42. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

As instructed, I talked this morning with Bob Anderson.2 He reports as follows.

He is going to Beirut on Thursday on business. (The Panamanian Eleta is going on the same day to Spain to see his daughter graduate from school.)
From Beirut he goes to Amman in Jordan to see King Hussein. He is going because he has been asked to arrange the lease of the Jordanian Airlines to a U.S. firm, and to help develop potash and phosphates in Jordan.
He talked yesterday with Secretary Rusk,3 who told him to send word to Nasser that he was in Beirut. If Nasser communicates, well and good. He will make no move beyond letting Nasser know he is there, unless instructed.
I asked him for any observations on the present scene. He says he doesn’t believe the Arab nations want war. Nasser, however, faces a “terrible internal problem.” His people are very close to starvation. A month ago when a food ship came into harbor, shopkeepers were instructed to put a sack of flour in front of their shops to prevent food riots. He believes we made a serious mistake in cutting off Nasser without food as we did. He said that he found no obstacle in his conversations in the Senate. When I said that the problem appeared to be in the House, he said: “No one asked me to talk to anyone in the House.”
Moreover, Nasser feels cut off from the United States. He is an informal rather than formal man, and State Department communications [Page 71] are, for him, no substitute for informal, high-level communications—Presidential letters and emissaries.
Nasser’s present action, in Anderson’s view, is a reflection of his internal tribulations. They have been made worse by some ill-advised Israeli statements, and Nasser’s knowledge that the only thing that can congeal the split Arab world is uniting against Israel.
He then made two concrete suggestions:
  • —He believes it would be wise to have Marshal Amir,4 Nasser’s #2, come over to the U.S.—perhaps to the UN. He believes if you could talk with Amir, this would go a long way to settle down the problem. He will arrange this if you wish it.
  • —If you wished him to proceed beyond Amman to Cairo, assuming that Nasser did receive him—he is willing to do that. But he will make no move without your instruction.5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. I. Secret. Received at 1:05 p.m., according to a handwritten note on the memorandum. A handwritten note on another copy states that Rostow took a copy to the Tuesday lunch. (Ibid., Middle East Crisis, Anderson Cables) The President had lunch at 1:18 p.m. with Rusk, McNamara, Walt Rostow, George Christian, and Helms. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No other record of the discussion has been found. The Middle East was at the top of the agenda. (Ibid., National Security File, Rostow Files, Tuesday Luncheon Suggested Agenda)
  2. Former Secretary of the Treasury Robert B. Anderson.
  3. Anderson called Rusk the morning of May 23 and told him he was going to Beirut and to Jordan and asked if there was anything he could do. Rusk mentioned a possible message to Nasser and said he might want someone to talk to Anderson when he was in Beirut. (Notes of telephone conversation at 9:35 a.m. on May 23, prepared by Carolyn J. Proctor; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls)
  4. Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer, Vice President and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAR Armed Forces.
  5. Rusk called Anderson later that day and said he had had a further talk with the President. He asked if it was possible for Anderson to go to Cairo and Anderson expressed willingness and said the Egyptian Ambassador had encouraged him to go. Rusk suggested he tell the Ambassador he would be glad to come. Anderson asked if Rusk had talked to the President about his earlier suggestion that someone come to Washington to see the President. Rusk said they had not discussed it but suggested that Anderson tell the Ambassador that if a high Egyptian official were to come to New York for a Security Council meeting, it could be arranged for him to make a quiet visit to Washington and see the President. (Notes of telephone conversation at 7 p.m. on May 23, prepared by Carolyn J. Proctor; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls)