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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Memorandum On the Arab Conflict With The West and Israel

(March 19, 1965)

Rusk is concerned about tensions between the Arab World and the West. He feels this might make it easyer for the USSR to buy the friendship of the Arabs with arms. However, he believes that most leaders in the Near East know that the conflict in the Near East will not be solved by fighting. He is also putting the sale of arms to Israel in Arab control. He says that the bigger threat Arab countries pose, the more weapsons the United States will sell to Israel.

194. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Posts/1/

1750. FYI: Developments in Near East since mid-1963 have caused significant strains in relations of US and other Western states with area. As of early 1965 USG is perforce reexamining its relationship with UAR. Prospect of military conflict over Jordan Waters looms larger. Renewal of Saudi-Egyptian confrontation in Yemen looms with possible reinvolvement of US. Arab nationalist drift toward Communist Bloc poses danger that, led by economically distressed UAR, Arab states could move toward closer relationship with Soviets than at any time in last ten years. Recent West German difficulties with Arab nationalists have accentuated deterioration of Western relations with Near East. While Israel's loss of German arms source created new pressures in US, exceptions in US arms sales policy forced by Jordan arms request also faced us with probable serious repercussions from Israel and from domestic reaction. In last few weeks doubts and suspicions about US attitudes and policies have been voiced by Arab leaders throughout area.

Some of deterioration in Western position is obviously beyond capability of USG to control or influence. On other hand, frank discussions US views and policies with host governments are needed to dispel some of doubts and suspicions that have arisen. This particularly true so far as moderate Arab leaders are concerned.

Moderate Arab leaders are important asset to US. Although it would be mistake to try to use them as counterweights to Arab radicals, they may be able quietly and behind scenes to restrain extremists. We envisage unity spirit of Arabs as having certain built-in restraint. For sake of preserving unity spirit, radicals will be constrained to avoid moving counter to moderate sentiments, so long as moderates avoid forcing issue.

Purpose of following presentation is to clarify US views on various aspects current situation--to avoid misunderstandings with radicals and to dispel doubts and suspicions of moderates. End FYI.

You should seek early appointment at highest appropriate level stressing our hope confidential nature discussion will be respected to make following presentation which may also be used with other key officials of host government at your discretion:

1) President has been concerned by recent signs of deterioration in Arab relations with West. Tensions growing out of Arab-Israel dispute in particular have accentuated strains between West and Arabs. Doubts and suspicions have been expressed about attitude and policies of outside states toward states of Near East. You have been instructed to review situation in order to dispel any confusion about US policies and to promote better understanding of our views.

2) For many years US has sought to help find way to just and honorable peace in Near East. We are frank admit we see no prospect immediate solution to Arab-Israel problem. On the other hand, we believe most leaders privately agree with us that Arab-Israel dispute will not be solved by force of arms. Yet positions taken on Jordan Waters problem have caused widespread concern in international community.

3) Initial tone of moderation in First Arab Summit Conference in January 1964 encouraged us to think there would be peaceful and positive approach to Jordan Waters problem. But more recently it has seemed to us that constructive spirit of January 1964 has been forgotten. Arab spokesmen have described Arab water projects in terms of spite diversion designed to take water from Israel rather than to provide water for Arab peoples. Inflammatory statements have been made by both sides in connection with serious border incidents. Unified Arab Command has pressed individual Arab states to increase their armaments, thereby adding new pressures to existing arms rivalry. Arab statements of intent to liquidate Israel have tended give UAC belligerent and threatening posture.

4) US has been particularly concerned by worsened relations between West Germany and Arab states and is hopeful that moderate views will prevail so that productive German-Arab relations can be restored. We have noticed drift among some Arab states that has seemed to us solely to serve interests of Communists and has called into question policy of nonalignment. Some of policy confrontations with West, including Congo, Cyprus, and South Arabia, are difficult for us to understand if Arab states concerned desire mutually beneficial relationships. These repeated confrontations have forced USG to reexamine its relations with some Arab states. US continues to desire mutually beneficial relationship with all Arab states, but this is two-way street. As demonstrated by our reaction certain recent events, we do not intend to take any policy actions out of anger or indignation. On other hand, it is increasingly difficult for us to maintain close relations in atmosphere created by some states during past few months.

5) Jordan Waters problem and continuing arms rivalry cause particular concern because of prospect of conflict Israelis quite aroused. So as part of continuing US effort to reduce tensions in Near East, President recently sent Ambassador Harriman to Israel. While there Harriman discussed all aspects of current Near Eastern situation with Israel's leaders and reviewed US policies with them. He assured Israel Govt of continued USG interest in peaceful resolution of area disputes. He reaffirmed our position with regard to Unified or Johnston Plan as equitable standard by which to measure use of Jordan Waters. But he emphasized that USG opposition to aggression and use of military force to solve disputes applies to Israel as well as to Arabs. He stressed our belief that peaceful solutions to area problems must and can be found. In our view Harriman's talks have helped to ease situation.

