39. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The United States and Jordan


  • His Majesty King Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • His Excellency Dr. Hazem Nuseibeh, Minister of Court of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • His Excellency Anton Atallah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • His Excellency Saad Juma, Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • The President
  • Mr. George Ball, Acting Secretary of State
  • Mr. Phillips Talbot, Assistant Secretary of State
  • Robert G. Barnes, Ambassador to Jordan
  • Mr. William Macomber, Assistant Administrator for Near East and South Asian Affairs, AID
  • Mr. Robert Komer, The White House
  • Mr. Rodger Davies, Director, Office of Near Eastern Affairs

The President and King Hussein had a private conversation before joining the larger group.

The President said that he and King Hussein had discussed a variety of topics including foreign aid, military aid, problems with the Congress, the $3 billion odd dollars spent since 1946 by the U.S. in assistance to the Arabs, and the Jordan Waters problem. He had asked His Majesty to outline his views and his feelings on these subjects. He had also touched on his speech at the Friends of the Weizmann Institute banquet. He told the King that nothing he said in any way implied discrimination. The U.S. proposal on desalinization discriminated against none and favored none. The U.S. offer stood for any country.

King Hussein said it was extremely important that we all speak frankly on the problems which face the Near East. Realizing the great responsibilities the U.S. Government carries in the Free World, he believed that there are very few differences between the U.S. and the Arabs and indeed few differences in what we believe in. One great difference was Palestine. He had been asked by the Arab League to bring the sincerest hopes of all Arab leaders that Palestine will not be permitted to become a major problem between us and that relations between the U.S. and the Arab world will continue to improve.

The King said the President had been kind enough to refer to his surprise at Arab reaction to the President’s speech. In frankness, the general reaction among the Arabs was one of annoyance. This can be understood only when viewed against the background of the Palestine problem. There is Arab annoyance that so many sorely needed resources have to be utilized to counter what the Arabs consider the major threat of Israel, a hostile state which splits the Arab worlds of Asia and Africa, and complicates Arab problems of development. The Palestine problem has given Jordan a large refugee population, some two-thirds of its total people. Since the 1947 UN resolution, Israel has acquired a greater area than allotted. There have been many crises such as the 1956 push against the Egyptians. In the case of Jordan, Israel is encroaching on Jordanian territory in the south in developing its potash works. In the demilitarized zones, the Israelis continue to encroach. Perhaps most important at this juncture is the water problem, which boils down simply to a diversion of water required in the area to another area. [Page 92] Against this background the President’s remarks had been interpreted as a validation of Israel’s right to divert water and offer to provide means for even greater water resources. Those would permit increased immigration and enhance Israel’s threat to the Arabs.

The King said that Arab policy now was one of containment of Israel. Stability in the area depended on establishment of a balance between Israel and the Arab states. Israel must be brought to realize that she cannot continue to maintain a position in the area based on force. At the present, there is no balance between the Arabs and Israel. This is what has caused the Arabs to look to the Soviets for military equipment.

Israel’s diversion project raised two problems: The first and most immediate was the increased salinity of the lower Jordan river; the second, the question of increased immigration and the threat to the Arabs of Israeli expansionism. In the face of this acutely felt threat and in light of the fact that Arabs cannot get their requirements for arms from the West, Soviet offers are found acceptable. Arabs do not doubt the desire of the Soviet Union to acquire a foothold in the Near East through provision of arms. However, the Soviets have suffered serious setbacks in the area over the past years and Arab solidarity will be a further guarantee against Soviet penetration. Basically the Arabs seek good relations with all states, but feel that Israel is “the spoiled child at Arab expense and at the expense of the U.S.” What Arabs ask of the U.S. is that it look into the future and see both sides of this issue.

The President said that the U.S. sees both sides quite clearly and, reverting to his speech at the Friends of the Weizmann Institute banquet, said that the offer on desalination was an example of U.S. evenhandedness: “We take salt out of his waters and yours; we give to you both.”

