169. Circular Letter From Francis H. Russell to Certain American Ambassadors1

Dear Mr. Ambassador: At the Secretary’s direction, I have been conferring with Mr.Evelyn Shuckburgh and other members of the British Foreign Office concerning possible statements in the near future by the Secretary and the British Foreign Secretary on a settlement of the Israel-Arab controversy. The reasons for the statements and the form which they might take are set forth in the enclosures to this letter.2

I should like very much to have your comments on the following points:

The best way of presenting the proposals outlined in the memorandum to the Government to which you are accredited. Is the approach suggested in paragraph 5 of the enclosed memorandum the best, and where and when should it be made?
The probable response both of the Government and local public opinion to the proposed statements.
Whether you believe that immediate public reaction would be likely to be such as to indicate the need for any special preparations or precautions on our part.
The best lines of publicity both before and after the statements are made.
Whether you, or the effective head of the Government to which you are accredited, will be out of the country in early September.

Please send your comments as soon as possible by Top Secret telegram to the Department, Limited Distribution, with code name Alpha, repeating to London only.

It is of primary importance to insure absolute secrecy in this matter. Please limit sight of this letter and its enclosures to the minimum number of senior members of your staff whom you feel [Page 311] you must consult; and, for the present, keep this letter and all correspondence connected with it in your private safe.

Before replying, however, please consult your British colleague to whom the Foreign Office is sending a similar communication. I am sending similar letters and enclosures to our Chiefs of Mission in Cairo, Amman, Damascus, Beirut and Baghdad; and for their information only, to our Ambassadors in Paris and Ankara.

The Secretary and Mr.Macmillan conferred on this subject in Paris on July 14, and gave their approval to the enclosed memorandum. Mr.Macmillan is seeking the authority of his Cabinet colleagues to support the proposal, but until their agreement is obtained, Her Majesty’s Government is not committed to any particular course of action.

With warmest regards,

Sincerely yours,

Francis H. Russell3



The Foreign Office and the Department of State have reached agreement on the need for an equitable settlement of the Palestine affair and the best means of attempting to achieve it.

2. The intention had been that the first approach would be made to the Prime Minister of Egypt. But this has not proved possible, largely because of Colonel Nasser’s preoccupation with the immediate tension on the Gaza strip, and we do not think it likely that we should be able to enlist his interest in moving towards a settlement for some time to come. Secretary Dulles is convinced that he cannot refrain much longer from defining the policy of the United States towards Israel’s security and the Middle East as a whole. The longer he waits, the more difficult it will become for him to make a balanced statement on the subject: as the United States Presidential elections approach, the pressure for a statement favorable to Israel will increase. He feels that he must crystallize United States policy on the issue; and that he should therefore soon make a statement, to which the United States Administration could hold firmly, on the general lines of the proposals for a Palestine settlement [Page 312] which our two Governments have worked out. It is our hope that the two parties to the dispute, even though they may vigorously reject the proposed settlement at first, will, in the long run, come to see its merits and move slowly towards it. On the other hand we are not blind to the grave risks which the action entails.

3. Attached to this memorandum is a copy of a draft of a speech which Mr.Dulles proposes to deliver early in September and which contains an outline of the settlement which H.M. Government and the U.S. Government believe to be the fairest now possible. Mr.Macmillan is seeking the authority of his Cabinet colleagues to make a statement the next day expressing H.M. Government’s support for the principles enunciated by Mr.Dulles and their readiness to help in bringing about a settlement and to make a contribution to the financial commitments which a settlement would involve.

4. In general, we shall avoid being drawn into publishing any fuller details of the proposed settlement, on the grounds that to do so would prejudice any negotiations which the parties might wish to enter into, whether between themselves or through third parties, on the basis of the principles which we shall have enunciated. The recipients of this memorandum will be sent guidance for publicity and help in dealing with enquiries later. Meanwhile, the following are explanations of some of the specific proposals contained in the enclosed draft statement:

A. Guarantees

As will be seen from the draft statement, it is intended that these should be limited to the territorial aspect of the settlement. It will be made clear, however, that they would not be granted except in the framework of a comprehensive settlement. (In other words, acceptance by one party of part or all the plan would not earn the guarantee.)

B. Boundaries

The Negev. The idea here is that Israel should cede to Egypt a triangle of territory with its base on the Egyptian frontier and to Jordan another triangle with its base on the Jordan frontier. The apex of one triangle would meet the apex of the other on the Israeli road from the north to Elath. The principle underlying this solution is that there would be a point at the junction of the two triangles where the sovereignty would appertain to both sides. This would make it possible for an East-West Arab road under complete Arab control to pass over (or under) an Israeli North-South road under complete Israeli control. We can see no way of reconciling the vital interests of both parties in the Negev except by this principle. We should not commit ourselves on the size and location of the triangles: that would be left for negotiation. We have, however, got various alternative ideas.

