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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Statement Supporting Independence and Integrity of All Nations in the Middle East

(May 23, 1967)

In recent days, tension has again arisen along the armistice lines between Israel and the Arab States. The situation there is a matter of very grave concern to the whole international community. We earnestly support all efforts, in and outside the United Nations and through the appropriate organs, including the Secretary General, to reduce tensions and to restore stability. The Secretary General has gone to the Near East on his mission of peace with the hopes and prayers of men of good will everywhere.

The Near East links three continents. The birthplace of civilization and of three of the world's great religions, it is the home of some 60 million people and it is the crossroads between the East and the West.

The world community has a vital interest in peace and stability in the Near East, one that has been expressed primarily through continuing United Nations action and assistance over the past 20 years.

The United States, as a member of the United Nations and as a nation dedicated to a world order based on law and mutual respect, has actively supported efforts to maintain in the Near East.

The danger, and it is a very grave A danger, lies in some miscalculation arising from a misunderstanding of the intentions and actions of others.

The Government of the United States is deeply concerned, in particular, with three potentially explosive aspects of the present confrontation.

First, we regret that the General Armistice Agreements have failed to prevent warlike acts from the territory of one against another government, or against civilians or territory, under control of another government.

Second, we are dismayed at the hurried withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force from Gaza and Sinai after more than 10 years of steadfast and effective service in keeping the peace, without action by either the General Assembly or the Security Council of the United Nations. We continue to regard the presence of the United Nations in the area as a matter of fundamental importance. We intend to support its continuance with all possible vigor.

Third, we deplore the recent buildup of military forces and believe it a matter of urgent importance to reduce troop concentrations. The status of sensitive areas, as the Secretary General emphasized in his report to the Security Council, such as the Gaza Strip and the Gulf of Aqaba, is a particularly important aspect of the situation.

In this connection, I want to add that the purported closing of the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping has brought a new and very grave dimension to the crisis. The United States considers the gulf to be an international waterway and feels that a blockade of Israel shipping is illegal and potentially disastrous to the cause of peace. The right of free, innocent passage of the international waterway is a vital interest of the entire international community.

The Government of the United States is seeking clarification on this point. We have already urged Secretary General Thant to recognize the sensitivity of the Aqaba question and we have asked him to give it the highest priority in his discussions in Cairo.

To the leaders of all the nations of the Near East, I wish to say what three American Presidents have said before me—that the United States is firmly committed to the support of the political independence and territorial integrity of all the nations of that area. The United States strongly opposes aggression by anyone in the area, in any form, overt or clandestine. This has been the policy of the United States led by four Presidents—President Truman, President Eisenhower, President John F. Kennedy, and myself—as well as the policy of both of our political parties. The record of the actions of the United States over the past 20 years, within and outside the United Nations, is abundantly clear on this point.

The United States has consistently sought to have good relations with all the states of the Near East. Regrettably this has not always been possible, but we are convinced that our difference with individual states of the area and their differences with each other must be worked out peacefully and in accordance with accepted international practice.

We have always opposed—and we oppose in other parts of the world at this very moment—the efforts of other nations to resolve their problems with their neighbors by the aggression route. We shall continue to do so. And tonight we appeal to all other peace-loving nations to do likewise.

I call upon all concerned to observe in a spirit of restraint their solemn responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations and the General Armistice Agreements. These provide an honorable means of preventing hostilities until, through the efforts of the international community, a peace with justice and honor can be achieved.

I have been in close and very frequent contact—and will be in the hours and days ahead—with our able Ambassador, Mr. Goldberg, at the United Nations, where we are now pursuing the matter with great vigor, and we hope that the Security Council can and will act effectively.

Sources: U.S. Department of State