373. Memorandum of a Conversation, White House, Washington, September 21, 19591

SUBJECT

  • Courtesy Call by Lebanese Prime Minister Karame on The President

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • Mr. Robert Murphy
  • Mr. Parker T. Hart, NEA
  • Lt. Col. Walters, Interpreter
  • Prime Minister Rashid Karame
  • Ambassador N. Dimechkié
[Page 641]

What had been expected to be a brief courtesy call by Prime Minister Karame on the President developed into a lively but very friendly exchange of views lasting one hour and five minutes covering matters of primary concern to both the Arab world and the United States.

After expressing his appreciation for Prime Minister Karame’s call and his happiness in having this opportunity to meet him, the President inquired as to the length of time the Prime Minister would remain in the United States. Mr. Karame replied that he had expected to be here until the end of September, indicating his intention to visit Detroit and to spend some time at the United Nations General Assembly. The President inquired whether Lebanon had particular problems to raise at the present General Assembly, commenting that the United States for its part would be glad to see progress on the problem of the Arab refugees and that he personally had very much in mind the question of Algeria, on which General DeGaulle had just taken a most important step. (The President later stated that he had not meant to imply that General DeGaulle’s proposals should be discussed in the UNGA.) Prime Minister Karame asked to respond in Arabic, using Ambassador Dimechkié as interpreter. He began by extensive comments on the values held in common by the Arabs and the West and the great confidence which the Arab peoples felt for President Eisenhower.

The subsequent conversation is recorded by subject headings rather than by strict chronology.

Arab Nationalism and Communism. Emphasizing the values held in common between America and the Arab world, the Prime Minister urged that America avoid mistaking true Arab Nationalism from the false Nationalism voiced by Communists. For example, Nasser, while fighting Imperialism, was mistakenly charged by the West as a Communist, or a follower of Communism. We now see that when his main battle against Imperialism had finished, Nasser did not hesitate to turn against the Communists, and to combat them as fiercely as he had the Imperialists, Prime Minister Karame regretted that Western antagonism toward Nasser befogged Western appreciation of Nasser’s position today. He cited the Iraqi situation as prime evidence. He could not understand why the United Kingdom continued to consider Nasser a greater threat than the Communists in Iraq.

Palestine Arab Refugees. The President referred to his concern that the situation of the Arab refugees, which he characterized as an “international disgrace”, be tackled more effectively, and noted that the United States had been paying 70 per cent of the bills of UNRWA. He felt that continuation of this situation was not satisfactory and did nothing to advance a solution. Prime Minister Karame responded that the 1947 Resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly defined [Page 642]the rights of the refugees but had not been carried out. The avenue to a solution lay in pressuring the Israelis to accept these Resolutions, not in forfeiting the rights of the refugees. The Palestine Conciliation Commission had been set up to care for the property rights of the refugees and should be permitted to operate within Israel, collect the money due the refugees thus relieving them from the indignity of taking charity.

On the Palestine situation in general, the President commented that he had suspected in 1956 that the Arabs believed the United States approached the Palestine problem only from the standpoint of national elections in the United States, and the influence which proponents of Israel might exert in those elections. He had therefore made special efforts by a series of actions to disabuse everyone thoroughly of this concept. Logically, as a result of such efforts, he, President Eisenhower, should have been defeated in the 1956 elections. From a purely material point of view the United States had much more to gain by close association with the Arabs than with Israelis. Arab territory was vast while Israel’s was small; the Arabs had tremendous oil reserves which the West badly needed, while Israel had none. Nevertheless, he felt that the Arabs would agree that we should deal with this question on the basis of principle. He would be happy if some steps could be taken to relieve the tension. Several measures had been proposed in the past, among others he had sent Eric Johnston to the area to obtain an Arab-Israel solution to the distribution of Jordan Waters. Technical agreement had been reached but political obstacles vitiated the solution. Both sides are intransigent as a result of deep emotional feelings which he felt he well understood. However, Israel was now a historic fact, created well before President Eisenhower had assumed office. It should be accepted as such. He certainly did not favor Israel over other countries, neither did he wish to destroy it. Perhaps the creation of any state on the basis of religion alone was a mistake. We all live under one God. Yet religious antagonisms make us overlook the main threat today which is the anti-religious, atheistic force of Communism. As between Zionism and Communism, the greater threat to the Arab world was surely Communism. Ambassador Dimechkié laughingly responded that he wished the President would not force the Arabs to choose between these two antagonists, as they would more likely pick the Zionists as the deadlier enemy. The President disagreed and in one of his last comments to Prime Minister Karame at the end of the interview, he urged him again not to lose sight of the fact that the main enemy to Arabs, as to the rest of the Western world, was International Communism.

Prime Minister Karame responded that ultimately the Palestine problem would somehow have to be solved. While he agreed with the President’s remark that no ready solution was in sight, some day a [Page 643]solution would be found as it had been found for Cyprus. In the end, the best thing for the United States would be to remain neutral in this question. Some day the Arabs and the Israelis would have to sit down together and work it out between them.

Algeria. Responding to the President’s statement that he was very well impressed by DeGaulle’s proposals, Prime Minister Karame said he wished to speak to President Eisenhower as a soldier. As such he could understand that the Algerians who had fought for five years against great odds for their independence and were willing to continue fighting for it must examine with great care any proposals from the other side, even those which for the first time spoke of independence. The question was how the Algerian people were to express themselves on the question of independence. He urged that the United States not take a formal stand on the DeGaulle proposals until they had been fully examined by the Arabs. Such examination was now under way and it would facilitate matters and would most likely lead toward a settlement if public positions were not frozen in advance. The President indicated that he had no intention of making a public statement.

Arab Self Help. At one point, the President indicated that in 1958 he had expressed a readiness to assist the Arabs in any joint effort they might devise to improve their economic lot and their stability. That was the American way: To give help to those who vigorously help themselves. He would never be interested in a country which did not bend its whole heart and soul toward improving its own lot. He would like to inquire what the Arab reaction was today to these 1958 proposals that they pool their efforts toward a common goal. Prime Minister Karame replied that steps were being taken, such as the Arab Bank and the Joint Fund and there had been some talk of inter-Arab roadways; but progress on joint projects had been very slow. The most logical projects to Arabs were those within the borders of the independent Arab states and which redounded to the immediate benefit of the individual Arab communities, for example, the Aswan Dam and the Litani projects. However, joint undertakings would come with time.

American Landings in Lebanon in 1958. The President referred to our landings in Lebanon at the request of its elected government as an example of United States willingness to assist small nations preserve their integrity in the face of outside intervention. The Prime Minister responded: “It would have been better for you just to have sent us Mr. Murphy”. (laughter)

In closing the interview, President Eisenhower indicated that the press was anxious to take pictures of Prime Minister Karame and himself. If the Prime Minister had no objection he would invite the photographers in. Prime Minister Karame indicated that he would be honored, and some 20 photographers were admitted.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Hart.