Lyndon Johnson and Dean Rusk on 3 October 1968


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Kieran K. Matthews and Marc J. Selverstone

Secretary of State Dean Rusk gave his farewell address to the United Nations on 2 October 1968, after guards ejected nine demonstrators who chanted “Stop the war in Vietnam” as Rusk approached the podium.[note 1] Robert H. Estabrook, “Russians Lectured by Rusk; Speech in UN Cautions on Czech, Berlin,” Washington Post, 3 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com, (accessed 23 April 2013). While he was still in New York, the President called to complain about Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey’s bombing halt speech and press reports regarding the involvement of administration officials.

President Johnson

Dean. Dean.

Dean Rusk

Yes, good morning, sir.

President Johnson

I'm rather distressed at the papers this morning. I don't guess you’ve seen the Washington papers.

Rusk

No, I haven't.

President Johnson

But [Joseph] Kraft says that this whole thing was worked out—[George W.] Ball and [W. Averell] Harriman.[note 2] Joseph Kraft was a prominent syndicated columnist. George W. Ball was under secretary of state from January 1961 to September 1966 and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in May and June of 1968. W. Averell Harriman was ambassador-at-large and chief U.S. delegate to the Paris talks with North Vietnam under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Ball went over and saw Harriman and, really, that Ball and Harriman wrote this speech for Humphrey. And then that [Richard] Nixon fell into a trap of saying—that they laid for him—of saying it hurt the negotiations.[note 3] The President’s summary of syndicated columnist Joseph Kraft’s piece is only partly accurate. Kraft didn’t make any claim about who wrote Humphrey’s television speech announcing that as president he would halt the bombing of North Vietnam. When he reads Rusk parts of the column later in this conversation, he paraphrases it freely. Joseph Kraft, “Televised Speech on Vietnam Gets Humphrey Off the Ground,” Washington Post, 3 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 16 September 2009). So Averell starting commenting on the speech and saying it didn't hurt the negotiations. And now Nixon's been trapped and Humphrey's really—

Rusk

Did Averell comment publicly on the speech?

President Johnson

Yes, yes. He's a damn fool. He's been playing politics. I found out from Cy [Vance]; he didn't want to tell it.[note 4] Cyrus R. Vance was secretary of the Army from 1962 to 1963, deputy secretary of defense from 1964 to 1967, special representative of the president to Cyprus in 1967 and to Korea in 1968, and a U.S. negotiator at the Paris talks with North Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. And I was just shocked to death. And I asked him, I said, “Did anybody discuss this speech with y’all?” And he choked and hung up. And I said, “Were you consulted about this speech?” And he said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Who consulted you?” He said George Ball.

Rusk

For heaven’s sakes.

President Johnson

And so that just ruins us with the other side, when that comes out, in my judgment. Then he got a new proposal; I'm sending him back up here to get him away from these columnists and out of this town before you come down this week. You—

Rusk

I'm sorry, I can't hear, Mr. President.

President Johnson

I said I'm sending him back up there to get him away from these columnists and out of town.

Rusk

Right.

President Johnson

But—so you can talk to him if you want to. I don't think it’s essential, but you’ll probably want to give him a ring sometime on the weekend, whenever you can. I don’t—

Rusk

He's coming to New York?

President Johnson

Yes, I don't think [Rusk acknowledges] it's necessary for you to come down here until you find out more than you know.

Rusk

All right.

