18. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1
- Resumption of Near East Arms Limitation Probe
The potential for missile and nuclear weapons development in the Near East led us last year to explore the possibilities for an unobtrusive arms limitation agreement between Israel and the UAR. A special Presidential emissary, Mr. John J. McCloy, met with President Nasser for this purpose in June 1963.2
Nasser’s response was not entirely negative but it did not give us a peg for an approach to the Israelis. He indicated he might associate [Page 43] himself with some form of “collective” renunciation of nuclear weapons and might give us written public assurance not to acquire nuclear weapons or attack Israel. Ambassador Badeau in September left with President Nasser a draft letter from President Kennedy inviting written confirmation of assurances he had earlier given Mr. McCloy. President Kennedy’s death created a hiatus in this dialogue.
Israel’s request for 500 new and advanced U.S. tanks and other offensive weapons again raises the question of arms limitation in the area and our ability to play a role. Before taking a decision on Israel’s request, there should be a further probe of Nasser’s willingness to consider general arms limitation. If some progress were made, it would have a bearing on the decision and give us a basis for an approach to Israel. If not, we would be in better position to justify to Nasser Israel’s obtaining new tanks while still leaving the door open for further efforts.
Rather than appoint a special emissary, I propose that Phillips Talbot, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, carry out the probe during his forthcoming visit to the area. He is familiar with the McCloy visit and all aspects of the problem. His designation would give us good cover and serve to avoid drawing undue attention to this sensitive matter.
- That you authorize me to ask Mr. Talbot to undertake this task.
- That, subject to your approval and to prior Israeli concurrence, Mr. Talbot also impart assurances based on the latest inspection of the Dimona reactor.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, United Arab Republic, Vol. I. Top Secret. Another copy of the memorandum indicates that it was drafted by Francois M. Dickman and Davies. The copy is filed with a memorandum of February 27 from Bundy to Rusk conveying the President’s approval. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 12–5 NEAR E)↩
- Reports of McCloy’s meetings with Nasser on June 27 and 29 are printed in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XVIII, Documents 283–285.↩