Monday, July 29, 1968 - 8:00pm - 9:00pm
Lyndon Johnson, Clark Clifford, Dean Rusk, Tom Johnson
Cabinet Room


Editorial Note: Lengthy extracts from an earlier transcript of this recording were published in FRUS, vol. 17, item 75 (extract). The version below has been revised by the PRP and includes the segments omitted from the FRUS version.

Clark Clifford: We’ve got to look at it too in the possibility of there being some serious dangers inherent in it. One quick reaction I would have would be that if by chance Czechoslovakia is still a pending problem, I don’t believe I’d go near [Aleksey] Kosygin during the time that Czechoslovakia’s still hot. I don’t—I mean, you could get caught up in that and then I’d . . . I’m just afraid that it would be difficult for you to extricate yourself. I—you could have a talk with Kosygin, and the day you talk with him, Soviet troops could move on Czechoslovakia, or the day after you left, troops could move in Czechoslovakia, and it would be—they’d be tied together in some way. Whether that would suit Kosygin’s attitude or not, I don’t know. I think that we have to be careful about the reasons why the President was seeing Kosygin at this time. Is it because the President has a new plan that he is taking to Kosygin vis-à-vis Vietnam? Does it have something new he wants to take to him? Is it because the President’s concerned about, in the Middle East, some development there? Is he concerned about NATO?1 As you know, there’s so much cooking right now.

As far as starting off with Kosygin on the discussion of strategic limitation and ultimate reduction [of nuclear weapons], I don’t know. Right at this time, Mr. President, I wonder whether or not that’s advisable. These are going to be long, difficult, exceedingly complex negotiations. Whether the President and Kosygin can do anything much at the very beginning of it, I don’t know. I think that a general approach would be, well . . . I just wonder what they can do about it. And I think we have to be careful the time that we—the President selects to see Kosygin. I would hope that there’d be time when we didn’t have a situation quite as inflammable as it is. I’m thinking of the Czechoslovakian problem. I think that’s a terribly difficult problem. I’m—I know we can’t get in it. I feel some concern that we can. Czechoslovakia is supposedly a free country, and they could be under the heel just like Hungary was. I don’t know, for instance, whether somebody might decide to bring this up in the Security Council of the U.N., Czechoslovakia. Maybe some member of the Security Council could decide to bring it up. That would tend to exacerbate it. 

So a second point I’m making is to sound a note of basic caution about going to see Kosygin right at this time. I think it must be launched with great care. 

Third point, I have . . . after Dean left Saturday afternoon I just noted down thoughts that I had, just in my own handwriting. I’ve not given it even to the girl. The third point I’d like to make has to do with the [Democratic] Convention. I think we all remember when President [Harry] Truman went out—perhaps it was in ’52—and it was, I thought, really quite an unfortunate decision on his part to go and be in a room there, and every candidate and his supporters and managers and all could seek him out and . . . I thought it was unwise for him to do that. As I would think again it would be unwise for the President. However, there’s . . . as I’ve thought about it since our talk when we were all together last—I guess it was Wednesday, Wednesday of last week—it could be that after the candidate has been nominated, an invitation might come to the President merely to come to Chicago and make a speech. And it might be awfully difficult for the President to turn that invitation down. The fact is, the President might want to do it. Now, the President’s done a great deal for the [Democratic] Party, a great deal for the country. On the other hand, you know how parties feel: They feel that, well, the party’s done a good deal for the President too. And if the nominee were, let’s say, [Hubert] Humphrey, and the President were invited the next day to come make an address to his party, I should—as Dean says, after being a congressman, a senator, a vice president, president and all, you might feel that there were a number of factors that indicated that you should do it. 

