380. Memorandum of Conversations Between Prime Minister Saeb Salaam and the Director of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs (Meyer), Washington, October 8–9, 19601


  • Matters of Lebanese and American Interest

During a number of brief encounters with Prime Minister Salaam at social functions during his weekend visit to Washington, the following items of interest emerged in informal discussion:

Nasser. Saeb Bey said that during an automobile ride in New York, UAR President Nasser had confided to him that he, Nasser, could not be unfriendly to the United States. In this connection, Nasser had noted appreciatively that his country has received over $400 million in American aid in recent years. (Nasser obviously was impressed by statistics brought to his attention by Deputy Under Secretary Hare.) Mr. Meyer suggested to Saeb Bey that he might wish to use his considerable influence on Nasser to persuade him to reflect a more friendly attitude toward the United States in his public speeches. Mr. Meyer noted that it is difficult for the United States Government to maintain “normalized relations” without some cooperation on Nasser’s part. The Prime Minister replied that the US should keep in mind that Nasser has in the past openly attacked the Communists and that Nasser can be relied on as the chief obstacle to the Communist offensive in the Middle East. Mr. Meyer expressed the view that from a long-range standpoint, Nasser’s value in this regard would be more effective if he could see his way clear to display less partiality for Soviet causes in international affairs. The Prime Minister suggested that the US should do its best to try to win Nasser’s confidence, at which point Mr. Meyer in a friendly vein referred to an old Arab proverb “You can’t clap with one hand”.
Syria. Most of the present dissatisfaction in Syria, according to Prime Minister Salaam, stems from the three years of drought. He did not anticipate an early break-up of the Syria-Egyptian union, although he observed that strong man Sarraj is clearly not under Nasser’s full control. He said Nasser remains the hero of most Syrians.
Jordan. Saeb Bey said that he could state with “100% plus” certainty that Nasser had nothing to do with the assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Majali. He would not be able to make the same statement, he said, with respect to Damascus and Sarraj. He [Page 659] reported that at New York the Lebanese have endeavored with some success to ameliorate UARHKJ tensions. He gave the impression that King Hussein was much more responsive than Nasser.
Alleged British Perfidy. Despite the MacmillanNasser conversations, the contents of which he was not aware, Saeb Bey emphatically denounced British activities in the Middle East, including in Lebanon. Mr. Meyer stated just as emphatically his view that the British were making a sincere effort to demonstrate that they are not interfering in Arab world affairs and that they desire to maintain normal friendly relations with all the Arab countries. Saeb Bey was clearly unconvinced.
Lebanese Politics. Prime Minister Salaam said he suspected that President Chehab would again attempt to resign in the near future. However, all Lebanese would unanimously insist that he continue to serve until the expiration of his term in 1964. Saeb Bey said there is no other alternative to Chehab as Lebanon’s President in the foreseeable future. The Prime Minister voiced his high regard for Nassim Majdalani, who is presently Acting Prime Minister. He also described his erstwhile rival for the Prime Ministership, Abdulla Yafi, as “finished”. He saw no chance that fanatical Moslem Adnan Hakim could ever attain the Prime Ministership and in this connection noted how he, Saeb Bey, had categorically rejected Hakim’s proposal for a census, long demanded by Lebanon’s Moslems.
Aid. Saeb Bey expressed the hope that Lebanon could receive US assistance. Americans, he said, quite erroneously consider Lebanon to be prosperous. Their views are based merely on a quick look at the building boom in Beirut, he said, adding that just before coming to New York he had read a report by a certain Pere LeBret who had concluded that Lebanon is 80% underdeveloped. In this connection, the Prime Minister noted that much of southern Lebanon doesn’t even have electricity. When Mr. Meyer suggested that perhaps this would be remedied when the Litani project is completed, the Prime Minister said he is fast reaching the conclusion that the funds invested in the Litani project would have been better placed in other projects. He was pleased by Secretary Herter’s interest in Lebanon’s road program. He noted that he had invited some Germans to undertake surveys of the road situation. Mr. Meyer applauded this move and encouraged the Prime Minister to see whether he might not induce much greater German interest in Lebanon’s development program. As for US aid, Mr. Meyer suggested that the only possibilities are probably PL–480 and DLF. Both of these have been under continuing discussion between US and Lebanese authorities.
Ambassadors. Saeb Bey said he is considering moving Ambassador Dimechkie from Washington to Cairo to maintain close Lebanese contact with Nasser which he, Saeb Bey, cannot himself do for domestic [Page 660] political reasons. He noted Dimechkie’s intimate friendship with Nasser, and suggested this transfer might also be of some benefit to the US. Asked as to Dimechkie’s successor in Washington, Saeb Bey said he had no one in particular in mind as yet and that one of his problems is finding qualified personnel for such assignments. The Prime Minister spoke most complimentarily of Ambassador McClintock. Noting that he had not as yet met Ambassador Reinhardt, he stressed that Cairo was the most important Ambassadorial post for the US in the Near East. As far as UAR Ambassadors are concerned, Saeb Bey expressed the view, probably echoing Nasser’s sentiments, that UAR Ambassadors are not as well qualified as they should be. The implication was that the days of the UAR Ambassador in Washington may be numbered.
Semper Fidelis. Saeb Bey reported that on the day before coming to Washington he had received in New York a group of Marine Corps officers who had participated in the landings in Lebanon in 1958. As a rebel leader barricaded in his Basta headquarters, Saeb Bey had not been able to meet these American officers when they were in Lebanon. Now, on their own initiative, they had called on him in New York to pay their respects. Saeb Bay indicated the hour spent with these warm-hearted Marine officers will remain one of the most pleasant memories of his current sojourn in the United States.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.83A11/10–960. Confidential. Drafted by Meyer.