331. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Prospects for solution of the Middle East Crisis


  • President Johnson
  • King Hussein
  • Mr. Nicholas deB. Katzenbach
  • Mr. McGeorge Bundy
  • Foreign Minister Tuqan
  • General Khammash
  • Ambassador Burns
  • Secretary McNamara
  • Mr. Walt Rostow
  • Mr. George Christian
  • Ambassador Macomber
  • Ambassador Shubeilat

King Hussein accompanied by Foreign Minister Tuqan and Chief of Staff Amir Khammash were invited to the White House for a working luncheon with President Johnson on June 28. During the luncheon prospects for solution of the Middle East crisis were discussed. The major participants in the discussion were King Hussein, the President, Mr. McGeorge Bundy and Mr. Nicholas deB. Katzenbach.

The King adhered to the public line he had previously expressed at the UN and emphasized the necessity of his obtaining the return of the West Bank.

The King noted that the Arabs were at a major turning point. They could opt for what amounted to a settlement with Israel, to be followed by concentration on economic development; or the Arabs could opt to make no settlement and to re-arm for another round. Hussein favored the first course.

Hussein said that it is his intention to try to sell this position to the other Arabs, since there could be no real stability in the Middle East unless all the Arabs opt for what amounts to a settlement with Israel. Hussein stated that he had some reason to hope for success with the other Arabs in this regard. He pointed out that he, as the Arab leader who had had nothing to do with bringing about the confrontation, who had fought the hardest, and who had lost the most, was now in a unique position to speak for a moderate course. (He told Ambassador Burns on the plane coming down from New York that he had met in New York with Atassi of Syria. Hussein said Atassi had not disagreed [Page 584] with his position that a moderate solution was the only sensible one, though Atassi did observe that the Syrian Government could already be too much prisoners of their own propaganda to make this possible.)

Mr. Katzenbach and Mr. Bundy made the following points to the King:

The US believes that a peaceful solution is the only solution and all US efforts would be bent towards that end. We realize that if a peaceful solution is to be a lasting solution it must be a just solution.
The realities of the situation appear to exclude the possibility (which has appeal for Hussein) that a peace could be imposed on Israel and the Arabs from some outside higher source.
A settlement between the Arabs and Israelis would have to be in essence bilateral, though there were options in terms of modalities to get around some of the current irreconcilabilities of the Arab and Israeli positions. (For example, a mediator in place of direct Arab–Israeli negotiations.)
The US has never had the influence with Israel that the Arabs thought we had, and in point of fact we now have less influence with Israel than ever. With this caveat the Arabs could count on us to use all of our influence and efforts to insure that a just settlement were arrived at, if the Arabs have the will for a settlement.
Only a settlement could inspire the USG, the Congress and the American people to be willing to render economic aid which the area so desperately needs. We are no longer interested in financing activities which do not lead to, or are not part of, a final solution to the Middle East problem.
Our guarantee of territorial integrity applied essentially to final boundaries rather than to current armistice lines.

In reply to questions designed to ascertain what King Hussein would settle for with respect to Jordan in connection with a peaceful settlement, King Hussein replied that he could not answer such questions until he had had an opportunity to consult with all the Arab leaders. It was apparent from the conversation, however, that Jerusalem was likely to present the most serious problem. In reply to Mr. Bundy’s question as whether Hussein would accept demilitarization of the West Bank, Hussein replied that if there were a peaceful settlement with Israel the problem would be academic and would largely take care of itself. Mr. Bundy pointed out to King Hussein that until peoples who have been traditional enemies have had the opportunity to live in peace for awhile it probably would be necessary to have a demilitarized area.

In reply to the question on his position on free passage of Tiran and Suez, Hussein said this would give no problem to Jordan but obviously would to other Arab states.

The luncheon conversation ended with the King making a statement along the following lines: “The first thing I must do is to try to convince all the Arab leaders to adopt a moderate solution. Only if this [Page 585] fails could I consider whether it would be feasible to pursue a solution on my own.”

After luncheon, while King Hussein was meeting alone with the President,2 General Khammash spoke along the following line with Mr. Bundy. Said Khammash: We are now reforming our military units. We will need in the near future to re-supply the army with equipment. I am not speaking of offensive equipment; I am speaking of basic, defensive equipment. We must do this for two reasons (a) the morale of the army and (b) the fact that the army is still the key to stability in Jordan. The Soviets have already started to re-supply other Arab states. In such a situation we would have a hard time sitting by and taking no action even in the absence of the two considerations I just mentioned. I recognize that what I have said presents the US with a problem, since I am aware that you do not in fact or in appearance wish to rearm the Arabs for another round. I have a problem, too, which I have just outlined to you. What do we do?

Mr. Bundy replied that he understood General Khammash’s problem and that obviously General Khammash understood ours. He said this is a very delicate and ticklish problem. He asked the General to keep in close touch with us, since decisions in this regard could only be arrived at in the light of the situation which comes to pass with each unfolding day.

The President and King Hussein met alone for about twenty minutes. When they returned to the other members of the party, the President said that he and the King had discussed nothing new that had not already been discussed at the lunch.

The President then suggested that the King meet alone with Mr. Bundy and Mr. Katzenbach. This meeting lasted for about forty minutes.

The tone of the meeting was marked by seriousness, moderation, and sympathetic frankness.

No part of this memorandum should be revealed to any foreign national by any addressee. Such disclosure could seriously jeopardize any possibility of a peaceful solution to the present crisis. If it is decided to communicate any part of the above to a foreign government, it will be done in Washington.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Noforn; Nodis. Drafted by Burns. The time is from the President’s Daily Diary. (Johnson Library)
  2. No record of their private conversation has been found.