Dean Rusk: Suppose the nominee were not Humphrey, but [unclear]—

Clifford: If the nominee were not Humphrey, I have a way, I think, of getting around that, which I’d like now to suggest to you. Rather than make an agreement, or plans, to go see Kosygin at the time of the convention, I believe that when the Republican Convention is concluded—it starts on about the 5th of August. That’s a Monday, and it takes 5th, 6th, 7th, or something like that. When that week is over and they’ve had the convention and then everybody’s had a chance to talk about the convention and all, I would say the following Monday—somewhere in there, the following Monday or Tuesday—the President, I believe, could well consider issuing a statement that in accordance with the expressions contained in his March 31 speech in which he indicated that he was not going to run again, that he was going to devote himself to the interests of the presidency and all, I think the President could announce—that’s some two weeks before the Democratic Convention—that he is not going to attend the convention.2 I think that has some value. I think it answers people’s questions. It’s now not so much in their mind, because they’re looking at the Republican Convention, but as soon as the Republican Convention is over, the questions [are] going to start. You’re going to get questions. George [Christian] is.3 We all are: “How about the President? Is he going?” and so forth. I believe you can nip that right in the bud. Monday after the Republican Convention’s over, a good, well-prepared statement, eye-level, dignified, engrossed in problems confronting the presidency. You’ve removed yourself from politics, so forth. You do not plan on, will not attend the Democratic Convention. And that protects you. Now, if it should be [Eugene] McCarthy, why, then you’ve already said you’re not going to attend the Democratic Convention.4 If it should turn out to be Humphrey, under conditions that you believe that you would want to appear there, you can always answer an invitation after the nomination has taken place and go out and make a speech at the convention, in my opinion. I do not think that would be inconsistent. But such a statement, I think, would protect you a lot, protect you against McCarthy. It gets you completely away, and everybody forgets about you then, which I—in connection with the convention—which I think is what they should do. 

I would have, again, I say, the deepest concern of tying the convention up with Kosygin. I think the timing would could prove to be just wrong. I’d like the situation to quiet down in Czechoslovakia. I think to see him while this is hot is—could really be very unfortunate, and it places the President in a posture where to some extent he’s the victim of circumstances over which he has no control. Some development could blow up there. 

There’s another little element there: we don’t know when the North Vietnamese are going to launch their next series of attacks. If they chose to, and the President saw Kosygin in early August or sometime through that period there, or some time in August, that could be . . . might be the time that they choose to launch attacks. I don’t know. I think if I were they I’d maybe be on the lookout for some situation of that kind. They would get some notice in advance. There always has to be some word in advance to the American public and to the press generally that such a meeting is to be held. There has to be some advance announcement. There, again, is an opportunity for embarrassment to the President. If this—this is very prominent in my mind as I look ahead. I—at this time, Mr. President, with the condition existing in Czechoslovakia, with existing—in Vietnam we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop over there, I can see more danger in a visit with Kosygin at this time than I can see benefit. 

Now, I think there will come a time when the President can see Kosygin. Right now it just seems to me that it’s tempting fate too severely. 

President Johnson: What time do you see that it could come?

Clifford: Well, one, I think that there’ll be a resolution of the problem of Czechoslovakia. These things don’t go on indefinitely. The President is still President. Let’s see—August, September, October, November, December—you’re still President for six months, until the 20th of January. That’s almost six months off. I don’t know, it could be in a week.

President Johnson: You would think that you, probably be all right to have meetings in November or December?

Clifford: Wouldn’t bother me a bit. Wouldn’t bother me a bit. You’re going right on being President. And you’re not bothering with politics. The fact that there’s some new man or some other thing, that doesn’t, that wouldn’t bother me a particle. But I think in maybe a week, could be a week, Czechoslovakia will would be resolved one way or another. Could be two weeks. Could take three weeks. But I think it’s going to be resolved. This thing has gotten so acute now and so inflammatory that I think they’re going to lance this abscess one way or the other. Then I think it’ll be out of the way. 

Now, I think that we all learn during the month of August whether there’s going to be another series of attacks from the enemy in Vietnam. Maybe it will come, maybe it won’t. Then I think we get that out of the way so that that doesn’t get too involved in it. 

It doesn’t—it wouldn’t disturb me at all if the talks on nuclear—on strategic weapon control were to start at some other level. It’s going to go on for some time. I don’t know that it has too much significance to being . . . having it started by Kosygin and the President, and I’m not even sure that it’s particularly valuable to just confine it to that at the start. I think that the President when he goes to see . . . arranges to see Kosygin under proper circumstances and if Kosygin’s comfortable, I would hope the two of you would be able to sit down and cover the entire mosaic of our problems. An announcement could be made ahead of time to that effect. And something after it could come out. 

Right now, I believe, if I were Kosygin with this real nosebleed on my hands with Czechoslovakia, I think almost the last person I’d want to see right now would be President Johnson. 

President Johnson:  Yes, I think that there’s something to that. I don’t—I’m not necessarily trying to help him, though. 

Rusk: Well, Mr. President, may I just comment very briefly?

