Memorandum of Conversation, by Lieutenant Colonel Harold B. Hoskins

I had over an hour with the President, during which time he gave me an opportunity to outline in full the results of my mission to Saudi Arabia and to report to him in detail on much of the political information regarding the whole Middle East that King Ibn Saud had given me. During the course of our conversation the President read the letter that the King had sent to him and also the aide-mémoire1 given to me by the King which outlined in detail the reasons of the King for being unwilling to meet Dr. Weizmann or anyone connected with the Jewish Agency. I also showed to the President photographs of the presentation of the Jeep and of the [Page 812] Walkie-Talkie to the King, as well as photographs of the irrigation project at el Kharj, 75 miles south of Riyadh.
The President expressed understanding of the King’s refusal to see Dr. Weizmann in view of the attempted bribe that had been made. The President also expressed surprise and irritation that his own name as guarantor of payment had been in any way brought into this matter since there was of course no basis in fact for doing so. The only suggestion that the President had ever made that even bordered on this subject was, he said, in a talk that he had had with Dr. Wise2 several years ago in which he had suggested that if the Jews wished to get more land in Palestine they might well think of buying arable land outside of Palestine and assisting Arabs financially to move from Palestine to such areas.
The President seemed much interested in learning of the wide grasp of world affairs that the King had obtained in considerable part at least through his radio monitoring service whereby he is kept informed several times a day of what the radio in various Axis and Allied countries is saying. Mr. Roosevelt also was advised in regard to various facets of the King’s character, especially his fundamental honesty and his deep religious sincerity as well as his sound recognition of his own limitations in dealing with any matters outside of Saudi Arabia. At the same time I pointed out that the King’s moral leadership extended not only throughout the Arab world but throughout the whole Moslem world as well. Furthermore, his standing had grown even greater in recent months as a result of his forthright statement to the editor of Life magazine regarding Palestine and the Jewish problem.
As to the Jewish refugee problem the President mentioned the fact that he had been receiving an increasing amount of information that indicated that many European Jews after the war would not care to migrate to Palestine but would prefer to return to their countries of origin in Europe. This of course was based on the assumption that in returning to the countries where they had lived before the war these Jews would be assured of security for themselves, their property and their belongings. Because of this situation as well as because of the large number of Jews that have been massacred by the Axis, the President felt that the number of Jews pressing to enter Palestine after the war may be substantially less than was originally anticipated.
As to Jewish refugees who may wish to move out of Europe the President said that he was still working on the possibility of at least a certain number of them being settled in the trans-Andean portions of Colombia in South America.
In regard to Palestine, the President seemed well informed on the complications with the Arabs not only in Palestine but throughout all the Middle East if a Jewish State were established in Palestine. I had the opportunity to emphasize again what he had already been told—that the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine can only be imposed by force and can only be maintained by force. The President pointed out that there was no agreement between the Zionists and the non-Zionists in regard to the number of additional settlers that Palestine could absorb. He realized, however, that any substantial number of additional Jewish settlers on the land in Palestine can at best only be accomplished slowly and only after further considerable expenditures of time and money.
As to a solution of the Palestine problem, the President stated that his own thinking leaned toward a wider use of the idea of trusteeship for Palestine—of making Palestine a real Holy Land for all three religions, with a Jew, a Christian, and a Moslem as the three responsible trustees. He said he realized it might be difficult to get the agreement of the Jews to such a plan but if Moslems and Christians of the world were agreed he hoped the Jews could also be persuaded. This concept to be successful would, he also realized, have to be presented as a solution larger and more inclusive than the establishment of an Arab State or of a Jewish State. He realized that this idea of course required further thought and needed to be worked out in greater detail, but at least that was the line along which his mind was running.
I said I believed that the Arabs could probably be brought to agree to such a plan if proper assurances were given them by both Great Britain and the United States that Palestine would never under any circumstances become a Jewish State. The Arabs, I explained, feared that any further substantial increase in the number of Jews in Palestine was simply a first step toward making the Jews a majority in Palestine. The next step might then be a further change in policy that would give to the Jews control over the Arabs in Palestine. This the Arabs were of course entirely unwilling to agree to. In this connection I referred to the proposed statement regarding Palestine that both he and the British Government had approved as giving to the Arabs the kind of assurance they desired. In answer, the President stated that he did not expect this statement would be issued as, I understood him to say, that both governments had now withdrawn their support of it.
As to the United States political set-up in the Middle East I outlined the fact that we did not always have a coordinated political policy because our American ambassadors and ministers tended to think primarily in terms of American relations to the country to which each was accredited. The result was that at times there was [Page 814] a lack of a regional or area point of view in regard to various problems that extended over the whole Middle East area and beyond the confines of any one country. For example, I pointed out that an intelligent American policy in regard to the Moslems should be framed not simply in the light of conditions in any one state in the Middle East but should include consideration of Moslem attitudes in neighboring Middle Eastern States as well as in North Africa, India, and even Russia and China. I said that the recent appointment of Mr. Landis3 with the personal rank of minister to deal with economic problems of the Middle East area was an excellent first step and I hoped that a similar step on the political side could also be taken.
The President inquired regarding the position and influence of Prince Feisal on the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia so that he might be guided accordingly in his conversations with the Prince on Thursday, September 30.4 I explained that, although the Prince was Foreign Minister in name, actually King Ibn Saud kept in his own hands all matters of foreign policy. In this regard I pointed out that, for example, during my recent visit to Riyadh, all my conversations had been with the King alone, although no doubt Prince Feisal was later informed of what occurred.
The President suggested that he would like to talk to me further after he had seen Prince Feisal on Thursday and said he would get in touch with me at that time.
  1. Neither printed.
  2. Dr. Stephen S. Wise, American Zionist leader.
  3. James M. Landis, American Director of Economic Operations in the Middle East, and principal American civilian representative at the Middle East Supply Center, Cairo; for correspondence regarding decision of the United States in 1942 to participate with the British in the operations of the Middle East Supply Center, see Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. iv, pp. 1 ff.
  4. For correspondence relating to the visit of Amir Faisal, see pp. 840 ff.