94. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, June 18, 19581


  • Lebanese Situation


  • Sir Harold Caccia, British Ambassador
  • Lord Hood, Minister, British Embassy
  • The Secretary
  • NEA—Mr. William M. Rountree
  • NEStuart W. Rockwell

The Ambassador said that Charles Malik two days ago had told Sir Pierson Dixon that it would be a great tragedy if the effort now being made to solve the Lebanese crisis were restricted to that problem alone. An attempt should be made to resolve the underlying problems such as that of Syria. Dr. Malik said that what was going on was a contest between Chamoun and the West versus Nasser and the East. The underlying problems might be solved if the Lebanese crisis should spread or even if Chamoun manages to win out. By so doing he would set Nasser back and permit the beginning of the gradual weakening of Syria. In Malik’s view, Chamoun should remain beyond his present Presidential term.

The British Ambassador commented that there might be a successful pro-Nasser coup against Chamoun which would present us with a terrible problem. Sir Harold expressed great concern over the fact that we seemed to have no choice but to watch events in Lebanon deteriorate.

The Secretary commented that he saw no satisfactory solution to the Lebanese problem except through the lawful government’s working one out with all possible assistance except armed intervention. If the Lebanese called for the latter, and if we responded, there would be a wave of anti-Western sentiment which would sweep away our friends in Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia and turn the Lebanese against us. If we did not respond, we would get the same results less abruptly in the Arab countries. However, if we failed to respond the effect on our friends in the countries peripheral to the Arab world would be very bad, while these friends would be encouraged if we went into Lebanon. The Secretary concluded that we must put every possible pressure on the Lebanese to solve this matter themselves.

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Mr. Rountree commented that the possibilities for solving the Lebanese crisis, as he saw them were two. One was that the Lebanese would stand firm and put down the insurrection by military means. The prospects were dim but by such steps as making political changes or firing General Chehab, the government’s position might be improved and that of the opposition weakened. Mr. Rountree felt that there must be some kind of compromise on the part of the government. The second solution would be for Chamoun to be replaced by a coup d’etat. The danger here was that we could not be certain who would come in. Mr. Rountree thought we should concentrate on the first approach and get Chamoun to make concessions which would not affect the basic issue of Lebanese sovereignty.

The Secretary believed it would be dangerous for us to tell Chamoun that he should make concessions. He might be a better judge of his interests than we are. We should, however, disabuse him of any thought that he has a blank check from us with regard to military intervention. He should also be under no illusion that by calling us in he can win the battle against Nasser. On the contrary, he would lose it. The Secretary thought our Ambassadors should summarize to Chamoun our thinking as follows: There can be no satisfactory solution of the crisis other than one carried out by the Government of Lebanon itself. We are helping as much as possible. If we should be called on to intervene militarily, this would not contribute to the defeat of Nasser but would give him an opportunity to increase his attacks on the Lebanese Government, to undermine Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and to increase the strength of the opposition in Lebanon. Of course we could hold on wherever our troops were, but a happy and prosperous Lebanon would not result from foreign military intervention. The Secretary also thought that we should not press Chamoun concerning specific political sources of action or even with regard to his future status. We should tell him that we are not concerned with constitutional factors and would not object if, after this crisis is solved, he wished to stay on as President. We should not destroy Chamoun’s heart or courage by pressing him to compromise with the opposition.

It was commented to the Secretary that a basic assumption in the above approach was that Chamoun could in reality, with his own resources and aided by foreign help short of intervention, win out. Doubt was expressed that this was so and indeed it was felt that the government’s military position was bound to get progressively weaker and that the day when Chamoun would feel forced to request foreign intervention was inexorably growing closer. Thus, in effect, a solution of the problem by the Lebanese themselves might, for one reason or another, turn out to be impossible.

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It was agreed that this problem would be further discussed after London had had a chance to comment on the considerations put forward during the meeting.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/6–1858. Top Secret; Limited Distribution. Drafted by Rockwell.
  2. Caccia returned to the Department the next day and informed Dulles that he had called Selwyn Lloyd to get his reaction to the conversation of the previous afternoon concerning Lebanon. Lloyd agreed that it would be desirable to emphasize to Chamoun the unfavorable consequences of Western intervention, and to stress the necessity of full recourse to U.N. processes. Lloyd felt, however, that if faced with a Lebanese request for military intervention, it would be necessary to respond positively. (Memorandum of conversation, June 19; ibid., 783A.00/6–1958; included in the microfiche supplement)