Congressman Ford, January 30; ibid., Pueblo XII)
  4. Helms furnished McNamara, Rostow, and Rusk with a copy of a CIA report, January 30, entitled “A Psychological and Political Analysis of Commander Bucher’s Statements.” The report examined not only the content of the alleged confessions made by Bucher, but also Bucher’s personal background, naval career, and anticipated responses to stressful situations. (Ibid., National Security File, Intelligence File, Pueblo, January 1968)
  5. In light of the newly opened MAC channel, Goldberg requested that Bunche delay submitting the Secretary General’s proposal. In pursuing the matter further, however, Goldberg learned that the Rumanian response had been negative, thus creating the need to restructure an approach to the North Koreans through the Secretary General’s good offices. (Telegrams 3553, January 30, and 35178, January 31, from USUN, New York; both National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–6 KOR N–US)
  6. Not further identified.
  7. Not further identified.
  8. Notes of the President’s Breakfast Meeting with Congressional Leaders, including those named here, and with Policy Advisors are in the Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings, Pueblo XIII, which also contains a substantive memorandum from the JCS to the President discussing the failure to dispatch U.S. aircraft to assist the Pueblo. At the meeting, which was held in the White House on January 31 from 8:40 to 10:15 a.m., the Congressional leaders were briefed on the situation not only in Korea, but also in Vietnam.