432. Summary Notes of the 591st Meeting of the National Security Council1

The 23rd UN General Assembly

The President: The purpose of the meeting of the Council is to review the issues before the current United Nations General Assembly and to discuss our position on these questions. Secretary Rusk will comment in general on the General Assembly meeting and Ambassador Ball will deal with the specific problems.

Secretary Rusk: Suggested that Ambassador Ball lead off and he would comment later.

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Ambassador Ball: The session of the General Assembly meeting in New York will probably be the most routine in UN history, barring some unforeseen event. (See copy of State Summary of UNGA issues attached.)2

The following major issues will be raised:

Czechoslovakian Situation
A specific General Assembly agenda item on Czechoslovakia is unlikely, especially if the Czech delegation takes the position that it does not want a separate item.
There is very little support from NATO members for a specific Czech item.
The Czech situation will be fully debated under other agenda items which will make it easier to avoid Soviet rebuttal by citing Vietnam and other world problems.
If there is further Soviet repression in Czechoslovakia, the situation in the UN could change drastically.
The Middle East
We have the last clear chance for an Arab-Israeli settlement in the next few months.
Ambassador Jarring will be in New York and will be meeting with Arab foreign ministers and the Israeli foreign minister. The work on the Middle East will be done in hotel rooms, not in the United Nations Assembly.
Currently, the Arabs appear to the public to be readier to settle than the Israelis.
There is very small chance for settlement unless we push on the Israelis and the Russians push on the Arabs. Even if this were done, a settlement is doubtful because the two sides are so far apart. This is a sad prognosis.
Unless action comes within the next few weeks, Jarring will be ending a year of activity without results. If he cannot advance toward accomplishing the objectives of the November 22 resolution, he may quit. The problem then becomes even more difficult for us because it will be returned to the UN Security Council. The subject is complicated by the U.S. election.
The sad situation in Biafra is a result of federal Nigerian leaders who are willing to sacrifice millions of lives to gain a military advantage. Efforts of the Ethopian Emperor to bring the two sides to an agreement have been unsuccessful. The result is a human tragedy in which thousands are starving.
It is difficult to get the Biafra problem into the United Nations because the African members say the OAU should handle the case. Asian members side with the Africans in opposition to UN intervention. Despite world pressure, the General Assembly cannot act because of this African opposition.
To handle the humanitarian aspects of this problem, we should name a man to coordinate U.S. Government assistance to the Biafrans.

Chinese Representation

There is no change in the U.S. position of opposition to the admission of Communist China. The voting pattern of past General Assemblies is likely to be repeated. There is therefore no serious problem this year.

Secretary Rusk: The general debate of the Assembly is beginning later this year than usual. The debate will occupy the Assembly during most of October. Consequently, GA votes on major issues are unlikely before our election is over.

Ambassador Ball: Secretary General U Thant’s press statement3 on halting the bombing in Vietnam upset many UN delegates. There is no serious effort to introduce a Vietnam resolution as a result of the Secretary General’s intervention. U Thant may have learned a lesson from this incident. He was rebuked by us for his action and in a later statement has “walked the cat back” from the position many people thought he was advocating, i.e., a United Nations resolution calling for a bombing halt in North Vietnam.

Assistant Secretary Sisco: U Thant’s statement on Vietnam will not change the direction of the General Assembly. However, some 80 foreign ministers who will be in New York will all be asking Secretary Rusk whether progress is being made in the Paris talks with the North Vietnamese.

The President: The U Thant statement was certainly not helpful. It added further confusion. Even the enemy must be confused by the various statements, including that of Representative Laird (reported plan to reduce by 90,000 the number of U.S troops in Vietnam).

[Omitted here is further discussion of Vietnam.]

The President: Asked whether the appropriate Congressional Committees had been briefed on UN problems. Secretary Rusk said he or Assistant Secretary Sisco would brief the proper Congressmen. Ambassador Ball pointed out that there are two Senators on the U.S. delegation who will be in New York this week and will remain for a few days of the General Assembly.

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Secretary Rusk: Mentioned to the President that many of the Foreign Ministers coming to New York would want to come down to Washington. He said he would speak to the President later about those Foreign Ministers whom the President should see.

Secretary Fowler: Said that he wished to add to the list of those wanting to come to Washington who wanted to see the President, 110 Finance Ministers and over 100 representatives of central banks.

[Omitted here is further discussion of Vietnam.]

Bromley Smith
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings File, Vol. 6. Top Secret; Sensitive; For the President Only. Another set of notes for this meeting, prepared by Tom Johnson, is ibid., Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. September 23; summarized in Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1968, pp. 22982–22983.