The President's News Conference in Guam Following the Conference
REPORT ON THE CONFERENCE
THE PRESIDENT. [1.] Ladies and gentlemen, at Mr. Christian's 1 request, I am here to summarize for you the developments of yesterday and today.
1 George E. Christian, Special Assistant to the President.
We have just completed our exchange of views. That is: Yesterday was devoted primarily to exchanges with the leaders of South Vietnam. Today Ambassador Lodge and General Westmoreland, as our specially delegated representatives there, went into their respective responsibilities with us.
General Westmoreland reported to us on the military developments in that country, evaluated them and analyzed them. He went into some detail on the training, both of our troops and our allies; the supplies, the health conditions, the casualties, the accidents-more or less the general condition of our troops and their problems.
Ambassador Lodge reviewed the nonmilitary matters.
He spent a good deal of the morning discussing the situation that we went into some detail on yesterday, and of which the leaders of South Vietnam are so very proud. That is the new Constitution that Premier Ky presented to me yesterday.
He reviewed the developments that led to that Constitution.
He went into some detail on the actual provisions of it--its strengths.
We discussed the elections that will follow in the aftermath of it--the hamlet and province elections that are coming up in the next few days and weeks; the presidential election that will come within 6 months; .and the legislative election that will follow.
In addition to that, while we went into these things at some length yesterday, we really targeted in on them this morning with our own people--for the benefit of Ambassador Bunker, who will be taking over there, we trust, in the next month, so that we could have a proper transition.
We went into some detail on land reform, what has been accomplished, what is in the works, what the problems are, what we can do to be helpful, the problems of civilian casualties, and the medical treatment they are receiving. Dr. Humphreys 2 reported at some detail in that field.
2 Maj. Gen. James W. Humphreys, Jr. See Item 235.
I will be glad to take any of your questions. I would sum up the whole conference by saying I think it has been a very constructive exchange. We have faced up to our problems frankly.
We have not made any momentous decisions of one kind or the other.
The problems we are working on have been with us all along, some of them being in much better shape than they were when we met last at Manila. Certainly great progress has been made since we first met at Honolulu.
The outstanding fact of the conference, I think, was Premier Ky's presentation to me yesterday of a Constitution that is really in being--the Constituent Assembly has already adopted it, and it is ready to be promulgated and will be 'promulgated shortly and the fact that local elections are on the way to being held, that presidential elections will follow in a matter of weeks. Then, too, the provisions of that Constitution.
I will be glad to take any questions. Then I will ask Ambassador Lodge and Ambassador Bunker to make any report they may care to make. They will be available for questions.
PROGNOSIS ON VIETNAM
[2.] Q. Mr. President, after having had the advice and counsel of not only the Vietnamese, but your own people out there, could you now give us your up-to-date prognosis of the war, and particularly your prognosis of peace efforts?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I don't think they have changed any from what I have given you before.
I think we have a difficult, serious, long, drawn-out, agonizing problem that we do not yet have the answer for. We think that our military situation is considerably strengthened.
We think that the action the Constituent Assembly has taken, and the elections that are to follow in the wake of the Constitution, will be very helpful. But they are not the answer to our problem. It is going to take a lot of extra effort and a good deal more time.
I am unable to predict just how long or the extent of that effort, except to say that our Ambassador, who is in direct charge of our civilian activities, is highly pleased with the progress made. And General Westmoreland gave a very good report.
ENEMY SANCTUARIES IN' CAMBODIA AND LAOS
[3.] Q. Mr. President, do you see anything that can be done about what Premier Ky calls "enemy sanctuaries" in Cambodia and Laos?
THE PRESIDENT. We are concerned with all of the matters that the Premier outlined in his prepared statement yesterday. We have been throughout the period that we have been there. We are handling those matters as best we know how.
We can understand the Premier's deep concern, because it is his people who are suffering the depredations that come from some of these problems that he mentioned. We are going to try to keep them uppermost in mind and do everything that we properly can about them.
MILITARY DECISIONS AT THE CONFERENCE
[4.] Q. Mr. President, sir, although the emphasis of the conference was on pacification, were any decisions taken that will result in an intensification of the Vietnamese war?
