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John F. Kennedy Administration: Damage Control With The Arabs Concerning Ben-Gurion's Visit

(May 10, 1961)

This telegram discusses an upcoming meeting between President Kennedy and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, and its implications for America's relationship with the Arab world. The telegram also stresses the necessity of addressing the Arab refuggee problem as soon as possible.

1953. In response to request for meeting at earliest feasible date, President has agreed see Israel Prime Minister Ben-Gurion in New York on May 30. President will be there for speech prior to departure following day for Paris. Ben-Gurion will arrive on May 28. He not scheduled to visit Washington.

Israelis have agreed no publicity prior to May 20. In announcing visit on May 20 Israelis will state that purpose of visit to meet with Jewish leaders in New York. At later date it may be disclosed that at his request Ben-Gurion will have talk with President while both are in New York.

President and Department fully aware repercussions which Ben-Gurion visit apt produce in Arab world, particularly at time when recent UNGA developments have already tended to cause Arabs to view new US administration as partial to Israel. However, President did not believe he should refuse request even as he would not wish refuse request should an Arab leader desire visit US unofficially. Moreover, President hopes capitalize on opportunity to emphasize USG views re need to move forward with respect to Arab refugees and also re Israel's nuclear reactor.

Before question of Ben-Gurion visit arose, Department had been considering letters from President to individual Arab leaders setting forth in broad terms desire of new US administration to deal with Near East problems in as fair and friendly manner as possible. It was hoped that letters would reassure Arab leaders of USG impartiality in Arab-Israel issue and USG's desire to maintain friendly and mutually beneficial relations with all Near Eastern states.

Also Department has independently reached conclusion that serious effort must be made between now and next UNGA with respect to Arab refugees. Present plans call for reconnaissance mission to Near Eastern capitals by distinguished non-American official as Special Representative of PCC. He would hear views of leaders and then recommend to PCC measures to resolve refugee impasse using UN resolutions as basis. While realizing intractability this problem, Department convinced that determined effort must be undertaken.

Department keenly interested in any measures which will minimize adverse reactions to Ben-Gurion visit in Arab world. It is hoped Presidential letters, cast in warm friendly tones, will be helpful. Department assumes such letters should be delivered well before news of Ben-Gurion visit becomes public. Department also assumes it preferable get PCC activity re refugees under way before Ben-Gurion talks with President, otherwise Arabs apt to allege PCC move "hatched" by Ben-Gurion and President in their talks.

Department wishes your comment on means for minimizing Arab reactions to Ben-Gurion visit and specifically whether it would be worthwhile to give key Arab leader in your country advance indication that Ben-Gurion visit will take place. This could be done by reference in President's letter along lines last two sentences of paragraph 2 above. It might alternatively be done orally on or about May 18.

Since President's letter will include support for PCC steps vis-à-vis refugee problem, it possible that if Ben-Gurion included among recipients of President's letter and if it is known to Arabs that he also a recipient, his visit might be interpreted by Arabs as prompted by unhappiness over PCC move. This would be one possibility for cushioning Arab reactions. Comment on this alternative also requested.

Reply Niact.


Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.86B/5-1061. Top Secret; Niact. Drafted by Meyer, cleared by Manfull (S/S) and by Dungan at the White House, and approved and signed by Acting Secretary Bowles. Also sent to Beirut, Amman, Baghdad, and Jidda and repeated to Tel Aviv and Taiz. Attached to the source text is an earlier draft that shows handwritten changes made "in accordance WH wishes."

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