52. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Rountree) to Secretary of State Dulles 0


  • Report on My Near Eastern Trip1

Within the past three months I made separate trips to New York to talk with Iraqi Foreign Minister Jomard and UAR Foreign Minister Fawzi. I found both meetings extremely useful and was encouraged by the Foreign Ministers to visit their respective countries for further talks. Developments in the area otherwise were such as to lead me to conclude that a personal survey of the situation in Lebanon, Jordan, the UAR, and Iraq might be advantageous at this time. Thus the visit was scheduled as a routine tour of a Departmental officer to the area of his responsibility. Advance consultations with our Chiefs of Mission in these four Arab states, as well as in Greece, confirmed that the scheduled visits were agreeable not only to them but to local authorities.

From the outset my visit received unusual area publicity, particularly in the countries to be visited. This was due in part to a natural interest in several of the countries, but can be attributed in large measure to a publicity campaign undertaken by the communists even before I left Washington. I am told that the Soviet radio, for example, had a ten-minute commentary in Arabic attacking me personally and the alleged purposes of my visit. On December 5, the day before I departed with my Special Assistant, Harrison Symmes, the Communist Party in Iraq issued printed matter strongly attacking me and my visit and setting the tone for communist inspired publicity which thereafter grew in intensity until it reached a fever pitch the day before my scheduled arrival in Baghdad. The Government operated radio in Iraq apparently broadcast no adverse material until two or three days before my arrival at which time it reported Soviet allegations and some adverse local comment. This government facility was, however, relatively restrained, as I understand it.

[Here follow individual reports of Rountree’s visits to and discussions in Lebanon, Jordan, the United Arab Republic, Iraq, and Greece.]

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My visit to the Near Eastern states came at an opportune time. Arab leaders are beginning to worry about where their policies will take them. Those whom I met seemed earnestly to seek better relations with the West. While I have not yet had time fully to crystallize my thoughts, there are set forth below several tentative reactions and conclusions with respect to the Arab states:

