Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

November 15, 1968


THE PRESIDENT. [1.] I think most of you know Secretary Murphy.1 Secretary Murphy has been designated by President-elect Nixon to work here with us as his liaison and observer with the Secretary of State.

1 Robert D. Murphy, former Under Secretary of State.

In the Secretary of State's absence, at the NATO meeting this week, I asked Secretary Murphy to come down and he has met with Secretary Katzenbach earlier this morning and with Mr. Rostow.2 We have just had a pleasant exchange here.

2 Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, Under Secretary of State, and Walt W. Rostow, Special Assistant to the President.

We think it is very fortunate for the country that Mr. Nixon would designate Mr. Murphy and that Mr. Murphy could agree to serve, because after three or four decades of brilliant and distinguished service in the Government, Mr. Murphy continues to serve. I believe he has served three Presidents now, as a member of the President's highest intelligence board.

He meets from time to time with the President and makes recommendations, suggestions, and observations, and gives me counsel.

So Secretary Rusk and Secretary Clifford3 and I assured the President-elect that we felt first he should designate the Secretaries of State and Defense at as early a date as possible and, until they could be selected, we would like to have some liaison or observer to follow the developments of the day and we could have timely consultation on matters that would concern our Nation, and certainly the new President, after he is inaugurated on January 20th.

3 Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, and Clark M. Clifford, Secretary of Defense.

Mr. Murphy will be here about 3 days a week. He will have an office at the State Department. I will be available to him at any time he desires to talk to me. We will be glad to have him follow carefully all of the 700 or 800 cables that go out every day and we hope, in that way, that his spending some time with the President-elect and his people will effect an orderly transition that will be in the best interests of the whole country. Do you have anything else to say?

MR. MURPHY. I am delighted to be here. The admiration I have for you and for Mr. Nixon makes this very short, temporary helping-out process so much more pleasant and desirable from my point of view.

Any little thing I can contribute I will be just delighted.



[2.] Q. Mr. President, yesterday Mr. Nixon described his part of the understanding about the foreign policy matters between now and the 20th of January, speaking of the need for prior consultation and agreement on important matters of state.

Could you tell us how you understand this process will work for these next few weeks?

THE PRESIDENT. I think Mr. Nixon stated that--his language, I think, was--[quoting reporter's question and Mr. Nixon's reply] "Would you clarify on the need for agreement on the course of action? Are you saying the President will not take a course of action unless you have approved of it?" Mr. Nixon said, "We did not discuss it that precisely."

Now, what we discussed, and all that we discussed in the meeting Monday with the Secretaries present: Both Secretaries asked that their successors be designated as early as possible, as did Mr. Rostow, so that the three people who would replace them could have a background of knowledge and information so that when the new President was called upon to suddenly make judgments after he became President he would have that background to do so.

Mr. Nixon entertained the thought of selecting a liaison or observer at that time because he said he had not made up his mind who his Secretaries would be. So, it would have to be someone in the interim. As Mr. Nixon said, on the question of the President taking a course of action unless it was approved, "We did not discuss that precisely."

We just discussed selecting an observer to have timely consultations with. We think that has been handled rather well, as far as Mr. Murphy is concerned. He will be here part of the week and be up there part of the week. We would hope that we could have an orderly transition.

Of course, the decisions that will be made between now and January 20th will be made by this President and by this Secretary of State and by this Secretary of Defense.

Mr. Murphy, not being Secretary, not having been confirmed by the Senate, will be there as an observer and will be following these decisions very closely in order to keep the new administration informed and prepare it for its obligations beginning January 20th.

Q. Mr. President, does that mean that prior consultations therefore do not involve or imply Mr. Nixon's agreement about any steps that might be taken?

THE PRESIDENT. That means that Mr. Nixon and I agreed that it will be desirable for him to have an observer, and he will have an observer, but I will make whatever decisions the President of the United States is called upon to make between now and January 20th.

Now, to give you an example of what I think may confuse some of you--and I know you don't want to be confused--but what might confuse you is, Secretary Rusk was present and said to Mr. Nixon, about this statement: "This might be well for you to say if you agreed to it." It did not involve a decision between now and January 20th. It involved a statement of policy by the new administration after January 20th. That was in his statement.4 It said:

4A statement to be read by Secretary Rusk at the NATO ministerial meeting at Brussels.

