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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Telegram Outlining King Hussein's Request for Assistance

(December 11, 1966)

This telegram summarizes a meeting held with King Hussein of Jordan regarding assistance from the United States for his regime. The telegram also discusses briefly the King's plan to leave the jurisdiction of the West Bank to other Arab and PLO authorities.

1456. 1. I was called to see the King late yesterday evening at Homar, the King's private residence outside Amman. EmbOff accompanied me.

2. The meeting with the King lasted one hour. I have never seen him so grim or so obviously under pressure. It was apparent that he had to use the utmost in self-restraint to keep his emotions from erupting openly. At several points in the conversation he had tears in his eyes. Then he said that although the surface manifestations of discontent in the form of demonstrations had abated, pressures under the surface were in fact building up. The discontent on the West Bank is deeper than he had imagined. "The growing split between East Bank and West Bank has ruined my dreams." The only thing that binds the army to him, he said, is traditional loyalty, but this tie is daily growing weaker. "There is near despair in the army and the army no longer has confidence in me. A contributing factor is that the army is over-extended throughout the country for reasons of internal security, and this is causing the army and the people to become increasingly fed up, an obvious objective of those opposed to this regime." The King observed that he is beset on all sides by enemies, outside Jordan and within Jordan, with Syria openly calling for his overthrow, publicly offering arms for the purpose, and covertly infiltrating arms and terrorists into Jordan to help achieve the purpose.

4. The King said he simply must have Washington's decision on his request for assistance. Nor could he longer forego the presence and help of General Khammash in Amman at this critical time. General Khammash had been in Washington for nearly two weeks, and as yet he has been given no answer. Khammash's appointment with Secretary McNamara has been twice postponed, and the appointment is now set for Wednesday. The King is aware that the Israeli FonMin is visiting Washington early next week, before Wednesday./2/ The King wishes General Khammash to leave Washington on Wednesday evening, and whatever answer General Khammash is given before he leaves will have to be considered by the King as the final answer. Time is running out on him, said the King, and he can no longer delay making decisions on the courses of action he must take. In the circumstances a temporizing answer to Khammash would have to be considered as a negative answer.

/2/December 14.

5. If General Khammash receives an answer "which is not responsive," the King would not go to Washington, as, until recently, he had contemplated doing should Khammash fail to get a satisfactory answer. The King said he greatly admires President Johnson and it would give him great personal satisfaction to meet with the President personally. But the pressures building up on him are so great, he said, that there is no longer time for a trip to Washington. Nor, if Khammash is unsuccessful, would a trip by him, he reflected, with its attendant publicity, serve the interests of either of us. For a decade, the King said, we and he have been partners. And in this critical hour we are the only friend to whom he can turn. If we cannot help him, he said, then he must move quickly to an alternate course. "The right answer from the US would enable me to justify my past policy to my army, to my people, to the PLO, and to everyone else. If I do not get the right answer, even I must conclude my past policy has been a failure."

6. Since he was unsuccessful in obtaining postponement of the Arab Defense Council meeting in Cairo, the King said, and since Khammash has not gotten an answer from us, the King had felt he had no choice but to make a concession to the pressures he was subjected to at the Cairo meeting. Friday he had had to instruct his delegation in Cairo to agree to the stationing of Saudi and Iraqi troops in Jordan. The King said that three brigades of these foreign Arab troops would be involved. In return for this concession the Arab Defense Council had agreed to meet Jordan's demands, which include, inter alia, the strengthening of Egyptian forces in the Israeli border area (presumably Sinai). The stationing of Iraqi and Saudi troops in Jordan would not come about for a least two months, said Hussein, since a great deal had to be worked out first. I asked the King whether in the event the US were responsive to his request for assistance he would nonetheless have to go through with the stationing of Iraqi and Saudi troops in Jordan. The King replied that he supposed he might somehow be able to head it off during the course of the technical negotiations to come in this regard. He said he is not happy with the instructions he had to send to his delegation in Cairo.

