419. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk and Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Johnson1


  • Exceptions to the Military Supply Freeze to the Near East


That you authorize us to obtain Congressional reactions to a relaxation of the current freeze on arms shipments to Israel and the moderate Arab States along the lines outlined below.2


Since the outset of hostilities last June we have maintained very tight restrictions on the shipment of military equipment to the Near East and North Africa. This policy was correct at its inception from both a military and political viewpoint. With the passage of time, however, it has become increasingly difficult to justify its rigidity in terms of our [Page 784] national interest in helping certain countries to meet their legitimate defense needs, and thus contain the spread of Soviet-Nasserite influence. The Soviets have conducted a large-scale rearmament of the radical states and have indicated clear intent to influence both Jordan and Morocco through offers of cheap and extensive arms supplies. This is in sharp contrast to our restraint in the supply of arms. As indicated below, we feel the time for some relaxation is at hand.

  • —With the exception of the $3.0 million cash sales authorized in early August, sales and deliveries to Israel have been blocked. The Israeli Government can be expected, as a minimum, to press for early release of their remaining requests for items on the Munitions Control List which were pending as of June 5. Since the value of this material is less than $1 million, we would like to be in a position, if Israeli pressures should mount, to authorize the remaining release this month. We would, however, continue for the time being to hold up the $14 million spare parts credit sales program and the 100 APCs authorized by you on May 23. We would contemplate discussing these, as well as subsequent Israeli arms requests, with General Weizman during his proposed visit next month.
  • —In the case of Jordan, there is a clear military and political requirement for an early resumption of limited arms supply. Jordan is the most vulnerable of the moderate Arab States in terms of internal security and pressure from radical Arab neighbors and is the key to a satisfactory Arab-Israeli political settlement. Failure to obtain some arms from the West would increase the dangers to Hussein’s fragile regime and might force him into a supply relationship with the Soviets. This, in turn, could have serious consequences in the highly volatile situation in the area.

We have already told Jordan we intend to resume the suspended program as soon as the situation on the Hill permits, and that we expect to have definite word for them on or about September 1.3

  • —Our inability to proceed with the Arms Sales Program with Morocco agreed with King Hassan last February has been a contributing factor in his decision to purchase tanks from Czechoslovakia and, if continued, may lead him to turn to the Soviets.
  • —Small sales programs to Lebanon remain blocked even though the equipment involved would strengthen the ability of the Lebanese Armed Forces to carry out their important role in maintaining internal security.
  • —In the case of Libya, our agreement of last May to provide ten F–5s on a cash sales basis remains blocked, as does our ability to ship materials under the small existing grant and sales programs. Yet these are significant elements of our negotiating approach in respect to Wheelus.
  • —Comparable problems exist in respect to Saudi Arabia where the on-going air defense and transportation communication supply programs have been blocked. These are not only significant to the future security of Saudi Arabia and our relations with the Saudi Arabian Government but are also lucrative contracts totaling about $130 million which we would not wish to lose.
  • —Our offer to supply $5.2 million in training and material to Tunisia is the cornerstone of the Tunisian armed forces modernization program. President Bourguiba believes that he must possess a deterrent capability in view of the large-scale Soviet arms deliveries to Algeria.

We recognize the delicacy of the Congressional situation in respect to arms supply issues and would wish to consult carefully on the Hill before proceeding with any of these programs. These consultations would not begin until after the Senate and House vote on the Foreign Assistance Authorization Bill.4 If Congressional reactions are deemed manageable, we would request your authorization to proceed promptly with the limited arms programs summarized above and in greater detail in the enclosed sheets.5

Dean Rusk6

Robert S. McNamara
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 19–8 US–NEAR E. Secret; Nodis.
  2. Neither the approve nor disapprove option was checked.
  3. Telegram 20137 to Amman, August 12, transmitted the text of a talking paper on this subject prepared for Colonel Amos Jordan for use in August 12–13 talks in London with General Khammash. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 12–5 JORDAN) Telegram 853 from Amman, August 14, reported that Burns had read the message to the King and had made every effort to reassure him of continued U.S. support for Jordan. (Ibid.)
  4. On August 15 the Senate passed S. 1872, including the Church amendment; see footnote 2, Document 398. The House version of the bill (H.R. 12048), reported out by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on August 11, did not include any equivalent of the Church amendment. It was passed by the House on August 25. The Senate-House Conference on the bill began September 14.
  5. The enclosures are attached but not printed. The recommendation was on the agenda for discussion at the President’s August 22 luncheon meeting. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt W. Rostow, Tuesday’s Luncheon—Suggested Agenda) Unsigned, informal notes of that meeting include the following:

    “Middle East Arms. No. Don’t do a thing until after the conference.

    “Keep Cabot Lodge working on the Hill. Get out there until you have got it organized. I want our position heard. Get our people to defend it. Get 15 key questions and get answers to them—the way Bunker answered three questions about the elections. Keep at it, organize it, and make sure it goes. Pres. said he is just not getting enough help from his Cabinet.” (Ibid., Files of Walt W. Rostow, Meetings with the President, July–December 1967)

  6. Printed from a copy that indicates Rusk and McNamara signed the original.