President Johnson

But here's what Kraft says: “The Vietnam speech had a carefully prepared public build-up. A major speech was announced by the Vice President three days in advance. Leading advisors, Under Secretary Ball and former Postmaster General [Lawrence] O’Brien, were on hand. The text itself, while not altogether clear, was artfully wrought. The Vice President moved toward a total halt of the bombing of North Vietnam in a way that placed his position far in advance of that laid down in the most recent statements of the President and Secretary of State Rusk. The speech was hardly over before Mr. Ball was pointing out to various press people how the Vice President's stand differed from the current posture of the administration. At the same time, the halt in the bombing was made conditional in a way that protected the Vice President against the one man whose public disapproval he genuinely feared. That man is the chief Paris negotiator, Averell Harriman, whose views had been recently sounded by Mr. Ball. As to organizing the reaction, Senator Kennedy's chief aide, David Burke, was briefed in advance on the speech by [Ted] Van Dyk and Ira Kapenstein, O’Brien’s man. Kennedy followed the speech with an immediate telegram of approval. Senator [Eugene J.] McCarthy was given an advance [briefing] by [Tom] Finney, a Washington lawyer, formally a top hand with McCarthy. So far the Senator hasn’t said anything because he is committed to remaining neutral while reporting the World Series. But the way is open for him to express approval of the Vice President's advance [toward his] position. Lastly, a trap was prepared for Nixon. It was expected the Republican candidate would reply to the Vice President by raising a question as to whether Humphrey's advance towards a total cessation of the bombing would not adversely affect the Paris negotiation. Mr. Nixon did as expected and arrangements were immediately made for Ambassador Harriman to deny the Nixon insinuation. All this does not mean, of course, that the Vietnam speech was a major triumph. On the contrary, the Vice President is still way behind. But he is beginning to show the qualities that could make the campaign a serious contest and if he keeps it up, if he begins to focus sharply on the issues” and so forth.

Rusk

Huh!

President Johnson

Now, [Rowland] Evans and [Robert D.] Novak's got the same Ball briefing apparently.[note 5] Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, “George Ball’s Resignation Is Linked to Hidden Concern Over Paris Talks,” Washington Post, 3 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 16 September 2009). Johnson paraphrases the column. “Ball has complained bitterly to close friends about what he regards as a stiffening of Johnson on the question of bombing. He is convinced that this stiffening has compromised the negotiating team in Paris. Specifically Ball has said that the President's actions in Honolulu wrecked the careful diplomatic probe by Harriman, the president's chief agent. Although precise details are confidential, there is reason to believe that a break in the Paris talks was imminent before Johnson went to Honolulu [for his conversations with Thieu]. These culminated in an extraordinary hour-and-a-quarter tête-à-tête between the two heads of state. If there was a memorandum of conversation of this long and private talk, it is a closely guarded document. In Washington, details of the long talk are known only by a very few of the President's most intimate advisors. Thus the agreements made by Johnson in return for concessions by Thieu are still a state secret. But Ball and other members of the President’s official family believe that the conversation contains certain agreements that convinced the Communists in Hanoi the United States was not bargaining in good faith. Accordingly, the careful diplomatic initiative nurtured by Harriman and his aides in Paris was pulled up by the roots. Partly as a result of this, Ball has confided to intimates that Humphrey was placed in an intolerable political bind. Further, this bind was closed tighter by Johnson's repeated contradictions of Humphrey whenever the Vice President claimed to see some glimmer of light. That then is the background of Ball's much criticized decision to desert the United Nations only one day after his confirmation by the Senate. Ball's first job for Humphrey was to help write his Vietnam speech so as to minimize charges Humphrey was selling out the Paris negotiation. Ball first talked with Humphrey about this speech two days before he quit the U.N. He spent much of last weekend conferring with Humphrey on the west coast. He then returned with Van Dyk and O'Brien. He was in fact indispensable as Humphrey spelled out the difference between his position and Johnson's. And while the President demands specific de-escalation or a quid pro quo from Hanoi as a condition of stopping the bombing, Humphrey is willing to assume good faith without Hanoi spelling out a quid pro quo. Although this difference is a major one in the careful diplomatic language of Paris, the immediate political reaction at home to Humphrey's speech raises doubts whether he went far enough to accomplish its purpose to persuade the McCarthyites to work for Humphrey. As Humphrey's newest advisor, in short, it is possible Ball may soon yearn for the peace and quiet of the U.N.

