132. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • President Josip Broz Tito
  • Foreign Secretary Koca Popovic
  • Mrs. Dusan Kveder
  • Ambassador K. L. Rankin

I called on President Tito at his Brioni residence, by appointment, at nine o’clock this morning and found the President with Foreign Secretary and American-born Mrs. Dusan Kveder, wife of the new Yugoslav Ambassador to India. Tito was deeply tanned and looked very well, although plump. He greeted me courteously but by no means effusively; I seemed to notice a certain restraint. The President waited for me to start the conversation.

First I said that since arriving in Yugoslavia last February I had visited the capitals of all six Republics and other points as well. I complimented the President on the notable progress in building and other development. He said he understood I had been in Yugoslavia before the war, and I replied that I had several times, first in 1930. Mrs. Kveder started to interpret my remarks but Tito said this was unnecessary until we got to political matters.

Taking the hint, if such it was, I asked what he thought we could expect from Khrushchev and Nasser.1 As to Khrushchev, he said, much would depend upon what others did, including the United States. But he could tell me about Nasser’s policies and intentions. Tito then repeated the oft-told story that Nasser had not expected the revolt in Iraq at this time and immediately urged the new regime there to move carefully. They must sell their oil to the West, and nationalization or similar steps must be avoided; they should live up to Iraq’s commitments to the West.

Tito then reviewed Nasser’s case for Arab nationalism. The Arab countries must get rid of feudalism and have their resources developed for the benefit of the people. They must be free and independent. Moreover, Nasser was not responsible for the current revolt in Lebanon. While he was in Brioni, reports from Beirut indicated that the situation there was improving and that a settlement was in prospect. Nasser had been gratified. Then American Marines landed.

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I asked the President whether Nasser had said anything about the long standing campaign of Cairo Radio, inciting to revolt and assassination. And had Nasser explained how large amounts of arms and money had been supplied from Syria to the rebels in Lebanon?2 Nasser had not mentioned these points, he said.

Tito then went on in general terms to criticize the United States policy in the Near East. We had supported feudal governments which did not represent the people. Even at the cost of some economic losses, we should change our policies.

I remarked that we must deal with governments in power. Our policy of avoiding interference in the internal affairs of other countries leaves us no alternative. Perhaps the previous Iraqi Government did not enjoy wide popular support, but is its successor any better in this respect? We may hope so, but we do not like the way it came into power, by murder. I noted that the “revolutions” in so-called Arab states have been bourgeois more than proletarian, although the bourgeois sector of the population in most cases is quite small; it cannot be said to represent the mass of the people. Tito admitted that this was so, but added that a bourgeois regime is already an improvement over feudalism, and that there is no danger of Communist penetration in a backward area such as the Near East. (This was the only occasion the word “Communist” was mentioned during our talk. I made no comment.)

I noted that many of the so-called Arab states are not really Arab; they merely speak related dialects and have a common Moslem religious tradition, although most of the leaders are not actually religious. This complex situation, I said, is characterized by primitive emotion and great weaknesses. Witness the easy defeat of Egypt by Israel in 1956;3 no doubt Israel could do it again. We, too, wanted these states to be independent and to develop their resources for the benefit of their people. A long period of peace was needed to permit this. But the Soviet Union was taking advantage of weakness to stir up trouble, such as furnishing unneeded arms to Egypt at the very moment of the 1955 Summit Conference in Geneva. I thought the great danger to be an eventual Soviet takeover in the area. Popovic remarked that the Baghdad Pact came even before 1955, and I replied that Soviet policy toward Turkey and Iran had been ample justification for a defensive pact.

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In Lebanon, I said, we have one of the most democratic countries in the entire region. The United States is not supporting any particular group there; we hoped that the election scheduled to take place next week would help matters, whoever wins. But the present legal government had appealed unanimously for our aid. It appeared to us that the situation was deteriorating so rapidly that military action must be taken. We did not want to do this, but we had definite obligations to act under such circumstances. If Yugoslavia should find itself in a position like that of Lebanon—I hoped this would never happen—and the United States had similar obligations toward Yugoslavia, I should want us to act. Tito immediately interjected that Yugoslavia would not want foreign troops on its territory. I repeated that I hoped such steps would never be needed, but that any of us might need help on some future occasion which we could not foresee, and I hoped that help would be forthcoming in accordance with our mutual obligations.

