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

3958. Verbatim text.

Subsequent to Embtel 3949,2 French and British Ambassadors met with me and have agreed upon following joint appreciation:

“Three Ambassadors have met to appraise situation in light of subsequent events following joint submission outlined Embtel 3674.3

Although it seems clear from General Chehab’s estimate of military situation today Army is in a fair measure of control and degree of foreign infiltration is less than Lebanese Government might wish us to believe, it nevertheless seems certain that unless a political solution is promptly found Lebanon may explode in communal Christian versus Moslem fighting within short time.

Three Ambassadors feel that western governments have gone further than need to have been expected by Chamoun in his support. Governments have given him assurances which fully justify in concrete terms previous guarantees for Lebanon’s integrity and independence. The three governments have likewise gone all out in their attempt to provide Chamoun himself with political support.

Notwithstanding the extent to which Chamoun has been backed by UK, France and US, we now find ourselves facing a situation of civil war in Lebanon.

We are agreed any political solution terminating present internecine hostilities must not involve capitulation of government to opposition. Any settlement should not involve accepting a change in either head of state or government in submission to insurrection. On former point, namely retention of head of state throughout his constitutional term, we are pleased to find General Chehab is in firm agreement.

Although commander in chief armed forces has requested three Ambassadors to intervene with President requesting him firmly to indicate his renunciation of intent to amend constitution and succeed himself, we feel it would suffice if three Ambassadors suggested to Chamoun that at this critical juncture where not his own personal fortune but safety of state itself is at stake, he should indicate by a change in government that, in fact, he does not intend to seek reelection.

It would be our thought that Chamoun, without at once jettisoning Sami Solh as Prime Minister, could summon a cabinet of national union made up of Sami Solh as Prime Minister, with Chehab as Minister of National Defense and a few other members, some taken from moderate opposition, the nature of this cabinet itself thus publicly proclaiming to all Lebanese the impossibility of Chamoun seeking to change constitution. Such a cabinet would take office on one platform: [Page 58] that question of presidential succession should be decided by the cabinet and parliament in accordance with existing constitutional procedure. Presence of Chehab, to whom Chamoun would have given private guarantees with our knowledge, would be necessary assurance of President’s decision not to run again.

Such a formula would prevent opposition from crowing victory and would go far in our judgment to save face all round. It would then be essential for Chamoun and other moderate politicians to decide upon a candidate for the presidency who would carry out pro-western policies of Chamoun’s present regime.”4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/5–1658. Top Secret; Niact. Repeated to London and Paris.
  2. Supra.
  3. Document 18.
  4. In telegram 4353 to Beirut, May 16, the Department of State responded to the recommendations in telegram 3958:

    “We are consulting with UK re recommendation in joint appreciation. We have not reached definite conclusions but our preliminary reaction is that while it might be desirable for three Ambassadors, speaking in name of their governments, separately to inform Chamoun of their concern over possibility development confessional strife and their belief that prompt political solution is necessary to avoid this, it would not be desirable for Ambassadors to make specific recommendations with regard to nature of such solution. We believe such approach would serve to put Chamoun on notice that three governments believe he should now take steps to remove principal cause of strife, without creating explicit impression US, UK and France withdrawing the support they assured him of. View fact that troubles in Lebanon not yet over we believe it desirable Chamoun’s own morale and confidence be kept high as possible.” (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/5–1658)