Foreign Minister Atallah said that he thought the President’s reference had been misconstrued in the Arab world. The particular sentence which caused the difficulty was that saying “Water should not be a cause of war but of peace”. The Arabs interpreted this as U.S. official support of Israel’s right to divert water from the Jordan. Since the dawn of history water has flowed through the Jordan to Galilee and on to the Dead Sea. If Israel unilaterally states that it has the right to stop this historic flow and divert it to alien areas when there is need in the Jordan valley for water, in self defense the Arabs must take steps to secure their rights in this water. If Jordan’s needs for water from the Jordan were satisfied, there could be no objection to Israel’s diversion project. However, domestic and international law both give the riparians in a basin the primary right to water until their needs are satisfied. Israel’s project will result in stopping the flow of sweet water on which [Page 93] some 30,000 Arab farmers depend. It also prevents Jordan from developing lands on which refugees could be settled.

The President said that nothing he had said by implication or connotation reflected anything but the U.S. desire to deal equally with all: for the Arabs, for Israel, for any other country. The U.S. position on Israel’s project rests on the plan worked out in 1955. As for the speech, he could not help what interpretations had been given to it, but he did not imply that he would do for one what he would not do for others. This he wished to make clear before other things were touched on. The Arabs complain about what the U.S. does for Israel. The Israelis protest about what the U.S. does for the Arabs and insist that more be done for them. The U.S. tries to do equally for both. The President said the only language he knows is that of candor. In extending $3 billion worth of assistance to the Arabs since 1946, the U.S. showed its interest in their development and their future. The U.S. did not spend money on people it hates. The U.S. did not extend more than $40 million to Jordan last year for any reason except to strengthen the country and speed its progress.

The King responded that the Jordanians were grateful, but when aid to the two million Israelis was weighed against this, the equation was not balanced. However, the Arabs and the U.S. had many joint interests.

Mr. Ball said that problems of this kind were laden with history. The U.S. is aware of the controversial nature of most issues in the area and its relations with the area. Certain principles, however, guide U.S. policies. U.S. policy starts from the point that Israel is a fact. In connection with water, the U.S. made considerable effort to seek a solution and the U.S. regrets that full agreement with the riparian states was not obtained. There must be guiding principles to formulate foreign policy: U.S. actions, we think, are consistent with these principles. The U.S. would regard use of water from the Jordan system as fair if within the standards set by the unified plan. The U.S. had hoped that Jordan would take actions to insure its full share of water under the allocations, as this was the key to full flowering of Jordan’s resources.

Mr. Talbot said that His Majesty knows the U.S. too is concerned over the question of salinity of the waters of the Jordan and hoped that a solution to this problem could be found. Jordan’s East Ghor problem has contributed in large measure to this problem. He believed the recent visit by our water engineer was useful. His suggestion for pumping water from the power company reservoir into the canal offers a short-term solution for the problem of those farmers who face the problem of salinity in waters from the Jordan itself. In the longer range, there is hope for progress on the Maqarin Dam. Storage there would go a long way to preserve resources which are presently not usable. [Page 94] The Jordan valley plan was premised on meeting equitable Arab needs before any allocations to Israel were made; 6–8 years of effort had been devoted to work out a reasonable solution. The continuous concern of the U.S. is that the waters of the Jordan system be available to the appropriate users. We hope U.S. technicians and the Arab technicians can stay in touch with each other on actual and potential uses of the water. This will be of benefit to all and is far more desirable than measures which would serve to increase tensions.

Ambassador Juma said that the basic flaw in the U.S. approach is equating of the Arab states and Israel. This flies in the face of the fact that the inhabitants of Palestine are refugees, their property was destroyed, and they are living in misery. In 1947 no Arab delegate would talk with the Soviet representatives at the UN. The strong ties were with the U.S. In one single decade the basic transformation in the entire alignment of the Near East took place because of the U.S. policy toward Israel. Arabs fear that a crisis situation can arise in their relations with the U.S. unless this basic problem is faced squarely. The Ambassador pointed out that the Arabs were not previously interested in large armies or acquisition of modern arms except for parade purposes. He fears that the trend is toward reactivation of the Palestine problem rather than settlement. The Arabs are not opposed to Jews as members of a great religion or as a people. However, the Zionist movement is behaving in a manner which faces the Arabs with dangers. The Zionists are seeking to acquire atomic weapons to further intimidate the Arabs. As a result the Arab world is squandering precious resources in maintaining a balance of armaments. He said he thought it was high time for a new look and a reappraisal of the 1948 policy of “might vs. right”. U.S. policy now is that Israel exists and must be accepted. The Ambassador believed that the U.S. with its principles of justice and morality must take another look at the Palestine problem.