President Johnson: I agree. Let me comment [unclear]—

Rusk: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: —about Clark’s thing. I think that there’s no reason why we have to act until the Czechoslovakia situation is a little clearer, as I indicated. That’s number one. I don’t—if it’s two weeks, that’s another matter. I would expect maybe it wouldn’t be that long. I don’t know. I can’t tell [unclear]. But that’s what I—I don’t think it’s essential. We don’t say that, I don’t think, that the President and Kosygin sit down together. We have, though, for four years urged this step upon them, and we finally got them to agree now that there’ll be a meeting within a month or a month and a half.5 I would like to forthrightly respond to that and accept it and give him my views of what ought to happen. And I think it’s—there may be some [unclear] in the four days of the convention or wait until it’s over with, I don’t care. And it may be that he won’t want to start at this level; I rather think he wouldn’t. Although I would like to cover . . . I think that would be with [unclear] it would . . . If you want to modify that part of it, if that is—he might say or at the foreign minister level. One or the other of us ought to start it off and . . .

So I’m willing to rewrite the letter and use his phrase, not ours. 

Rusk: “Month to month and a half.” 

President Johnson: Yeah. And I’m willing to also add, “If this doesn’t suit you, I would be glad for the foreign ministers to start it off.” Now, we do think it’s of sufficient importance. The very first proposal we made to the Soviet Union, we insisted on time and date and place and subject. And there is so much that is pending that needs the attention of both countries. And what I’m terribly afraid of is, I’m afraid by our sitting with our hands in our pockets and just merrily, merrily going along, just reacting to all of their initiatives and their propaganda and their party line that we just finally catch ourselves signing on, which we’ve been doing most of the time. And I think we’re likely to be doing it again. I think we’ll be having a Council meeting here in a week or so and everybody will [unclear] be pretty willing in general, well, we ought to cut out something else we’re doing in deference to these folks. That’s what I’m fearful of. 

Rusk:  Well, I agree with Clark, and I think you do too, about the possible connection between this Czechoslovakian business and the . . . 

President Johnson: Yeah. 

Rusk: I think, myself, that chances are—

President Johnson: Well, we wouldn’t have waited today if we hadn’t agreed on that. [Unclear.]

Rusk: That’s right. That’s right. I think we’re likely to see here some sort of answer on the Czech business before then.

President Johnson: I think so.

Rusk: We did put in this draft: “If the general situation permits.” That’s a phrase that’d cover the Czech business in our minds, that if things really are going to start in Czechoslovakia, we’d just ourselves pull back even if Kosygin accepted this.

President Johnson: That is what that was intended to do. But I don’t think that we need to even dispatch the letter until we see a little clearer than we do now.

Rusk: That’s right.

President Johnson: And I said that last weekend. And I didn’t ask for this meeting today. I mean, you suggested—

Rusk: No, I asked for it. Now, on the—

President Johnson: [Unclear.]

Rusk: On the [unclear] what such a meeting would be about, I think that we could make it pretty clear that it is about offensive and defensive missiles. That is a question which everybody knows the President’s worked on very hard and worked on it personally. And he tried very hard at Glassboro to get these talks started.6 He’s also worked hard on the nonproliferation treaty, which has in it an obligation on the part of the nuclear powers to get going and negotiate in good faith about elimination of the arms race. So from that point of view, it seems to me that it would militate in favor of the President’s launching these discussions.7 

There’s another factor and that is that—and Clark, you may not like this one particularly—I think if the President initiated the discussions, this would be a sign to what General [Dwight] Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex” that, goddamn it, getting an agreement to limit offensive and defensive missiles is the national policy of the United States.8 We want people to think about how you do it and not think about how you’ll avoid doing it. Looking ahead, you only need look at these tens of billions that are going down this rat hole if we don’t find an answer to this, you see. 

So there’s an internal commitment involving the President [unclear]. Now, the danger—there is danger when the court of last resort gets into session, and Kosygin could turn up there with demands on Berlin or something. After all, [Nikita] Khrushchev did drop the Berlin crisis in President [John F.] Kennedy’s lap when they met in Vienna.9 This did not happen in Glassboro, partly because Kosygin was over here at the United Nations on a Middle East for—frying some fish of his own at that time. And therefore, this was not ramped up. There’s a little danger. I think it is not as great now as it might have been earlier, whether that that would happen. So this is why—subject to Czechoslovakia—I, myself, come down on the balanced judgment that it—there would be real merit in the two meeting if it could be done under the appropriate circumstances.