Tito made a distinction between external aggression, where the United Nations would be required to act, and internal revolt. I said that recent external aggression in Lebanon is clear enough, even though it might not involve large military forces marching across frontiers. We could not let matters drift further. We had acted under the UN Charter and then tried to turn directly to the United Nations, only to be blocked by the Soviet veto. I hoped that the President had noted in detail the voting on the three proposals which came before the Security Council, including the Japanese resolution attempting to bridge the gap.4 Evidently the Soviets did not want a solution; they wanted to make more trouble.

Failing again to provoke a reaction to my reference to the Soviets, I remarked that it was useful to review in the light of subsequent events the plan for a reduction of armaments laid before the UN Subcommittee by the Western Powers last August.5 This would have provided for stopping nuclear bomb testing and much more. But like all such efforts over the years, nothing could be accomplished because of Soviet opposition. I had brought with me a copy of our announcement of August 19576 in this connection. No doubt the President and the Foreign Secretary had seen the Western plan at the time, but I was leaving it with them anyway. At this point, Popovic, who had said very little, remarked that [Page 349] the Soviets had actually stopped testing, which was “positive”.7 (I let that pass.) Tito added his regret that technical differences were delaying a Summit Conference.8

Tito finally reacted to the extent of saying that he was not defending Soviet foreign policy. But he left me with the inescapable impression that while quite ready to talk about Nasser and the Near East, he preferred not to discuss Khrushchev and the Soviet Union in any detail.

Our talk had lasted nearly an hour and I concluded by remarking that our aims and those of Yugoslavia seemed to be substantially the same as regards the Near East. Our differences relate to method. The United States does not pretend to have all of the answers, but we are satisfied that letting matters drift is no solution. The other side is active and we shall keep on trying. I said that an Eastern diplomat remarked to me recently, “If Lebanon goes, Islam will be aflame from Casablanca to Kabul”. (This was the Iranian Minister in Belgrade.) At this point Tito made his only positive suggestion for correcting American Near Eastern policy, which he had criticized. He urged that we should recognize the new regime in Iraq without delay as a means of keeping them on a reasonable course.9

As I took my departure, President Tito asked me to convey his good wishes to President Eisenhower. He added that he would answer Secretary Dulles’ recent message.10 He continued to be friendly but reserved, and rather less “bouncy” than when I saw him previously.

Could it be that Tito is simply worried about the prospect of war, as he has been represented lately in several reports? Or had he given Nasser some bad advice as to what the United States and/or Russia might do in the Near East? Had he assured Nasser that the United States would take no action in the Lebanon, and that Russia would support him in any case, only to have the Marines land and Nasser come back all but empty-handed from rushing off to Moscow like a frightened little boy? If so, both Nasser and Tito lost face, which is particularly grave for them.

K. L. Rankin11
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 768.11/7–2958. Confidential. Sent to the Department of State as an enclosure to despatch 3 from Venice, July 29.
  2. Tito and Nasser held extensive discussions during the latter’s July 2–12 visit to Yugoslavia.
  3. Since February 1 Syria had been a part of the United Arab Republic of which Nasser was President. President Eisenhower in his July 15 message to Congress on the U.S. military intervention in Lebanon accused Syria of fomenting the civil war in Lebanon and of supplying arms and other aid to one of the contending factions. For text of this statement, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1958, pp. 550–552.
  4. Between October 29 and November 3, 1956, Israeli forces drove the Egyptian army out of most of the Sinai peninsula.
  5. For text of the July 17 Soviet resolution, see U.N. doc. S/4047/Rev. 1. For text of the U.S. and Japanese resolutions, see Department of State Bulletin, August 4, 1958, pp. 198–199.
  6. For text of the Four-Power working paper submitted to the U.N. Disarmament Commission on August 2 in London, see Ibid., August 17, 1957, pp. 303–304.
  7. Apparently a copy of the paper cited in footnote 5 above.
  8. On March 31 the Soviet Union announced a unilateral suspension of nuclear testing.
  9. A reference to the continued insistence by the United States and other Western powers that substantive negotiations occur prior to a heads of government meeting.
  10. The United States recognized the Republic of Iraq on August 2.
  11. In this letter, July 16, Dulles outlined the reasons for U.S. military intervention in Lebanon. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.5411/7–1658) No reply from Tito has been found.
  12. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.