96. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State 1
4895. I called this morning on President. He said he had been working as I came in on text of written appeal for allied intervention to use in case of necessity. I had previously [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] indicated that in a matter of such grave importance which affected interest of world community in preservation of peace, we could not act on an oral message passed at midnight through an intermediary however reliable the messenger might be.
President expressed skepticism whether Hammerskjold in two-day visit2 could reach any educated conclusion as to danger to Lebanon’s integrity and independence which was now present and real. Chamoun said since passage of June eleventh resolution3 there had been a much accelerated build-up of arms and infiltration of partisan bands from Syria. He said “Our defense forces are in static positions. They are stuck everywhere—in Beirut, in Tripoli, in The Bekaa. Against them the enemy is increasing his potential.” Chamoun went on to say that in his judgment the crisis was upon him. He asked “Must I wait until catastrophe bursts on my head or should I not take action to try to avert catastrophe?”
I had at commencement of interview given President wireless file text of President Eisenhower’s press conference yesterday4 insofar as it [Page 157] bore on Lebanese situation as well as text of Secretary’s press conference preceding day re Lebanon.5 Throughout interview Chamoun kept reading and re-reading statement on need to await recommendations of Hammerskjold before deciding what action US might be able to take.
I then said I had received visit early this morning from Minister Finance who described three-hour talk he had yesterday with General Chehab. According to Pierre Edde, Chehab had stated it was necessary to find a political truce. General was quoted as saying he was certain he could negotiate an armistice with opposition but was not sure what attitude would be taken by Chamoun. I then read out to President excerpts from paragraphs four and seven of Lodge’s 1516 to the Secretary6 in which Ambassador Lodge twice emphasizes need for political action in Lebanon including political compromise to find a solution which might save us all from grave consequences of military intervention. I asked straight out if President could not bring himself to contemplate some sort of a political and military cease-fire without prejudice to his position along lines suggested to Minister of Finance by General Chehab.
President muttered that he did not know what Chehab had in mind. General was taking the day off in Junieh, apparently “confined to his bed.” I suggested it would be a matter of utmost urgency to ascertain if General could in fact negotiate a truce. I thought if this could be done and with presence of Hammerskjold and UN observers, it might then be possible to compel Nasser to cease further infiltration and permit Lebanon to work out its own political problems free of any foreign intervention.
President was entering increasingly upon a black mood as conversation continued and finally with a show of resignation tapped wireless bulletin bearing report of President Eisenhower’s press conference and exclaimed “With this I cannot now lodge any request for aid; I must ask you clearly to find out where I stand.” I said I would immediately report our conversation and endeavor to secure elucidation.[Page 158]
My overall impression was that Chamoun feels cornered and desperate. He does not believe UN observers or SYG will be able to help him quickly enough; he thinks forces of opposition are growing stronger and intend to reach a military decision before UN can act; and he now doubts US readiness to intervene before UN action, which he is convinced will be inadequate and too late. At the same time, saddled with incubus of General Chehab as if he were the Old Man of the Sea, Chamoun is stubbornly unwilling to take those last measures of personal sacrifice which might assure a political compromise averting his own defeat.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/6–1858. Top Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Repeated to London and USUN.↩
- Secretary-General Hammarskjöld visited Beirut June 19–20 to participate in the first formal meetings of the U.N. Observation Group. While in Beirut, he discussed the Lebanon crisis with President Chamoun and Prime Minister Solh. After returning to New York, he reported on June 28 to the Security Council on the establishment and initial efforts of the Observation Group. The report, which is U.N. doc. S/4038, is printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1958, pp. 949–951.↩
- See Document 66.↩
- In his press conference on June 18, President Eisenhower was asked to comment on the conditions under which the United States might be prepared to take military action in the Lebanese crisis. He responded, in part: “Now we do know that the United Nations group has gone out there, and that [Secretary] General Hammarskjöld is taking this whole matter under his earnest and personal view. I should say that it would be dependent somewhat upon the judgments of the armistice team and the Secretary General as to what we might have to do.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1958, p. 141)↩
- Secretary Dulles suggested in a press conference on June 17 that the U.N. force established to monitor the Lebanese crisis might have to be expanded. He indicated that the United States would support such an expansion. (American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1958, pp. 948-949)↩
- Telegram 1516 from USUN, June 17, was repeated for information to Beirut. (Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/6–1758) Dulles called Lodge on June 20 and instructed him not to send his advice directly to Beirut. Dulles said that McClintock had been indiscreet in reading sections of Lodge’s cable to Chamoun, and he suggested that Lodge did not understand the international implications of failing to respond to a call from Chamoun for military assistance. (Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, General Telephone Conversations) The telegram and the transcript of the telephone conversation are included in the microfiche supplement.↩