Clifford: I find no—I find no disagreement with that, Dean. I think that President Kennedy’s meeting in Vienna with Khrushchev was a calamity.

Rusk: It was.

Clifford: Boy, it was a real zero from President Kennedy’s standpoint. Now, I think conditions have changed. I think that the Soviets have shown an inclination to find some basis of cooperation with us. That very interesting sentence in the last letter of Kosygin that we will both find as we get into this that a savings can be effected, a very substantial [unclear].10

Rusk: I think there’s some advantage in the President’s having a chance to talk with him quite informally and without —pretending that that is the main subject—about Vietnam and about the Middle East [unclear].

Clifford: I would have no difficulty with that.

President Johnson: You know, originally I thought we ought to say that. I took it out.

Rusk: Yes.

President Johnson: “This is not the only subject.”

Rusk: This refers now to “it will also give us a chance to discuss quietly and informally some of the problems or tensions to which you referred in your conclusion.”11

President: That just polished up the very blunt three matters they wanted to talk [unclear]. That also left us a getting-out place, even on Czechoslovakia or any other developments after it was set.12 

And I don’t think that—I don’t think I would want to specify that I would not want to attend a meeting. I don’t see that this would do the damage to the Democratic Party that Clark does. I have a different viewpoint. I think it’s the best thing we could do for the Democratic Party, whoever is nominated at that time. I don’t think we necessarily need to go at that specific moment, but I think that most of them would be pretty glad that we were having a meeting. And I would just leave it more in his hands on the month to month-and-a-half basis.

Rusk: All right.

President: But I think we could do that after you see what . . . 

Clifford: I would agree, too, that it would be of great benefit to the Democratic Party, if it didn’t take place on those very days that they were having their convention.

President: Well, their convention is going to have all the television every hour. And this meeting is not going to be taking much of it. And I would doubt that he would set the meeting. I would just leave it, say, “Anytime in the month to month and half you mentioned , it would be agreeable with us.”13 I’d be pretty agreeable to hear suggestions.

Rusk: All right.

Clifford: Does he have in mind that the President would like to start it off personally with Kosygin? Because he said nothing about that in his last reply. 

President Johnson: No, [unclear]. 

Clifford: And the President, I think, says nothing about that in this cable, does he?

President: Yes.

Rusk: Yes.

Clifford: Oh, he does? Oh, I see. I didn’t notice it. 

Rusk: Yeah.

President Johnson: And he understood at Glassboro that we were pressing on this very hard. A little history would help us. Khrushchev wrote me in December ’63 a rather broad, long letter.14 And we responded January 16, ’64, in which we discussed the perils of armament in the world, and the two powers poised at each other, and how much it would cost us, and what a—how much good could be done if we could only approach this problem of disarmament, and particularly if we could have some agreement that would bring about a nonproliferation treaty.15 That was number one on the list, and we listed a series of reductions in our armed strength and in our future investments in armaments. And we stuck it right up to him, and said that we very much want to do this. And then we followed that with a series of specific moves where we reduced our atomic reactors and asked him to do likewise, and he held off to the last moment until ours were announced. I was actually at the microphone speaking when he notified us that he would issue an announcement at the same time. We suggested 2:00 [p.m.] on Tuesday, and I started speaking at 1:45, and we hadn’t heard from him, and at about 1:55, why, they brought us a note that he was going to announce it at 2 [p.m.], right at the last minute. 

He [Khrushchev] went out.16 And our people, we pursued this up until we went in there with our bombing in ’65 and things kind of tapered off. At Glassboro it heated up again, very strong. And we took the initiative and just almost wrestled him to have a meeting, and said, “Anytime, anywhere. We’ll send our man to Moscow or we’ll meet in Geneva or we’ll come back to Glassboro. We’ll do anything, but this we must do.” We thought we got a tentative, implied acceptance then, and we thought it would be rather soon. 

He got back and subsequently came along and implied it again. What did he say in that language when we got back? We announced it the day Bobby Kennedy made a speech, and we didn’t call him up and find out whether he was going to speak the same day or not, so they charged us with bad motives. You remember it, though?

Rusk: Yes, I was [unclear] at the time [unclear].

President Johnson: There was some indication that they would meet with us again, but they never would set a date. So we had kept shoving ’em all during that period. Now, we’ve come along and he has said yes, a month or six weeks. Now, if we don’t talk or if we are hesitant to talk or if we want to just let it go through the regular channels of Bill Foster at Geneva, that’s one thing. That’s not my view. It hasn’t been for years. I’ve been—I think this is most important thing that we could ever do.

