385. Memorandum of a Conversation, Amman, December 10, 19581

SUBJECT

  • Meeting with Prime Minister Rifa’i

PARTICIPANTS

  • Prime Minister Samir al-Rifa’i of Jordan
  • Assistant Secretary William M. Rountree, NEA
  • Mr. Wright, Chargé d’Affaires
  • Mr. Walstrom
  • Mr. Harrison M. Symmes, Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary, NEA

Prime Minister Rifa’i met with Mr. Rountree at the house of Mr. Wright. Discussions took place before dinner, during dinner, and after dinner over a period of several hours. The Prime Minister began the talks with an eloquent and persuasive presentation of his views on area problems, U.S. policy in the Middle East, and the future of Jordan.

[Page 668]

Rifa’i began by pointing out that all of the countries of the area desire stability and progress. However, there are several obstacles, not least of which are the many facets of the Palestine Problem, which have stood and still stand in the way of the achievement of political stability in the Middle East. The Prime Minister said he did not wish to review the Palestine Problem in detail. It had had grave effects on area stability, as Mr. Rountree was surely aware, but the Palestine Problem is by no means solely to blame for area instability and unrest. Taking off from this point, the Prime Minister launched into a historical review of the role of Nasser in producing area instability. Rifa’i introduced no new facts concerning the role of Nasser, but he emphasized that Nasser is now in decline and that it is therefore of overriding importance that the United States should not do anything at this time to slow the process of Nasser’s decline. If events were allowed to develop in the present trend, Nasser would soon no longer be the predominant leader and force in the Middle East.

In further development of his idea that factors other than the Palestine Problem are also to blame for area instability, Rifa’i observed that Arab leaders at the time had made a major error in including Egypt when they formed the Arab League. Egypt has never been a part of the Arab world but is now attempting to dominate it. It has been enabled to do so through the Arab League and through its exploitation of Arab nationalism. After a long exploration of this thesis, the Prime Minister then said that the only natural expression of Arab unity would be a union that included present-day Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. This would be a viable geographical entity, but it was obviously not feasible to contemplate a union that would include Lebanon and Israel. However, the importance of bringing about a union of Jordan and Syria could not be exaggerated.

In pursuing his discussion of a union of Jordan and Syria, Rifa’i said that “the map must now be reexamined and the colors changed”. He emphasized that in the present situation the union of Jordan and Syria would be somewhat easier to bring about than it had been for several years, for today Syria is no longer an independent republic but an unhappy colony of Egypt. If Jordan should become amalgamated with Syria, then Arab unity would have been achieved as “God and Nature intended it”. The only solution to the long-term problem of Jordan’s viability is the union of Jordan and Syria. Such a unity would help to bring political stability to the Middle East because Jordan would no longer serve as an invitation for adventures on the part of Israel and the nearby Arab states.

In commenting on Rifa’i’s various propositions, Mr. Rountree took the opportunity to temper the possible effects on Jordan of remarks on U.S. policy toward Nasser which had been attributed to him by the Beirut press on the previous day. Mr. Rountree reviewed the development [Page 669]of the present U.S. attitude toward Nasser emphasizing that the U.S. is not seeking at any cost to improve relations with Nasser. However, the U.S. does seek a better basis for improved relations with the UAR, which if they come will have resulted from a gradual process on a two-way basis. Mr. Rountree said that in so doing the U.S. would not “sacrifice” its friends among the independent countries with which we have good relations. Prime Minister Rifa’i appeared to grasp and to understand this statement of the U.S. position toward Nasser, but he made it clear in various remarks that he feels strongly that Nasser should not be aided in any way at this time. He also stressed that if a better basis for improved relations with Nasser should be found, Nasser should not be allowed to use improved relations with the U.S. as a means of playing off the U.S. against the Soviets, which he would surely seek to do.

Mr. Rountree told the Prime Minister that the U.S. in principle does not object to changing of colors on the map provided that the change is in the interest of and results from the freely expressed desires of the peoples concerned. The U.S. would be greatly interested, therefore, that the right means be used to bring about a union of Jordan and Syria and not an improper means. Mr. Rountree then said that he did not believe the future of Jordan could be assured by military action against Syria. Although he could agree with the Prime Minister’s analysis that the outlook for Jordan as a separate and independent state is not bright because of Jordan’s lack of resources, nevertheless we do not believe that the aim of union with Syria would justify resort to military action. At this point Prime Minister Rifa’i shifted his ground and said that he had not been thinking of overt aggression. However, the vital interests of Jordan are continually affected adversely by actions taken by so-called sister states against Jordan. He stressed that Jordan must have an outlet to the Mediterranean and cannot remain at the mercy of a hostile Syria.

The conversation shifted at this point to Jordan’s financial situation. The Prime Minister said that the Jordan Government and the whole country are deeply grateful for U.S. assistance. “Our only hope is that Jordan’s role will continue to be appreciated and that further material support will be forthcoming to keep Jordan going”. Rifa’i noted that Jordan has had an important role in preserving peace in the Middle East and in preventing the area from falling to a new kind of imperialism. Jordan’s present and its near future are by no means clear or assured, and it is important that Jordan not be allowed to shake economically at any time. The Prime Minister then went into detail concerning Jordan’s need for an additional $10 million in budgetary assistance. He stressed that this deficit had resulted almost entirely [Page 670]from budgetary arrangements for the Army made under the short-lived Arab Union and then inherited by Jordan following the Iraqi Coup.

Mr. Rountree described frankly the U.S. attitude toward budgetary support and told the Prime Minister he could give him no encouragement that the U.S. could help to make up this deficit. The Prime Minister then argued that Jordan would be a “show case" for the United States in the Middle East and urged, if necessary, that other countries be cut to provide for modest Jordanian needs. Mr. Rountree commented that the U.S. had already amply demonstrated its generosity. The Prime Minister should consider what the U.S. has already given Jordan in comparison with the total Jordan budget. Moreover, budgetary support was the most difficult form of aid to justify to Congress, and he could therefore offer the Prime Minister no hope that the U.S. would be able to help defray the $10 million deficit.2 At this point the conversation broke up, and Prime Minister Rifa’i in making his departure laughingly said that the King would renew the attack the following day.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 110.15–RO/12–1058. Top Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Symmes. The conversation took place during Rountree’s visit to Jordan December 10–11. Rountree visited several Middle Eastern posts during the trip.
  2. Rifai took up the request for budgetary support again with Rountree on December 11 before taking Rountree in to meet with the King. Rifai also requested in this conversation that arrangements be made for a visit by King Hussein to the United States. (Memorandum of conversation, December 11; ibid., 110.15–RO/12–1158; included in the microfiche supplement)
  3. Footnote [81/2 lines of text] not declassified.