31. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State 1

9732. For Secretary from McGeorge Bundy.

I had an hour with George Brown this morning and he spent most of it on the Middle East. I pointed out, of course, that I was here as a private citizen. But George is an old friend, and there was no holding him.
Embassy tells me Brown’s comments on the Middle East diverged somewhat from those of his civil servants. He is not at all sure that Nasser will stop with ousting the UNEF force from the Egyptian-Israeli border and in particular is worried that Nasser may move to interdict shipping into the Gulf of Aqaba. While Brown, like his civil servants, is immediately focused on trying to get U Thant to play a more effective role, he was quite strong in saying that if access to the Gulf is impeded and thus becomes a freedom-of-the-seas issue and if the UN then fails to provide an effective means to deal with this problem, the British will probably feel able to find some other direct way of doing so, though they would hope to be able to enlist the help of other maritime nations. Brown strongly implied that in view of their military and naval forces presently East of Suez, this is probably the piece of the Egypt-Israel problem the British could and would be most disposed to take a direct hand in themselves. The freedom-of-the-seas context would in Brown’s view reduce the risk of hostile reactions from other Arabs.
With respect to the Tripartite Declaration, Brown pointed out that the Labor government is clearly on record in support of Macmillan’s 1963 statement. They construe this essentially as relieving the British of their commitments under the Tripartite Declaration. I think the chance of reversing this view is zero. However, when I suggested that it would be both unnecessary and undesirable to underline this position at this time Brown seemed to agree. He is to make a television statement on the Middle East tonight and I am hopeful he will avoid comment on the status of the Tripartite Declaration. David Bruce has phoned him to reiterate the desirability of avoiding a statement and so keeping the situation flexible.
On Viet Nam, I found Brown understanding of American problems and quite staunch in support. He was also modest and realistic in appraising how much the British (and he personally) can do with the Russians in helping promote negotiations. My impression is that he is less interested in this role than his boss.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 2:18 p.m.