388. Memorandum of a Conversation With the President, White House, Washington, September 7, 1957, 10:07 a.m.1

OTHERS PRESENT

  • Secretary Dulles
  • Mr. Loy Henderson
  • Secretary Rountree
  • Secretary Quarles
  • General Twining
  • General Whisenand
  • General Cabell
  • Mr. Wisner
  • General Cutler
  • General Goodpaster

Secretary Dulles said the meeting was to enable Mr. Henderson to report and comment upon his trip to the Middle East. He had seen the top Turkish, Iraqi, Jordanian and Lebanese officials, and also our ambassadors in the area. His broad conclusion is that there is a deep concern at what is going on—anxiety that the Soviets may be able to topple the regimes in each of these countries through their action in Syria. Lebanon is doing an effective job in picking up infiltrators, but the government feels that if something is not done to remove the Soviet-dominated regime in Syria, Lebanon will not survive as an ally of the West …. One matter reported by Henderson (which was surprising to the whole group) was that there is evidence of animosity between the royal houses of Jordan and Iraq, which we have thought in harmony because they are both Hashemites…. Also the Crown Prince of Iraq favors strong action; the Prime Minister, however, is weak. The Iraqis are very cautious of the power Syria holds over them through control of the pipelines. Oil revenues account for half of the Iraqi income. The Iraqis are stressing the need for a build-up and preparations—lasting perhaps six months. The regime is not confident that it would have the support of the people, and there is some feeling of paralysis; the Prime Minister is weak. The Crown Prince is talking about getting Nuri Said back—perhaps as Vice Premier, since it was the Crown Prince who had him ousted as Premier recently after a quarrel.

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. . . . . . .

The Secretary said Mr. Henderson reported general agreement on two major propositions—first, that no military actions would be taken unless there were provocations by the Syrians giving a basis for invoking self-defense; second, the objective can only be to restore Syria to the Syrians—all disavow the objective of taking over any Syrian territory.

He went on to recall that we have maintained close contact with Israel and have urged them to adhere to a policy of quiescence. To date they have followed this policy, but we cannot assume that they will continue indefinitely.

The President said he was troubled by the report of animosity between the royal houses of Iraq and Jordan. Mr. Henderson said he had talked very frankly to the Crown Prince of Iraq about this, and told him that the royal houses must get together. (The estrangement apparently dates back to a feeling by the Iraqis that they were promised by King Abdullah of Jordan that their branch of the houses would succeed him in case of his death.)

Secretary Dulles said that the United States has been reviewing all possibilities …. He referred to indications that the Soviets may now be manning the communications nets in Syria….

The Secretary said that in this situation we have maintained close contact with the United Kingdom. There is genuine, intimate and effective cooperation, stemming directly from Macmillan—this is the first instance in his service as Secretary wherein we have had anything like this attitude.

. . . . . . .

At this point the Secretary told the group that he had worked up a paper of findings and recommendations.2 He circulated it but said he had certain comments to make before the group discussed it. He asked that it be considered in relation to our over-all relation with the Soviet Union. He said he thought General Twining would confirm (and he did) that there has been no military redeployment by the Soviets indicative of preparation for general war. However, political and propaganda moves of the Soviets in the last few weeks clearly indicate an intensification of the cold war, and in his judgment signify a period of the greatest peril for us since the Korean War ended. He cited as evidence of, or contributions to, this situation a sudden dropping of any interest in cultural exchanges; [Page 687]the Syrian take-over by rapid and flagrant measures; their naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean; the threatening tone in their announcement concerning the ICBM; the note they have just sent us on the Mid-East situation,3 which is couched in the rudest and most provocative terms of any received during his tenure (he indicated he was considering recommending refusing to accept it); a breaking up of the disarmament talks in an atmosphere of curtness and refusal to give our proposals consideration; and accelerated and increased arms movements into the Middle East, including the Yemen in particular.

He thought this probably indicated not an intention to precipitate general war, but rather an intention to step up the cold war, to make gains outside of the USSR and divert attention from the internal stresses evidenced in the struggle of last June which Khrushchev barely survived. He said he did not want to exaggerate the gravity of those internal stresses, however. He said he thought that Khrushchev was an extremely dangerous man to be at the head of the state. He is crude and impulsive rather than calculating and careful as previous Soviet leaders have been. The Secretary thought that the pendency of the UN Special Session on Hungary may have caused great Soviet bitterness on the way that situation is being used against them. He thought that many of the leaders in Russia consider Khrushchev too dangerous—and this may have been the origin of their effort to topple him—but he was resourceful enough to pull himself through. His policies since then are those of an egotist. He is more like Hitler than any Russian leader we have previously seen. He displays much of the same erratic quality.

The President, after reading the paper,4 said he found a deficiency in it. It did not indicate specifically what we aim to do,…. He thought we may be late with our actions even now. The Secretary said he felt the United States should not assume the responsibility either to push these countries into action or to hold them back from actions they may deem vital—he included Turkey among them. We certainly do not want to repeat the type of pressures that were used on Czechoslovakia to force them to accept Hitler’s demands. He did feel that the Middle East countries are entitled to know what we will do in various contingencies, so long as we do not usurp their responsibility to make the critical decisions. The President questioned whether we should not lay out exactly what we will do in the event certain things occur. We don’t try to make their decisions for them, but we can draw them toward certain decisions through this means.

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Secretary Dulles said the British,… would like to send over a secret task force. We ourselves are constituting such a task force of State and Defense representatives. Also we are sending secret representatives to Baghdad and Ankara, a general officer in each case.

The President said he thought we should do everything possible to stress the “holy war” aspect. Mr. Dulles commented that if the Arabs have a “holy war” they would want it to be against Israel. The President recalled, however, that Saud, after his visit here, had called on all Arabs to oppose Communism. He said he thought we should at once send an emissary out to Saud who had asked for such an individual three times in order to avoid having to send messages through his diplomatic channels.

In response to a question by the Secretary, the President indicated he was in accord with the action proposed—in fact, he thought that we had agreed upon this policy as a result of his conversations some days ago. … He then asked about keeping Congressional leaders informed. Secretary Dulles said the handling of the Congress is extremely difficult. If there is much discussion with them, they will become alarmed and spread the reports, making the United States appear to be the center of decision in the matter—which we certainly do not want. He indicated he would give careful thought to the matter, however, and mentioned the names of Senators Knowland and Mansfield as people to talk to.

The President suggested assurances that Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan might exchange among themselves as to coming to each other’s aid if attacked. He suggested a line we might take with Lebanon to encourage them, with Jordan to get them to get closer to Iraq and Iraq to let them know they should get themselves in position …. He then gave his approval for actions to go ahead on this paper.

In further discussion Secretary Dulles indicated that if the Soviets pulled this operation off successfully he was afraid the success would go to Khruschchev’s head and we might find ourselves with a series of incidents like the experience with Hitler. Speaking of the problem of Americans now in Syria, he thought we should take any excuse we can to get them out—possibly using the mob actions and anti-American demonstrations as the basis. Mr. Rountree and General Twining commented that this would cause speculation that we intend to take military action. After further discussion the President said we should try to get our people out quietly, without public announcement—certainly not a detailed announcement of the type shown him in draft.

The President then reviewed the statement Secretary Dulles proposed to give the press and endorsed it with one or two minor amendments. He asked that the basis for a possible White Paper [Page 689]regarding developments in Syria, and specifically our relations with them over the last few years, be prepared.

Finally, he said he would approve rejecting the Soviet note if that were the State Department recommendation. We should be prepared to put out the whole story promptly in case we do.5

G
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Miscellaneous Material. Top Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster. Attached to the source text are handwritten notes of the meeting by Goodpaster, Wisner, and Cutler. The memorandum of conversation printed here is a composite of those notes. A separate memorandum of the conversation by Rountree is in Department of State, S/S Files: Lot 66 D 123. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Appointments. (Eisenhower Library)
  2. Dated September 6, not printed. (Ibid., Whitman File, Miscellaneous Material)
  3. Reference is to Khrushchev’s letter to Eisenhower of September 3.
  4. Not printed. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Miscellaneous Material)
  5. After the meeting adjourned, Secretary Dulles issued a statement containing an account of the discussion. He noted that President Eisenhower had affirmed his intention to carry out the Congressional Joint Resolution of March 9 and had authorized the accelerated delivery of military and economic assistance to countries in the area. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, September 23, 1957, p. 487.