Then Murrey Marder's got another story.[note 6] Murrey Marder, “HHH Pared Price for Bombing Halt,” Washington Post, 3 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 16 September 2009). “HHH Pared the Price for the Bombing Halt.” And he says that they’ve told him over there, Harriman and company, how they feel and they’re much softer than we are. Now then, all of that's very bad. What's really bad though, that I don’t—I can't justify at all, because they’re in politics. I wouldn't comment on it. I told State Department not to comment on it. But “Chief”—here’s the headline: "Humphrey Didn't Impair Talks, Harriman Said.”[note 7] Eric Wentworth, “Humphrey Didn’t Impair Talks, Harriman Says,” Washington Post, 3 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 18 May 2012). “Chief negotiator Harriman sees no basis for thinking Humphrey's Vietnam speech could jeopardize the peace talks here, a spokesman said today. Harriman authorized the spokesman to disclose this position and thus appeared to be rebutting indirectly the criticism of Humphrey's speech by Nixon. Today at the 24th session of the deadlocked talks, Harriman’s counterpart said so,” and then they quote him, "as regard to Mr. Nixon, the warlike presidential candidate"—wait a minute now . . . “Harriman’s comment surfaced when U.S. delegation spokesman Harold Kaplan was asked at his briefing whether the American negotiators had any feeling along those lines, referring to the remarks by Nixon and sharper criticism by [John G.] Tower.[note 8] John G. Tower was a U.S. senator [R-Texas] from June 1961 to January 1985. ‘No,’ Kaplan replied, ‘I don't think there is,’ but then insisted this should not be taken as a comment on Humphrey's speech. Kaplan said he did, quote, ‘discuss the the general notion with Governor Harriman and he specifically authorized me to say that he sees no basis for the speech having any adverse effect on our negotiation. Harriman himself, onetime Democratic governor, told a newsman earlier, ‘we are engaged in negotiations. In that capacity I am taking no part in the campaign.’” There—so forth. I told Cy there’s no use saying you’re taking no part in a campaign then start interpreting one man's speech and answering another man. You’d better just say you’re taking no part, period. I also gave him a pretty good lecture about the leaks and I find out that Ball's been over there and talking to him, and they’ve been being martyrs to Ball, and Ball’s been—that's where he decided to quit, after he’d had his conversations over there. So I told Cy that I just didn't think negotiators ought to be taking such wide latitude. They ought to carry out their president’s—

Rusk

The truth is, Mr. President, that the combination of these stories—I mean, I haven't seen them—the ones you’re talking about—but again, I’ll get them later in the day. But the combination of these stories will hurt our negotiating position.

President Johnson

Of course it hurts—it beat [it to] hell. Now, you just take this from me; I'm not a diplomat. You’ve been in on everything Southeast Asia for 25 years. But they’re not going to do anything until the election. That's period. If Humphrey's elected, they’re in clover. If he’s not elected, then they can look and see what they want to do between me and Nixon. So we can just forget everything until then, in my judgment. Now, and I think it's done that. I think Humphrey's fuzzy speech saying—and having Ball background everybody—that it did change. And I don't think there's any question but what there’s agreement between our negotiators, and Ball, and the Pentagon. They’ve been talking behind our back. That’s clear from my discussions here. And now they’ve all settled on this one Clark Clifford pitch the other day, if you saw it.[note 9] Clark M. Clifford was a Washington lawyer; adviser to presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson; and chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1963 to 1968. Clifford served as secretary of defense from March 1968 to January 1969. It's Ball's pitch. Ball knew about it, but Ball just said, well, he thought he’d be a little more peaceful than Clifford, you know. He just said he wouldn't require anything. Clifford requires the GVN [Rusk acknowledges throughout] and then they kind of laugh off the other. That is the Harriman/Ball/Pentagon approach now, and—that I called about from down in Texas. They’re working that in and the rest goes on assumptions.

