Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file

No. 137
Memorandum of Discussion at the 147th Meeting of the National Security Council, Monday, June 1, 19531

top secret
eyes only

Present at the 147th meeting of the Council were the President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense; and the Director for Mutual Security. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Director of Defense Mobilization; the Director, Bureau of the Budget; General Collins for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; The Assistant to the President; Robert Cutler, Special Asistant to the President; C. D. Jackson, Special Assistant to the President; General Persons, Special Assistant to the President; the Military Liaison Officer; Robert R. Bowie, Department of State; Frank C. Nash, Department [Page 380] of Defense; General Roberts, Office of the Director for Mutual Security; Elbert P. Tuttle, Department of the Treasury; W. Y. Elliott, Office of the Director of Defense Mobilization; General Gerhart, Joint Chiefs of Staff; Robert Amory, Jr., Central Intelligence Agency; the Executive Secretary, NSC; the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a summary of the discussion and the chief points taken at the meeting.

The Situation in the Near East and South Asia

Secretary Dulles said that obviously he would be unable to deal with all the events of his trip,2 but he did wish to inform the Council of those aspects of it which affected NSC projects.

Egypt. Secretary Dulles and Mr. Stassen had arrived in Egypt with the expectation that it would be the key to the development of strength in the Middle East. Their view was now much modified. General Naguib had turned out not to be the “strong man” in Egypt, but merely a front behind which four military members of the Revolutionary Command Council exercised real power.… The situation with respect to the Suez base was extremely acute. Incidents occurred daily, and the Revolutionary Command Council was engaged in organizing a disguised military force for guerrilla operations against the British. In turn, the British were taking measures to meet this threat, and had developed plans for the reoccupation of Cairo and Alexandria in order to protect their nationals. If this occurred, the development would be disastrous for the Western powers.

Secretary Dulles said that he and Mr. Stassen had done everything they could to allay hostility to the United States, and believed that they had succeeded to a point. They had tried to educate General Naguib on the international importance of the Suez base, and had tried to indicate that the existence of this base on Egyptian soil did not constitute a violation of Egyptian sovereignty. It was rather a matter of assuring its availability in time of war. Secretary Dulles went on to add that it should certainly be possible to find a formula which would satisfy both the British and the Egyptians with regard to the Suez base. He had even outlined such a formula in Cairo. Though it was far from perfect, he believed it reasonably satisfied Western security interests in the base.

The British attitude Secretary Dulles described as “very tough”, and it was quite possible they will not accept this new formula. We must, however, do our utmost to influence them to do so, since General Naguib had agreed to wait only two or three weeks after [Page 381] Secretary Dulles’ return to Washington before taking action in the event of failure to resolve this issue. Secretary Dulles then pointed out to the Council that even if the United States succeeded in selling this new formula to the British and the Egyptians, the larger problem of political and economic stability in Egypt would be with us for years to come. He was therefore strongly inclined to believe that we must abandon our preconceived ideas of making Egypt the key country in building the foundations for a military defense of the Middle East.

Israel. Secretary Dulles found this country in an acute fiscal and economic situation. The Arab boycott was really hurting. He and Mr. Stassen had satisfied themselves that the Israelis genuinely desired peace. It was the view of the Israelis, however, that real peace with the Arab States could only come gradually through negotiation of specific issues seriatim, and not by a single over-all peace settlement.

The Israelis were obviously worried about the future direction of American policy, as were the Arabs. Israeli military strength Secretary Dulles estimated to be greater than the combined military strength of all the Arab States.

Secretary Dulles then informed the Council that he proposed, if the President agreed, to reaffirm in his broadcast this evening3 the Tripartite Declaration which had been made by President Truman on May 25, 1950. This had been designed to allay fears of aggression both of the Arab States and Israel. It had not been a notable success with the Arabs in the past, but its reaffirmation by the Eisenhower Administration might make it more effective.

Syria. Secretary Dulles believed that Syria was a state that offered real possibilities, thanks to Shishakli, who was a much more impressive figure than Naguib in Egypt. He was a man of much broader vision and deeper understanding of the relation of his country to world problems. Syria impressed Secretary Dulles as having hopeful economic potentialities. If these could be developed, Syria might be able to absorb a considerable number of Arab refugees. The country, however, needed more concrete evidence of the good intentions of the United States.

Iraq. Secretary Dulles found Iraq to be the Arab State most plainly concerned with the Soviet threat, because it was closer to the USSR and because it bordered on Iran. Like Syria, Iraq offered good economic possibilities. Its government was forward-looking and was using the revenues from its oil resources for the development of the national economy.

[Page 382]

Saudi Arabia. Secretary Dulles reminded the Council of the particular importance of this country to the United States because of our great oil concession there, and also because of our air base. Our relations with Saudi Arabia were at the moment poor. King Ibn Saud was old and crotchety, and had given them some unpleasant moments because he felt that the United States was not giving him sufficiently strong support in his current disputes with the British Government with regard to British protectorates on the borders of Saudi Arabia. The British had sent troops into certain of these sheikhdoms. While this seemed a minor affair in comparison with other problems in the world, it could have very bad consequences for the United States. We are trying to arbitrate these disputes and we may succeed, but, given the temperament and age of King Ibn Saud, it was quite possible that he would decide to throw away his alliance with the United States, cancel the oil concession and the air base, and throw in his lot with some other nation which he might feel would be a more faithful ally.