"I have discussed NATO in general terms with the President-elect. Those of you who have read the statement on the subject and have talked to Governor Scranton5 on the latter's recent visit to Europe will have no anxiety about Mr. Nixon's firm commitment to NATO and to the collective security of the NATO area. We can anticipate that President Nixon will make clear the approach of his administration to NATO matters at an early date.

5 William W. Scranton, former Governor of Pennsylvania.

"He joins with the present administration in extending the invitation to you to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of NATO in Washington in the spring of 1969."

The Secretary said two things. First, designate a liaison man and, second, here is a matter I would like to include: quoting you inviting them here and saying that a change in administration does not mean a change in NATO policy. That was not only speaking for this President, but speaking for the next President beyond January 20th.

So, I think that was referred to yesterday. The matter that the policy of the Government is and will be as stated, I think, by Mr. Nixon here Monday evening, and I quote: "I gave assurance in each instance to the Secretary of State, and, of course, to the President, that they could speak not just for this administration but for the Nation, and that meant for the next administration as well."6

6 See Item 585.

Now, I hope that after January 20th, Mr. Nixon can speak not only for his administration, but he can in good conscience, for all the American people, and I will work to that end. That is what Mr. Murphy is here to try and bring about.

I think it is very much in the interest of all of us that we submerge any party differences and that we forget that we are Democrats and Republicans in this field and that we try to do what is best for our country.

Now, until January 20th, I will be doing that.

After January 20th, I will try to do anything I can to make Mr. Nixon's burdens easier.


[3.] Q. Mr. President, are you concerned about possible harassment about West Berlin in the next few days?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think I will go into that now.


[4.] Q. Do you have any further dates set for meeting with Mr. Nixon?

THE PRESIDENT. No. But I am sure that we will be exchanging viewpoints. Mr. Murphy will be observing the developments in the State Department and I assume there will be others.

Of course, I will be available to the President-elect any time on the whole field. I assume our Budget Directors will want to be talking as soon as they can, our Secretaries of Defense will want to be talking as soon as they can.

Mr. Nixon has the problem of making a good many judgments on personnel. We have set up arrangements for quick clearance of those people through the security channel. I and all of my staff will be available to them any time that we can be helpful in any way.


[5.] Q. Mr. President, one of the immediate problems in foreign affairs is the peace talks in Paris, the expanded talks. Do you have any encouraging news from Saigon?

THE PRESIDENT. I think I should say that we are doing all we can to bring about substantive discussions in Paris that would include the Government of Vietnam at as early a date as possible. We are going to continue to do what we can to that end.

Q. On that subject, Mr. President, there were reports from Saigon that President Thieu7 is, as they said, "edging toward an agreement with the United States" to participate in the talks in return for certain conditions such as no coalition government. Would you care to comment on that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think ought to be speculating or anticipating on some reporter's phrase that somebody may be "edging" toward something. I saw a couple of my own plans in the paper the other morning that I didn't recognize at all and didn't know anything about.

7President Nguyen Van Thieu of the Republic of Vietnam.

So, that may also be true of some other presidents. Let's see how those things develop and we will do everything we can to bring about substantive discussions at as early a date as possible with the Government of Vietnam present in Paris.

Q. Mr. President, do you see any progress in that pursuit?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't want to be running a thermometer temperature. We are working at it and we are going to do everything that we can. We will keep you informed when we have any new developments.


[6.] Q. Mr. President, have you decided whether to call Congress back to consider the treaty [Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons], or have you decided not to?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have not made that decision.


[7.] Q. Mr. President, may I repeat a question? Do you have any travel plans?



[8.] Q. Mr. President, on the budget, have you worked on any arrangement yet with Mr. Nixon for a budget liaison or observer?

THE PRESIDENT. We have suggested that when it is possible for Mr. Nixon to make that judgment we would welcome an exchange with the designated individual. We would be very glad for him to sit in as an observer and follow developments.



[9.] Q. Mr. President, do you agree with Secretary Clifford's statement the other day that if Saigon continues to boycott the talks that we could go ahead and discuss certain military matters with Hanoi on our own?

THE PRESIDENT. I think what I have just said gives you my viewpoint of where we are now and what we should, all of us, be trying to do now, that is, bring about substantive talks in Paris with the Government of Vietnam present at as early a date as possible.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Johnson's one hundred and thirty-third news conference was held in his office at the White House, at 11:26 a.m. on Friday, November 15, 1968. As printed above, this item follows the text of the Official White House Transcript.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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