431. Notes on a Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk1

Secretary Rusk advised President Johnson of four names he was recommending to fill the post of UN Ambassador. The Secretary mentioned Sisco, Cleveland, Bohlen and Magee and said he thought these men all had pluses and minuses but he thought they could actually handle the job for the next three months. Secretary Rusk added his belief that the General Assembly was going to be relatively low-key after the debate on Czechoslovakia and flareup and debate possibly on Viet Nam2 and he thought it was really the Security Council aspect of it that is most important as opposed to the General Assembly.

The President in further discussing the resignation of Amb. Goldberg [Ball] said:

[Page 929]

“I had this reaction. I told him I appreciated the things that motivated him and I thought it was very unselfish but his willingness to refuse to take any position under the Humphrey administration. I don’t know how likely that is … but that that was just going to help Mr. Humphrey and I thought he should think about what the real reaction it is going to have and whether that reaction is going to be a plus for the Democrats or not. My own judgment is that it is going to be a big minus. I imagine the first thing they will say is that the President and Secretary Rusk recommend a man, pick him, call him back to a Cabinet status job, with the most important thing in the world being peace, then he leaves in a few weeks and gets off on a political campaign. That just sounds erratic.

“Humphrey has turned his campaign completely over to Larry O’Brien. My judgment is that George Ball would just get himself in a mess because I think he will talk to Humphrey every night, maybe even have some influence although I don’t think he can be effective if he does this and he will be explaining every time why he left, what the differences are and what he and the President disagreed on. So first, I do not think he can be effective if he does it, second, it will leave the appearance of being erratic with the Administration, with the President and with the Secretary of State.”

President Johnson told Secretary Rusk he had asked Walt Rostow to talk to Secretary Clifford, then discuss the matter further with Secretary Rusk so that the President could have a well-rounded view.3 The President reported there would be a Security Council meeting next Wednesday4 and he wanted Secretary Clifford and Secretary Rusk to come in after the meeting to discuss what ought to be done with the Phantoms and Amb. Yarring regarding Israel.5

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam and other subjects.]

The President advised he would return to Washington tomorrow and instead of having the luncheon tomorrow would give his luncheon group6 the day to get their houses in order because they had to get the George Ball matter in shape, then if Secretary Rusk and Clifford had no conflict, they could go to Security Council meeting.

Secretary Rusk asked:

“I think George Ball was planning to see Humphrey tonight. Do you think I should suggest to him that he postpone this for a couple of days?”

[Page 930]

President Johnson replied:

“I would say so. Tell him that we are going to come back to Washington tomorrow7 and I am returning … that you and Clark Clifford are finalizing this matter … that these questions have been raised … that first, can he be more effective over with Larry O’Brien and these politicians or can he do it talking directly to Humphrey every night … and he is there and is getting all the intelligence and we’d work with him very closely and we would tell Humphrey to work with him closely. I think if he leaves, he will just have to explain that there’s a big bust-up and I think it could be used for propaganda purposes. I think The New York Times and the doves will. I think Hanoi will … they are still quoting Goldberg every morning. I think the Congress will. And I think it will hurt Humphrey and will hurt the Democrats because it will show we’re not stable. And tell him that we will communicate with him not later than Wednesday at noon and see if he’ll see Humphrey Wednesday night instead of Monday night.”

Secretary Rusk advised he would do this.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Telephone Conversation of September 23, 1968 with Secretary Rusk. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid.) The President called Rusk from the LBJ Ranch. A tape of the conversation is ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F MISC. 05.
  2. The Security Council debated the Czech situation five times between August 21 and 25. No debate took place in the General Assembly. A complaint of U.S. and South Vietnamese incursions into its territory was brought before the Security Council by Cambodia in June. No General Assembly debate on the Vietnam war took place that year.
  3. No record of these discussions was found.
  4. September 25.
  5. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the three men met “Off the Record” at 1:43 p.m., September 25. No other record of the meeting was found. (Johnson Library)
  6. See Document 433.
  7. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Johnson left the LBJ Ranch at 8:50 a.m. September 24 and arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington at 12:57 p.m. EST. (Johnson Library)