368. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1
2611. From Rountree.2 During my conversations over past two days with Lebanese leaders, including President Chehab and all four Ministers of Karami Cabinet as well as a number of former Foreign Ministers, three main themes have emerged:
- Relationship of US-Israel-Arab world is still basic stumbling block to improvement of relations between US and Arabs.
- Most immediate corollary of foregoing is refugee problem and prevalent misconception in Arab community that US was seeking by some Machiavellian stroke to pressure Arab states into acceptance of Israel on terms favorable to latter by threatening to dump refugees on Arab governments (cf. Embassy telegram 26043 not repeated addressees except USUN).
- Nasser is unchallenged popular hero of Arab world and US in recognizing this fact should take active steps to re-establish friendly relations with him.
Although foregoing were dominant themes, it was reassuring to find many responsible Lebanese leaders were fully conscious of overriding threat of USSR and aggressive Communism to safety of the free countries of ME. This was most clearly manifest by President Chehab; significantly alluded to by Prime Minister Karami and was subject of a personal peroration by Foreign Minister Oueini in a private audience [Page 635] he insisted on according Ambassador McClintock and me today. Foreign Minister, with every appearance of complete sincerity, said Russia was ultimate enemy in ME and thus far USSR had succeeded in capitalizing on mistakes made by “US”—in which he referred not only to US and Western world but to Arab states also. Oueini said unless some stop was put to onward march of Communism future of ME would be synonymous with disaster for people who live there. He thought way out included better relations between ourselves and Nasser and, above all, prompt action spurred by US on some settlement of refugee problem, his own somewhat oversimplified solution would be for US to issue a unilateral declaration to effect best remedy for refugee issue would be for refugees to return to their former homes within one year’s time. He said this would be a great psychological shock in this part of the world (as indeed it would be) but that as a matter of fact, by his own estimate, 99 percent of refugees would not opt to return to Palestine. It would then be incumbent on US, in consultation with Israel, to work out financial means for permanent resettlement and rehabilitation of refugees. I replied that this remedy had advantage of simplicity, but that there were many facets of refugee problem, to say nothing of need to choose optimum moment, both with Israel and Arab governments, to push for a truly final settlement of this matter.
It was noteworthy that in all our conversations no Lebanese official made any request for additional US financial aid.
While papers today carried a statement by Karami that, although he had not discussed Eisenhower Doctrine with us, it was to all intents and purposes a dead letter, here again no Minister raised issue of Eisenhower Doctrine. However, following press accounts attributed to Karami, I did take pains to explain to certain Ministers on my own volition unilateral character of Congressional resolution on ME and its implications in respect of foreign policy in this area.
My over-all impression of Lebanese visit is that in a remarkably short space of time Lebanese, under an energetic and streamlined government, are rapidly returning toward a more normal life handicapped only by fact that under directed economies of such important neighboring states as Syria and Iraq their usual lucrative transit trade has not been re-established. In general, in Karami Cabinet and elsewhere, there seems to be a warm regard and respect for US, as well as an appreciation of the fact (an appreciation ranging from grudging acknowledgment to enthusiastic acclaim) that our military intervention here constructively changed course of events in ME last summer and prevented a chain reaction which would have become a debacle.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 110.15–RO/12–958. Secret. Repeated to Amman, Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Jidda, London, and USUN.↩
- Rountree was in Lebanon December 8–9 during a trip to Middle Eastern posts. Memoranda of Rountree’s conversations on December 9 with Chehab, Karame, Oueini, Edde, and Gemayel are ibid.↩
- Dated December 9. (Ibid., 320.511/12–958)↩