242. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Lebanon and the Middle East


  • The President
  • The Secretary
  • NEAWilliam M. Rountree
  • His Imperial Majesty the Shah in Shah of Iran
  • Dr. Ali Ardalan, Ambassador of Iran

Replying to the President’s initial question, the Shah said that he had had a good meeting at the Pentagon.1 He felt that his discussions [Page 571] with the military authorities had been useful. The Shah and the President talked briefly about United States atomic submarines, one of which the Shah had visited.

The Secretary said he hoped to talk with the Shah later at the State Department at greater length about the political situation in the Middle East.2 The principal question of concern to us was the possibility of the need for military intervention in Lebanon. He said that we would like to have the Shah’s views on the impact in the area of the dispatch of United States military forces under certain conditions, if they were asked for by Lebanon. We had gained the impression from a number of leaders in the Middle East that Western military intervention might pose serious problems for pro-Western governments throughout the Arab world, the President commented that the Shah had stated during their previous conversations that if such intervention had taken place during the first days of the Lebanese crisis, the problem would have been quite simple; however, now that so much time had passed, intervention would become a “political football”, with the difficulties measurably increased. The Shah confirmed the President’s statement, and continued to say that if intervention were necessary to save Lebanon from falling into the hands of the communists or Nasser, it might be worth while to accept the dangers of this extreme measure, because if Lebanon should fall, other states in the area would do likewise.

The President noted that the problem was to determine whether the Lebanese problem was primarily one of communism, or one of a rebellion of peasants and tribes. To the extent that it was merely an internal uprising against the regime, the sending in of foreign troops would be extremely unpopular not only in Lebanon but also in other countries since it would be considered a fight to keep Chamoun in power rather than to save Lebanese independence. The Shah considered that the present situation arose from exploitation by the UAR of a purely internal Lebanese problem, but he felt that even in the absence of this pretext, Nasser would have found some other basis for bringing about upheaval in Lebanon. Communism, he said, must find means constantly of expanding. Like an octopus, if one tentacle were severed, others become even more active. Communism and Nasserism were constantly probing for weak spots. If Lebanon should fall, Iraq and Jordan would be in [Page 572] grave danger. The current problem, now being aggravated by the Syrians and Egyptians, was a worry to all of us.

The President commented that he and the Secretary considered that even though intervention would involve great problems, that course would be a better one to follow than to do nothing and permit Lebanon to fall. This was, he said, the lesser of two evils. We were particularly concerned over the possible reaction in other Arab countries. The Shah responded that we should not care too much about Arab reaction. The United States had saved Egypt when it was attacked. Nasser did not thank us, but on the contrary engaged in violent propaganda against the United States and the West in general. The Arabs would continue their present policies and “polities” as long as Moscow was fomenting trouble in the area and so long as Israel existed as a basis for Arab propaganda attacks against those who supported that country. The Shah considered the Israeli question not one of whether Israel should have been created, but whether it should continue to exist. He thought it should, and that its existence in fact had an advantage in controlling somewhat Arab expansionism. Continuing, the Shah observed that many states had been created since the last war, and a large number of them created great problems because they were not viable, nor were they “natural”. Israel was one of these. However, now that it existed, Iran had established certain relations with it. Notwithstanding the fact that the United States had been unselfish and helpful in its relations with the Arab States, the latter would continue to attack the West and the United States so long as Israel existed and Moscow gave support to their reckless policies.

The President recalled that the Shah had previously told him he had given King Saud advice similar to that which the President had given during King Saud’s visit to Washington,3 namely, that the King’s prestige should be built up as Keeper of the Holy Places and as a leader of the Arab people to counter Nasser. The Secretary observed that King Saud had been making some progress in this direction but had virtually collapsed following the abortive plot with Serraj.4 He now had no great influence in the Arab world and even his position in Saudi Arabia had deteriorated.

The President said that people had commented to him from time to time, as a visitor in his office had remarked earlier that morning, that Nasser was not lost to the West and could be “recaptured”. This visitor [Page 573] had expressed the view that we could get Nasser “back into the fold”. The President wondered what the Shah thought of this.

The Shah assumed that getting him “back into the fold” would mean that he would be neutralist and no longer a tool of the communists. At what price, he asked, should Nasser be accepted as a “new Prophet of the Arab world”? Egypt represented nothing but a few million unhappy and impoverished beggars. Nasser’s ambition was to gain control of large areas in the Middle East. What would be his price for cooperating with the West? If he could be brought back with some small sacrifice, that would be all right, but not at a high price.

The Secretary recalled Nasser’s book, The Philosophy of the Revolution.5 It set forth what clearly were Nasser’s ambitions—to control Arab oil and other resources, in order that the Arab world, under Nasser, could gain control over Western Europe’s economy. He had said that the Arab world was waiting for a hero and he regarded himself to be the hero. He thus had a complex that was a powerful handicap in any efforts to do business with him. Nasser was, we knew, a menace, and when we had moved in the United Nations against the United Kingdom, France and Israel, our purpose was to save the United Nations, not Nasser. (With this the Shah readily agreed.) The Secretary recalled the great political courage which the President showed in insisting, with the threat of economic sanctions against Israel, that Israeli forces withdraw from Egypt. The President commented to the effect that he had regarded the issues involved to have been far more important than the domestic political risks which his position entailed. The Shah expressed admiration for the position which had been taken by the President and commented that perhaps in the final analysis the President had been helped in the election since the American people must have respected his courageous decision.

The Secretary compared Nasser and his pan-Arabism with Hitler’s pan-Germanism. Nasser saw an opportunity for advancing the grandeur of Egypt and of setting himself up as the Arab “hero” with the West in his clutches.

The Shah commented that Nasser had indeed written his Mein Kampf, and was trying to follow in the footstep of Hitler. Nasser was essentially a conspirator and was motivated by “wrong doing”. He wanted a united Arab world under him. We should consider what would happen if Nasser should succeed. He observed that the so-called Arab peoples did not have much in common; that the Egyptians themselves [Page 574] were not true Arabs. Among the Arab states the populations had different backgrounds and different cultures. Nasser’s primary interest was obviously to control oil. In this, his objectives were precisely the same as the USSR’s. If he should get control of Saudi Arabia, his policies would deprive the West of that oil. The Soviet Union was playing Nasser’s game for him in emphasizing to all Middle East states that they should nationalize their oil resources and control them directly. They promised that the Soviet Union would willingly help, and would want nothing in return for their assurance that the oil would be extracted and sold.

The President wondered if the Arabs generally could not understand that the Soviet Union, itself with a surplus of oil, could not help them in this manner. The Shah said that the Arabs did not understand it. In fact, Iran itself had to go through the entire Mosadeq era to find out that the Iranians could not operate the oil industry at a profit without the cooperation of the Western oil companies. Nasser obviously wanted to use the oil for blackmail. Even if, in the process of seizing oil in other Arab countries he found that he could not in fact export it, he would be losing nothing since Egypt itself now had no exportable oil resources.

The President said that he was very much impressed with the Shah’s views on the Middle East situation, and hoped that the Shah would meet with the Secretary and his staff in order to give them the benefit of his opinions. The Shah replied that he would be glad to do so. He felt very strongly that we should concert our efforts to offer the people of the Middle East the philosophy of “constructive nationalism” to counter Nasserism, communism, or “positive neutrality”. The President thought that an effective counter to communism was nationalism. The problem was, of course, to make certain that the nationalism was not of a narrow type, and it was therefore important to add the term “constructive”. In the United States, for example, it was not sufficient to advocate the doctrine of nationalism; in fact, we based our foreign aid programs upon a much broader concept, always making it clear that the “international approach” was in our own national interest. It was essential to find a way to identify nationalism with freedom and other free world ideals. It was necessary to understand that nationalism of the local variety must comprehend support for similar nationalism in other countries, with cooperation among the free nations to promote and defend that kind of nationalism.

The Shah said he had been pursuing a policy of constructive nationalism and in so doing had stood firmly against the Soviet Union. Iran had rejected Soviet proposals and ignored Soviet threats. He had made it clear that Iran was completely with the West. At the same time he had found it possible to work out, to Iran’s advantage, border disputes with the Soviet Union.

[Page 575]

It was essential that other countries be convinced by proof that Iran’s policies were the correct policies for them to follow. If they achieved good for Iran, they would be compared favorably with the disruptive nature of communism and Nasserism in the Middle East, and would demonstrate that what had happened in Syria was a poor substitute for what can happen to nations pursuing a policy of constructive nationalism, associated with other free world countries.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/7–158. Secret. Drafted by Rountree on July 3. The meeting was held at the White House. The concluding time of the meeting is from Eisenhower’s Appointment Book. (Eisenhower Library, President’s Daily Appointments)
  2. No record of this meeting has been found.
  3. The Shah of Iran and Secretary Dulles met at the Department of State from 3:57 to 5:15 p.m. Their conversation was recorded as seven separate memoranda of conversation dealing with the following topics: the proposed summit; U.S. radio transmitter in Middle East; the situation in Lebanon; Baghdad Pact London Meeting; U.S. economic assistance to Iran; Sheik of Bahrein’s visit to London; and U.S. aid to neutralist countries. (Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199)
  4. King Saud of Saudi Arabia made a State visit to Washington January 30–February 8, 1957. For documentation on the visit, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XIII, pp. 413 ff.
  5. See Documents 307 and 311.
  6. Published in Arabic in Cairo in 1952. Printed in many English translations of which Egypt’s Liberation: The Philosophy of Revolution (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1955) is one.