3. Memorandum of Conference With President Johnson1


  • Cyprus


  • Acting Secretary Ball, Secretary McNamara, General Taylor, Mr. Valenti, Mr. Komer, Mr. Bromley Smith

Prior to the meeting with the President, the following met in the Cabinet Room from 5:00 to 6:30 PM:2

  • State: Acting Secretary Ball, Under Secretary Harriman, Mr. Cleveland, Mr. Talbot, Mr. Burdett, Mr. Chayes, Mr. Jernegan
  • Defense: Secretary McNamara, General Taylor, Mr. William Bundy, Admiral Chew, Captain Conkey, Mr. Sloan
  • CIA: General Carter
  • White House: Mr. Bromley Smith, Mr. Komer

Acting Secretary Ball reviewed the current situation in Cyprus and the British request that we send U.S. troops as part of an allied force to Cyprus.3 The discussion centered around the attached draft telegram4 as being the preferred course of action because of disadvantages associated with taking the question to the UN or taking it to the North Atlantic Council.

Mr. Ball reviewed for the President the planning which had been done in the State and Defense Departments since the British démarche. He recalled that the British had been told of our great reluctance to consider the use of U.S. combat troops, but that the British Prime Minister had again requested us to participate in an allied force as the only way to alter a rapidly deteriorating situation in Cyprus which the British were not prepared to continue to deal with alone.

Secretary Ball said an appeal to the UN had been ruled out as the worst possible alternative. The UN might set up a peacekeeping force which would be beyond our control and in which the Russians and the Yugoslavs would undoubtedly want to participate. A NATO solution was not possible because Cyprus is not a member of NATO even though, [Page 5] if the worst happened, two NATO allies would be fighting each other. The tripartite negotiations of the three guarantor powers, U.K., Greece and Turkey, have broken down in London. Prime Minister Inonu is in charge of a weak government in Ankara and may have trouble keeping civilian control of the Turkish military. In Athens, where there is a caretaker government, there may be a military coup. The prospect of such a coup would be greatly increased by serious fighting in Cyprus.

Mr. Ball recommended that we ask the British government to send a ranking military officer to Washington tomorrow in order to obtain more information about their proposed allied intervention force. He said the group would postpone until tomorrow at least making a recommendation on whether or not we should join the U.K. in seeking to establish a military force composed of troops from NATO countries. He suggested that the President might want to talk to the leaders of Congress tomorrow. He summarized the guidelines which would govern our participation in an allied force as follows:

The U.S. would make a token contribution—a battalion of 1200 men.
The bulk of the force would be British.
Two other NATO allies would make token contributions equal to the U.S. contribution.
The force would not go into Cyprus until it was large enough to be “adequate” to the need. We do not now know whether the British figure of 10,000 men would be adequate.
The military mission of the force would be specifically defined. The British would command the force.

Mr. Ball discussed whether General Lemnitzer should go to Ankara and later to Athens. He said the Turkish military may move in the next two or three days. The Turks have promised us that they will consult before they intervene in Cyprus. But if there were a massacre involving a large number of Turkish Cypriots, the Turkish military might jump off immediately. The civil government in Turkey is very weak and the military may force its hand.

President Makarios may on his own take the case to the UN Security Council. We doubt that any serious resolution could come out of the Security Council unless major fighting broke out or unless the Turkish government intervened militarily.

Ambassador Bruce has reported that the British consider the Cyprus situation more serious and much more important than the Malaysia crisis. They recall the agony of the last time they attempted to keep peace in Cyprus. They have two major bases in Cyprus which they intend to defend. If civil strife outside the bases becomes too great for them to handle, their present plan is to withdraw their troops within the bases and wait out the situation. If major reenforcements of British troops were sent to Cyprus, the Conservatives know that they would be [Page 6] severely attacked by the Labor Party in an election period. The British are also sensitive to the fact that they were the colonial power prior to their withdrawal from Cyprus and that, therefore, they are a hostage to the past.

