7. Summary Notes of the 555th Meeting of the National Security Council1
Peace Offensive Regarding Vietnam
The Vice President: reported on a recent trip, to Japan, Korea, Formosa, and the Philippines.2 (Copies of the Vice Presidentʼs memoranda are attached.)3 He said the theme of his report was expressed in a sentence in Philippine President Marcosʼ speech: “Those who fight for liberty fight for us.” This sentence describes the attitude of the four countries visited.
There is recognition by Asian leaders that Asians must do much more about their own problems in the Asian area.
The Japanese are elated over our peace offensive and are supporting it by talking to the Russians.
The Philippinos are prepared to commit additional forces in Vietnam but they welcome the peace offensive.
In Taiwan, skepticism was expressed about the peace offensive. They believe the enemy is Communist China more than North Vietnam.
In Korea, the attitude toward the war is the best of the four countries. If the Koreans are asked to send more troops to Vietnam, they will want [Page 20] assurances covering their security. They doubt that the peace offensive will affect morale. Negotiations do not affect the commitment to South Vietnam.
In general, the peace offensive is supported, but doubts are expressed that it would produce any results.
Ambassador Goldberg reported on his conversations with UN Secretary General U Thant, the Pope, Italian leaders, De Gaulle, and Prime Minister Wilson.
- UN Secretary General U Thant said the peace offensive would test whether Hanoi was dominated by Communist China.
- The Pope accepted our sincerity, said he believed we were sincere in seeking peace, adding that he would do everything he could to work for a settlement.
- Italian leaders favored the bombing lull. They believed our action had been helpful to the Moro government.
- De Gaulle was polite but expressed his lack of confidence in the peace offensive. For him, the only course of action is U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam. Foreign Minister Couve took a slightly different position, arguing that the National Liberation Front should be part of a coalition government before negotiations could be undertaken.
- Prime Minister Wilson spoke of a new British initiative as ICC co-chairman. He asked that the peace offensive be prolonged long enough for the Soviets to react on the basis of Shelepinʼs visit.
USIA Director Marks summarized world press reaction to the peace offensive. The USIA summary is attached.4
In general, the peace initiative is welcomed but doubts are expressed that it will produce results. Some writers think the peace offensive is merely a prelude to further military action.
The Japanese press is not helpful despite the favorable view of its government. In Latin America, the press gives unreserved support. In the Middle East, press reaction is mixed.
Secretary Rusk summarized the scope of the peace offensive.
Of the 113 countries which have been contacted since the offensive was launched December 28, 70 have responded. Of these, 57 countries have responded favorably, six countries received our representations without comment, two countries (Thailand and South Korea) have indicated they think the U.S. suspension of bombing is a mistake. The South Vietnamese are noncommittal, having stated no objection so far.[Page 21]
Special emissaries have been sent to 34 foreign governments. (Further details are contained in a State Department memorandum attached.)5
The reaction from the other side is not what it was last May when Hanoi rejected our note,6 Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko said the note was insulting, and the press from the first day said the pause would not lead to negotiations. This time, none of these things happened.
Twenty-five secondary demarches are under way. The Yugoslavs tell us that Hanoi is under great pressure.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation in Southeast Asia began in Vienna with President Kennedy. A serious effort is being made to find a solution and it is generally believed that if this fails, our full military effort in South Vietnam will be renewed. However, if we resume the bombing, we will lose the support of almost all those who now support us. Mr. Shelepin leaves tomorrow but we do not know how long he will stay.
On the political side, we have had a plus for the last ten days, but the situation in South Vietnam has not improved.
Our position will erode here if we wait much longer to resume the bombing but abroad we will lose support if we resume.
Secretary Rusk said he wished to discuss privately with the President on the next moves.7
Secretary McNamara said the problem of timing the resumption of the bombing was serious. The American people looked at the situation soberly. The Administration is speaking with one voice. It is very helpful that divergent views are not being publicized.
The President: We are in a difficult position but it is a much better position than if we had not responded to the urging that we hold off bombing to see whether this would lead to peace. We have made the record clear. We can return to the earlier situation if the pause does not work. We have a better basis to call on the U.S. people not only for their sons, but also their treasure. Americans feel better if they know we have gone the last mile even if we have had grave doubts about doing so. The basis for a supplemental budget to pay the increased costs of the war has [Page 22] been laid. Secretary Rusk and Ambassador Goldberg will pursue whatever leads they may get.
We donʼt intend to become weaker in Southeast Asia. We are following a course to unite our people and make possible a follow through. The diplomatic offensive boils down to saying that we are ready to reason this out. One poll shows that 73 percent of the American people wanted us to increase our diplomatic efforts. In the last twelve months, 200 conferences have been held by Secretary Rusk in an attempt to get negotiations going. But his efforts are not known publicly. Tonight, more people in the U.S. and the world think we want peace than thought so two weeks ago. This is an asset.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings File. Top Secret; Sensitive; For the President Only. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room.↩
- Humphrey returned to Washington on January 3 from a 5-day tour.↩
- Attached but not printed.↩
- Attached but not printed.↩
- Attached but not printed.↩
- For text of the note, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. II, pp. 637–638.↩
- The President met in his office at 6:45 p.m. on January 5 with Rusk, Humphrey, McNamara, Ball, McGeorge Bundy, Valenti, and Goldberg to discuss two possible moves: 1) taking the issue to the United Nations, and 2) calling a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom, Soviet Union, DRV, GVN, and Communist China. Ball proposed the second alternative in a January 5 memorandum to the President. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—McGeorge Bundy, vol. 18) Valentiʼs brief notes of the meeting are ibid., Presidentʼs Appointment File.↩