Rusk: Mr. President, I tried to get Kosygin to accept McNamara in Moscow the following Wednesday after Glassboro. [Unclear.] 

Clifford: “Can’t come then.”

Rusk: “Well then, name a date.” We pressed them very hard on this.

President Johnson: Now, it’s been a year. During that time he’s put off and put off during that year. During that time, I’ve had to go up with my budget, and I’ve had to put the ABM in the budget to stick it, to hold firm and not weaken with everybody wanting to shimmy a little bit.17 And then when it got up, a lot want to run away from it after it gets up there, as you observed with [Stuart] Symington and so forth, the fight that went on in the Senate. And now he’s still holding back one goddamn year and not doing anything. And finally when the Senate vote gets out of the way and it looks like we are going ahead, and we hold out the hand of peace here but the hand of strength here so we’re going to go on, we ought to do this—“we’d like to save this 50 billion [dollars] that the two of us are spending. Because you’ve—he’s just got no sense at all. We’ll go on. We’re not going to let you destroy us. We’re not going to let you be defended and us not defended.” Then he comes to us and says, “I’ll see you in a month or month and a half.” Now, that’s where we are. Then we say, “Well, we can’t do it because we’ve got a convention.” That doesn’t appeal to me. I’d go right back to him and say that “you suggested a month to a month and a half in Geneva. That is agreeable. And a month or a month and a half is agreeable. And we would suggest it on this level, and if you’re not satisfied, if you don’t want to do it on that level, well, then I’ll arrange for the foreign ministers to meet.”

Rusk: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: And then I’d let him say it. And if he picks August 25, I wouldn’t be worried. I don’t think he will, but I’m sure that we could so arrange the agenda that we could get our man nominated and the American people would have all the Democratic Convention they want. I think they will have. I think it will be the thing that’s uppermost. We’ve talked a lot with these folks. You’ve met with [Andrei] Gromyko a good many times. And I have met with Gromyko and with Kosygin, and it hasn’t turned the world upside down. We know that . . . just like Averell [Harriman] and [Cyrus] Vance meeting with them over there. 

What I’m really worried about is that they’re more in command of our forces than I am. That’s what really troubles me, these damned cables coming in like bats. Because I read this record and I see these pictures and I see [Jacob] Javits get up and I see [Thomas E.] Morgan get up and I see all of them come up and I see the New York Times editorial, and it just fits in to this whole damn [unclear].18 If I hadn’t been watching it for four or five years I wouldn’t be worried about it, but it’s just not accidental. And I don’t want to get hung on the rack. I just don’t want to get caught on it.

Rusk: All right, now you’ve got a [unclear].

President Johnson: I want to make it so firm and loud that I don’t want my people to serve that up to me and then [unclear] Goldberg [?] come along here and saying, “Well, as you know, I felt this way.”

Rusk: They can well concentrate on trying to get another private meeting, and get an answer from Hanoi. [Unclear.]

President Johnson: I think we’d better show them that it’s just a few speeches and pressures are not going to do it. They are beginning to think we’re jelly and we’ll do it, and . . . I don’t understand why he’d send this wire after we told him how we felt about it. [Pause.]

Rusk: The trouble is that negotiators habitually—

President Johnson: It’s not a negotiation. Hell, this is a—

Rusk: —get anxious, you know, to take the next step. That’s one of the problems about American negotiators: they’re always in a little bit more of a hurry than the other side. I think they also . . . maybe Averell [Harriman] is making some judgments about politics here at home.

President Johnson: A good deal—and it looks like a good deal of it out in Vietnam—the battle strategy too.

Rusk: Mr. President, on the longer range negotiations for this thing—and I’d just like to put the thought in the back of your mind—I think Clark and I would agree that the two key people from our respective departments might be [Harold] Brown—he’s very knowledgeable in this field—

Clifford: Harold.

Rusk: Harold Brown, and Butch Fisher representing ACDA [Arms Control and Disarmament Agency]. I think we also feel that there ought to be a principal negotiator on top of them. Maybe in the State [Department] or a man from the Defense Department would be the principal negotiator on disarmament. I think it would be a mistake—and the Pentagon would feel this even more strongly than I—for ACDA to be the number one fellow on this particular subject. 

