148. Minutes of the Ninth Meeting of the Middle East Control Group1
The Control Group Meeting, which began in the morning and continued into the evening, concluded with a meeting with Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, NSC Special Representative Walt Rostow, and Ambassador Thompson. The main element throughout the day was preparation for the visit of the UAR Vice President Mohieddin.
The Group began its discussions with a review of the actions taken since the beginning of the crisis. These included:
- Presidential messages to the Heads of State of the countries of the area, urging restraint.
- Continuing efforts in various ways to hold the Israeli “tiger”.
- Structural organization for the crisis, including the establishment of the Task Force and the Control Group. The latter knitted together State, DOD, the White House, CIA and Treasury. Planning had been wide-ranging and in depth.
- Direct discussions had been held in Washington with UK Minister of State George Thomson and his delegation. There had been a meeting of minds on an assessment of the gravity of the situation. In addition, on an ad referendum working level basis, there had been [Page 284] agreement on a course of action involving (a) intensive use of UN facilities in an effort to de-fuse the situation; (b) the preparation of a Maritime Declaration which would express the views and positions of the Maritime Powers on the Gulf of Aqaba and would win maximum international support; (c) bringing into being a multination naval force which, if all political means failed, could provide escorts for passage through the Straits of Tiran.
- Israeli Foreign Minister Eban had visited Washington and had discussed the crisis with the President, Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, and Members of the Control Group. He explained that the Israeli Cabinet confronted by the alternatives of war or surrender, had chosen the former, only to be restrained by the intervention, under instructions, of Ambassador Barbour, who had presented a “third alternative”. A determined effort had been made to dissuade the Israeli Government from resorting to military action. This included an exposition of the “third alternative” of diplomatic activity in the UN and elsewhere, the Maritime Declaration, and the assembly of a Naval Force for possible use in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.
- There had been continuing recourse to the Security Council.
- There had been extensive diplomatic contacts in Washington and in pertinent capitals around the world.
- There had been extensive consultations with Congress in respect to the developing situation.
- Private emissaries had been sent to the area:
- Charles Yost had been sent to Cairo to help Ambassador Nolte, who had not been able to present his credentials, and to take soundings with members of the UAR Government;
- Robert Anderson, former Secretary of Treasury, had been in direct contact with President Nasser and had set the stage for the visit of Vice President Zakaria Mohieddin. Nasser had expressed in a letter to the President his willingness to send Mohieddin to Washington or to receive Vice President Humphrey in Cairo.
- Governor Harriman had been in direct contact with the Shah of Iran.
- Arrangements had been made for Presidential Counsel Harry McPherson to visit Tel Aviv.
While the original objective of the Control Group had been—starkly stated—to prevent the Israelis from striking the forces closing around them, its objectives had now broadened to include: (1) avoiding either an Israeli-UAR war or a clash between the Maritime Powers and the Arabs, and (2) developing the basic ingredients of an enduring peace in the Middle East.
The immediate tasks before the Group were to complete the staff work for the Mohieddin visit. This was to include the preparation of (1)[Page 285]a viable negotiating position with the UAR; (2) the formulation of assurances acceptable to Israel; and (3) the development of a scenario for use if the negotiations with the UAR should fail. It was noted that the difficulties of these tasks were compounded by (1) the obscurity of UAR objectives, (2) the heavy engagement of Nasser’s prestige and the indication that he was striving for a major political victory; (3) the military confrontation of highly mobilized Arab and Israeli forces; and (4) the limited degree of our control over Israel.
As the day wore on, it became evident that Mohieddin would not arrive before the evening of June 7 and talks would not begin before the following day. Furthermore, press tickers from Cairo indicated that the UARG intended to give heavy propaganda treatment to the visit. In view of the manifest dangers that an incident could at any time lead to a clash between the heavily mobilized Arab and Israeli forces, cables were sent to Cairo urging Mohieddin to expedite his arrival, and emphasizing that minimum publicity was desirable. Although the Secretary had informed the Israeli Ambassador of the visit, it was evident that a heavy propaganda play by Cairo would create difficulty for the Israelis. It would also intensify the inherent problem of security. It was agreed that the physical arrangements for the visit, including security, would be delegated to Idar Rimestad, Deputy Under Secretary for Administration, and James Symington, Chief of Protocol. A maximum security effort would be made.
During the course of the day, the Group considered three documents related to the Mohieddin visit: (a) a memorandum to the President; (b) a draft letter to Nasser;2 and (c) a draft letter to Kosygin. These were extensively revised prior to the early evening discussion with the two Secretaries and Walt Rostow. While there was full agreement that a basic memorandum had to be prepared promptly for the President’s use in the Mohieddin talks, there were differences of views about the desirability of sending messages to either Kosygin or Nasser before the talks began. Following a thorough review of the advantages and disadvantages, the Secretary decided that (1) the Memorandum for the President, with certain revisions, should be transmitted to the White House on June 5; (2) he would revise the draft letter to Nasser, with certain “Levantine touches” with the thought that it might constitute a basic talking paper and be presented to Mohieddin when he met the President; (3) the letter to Kosygin should not be sent at this time but a revised letter might be sent after the meeting with Mohieddin.[Page 286]
The draft Memorandum for the President contained the following elements of assessment: (1) time is running out and the Israelis may not stand for more than another week; (2) the rumors of a naval escort plan may be having some effect on Nasser, but the value of the idea as a diplomatic pressure is lessened by the doubts that are being spread by the Soviets and others that we are really serious in considering the naval-escort plan as a genuine alternative; (3) our main effort should be concentrated on Nasser and the Soviets. We should be firm on the issue of the Strait, while indicating the possibilities of a broad and constructive settlement at a later stage for the whole region. We should ascertain what is “under the rug”. Do they want war or not? (4) Nasser should be made aware that if he actually uses force to close the Strait of Tiran, and the Israelis have recourse to Article 51, they will be doing so pursuant to the terms of a contract President Eisenhower brought about for the benefit of the Israelis and the Egyptians in 1957; (5) we should not try to negotiate with the Egyptians for the Israelis; (6) rather than agree to the exclusion from the Gulf of Israeli flag ships, the Israelis would fight; (7) in view of the possibility that we may have to face the Evron scenario (putting an Israeli flag ship through the Straits and utilizing armed force under Article 51 if it were attacked) within a few days, it is highly important to make the most strenuous possible diplomatic effort now; (8) the purpose of the proposed letter to Nasser is to get Nasser to stop, look and listen; (9) either an Arab-Israeli war, or the situation that would develop if we, the British, Australians and Dutch forced the Straits, would have great potentialities for hurting our long-term interests in the area, and in the Moslem world; (10) our best option if we can get it within a few days, is to avoid both alternatives without giving Nasser a complete political victory; (11) a maximum political effort is required to restore things as thy were in the Gulf, until either the World Court or a political agreement can settle the problem.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Office of the Executive Secretariat, Middle East Crisis Files, 1967, Entry 5190, Box 17, Minutes/Decisions of the Control Group, Folder 1. Secret; Nodis. No drafter or participants are on the source text.↩
- The June 4 draft letter to Nasser is filed with two draft memoranda to the President, both undated. The draft letter bears the handwritten note: “Sec was changing this when time ran out.” (Ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 US/Johnson)↩