For the first time Arab leaders are really concerned about communism, particularly in Iraq and Syria, as a threat to Arab nationalism. While they will not alter their public position with respect to “Western imperialism”, some, including Nasser, are now prepared to speak out against communist imperialism. While I was in the area Lebanese Arab nationalist leader Saeb Salaa, during a visit to Cairo, made a public statement on this question which he probably would not have made without the approval of Nasser. Newspapers in the UAR, Lebanon, and Jordan are now publishing articles on the dangers of communism. Nasser himself has within the past few days made a speech in which he strongly attacked the communists, particularly in Syria. This has been reported in the world press as a highly significant development. (Unfortunately it has been referred to as a victory for US policy.)
As unpleasant as my visit to Iraq was, I believe it served a useful purpose in demonstrating to the Arab world the degree to which the communists have come into a position of influence in Iraq. The demonstrations no doubt have shocked non-communists within Iraq and might bring about useful counter-actions. On December 22 Fritzlan reported from Baghdad that two Iraqi Ministers had hinted strongly that the Iraqi Government was taking steps to curb communists, although they did not go into details. Fritzlan believes it might be that we are about to see such a development since there are various indications that the “anti-Rountree demonstrations” surprised and shocked Iraqi authorities and caused them to reflect seriously on the present course of events.
Recognition of the communist danger does not, of course, solve it. However, the problem cannot be solved in the absence of such recognition on the part of the Arabs themselves. Thus, recent developments provided a hopeful sign. I believe, however, that the solution to the problem essentially must be an Arab one and that the US and other Western countries can do little more than encourage them along right lines.
The ideal solution to the Iraqi problem would be for the anti-Nasser and pro-Nasser nationalist elements to come to some understanding, permitting them to join forces against the communists and cooperate in running an independent Iraq with good, although not subordinate, relations with the UAR. Notwithstanding charges by Arabs [Page 202] who oppose him, I have by no means concluded that Qassim is a communist or would willingly see a communist takeover of power in Iraq, although he seems now to be leaning heavily upon them for support in his fight against “Nasserist elements”. If Nasser was sincere in his statement to me that he does not want union with Iraq, getting the non-communist elements together should be a possibility for which we should work discreetly. It would be unrealistic in my judgment, to expect that any likely Iraqi Government would not continue to seek good relations with the Soviet Union, particularly in view of what they have been able to get in the way of Soviet aid.
There are some signs of strain between the UAR and the Soviet Union. UAR officials are fully aware of comments appearing in the Soviet satellite press critical of the policies of the UAR Government. They are disturbed over the encouragement which has been given Bakdash, head of the Communist Parties in Syria and Lebanon, to advocate publicly a break-up of the union between Egypt and Syria as now constituted, with separate parliaments and a greater degree of autonomy in local affairs. The UAR is aware of Soviet opposition to any union between the UAR and Iraq. Notwithstanding these stresses and strains, however, we should not expect the UAR to decline continued Soviet aid, such as for the Aswan Dam, if it is in fact forthcoming. A principal consideration is that Nasser does not have and cannot have confidence that once he was in deep difficulty with the Soviet Union, the Western countries would not “stab him in the back”. In the absence of full assurance that his needs will be met by the West, he will not unnecessarily incur Soviet displeasure.
I hope I have no illusions about Nasser. His objectives have remained unchanged and he still seeks leadership of the Arab world. Nevertheless, he has encountered real obstacles, one of which is communism. I believe that we should continue cautiously to move toward better overall relations with him, although we should not, of course, sacrifice our relations with independent Arab states, nor should we expect him to move away from a position of “neutrality”. There are areas of mutual interest, such as in Iraq, upon which we should remain in close contact. If we were faced with a choice between a communist takeover in Iraq or a takeover by Nasser, the choice obviously would be the latter. However, it is possible and perhaps likely that Nasser himself has seen or will see the advantages of avoiding any program for union, at least in the near future. It is also possible that Qassim will soon move to reduce the influence of communists.
It seems to me that the US should reduce its “presence” and wherever possible take a back seat while indigenous forces develop resistance to communism and any other threat to their independence, such as “Nasserism”. A significant aspect of my visit was the obvious [Page 203] relief felt by the Arab leaders when it became apparent that I had not come to sell a new doctrine, to suggest an alliance, to ask that relations with the Soviet Union be terminated, or to do anything but consult with them. They seemed to feel that the US had thereby indicated a new willingness to allow the Arabs to solve their problems in their own way. It seems that for the time being at least we should endeavor wherever possible to hold the size of our missions to a minimum, to emphasize the consultative nature of our relations with the governments, and in general to avoid flamboyance in our relations.
We should take steps to avoid the use of terms like “pro-West” or “anti-Soviet” in making public references to the policies and actions of Middle Eastern leaders. I hope that we can develop slogans and terms which are consistent with the Arab awareness of their own problems and which do not identify Arab leaders or governments as being for or against the “West”. This term, rather than giving a “free world” concept, now implies in the Arab world an identity with particular Western powers associated with imperialism and colonialism.
Arab leaders realize, even if vaguely, that many of their problems are economic in nature and they want outside help to solve them. All want bilateral aid in one form or another but, so far as regional development is concerned, they want to proceed at their own pace and through their own organization. The attitude we have recently followed toward formation of an Arab development institution—that is, to indicate our willingness to help when the Arabs have decided how they will proceed—has been appreciated. Meanwhile, the problem of marketing Arab cotton and wheat poses many difficulties in the development of our relations with several of the states of the area. We should give renewed attention to what can be done to help them with this problem if we want to prevent their turning even more to the Soviet bloc to dispose of their exportable surpluses.
The Arab-Israel problem and its main off-shoot, the problem of the Palestine refugees, continue to be primary obstacles to better US relations with the Arab states. It would certainly be helpful if we could find some way of moving toward solutions to these problems, although exactly where progress can be made is no more clear to me now than before my visit.
It is essential in the situation that Israel see that it is in its interest that the US be enabled to ameliorate its relations with Arab nationalism. Such amelioration is of course not inconsistent with our desire to preserve Israel’s integrity. The Israeli Government seems highly nervous over recent indications that we are working to improve our relations with Nasser. We will be hearing much more about this in the days ahead.
American representatives in the countries which I visited are doing excellent work. Ambassador McClintock’s relations with the new government seem excellent, as do Ambassador Hare’s relations with the UAR. Both are wise and able. Our Charge in Amman has the confidence of the King and the Prime Minister who, you will recall, even asked that he be named Ambassador to Jordan. Fritzlan showed great courage and intelligence during my visit to Baghdad. The American community there is living under very difficult conditions, yet their morale is high and they are meeting the situation with remarkable understanding and equanimity.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 110.15–RO/12–2758. Top Secret; Limit Distribution. Notes on this memorandum indicate that Dulles and Herter saw this report.
  2. According to Department of State Bulletin, December 22, 1958, pp. 1004–1005, Rountree arrived in Beruit on December 8, Jordan on December 10, Cairo on December 12, Baghdad on December 15, and Athens on December 18, and returned to Washington on December 21.