33. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State1

5405. Re: Middle East Crisis.

I called on SYG and Bunche this afternoon accompanied by Pedersen to convey our letter prior to his departure (USUN 5399),2 to [Page 55] discuss his mission and to wish Godspeed. SYG said he was scheduled to arrive back in NY at 3:30 p.m. on Friday and would want to consult on Saturday with perm members of SC, UNEF Advisory Comite, and troop contribution countries. Said he would be cancelling his appearance at Pacem in Terris tomorrow or Wed.

I told SYG we had letter to deliver to him expressing views of USG which I would give to him at end of meeting and substance of which I would discuss. In addition I had one statement of very grave importance to make. In light of tensions in area US had been called upon to reaffirm commitments four of our Preses had made with respect to protecting any countries in ME against aggression. Noted original expression was contained in Tripartite Declaration 1950 and that Preses Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson had independently reaffirmed and restated US commitment. Our basic commitment was to support appropriate measures in UN or outside to counter aggression or threat of aggression in ME.

I told him I wished to say what we had not said publicly, so that he would know as he went to Cairo, that the US would keep that commitment. I observed that this carried with it grave implications and added that we were of course tremendously concerned that efforts should be made within UN context. We therefore completely supported him and all he could do to pacify situation in the area. We were committed to prevent aggression in the interest of the political independence and territorial integrity of states in the ME. This we had said on various occasions, including statements I had made in SC last year.

I told him we may or not not yet have to say publicly what I had just told him. But I thought there should be no misunderstanding and that ambiguity might lead to great misunderstandings.

Bunche observed that Nasser would assert that UAR actions were reaction to Israeli invasion threat against Syria. He wondered whether SYG would be authorized to say that our commitment applied to Syria as well as to Israel. I replied that our policy applied to all govts in ME. It applied to the political independence and territorial integrity of all. He could therefore say that US position on this was very clear and that it was against any form of aggression in ME from any country whether overt or clandestine. Our aim was to seek solution to these problems within UN as there were too many confrontations in world already.

I added that our letter explicitly said there was no US design on Syria or conspiracy to overthrow other govts. Allegations to the contrary were nonsense. Our commitments extended to the whole area, and the letter contained explicit language which he was authorized to convey.

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I then told him our letter contained a number of comments about the termination of UNEF, which had been a matter of grave concern in Wash. We had hoped for consultation. US had particularly been involved in the establishment of UNEF and we wanted to recall to him past record on questions of consent and withdrawal and US views with respect to them, in particular for his use with Nasser. US had broken with its allies at time of Suez in the interest of the law of the Charter and rights of Egypt. We had therefore taken different view than SYG re withdrawal. We had been instrumental in great measure in helping stop the attack on Egypt. If we had not acted when we did Nasser probably would not even be there now. There was a specific history on matter of consent and withdrawal and we believe Nasser was under obligation not to disturb situation and insist on withdrawal under circumstances such as prevailed.

Bunche asked if we planned to release letter. I said no and reiterated that in spite of domestic pressures and criticisms we had not made public our divergence of views on this issue, as others had, because we did not think it was in interest of UN. I reiterated that we respected motives of SYG on this and the practical problems with which he was concerned. Letter was for him but we had no objections to his talking to Nasser about these points because we thought Nasser, having done what he had done, now has some obligations to SYG and UN.

Future, however, was the important thing and a main purpose of presenting our views was to give him in writing our thoughts about necessity of preserving an effective UN presence in area.

I said this could not be done just on Nasser’s own terms. From our contacts here it appeared that UAR line would be that they have now gotten rid of UNEF; if Israel would only be willing to revert to EIMAC and support it everything would be fine. I said this would not resolve the issue because it would require still further concessions to UAR position beyond what it has already gained. It would be necessary to bring all concerned on board and some way must be found to accommodate viewpoints of both parties.

I observed that Israel was involved too. We had told Israelis we want them to cooperate with SYG, but it would be necessary to obtain their views as well. I referred to my recommendation that he extend his visit to include Damascus and Tel Aviv, saying I understood why he did not wish to say anything about such visits now but I thought they would be highly desirable.

Referring to Sharm el-Sheikh I said this was one of most critical points. (Bunche interjected, “the most”.) Bunche observed ships were still going through but commented critically on Jordanian broadcasts criticizing UAR for this. I told him we had intervened on this and believed they had stopped. I noted many maritime countries would be [Page 57] concerned with passage through straits, including, French, Scands, Israelis and ourselves, and read him section of letter in which we restated our position on transit. Told him consequences could not be predicted if transit through straits was interfered with. Told him he could use passage on our policy on straits with Nasser if he wished to.

I commented also that situation of refugees and PLO in Gaza Strip made that a danger point also. Bunche said they were aware of this. Added that info PLO had taken over UNEF post was not correct according to info from Rikhye. Added that El Auya would be another difficult point, as Nasser would raise fact that Israelis had occupied this area in 1955. SYG noted Israel still appeared be negative on EIMAC and TSOs on UAR border. I suggested that he might want to consider creating new instrument. Perhaps something with new initials would be acceptable to both sides where old one might not be.

I then said we thought early disengagement of forces would be especially helpful. Bunche interjected “yes” and SYG nodded. I said it was especially important that PLO be kept away from frontier. Noted that value of UNEF had been that it had controlled Sharm el-Sheik and had been shield against Liberation Army and refugee problems, as well as against retaliatory raids.

I noted also that origins of present problem came from Syrian frontier and said our letter re-enforced statements I [he] had made about hits on May 11 and 13.3 We thought GAA should be respected and operate fully on that frontier and efforts needed to be made by him on this border as well as on UAR border.

Finally I called attention to our suggestion for his consideration that he might send messages to heads of states in area, either publicly or privately, calling for restraint and no adverse changes in status quo while he was consulting. He said he would give thought to this.

When I told him I thought he ought to report to SC when he returned and call meeting under Art 99 if necessary, he said he was clear he would have to make report to SC when he came back.

I also told him we had in various ways communicated with Sovs about the situation, the essence of our approaches being to appeal for cooperation with SYG in preserving peace in area.

SYG expressed his appreciation for our good wishes and indicated he well understood difficulties of mission he was undertaking and said he would study our views carefully.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Confidential; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated Priority to Cairo, and to Tel Aviv. Received at 9:41 p.m. and passed to the White House on May 23 at 12:20 a.m.
  2. Document 32.
  3. Thant’s May 11 statement is cited in footnote 7, Document 32; his May 13 statement is not printed.