So now Cy’s got a proposal this morning they’ll be calling you about in a moment. His proposal is that you say to your friend—and [Walt W.] Rostow made a mistake indicating your friend had said something to you, and I didn't acknowledge it.[note 10] Walt W. Rostow was national security adviser from April 1966 to January 1969. I just didn't say a word. I didn't discuss any of your conversations with Cy with [Andrei] Gromyko, because I know he'd got to talk to Harriman.[note 11] Andrei Gromyko was the Soviet foreign minister from February 1957 to July 1985. Harriman is like a hydrant. So—but Cy is going to say to you that he thinks you ought to say to Gromyko—and he’s doing this with Averell’s approval—that the real block to stopping the bombing is the GVN thing. [Rusk acknowledges throughout.] That if they agree to GVN, that that is the one thing that we need. I said, OK, what do we do about the DMZ and what do we do about cities? Well, we assume that and we tell them that we have to go back if they did that. I said well, I don't buy that, but you can tell Rusk that and I’ll be willing to be guided by his putting those assumptions a little stronger than you put them. I don't want them to have any doubt that in effect, they’re agreeing to the three if they agree to one. I don't think they’ll do a damn thing till November. But for the purpose of satisfying Cy's vanity, that’s something I think you ought to explore a little more.

Rusk

Well, I wondered, Mr. President. I thought about it. I thought about the conversation last night. That maybe it might be well if you think well of it for me to say to Gromyko, “Now look, you should be clear in your own mind that these three things are of fundamental importance. One of them has to be a matter of a political agreement. That’s the GVN. The others are facts of life and will be determined by events on the ground. Now, we can understand that you may not want yourselves to go to Hanoi on these factual points, but if you can get them to move on the GVN, we will take up directly with them the question of the DMZ, and the cities, and you won’t—you yourselves don't have to emphasize that particular point. But you should be clear in your own mind so that we don't mislead you. Now, that is our view.”

President Johnson

That's right. And then I’d furthermore say to him that you just think that you ought to know, tell him the political system—and he’s got pretty good intelligence on it—but you think you ought to tell him that no president can survive 48 hours if they are moving in the DMZ—

Rusk

I told him that last night and I also told him that—

President Johnson

—or shelling the cities.

Rusk

He asked me about the election in this country. [President Johnson acknowledges.] I said, “One thing you should be aware of and that is that there is a strong conservative movement in this country now, and that anybody who thinks the ultra-liberals are getting anywhere in this election should think twice about it, because when you put together the Nixon and Wallace votes, it means that the American people are fed up with some of the fooling around here by some of these demonstrators and things like that. And these demonstrators are not speaking for the American people. Just look at the polls.”

President Johnson

That's right. Now, the second thing is, Averell's thought is—you’ve got Cy’s clearly, haven't you?

Rusk

Yes.

President Johnson

The GVN will do the job. It’ll stop the bombing. It is the chief thing. Then we’ll assume on the cities and the DMZ and we’ll retaliate if they violate either, promptly. Now, I don't think he would. I think he’d be out of town not answering the phone, but anyway that's what they say. Second thing is Averell. Averell thinks that this might be the way to do it: Tell them Wednesday we’re going to stop Sunday. Stop Sunday, meet them Monday. Tell them we want the GVN in here Tuesday. If they don't come Tuesday then we can act. [Rusk acknowledges throughout.] That's Averell's point. Now, what I think you ought to do with Cy, just as insurance, I think you ought to make clear to him that you think the real key is the GVN and you’ve got to get locked on tight. Now, he agrees with that, and tell him that they ought to quit putting out this stuff, that there's a difference between us, that this is awfully weak for the country and weak for the—it helps the Communists. That's the first thing. The second thing you say, “But Cy, now I don't want to mislead you. And you’ve got to know what the position is and what the President's position is and what the government is. Number one, the President thinks when this speech is made, we’re not going to do anything until November. Now, if we can, that's good, but that's his judgment. He thinks that you’ve got to wait till the election now to see. If Humphrey’s elected, they can move. If he’s not elected, they’ll decide whether they want to move on the President's terms or wait for Nixon. Probably move on the President's terms. But he thinks that.” Now, the second thing is, “You might as well know here and now, and you and Averell better be signed on, that you’re not talking about one thing, you’re talking about three.”