6) On other hand, basic Arab-Israel hostility remains. Arms rivalry poses constant threat of conflict. Danger is that one side will get military advantage tempting it to launch preemptive attack, or other side seeing disadvantage may attack out of desperation. We ourselves for years have followed policy of not supplying arms to parties directly engaged in Arab-Israel dispute except for limited sales of defensive weapons. We have repeatedly declared our intention to prevent or stop aggression by either side. We have never argued we have right to regulate military balance. But recognizing weapons sales sources available to both sides--and particularly irresponsible way in which Soviets have sought to buy Arab friendship by weapons sales--we know our restraint is not enough. Thus, we consider we have legitimate interest in preventing imbalances in military hardware from posing threat to peace by leading to preemptive strikes.

7) In this connection, you wish to point out that we have recently agreed to sell certain arms to Jordan. We had considered Jordan request carefully over period of several months. Request had been made under sponsorship of Unified Arab Command, and it posed alternative of Soviet arms in Jordan if US did not agree to sales. Although some Arabs may not appreciate danger, alternative of Soviet arms in Jordan would mean Soviet presence and influence in unstable area from which they previously excluded. Resultant dangers to stability of entire Near East would threaten Arab as well as US interests. US therefore decided it would sell arms to Jordan to prevent Soviet exploitation of situation. FYI: Since we naturally wish avoid giving Nasser or other radical Arab leaders a stick with which to beat Hussein, we do not want to highlight Jordan arms sale as one of reasons for selling to Israel. If connection is raised, you should make clear distinction between US sales to Jordan and prospective sales to Israel. Sales to Jordan were made to prevent Soviets from entering Jordan. Sales to Israel were made under following rationale: (a) Sale to Israel would be an exception to our arms sales policy made to prevent significant arms imbalance from posing a threat to peace resulting from overconfidence or from desperation; (b) Sale to Israel is limited commitment that we will strive to keep limited and exceptional assuming Arabs show restraint; and (c) Sale is measure forced on us by complex of events including continued heavy Soviet arms supplies to area; threatening posture of Unified Arab Command and Arab spokesmen toward Israel, particularly in connection with Jordan Waters; and, last but not least, Bonn's withdrawal as source arms supply for Israel. End FYI.

8) Insofar as possible US intends to continue its policy of restraint in arms sales to principal parties to Arab-Israel dispute. We do not intend to try to buy friends by irresponsibly selling weapons of destruction. At same time, we cannot overlook serious imbalances that would threaten peace. Nasser's action forcing Germans to cancel arms sales to Israel put heat directly on us. We have told Israelis and also are informing Arabs that in such exceptional cases we would sell Israel limited types and quantities of arms required for their self-defense. However, we intend resist Israeli efforts purchase more than their minimum defensive needs. We have not lightly made such exceptions to our arms sales policy in past and would not make them lightly in future. It really up to people like Nasser and Syrians to decide by their own actions how much we forced sell to Israel.

9) Moreover, Arabs should try to see in perspective that limited US sales to meet Israel's basic security needs essential element US efforts restrain Israel from dangerous military action. So US hopes there will be no public campaign or Arab attempt force showdown. Result could be adverse US public reaction jeopardizing our policy of restraint and evenhandedness.

10) US desires constructive and productive relationships with all Arab countries. We wish to make certain our views are understood at all times and will welcome continued policy consultations on matters of mutual interest.

For Kuwait: Suggest this be discussed with Amir rather than FonMin.

For info addressees: Leave entirely to your discretion whether, at what level, and how much foregoing approach you should make local officials.

For Tripoli: Suggest you use in forthcoming audience with King and at Embassy's discretion with Muntassir.

For Tunis: Suggest Bourguiba, Jr.

For Rabat: Suggest Benhima.

For Algiers and Khartoum: Appreciate post's recommendation re desirability use and official to whom this might be transmitted.


/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 1 NEAR E-US. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Drafted by Symmes on March 18; cleared by Director of the Office of Northern African Affairs David D. Newsom, Davies, and Komer; and approved by Talbot. Sent to Amman, Baghdad, Jidda, Kuwait, Beirut, Rabat, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Khartoum and repeated to Damascus, Taiz, and Cairo. Circular telegram 1752 to the same Embassies, March 20, requested that they delay action on circular telegram 1750 until they were advised to proceed. (Ibid., DEF 12-5 ISR) Circular telegram 1842, March 31, instructed them to do so. (Ibid.) Reports of the Embassies' presentations made in response to circular telegram 1750 are ibid. and ibid., POL NEAR E.

Sources: U.S. Department of State