163. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs (Rockwell) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Rountree)1


  • Long-range Policy Toward the Arab Union2


Question: What can the United States do to insure the long-term success of the Arab Union?

Related to this is the further question: How can the United States assure that its identification with the Arab Union will not be detrimental to wider United States interests in the area?

The Problem:

The long-range threat of the United Arab Republic to take over neighboring Arab states is considered to be contrary to the interests of the United States in the area. The most likely challenge to Nasser’s advance in the area would be a strong and successful federation of Iraq and Jordan. The Arab Union, however, has little broadbased appeal within Iraq and Jordan and plays a definite “second fiddle” to Nasser in other areas of the Arab world. The Governments of Jordan and Iraq rest mainly on force and are regarded with cynicism and suspicion by all but a small minority in each country. While the United States believes it to be in its interest to support the Arab Union, there are [Page 283] disadvantages to a close identification of the United States with the regional and internal political policies of the Arab Union and its component governments.

The popularity of any Arab government among the politically conscientious sectors of the population is determined mainly by the degree to which that government: (a) avoids dependence upon Western European nations; (b) supports issues of importance to the Arab world; (c) opposes excessive internal corruption, and (d) fosters economic and social reforms. The chances of increasing the popularity of the Governments of Iraq and Jordan are, however, further handicapped by a basic cynicism toward government itself, which exists in both these countries as a holdover from Ottoman times. Furthermore, both present regimes in these countries suffer from their own past association with the mandate period.

The Iraq Government enjoys little popular support because it is considered to be still in control of those who depend on Western support for their strength and because little appears to be done to oppose traditional and excessive corruption. Recent efforts to gain popularity by the extreme espousal of Arab views on Palestine and Algeria have been of little help. Only in the field of economic progress is the present Iraq Government gaining any popular support.

King Hussein of Jordan, by his dismissal of Glubb,3 his unquestioned courage and will to rule, and his continuing firm stand against Israel, enjoys some popularity. His government, however, is also considered corrupt and has been able to gain little support through economic activity.

Popularity in itself in this part of the world is not necessarily an essential element for the survival of a government. Popularity has proved in the past to be a fickle thing and moves made solely to gain popularity may not contribute to stability. No government in the area, however, can afford to be completely unresponsive to public opinion for any extended period of time. Even the strongest governments seek means of assuring, on occasion, waves of public acclaim.

In pure theory, a number of possible courses of action are open to the Arab Union as means of gaining more support within Iraq and Jordan and some measure of support externally.

The withdrawal of Iraq from the Baghdad Pact, the abrogation of Iraq’s special agreement with the United Kingdom, or Iraq’s withdrawal from the sterling area are examples of action which might serve to erase to some extent the impression of excessive dependence upon the West.

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In the field of Arab issues, Iraq and Jordan might recognize a separate Arab state on the West Bank under refugee control, although the loss of the West Bank could be a serious psychological blow to the Union. The Arab Union might seek action in the United Nations to reaffirm the 1947 resolutions or might promote joint action with Saudi Arabia in blocking the Gulf of Aqaba. These governments might seek to strengthen their hands by efforts to undermine Nasser’s control of Syria. On the more positive side, the Arab Union might seek more actively over the next few months to obtain the adherence of Saudi Arabia and possibly Kuwait and Bahrein to the Arab Union.

Internally, there are in pure theory a number of actions which the Iraq or Jordan Governments might take to strengthen their popular appeal. They might agree to conduct genuine free elections or agree to the sincere sponsorship of tax and land reform laws. Iraq might resume its anti-corruption campaign (instead, the new Nuri Government is reviewing previous dismissals for corruptions). Nuri and Rifai might retire and provide an opportunity for new faces in the Government.

In the economic field, the Iraq development program is already having some positive appeal, although much remains to be done to create genuine public confidence in its efforts. If this enlightened concept with its essentially non-political character could be extended to Jordan and the Union as a whole, it would undoubtedly help the stability and support for the Union.

Given these various possible courses of action by which the Arab Union might seek to gain wider popular support, the possible role of the United States is extremely limited. Any support or encouragement on our part for extreme moves of the type which might give the Iraq, Jordan or Union Government some public acclaim would probably not be in our broader interests.

