208. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, July 21, 19581

SUBJECT

  • Western Replies to Khrushchev July 19 Proposal for Summit Meeting on Middle East

PARTICIPANTS

  • The Secretary of State
  • Lord Hood, British Minister
  • Mr. Reinhardt, Counselor
  • Mr. Kohler, EUR

Lord Hood called at his urgent request having received instructions containing British views on the line of action and proposed replies to the Khrushchev proposal of July 19.

Reading from these instructions Lord Hood said that since Khrushchev had mentioned the Secretary General of the UN, the Foreign Office agreed that Khrushchev’s proposal would be handled [Page 354]and replied to by the United States proposal for a special meeting of the Security Council.2 However, the Foreign Office made the following observations in this connection: (1) It should be made clear at the outset that the special Security Council meeting would in fact be attended by the heads of Government and that President Eisenhower would be available at least part of the time. For his part Prime Minister Macmillan was ready to attend (2) It should also be made clear that this SC meeting would make possible other informal meetings outside the SC between the representatives of the participant governments directly concerned (3) In addition to the regular membership of the SC there was a possibility under Article 31 of the UN Charter3 of inviting other governments to participate in the special Security Council meetings notably India which had been mentioned by Khrushchev. Such participants also should be available and eligible to attend appropriate outside informal meetings (4) Finally it should be made clear that the special meeting would be for the purpose of discussion only and that no resolutions would be put forward except such as might be agreed in advance among the major participating powers. Lord Hood explained that this was to alleviate any fears on the part of Khrushchev that he would be faced with a voting procedure which might isolate him or put him in the minority.

The Foreign Office hoped that the British and French Governments would agree on these points. The British UN representative, Sir Pierson (Bob) Dixon, would be instructed to make observations along the foregoing lines in supporting Ambassador Lodge’s proposal for a special Security Council meeting.

The Secretary who had taken exception to Lord Hood’s opening remarks interjected that there was no such US proposal to be presented in the Security Council today saying that he did not know how the British could have received such an impression. Lord Hood indicated that the source had been Sir Pierson Dixon in New York.

However, before discussion was resumed on this point Lord Hood finished reading his instructions saying that the British proposed to reply to Khrushchev along the foregoing lines though they would dismiss Khrushchev’s distortions rather more shortly than in the US note.

The Secretary then asked Lord Hood if he were familiar with the reference to a special Security Council meeting as contained in our proposed reply which Lord Hood thereupon reread. The Secretary [Page 355]then said that we did not consider a summit meeting would be desirable at this time and in this atmosphere in which we would be accused of being the disturbers of peace. Our language simply put up to the Soviets the proposition that they could turn to the Security Council if they considered there was a threat to the peace and if they wanted such a meeting but we frankly hoped they would not. We want to calm things down. He then cited the strong German opposition to a high level meeting and said we were in great danger of having disarray in our own ranks. The Secretary went on that perhaps the British had based their proposals on our first draft. He would say that there had been some shift in our own thinking on the subject. It was clear that if we should take the initiative in calling for a SC meeting we would be in a bad position in which we would be accused of breaking the peace and Khrushchev would be in the position of saving it. The position would be very complicated and difficult. Our defense would require us to attack Nasser, who would not even be present, as regards the developments in Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. Meanwhile, the Soviets would be attacking us. He had not really had time to think through what the results of such a meeting would be. If there were a break, then this would be bad for the peace rather than good.

Lord Hood cited Selwyn Lloyd as considering it desirable that we make clear our intentions and our interests in the Middle East to prevent Soviet misinterpretation or miscalculation. When the Secretary commented that such a meeting was not necessary for this purpose, Lord Hood said that is was in the British view desirable to say these things to Khrushchev across the table. He suggested it might also be possible to reach agreement as regards Lebanon and Jordan. In response to this the Secretary asked who would support a neutralist Jordan. As he understood it the British were not in a position to assume this burden and the mounting Congressional opposition to the Khrushchev proposal in this country made it unlikely that Congress would be willing to support appropriations for this purpose. Lord Hood said that he had no answer to this question but repeated that the rough lines of a political agreement might be possible to work out.

The Secretary then asked why we should at this stage, just because of the Khrushchev initiative, reverse the consistent position we had been taking in opposition to a discussion of the Middle East at a summit conference. Lord Hood said that the British feel that in view of developments the British now feel that it would be unrealistic to exclude such discussion. In fact the proposed informal talks associated with a high level SC meeting could be regarded as a part of the preparation for a general summit conference.

