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John F. Kennedy Administration: U.S. Considering U.N. Resolution On Israel-Syria Confrontation In Tiberias

(April 11, 1962)

Correspondence between the U.N. Adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Ludlow) and the Assistant Secretary (Talbot) concerning developments made in relation to the U.S.'s suggested U.N. resolution and condemnation of Israeli responses to Syrian provocations around Tiberias.

Lake Tiberias

Two conversations which I had this morning lead me to pass on the following information and suggestions:

1. The President called Harlan Cleveland last night and wanted to know why things had developed the way they had on the Lake Tiberias incident without his knowing the details and being kept informed. Harlan, I assume, made the logical defense, that the Secretary's memorandum on the original resolution calling for condemnation had gone over to the President/2/ and this had been followed up by further contacts between State and the White House, exclusive of Mr. Stevenson's relations with the White House. The President reputedly told Harlan that Mike Feldman was the man who handled problems of the sort with which the Council had just been confronted. The President was obviously very much annoyed by the amount of pressure which he was getting on this particular problem.

/2/Document 226.

2. The Israeli correspondent, Yaari, who obviously is more than a correspondent since his brother was in the Embassy here in Washington and is now in the Foreign Ministry, called on me to get an explanation as to why the resolution adopted in the Security Council last week was so "one-sided". He gave me the expected Ben-Gurion and soon-to-be Zionist line on our unfairness; he particularly attacked Mr. Stevenson for having been critical of Syrian provocations in his first speech and his not seeing to it that there was similar criticism in the resolution which was adopted.

I defended our resolution as eminently just and as balanced as we could get it under the circumstances given Israel's previous offenses of a similar nature. I pointed out that Mr. Stevenson had heavily stressed Syrian provocations but our position on this subject was well-known. I also emphasized that our concern was to get a positive resolution which would strengthen the UN in the area and that in order to do this, we had to give careful consideration to the tactical situation in the UN. This tactical situation not only included Soviet veto, but our own careful estimate of a substantial fallout of votes on our resolution if we were unable to take the wind out of the UAR (Syrian) resolution which had been tabled previously.

We went through the rest of the well-known differences which we have including Israel's non-participation in the MAC, its sovereignty over the Demilitarized Zone and sovereignty over Lake Tiberias--all of which were raised at Yaari's initiative.

3. In view of the two paragraphs above, it is perhaps well for you to have full recollection of the following developments in this case:

a. Our first draft resolution which we proposed to send to the White House with Mr. Ball's memorandum included the positive elements of cooperation with the UN but had as operative paragraphs the condemnation of Israel's retaliatory action of March 16, 17 and a subsequent paragraph which held that Syria's actions on March 8 were a clear violation of the Armistice Agreement and the provisions of Article 2 (4) of the Charter. You will recall that Mr. Ball was unhappy originally at the idea of condemnation but bought our position on the basis of my suggestion that Israel having [had] been condemned twice already for similar military action. Were we to start with language less than that, it would be misunderstood in the Arab world to our detriment and, far worse, we could not, given the problems of domestic politics, "escalate upward" the language of the resolution. Mr. Ball was persuaded and the original resolution went over as indicated.

You will also recall that the following day Mr. McGhee asked the same question and we gave him the same answer and he was satisfied with our decision on condemnation.

b. The first time that Mr. Stevenson apparently paid any attention to the resolution was Tuesday night, April 3, at which time he rejected the condemnation paragraph and decided to speak to the President the following noon at luncheon (luncheon for President Goulart, Brazil) on the subject. He came to Washington and at a meeting following the luncheon (at which I was present), he indicated that the President had rather quickly brushed him off by suggesting that the entire problem was between him and the Department. As a result of our meeting that afternoon, it was Bob Strong's and my impression that Mr. Stevenson had agreed that our position was correct, namely: that condemnation was necessary and that there had to be a subsequent paragraph commenting on Syria's action as a violation of the Armistice Agreement, etc. Subsequent to that time, you, Harlan Cleveland and Mr. Stevenson met with the Secretary. You are acquainted with the circumstances of that meeting. The result of that meeting was the preparation of the memorandum which went forward jointly initialed by you and Harlan the following day setting forth alternative positions with regard to the critical paragraph on Israel's action but forcefully urging that the stronger position be taken.

c. I am informed that Mr. Stevenson, following that meeting with you and the Secretary, notified Mr. Schlesinger and, I gather, Mr. Bundy that he favored a weaker phrasing of the resolution. In the meantime USUN (I presume Charlie Yost) had shown our original condemnation resolution to the French, which meant that it was also presumably thereafter promptly shown to the Israelis. Thus, by Wednesday night, the Israelis had seen our original resolution. By Thursday they had heard that there was uncertainty about such strong phrasing; by Thursday night, when Mr. Stevenson had returned to New York and was in negotiation with Michael Comay and the Syrians, the Israelis knew that we had officially backed off from our position.

d. Thursday night and Friday morning, USUN was negotiating not only with the British and French, but with the Syrians and the Israelis. The result of the negotiations was the tabling of our resolution Friday afternoon which emphatically let up on the Syrians. However, in so doing, the Israelis became increasingly aware of the fact that our amendments were less and less satisfactory to them, to the point where the resolution was less balanced from the point of view of our original resolution which they had already seen. In short, USUN tried to "escalate up" with the consequences which we had foreseen.

4. Our resolution was adopted because, for once, the Syrians and the Egyptians were smart enough to realize that a little bit of indirect condemnation of Israel was better than a Soviet veto or no resolution at all. Had the UAR resolution remained and been put to the vote, it would have failed of adoption for lack of votes. However, had that happened, the Soviets would have insisted on incorporating the strong elements of that resolution by amendment into our resolution. Those efforts at amendment would have failed and this would have served as the basis for the Soviets' vetoing our resolution on the basis that it was not strong enough.

5. A comparison of the two resolutions, i.e., the first that we put up and the one that was adopted, certainly gives basis for Israeli irritation at us, although they had hoped that either resolution would be defeated so that there would be no obligation on the books for them to cooperate with TSO. The lesson to be drawn from this go-around, and in defense of NEA's position, is that the Israelis, having seen the original resolution and then having seen us back off from it, saw the United States--at least USUN--being patently unfairer by sacrificing substance for tactical considerations with the passage of time in order to get a resolution through. By such a procedure, we initially admit to the significance of internal pressure while ultimately accepting the necessity of being smarter from the point of view of international tactics. From this it is clear that a decision must be made, wherever a Palestine debate occurs in the Security Council, as to what is wisest in terms of our substantive international interests in the UN. We must draft our resolution accordingly, and refuse to negotiate it with either the Arabs or the Israelis. Obviously, the resolution must take into consideration the risk of a Soviet veto, but the willingness to allow internal politics to be injected into United Nations considerations will never satisfy the interested political pressure group, and the net result of trying to oblige it is to offend--to our ultimate detriment in our international relations with Israel and the Arab States because the Arabs are painfully conscious of any Administration's possible sensitivity on problems affecting Israel.

/1/Source: Department of State, NEA/IAI Files: Lot 70 D 229, Territory & Boundary Disputes--Israel-Syria. Confidential; Personal; For Eyes Only.

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