Rusk

Right.

President Johnson

And if you get agreement on one, he’s got to think, and you’ve got to make him think, and he’s got to believe that your judgment is sound that the other two are in effect agreed. Because if they’re not agreed, in 24 hours, you’re going to get some action. [Rusk acknowledges.] So you ought to know that and carry out and anticipate its consequences.

Rusk

Right.

President Johnson

Now, Walt will call you, but you’ll be prepared. You don't need to tell him I talked to you.

Rusk

All right.

President Johnson

He’s over with Cy now.

Rusk

All right.

President Johnson

But I would, if I were you, I’d certainly get the three articles—Murrey Marder, Joe Kraft, Rowland Evans.

Rusk

Right.

President Johnson

And I believe you ought to talk to Ball sometime in the next day or two. Tell him—don't tell him what's going on with Gromyko, but just tell him that you're exploring this thing and just say you're awfully disturbed that we’re going to get some criticism [from] the Republicans about Harriman commenting and about Harriman, in effect, writing the speech. You know, they’re putting it out now that Harriman wrote the second paragraph so that he could defend it.

Rusk

Yes, well, I think Cy ought to come clean with us in terms of exactly what happened.

President Johnson

You better—[Rusk attempts to interject] I think you better just be a prosecuting attorney when you sit down with him and say, “Now, I'm secretary of state here and I’ve stayed religiously out of politics, and what I've said to one I’ve said to the other, but I’m very concerned that when [Everett M.] Dirksen’s coming in and demanding he see Johnson this morning, I've just got to know, when did Ball come in?[note 12] Everett M. Dirksen was a U.S. senator [R-Illinois] from January 1951 to September 1969, and Senate minority leader from January 1959 to September 1969. What did he say? Who talked to him?” He says he came over, he talked to Averell and he talked to him, he talked to him about his resignation, he asked for their advice. He said that he just couldn't stand this other—well, I don't think he said he asked for advice, he counseled with them, I think is the way he put it. [Rusk acknowledges throughout.] Then I said, “Well, did he discuss this speech with you?” He didn't say he did on the trip. No, I said, “Who does—was this speech discussed with you?” And he hesitated, and he flushed, and he just didn't know what to say. He had to make up his mind whether he was going to lie or not. He decided, of course, he wouldn't. So he came back and he said, “Yes, yes, yes, we knew about the speech.” I said, “Who discussed it with you?” He said, “I don't remember now.”

Rusk

Ha!

President Johnson

I said, “Now, Cy, an important speech like that and you’re telling me you don't remember?” I just kind of laughed at him. “You kidding?” He said, “Well, George Ball.” [Rusk laughs.] But that's pathetic.

Rusk

Yeah.

President Johnson

But I think you’d better go over that with him and then I think you’d better furthermore say there are two things—that we’d better tighten up our operation, that you’re in charge of at State. One is our relations with the press showing a division between them and us, that's number one. Number two, if they’re going to be talking to any of these people, just please refer the Balls to the State Department. [Rusk acknowledges throughout.] And just anybody else. Nixon, or Humphrey, or Ball or, I don't know, Ellsworth. I guess if Ball can do it for Humphrey, Ellsworth has the right to do it for Nixon, hasn’t he?

Rusk

Sure. Well, I'll call you again as soon as I know when my appointment with Gromyko is.

President Johnson

Thank you.

Rusk

But I’m going in—

President Johnson

All right. But you talk to Cy.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Dean Rusk on 3 October 1968,” Conversation WH6810-02-13512-13513, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Chasing Shadows, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006063