In the internal field, any effort by us to encourage directly the type of political reforms with which we might be sympathetic and which might create a more popular government would run the grave risks of being considered interference in internal affairs and of undermining the strong governments which now provide stability. Once the present restraints on political life are removed, it is not at all uncertain [certain?] that the result would be favorable to the United States.

Concern over the possibility of being charged with intervention in internal affairs, however, need not prevent us completely from seeking opportunities to provide advice to these governments. We do this with some degree of success on a daily basis through our Point IV programs. We can find frequent opportunities as we comment to these governments on new developments in their Union. The chances, however, of their accepting or appreciating advice, which might require a fundamental change in their thinking or in their social order, are extremely limited.

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The internal security in these countries remains an important element. It is always possible that a long period of internal stability, accompanied by some economic improvement, can create a preference for and a vested interest in stability which can have a marked and beneficial effect on the long-range development of the country. We can continue to support the stability of the present regime by assistance to the armed forces and the security forces, although it may not be long before the saturation point for such assistance is reached.

The economic field appears to provide the best possibility for a constructive United States role in strengthening the Arab Union and its component parts. The Union, itself, would probably be strengthened and the United States could assume a more appropriate role if Iraq could be induced to assume responsibility for budgetary support for Jordan. The United States might then assist the Arab Union or its components on specific development projects. Assistance to the Union in the economic field would avoid our involvement in internal political matters and provide the least risk to our wider position in the area.

In addition, we can remain alert to opportunities to assist in establishing new or alternative methods of petroleum transit which would give greater insurance to Iraq’s economy.

The ultimate success of the Arab Union will also depend to a considerable extent on the degree to which satisfactory relations can be established with the other Arab states, and particularly with the United Arab Republic. The Arab Union has, undoubtedly, been handicapped by the bellicose and unrealistic policy which Nuri has pursued toward the United Arab Republic. We recognize that it may be difficult to advise leaders of the Arab Union to pursue correct relations with the United Arab Republic in view of the past history of their relations and the very real fear that the United Arab Republic represents a threat to their ultimate existence. We nevertheless believe, if opportunities arise, it is important that we and the British advise leaders of the Arab Union against continued public opposition to the United Arab Republic, and, to such an extent as may be possible, encourage them to establish correct diplomatic relations as a minimum.


That our future policy toward the Arab Union be based on these considerations:

The present regimes of Iraq and Jordan, while not popular, have created stability and appear to be the best able to bring about an alternative union to the United Arab Republic.
There is little possibility of our increasing their internal or external popularity through political measures in a manner consistent with our interests and with the continued stability of the area.
By supporting the continuance of strong governments in the Arab Union, we can provide a climate for economic improvement which may, over the long run, lead to evolutionary reforms and to a broader base of support for the government.
The United States role toward the Arab Union should for the foreseeable future be:
To continue in cooperation with the United Kingdom to assist the armed forces and the security forces.
To encourage measures, particularly in the financial field, which will result in a genuine union of Iraq and Jordan. Iraq should be encouraged gradually to assume responsibility for the Jordanian budget deficit.
Express our willingness through an expanded technical assistance program and through economic projects to further to the maximum extent possible the economic development and progress of the Union and its component parts.
To render assistance as may be required to develop alternative transit routes for Iraq’s petroleum.
To encourage on a realistic basis the adherence of other Arab States to the Arab Union.
To encourage the Union to adopt a realistic policy of “learning to live” with the United Arab Republic.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.86C/3–2658. Secret. Drafted in NEA/NE by Newsom.
  2. Under the constitution of the new federation, which was completed and released on March 19, the name of the federation was changed from Arab Federation to Arab Union. (Telegram 1670 from Amman, March 19; ibid., 786.00/3–1958)
  3. General John Bagot Glubb was dismissed by King Hussein as Commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1955.
  4. A handwritten note by Rountree at the bottom of the source text reads: “I concur. The latter point, of course, will be particularly delicate and each step will require careful thought.”