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

3880. During lengthy interview with President Chehab this morning he enlarged on thesis set out Embtel 38122 regarding present position of Nasser and his relationships with Western world and USSR.

President said he thought psychological moment would presently appear when West could do a great deal in its own interest in improving relationships with Arab world by some gesture of support for Nasser. Chehab thought that if, when as he seemed to expect UAR–Iraq relationships quieted down, some sign of support for Nasser and Arab world in general could be coming from West, this would serve to consolidate anti-Communist position which Nasser has taken. Whether we like it or not Nasser was acknowledged leader of Arab world but as a dictator he could do irresponsible things if pushed too far. In consequence a policy of “seeing him on his knees,” which seemed to motivate Turks, Israelis and possibly British, could only provoke him to further excess. At same time, said Chehab, Russian bear was an animal “in the face of which one can spit and he will wipe it off and forget the episode provided it is to his interest.” He cautioned that it was by no means impossible for USSR to reach rapid accommodation with Nasser if that suited Soviet policy.

Chehab did not specify what sort of gesture from West would be most suitable at a psychological moment yet to be realized but he did say it should be something which would have impact throughout Arab world at same time “not be too much.” At this juncture he hastily added, “we should not put Nasser on a pedestal; after all I am a Lebanese”.

Asked as to rumors of possible mediation between Iraq and UAR by Lebanon, President said three of more nearly neutral countries of Arab League had been mentioned in this connection. In addition to Lebanon there was the Sudan, which had originally broached idea, and Morocco—however, President said, there could be no successful mediation unless both parties were amenable thereto; and thus far there had been no indication that Iraq would welcome outside intervention even from most impartial of Arab League members.

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Comment: I do not know what sort of gesture from West and particularly from U.S., which Chehab indicated should be power to lead free world in new approach toward Nasser, would be most effective but would leave this problem to judgment of my colleagues in Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad. I do feel however that Chehab speaks with eminent common sense and that his analysis of present situation in Arab world is sound one.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 661.87/3–2459. Secret. Repeated to Ankara, Cairo, Damascus, London, Paris, Amman, Baghdad, Jidda, and Tel Aviv.
  2. Telegram 3812 from Beirut, March 19, commented on President Chehab’s attitude concerning Nasser and Nasser’s difficulties with Khrushchev and Kassem. Chehab felt that the West would make a mistake to think that Nasser’s difficulties would make him more amenable to Western influence. (Ibid., 661.86B/3–1959)