These real difficulties were compounded by certain minor irritations. We had delivered defective tires for which the Saudi Arabian Government had been over-charged. We had trained a certain number of Saudi Arabian officers, but again at a high price. Such errors by the United States caused ill will and should be rectified at once.

The President interposed to express shocked surprise and to indicate his belief that we should undertake to train such Saudi Arabian officers without charge.

Iran. Secretary Dulles did not stop in Iran on his trip lest he appear to take sides in the present dispute, but he had had a talk with Ambassador Henderson while he was in Pakistan. He had furthermore exchanged messages with Prime Minister Mossadegh. As a result he had a somewhat more hopeful impression of the Iranian situation. It seemed to him likely that the country’s agricultural economy could carry on for quite a time in the absence of an oil settlement, especially with a certain amount of technical assistance from the United States. Furthermore, Secretary Dulles warned the Council that even an oil settlement would not in itself bring stability to Iran, which woefully lacked any prospect of effective political leadership.

India. Secretary Dulles stated that he had had three talks with Prime Minister Nehru, and that these had been valuable in clearing away misapprehensions in the latter’s mind. They had talked about the armistice negotiations, and Secretary Dulles had done his best to indicate that the United States really desired an armistice and was not resorting to technicalities to avoid one. However, he found Prime Minister Nehru an utterly impractical statesman, [Page 383] quite unable to understand why the United States could not have accepted the Indian Resolution in its original form despite the fact that it would have compromised our whole position against forced repatriation. Nor did Nehru seem able to comprehend our difficulties with the Republic of Korea Government, though Secretary Dulles believed that as a result of his conversations, Nehru was aware of the dilemma in which the United States found itself. Impractical as he was on so many of these matters, Prime Minister Nehru was described by Secretary Dulles as very “realistic” on matters directly affecting India, such as the Kashmir dispute. With respect to Nepal, likewise, Nehru had asserted that India had made clear to the world that the Himalayas were its northern boundary and that trouble could be expected if anyone chose to violate this frontier. In summary, Secretary Dulles believed that his visit to India had been helpful. Our relationship with that country would be improved for the future even if no immediate change were detected.

Pakistan. Secretary Dulles described himself as immensely impressed by the martial and religious characteristics of the Pakistanis. These qualities had made him and Mr. Stassen feel that Pakistan was a potential strong point for us, and that we must do our best to help to tide over the famine with a grant of wheat.

Greece and Turkey. On their return, the Secretary and Mr. Stassen had stopped briefly in Greece and Turkey, and were well impressed with what they saw. There were pleas for additional armament for the troops of these nations and, indeed, it seemed to Secretary Dulles that both countries were eager to support larger military establishments than their economies could bear.

Libya. This new state was obviously feeble and under heavy British influence. As an example of unfortunate American tactics, Secretary Dulles noted that this Government had made an agreement with the Libyan Government to pay $1 million a year rental for our air base there. Negotiations on this issue were still going on, and the Libyan Government wished to raise the sum to $2 million. While this was certainly a very large sum, Secretary Dulles thought it most unfortunate that we had not been willing to pay a nickel thus far for rent of the air base. We should certainly offer to give them $500,000 on account. This was one of those many small things that we could do to improve our relations with the several Arab States, and Secretary Dulles said that he had a list of twenty or thirty others.

Conclusions. To sum up, said Secretary Dulles, the prestige of the Western powers in the Middle East was in general very low. The United States suffered from being linked with British and French imperialism. Nevertheless, we still had a reserve of good will, as [Page 384] was shown by the security precautions taken to protect him and Mr. Stassen in the course of their journey, and by the friendly demeanor of the ordinary people in these countries. Accordingly, Secretary Dulles believed we could regain our lost influence if we made a real effort. The great difficulty was the complete preoccupation of the Arab States with their own local problems and their lack of understanding and interest in the threat posed by the Soviet Union.

The general concept that Secretary Dulles brought back with him was that Pakistan could be made a strong loyal point. So, obviously, could Turkey. Syria and Iraq realized their danger, and could probably be induced to join with us. As for the countries further south, they were too lacking in realization of the international situation to offer any prospect of becoming dependable allies. Iran, continued Secretary Dulles, was the obvious weak spot in what could become a strong defensive arrangement of the northern tier of states: Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. But this arrangement was not hopeless if we could save Iran. Our immediate need, therefore, was to concentrate on changing the situation there. There was still much strong anti–Soviet sentiment in the country.

This new concept of a defense organization, added Secretary Dulles, promised much more than the former project of starting with Egypt as the center of a Middle East Defense Organization.

