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John F. Kennedy Administration: Bundy and Ball Discuss Situation in Jordan

(April 29, 1963)

This is a memorandum of a telephone converstaion between the President's Special Assistant for Nation Security Affairs, McGeorge Bundy, and Acting Secretary of State Ball talking about the situation in Jordan.

Bundy--What are the Jews and the Arabs up to?

Ball--Let me give you a kind of run down of the situation. First of all you probably saw a reporting telegram on my talk last night with Harman.

Bundy--It was Saturday, or did you talk with him again?

Ball--He came to my house last night.

Bundy--No, I haven't seen that yet.

Ball--This is another one that has gone out. What he was doing was bringing a reply which was in effect laying a legal case for freedom of action for them, as I read the thing, because the line he was taking was that the April 17 Declaration . . . .

Bundy--Creates a kind of constitutional declaration of war?

Ball--Yes, that's right. It is a declaration of war imbedded in an organic document.

Bundy--You know, they are very good at words, these guys. Can you imagine writing a constitution of Arab unity that didn't say something like this?

Ball--Oh no. I pointed this out well to him but this doesn't impress him at all.

Bundy--He is a hard bitten cookie.

Ball--Then he said, now, what this means, of course, is that if there is a Jordanian accession to the April 17 document, presumably after a coup, that in the Israeli armistice obligations are no longer binding and they can do what they please. Now, I have got the boys sending off telegrams to Macomber and Wally Barbour and also Badeau this morning as well as the USUN to sound out their reaction of what they think the effect would be over reaffirmation of the tripartite declaration.

Bundy--I hope you are as weary about this as Komer and I are.

Ball--Yes, I can see some real disabilities in it.

Bundy--They would like to get something for it.

Ball--Not only would they like to get something for it, but one of the restraining elements on Egypt right now, as is clear from the whole traffic that is coming in, including the talk with Nasser that Badeau had, that just came in this morning, is the danger of the possibility of an Israeli move. If we, in effect, can insulate Jordan from Israel, then this may relieve that element of restraint.

Bundy--I agree. I think it is far from clear--I don't see the President going to war with Israel to recover the West Bank. I wonder if anyone is in a position to say that to the Israelis. The trouble with Mike [Feldman] is that he is an unreliable channel, and the trouble with the rest of us is they don't trust us.

Ball--I think that is probably true.

Bundy--We are stuck, really. The President is the only man who can say things that they will believe.

Ball--I looked back at the tripartite declaration last night and one of the interesting things is that, remember it had two parts, and the second part was this whole question of arms balance. Now there is something we might want to think about there.

Bundy--That is very interesting. It pays to do homework.

Ball--I got the books out and did my own research. It is the only way I can remember anything.

Bundy--I agree. That is well worth a play. If we were to say that the two paragraphs of this are of great importance to us and in our view they go concurrently, we would be saying something of some importance.


Bundy--Most promising. What is your level of communication to the President? I haven't seen him or talked to him for more than 24 hours, so I don't really know where this one is now.

Ball--I talked to him very briefly yesterday afternoon, I tried to reach him in the morning and he called me in the afternoon, just simply to report on the Haitian thing.

Bundy--You were going to bring him up to date on the COAS.

Ball--I did, I brought him up to date on that.

Bundy--Ralph [Dungan] is on top of that, I don't worry about that. I have a kind of feeling, however, that we ought perhaps to have another short talk about the Arab-Israeli thing. Let me show him the cables and see how he feels. Your own view--my own impression is that we have a little more time than we were talking about Saturday.

Ball--My guess is that the coup has been postponed. Possibly because of our messing around in it.

Bundy--I think it certainly helped. That was a very alert and quick piece of work, I thought.

Ball--I will give you a quick run down. I have got the boys working on a number of things. First of all I have got the lawyers working on what the Israeli responsibilities were under the Armistice Agreement; what the whole history of the tripartite declaration has been; then a real examination of the April 17 statement, primarily to see if there isn't something in there that in effect ties the Arabs on to the obligations of the UN Charter. If there is we might be able to. . . .

Bundy--Something where?

Ball--In the April 17 Declaration. It is a hell of a long thing. If there is anything in there that we could tie into the UN Charter or anything similar to that we might use it to negative the declaration of war aspect.


Ball--Then the other thing is we are looking into this whole business of the Supervisory Organization/3/ to see what might be done there. Whether it couldn't be beefed up for the Secretary General and so on.

/3/Reference is to the U.N. Truce Supervisory Organization (UNTSO).

Bundy--Who does it account to now, the Secretary General?

Ball--Yes, but there are only 150 men in it out there. You know, it might be beefed up into something that would be substantial and we have got them in New York talking to Thant about having Spinelli go out on the initiative of the Secretary General, this is following Macomber's cable, which he suggests that this would be better because Hussein doesn't want to ask for him. I think if he were to go out that might quiet the situation a little. One of the things where I really need your help is on this problem of the Sixth Fleet. I talked to Bob McNamara and told him we just had to get a decent cover story because in looking back in April of 1957 when we sent the Forrestal, it created a hell of a row and this could do the same thing. We are moving the whole damn fleet.

Bundy--And breaking an engagement to have some manuevers with the French. I think we may want to turn that fleet around if nothing else goes worse today.

Ball--Or split it, we don't need to send the whole thing in.

Bundy--I agree. Are you talking to Bob [McNamara] about that?

Ball--I have been talking about it.

Bundy--What did he say?

Ball--They tried to get up a cover story which really isn't anything other than saying the fleet--the Mediterranean is always at sea, and so on.

Bundy--That is no good because they have got this commitment to manuevers with the French and I think. . . .

Ball-- . . . leak the fact that it has been broken or let it out and then we may be in some trouble. Why don't you, when you get a chance to talk to the Boss . . . .

Bundy--I will talk to the Boss before lunch and call you back. I rather think--is your assessment now that the current immediate heat having gone on we better take the risk of having them play.

Ball--I would rather take the risk than to be the precipitating element.

Bundy--I would too. I will tell him so.

Ball--The other thing I would think ought to be done, because Mike knows about this fleet business, that before there is a leak on it out of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, that somebody over in your shop should impress on him the fact this has got to be kept very quiet with his friends. Maybe if the President could just. . . .

Bundy--That is probably the level. I will work on it.

Ball--We will have a draft of the Ben Gurion letter this afternoon.

Bundy--Fine. Very good.

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