140. Memorandum of a Conversation, The White House, Washington, November 23, 19561


  • Middle East and Hungary


  • Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Ceylon
  • Mr. Gunesena de Soyza, Permanent Secretary, Minister of External Affairs
  • Ambassador R.S.S. Gunewardene, Ambassador of Ceylon
  • The President
  • Ambassador Phillip K. Crowe, Ambassador to Ceylon
  • Deputy Under Secretary Robert Murphy

After an exchange of amenities there was a discussion of the world situation, with the President leading off in a description of the efforts he is making to bring about a settlement on the basis of peace and justice in the Middle East. The President developed the theme of our approach through the United Nations, emphasizing that our country does not seek domination of other countries but believes that there should be the same rule of justice relating to small countries as well as big ones. He described briefly his aversion to warfare and stated that the United States is pursuing every avenue it can to avoid and eliminate military conflict. He said that he has seen too much of the destructive effects of warfare not to have an aversion for it. The President said in respect to the Middle East affair, it was regrettable that there should be charges of imperialism and a return to colonialism levelled against the British and the French. He felt that the problem was not that simple and he also stated the conviction that both the British and French have moved a long way from the former ideas in the colonial field. The Prime Minister agreed that there had been opinion in his country and in the world at large that the Anglo-French action in the Middle East marked a reversion to old methods, but he joined in the hope that this was not so. The President added that in any event the Soviet action in Hungary so far overshadowed in its brutality and cruelty the Middle East matter that there could be no comparison. The Prime Minister did not seem to give wholehearted assent to that view. The President described the onerous character of the military burden, mentioning that in our efforts to arrive at a peaceful solution of the Middle East crisis that we should not forget the [Page 270] Soviet menace. He referred to the large-scale Soviet sale of arms to Egypt and the profuse offers made by the Soviet Union of arms to Egypt and other countries at little expense. He pointed out that it is one thing to receive expensive armaments in a country and yet another to provide the budget and economic effort to support such armament. He said that the United States is very careful not to induce other countries to accept expensive armament when we know that they cannot afford to maintain it. No such reservation seems to prevail in connection with the Soviet Union, which uses its military and economic aid offers to penetrate the recipient country and then gradually by process of economic and other pressures to take over the control of the country. Thus there is a serious distinction between the objective of the United States in this regard and that of the Soviet Union. He pointed to the fact that unfortunately because of the Soviet policies this country is obliged to spend 10% of its gross national product and 50% of its national budget on military defense. We would like to be relieved of that burden which we do not enjoy. The Prime Minister said he realized this and appreciated the President’s attitude which he found heartening and about which he congratulated the President. The President added that had it not been for all these pressing world problems he never would have been willing to stand for reelection. He felt that in light of present world conditions it was essential that his Cabinet and himself, the same group acquainted with these problems, stay in place during these critical days.

There was a discussion of the Arab-Israeli relations. The President informed the Prime Minister that whatever may have been the mistakes in the past, Israel is a permanent fact of life. Our task is to do whatever we can to build a more constructive Arab-Israeli relationship and to avoid provoking controversy over that issue; that could lead to a major war which would be terrible. The Prime Minister agreed.

After further friendly exchanges, the Prime Minister presented a gift to the President which included a collection of the precious stones of Ceylon. The President in turn presented to the Prime Minister an autographed photograph. After cordial exchange of greetings and mutual regard with expressions of desire of close cooperation between the two countries, the interview was terminated.2

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Confidential. Drafted by Murphy. Prime Minister Bandaranaike was in Washington for a 1–day visit following his address to the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly. Additional documentation regarding his trip is in Department of State, Central File 033.46E11/8–256.
  2. Prime Minister Bandaranaike also briefly met with Acting Secretary Hoover primarily discussing developments in the Middle East. (Memorandum of conversation by Charles D. Withers; ibid., Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199)