Foreign Minister Atallah said that tension was rising because of the arms problem and the expected diversion of the Jordan. Arabs know U.S. policy: Israel has been created to remain there. Arabs know the U.S. anxiety for Arab peace. For this latter, thanks are due. However, U.S. policy overlooks the price asked; the price is tantamount to Israel’s retaining Arab lands illegally and no enforcement of the UN resolutions and the right of Palestinians to return to their homes. Arabs do not expect the U.S. to pick up their chestnuts but do expect support on any additional forms of aggression. Zionism is aggressive—it has designs on the Arab world. Initially seeking only a national home, this proved not enough and a Jewish state was necessary. The Jewish state quickly overran borders allotted and lines emerging from the Armistice are now becoming sanctified as the status quo. The Zionists took lands, [Page 95] settled aliens thereon and now are bringing more. Although all persecuted Jews have long been settled, Zionists seek other Jews for Israel. They seek them from the U.S., the USSR and Britain.

(The President was called out at this juncture for an urgent telephone call.) Clearly their aim is expansionism from the Zionist heartland. Arab refugees have no right to their home but Jews from abroad do. Israel wants more land, more water and more people. If Israel has its way with Jordan waters, Jordan will become a desert while the Negev blooms. Some people say that Palestine provides a military base for the West, the Foreign Minister said. However, he would not go that far. He noted that the President had said that water should be a cause of peace. Arabs interpreted this as saying “Let Israel take your water”. There are those that say that the Arabs for four generations let water waste in the Dead Sea. However, resources have not been available to fully utilize this water. This, said the Foreign Minister, is the mood of the Arab world. This is its spirit. Arabs respect you for your efforts to achieve peace, but feel you have different standards for Israelis. Mr. Atallah said that there is nothing sacrosanct in the Jordan [Johnston?] Plan. Arabs have refused it since it gives Israel control of Arab waters. Israel is an expansionist state and a threat to the Arabs.

Mr. Talbot said that the foregoing reflected differences in our assessments of the Palestine problem. His Majesty’s visit enables us to explore areas in which to seek cooperation on a practical basis. It is impossible now to turn the clock back. The King here interjected his agreement. We are faced with a given situation. We should see how within this framework we can cooperate. Our differing estimates of Israel’s expansionism and capabilities must not prevent us from exploring those areas where we seek cooperation.

The King said that a review of the background of current problems was useful. Now we could get on with discussions of mutual interests.

Mr. Ball noted that we understood and regretted that both sides objected to the basic elements of the Eric Johnston Plan. The U.S. in its approach to the problem needed some standard and the Plan provided this standard. Notwithstanding the position of others we used the Plan as a yardstick on which to base our judgment of what was equitable and reasonable.

The President rejoined the group and apologized for his absence. He reiterated the evenhanded nature of proposals made in his February 6 speech. The discussion ended and His Majesty departed for luncheon in the State Department.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Jordan, Visit of King Hussein, 4/14–15/64 (II). Secret. Drafted by Davies on April 15 and approved by U on April 27 and by the White House on May 4. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the President met privately with King Hussein from 12:05 to 12:15 p.m. in the Oval Office followed by a 15-minute session with the press for photographs. The meeting recorded here took place in the Cabinet Room from 12:30 to 1:06 p.m. (Ibid.) An April 10 briefing memorandum from Ball to the President is ibid., National Security File, Country File, Jordan, Visit of King Hussein, (II). An April 13 briefing memorandum from Komer and Bundy to the President is ibid., 4/14–15/64 (I). Other records pertaining to the King’s visit are in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15–1 JORDAN and POL 7 JORDAN, and ibid., Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2385–2386.