Now, one possibility would be to bring Tommy Thompson out of Moscow for these talks in Geneva, let him be there for three or four weeks for the first round.19 Then we’re bound to close off the talks for a while and study each other’s position in more detail. Tommy is not doing a great deal in Moscow these days and he would be in a position to follow up. So he would be one possibility. Another possibility would be—that is after the foreign ministers’ review—it would go over his head—get through with it. Another possibility: Chip Bohlen. I think in terms of negotiations of this kind of thing Tommy Thompson would be, in some respects, a more competent negotiator, because he’s very familiar with all these matters, having worked with the Pentagon for years in that deputy job over in my shop. But I just wanted to mention that to you, because you may—other names may occur to you to head up the delegation. But we would suggest a head of delegation plus Brown and Fisher and then their respective staffs under them.

Clifford: We have to bring the Joint Chiefs along on this one. As you would know, they’d be very important, and our record must be absolutely clear. They feel the responsibility, of course, as we all do, of protecting the security of this country. They—I was telling Dean Saturday afternoon—they paw the air when Bill Foster’s name is mentioned. They think Bill is very soft and very fuzzy-headed. Now, Dean said, very correctly, “Well, anybody who’d be head of ACDA would be viewed in that light by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

President Johnson: I’ll be back. Just one second. Let me [unclear] just one second. [The President leaves the room.]

Rusk: My guess is that the Russians will [unclear] buy a foreign ministers [meeting] like a flash so the problem disappears, if we mention it. We’ll put that in the reply. [Unclear.]

Clifford: You mean the ACDA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff problem?

Rusk: No, I say if we go back to the Russians and say, “[Unclear] I have to see you myself, but if not the foreign ministers [unclear],” I think the Russians would buy the foreign ministers [meeting] like a shot.

Clifford: [whispering] I know. I don’t think Kosygin would see the President now in view of all of the difficulties. Because—

Rusk: Of course, I don’t think much of a meeting between the two after November with the President-elect in the wings. I think it ought to be before November or not at all. 

Clifford: I think so too. I think it ought to be before. But look at the problem the Russians have too, vis-à-vis Peking, with Kosygin and the President meeting, you know. They’re rather sensitive about this too. And of course, they’ll give it a hell of a lot of blast right now. Apparently, the President wants to start; however, the—does he? Does he want to start?

Rusk: Yeah.

Clifford: Then, what is this alternative about . . . ? What would the foreign ministers meet about? Just meet together to plan an agenda for the two?

Rusk: We’d meet to, well, to deal with [unclear], we would try to agree on some general principles. 

President Johnson has re-entered the room.

Rusk: And then we would make the proposal that we’re working on now. 

Clifford: Yes. 

Rusk: We’ll have it up to the President shortly after April—August 7, we hope.

Clifford: Just to finish this other point: If the President were to designate Bill Foster to be the chief negotiator, then I think that he would be [unclear] upon by [General Earle] Wheeler and the rest of the Joint Chiefs, and I think they’d say, “We can’t go along with that.”20 There’s no use taking on that kind of fight at the beginning, I think. I believe they’d feel better about Butch Fisher than they feel about Bill Foster. I think they feel that Butch is a little harder-nosed than Bill is. At the same time, if you were to suggest that Butch Fisher was to be the chief negotiator, I think that they’d be over here [laughs] within the hour saying, “Let us tell you why this must not be.” Wheeler felt so strongly about it he called and made an appointment with me. He came and talked to me about it. Told about all the experiences they’ve had with ACDA. And it’s one of those situations in which men get locked into a state of mind after a certain number of years. Now, whether there’s justification for it or not, I think, is beside the question. If it’s a state of mind, it’s one that we don’t have to take on. And [unclear]—

President Johnson: So it applies equally to Fisher?

Rusk: No. Not equally. Not equally to Fisher.

Clifford: It doesn’t apply to Fisher—

Rusk: Except as head of the delegation.

Clifford: Except as head of the delegation. I think that they’d take Fisher as the number-two man, along with Harold Brown, in whom they have quite a lot of confidence. And then if those—

President Johnson: Now, what is his feeling these days? I haven’t heard a word out of him in a year.

Clifford: Well, he’s just engrossed with a lot of Air Force problems. They’ve had a lot. They want all that, and then one thing and another like that; they’ve had a lot of problems. And he goes about his business. I’ve found him intelligent and cooperative, and I’ve come to like him. 

