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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum on Discussion of Situation in Jordan

(April 27, 1963)

This is a memorandum of conversation from a Ball-Harman meeting discussing the situation in Jordan and possibly Israeli action.

Ambassador Harman of Israel

Mr. Mordechai Gazit, Minister of Israel

NEA--Acting Assistant Secretary James P. Grant

U--Mr. George S. Springsteen

NEA:NE--William R. Crawford, Jr.

Ambassador Harman called at the Acting Secretary's request.

The Acting Secretary said he wished to express deepest regret regarding the death of President Ben-Zvi.

Regarding Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's April 26 letter to the President, this had been discussed with the President and we hope to be able to reply within a few days. The Prime Minister's letter raises some difficult problems, but we are glad to have been informed of Israel's concerns. We ourselves are studying the situation with intensity.

The Acting Secretary said we have asked the Ambassador to call because there have been indications something might happen in Jordan. Our information is fragmentary; it is hard to assess the form a movement might take, its timing, and its chances of success or failure; but there is the chance of something happening within a few hours or days. On the basis of present intelligence, it is hard to sort out whether the movement is entirely indigenous or whether Cairo has an interest in it, and whether the end result would be a government devoted to Jordan's independence or one which would seek to bring Jordan under the UAR umbrella. We have impressed strongly on President Nasser that any move toward Jordan would be of very serious concern to the US Government, with possible gravest repercussions for the Middle East and the world. It is a matter of concern to us that if something should happen Israel would not act precipitously or until the nature of what emerges has become clearer. If Israel were to move militarily, it is doubtful that the UAR could sit still and in the end we might find that the Soviets had become involved also. We will take every reasonable measure to prevent a deterioration in Jordan or a UAR movement. If possible, we will try to keep the Hussein government in control.

Ambassador Harman said he would convey this message to his government. The Ambassador said that from recent conversations the US is well aware of Israel's special concerns regarding a possible change in Jordan, which are two:

1. If there were UAR inspiration. There are some indications of this in the vicious official and clandestine radio propaganda against Hussein from Cairo, which is being chorused in Damascus and Baghdad.

2. If a situation should develop in Jordan which could be exploited by the UAR on the Yemen pattern.

Ambassador Harman said that in either of the two foregoing situations, "there could be no question at all of the view Israel would have to take or the gravity with which it would see the situation." This is not a question of precipitousness. It is gratifying that the US seems determined to help Hussein hang on. Israel has the same objective.

Mr. Grant commented there is always a measure of UAR pressure. Do the Ambassador's remarks, therefore, encompass any change of government in Jordan?

Ambassador Harman replied that the "mood of any move" in Jordan now would be clear from the nature of the demonstrations which have taken place, from the use of the four-starred UAR flag, etc.

Mr. Grant said it is far from clear to the US that if there were a change it would necessarily or even probably be subordinate to Nasser. We have before us the recent examples of coups in Damascus and Baghdad. These do not represent undiluted extension of Nasser's control.

The Ambassador said that at the time of the recent Ba'th coups in Iraq and Syria the United States had expressed its view of these as a potential counterpoise to the attractions of Nasserism. We have seen what happened between February 8 and April 17. It is clear what Nasser's forces are trying to do.

Mr. Grant pointed out that there are also other forces at work.

Ambassador Harman said he would like to hear further particulars about the Jordan situation.

The Acting Secretary replied that our information is fragmentary but in the next few hours or days there may be an attempt against Hussein, with some backing from the Jordanian military. Our assumption is that Cairo is aware of but not directing the movement. Our information has been conveyed to King Hussein. We will do what we prudently can to help him. We have made our views clear to Mr. Nasser.

In response to the Ambassador's further question as to US intentions, the Acting Secretary said it would be very difficult to take action beyond that which has already occurred if the movement is indigenous. Hussein is still in control and has not sought our assistance. If he did, we would have to consider the request in light of all the facts available to us.

Ambassador Harman recalled that in 1958 the US had acted swiftly to protect the situation in Lebanon and Jordan. Any change in Jordan now would open Pandora's box. Hussein's is the legitimate regime and he has the support of the people. Opposition elements are "plotters" who do not express the free will of the Jordanians.

The Acting Secretary agreed that we do not favor any change.

Mr. Grant commented that a substantial portion of the population in Jordan is caught up in the spirit of Arab unity and the attraction of current union developments. This has affected the youth of the country and perhaps some of the army. If the new federation does not work, the attraction will pale. Therefore, the critical period is in the months that lie ahead.

Ambassador Harman said the Ba'this shared this notion, but Nasser's influence has been used against the Ba'th and now it is boxed in. This has clear implications for Jordan and is the framework in which Israel would have to view any change. Any successor regime in Jordan which held out against union after an uprising would have the April 17 agreement cited against it.

Mr. Grant said we have a less certain evaluation. Israel has reason to be concerned by the April 17 declaration, but for those in Baghdad the declaration has bought some time.

Ambassador Harman said that the line must be held. Any kind of temporizing or efforts to buy time will only create greater problems for Hussein. He would not like to leave the Secretary with any misapprehensions as to the framework in which Israel would approach any change of government in Jordan. This goes to the heart of Israel's security. There is no reason for a change. If Hussein goes, conversely the Ba'th in Iraq and Syria will be weakened. Therefore, Jordan is decisive, not just for the security of Israel but for the future of the area. It would be gratifying to be able to report to Jerusalem that the US will take very definite action to protect the situation.

The Acting Secretary said that if the Ambassador is referring to military action, we cannot say now what we would do. Nothing at all may happen. The Middle East has heard of many coups which never took place. Even if there is a change, we do not see the threat in the same time frame as Israel. It would be, at minimum, many months before Israel's considerable deterrent advantage could be jeopardized. Therefore, Israel can afford to see what emerges.

Mr. Grant pointed out that precipitous Israel action might well coalesce the very centralized, unified state which Israel fears. Left to themselves, the Arabs have a very considerable capacity to decentralize and neutralize themselves.

At the conclusion of the meeting, it was agreed that in dealing with press inquiries it would be said that Mr. Ball had asked the Ambassador to call to express personal condolences for President Ben-Zvi's death and that, since Mr. Ball is now taking over for a considerable period as Acting Secretary, he felt that a tour d'horizon would be useful.

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