125. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Syria 1

206179. 1. In dealing with special problems of protecting American interests and assuring firm awareness of United States position in the countries to which you are accredited, please convey the following thoughts urgently to the Foreign Minister at least or to higher authority, as you deem most effective. You may of course draw on Circular 204952,2 and other recent telegrams in your discretion.

2. Our position in the Middle East crisis rests on two principles which are applicable across the board and not solely in relation to Israel and the UAR.

3. The first is that we support the territorial integrity and political independence of all the countries of the Middle East. This principle has been affirmed by four American Presidents and was clearly invoked to protect Egypt against Israel in 1956. American policy has given strong support to other Arab states as they have passed through difficult periods. FYI. Libya in 1956 against UAR subversion, Lebanon 1958, recognition of Kuwait 1961 at expense our Embassy in Baghdad, generous economic aid, etc. End FYI.

4. We wish all the friendly Arab governments thoroughly to understand this fact, and recall that the principle has been invoked in their behalf.

5. The second is our defense of the basic interest of the world community in upholding freedom of the seas, and the right of free and innocent passage through straits of an international character. Our position on the application of this principle to the Strait of Tiran goes back to 1957. President Eisenhower then said:

“With reference to the passage into and through the Gulf of Aqaba, we expressed the conviction that the Gulf constitutes international waters, and that no nation has the right to prevent free and innocent passage in the Gulf. We announced that the United States was prepared to exercise this right itself and to join with others to secure general recognition of this right.”

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6. The context of this statement should be clearly understood. President Eisenhower persuaded the Israelis to evacuate Sharm al-Sheikh, and allow United Nations forces to be stationed there as observers, in exchange for this assurance, among others. At the same time, the Ambassador of Israel stated in the United Nations that Israel would regard any violation of this principle by armed force as a hostile act justifying retaliation under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Our Ambassador “took note” of this statement. The Government of Israel has recently reaffirmed the view that it regards its rights of passage through the Strait, as they have been exercised for ten years, as a vital national interest.

7. Accordingly, we are seriously concerned with the decision of the UAR to terminate the regime in the Strait which has been in effect for over ten years and which has been sanctioned by international law and the Geneva Convention on the Law of the Sea.

8. We wish finally to reaffirm our desire to live on friendly terms with all the Arab States, and to express our concern over the course of developments which not only threaten these relations we value so highly, but also the very integrity and well being of some of the states involved. Because of the devastation and destruction that would ensue in the event of conflict, we have thus far successfully urged restraint. Our capabilities, however, are limited. It is to avert conflict that we have strongly supported the Secretary General of the UN in his efforts to obtain a breathing spell and made clear our support for the right of free and innocent passage through the Strait of Tiran. Our main objectives are to preserve peace, maintain relations based on mutual respect with all the states of the area, and to honor our responsibilities. We seek understanding of our policies and support for all efforts to ease tensions and ensure a peaceful solution to potentially explosive situation.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted on May 31 and June 1 by Eugene Rostow, cleared by Popper and Davies, and approved by Rostow. Also sent to Beirut, Baghdad, Cairo, Amman, Jidda, Kuwait, Tripoli, Kuala Lumpur, Algiers, Rabat, Addis Ababa, Tehran, Rawalpindi, Djakarta, and New Delhi and repeated to Tel Aviv.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 117.