18. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
3674. Re last paragraph Embtel 3673.2 Following is text joint appreciation agreed to by British, French, and American Ambassadors:
- Internal situation in Lebanon is likely to reach critical stage within the next week. After consultation with my American-French/French-British/American-British colleagues following is our joint appreciation for urgent consideration by our respective governments (my colleagues are reporting in identical terms).
(a) General Chehab is clearly unwilling to accept presidential succession from hands of Chamoun and thereby incur a political debt. Only if serious unrest threatens and no other solution seems possible might he be persuaded to stand; but it would be as an independent or opposition candidate. First alternative would have suited our interests but second alternative would necessarily represent a clear defeat for Chamoun’s pro-western policy and is therefore undesirable.
(b) Chamoun is in our view almost certain to seek amendment of constitution and stand for re-election. We know he has solicited and been promised active sympathy and support of Iraq, Iran, Sudan and Turkey and possibly other countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Italy, etc. His success or failure must therefore be judged in much wider context than mere internal Lebanese politics. Once he has announced his intentions western failure to support him will have repercussions among all most moderate and responsible friends and allies of west in ME area. Chamoun has come to symbolize to them forces of resistance to Nasser.
(c) Parliamentary situation is uncertain but Chamoun can probably command necessary 2/3s majority for amendment of constitution and re-election. But opposition representation in Chamber of Deputies not proportional to its popular support and many Moslem and some Christian elements seem determined to mobilize their adherents outside Chamber and resort if necessary to extreme measures to frustrate Chamoun. Disorders must therefore be expected. Extent of danger this factor represents depends upon willingness of Army (i.e., General Chehab) to maintain order at all costs.
(d) General Chehab mistrusts Chamoun and is inclined to remain aloof in any civil conflict, which would inevitably tend to assume a communal character. But we consider he is first and foremost a loyal soldier and citizen and that declared policy of three western powers will be determinative in deciding his attitude.
(e) President Chamoun has clearly indicated his final decision will be taken about May 7. He can then be expected to appeal to us for open support. Time will be very short as parliamentary measures for amendment of constitution and re-election could be forced through in a single session.
- In our view optimum solution would be that Chamoun should hand over presidential office to General Chehab or to some other mutually agreed candidate. This now seems excluded. We are therefore likely to be faced with stark alternative of supporting Chamoun or standing aloof. For reasons in paragraph 2(b) above in particular we consider we shall have to support Chamoun despite known risks.
- Practical measures short of open support might involve:
- Approach to General Chehab to ensure maintenance of law and order (see 2(d) above).
- Financial aid to deal especially with press which is hostile but venal.
- Coordination and mobilization of diplomatic support by countries mentioned in 2(b) above.
- Provision of equipment to strengthen government radio station Beirut.
- Clear warning UAR interference will not be tolerated.
- We are not able to assess reaction of EG [sic] Soviet Government which may be extremely sharp owing to presence of Nasser as their guest. But we consider that despite possibility of internal disorder and external complications failure to support Chamoun represents greater long term risk.
- Grateful for very early instructions, since President has already asked to see American Ambassador on Wednesday morning, May 7.
Suggest Department pass Copenhagen for Secretary.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/5–458. Top Secret; Niact. Repeated to London and Paris.↩
- Telegram 3673 from Beirut, May 4, reported on a May 3 meeting among the U.S., British, and French Ambassadors to consider the political situation in Lebanon. In the final paragraph, McClintock noted that the three ambassadors agreed to draft a joint appreciation of the situation and forward it to their governments for approval of the recommendations contained in the appreciation. McClintock asked for a response before his scheduled meeting with Chamoun on May 7. (Ibid.; included in the microfiche supplement)↩