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John F. Kennedy Administration: Joseph Johnson's Visit to the Near East

(August 9, 1961)

This editorial discusses the possibility of sending American delegate, Joseph Johnson, to the Near East with the hope of softening the Palestinian refugee problem before the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting.

On August 9, 1961, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Meyer sent the following telegram to Secretary Rusk, who was then in Paris attending a NATO Foreign Ministers conference:

"Dept continues to believe PCC-sponsored fact-finding mission to Near East capitals very desirable primarily to improve our posture when Arab refugee problem comes before UNGA this fall. In view shortage time we see no hope for securing services of a neutral Special Representative. Among Americans we consider Joseph Esrey Johnson of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace particularly well qualified. Before approaching him we would appreciate your concurrence and your permission to indicate to him your personal interest in his accepting this assignment. We have in mind a low-key two or three week visit by Special Representative to Near Eastern capitals and a report upon which constructive PCC proposals can be made to forthcoming UNGA." (Tosec 35; Department of State, Central Files, 325.84/8-961)

Rusk approved in principle having a personal message sent to Joseph Johnson. (Memorandum from Swank to Meyer, August 11; ibid., NEA/NE Files: Lot 70 D 229, Refugees, PCC) On August 12, upon Rusk's return to Washington, Meyer sent a memorandum to the Secretary requesting that he telephone his personal friend Joseph Johnson to discuss the assignment. (Ibid.) On August 17, Rusk met with Johnson to express his personal appreciation for Johnson's accepting the assignment. (Memorandum of conversation; ibid., Central Files, 325.84/8-1761)

Also on August 17, in circular telegram 277, the Department of State informed Near Eastern and selected European posts that Johnson had agreed to accept the assignment as PCC Special Representative and that PCC concurrence was being sought. The Department contemplated that Johnson would "take low key soundings at Foreign Minister level" tentatively beginning in Cairo about August 24, with subsequent visits to Beirut, Amman, and Tel Aviv. (Ibid.) The United Nations announced Johnson's appointment as the Special Representative of the U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine on August 24. (Airgram to Amman and other posts, August 31; ibid., 325.84/8-3161)

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