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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Letter to Egyptian Leader Nasser Trying To Prevent Regional Arms Race

(March 18, 1965)

President Johnson explains to President Nasser that the United States feels that they should ovoid supplying arms to major players in the conflict and should not give one side military advantage of the other. Johnson also does not want to hurt relation between the U.S. and Israel.

192. Letter From President Johnson to President Nasser/1/

Dear Mr. President:

Since my message to you last December 12/2/ I have looked forward to a further exchange of views between us. Now, unfortunately, new tensions have developed in the Near East. I have been deeply concerned by developments in the direct relations of the United States and the United Arab Republic which have put strains on the friendship I hope for between our two governments and peoples. As the proud leader of an important people, you will, I know, share my view that the best way to deal with difficulties of this kind is to discuss them man to man, with full respect for each other's rights and responsibilities.

I have therefore asked Ambassador Battle to seek an appointment with you to bring this personal message and to discuss with you the issues of current importance in the Near East that concern us both.

The problem which needs this kind of discussion today is that of the best way of dealing temperately and responsibly with the growing arms race in the Middle East. As you know, the United States Government has consistently sought to find ways and means of turning that arms race downward. We are convinced that it does not serve the real interest of any people in the area. At the same time, we have obligations and interests which require us to take account of the pressures that are generated by very heavy arms supply from other countries.

It is in this context that I have asked Ambassador Battle to discuss our present position with you. That position has been established within the framework of our traditional policy of restraint with regard to arms sales. The principles of that policy are two:

First, we shall, to the greatest extent possible, continue to avoid selling arms to the principal parties to the Arab-Israel dispute.

Second, in no case will we sell arms that will give one side a military advantage over the other. This is the policy we have followed and will continue to follow.

You and I carry heavy responsibilities. I am convinced that by serious efforts on both sides, we can do much to improve understanding between our Governments. I can assure you that on my side I will do my full part to maintain and to increase relations of mutual respect between our two countries. The interests of our peoples will thrive in strength and understanding, not in weakness and frustration.


Lyndon B. Johnson

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence File, United Arab Republic, Presidential Correspondence. Secret. Filed with a draft by Bundy, an earlier draft, and related memoranda. In a March 18 telephone conversation, Bundy told Ball that the President wanted a short letter, and Bundy had dictated one. (Ibid., Ball Papers, United Arab Republic)

/2/See footnote 2, Document 117.

Sources: U.S. Department of State