The President asked for further details with regard to the British protectorates on the borders of Saudi Arabia.

Secretary Dulles replied that he was not certain, but he believed that the British had set up these sheikdoms as protectorates many years ago.

The President then inquired why, in view of the obvious need of the friendship of Saudi Arabia, the British insisted on hanging on to these coastal positions.

Secretary Dulles replied that their objective was oil and subsurface rights in these areas, which, he added, had no clear boundaries and were accordingly an inevitable source of dispute.

The President then remarked that such good will trips as the Secretary and Mr. Stassen had taken were fine, but that he believed that we ought to take action instantly on all the very sore points, some of which Secretry Dulles had identified. There should be a quick follow-up to remove the causes of Arab hostility.

The Secretary of State agreed, and the President went on to observe that we should at once make a token payment for the rent of our base in Libya. The good faith of the United States was plainly involved.

The President then informed the Council that a prominent Egyptian, together with the Egyptian Ambassador, had come in to see [Page 385] him earlier in the morning. They had informed the President that they recognized the necessity of preserving the Suez base and keeping it in good condition, but they also reminded him that they had been occupied by the British for seventy years and were suffering from an acute inferiority complex. They had made it clear to the President, moreover, that they expected the United States to find a solution to this problem which would include the maintenance of the Suez base for the West.

Mr. Stassen then briefed the Council, with the aid of charts, on problems in the Near East directly relating to the mutual security program. He noted the standard of living of the various states, the number of men under arms, the major religions, and former British–French jurisdiction in the area. He strongly seconded Secretary Dulles exposition of a new concept for defense of the area based on the northern tier of nations.

The Secretary of State commented that the old MEDO concept was certainly finished. For one thing, Turkey was still greatly feared by the Arab countries which she had once controlled. A fresh start was needed on the problem of defense arrangements, and the only concept which would work was one which was based on the contribution of the indigenous peoples.

Mr. Stassen went on to tell the Council that in every one of the major disputes currently going on in the area, the participants depended to a greater or less degree on United States assistance. This fact should be borne in mind in all our dealings with these countries and their problems. It seemed to Mr. Stassen that the best approach by the United States in working out sound defensive arrangements with the northern tier of Arab States, was to make use of Military Advisory Groups (MAGs). If such missions could be got into the individual countries they might pull them together and work out satisfactory regional arrangements. In the first instance, United States assistance should be given to those countries willing to make an agreement to defend the passes and approaches of their countries against Soviet aggression.

Mr. Stassen also urgently recommended that the United States proceed forthwith to correct the situations of a minor character to which Secretary Dulles had referred and which the President had reemphasized.

As for Syria and Iraq, Mr. Stassen felt that our economic assistance should be directed to irrigation and water development which, when carried out, would enable these states to offer a living to the Arab refugees.

The President commented that in thinking things over, Secretary Dulles had perhaps been a little “too rough on the British.” He also declared his determination not to take sides between the Israelis [Page 386] and the Arabs. As he had informed his Egyptian visitors earlier, there were five million Jewish votes in the United States and very few Arabs. In any case, said the President, he was glad that the Tripartite Declaration was to be reestablished, and he also believed that we should commence at once to talk with the British about establishing reasonable boundaries for their sheikdoms on the Arabian coast. If this were not done, the President warned, we should have more Irans on our hands.

The National Security Council:4

Noted an oral briefing by the Secretary of State and the Director for Mutual Security on their recent trip through the Near East and South Asia, with particular reference to the situation in Egypt, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, Pakistan, Greece, Turkey and Libya.
Noted that the Secretary of State, with the approval of the President, proposed to reaffirm publicly the May 25, 1950 Tripartite Declaration.
Noted the conclusion of the Secretary of State that the present concept of a Middle East Defense Organization, with Egypt as the key, was not a realistic basis for present planning, and that the U.S. should concentrate now upon building a defense in the area based on the northern tier, including Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
Noted that the President deemed it of the greatest importance that all feasible actions identified by the Secretary of State and the Director for Mutual Security in the course of their trip, as desirable to rectify the causes of ill will towards the United States, should be undertaken immediately, including:
A payment to Libya on account of rent from the U.S. for occupancy of the air base.
An offer to train a small number of Saudi Arabian officers in the United States without reimbursement.
Replacement of defective military equipment delivered to Saudi Arabia.
Discussions with the British Government looking towards the settlement of conflicts over the boundaries between Saudi Arabia and the adjacent British protectorates.
Consideration of a small amount of grant military equipment to Syria.

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Drafted on June 2 by S. Everett Gleason, the Acting Executive Secretary of the National Security Council.
  2. For documentation, see Documents 1 ff.
  3. The June 1 speech of the Secretary of State is printed in Department of State Bulletin, June 15, 1953, pp. 831–835.
  4. The following paragraphs were designated NSC Action No. 801 a–d. Sent to NEA for action on June 3, and to EUR and S/MSA for information. (S/SNSC files, lot 66 D 95, “Record of Actions by the National Security Council, 1953”)