299. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State 1

1311. General Chehab and I made a 360 degree “tour d’horizon” this morning of Lebanese political, economic and military situation. Despite rather clipped accents which I had been forced to use Sunday night when I declined General Chehab’s request that General Adams tanks not be deployed along our lines of communications, Chehab could not have been more forthcoming and friendly. Following points emerged:

General said he had been furious when opposition leaders came to his house Sunday night (cf Embassy telegram 1269)2 with seven-point manifesto summarized Embassy telegram 1293.3 He had told rebel leaders who gathered with him at Junieh (Jumblat, Rashid Karame, Fuad Ammoun, Abdullah Yafi, Hassan Queini and Sabri Hamadeh) that what he wanted was a declaration opening Beirut and foreswearing acts of violence. Instead he had a political manifesto which did not help matters at all but would in fact give ammunition to Christian loyalists to insist on reprisals against Moslem opposition. General said rebel leaders who visited him were of more moderate stripe and he had noted that leaders from outside Beirut were much more inclined to take a reasonable position than those locked up with Saeb Salaam in the Basta. He said it was clear that manifesto took its truculent tone from fact it had been drafted in Saeb Salaam’s house where each leader felt he had to outshout the other.
As to realities of situation, General said that despite apparent intransigence of opposition, in fact more moderate leaders had intimated that progressively Basta would open. Vast majority of population in that quarter were eager to resume business and despite insistence on a continuation of “Pacific general strife,” he was confident rebel leadership would turn a blind eye toward shopkeepers who gradually lifted their shutters.
On security situation General said he was prudently optimistic. He admitted stationing of United States tanks on United States line of communications along airport road had had a beneficial effect on opposition. They knew we meant business and also were aware that [Page 530] presence of American fire power made task of Lebanese army more easy. Although after elections Chehab had given orders for his troops to observe a cease-fire, these orders had been changed following recent acts of sniping and terrorism and, as last night’s fire fight near airport road revealed when rebels lost half a dozen men, fire was now horizontal, not vertical. So far as safety of Americans was concerned, General said our families could return at once.
Reverting to opposition attitudes and in particular insistence on immediate withdrawal of American forces, General Chehab said he had told opposition leaders Sunday that they were creating a vicious circle for themselves. He has said flatly US forces would not be withdrawn until security situation in Lebanon had been restored to normal. It was therefore up to opposition itself to cooperate in restoring security if they wished to achieve their goal of departure of US forces. Chehab had reminded opposition US command was just as eager as they for withdrawal of our troops and had given earnest of this by reembarkment of a Marine BLT. He, the General, would favor our remaining here however until acts of violence had ceased.
Re Hammarskjold’s visit to Middle East and attitude toward retention of UNOGIL, Chehab said he was inclined to feel UN observer force could be built up in numbers to act as a sort of umbrella over Lebanon until future was more clear. He thought this particularly important in connection with eventual withdrawal of US troops.
General confirmed report Embtel 12924 that he had arranged transportation for Syrian commandos from Basta back to their homeland.
Chehab said he had taken action on my suggestion (para 7 Embtel 1130)5 for attempting to reopen channels of commerce with Syria and Arabian hinterland. His negotiations in Damascus had borne results. Syrians had indicated their readiness to provide full cooperation for free transit of trains, trucks, people and goods but with caveat “they wanted no credit to accrue to Chamoun”. Chehab grinned and said he thought this could be arranged. He likewise said he had been pleasantly surprised when Syrians and Egyptians had informed him Egyptians were prepared to drop embargo on Lebanese apples, again with proviso Chamoun would not get credit. Apparently a delegation will be cooked up to call Chehab as President-elect and literally offer him the apple of accord.
Noforn: General wishes following information to be closely held. He says he contemplates a 6-month period of emergency powers during which Parliament will be asked to stand down “as I do not want to be bothered with antics of those politicians”. He contemplates [Page 531] appointing a government of relatively little known moderates accepting no outstanding leaders either from opposition or fanatic loyalists. He looks toward a businesslike half-year in which to bind up the nation’s wounds, conciliate factional strife, and get ahead with being a peaceful small country once again. From his reference to opposition fears of arrest under present regime I got broad inference an amnesty would be an early order of business once Chehab assumes power.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783C.00/8–2758. Secret. Repeated to Cairo, Damascus, London, Paris, and USUN.
  2. Document 294.
  3. Telegram 1293 from Beirut, August 26, reported that opposition leaders met on August 25 at the house of Saeb Salam to adopt a seven-point program of concerted action affirming a unity of purpose and calling for support for Chehab’s announced national program, and for the immediate evacuation of U.S. forces. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/8–2658; included in the microfiche supplement)
  4. Dated August 26. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/8–2658)
  5. Document 274.