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C. Jerusalem

. . . we should try to get through the United Nations a resolution providing for the “functional internationalization” of the Holy Places, on the lines of the Swedish draft resolution of 1950. . . .

D. The Blockade

It would be essential, as part of any settlement, that the Egyptians should open the Suez Canal to Israeli ships and Israel-bound traffic; and that the Arab states should cease to put pressure on third parties not to trade with Israel. We would not, however, ask the Arabs to engage in direct trade with Israel themselves, even after a settlement. The wording of the enclosed draft statement is designed to allow for this distinction to be made.

5. We should propose to give the parties to the dispute about 24 hours’ notice that the statements are to be made. We should not reveal the substance of the statements at that stage, but we should say that we hoped that both sides would receive them in a constructive spirit and with a willingness to look seriously for common ground. We should point out that the statements do not call for an immediate reply or decision on the part of the Governments nor do they carry any suggestion of coercion. We hope indeed that the Governments will take their time and will be prepared to discuss our ideas with us further. In the meantime we would ask them in their public reactions to the statements to exercise restraint and at least not to commit themselves against the suggestions until they have had a chance to discuss with us in greater detail the advantages we believe them to contain.

6. We should also inform certain other Governments and authorities, notably France, Turkey, the Commonwealth and the Secretary-General of the United Nations (and through him General Burns and Mr. Labouisse) a few days in advance of these statements and seek their support for our proposals. We will want to couch our communications to Governments in the manner best calculated to avoid leaks. We should solicit the support of other states members of the United Nations at the time of the publication of the plan.

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Two years ago last month I returned from a trip which took me to the Near East. I wanted to see, for myself, that area, so rich in culture and tradition, yet today so torn by strife and bitterness. I visited Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Upon my return I spoke of the impressions gathered on that trip and of the hopes which I hold as a result of talks with leaders and people there.

Some of those hopes have become realities. Two years ago the Suez Base was a center of controversy and of potential strife. In my report to the American people, I expressed the conviction that there was nothing irreconcilable in the positions of the two Governments, and the hope that both sides would continue to try to find a peaceful solution. I said that the United States was prepared to help in any desired way. Since that time, as a result of patient effort, in a spirit of conciliation, the problem of the Suez Base has been successfully resolved.

Another problem which was concerning many of the leaders in the Middle East was that of securing the area against the menace of aggression from without the area. It was clear that effective defense depended upon collective measures and that such measures, to be dependable, needed to be based on the development within the area of a sense of common destiny and of common danger. Here, too, there has been encouraging progress and a growing realization of the need for cooperation in defense.

A third problem which called for attention was the need for water to irrigate land. I mentioned in my report the possibility that the rivers flowing through the Jordan Valley might be used to make this important and fertile valley a source of livelihood rather than dispute. Ambassador Eric Johnston’s talks since that time with the governments of the countries through which the River Jordan runs have shown an encouraging willingness on both sides to contemplate the principle of coordinated arrangements for the use of the waters and plans for the development of the Valley are well advanced.

A beginning has been made, as you see, in dealing with the obstacles that stand in the way of the aspirations of the Near Eastern peoples. It is my hope—and it is that hope of which I would [Page 315] now speak—that the time has come when it is useful to think in terms of further steps toward stability, tranquillity and progress in the Middle East.

The Arab-Israel Problem

What are the principal remaining problems? There are three that stand out above the others.

The first is the tragic plight of the 900,000 refugees who formerly lived in the territory that is now occupied by Israel.

The second is the pall of fear that hangs over the Arab and Israel people alike. The Arab countries fear that Israel will seek by violent means to expand at their expense. The Israelis fear that the Arabs will gradually marshall superior forces to be used to drive them into the sea and resent the measures of economic blockade which are now enforced against them.

The third is the lack of fixed permanent boundaries between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

There are other important problems. But if these three principal problems could be dealt with, then the way would be paved for the solution of others.

It seems to me that these three problems are capable of solution, and surely there is need.

Border clashes take an almost weekly toll of human lives. The sufferings of the 900,000 Arab refugees are drawn out almost beyond the point of endurance. The fears which are at work, on each side, lead to a heavy burden of armament, which constitutes a serious drag on economic and social progress. Responsible leaders are finding it hard to turn their full attention and energies to the positive task of creating the conditions of stability and healthy growth out of which strong nations could emerge.

Serious as the present situation is, there is a danger that unless it improves, it will get worse.One ill leads to another, and cause and effect are hard to sort out. Both sides suffer greatly from the present situation, and both are anxious for what they would regard as a just and equitable solution. But neither has been able to find that way. This may be a situation where mutual friends could, through their good offices, serve the common good.

The United States, as a friend of both Israelis and Arabs, has given the situation deep thought and has come to certain conclusions, the expansion of which may help men of good will within the area to fresh constructive efforts. I speak in this matter with the authority of the President.

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We find no single and easy answer to the plight of the 900,000 Arab refugees who formerly lived in the territory that is now Israel, who fled at the time of the fighting in 1948 and were barred from returning to their homes and the cost of whose maintenance now falls directly on the international community. But we do feel that an answer can be found in a combination of measures which, together, would reestablish these uprooted people and offer them hope of a new life.

Compensation by the State of Israel is due for the land and buildings belonging to the refugees which are now in Israel’s possession. Perhaps Israel cannot, unaided, now make adequate compensation. If so, there might be an international loan to Israel of the balance of the sum necessary. The President would recommend substantial participation by the United States in such a loan for such a purpose.

Money alone, however, will not solve the problem. The money must be used to create more arable land on which the refugees could make permanent homes and work to produce a self-respecting livelihood. Many of them would be settled over a period of the next few years as a result of projects much as the Jordan Valley development plan, the Sinai project, and as a result of the increased opportunities provided by the expanding economies of countries of the area. Here, too, outside help might be required.


The second principal element which I mentioned is that of fear. The nature of this fear is such that it is not within the capacity of any single country of the area to take measures to dispel it. President Eisenhower has authorized me to say that if a solution can be found to the other related problems, he would recommend that the United States formally commit itself to take appropriate action to prevent or thwart any effort by either side to alter by force the boundaries between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I hope that other countries would be willing to join in such a commitment, and it might perhaps be sponsored by the United Nations.


If there is to be a guarantee of borders, it would be normal that there should be a prior agreement upon what the borders are. That is the third major element. The existing lines separating the Arab states from Israel were fixed by the Armistice Agreements of 1949. They reflected the status of the fighting at the moment. They were [Page 317] not designed to be permanent frontiers in every respect. They clearly require rectifications and adjustments.

For example, there should presumably be an allocation of the present demilitarized zones and “no man’s lands” created by the Armistice agreements.

The Arab world, which is now separated by Israel possession of the Negev, understandably desires an unbroken land connection. This could be provided, without prejudice to any of Israel’s vital interests, by ceding to one or two Arab nations sovereignty over triangular portions of the Negev having little or no economic value and now wholly barren. The Arab triangles could be based on the Egyptian and Jordanian frontiers respectively so that their apexes meet at a point on an Israeli route to the south. Thus the now divided Arabs would reestablish sovereign contact, while the sovereign connection of Israel with the port of Elath would be maintained.


If agreement can be reached on these basic elements—refugees, boundaries, and the elimination of fear—it should prove possible to find solutions for other questions, largely economic, and to bring to an end external economic measures which presently fan the flames of hostility and resentment.

It should also be possible to reach agreement on the status of Jerusalem. The United States would give its support to a United Nations review of this problem.


I have not attempted to enumerate all the issues on which it would be desirable to have a settlement; nor have I tried to outline in detail the form which a settlement of any of the elements might take. I have tried to show that possibilities exist for an immeasurable improvement without any nation taking action which would be against its interests whether those interests be measured in terms of material strength or, what is more important, in terms of national prestige and honor.

Both sides in this strife have a noble past, a heritage of rich contributions to civilization; both have fostered progress in science and the arts. Each side is predominantly representative of one of the world’s great religions. Both sides desire to achieve a good life for their people and to share, and contribute to, the advancements of this century. Both can contribute much to progress in the coming decades. The people of the United States for their part could and would contribute much more readily and more happily if there could [Page 318] be ended the strains which now burden life within the area, a life which, for most of the people, desperately needs enrichment.

At a time when a great effort is being made to ease the tension which has long prevailed between the East and the West, can we not hope that a similar spirit should prevail in the Near East? Indeed, may not the nations there set an example which would show how the spirit of conciliation and of the good neighbor brings rich rewards to the people and to the nations? That is our plea, and if the response involves some burdens, they are burdens which the United States would share, just as we would share the satisfaction which would result to all peoples if happiness, contentment and good will could drive hatred and misery away from peoples whom we hold in high respect and honor.

  1. Source: Department of State,NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Alpha. Secretary’s Statement: Letr of 7/22 to NE Chiefs of Mission, with 4 attachments re. Top Secret; Alpha; Official–Informal. The source text is a carbon copy of a letter sent to Ambassador Lawson in Tel Aviv. According to typewritten notations on it,Russell and Burdett were the drafting officers. In a memorandum dated July 26,Jernegan informed Dulles that Russell’s letter and its enclosures had been sent eyes only to the American Ambassadors in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Israel. Information copies were sent to Ankara, London, and Paris. (Ibid., Alpha—Memos & corres., July 1–Aug. 26 (day of Secy’s speech)) On August 1,Russell, under cover of a separate letter, sent the same enclosures to Ambassador Wadsworth in Saudi Arabia. (Ibid., Alpha. Secretary’s Statement: Letr of 7/22 to NE Chiefs of Mission, with 4 attachments re)
  2. Enclosures 1 and 2 are printed below. Enclosure 3, not printed, dated July 15, was headed “Draft British Statement (to follow statement by Mr.Dulles)”.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  4. Top Secret; Alpha.
  5. Top Secret; Alpha.