182. Memorandum of a Meeting, White House, Washington, January 1, 1957, 2-5:50 p.m.1
NOTES ON PRESIDENTIAL–BIPARTISAN CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP MEETING
[Here follows a list of attendees.]
Middle East Resolution—To open the meeting, the President called on Secretary Dulles for a general review of the situation. The Secretary reviewed the deterioration of the Soviet position during the past year, specifically the declining influence of the Communist parties in free European nations, increased nationalism in the satellites, and a growing spirit of independence among the Russian people. He recounted United States activities to deter the use of force in the Middle East and the ensuing difficulties. He noted the fiscal actions of the United States in support of Britain after its withdrawal from Suez.
The Secretary stated that the prestige of the United States had increased in the Mid-East because of our conduct in the crisis but had decreased among the colonial powers of Western Europe.
Looking to the future, Secretary Dulles stressed the importance of preventing the Soviet from recouping its position by a victory in the Middle East. He stressed the importance of maintaining our deterrent power, including a continued strengthening of local forces in various areas of the world. With regard to satellite states, he believed our policy should continue to be the encouragement of an evolutionary process leading toward national Communism as a first step prior to a complete departure from international Communism.
Concerning Hungary the Secretary stressed the importance of maintaining moral pressure through the United Nations and otherwise against the Soviet for its actions in that state.
The Secretary spoke briefly on the recent NATO meeting which helped to re-establish unity and strength among the Western powers. He noted the legislation that will be sent to Congress to allow training of the forces of our allies in the use of nuclear weapons—necessary if we are to count on their assistance in any future war there which would be largely an atomic war.
As a result of Suez, Secretary Dulles believed European countries have become increasingly aware of their weakness when disunited. Hence they are moving toward greater integration, particularly since they now realize the United States will not support their actions in every instance without regard to what is involved.[Page 433]
Concerning Asia, the Secretary took note of the reasonably stable situation during the past year, the decline of Soviet prestige because of Hungarian developments, the greater solidarity of Asian nations as evidenced by bloc voting in the United Nations. He believed the new Japanese government will take a more independent attitude in relations with the United States without becoming anti-American. Generally, he saw a trend toward greater nationalism. He thought the Chinese Communists could still be contemplating the future seizure of Taiwan since they refused in the Geneva talks to renounce the use of force. Nevertheless, he believed the Geneva talks had served a good purpose by achieving the release of most American prisoners. The Secretary spoke very briefly on developments in the Americas.
He remarked on the importance of economic vitality in the free world and he cited the need of OTC which he thought the President would again recommend to Congress. He cited the competition of Soviet economic and military credits totaling perhaps $1.4 billion arranged during the past year.
Secretary Dulles also noted progress in the development of the atoms for peace agency.
Concerning disarmament, he expected a continuation of Russian maneuvering, with no indication of any early agreement to the open-skies proposal.
The Secretary concluded with his belief that a change in the whole Soviet system is getting underway although it may be five or ten years, or more, before dramatic changes can be seen.
The President then reverted to the Middle East situation, the future importance of oil to us directly, and the present importance of Britain and France continuing as strong powers. He referred to the nations in the Middle East friendly toward the United States.
The President then recalled traditional Russian ambitions in the Middle East, the present impossibility of France and Britain acting as a counterweight, and the existing vacuum that must be filled by the United States before it is filled by Russia. He cited Syrian developments as evidence of Russian intent. He asserted that the United States must assure the Middle East countries of our friendship and must help them economically since the primary concern of local rulers is with their local economies. He stressed that time is of the essence and he believed Congress would want to take as the first order of business the message he would soon be sending to request authorization of a special economic fund and authorization for the use of military force if necessary. He added that should there be a Soviet attack in that area he could see no alternative but that the United States move in immediately to stop it—other than suffering loss of that area to Russia. Loss of the area would be disastrous to Europe because of its oil requirements. He cited his belief that the United States must put the entire world on [Page 434] notice that we are ready to move instantly if necessary. He reaffirmed his regard for constitutional procedures but pointed out that modem war might be a matter of hours only.
The President believed that if the Administration had that kind of authority it might never have to be used. Concerning the possibility of indirect assault by the Soviet, the President stated that the situation required that the United States negotiate agreements—not necessarily treaties—to help the Middle East countries economically and militarily.
The President said that these conclusions had been reached after literally months of study, that the program was not fully complete and was open to further discussion. He re-asserted his belief that the United States just cannot leave a vacuum in the Middle East and assume that Russia will stay out.
At the President’s invitation, Secretary Dulles presented further details. He first reported to the group that accounts of the new program began to leak out Thursday morning and that he had therefore held a background conference Friday night in order to insure against any other nation taking credit for the program when it could be effective only if clearly the US program. He repeated that Administration thinking had not crystallized beyond the certainty that something had to be done. He summarized relationships and tensions existing among the several nations of the Middle East. He then stressed the desirability of a declaration of United States’ policy subscribed to by both the Executive and the Congress. He commented further on the economic and military measures in view, stressing the need for the latter as a means of reassuring the people in the countries under greatest pressure from Russia. He believed it impossible to develop any sort of treaty arrangements given the many existing animosities. He made clear that the United States would focus solely on the Russian threat, making certain of keeping clear of internal squabbles. Secretary Dulles also pointed out the distinction between the Middle East and other troubled areas, such as Kashmir, by virtue of the fact that in the latter case there was hope of satisfactory settlement through UN activity alone. He stressed that anything done in the Middle East by the United States would be subject to pertinent provisions of the UN Charter. He said that the United States plan would constitute a decision to act only if the United Nations could not or did not act. The Secretary summarized the situation as one that could be met successfully by restoring confidence of security against any direct aggression and of protecting against indirect aggression through economic programs of a size not much larger than presently in being. He concluded by citing the urgent requests from the Saudis, the Lebanese, and others, on the need for the United States to act quickly.[Page 435]
Senator Johnson opened the discussion by asking when the message would be ready. The President indicated that it would be the fifth or sixth of January. He added that he hoped it would be the product of a consensus reached by the group despite the possibility of many honest differences.