The President said if the British had election problems, he had problems with the U.S. citizens of Greek background.

Mr. Ball replied that the Greek Government had favored the intervention of allied forces.

The President referred to the fact that our elections are coming and that the prospect of sending U.S. troops into Cyprus is one to face only as a last resort.

Secretary McNamara said that the unfortunate part of the situation was that the only solution to the problem in Cyprus was to force the Greek Cypriots to do something they did not want to do, namely, not increase their control over the Turkish Cypriots by revising the existing Constitution and agreements.

The President asked everyone to go slow on any plan to use U.S. troops in Cyprus. He said there is nothing we can do which will not end up in our losing. Mr. Ball acknowledged that there was no good solution to the problem. He said that if it were necessary to reenforce the original U.S. complement, all participants would contribute to the reenforcement in the same percentage. Secretary McNamara said that if we do go in, the percentage of our participation is the extent of our share of the operation. He thought that 6500 men would have to be put in by others and he did not know where these troops were coming from. Our share would be no more than 1200 men.

General Taylor said that if we do put in our troops, we would provide our own supplies and our own logistic backup. We would ask that each participant do the same.

The President said that perhaps we would have to go through a blood bath in Cyprus before we could take any U.S. military action. He asked whether it were not possible for someone else to go in, such as a neutral or Nasser.

Mr. Ball responded by saying that Makarios wants a neutral such as Nasser or a UN group with neutrals because he is convinced that the neutrals will favor him over the Turks in Cyprus.

The President said General Lemnitzer could tell the Turks not to go into Cyprus and the same thing to the Greeks. We have been holding up numerous situations around the world and we are not going to walk out, but we don’t expect others to walk out either. General Lemnitzer should tell Inonu how we feel. Mr. Ball suggested that General Lemnitzer also talk to the military directly because Inonu may not be in full control of the Turkish military.

[Page 7]

The President said we should give no encouragement to the U.K. to think that we would join in an allied force. He then asked what would happen if we did not go in.

Mr. Ball replied that the situation might blow up with the result that two NATO allies would be fighting each other. It was also possible that Makarios would ask the UN to come in and a UN peacekeeping force would have Communist elements in it.

Secretary McNamara pointed out that the Greeks in Cyprus outnumber the Turks four to one. He repeated his earlier statement that a political settlement would mean forcing the Greeks to do something they did not now wish to do.

The President asked what else we could do—was a conference possible? Could we get people discussing their problems around a table? Mr. Ball replied that the London tripartite conference had blown up. The U.S. had no status in that conference because it was composed of the three guarantor powers. It is difficult to talk to the Greeks and the Turks because of the weakness of these governments. The views of the Greeks and the Turks are more crystallized and farther apart as the result of the conference in London than before.

The President said it would be necessary to shove him very hard to get him to agree to send U.S. troops to Cyprus. We must do more in a diplomatic way than we have so far.

Mr. Ball said that both the Turkish and Greek Foreign Ministers were in London and it would be possible for Ambassador Bruce to talk to them there.5 The President agreed.

The President said we should ask the British to send more troops to Cyprus. We have helped them in the past and they must now continue to carry this burden in Cyprus.6 We should hold off replying to the British until after we hear from General Lemnitzer.

Bromley Smith 7
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of McGeorge Bundy, Miscellaneous Meetings. Top Secret. Drafted by Bromley Smith.
  2. A memorandum of this discussion is in Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 2.
  4. Not found.
  5. Bruce reported on his talks with British officials in telegrams 3499 from London, January 25, and 3510 from London, January 26. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 23–8 CYP) Details on the talks and Bruce’s views are in the Bruce Diary, January 26 and 27, 1964. (Ibid., Bruce Diaries: Lot 64 D 327)
  6. Ball told Ormsby Gore during a meeting at 7:15 p.m. that the United States was not prepared to commit troops to a Cyprus operation, but would provide the United Nations with logistical support. The memorandum of their conversation is ibid., Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.