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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum Recommending Adoption of Balanced Mideast Policy

(May 6, 1961)

This memorandum discusses the Arab opinion that the United States is biased toward Israel and is not serving as an impartial voice when mediating conflict in the region. Here, President Kennedy is urged to maintain a balanced relationship, and not to disenfranchise the Arab nations by being too pro-Israel.


Proposed Message to Arab Leaders

As you know, Arab leaders are concerned about the policies of the new United States administration with respect to their part of the world. In their view, the previous Democratic administration under President Truman was strongly partial to Israel. This no doubt has conditioned their interpretation of certain attitudes we have recently been required to take, e.g. during the recent UNRWA debate at the General Assembly.

We feel the time has come to make clear the desire of this administration to deal with Middle Eastern matters on as fair and friendly a basis as possible. Accordingly we are proposing a letter from you to each of the Arab leaders setting forth the broad lines of this administration's policy with respect to the Middle East.

It is our hope that the proposed letters will be helpful in our launching of the new approach to the Arab refugee problem by the Palestine Conciliation Commission. The letters may also be of some help in mitigating Arab repercussions to the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion to this country. In this connection, it will be important to dispatch the letters as far in advance of Ben-Gurion's May 30 visit as possible.

If you approve the attached draft letter, we shall forward the text via our Embassies to: President Nasser of the United Arab Republic, President Chehab of Lebanon, King Hussein of Jordan, Prime Minister Qassim of Iraq, King Saud of Saudi Arabia, and Imam Ahmed of Yemen. We shall accompany the text with special insertions setting forth what the United States has done and is doing by way of assisting each country. The proposed inserts on a country by country basis are also attached./2/

/2/The text of the draft letters (with individual inserts) is the same as that forwarded by Talbot to Bowles on May 5. The copy attached to Talbot's memorandum was used to record White House changes that were made over the telephone. For this text, showing the handwritten changes, see Supplement, the compilation on the Arab-Israeli dispute. The letters as approved by the White House were transmitted to the various Embassies for delivery on May 11. For the letter from President Kennedy to President Nasser, see Document 47. The five other letters were transmitted in telegram 1018 to Beirut (Department of State, Central Files, 611.80/5-1161); telegram 713 to Baghdad (ibid.); telegram 837 to Amman (ibid.); telegram 299 to Taiz (ibid., 711.11-KE/5-1161); and telegram 430 to Jidda (ibid., 611.80/5-1161).

Mention in the draft letter of previous American Presidents is based on the fact that still today these Americans are venerated and idealized in the Arab world. Not infrequently Arab leaders will in conversations with Americans refer to these past great Presidents, usually with the implication that the United States is straying from the high principles which these historic figures had enunciated.

With regard to the recent United Nations debate concerning UNGA, we have numerous reports that the Arab delegates in New York have misrepresented our attitude to their home governments, principally to avoid the onus for their own lack of success. As a result there are indications that a special meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers may soon be convened with a view to discussing the alleged "new anti-Arab attitude" on the part of the United States. The letter from you should be quite helpful in tempering such Arab discussion. It might in fact lead to some sort of collective Arab response, which would at least have the merit of maintaining contact with the Arab world. It is also conceivable that this exercise could lead to a meeting between you and some Arab spokesman, e.g. Nasser, for the purpose of exchanging views.

We have little doubt that news of these letters will leak to the press, here and in the Near East. We will not recommend publication of the letters, but if the recipients should ask that publication be permitted we would concur.

I hope you will be able to approve this proposal. In our view a move of this type is needed. Arab attitudes toward us at the United Nations and elsewhere have not been helpful and it would be hoped that these letters would reassure Arab leaders of this administration's earnest desire to maintain and enhance friendly and fruitful relations between their countries and ours.

Chester Bowles/3/

/3/Printed from a copy that indicates Bowles signed the original.

Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.86B/5-661. No classification marking. Drafted by Meyer on May 5. On May 5, Talbot sent a memorandum to Bowles recommending that he approve this memorandum to the President. Talbot wrote in part: "For reasons set forth in the attached memorandum, we believe a letter from the President to each of the Arab leaders would be useful. It would be our hope that these letters, plus the Arab refugee approach which we have already recommended to the President, will help us gain what the President is reported to have described as 'money in the bank' with the Arabs." (Ibid., 611.86B/5-561) A May 1 memorandum from Brewer to Strong confirms Meyer's authorship of the original draft letter and provides comments on an earlier version. (Ibid., 325.84/5-161)

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