Senator Russell inquired about the pressures on the countries near collapse and Secretary Dulles replied concerning their fear of Russia moving in to fill the vacuum. The President added that Russia might look to that area as a means of recovering from the setbacks it had been experiencing in the satellites. Senator Russell stated that everybody would agree on the need to do something but much more information would be necessary prior to adopting a specific action. He asked about Nasser’s plans and how much he could be trusted. Secretary Dulles spoke on the difficulty of placing much trust in him but reported Mr. Hammarskjold’s opinion that Nasser has pretty well lived up to such specific commitments as he has made to the United Nations. Senator Russell asked about the possibility of proceeding through regular treaty procedures. Secretary Dulles noted again the animosities in the area and the President cited particularly the difficulty of including Israel in any group. He thought the situation would be different if an entire set of bilateral treaties could be accomplished simultaneously, an action impossible at this time. He believed informal agreements to be the feasible alternative. Senator Russell then asked how much information would be given Congress and the President said that there would be full discussion, especially with the Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator Smith questioned the possible adverse reaction to this proposed military approach outside of United Nations channels. Secretary Dulles assured him that the United States would be acting only on request of an invaded country in the same manner as provided by arrangements in other areas of the world. He added that the United States had not previously made such arrangements here because of the primary British responsibility. He went on to emphasize the necessity for stating US policy clearly in advance as a deterrent force.
Senator Knowland asked if the concept should not be broadened to cover a situation where a country invited entry of Russian divisions, which would certainly be against our national interest. The President replied that in such a case there would be time to consult with Congress again.
Rep. McCormack, citing his open-mindedness on this question, asked if the President did not already have power to carry out these proposals without seeking Congressional authorization. The President replied that greater effect could be had from a consensus of Executive and Legislative opinion. He cited a possible instance where the President would be required by the Constitution to consult Congress, then [Page 436] spoke of the desire of the Middle East countries to have reassurance now that the United States would stand ready to help. Mr. McCormack asked if we yet had indication from any countries of a desire for the United States to tie in closer with them. The President cited Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The Secretary made mention of Iran, Lebanon and Libya.
Mr. Allen suggested that this measure would be like the one approved with reference to Quemoy and Matsu.2 The President agreed, then commented that in modern war there might not be time for orderly procedures so it was necessary to make our intent clear in advance.
Senator Russell thought that if this step should be taken we would not want to let it appear that only a “small war” might ensue. The President commented that should Russia move it could not possibly be a “small war”. Senator Russell thought that ought to be made clear; then the President continued with regard to Russia moving in such a way that we can know the source and know what to attack. Secretary Dulles cited the greatest danger as that of an internal action, like the coup in Czechoslovakia, which really resulted from the presence of Communist troops on the border of the country.
Secretary Dulles stated that the Administration was not looking for conclusions at this meeting since there was need for considerable discussion and presentation to the Congressional Committees. The President asked Speaker Rayburn if the House could begin consideration quickly. The Speaker thought it could after completion of organization of the House. He asked if the countries involved in the measure would be named specifically. The President thought they could be. The Speaker then commented that if the Resolution were to be undertaken it would need to have nearly unanimous support, otherwise it would not be very effective. He thought the Resolution would occasion much propaganda against the United States, hence full explanations and a very clear Resolution would be needed to counter such propaganda. The President thought that both the Resolution and the explanation should contain clear indications that the United States would act only where requested, and that the United States was not being truculent.
Mr. Halleck asked whether the British and the French could be counted on to use their power if Russia tried to cut off the Mid-East oil supplies. Secretary Dulles believed so. Mr. Halleck then asked if it could not be expected that the United States would be drawn into any such conflict. Again Mr. Dulles believed so.[Page 437]
Senator Johnson spoke at length on his dislike of the manner in which this project was reported prematurely by the press. In regard to timing in the Senate, he cited the possible rules fight and other organizational matters which would preclude action on the Resolution prior to about January 8th. The President repeated how the first leak, despite great secrecy precautions, had made necessary the background conference. In response to inquiry from Mr. McCormack, the President said the Executive Branch had been seeking answers for the Middle East since last July but not until two weeks ago had any plan been put on paper. Mr. McCormack asked what would be the latest time that this Resolution could be effectively accomplished. The President thought it impossible to set a fixed date. He hoped instead it would be the first order of business after agreement on rules. Speaker Martin thought it might be helpful for the House to act quickly even though the Senate would require more time.
The President concluded this phase of the discussion by stating that the Secretary would discuss the Resolution informally with House and Senate leaders before it is officially submitted.3
[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]
- Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Legislative Meetings. Confidential. Drafted by L. Arthur Minnich.↩
- Reference is to the Joint Congressional Resolution of January 29, 1955, which authorized the President to use U.S. forces in defense of Formosa and the Pescadores. For text, see vol. II, p. 162.↩
- At the Eisenhower administration’s request, Secretary Dulles met with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 6:15 p.m. on January 2. The record of the meeting, which was held in executive session, is printed in U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Together with Joint Sessions with the Senate Armed Services Committee (Historical Series), Volume IX, Eighty-Fifth Congress, First Session (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979), pp. 1–35.↩