Memorandum by the Ambassador to Iraq (Wadsworth) to the Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Henderson)

top secret

Subject: Conversation with the President

As you know, I had prepared a paper outlining remarks I proposed to make to the President when received by him today. A copy of that paper is attached.1 It is in essence a report on American-Iraqi relations written within the framework of a brief exposition of the situation in the Near East as shaped primarily by Soviet pressures and by United Nations action in the Palestine problem.

I had, too, arranged with Admiral Souers2 that my paper be put by him in the President’s hands yesterday. This was done primarily in the thought that, in any discussion we might have, both the President and I might dispense with preliminaries and get down to what I hoped might be the nature of any representations he might wish me to make on my return to Baghdad.

Admiral Souers telephoned me this morning that he had discussed my paper briefly with the President who had said that it would be helpful and that he would be glad to discuss it with me. The Admiral commented that the President was under much pressure to support the United Nations in carrying out the partition plan but was not disposed to use American troops to that end.

The Admiral then asked that either you or I keep him informed of developments. He is in touch with George Kennan on the subject of the paper now under preparation in the Department for consideration by the National Security Council.3 Consequently, his request to you is primarily in respect to what might be the upshot of my talk with the President. He was, too, interested in any current information you might be able to give him on British attitudes and actions.

I was received promptly at noon by the President and stayed with him the better part of 15 minutes.

[Page 593]

After salutation, I said I was particularly grateful to Admiral Souers for bringing my paper to his attention. I had wanted to do more than report perfunctorily regarding American-Iraqi relations.

The President answered that he had read my paper and was glad to have it. The situation was certainly one for concern. He had kept in close touch. Lovett knew the situation well; so did General Marshall. He himself saw alike with the State Department.

I said I knew that the National Security Council was to consider the whole matter, from all its various angles. In my paper I had wanted to present one of them, i.e. that of his representatives in the field. We were up against a pretty tough proposition. Consequently, I hoped that, after the National Security Council had thought the question through, it would go a step further and suggest something positive which we in the field might say, something constructive which we could use to build better and mutually beneficial relations.

The President replied that the whole problem was being worked on actively and constructively. The basic trouble was and had been that bullheadedness and fanaticism constantly interfered. Two years ago he had found a sound approach. The British had gone along with his proposals for an Anglo-American commission.4 Attlee5 and Bevin had agreed that, if its report was unanimous, its recommendations would be applied. There had been a unanimous report. Grady had gone to London to get it implemented but had failed because of British bullheadedness and the fanaticism of our New York Jews. The British were still being bullheaded and American Jews were still being fanatic about it. One thing he could tell me though was that we would not send arms to the Near East and that we would only act through the United Nations.

I said that that assurance would be a great help to our representatives in the Near East; and I hoped that, after the National Security Council’s consideration, we could be authorized to go further and say that no American troops would be sent to Palestine to impose partition.

The President interrupted with a categorical ejaculation of concurrence and let me continue.

I continued: “Because, to us who are working on the problem in the field, partition seems, in the present situation, unworkable. It seems to us that a way must be found for United Nations reconsideration of the General Assembly’s recommendations of last November, primarily on the ground that they presumed Jewish-Arab cooperation which is now seen to be nonexistent.

[Page 594]

The President answered in substance that that was for the United Nations to decide, in the light of experience. The situation was bad; and there was, as he had said, too much fanaticism. [Here follow personal observations by President Truman and Ambassador Wadsworth.] And I added that, until we could get both sides to rid themselves of extremist groups and thinking, I could not see the possibility of getting far with any sensible workable compromise. Without that, I could not see how we could turn successfully to constructive projects. As he knew, there were many such projects, from oil development to the Tigris–Euphrates Valley scheme,6 which were of mutual benefit and which we just could not get on with effectively in the present situation.

The President picked up my reference to Iraq. Development of the Tigris–Euphrates plan, he commented, would support 15,000,000 people. There was one point in that connection he wanted to make. Tamerlane had destroyed that great ancient civilization. In the past, destruction had always been the aftermath of war. Today, for the first time in history, the conqueror was putting everything he had into reconstruction of the conquered. We were trying to get the world back on its feet. We would work, as he had said, through the United Nations; but reconstruction was the active policy of the United States. He wanted other countries to know this and to understand that we wanted to work with them in realizing that policy. As for the Near East, he could not say more than he had said to Amir Faisal7 and the Prince of Yemen8 who had come to see him last fall; and he had said much the same to the Prince Regent of Iraq who had stayed with him two years before.9

I answered that I could testify to his having made of the latter a very good friend and admirer. I was much struck, I said, by his comment that “For the first time in history, the conqueror’s policy was to reconstruct the conquered.” Might I not, I asked, repeat that phrase to the Prince Regent on my return to Baghdad? It made exactly the sort of point Near Eastern leaders would appreciate, for the record of their past was an almost continuous passage of conquerors and destructive conquests.

