29. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom1

198959. Middle East Crisis.

Ambassador Dean (UK) called on Under Secretary Rostow this afternoon and made following points:

He invited comments on draft of letter George Brown is planning to send to U Thant before Thant’s trip to Cairo, assuring him of UK support for a peaceful solution through the UN, urging Thant to seek to persuade UAR to allow UNEF to remain in Gaza area and pressing strongly for a continuing UN presence in area either in form of expanded UNTSO or some new UN body. Brown stresses continuation of UN presence in Sharm-el-Sheikh and emphasizes importance UK attaches to rights of free navigation in international waterways and seriousness with which UK would view any interference with free passage in Gulf of Aqaba. Brown also urges U Thant to visit Tel Aviv and to hold an immediate meeting of Security Council after his return from area.
Dean said London agreed that US–UK assessments of situation are similar and wants to keep in close touch. UK had no objection to bringing others into these consultations from time to time but would object to joint daily meetings with French.2 UK view was that information passed in meetings with French would leak and would also lead to queries about the present status of the Tripartite Declaration which the UK regarded as out of date. Rostow indicated US position was that the principles of the Tripartite Declaration still apply. Dean indicated that in UK view Tripartite Declaration had been superseded by the [Page 44] Kennedy-Macmillan statements of 1963.3 Dean noted that in Macmillan’s statement UK had laid great stress on UN role in any Middle East dispute and that UK view was that object of Kennedy-Macmillan declarations was to move away from earlier Tripartite Declaration. Macmillan had made his statement on that basis. Rostow indicated that there were several reasons why it would be advantageous now to breathe new life into Tripartite Declaration if at all possible. US takes the view that Tripartite Declaration is right policy for three governments. Dean indicated that he would seek further clarification of UK position from London.
Dean stated that while UK wished to have close continuing political consultations with US HMG did not wish to become involved in military contingency planning at this time, especially contingency planning which involved possible military action outside of the UN. Rostow indicated that primary US objective was to use all political means to prevent the outbreak of hostilities but that the possibility of a flare-up could not be excluded and it was unlikely we could obtain Security Council action if hostilities did break out. Therefore we cannot ignore risk of being required to honor previous commitments.
Dean indicated UK felt it would heighten tension now to advise British tourists to leave or stay away from the area and that it was not necessary to do so at this time. They were taking line their Missions should inform inquirers that there were obvious dangers in the area.
Rostow indicated USG was considering presenting a written paper to all the governments in area reiterating US position. Such a paper could be presented jointly by US, UK and French, or separately by the three governments, as well as by Canada, with respect especially to Gulf of Aqaba. We would have draft for his consideration tomorrow.
Dean passed copies of exchange of letters between Wilson and Eshkol. Eshkol’s letter follows line taken with President Johnson. Wilson letter states UK has made strong representations to Syrians regarding need to stop infiltration of terrorists and UK misgivings about dangers involved in forceful reprisals. Wilson also asked Eshkol to reconsider GOI’s own policy of not permitting UNEF to operate on Israeli territory and stressed UK support through UN to secure free passage through the Gulf of Aqaba. Wilson also stated that George Brown will urge USSR to counsel restraint during his trip to Moscow.

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Rostow subsequently called Dean and brought following statement made in Commons by Wilson on April 13, 1965 to his attention:

“The tripartite declaration of 1950 was intended to express the policy of Britain, France and the United States at that time. It has not been retracted. I expressed the government’s deep concern for the peace and stability of the Middle East when, in the course of the foreign affairs debate on 16 December, 1964, I endorsed Mr. Macmillan’s statement of 14 May 1963.”

For London and Paris: In the light of the ambiguities revealed in this conversation, you should now urgently request authoritative confirmation from HMG and GOF that Trilateral Declaration of 1950 remains the policy of those two Governments, as it is of ours.

In this period of stress among allies on so many issues it is of particular importance that our unity on fundamentals be reaffirmed. The implications of failure in our strenuous efforts to prevent hostilities from breaking out in the Middle East are far-reaching. A war in the Middle East would gravely and fundamentally affect the security of all three countries, of Europe, and of the West. We believe a strong clear stand now is indispensable to deter those who might be tempted to take advantage of such a situation.

FYI for Paris: You may have copy as we do of Confidential French letter to GOI which was never made public. End FYI.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Eugene Rostow and his Staff Assistant Robert T. Grey, Jr., and approved by Eugene Rostow. Also sent to Paris and repeated to USUN, Tel Aviv, Cairo, and Damascus.
  2. Telegram 198944 to London and Paris, May 21, reported that regular meetings had been held concerning the Middle East crisis with British and French representatives in Washington and at the United Nations, and summarized the discussion at a meeting held in Washington that day. The statements by Ambassador Dean recorded in paragraphs 3 and 4 of telegram 198959 were in response to questions raised by U.S. representatives at that meeting. (Ibid.) French Ambassador Lucet told Under Secretary Rostow on May 23 that while the French wished to continue regular U.S.-French exchanges on Middle East questions, they would prefer not to continue on a tripartite basis, since regular daily meetings on such a basis might become conspicuous and create false ideas in public opinion. (Ibid., POL 27 ARAB–ISR)
  3. In a statement in the House of Commons, May 14, 1963, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan endorsed President Kennedy’s statement of May 8, 1963 (see footnote 5, Document 5). The text of Macmillan’s statement is in Hansard, vol. 677, col. 142.)