Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (McGhee)1

Participants: Dr. Charles Malik, Minister of Lebanon
Mr. George Hakim, Counselor, Legation of Lebanon
Mr. George C. McGhee, Asst. Secretary, NEA
Mr. G. Lewis Jones, Director, NE

Dr. Charles Malik returned very recently from a stay of approximately three months in the Lebanon and, as he told me in our first talk on August 28,2 he brought back with him a wide range of instructions from the new Lebanese Government regarding U.S.-Lebanese relations. Those instructions cover the social, economic and defense fields. It was the latter category that Dr. Malik proposed that we discuss at lunch today.

Mr. Malik started off with the assertion that the most unkind thing the Western Powers could do for the Middle Eastern States is to be passive and neutral regarding developments there. He hoped that the Western Powers would reconcile their differences and henceforth pursue a more forthright policy in the area. He said that there was a difference between old fashioned imperialism and exploitation and firm but friendly guidance. The Near Eastern States clearly needed western tutelage. He admitted that a firmer line by the Western Powers would give rise to Soviet charges of imperialism and intervention. He believed, however, that “you cannot please everybody” and that the Western Powers should, in their own interest, as well as the interest of the Near East, be willing to give firm guidance when this is required.… He did not think that the Western Powers should be squeamish.

Mr. Malik, denying that he was in any sense a military man, advanced the thesis that the U.S.–UK–France must desire a defense structure in the general area of the Near East. The Lebanon and most of the NE States, with the exception of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, are Mediterranean countries. Consequently, he suggested that all of the states of the Mediterranean, “including Spain”, should be bound into some form of Mediterranean Pact in which the U.S. and UK would participate. He thought that Egypt would be interested in such a pact. He knew that the Lebanon would be; he thought the Syrians would also be receptive and, by “special arrangement”, Israel could be in such a pact. Mr. Malik said that there could be no objection to Iraq [Page 1010]and Saudi Arabia, if they desired to do so, adhering to the Mediterranean Pact.

What did I think?

I replied that in our strategic thinking we looked first to the threat. The threat to the NE would take the form of a Soviet thrust from the north and east (via Iran, Iraq and Turkey). It was most unlikely that Lebanon would be threatened from the Mediterranean where Soviet activity would likely be confined to submarine action designed to cut the supply line. The defense of the Near East should take place in the mountains of Turkey and Iraq. It is for this reason that we conceived the Arab States and Israel as a strategic entity. Yugoslavia, Italy and Spain had almost nothing in common with Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia in defense matters.

I told Mr. Malik that he had undoubtedly seen press references to a Near East Command Structure. There was nothing firm I could tell him on this subject, but if such a command, supported by the U.S., UK, France, Turkey and Egypt came into being, would the Lebanon cooperate? Mr. Malik replied that he was sure that the Lebanon would cooperate in any scheme which (a) did not jeopardize Lebanon’s membership in the Arab League, and (b) did not alter Lebanon’s attachment to the Mediterranean. He said the Lebanon was full of ideas regarding defense. He had in his pocket lists of military matériel which the Lebanon proposed to seek from the United States. He looked forward to talking to me about these lists. He indicated that the Lebanon was resolved to stay in the camp of the West and that too much importance should not be attached to the minor “go-slow tactics” of the Lebanese Government with a view to displaying solidarity with the other Arab States. The decision had been made and the Lebanon would not go back on it.

Mr. Jones said that the area defense concept inevitably brought up the problem of Israel. In two wars the communication facilities of Israel and Haifa Harbor had been of the utmost importance. Israel, on geographic grounds, must be part of any area defense pattern. From the political point of view, Israel was solidly Western oriented.

Mr. Malik and Mr. Hakin did not take exception to this statement.

I told Mr. Malik that I was very glad to have his assurance regarding the firm will of Lebanon to defend itself. It came as no surprise to me because the President of the Lebanon, when I talked with him last Spring3 had given me similar assurances. The key element it seemed to me was “will”. The will to resist is the element upon which the United States and the Western Powers can build. Clear examples of this are Greece and Turkey. Their will came first and the aid followed. [Page 1011]Unfortunately, neutralist talk in the Arab States was not helpful in attracting aid for them. Demonstrations of will, on the other hand, are likely to produce results; and Arab State should say to the U.S.: “these are our plans to strengthen ourselves militarily. We would like your help but whether or not you give it, we are determined to carry these plans through.”

I said that it seemed to me that the Arab States who refuse to stand up and be counted on the side of the West are doing themselves and the world at large a disservice. I appreciated that there was nothing in Arab “neutralism” comparable to the “neutralism” of Nehru. Just the same, Congress, if it is to be sympathetic, must have some positive signs of Arab will to go upon.

Mr. Malik said that he thought the Arabs would give us signs—witness what he had just told me about the attitude of Lebanon—but that we should not be discouraged if they are somewhat slow. The West, on its side, has done very little for the Arabs for a long time. The problem of Israel and the refugees is still upon the scene. The United States and the other Western Powers must have patience in their dealings with the Arabs, realizing that their heart is in the right place.

The conversation was inconclusive. Mr. Malik, on his side, produced the idea of complete Lebanese goodwill toward the West. For my part, I hope I left him with the impression that the West is not indifferent to the defense problems of the Near East but, on the contrary, is giving the matter the most careful study.

  1. Copies sent to London, Paris, Cairo, Jidda, Baghdad, Ankara, Beirut, and Damascus. Drafted by G. L. Jones.
  2. Memorandum of conversation not found in Department of State files.
  3. A record of this conversation has not been found in the Department of State files.