THE PRESIDENT. There were no military decisions taken of any nature. That was not the purpose of it, as we have tried to explain, Mr. Roberts,3 time and time again.
3 Charles W. Roberts of Newsweek.
We have a new team going in there on the civilian side. There will be some additions on the military side due to changes of duty, but General Westmoreland will continue to head that up, and his top people will continue to be there.
Ambassador Lodge, as we have understood for some time, will be coming out of there and returning to Washington to help me there, and Ambassador Bunker will be going out. We wanted to try to have as smooth a transition as we could.
The Vietnamese leaders wanted to report to us on their views of what had taken place in their government, the Constitution, the details of it.
I wanted Ambassador Bunker to get the benefit of that. Generally, those were the subjects that were discussed. We did talk about the health, the welfare, the conditions, the supplies, the ammunition, the planes, the helicopters--things of that nature. But we took no decisions of a military nature, and we did not contemplate taking any.
As Premier Ky said yesterday, he was concerned about the infiltration, and we are concerned about it. He is concerned about the casualties, and we are concerned about them. He is concerned about sanctuaries, and we are concerned about them. But this wasn't a meeting to deal with those specific problems and they were not dealt with. As a matter of fact, they were not even discussed other than just his mentioning them in part of his whole general outline.
MR. KOMER'S JOB IN VIETNAM
[5.] Q. Mr. President, in this workout of how this new team is going to fit in, was it decided for whom Mr. Komer would be working when he is in Saigon?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, he is working for me. He is my special assistant. He will be working with the United States missions there, civilian and military, and the Vietnamese Government.
The details of where he will spend his time, and how he will spend it, were not gone into. Mr. Komer will be going out there from here. He has been visiting there frequently.
But I anticipate that he will be spending a good deal more time there now. But we have no details that we can give you at this time because no decision has been made.
PACE OF PACIFICATION
[6.] Q. Mr. President, did the conference produce any fresh idea on speeding the pace of pacification?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, we talked about the various problems involved and what needed to be done. We evaluated them. We made no far reaching decisions that would bring about any revolutionary changes.
OBSTACLES TO PEACE TALKS
[7.] Q. Mr. President, Prime Minister Ky raised the question once again about dealing with the National Liberation Front. Do you see that as raising any obstacles to possible peace talks?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I was amazed that you all devoted the attention to it that you did yesterday. I remember your raising it at Honolulu. It seems to be a favorite subject. But it is a matter that was just mentioned by him in going through, that in no way changed our position, or so far as I know there were no changes.
We have said that if anyone can give us any indication they want to talk peace, conditionally or unconditionally, we think the Vietcong will have no difficulty having their views heard.
I know nothing that happened here that changed that position. As a matter of fact, I think it is blown up a good deal out of proportion to its importance in these meetings. There was no discussion of it except in the press conference.
AMERICAN TROOPS AND THE PACIFICATION PROGRAM
[8.] Q. Mr. President, did General Westmoreland during the conference bring up any suggestion or proposal for additional American troops in connection with the pacification program, that is, to secure and clear areas?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I must repeat to you again and again and again that there were no military proposals of any nature made. I repeat what I have said and what was said to you yesterday by Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara, that this is not a meeting to raise troops, or to disperse troops, or to raise forces. They were not discussed.
It was not a military meeting at all. I have outlined the purposes of the meeting. I have seen the news stories and the predictions, and so forth. But I have become accustomed to that, Bob.4
4 Robert C. Young of the Chicago Tribune Press Service.
U.N. DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITIES
[9.] Q. Mr. President, there has been another flurry of speculation growing out of the U.N. for the last couple of weeks about some moves up there. Could you tell us whether the situation has changed in any way in terms of diplomatic activity related to the war?
THE PRESIDENT. I am not really aware of these flurries except that some people do have flurries from time to time. I am not aware of any serious change that has been made on the part of our adversaries in this situation.
I think we really do our people a considerable disservice when we imply that there is something just around the corner or something that may show up tomorrow, unless we have some factual basis for it.
I know of nothing that would lead me to believe at this point--as of this moment-that Hanoi is seriously interested in doing anything to bring the war to an end.
That is a repetition of a statement that I made to you several weeks ago, but the fact is there has been no serious change since then that I am aware of.