7. The King said that if the US cannot be responsive to his request for assistance, he saw three courses open to him.

8. The first course was to turn to the East. "I will not try to mislead you, nor to blackmail you, by telling you I will turn to the East. I cannot and will not do so. My reign has been devoted towards building Jordan to be a self-sufficient, moderate, evolutionary state. I have all my life fought the East. If in the end Jordan feels she must turn to the East, it would have to be under someone else, not with me."

9. The second alternative, said the King, was to "batten down the hatches and take on everyone who is working against me at one and the same time." This was a course which tempted him, said the King, because he was ready for a fight and he did not care about his own fate. But, he said, "The deck is stacked against me and I do not have the right to commit those who have been loyal to me to a course which would likely mean their doom."

10. The third alternative, said the King, is the one which commends itself to him as the best. He would declare the West Bank a "military directorate" and call on all Arab states, and the PLO, to furnish forces to be stationed on the West Bank for the protection of that area. Jordan would leave on the West Bank its pro rata contribution of forces, and withdraw the remainder of its forces, now stationed on the West Bank, to the East Bank. The King would not, he said, make this as an offer, to be accepted or rejected by the Palestinians and by the other Arab states. He would simply announce this is what he has decided to do, and if other Arab states do not furnish the necessary defense forces, that would just be too bad. At least this arrangement would permit him to make a redoubt of the East Bank, he said, and "this might offer me one last chance to serve my cause." The King observed that Prime Minister Tell thought of the "military directorate" idea as a means of calling the bluff of Palestinians and of other Arab states. Hussein indicated he diagnoses the situation in Jordan as more critical than does Tell. He indicated further that he is serious about establishing a "military directorate," and not as a means to call a bluff. The King said he was quite aware that if the West Bank were transformed into a "military directorate", much as he envisages, Israel might decide to take military action. He said this was a chance he and all the Arabs would simply have to take. To try to maintain the status quo in the face of an unfavorable response from Washington to his request for assistance was clearly impossible.

11. Comment: There were many indications during the course of the conversation that the King has become suspicious of US motivations and intentions with respect to Jordan. He is perturbed that we were not able to give General Khammash an answer during the first week the General was in Washington. I gather his apprehensions are twofold: (A) that, as he sees it, we are so closely tied to Israel, and the Israelis can generate such pressure on us, that this is a powerful inhibiting factor in our ability to respond to the King's request for assistance; (B) that the King believes the US does not have full appreciation of the seriousness of the situation concerning Jordan or of what the King considers the potent desires of others to replace our influence in Jordan, or even to liquidate Jordan.

12. I think we can take at face value the King's statement that we must give General Khammash an answer by Wednesday and that the answer we give will be considered by the King to be the final answer.

13. I regret I cannot say with any degree of certainty what the King and General Khammash would consider to be a "satisfactory response." Since General Khammash is in Washington, and he is the key man in this regard and the King will likely abide by Khammash's judgment, the Department is in a better position than Embassy Amman to probe the answer. I am fairly certain, however, that the package outlined in paragraph 6 of our tel 1415/3/ represents minimum, and I cannot exclude the possibility that even that package is undershooting what Khammash and the King consider to be the minimum.

/3/Telegram 1415 from Amman, December 6, reported disaffection in the Jordanian Army and urged a positive response to the Khammash mission. Paragraph 6 recommended providing the army with a $20 million package of defensive equipment, increasing annual budgetary support by $16 million to finance a defensive buildup, delivering previously negotiated ground and air packages, leaving the door open to future negotiations on items on which they could not reach agreement, and preparing for an increased deployment of equipment on the West Bank. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 23 JORDAN)

14. The concept of a Palestine entity is not a new idea with the King; he was turning over something of this sort in his mind last summer in political rather than military terms as a means of coping with his West Bank problem.

15. The King said he hoped the views he had expressed at the meeting last evening could be brought to the personal attention of the President.


Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL JORDAN-US. Secret; Immediate; Exdis; Noforn. Repeated to London, CINCSTRIKE, OSD, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Baghdad, Kuwait, and Jidda and passed to the White House. Rostow sent a copy to the President with a covering memorandum stating that he would want to read "this rather ominous cable." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Jordan, Vol. III)


Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.