President Johnson: I thought he was one of the better men we had. I saw him on television two or three times on the bombing. Do you remember?

Rusk: No. 

President Johnson: It was quite effective. I’m sorry he just went into his shell about year ago. I haven’t heard a thing from him since. He was quite active for a while. I wondered if the appointment of under secretary kind of—the fact that [Paul] Nitze moved up from Navy instead of he—they were the two candidates—kind of chilled him a little, because he’s been very much out of the public eye, as far as I can tell. As a matter of fact, all of them are. They’re just in seclusion, kind of in waiting or hiding or something. [Unclear]—

Clifford: I did not know that. He has—I have not seen any evidence of it at all. I just think he’s had a lot of problems, and—

President Johnson: Does he make any appearances out in the country?

Clifford: I know he made a speech in Kansas City today, because he had to miss a meeting this morning. I have a big staff meeting every Monday morning with the Joint Chiefs, the service secretaries, and all the assistant secretaries of defense, and we go through everything—that is, that you can talk about. And he wasn’t there because he was making a speech in Kansas City. I saw him at a meeting late this afternoon. He was back and said the speech went well and was well received. I think I’ll ask him for a copy of the speech [unclear]—

President Johnson: I’d like to. He was one of the most articulate and effective men that I have seen: young, fresh—

Clifford: Yeah.

President Johnson: —moderate in his viewpoint, pretty firm. 

Rusk: I would—Wayne, they’re giving a reception for Wayne Hays [D-Ohio]. He’s the fellow that puts my legislation through the House, so I think I ought to drop by there for a few minutes.21 

President Johnson: I didn’t know you started going to these financial parties.

Rusk: [Unclear] isn’t—it’s not—

President Johnson: It’s a money-raising party. 

Rusk: I didn’t think it was money-raising. 

President Johnson: That’s what they told me. 

Rusk: I was told it was not. 

Clifford: Got a letter from Mendel Rivers [R-South Carolina] today, a very tart and formal letter, asking that Bob Anthony, the comptroller, and Nitze and I appear before the full membership of the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday morning, there to testify in detail on the manner in which we were going to cut $3 billion out of the defense budget.22 

President Johnson: [on telephone] Is this Hays party a fund-raising affair? How do you know it is? Read me the note. “Congressman Wayne Hays invites the President to attend a fund-raising reception, which is being held for him this evening at the Palladium Room of the Shoreham Hotel, 6:30 to 8 P.M.” Is that all it says? “Is the President interested in attending?”

[aside] Thank you.

A lot of those, the interesting thing [unclear]—

Rusk: [Unclear] omit the word “fund-raising” when they sent it to me. [Laughter.]

President Johnson: Well, that may just be [unclear name]’s assumption, may not be.

[on telephone] Check back and be positive if it’s fund-raising. Secretary Rusk is going, and he wants to know if whether he ought to take along his satchel or not. [Hangs up.] Laughter. 

Rusk: Wayne Hays is the funniest man in this world. He can blow his top and get so mad that he uses the worst language and is going to cut everybody’s throat, then two days later he’ll be as sweet as pie, working hard for your bills. 

President Johnson: He rather helps us too. 

Well, Clark, I had hoped we’d be able to get George [Mahon] to put more of this in his bill than he did.23 

Clifford: [Unclear] got into trouble, 50,000. He’s got 4.7 of [unclear].

President Johnson: I’m talking about the expenditures.

Clifford: And 1.8 on expenditures.

President Johnson: [1.]7, isn’t it?

Clifford: Maybe 1.7 on expenditures, so he’s—

President Johnson: He told me about two billion. [Clifford laughs] I think he figured it was down to 1.9—

Clifford: So he’s almost—well, he’s over half the way. Now, from here on, if George and his committee do it, they’re going to do a lot of damage to our defense structure, in my opinion. They’ve got pets and prejudices and they base it a lot on that. For instance, in this stupid goddamn letter from Rivers, he said, [reading] “We want to go over the planned cuts in order to see that there is general consideration being given to the impact on industry.” Well, what the hell’s that got to do with it? You see? But they’ve all got pets who contribute to them. Boy, is this rougher than a calm. If you decided our defense policy the way these fellow decide it, I want to tell you, we’re in a morass. 