HANOI'S ASSESSMENT OF AMERICAN PUBLIC OPINION
[10.] Q. Mr. President, Premier Ky this morning made an appeal to the American people, as he put it, in which he said that if all Americans and the American Government could demonstrate to Hanoi that we were united and in agreement against aggression, then Hanoi would come to the conference table.
Do you think that is the primary obstacle to getting peace negotiations; that is, a disagreement among the American people?
THE PRESIDENT. I think it is pretty difficult to search the minds and hearts of the people in Hanoi. I don't know what makes them react as they do. I think there has never been a period in American history when we haven't had a difference of opinion.
We provide for it and we want to preserve that right. We get a great many strengths from it.
It is very irritating and I think damaging at times to have any deep divisions among us. But I don't know what effect the divisions that have been expressed in our country have upon Hanoi.
My honest judgment is that they shouldn't get too much encouragement from our differences because in the last analysis you will find the American people will unite as they did last week when, after debating the situation of the bombing and cutting it off, the House voted, I think, maybe only 18 votes, or along that line, and the Senate voted 89 to 2 to pass the defense bill.
So I don't think Hanoi is going to get much encouragement from thinking that she can divide the American people.
PLANS FOR AMBASSADOR LODGE
[11.] Q. Mr. President, I wonder if you could tell us what you have in mind for Ambassador Lodge when he gets back?
THE PRESIDENT. Ambassador Lodge will be nominated to be Ambassador at Large, to serve the President, the Secretary of State, and our country first as an adviser and counselor in connection with all of the important decisions to be made in Southeast Asia, and to also handle any other big decisions that may develop in other parts of the world.
He is a very highly regarded and trusted public servant. I am very happy that he can have this change of duty and still be available to the President.
HANOI'S VIEW OF THE CONFERENCE
[12.] Q. Mr. President, sir, you say no military decisions were taken at this meeting?
THE PRESIDENT. I believe that is a correct statement.
Q. Then in light of that, sir, what conclusions do you think Hanoi should draw from this meeting?
THE PRESIDENT. I think you would have to talk to Hanoi about the propriety of the decisions she reaches. I think we are concerned with what we are doing out there. We want to be sure we are doing the most efficient and effective things that we can do.
We have brought our best men here to consider that. And we have done it. We are leaving feeling hopeful and feeling that we have had a constructive 2 days.
Hanoi's decisions will have to depend upon Hanoi. I am not sure she is willing to follow my advice anyway. If you have any indication that she would, I would suggest that she come to the negotiating table, as we have agreed to do on some 15 or 20 occasions.
AMERICAN TROOPS AND THE PACIFICATION PROGRAM
Q. Mr. President, was any decision made to use American troops to a greater extent in the pacification program?
THE PRESIDENT. No.
Reporter. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT. Do you have any questions of Ambassador Lodge or Ambassador Bunker?
REMARKS BY AMBASSADOR LODGE
[13.] AMBASSADOR LODGE. Perhaps I can grab the microphone in the approved style and say that to me the highlight of these 2 days was the fact that Prime Minister Ky arrived with the completed Constitution. I don't believe anybody who works in Vietnam expected the Constitution to be ready this soon.
It is a sign of what political energy and political evolution there has been in what is an underdeveloped country which is emerging from colonialism and has not had anything like the experience in self-government that we have had.
This is a Constitution that is worthy of respect. It provides for a President, a Prime Minister, a Lower House, and Upper House. It has substantially the Bill of Rights, the safeguards for the individual.
It is an interesting footnote that the legislative branch, under this Constitution, has really more authority, relative to the President, than the U.S. Congress has. Because if the President vetoes a bill, they can pass the bill over his veto by a simple majority, which is a reflection of the fear that there is of dictatorial, arbitrary rule.
This is a step toward really popular government. So to me that was very impressive.
Then I would like to say what a fine thing I think it is for the President to have named Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker. He is a man of great talent and great experience. He made an excellent impression on the Vietnamese. I am sure he is going to render many valuable services. I am very happy that this appointment has been made.
Note: President Johnson's ninety-ninth news conference was held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21, 1967, at Top O' The Mar, Guam.
Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference in Guam Following the Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/237854