301. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East Crisis


  • Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
  • The Secretary
  • Llewellyn E. Thompson, American Ambassador

The Secretary remarked that we thought we had had a commitment from Israel not to initiate hostilities. The Egyptian Ambassador had told us upon instructions that they would not begin them.

We were wholly uninformed of any Israeli attack. When Dobrynin asked if we had not known about it on the eve of the attack, the Secretary said we had no advance information whatever. He himself had been called about 2:30 in the morning. We had thought we had about another 10 days before Israel would make a judgment on what it would do about the closing of the Strait of Tiran. Asking that the Soviets not pass this on to any other Government, the Secretary said that Robert Anderson had had a long personal talk with Nasser. Although no serious problem had been solved, Nasser had decided to send his Deputy Prime Minister here, and we had thought this would be a very important conversation. The Secretary said that on the Strait of Tiran there was involved not only our general attitude on the innocent passage of international straits, but also the commitment by President Eisenhower in 1957 about the Strait of Tiran, which was in the interest of Egypt. Although Egypt had not formally underwritten this commitment, they were well aware of it. Nasser had told Anderson that the Egyptians had been surprised both with the speed with which U Thant acted on their request on UNEF and also on his action in withdrawing all of UNEF although it had only been asked to withdraw from certain areas. Sharm al Shaikh had not been included in the areas from which withdrawal was requested, and if U Thant had not acted so precipitously and had at least referred the matter to the Security Council in order to gain time the whole issue of the Strait might not have arisen.

[Page 506]

When the Secretary inquired about the atmosphere in Moscow, Dobrynin replied that everyone had lots of work.

The Secretary said he thought he should inform the Ambassador of the strong negative public reaction in this country to the statements that Fedorenko had made in the Security Council debates in New York and particularly to the polemical nature and tone of his remarks. The State Department and the White House had received some 200,000 letters, many of which referred to this aspect. When Dobrynin inquired whether any of this had been on TV, the Secretary replied that almost all of the proceedings had been televised including one session at half past four in the morning.

[Page 507]

Dobrynin said that the manner of speaking depended very much on the speaker. While Fedorenko, of course, had his instructions and knew the general line, none of his speeches were written in Moscow.

The Secretary said that the problem was complicated because the big powers could not command or control the small powers in the area. When Dobrynin said they could be influenced, the Secretary replied that we could not command the Israeli, and he doubted whether the Soviets could command Nasser. The Secretary thought that we would have to return to the Security Council at some point.

Dobrynin said that it had made a very bad impression in Moscow that the fighting had continued after the Security Council resolution. While the Soviets had been talking with us on the “Hot Line,” they had been directly in touch with their Ambassador in Damascus.

The Secretary said he had sent a strong message to Eban in the middle of the night saying that the fighting simply had to stop. A problem for us had been that the UN observers had been restricted on both sides, as had our military attaches, and it had been difficult for us to get any information.

Dobrynin asked why we opposed Israeli withdrawal. The Secretary asked “withdrawal to what”? Dobrynin replied “to the armistice lines.” The Secretary asked whether it was expected that this be done while the Arab States were still in a state of belligerency. The Arabs would not recognize existence of Israel and when we talked to the Egyptians about the Strait of Tiran they rested their case on still being in a state of war. He thought that withdrawal standing alone did not solve anything. He said it was difficult for us to say to the Arabs that we supported territorial integrity if they won’t recognize the existence of Israel. The Arabs take part but not all of our position. Over the years we had in fact acted more often on behalf of the Arabs than Israel, and he mentioned Libya, Lebanon, Jordan, and the events of 1956. He concluded that there must be some recognition of the fact of Israeli statehood.

Dobrynin said that the Soviets would like for all of these countries to have better relations. They had no interest in the continuation of tension in this area.

The Secretary said we hoped there could be some limitation on the arms race in this part of the world. As he had often said, it was only the Soviet Union and the United States who were really interested in applying arms reduction to themselves. We were not the principal arms supplier to that part of the world. We thought it would be constructive to have some understanding on this problem.

Dobrynin said that in the present situation it was, of course, difficult because of recent events.

The Secretary referred briefly to the Israeli attack on our ship, the Liberty.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Dobrynin-Thompson Conversations, Vol. II. Secret; Exdis. The memorandum is part 2 of 3. Walt Rostow sent all three parts to the President on June 19, with a note stating that he had already been informed of the conversation but might like to see the full record. The time of the meeting is from Rusk’s Appointment Book. (Ibid.)