440. Letter From President Johnson to President Tito1
Dear Mr. President:
I was glad to receive your letter of August 242 reporting on your visit to Arab capitals. I particularly appreciated your thoughtfulness in sending Foreign Secretary Nikezic to deliver the letter personally. This gave us a welcome opportunity to talk with him about this most serious problem, to the solution of which you have devoted such tireless effort. Our representatives will be continuing to exchange views, particularly in New York, during the coming period, and Foreign Secretary Nikezic and Secretary Rusk will themselves have further opportunity to meet during the General Assembly session. However, I would like to make some observations myself concerning your report and the problem with which it is concerned.
It appears to us that the key to the situation is that both sides agree on principles and conduct which provide conditions for a durable peace. It is in this light that we have studied your proposals. The relationship of withdrawal and the cessation of the state of belligerency is obviously fundamental. Withdrawal without accompanying actions by those concerned which ended the state of belligerency and acknowledged Israel’s right to exist in peace and security would only reestablish the situation which existed prior to the recent war. What is now needed is acceptance by the parties that each nation in the area is entitled to live within accepted, recognized and secure state boundaries—a principle to which we all subscribed in signing the UN Charter.
We believe a useful expression of this principle is embodied in the US–USSR draft resolution, and that the Yugoslav proposal falls considerably short of it. Here there is both equivalence and a simultaneity of action. We do not claim that withdrawal should come last any more than we believe it can come first. It must come together with an actual [Page 828] end to belligerency. There must be real and effective progress in both respects at the same time so that fulfillment of the objectives of both sides may be guaranteed.
You note that the Arabs feel the US interprets the draft resolution to imply a change of frontiers to their detriment. We have no preconceptions on frontiers as such. What we believe to be important is that the frontiers be secure. For this the single most vital condition is that they be acceptable to both sides.
It is a source of regret to us that the Arabs appear to misunderstand our proposal and misread our motives. It would be a real contribution to the cause of ultimate peace in the area if you, with your close contacts in the Arab capitals, could help dispel such misunderstandings.
The second point of your approach is a guarantee by the Security Council or the four great powers. We have given careful study to this proposal. We inevitably come back to the central point which is that the essential element is agreement by the parties themselves. The device of having the Security Council declare no belligerency has been tried before and has not been effective. Guarantees could serve as auxiliary insurance as necessary. In themselves they cannot meet the need for an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist, and for renunciation by the Arab States and by Israel of any claims of belligerent rights. We do agree with you, however, that the Arabs would not need for this purpose to recognize Israel formally.
In your third and fourth points you deal with the waterways. As you propose, the Strait of Tiran should be open to all shipping. So, in our judgment, should the Suez Canal, as required by the 1888 Convention3 and the Security Council resolution of 1951.4 We see no point in remitting either of these questions to litigation instead of permanently resolving the issues involved by international agreement. To postpone dealing with them and with the refugees until after other aspects of the problem have been settled risks permitting these two critical problems to be perpetuated indefinitely.
You report in your letter that as a result of your trip you are further convinced that the Arab countries must have adequate defense capabilities. We believe both the Arabs and the Israelis should have the capacity to defend themselves but that arms should not be maintained at such a level as to be a source of tension and danger. It is our firm conviction that it would be in the interests of all countries in the area and would [Page 829] advance the cause of lasting peace if the flow of arms to all those countries involved in the recent hostilities were to be restricted; we hope that the suppliers of arms to the region will exercise due restraint in this regard.
In the weeks and months ahead, which will be so critical for the future of the Middle East, the United States will continue to work for solutions designed to advance the long-run interests of all people of the area, Arabs and Israelis alike. I would again recall to you the statement I made on June 19 which reflects the policy of my government and which I am firmly convinced is in the interests of peace.
In conclusion, let me again express my appreciation for this frank contact with you concerning your discussions with Arab leaders.
- Source: Johnson Library, Special Head of State Correspondence File, Yugoslavia—President Correspondence. No classification marking. Telegram 38996, September 18, which transmitted the text of the letter to Belgrade indicates that it was drafted by Arthur R. Day (UNP). (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR) Telegram 917 from Belgrade, September 20, indicates that the Charge delivered the letter that day. Tito stated that he had visited the Middle East in the hope of convincing the Arabs of the necessity of seeking a political solution. He thought he had succeeded, although it was “no easy task” to convince Arab leaders on this point. He further stated that he had told the Arab leaders that Israel was a reality from which one must proceed. (Ibid.)↩
- See footnote 2, Document 432.↩
- The Constantinople Convention of 1888; see footnotes 4 and 5, Document 271.↩
- A Security Council resolution of September 1, 1951 (UN document S/2322), called upon Egypt to terminate restrictions on the passage of international commercial shipping and goods through the Suez Canal. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. V, pp. 848–849.↩