The President replied in the affirmative.

[Page 595]

I added: “And might I also, when next I see the Regent, tell him you again expressed to me, as you did last year, keen interest in facilitating realization of the Tigris–Euphrates Valley scheme?” The President answered “By all means” but added that Iraqi, like other Arab leaders, should realize that they have to play their parts to make this possible. There was nothing much constructive anyone could do if they (the Arab leaders) started sending their armies into Palestine. There was only one force which should go there if any should be needed and that was an international police force under the United Nations.

I answered that that too was along the lines of the reassurance I hoped I would be authorized to take back with me after the matter had been gone into by the National Security Council. The Arabs’ keenest fear today was that we, under Zionist pressures, would act unilaterally and send troops independently of the United Nations.

The President answered in substance: “We won’t, but they (the Arabs) must first assure me, before I can give them any categoric promises, that they won’t either.”

I answered that I could well understand that and that it was in just that field that I believed I and our other Chiefs of Missions in the Near East could be helpful.

There was, I continued, one other field of discussion in which I felt we could be helpful, if so authorized. The Arabs enjoy nothing more than a legal argument. They had questioned at Lake Success the constitutional authority of the General Assembly, basically limited as it is to discussion and recommendation, to divide a country against the wishes of the majority of its population. They had asked that this legal issue be submitted to the World Court for advisory opinion. They would probably raise this point again when the matter comes this month before the United Nations Security Council.

The President interrupted, as I was about to add that I hoped I might be authorized to say that we would not oppose any such proposal if made to the Security Council. He said in substance that, while this might be helpful, there was little he could say on the subject at this time. It would all have to be worked out here and at Lake Success; and he repeated that, having kept in close touch with Mr. Lovett and General Marshall and seeing the picture as they do, he felt he could go along with what the Department might recommend.

Then, taking my leave, I thanked the President again for seeing me and for talking so frankly. Whatever the Department might authorize me to say on my return to Baghdad, our talk would have been immensely helpful to me. The situation gave us all much concern but there was nothing more reassuring than to know it was in good hands.

G[eorge] W[adsworth]
[Page 596]

The Ambassador to Iraq (Wadsworth) to President Truman 10

Mr. President: I have sought this opportunity to see and pay my respects to you before returning to my post at Baghdad. I should welcome particularly any general directives you may feel it desirable to give me.

The Regent, Prince Abdul Illah, has charged me with presenting his compliments and kindest regards to you personally. He recalls with warmest appreciation that when visiting this country in 1945, he was your first official foreign guest in the White House. He and his ministers have anxiously sought American understanding and friendship.

The situation in Iraq, as throughout the Arab World, is gravely troubled. Strong new social and political ferments are at work. When I left Baghdad last September for temporary detail here the Prime Minister charged me with an important message.

Its essence was that, in a world of increasing political tension between the Western Powers and Russia, Iraq believed the time had come for it to take positive action to identify itself forthrightly with the major policies and regional strategic program of Great Britain and the United States.

Iraq, he said, in such a relationship, envisaged for itself a position closely resembling that of its neighbor and friend, Turkey. It could, too, helpfully play a role as “pivot” between the Saadabad group of countries* and those of the Arab League in the evolution of a common policy of defense against Soviet aggression and communist infiltration.

Further, he said, Iraq would need British-American assistance (and support when applying to the World Bank for credits) to realize its great Tigris-Euphrates Valley development project. He had particularly appreciated the expression of keen interest in this project which you authorized me last year to convey to the Regent.

However, the Prime Minister concluded, none of this could be brought within the field of practical politics unless a mutually acceptable settlement of the Palestine problem be found, with our help, by the United Nations.

Such a settlement, Mr. President, has not been found. Rather are we, today, in Arab eyes, chiefly and almost solely responsible for the United Nations recommendation for Palestine “Partition with Economic Union.” Arab leaders are convinced that in spearheading that [Page 597]action the United States was, under Zionist pressures, unfaithful to its own principles, notably those of self-determination and majority rule.

The United States is, and can hardly be otherwise, the main driving force in the United Nations. The Arab World does not object to this so long as it is convinced that our objectives are those of peace, security and fair dealing.

We are now, to put it bluntly, highly suspect in their eyes—to such, a degree even that they fear these same Zionist pressures will impel you to order American troops to Palestine to implement by force that single portion of the General Assembly’s recommendations which envisaged a sovereign Jewish state.

More than forty percent of the population of such a state would be Arabs whose ancestors had owned the land for many centuries; a hostile state, they say, lying athwart the world’s most strategically important landbridge, which, running from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, separates some 20,000,000 Arabs in southwest Asia from a like number in northeast Africa.

