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John F. Kennedy Administration: Arab Countries React To Kennedy Letters

(May 26, 1961)

This memorandum summarizes the reactions of Arab countries to letters sent by President Kennedy outlining his Middle East policy. See also Kennedy Angered Over Letters To Arab Leaders


Reaction to Presidential Letters to Middle East Leaders/2/

/2/For additional documentation on the responses from Arab leaders to President Kennedy's May 11 letter, see Supplement, the compilation on the Arab-Israeli dispute.

While no final replies have been received, we believe the President may be interested in the country-by-country, preliminary reactions to his May 11 letters to Arab leaders. The President's letters have so far been held in confidence by all recipients except, apparently, King Saud, and no publicity regarding them appeared until May 23.

The United Arab Republic: Initial reaction to the President's letter appears constructive. A confidant of Nasser informed our Chargé on May 20 that the President's letter is "very important", and opined cautiously that some measure of progress on Palestine might be envisaged provided the U.S. is really prepared to be firm and fair.

Lebanon: At the time of its delivery by Ambassador McClintock, President Chehab read the President's letter with careful attention. He remarked that the three most urgent problems affecting Israel-Arab relations are: the refugees, diversion of the Jordan River by Israel, and Arab fears of Israel's atomic research program. The usually moderate Lebanese President commented, however, that even if all these issues could be resolved, deep Arab hostility to Israel, a state established at Arab expense by armed force supported from abroad, would remain.

Jordan: King Hussein read the President's letter with obvious interest. He said he wished to give it thorough study before replying.

Iraq: The letter was delivered to Foreign Minister Jawad, who assured our Ambassador it would be discussed with Prime Minister Qasim the same day. No further reaction has been received.

Yemen: The Imam is still indisposed as a result of wounds received during the recent attempt on his life. Our Chargé delivered the letter on May 20 to Crown Prince Badr, the Foreign Minister.

Saudi Arabia: Upon receiving the President's letter, King Saud said he was glad to know of the President's interest in Near East problems and looked forward to learning his views, especially on Israel. According to press reports coming from the Middle East on May 23, King Saud has subsequently called in the Ambassadors of the other Arab countries in Saudi Arabia to acquaint them with the contents of the President's letter and to suggest that a meeting of the Arab League Council be convened to formulate replies. This information has not yet, however, been confirmed by our Embassy in Jidda.

Israel: On May 23 the Israel radio broadcast news that a letter had been sent from the President to King Saud in an effort to assuage Arab sensitivities over Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's forthcoming visit to the United States.

Melvin L. Manfull/3/

/3/Printed from a copy that indicates Manfull signed the original above Battle's typed signature.

Source: Department of State, Central Files, 711.11-KE/5-2661. Confidential. Drafted by Crawford on May 24.

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.