83. Memorandum of a Conversation, Washington, June 15, 1958, 4:30 p.m.1

SUBJECT

  • Situation in Lebanon

PARTICIPANTS

  • Dr. Charles Malik, Lebanese Foreign Minister
  • Dr. Nadim Dimechkie, Lebanese Ambassador
  • The Secretary
  • NEAWilliam M. Rountree

The Secretary had only a few minutes for a meeting with Dr. Malik. Knowing this, Dr. Malik had prepared an outline of what he would like to say, in order to save time.

Dr. Malik said that the fury of Nasserism and Communism was utterly unleashed upon Lebanon. The Government of Lebanon did not mind that, but considered it an honor that it had been singled out as the unique object of that fury, because Lebanon knew what was at stake. It felt that its battle was a battle for the Middle East, and in a sense a battle on behalf of the entire free world. The fury of Nasserism and Communism expressed itself through radio and press propaganda of a character heretofore unheard of as being directed against a country with which those attacking theoretically maintained friendly relations; through smear, vilification, incitement to murder and rebellion, and the use of unbelievable names which must be repugnant to the entire free world; by putting into Lebanon limitless money for bribery and corruption; through large-scale smuggling of arms and equipment; through infiltration of agents and fighters from outside Lebanese territory, especially from Syria.

Lebanon was now the main target of this “infernal” work. It was not so strong as to be beyond the possibility of being disintegrated under the combined fury of Nasserism and Communism. It was small, relatively isolated, weak militarily, divided in itself, and unprotected by treaties except for the Charter of the United Nations. The forces opposing Lebanon could easily destroy it. It was a wonder, Dr. Malik said, that Lebanon already had resisted for thirty-five days. The choice now was either to yield, compromising in such a manner as would gain for the enemies of freedom a victory, or to continue to resist and fight until exhausted. Dr. Malik felt that the latter was the only course to follow, since if they yielded their conscience would plague them all [Page 131]the rest of their days. However, if they were not to lose the battle, they needed psychological, material and military help beyond their own means.

If it should become necessary for Lebanon to ask for the introduction of foreign forces to assist it, this would be a decision with implications in the Arab world of great and lasting importance. There would be placed upon Lebanon “shame and reproach” which he felt must be shared by others, particularly by other Arab states. He thought, therefore, that three things were necessary in connection with any such request: first, it should be clear that the help was asked in extremis, as a last resort when nothing else would meet the situation; second, the request must have some concerted Arab and Arab state support, open support which the whole world could see; and third, the request must have legal and moral sanction of the United Nations.

Dr. Malik emphasized the importance of Iraq and Jordan joining in assistance to Lebanon. He thought we should exert immediate pressures to have them move to come to Lebanon’s aid before Western military forces were introduced. There should be careful synchronization of efforts between Lebanon, the United States, the United Kingdom and Turkey to persuade Iraq and Jordan to come in. This, he thought, would share the “shame and reproach” of seeking outside assistance. If the action of Lebanon in resisting Communism and Nasserism was serving the cause of freedom, then the action of Iraq and Jordan would be serving the same cause as would the action of the other countries in asking them to assist.

Dr. Malik concluded by saying that the aim was not only to achieve the independence of Lebanon; there were different kinds of independence. The aim was to emerge from the ordeal so as not to give Communism and Nasserism the comfort of having achieved a victory in the area. Not only must Lebanon safeguard its independence, but we must all work together so that the forces of freedom will not appear to have retreated under the onslaught of Communism and Nasserism.

The Secretary responded that he was greatly impressed with Dr. Malik’s statesmanlike presentation. He said he would not conceal his concern lest a military response by the West would have the effect not of checking Nasserism but of strengthening it, of giving it a new charter. He was thus impressed with the danger, set forth by Dr. Malik, of Lebanon being reproached for having invited the Western nations to assist militarily, in consequence of which Lebanon’s friends in the Middle East also would be weakened by such a request. He was happy that Dr. Malik had such broad vision to see the problem in proper perspective. He believed that we should attempt to get the support of Iraq and Jordan, and also a larger measure of support of the United Nations. He understood that Mr. Rountree had told Dr. Malik [Page 132]earlier that the Secretary was concerned lest, having created the United Nations observer group and Cordier having arrived with several hundred personnel on the way, action might be taken which would place upon Lebanon and its Western friends the onus of responsibility for any failure of this U.N. action. If we were to act in any way seeming to cut across the United Nations, the results would be bad. He thought another round in the Security Council would be essential before introducing any foreign forces. There should be some basis, by consensus procedure or otherwise, of getting approval of such a Lebanese request. He asked that Dr. Malik give further thought to the U.N. aspects of this matter. He said that we were already in touch with Iraq and Jordan and should soon be receiving an indication of their attitude.2

Dr. Malik thanked the Secretary. He said that in the event external forces appeared to be the solution, it would be preferable for Jordan and Iraq alone to provide such forces, with the Western powers giving full support short of actual introduction of their own forces. In any event, he hoped that Iraq and Jordanian forces could be moved in, to be supplemented in stages by other forces.

The Ambassador agreed with this, saying that if the Iraqi and Jordanians moved in even token forces, the United States could help greatly by moving the Sixth Fleet off the coast of Lebanon as a direct warning. The Turks might also contribute to pacification of the situation in Lebanon by massing forces on the Syrian border. By these actions it would probably be unnecessary for the non-Arab forces actually to land in Lebanon.

The Secretary excused himself since he had to leave at once for a meeting with the President on this subject.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/6–1558. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Rountree. The source text indicates that the meeting took place in the Secretary’s home.
  2. Telegrams 2755 to Amman and 3254 to Baghdad, both June 15, instructed those Embassies to provide assessments of whether Jordan and Iraq could be counted upon to support Lebanon in further recourse to the United Nations or in a request for Western military assistance. (Both ibid.; included in the microfiche supplement)