428. Notes of President Johnson’s Meeting with U Thant 1

U Thant: Thank for your helpfulness. You were very magnanimous in the process for peace. I congratulate you. I regret your decision. Your speech2 will generate a process for peace in Vietnam.

The President: That is encouraging. We tried to convince our people some move had to be made. We felt this was a step. I hope conditions will permit it to be a big step. If there is any recognition of it we will take another one. I will not do anything to endanger my men. We are hopeful it will permit initiation of some exchange. That will be encouraging.

I have asked Ambassador Goldberg to brief you on the speech.

U Thant: Thank you for that. As I indicated to you it is important that Peking has not broadcast Hanoi’s statement up to 1 a.m. today. Hanoi ignored Peking.

Peking Radio never broadcast some statements. Hanoi doesn’t care about Peking’s attitude. These are factors that indicate Hanoi is somewhat independent of Peking. This indicates relative independence of Hanoi from Peking. You should keep this in mind. It is difficult for even doves in Hanoi to come in with a statement like they did yesterday.

On Monday I transmitted a message to Hanoi:

  • Not to react negatively immediately to the President’s speech.
  • Please consider it carefully and react after very carefully reading it.
  • Also told General DeGaulle not to react negatively.

I have nothing to advise on the next step. But this is a very important step. Hanoi really wants to talk to you.

There are some procedural questions. I think Geneva would be the best place since Geneva has historically been involved. When I was in New Delhi, if parties agree to talks, she will be privileged to have them in New Delhi as Chairman of the ICC. The French also said, not officially, the French Government would be privileged to host talks in Paris.

I am at your disposal. My sole concern is to contribute as best I can to bringing about peace. Coming from the country I do, our experience [Page 922]in Burma in World War II—95% of our people were elated—we worked for them. The more they stayed, the more Japanese stayed on, the more bitter the feelings were. We began to regard the Japanese as foreigners—just as the British. Now our relations with the Japanese are excellent. Now all my people are very anti-Communist. The Communist backbone was broken in Burma with advisers.

I think you should test Hanoi. Hanoi is very independent of the Communists. In the final analysis, they will come with non-aligned constitution. It is necessary that U.S. has a long and difficult task. I have a high regard for Thompson and Harriman. I hope Goldberg can be involved. I am at your disposal. I leave this evening for Geneva. If possible, I may talk with Bo.3

There is no immediate prospect for a resolution. I may talk to Bo.

The President: That would be very desirable. Your evaluation and assessment is a reasonable one. You demonstrate a very constructive attitude. I appreciate your statement and your doing what you did Sunday.4 I do not hold out much hope from this message, but I do have hope. I wanted to appeal to the UN and ICC and others who could be in a position to help. I asked the Soviet Ambassador to come down. I spent some time with him.

The Soviets thought we would never get out of Vietnam because of investment and bases there. Rusk and Clifford and I put in a plan—a modification of the Goldberg plan. We would help both of them if we could, if they would let us.

From the Kosygin talks in Glassboro,5 I don’t think they understand Americans. We want to communicate the hope of tomorrow.

I have tried in this effort to stop the bombing against most of the people, and it continues only where these efforts directly threaten our men.

I stretched this as far as I could. Goldberg wanted to stop it all. But I could not endanger our men. If they would not have a crash program, O. K. But now they are desperately rushing in supplies. Ninety percent of the population is above the 20th parallel.

Secretary Clifford feels we have 9–10 months to do what we can for this world. We have to take some chances.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. The meeting took place at United Nations headquarters. It lasted from 3:47 to 4:30 p.m. Another set of notes of the meeting taken by President’s Special Assistant Jim Jones is ibid., Meeting Notes File.
  2. Delivered March 31; for text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–1969, Book I, pp. 469–476.
  3. Mai Van Bo, Paris-based diplomatic representative of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
  4. March 31.
  5. For documentation on the June 1967 meeting of President Johnson and Prime Minister Kosygin, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Documents 217 238.