20. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
3709. Copenhagen for Tosec. Chamoun received me this morning. He said I was first man to whom he had communicated his decision to run again for presidency of Lebanon. He had appointment tomorrow with British Ambassador to whom he would give same word. He stressed special relationships he felt because of his policies between himself, US and UK.
Chamoun said there were only two possible candidates for presidency who could carry on his foreign policy: himself and General Chehab. However, latter had indicated his decision not to run (a statement somewhat at variance with Chehab’s version reported Embtel 3700)2 and in any event might not be depended upon to stay the full course if elected. As for being steadfast in policy, Chamoun said he had seen other countries where once a slip was made it was impossible to foresee where one would wind up. For these reasons he was resolved to succeed himself.
In light first paragraph Dulte 10, Copenhagen’s 3 sent Beirut3 indicating concurrence of Selwyn Lloyd and Laloy in basic policy decision to support Chamoun, I revealed our tripartite conversations and joint recommendation, indicating that my British and French colleagues would presently speak for themselves in this regard.
Having in mind Secretary’s comment (Dulte 10) on backing Chamoun wholeheartedly, I injected an extra dose of vitamins into [Page 32]representation authorized Deptel 4173.4 I also pointed out that so far back as early March (Embtel 2964)5 I had recommended we support Chamoun, and was glad three governments were now in agreement on this issue. At same time, I stressed need for utmost discretion in manner of manifesting our support. Chamoun said it would be fatal if our backing were overt.
We agreed most immediate need is for three Ambassadors to approach Chehab and set him right as to three power support of Chamoun and need for Commander-in-Chief Armed Forces to do his duty in maintaining internal security. Chamoun said he had not yet determined date when he would undertake parliamentary steps for amendment of constitution, but thought we should see Chehab early next week; say Monday or Tuesday. I summarized in part conversation with Chehab earlier this morning, as reported Embtel 3700, with particular stress on my advice to Chehab he should not turn in his soldier suit at this time.
As for other measures of covert assistance, President mentioned possibility of our speaking to the Edde brothers (cf paragraph 7–C Embtel 3673).6 He then mentioned venal press of Beirut and extent to which it was bought up by Egyptian and Soviet money. He regretted western powers usually attempted to purchase papers already in Egyptian pay, neglecting more honest but poverty stricken papers which had refused to sell out to foreign influence. However, I pointed out need now was to secure foreign press support for Chamoun which would have maximum impact. President laughed ruefully [4 lines of source text not declassified].
President also said he had been informed by police and gendarme commandants of need for standardization of weapons for mobile fighting forces. He mentioned BARS in this connection. I asked him to have his security people get in touch with their opposite numbers in the Embassy to see what requirements are and what we might be able to do.
In his over-all estimate of security situation President said he thought Beirut would be relatively calm. In tribal areas of Chouf and Hermel he had already taken practical steps to divide populace, on theory there would be a de facto balance of power which would discourage uprisings. He thought (and here Druze leader Jumblat agrees) there would be a stand-off as between anti- and pro-Chamoun Druze factions. President thought there might be trouble in Tripoli, [Page 33]but indicated he was taking measures to meet it by approaches to such Moslem leaders as Rachid Karami. He had no hope of being able to change views of other Moslem anti-Chamoun protagonists such as Saeb Salaam and Abdullah Yafi, former because of conviction and latter because of heavy Egyptian subsidies he receives for his newspaper As Sayasah.
President said, despite opposition of religious leaders such as Maronite Patriarch and Grand Mufti of Beirut, he had 90 percent of Christians on his side and a substantial Moslem support extending possibly to 65 percent of latter.
This estimate we consider too high. He thought Druzes would cancel each other out, but if there were any majority it would be in his favor.
Re attitude of UAR, Chamoun thought Nasser would continue his subventions to newspapers and politicians, while Syrians would continue sending of clandestine arms. However, he was inclined to agree with me there is as yet no evidence of a concerted UAR plan of campaign against Chamoun once his decision to stand for reelection is announced.
Although Chamoun said he had not yet made up his mind as to date when Parliament would be called to act on amendment to constitution, he thought it would be very soon. He was waiting, however, until tempers had cooled before giving final go ahead signal. In response to my question, he said amendment of constitution would merely permit him to succeed himself. His present term would expire on September 23 and, if successful, he would take oath of office immediately thereafter for a second six-year term.
At close of interview President produced from his wallet clipping of Alsop article re impact Lebanese elections on other pro-western leaders in ME, taken from Herald Tribune April 30.
I said either Joe Alsop could have written joint appreciation of three Ambassadors or three Ambassadors could have written Alsop’s column.7
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/5–758. Top Secret; Priority. Repeated to London, Paris, and Copenhagen.↩
- In telegram 3700 from Beirut, May 7, McClintock reported on a conversation that morning with Chehab in which Chehab indicated that he had reached the conclusion that he would only accept the presidency if it were clear that no other leader could assure the safety of the state. (Ibid.; included in the microfiche supplement)↩
- Document 9.↩
- Paragraph 7–C of telegram 3673 from Beirut recommended following up on assurances of Western support for Chamoun’s reelection effort with “Other political efforts; e.g. a word to the Edde brothers.” This telegram is summarized in footnote 2, Document 18.↩
- McClintock also reported, in telegram 3710 from Beirut, May 7, that he discussed the question of U.S. aid to Lebanon during this meeting with Chamoun. Chamoun indicated that, although the issue had become politically sensitive in Lebanon, he favored a continuing economic aid relationship, but hoped that the United States could assist in financing Lebanon’s 6-year development plan. McClintock responded there was a recession in the United States and Congress was in no mood to consider increased foreign aid funds. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.5–MSP/5–758; included in the microfiche supplement)↩