Mr. President, until this Arab fear is removed, there will be little if any constructive work in the field of Arab-American relations which can be accomplished. Four points are outstanding:

The great Tigris-Euphrates Valley development project, which might in five years meet half the world’s wheat shortage, cannot progress;
Our Middle East oil development schemes, on which success of your great European Recovery Plan may well depend, will be curtailed;
British-American strategic interest must continue to suffer, as in the case of the recently-signed Anglo-Iraqi Treaty11 which led last week to fall of the Iraqi government amid popular repudiation of an alliance which would have assured us as well as Britain the use, in an emergency, of the greatest military air base in the Middle East;
Our moral influence, built in large measure by private American institutions and enterprise, through a century of Arab renaissance, must increasingly suffer from the stultifying effect of a new and growing Arab scepticism as to our political bona fides.

May I not, therefore, take back with me your personal assurance that the American Government will not support or participate in any project to impose partition by force? May I not say that no American troops will be so employed, either directly as an American force or disguised under the banner of the United Nations?

With such an assurance, I believe your representatives to the Arab countries, can effectively prevent direct action seriously harmful to vital American interests pending appropriate action by the United [Page 598]Nations to reconsider the Palestine Problem in the light of current developments.

It would, too, I believe, be immediately helpful were you to authorize your representatives at the Arab capitals to add that the American Government would not oppose, in any proper organ of the United Nations, any proposal to the effect that, before decision be taken to implement any of the present recommendations, except it be in general agreement with the wishes of the population, the competency of such organ so to decide be submitted to the World Court for advisory opinion.

I make this latter suggestion because an Arab resolution to seek such opinion on basic legal issues of the problem was defeated at Lake Success by but a single vote; and there is ground to believe that in a less emotional atmosphere it would have received a substantial majority.

A gesture of this nature now, if supplementing the suggested assurance as to the non-use of force, might well temporarily ease our strained relations with the Arab governments and enable your representatives near those Governments to exercise a beneficial moderating effect against the adoption of extremist policies (including direct armed aggression against Palestine) now under consideration in Arab capitals.

The essential objectives and major purpose of our regional policies in the Near East have long been effectively summarized by the phrase: “Peace, progress and stability.” Today, I feel, time is of the essence. By now supporting Partition and the establishment of a Jewish state, we are supporting a policy most calculated to defeat our major purpose and which has already begun to produce the opposite, namely war, stagnation and chaos.

And, if we fail to achieve our major purpose, the probable end-results will be irreparable damage to our vital national interest. I conceive it probable even that such end results may well include eventual subjection of much if not all of the Arab World, and of Iran as well, to Soviet domination.

It is these conclusions which, as your Ambassador, I have felt it my duty to report.

In so reporting, I have not endeavored to suggest a solution of the Palestine problem. On that immensely troubling subject my own views, which I submit with all deference, may be outlined as follows:

No solution can be found unless the present recommendations of the General Assembly be changed;
Until they are changed, conditions in Palestine and the Arab World will become increasingly chaotic;
A workable solution can best be found within the framework of eventual compromise agreement between Arabs and Jews; [Page 599]
Such agreement can best be found after a period of direct United Nations trusteeship over the whole of Palestine, similar to that now envisaged for the Jerusalem area;
Earliest possible establishment of such a trusteeship seems vital to prevent the present situation from further, perhaps irreparably, degenerating towards chaos.
  1. Printed on p. 596. Ambassador Wadsworth had also conversed with President Truman on January 16, 1947, when he was the Appointed Ambassador to Iraq. His memorandum to Mr. Henderson and the “Outline of Proposed Remarks to the President”, both dated January 16, 1947, have not been printed. They may be found in the files of the Department of State under 123 Wadsworth, George.
  2. Sidney W. Souers, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council.
  3. Presumably the report of February 11 by the Policy Planning Staff, p. 619.
  4. For documentation on the activities of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. vii, pp. 576 ff.
  5. Clement R. Attlee, British Prime Minister.
  6. Regarding the economic development of Iraq, see instruction 17, March 29, to Baghdad, Part 1 of this volume, p. 77.
  7. For the memorandum of conversation between President Truman and Amir Faisal on December 13, 1946, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. vii, p. 729.
  8. For information on the visit of Prince Abdullah to the United States in July 1947, see editorial note, ibid., 1947, vol. v, p. 1344.
  9. For information on the visit of Abdul Ilah, Regent of Iraq, to the United States in May 1945, see ibid., 1945, vol. viii, p. 586.
  10. The source text is a carbon copy undated and unsigned.
  11. These are the Moslem countries—Turkey, Iraq, Iran’ and Afghanistan—which signed in 1937 at Saadabad (near Teheran) a pact of mutual assistance. Pakistan is a possible applicant to membership. [Footnote in the source text.]
  12. For documentation on this subject, see Part 1 of this volume, pp. 202 ff.