37. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1

3949. Following my conversation with Chehab reported Embtel 3937,2 I conferred with British Ambassador who is now beginning to [Page 56] share my conviction it is clearly outside realm of political possibility for Chamoun to think of succeeding himself for a second term as president. I likewise told Middleton of Chehab request three western ambassadors jointly intervene with President. Middleton is telegraphing London to recommend his government rapidly consider need of suggesting to Chamoun he make some act of renunciation of a second term.

At end of my talk with Chamoun today as separately reported,3 I said that despite seeming improvement in security situation and possibility not only of diplomatic help in Cairo and Security Council by Lebanon’s good friends, I could not blink [at] the fact that a basic cause of present civil war in Lebanon was conviction on part of many citizens, mostly Moslem, that Camille Chamoun was determined to have second six years in office.

President said he had never made any such statement. I agreed, but pointed out that since most of country thought he did want to succeed himself in office and half the country seemed so opposed to that concept as to resort to armed violence, this was a situation which became a political fact irrespective of technical written record.

I then said, speaking purely personally and as a friend, that I did not see how the imminent risk of inter-communal fighting could be avoided if there were not some certain sign from Chamoun that he did not intend to amend constitution and get himself reelected. I was adamantly opposed to Chamoun stepping down before end of his term and was opposed to government quitting under fire. I also was opposed to any indication that Chamoun would be forced to renounce his constitutional rights or Parliament its constitutional authority under threat of civil war. This being said, however, I personally could not see how present threat to Lebanon as a state could long be prevented from becoming absolute unless there was some act of self-abnegation on the part of Camille Chamoun.

President made no comment except to thank me very much.

I made this purely personal approach with view to preparing way for possible tripartite or UK–US action if our governments so desire and on a basis which can be easily disavowed if that is the policy decision in Washington, London and (possibly) Paris.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/5–1658. Top Secret; Niact. Repeated to London.
  2. In telegram 3937 from Beirut, May 16, McClintock reported on a conversation that morning with Chehab. Chehab was contemptuous of politicians on both sides, but indicated that he would stay with Chamoun “until the end”, which McClintock noted meant the end of the presidential term. Chehab insisted, however, that there could be no thought of Chamoun’s reelection. (Ibid.)
  3. Reference is to telegram 3948 from Beirut, May 16, which summarized a discussion of the security of the frontier with Israel. (Washington National Record Center, RG 84, Beirut Embassy Files: FRC 68 A 5159, May 1, 1958–May 20, 1958; included in the microfiche supplement)