So it suited me all right, for George to go to 1.7, and then leave it up to us, working with the services, to go the rest of the way. Now, this is unfortunate we’ve gotten caught in that little jam. We almost got by without it. If it hadn’t been for this other problem, why we’d have been all right. But what we’re going to have to do is just go up and in general say, “These decisions have not yet been made. We’re still considering them,” which is just as true as it can be. He’s gotten some wind too that, I think, that I’ve been seeing Mahon regularly, because he said, “We have received information that the House Appropriations Committee seems to have substantially more information than any other group in the House.” [Laughs.] Little bits and pieces like this he puts in. 

Tom Johnson: [Unclear] says his only authority is Wayne Hays, who said it was a fund-raiser today. 

President Johnson: All right, Dean, I commit you to your own tender mercy. [Unclear.]

Rusk: I better go backstage and have some rum. 

President Johnson laughs.

President Johnson: OK.

Rusk: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: Get me this cable we sent him.

Rusk: Yes, I will. 

President Johnson: I’m [unclear] getting another one. I don’t want to—

Rusk: Well, I thought I’d send him one tonight, anyhow, and I’ll get the one over to you [unclear].

The participants apparently leave the room. The sounds of dishware being cleared can be heard. 

  • 1. The acronym NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
  • 2. The Democratic Convention was scheduled for 26–29 August 1968 in Chicago.
  • 3. George Christian was the White House press secretary.
  • 4. Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-Minnesota) was running on an antiwar platform.
  • 5. In his letter of 25 July 1968, Kosygin had written: “We think that within one month or a month and a half the representatives of both our countries could start the exchange of opinions on this question” and had proposed Geneva as the venue.
  • 6. The Glassboro Summit between President Johnson and Aleksey Kosygin took place from 23–25 June 1967 at Glassboro State College in New Jersey.
  • 7. The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons had been opened for signature in Washington, Moscow, and London on 1 July 1968. Article VI said, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
  • 8. In his farewell address to the nation shortly before leaving office, President Eisenhower warned: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” “Farewell Radio and Television Address to the American People, 17 January 1961,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960–61 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1961), pp. 1035–40.
  • 9. Kennedy and Khrushchev had met in Vienna on 4 June 1961. In the course of that meeting, Khrushchev delivered an aide memoire to Kennedy effectively reviving his demand for a resolution to the ongoing disagreements about East Germany’s sovereignty and the status of West Berlin.
  • 10. In his letter, Kosygin had written, “It is also, we believe, far from being all the same for our countries that the reduction of the strategic armaments would lead to a great saving of money which is being spent now for these purposes.” “Letter from Chairman Kosygin to President Johnson,” 25 July 1968, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1964–1968: Arms Control and Disarmament, ed. Evans Gerakas, David S. Patterson, and Carolyn B. Yee, (Washington, DC: GPO, 1997), 11:652.
  • 11. The letter, as sent, did not include this language (see “Intelligence Memorandum,” 26 July 1968, FRUS: 1964–1968, 11:653–57). The FRUS editors noted that they were unable to find earlier drafts of this letter.
  • 12. The letter, as sent, said, “We share, of course, your understanding that it is essential for both of us to make every effort to create the most favorable climate for these talks. If problems arise in the general situation which complicate prospects for success, we can of course be in touch with each other.” “Intelligence Memorandum,” 26 July 1968, FRUS: 1964–1968, 11:653–57.
  • 13. As sent, Johnson’ letter to Kosygin read, “You indicate that a period of a month to a month and a half would provide a suitable interval for preparations. This time period of ‘a month to a month and a half’ is acceptable. . . . We will be glad to have your suggestions as to the exact dates and the level of representation.” “Letter from President Johnson to Chairman Kosygin,” 30 July 1968, FRUS: 1964–1968, 11:657–58.
  • 14. See Khrushchev to Johnson, 31 December 1963, U.S. Department of State Bulletin, 3 February 1964, pp.158–63.
  • 15. See Johnson to Khrushchev, 18 January 1964, U.S. Department of State Bulletin, 3 February 1964, pp.157–58.
  • 16. Khrushchev resigned, under pressure from the Presidium, in October 1964.
  • 17. The acronym ABM stands for antiballistic missile system.
  • 18. Jacob Javits (R-New York) was a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Thomas E. Morgan (D-Pennsylvania) was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
  • 19. Llewellyn Thompson was the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union.
  • 20. General Earle Wheeler was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • 21. Hays was a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
  • 22. Mendel Rivers was a Democratic representative from South Carolina and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
  • 23. George Mahon (D-Texas) was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Original tape courtesy of LBJ Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.