The Secretary then repeated that there had been some shift from our preliminary ideas discussed with Selwyn Lloyd as a result of the White House conference yesterday and increasing congressional opposition [Page 356]to the Khrushchev proposal. If the USSR wants to convoke a Security Council meeting that is all right but it would be unsound for us to take the initiative or to encourage such a meeting.

Lord Hood replied that it was clear that his instructions were based on a misunderstanding in New York and said that he would take immediate corrective action as far as this afternoon’s Security Council meeting is concerned. The Secretary said he thought it was important that this be done immediately.

In response to Lord Hood’s question as to what would happen if the Japanese resolution4 passed, the Secretary made it clear that the US did not propose to take any initiative to enlarge the scope of Security Council action. This was a question for the Russians. He emphasized that there was an agreed and established procedure for the handling of alleged threats to the peace, reading from the text of the UN Charter. This clearly delegated the responsibility of the SC on behalf of all UN members so that there could be no complaints from any of our allies that they had been left out. Lord Hood then asked if we took the position that there was no threat to the peace, adding that the Russians themselves might be considered to be posing a threat which would make desirable a discussion on broad lines of the situation in the Middle East. The Secretary replied that our immediate quarrel is with Nasser’s extreme Pan-Arabism. This places the Soviets in an advantageous position of being able to attack us while it does not serve our interests to have to pursue a public attack on Nasser. Lord Hood said that there was widespread feeling in the UK that this was in fact a dangerous situation; that the presence of our troops in the Middle East made incidents possible which might have explosive potentialities.5

The Secretary said he understood that there was an instinctively different approach to these problems between the British and ourselves which we had so far been able to reconcile with respect to the preparation for a possible summit talk. When something happens the [Page 357]British immediately think in terms of the Prime Minister going somewhere or doing something about it. Under our Constitutional procedure and outlook the idea of the President engaging actively in such discussions and negotiations is abhorrent. He does not, like the Prime Minister in Parliament, handle these matters in any detail with the Congress. The President has plenty of burdens and he leaves these detailed matters to the members of his Cabinet.

Lord Hood then said, “But what shall I say to London?" The Secretary replied that we cannot agree at the moment that the President would necessarily go to a Security Council meeting in New York even if the Soviets should take the initiative in calling for one. We want to discourage a Security Council meeting at the level of heads of government. You want to encourage such a meeting. There is a gap to be bridged and we shall wish to ponder this further on both sides. Lord Hood said he felt it necessary that there be an indication to the Russians that there be more than an ordinary Security Council meeting. He said that while the British Government felt such proposals as the present ones should be public, he would like to know whether it would be acceptable to us if these be made orally, perhaps by the Ambassadors when they deliver a reply to the Khrushchev letter. The Secretary responded that it would be premature today to say that we could go along with any such formula. We are concerned about the attitude of the Germans, the Italians, and the Turks. We would probably face a revolution in our own camp if we proposed to the Russians that we have a series of cosy talks with the Russians in New York. Others among our allies would like to be included too. Lord Hood said he did not see how the Germans and Italians could object to such meetings, but the Secretary indicated that our position remained as stated and that we would have to ponder this question further.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1/7–2158. Confidential. Drafted by Kohler.
  2. This proposal was in the draft reply to Khrushchev’s letter; see footnote 2, Document 204.
  3. Article 31 of the U.N. Charter provides that any U.N. member which is not a member of the Security Council may participate, without vote, in the discussion of any question brought before the Council whenever the Council considers that the interests of that member are specifically affected.
  4. See Document 195.
  5. Dulles and Hood continued their discussion at Dulles’ residence that evening, and Dulles observed that the Middle East crisis offered an opportunity which might not recur:

    “I said to him that I was convinced that the Soviets were in a state of concern because they feared that our moves in the Middle East might confront them with a choice between accepting a great setback in the Middle East or accepting the risk of general war. They could not accept the latter because they had gambled on not developing many long-range bombers and had not yet adequate missiles in operation. We would probably not have another such chance. But probably we did not have the nerve to take advantage of the probabilities. The likelihood was that this would be our last fair chance and that we would let it pass.

    “Our successors, a decade from now, might pay the price.” (Memorandum of conversation by Dulles, July 21; Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversations: Lot 64 D 199; included in the microfiche supplement)

  6. Eisenhower telephoned Dulles on July 21 to inquire about developments concerning the Soviet proposal. Dulles reported that the British were leaning toward a heads of government meeting at the Security Council, and the Canadians also felt that the problems of the Middle East should be on the agenda for any summit meeting, but the French were more in line with U.S. thinking and opposed a summit meeting on the Middle East. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries)