441. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Rostow) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Reflections on my talks about Middle Eastern Problems in Europe between

September 10–16, 1967

This memorandum is an attempt to see the forest through a TWA window en route home.

Except in England, discussion of the Middle Eastern crisis as we are accustomed to see it—as a prolonged “Cuban missile crisis” with the Soviet Union, not primarily an Arab-Israeli affair—provoked interest and surprise, but not resistance or dissent. All were agreed that Europe failed to meet its responsibilities, and to protect its own interests during [Page 830] the crisis, and that the lessons of this mistake, on our part and theirs, should be taken into account now in devising more effective methods of political consultation and crisis management, ad hoc and through the Harmel exercise report. The cream of the jest was Schuetz’ question to me last night: “Why didn’t you press us to act?”

In general, most people agreed that the political situation with regard to the Middle East is moving, and moving on the whole in the right direction. But they also agreed that there are risks. There is no sign yet of action. It will take a number of steps to minimize the risks, and maximize the opportunities, both in the field and in the UN.

The Soviets seem to have decelerated. They are not so conspicuous as they were in Egypt and Algeria. Manifestly, Nasser is not following their suggestions slavishly (i.e., the Canal, the opening to the West, Alexandria). On the other hand, the Soviets seem to be disengaging from their tentative agreement with us at the end of the Assembly. Arms shipments continue, with their implicit menace, accentuated by Heikal’s threat that war is inevitable unless a miracle occurs. And there are reports of Soviet advisers, arms offers in the Yemen, etc.

For the moment, like nearly every other player on the stage, the Soviets are saying, “It’s your move”, in the context of the tentative hypothesis that we both want a relaxation of Middle Eastern tensions. Like the others, too, they seem to have forgotten that we tabled a Resolution in the Security Council—a Resolution still on the agenda, and still unvoted.

The British are talking less about the Canal, but they are still pressing for quick action, and hinting that if we fail to obtain either the US–USSR Resolution or its equivalent in their Security Council, they, like other middle powers, may change their position in quest of a deal.

It is a cliche of the newspapers, and accepted wisdom, that the Israeli position is “hardening”. We examined the subject with the British experts at some length, and then with Ambassador Barbour. All agreed that the Israeli position was still officially exactly what is was when they first laid it out to us. They agree that political currents in Israel are equivocal, but on the whole tended more towards “hangover” than “euphoria”. Ambassador Barbour explicitly agrees with Evron’s evaluation, stated in his (carefully planned) lunch with me,2 that the question of Jerusalem is negotiable, as the final item of a politically important settlement with Jordan.

Everyone who professed to have an opinion about the trend in Egypt had roughly the same opinion: (a) that Nasser was still in charge, and was not yet quite a complete Soviet prisoner; (b) that on the whole [Page 831] the signs from Khartoum are pretty good—they surely could have been worse with regard to the West, and to relations among the Arabs—although there was less agreement about their implications for a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Arabs. (It may be, some thought, that the purpose of Khartoum was to separate us and the British from the Israelis, or in any event to separate the British from us and the Israelis); and (c) that Egypt has not yet made a single clear step.

It is hard to tell whether the Egyptian position is “hardening”, since Egypt has never taken an official position. We don’t even know whether Egypt would support the Tito draft. But so far the Egyptian posture is largely atmosphere, without a clearly defined statement of terms or of procedures for reaching them. We are told that Egypt prefers a “political” solution, although it warns that war is “inevitable” unless we obtain Israeli troop withdrawal. But the substance and the scenario for such a result are unstated. Here again, their question is, what do we propose?

There is an aspect of the Egyptian position we might be able to use as an opener with them: they say it would be humiliating for them to negotiate with Israel and that they will not do so. We might ask them in reply how they imagine reaching a political settlement without negotiating, at least through third parties. They negotiated, after all, in 1948 and 1956.

Assuming that the cease fire holds, there are two possible roads forward: (a) more United Nations debates and votes or (b) negotiations, bilateral or multilateral, secret or public, in New York or elsewhere. The two procedures are not necessarily alternatives. The goal of the United Nations after all, is peace, not the production of Resolutions. Thus far, at least, the sessions of the Security Council and the General Assembly have had the effect of preventing, not encouraging the process of negotiation.

I believe all our weight from now on should be to promote negotiation, and to direct UN votes and debates to that end.


Now let me turn to the more specific issues discussed at one or another capital during my trip.

1. Defensive Steps.

(a) My interlocutors agreed that all of us should keep talking with Tito, in order to move him as rapidly as possible and as far as possible from his five points, and towards our five principles, in which the Yugoslavs profess to believe. Some people think we shall face another Yugoslav Resolution in the Assembly; others think Tito will not sponsor a Resolution unless he is sure it can win, and probably not unless it has [Page 832] our support in advance. All agree there is a risk, however, that he will sponsor a bad resolution, and that there is some risk of erosion in the Security Council or the Assembly, where the yearning for a settlement is strong, and frustration, boredom, impatience and worse are increasingly evident. The British carefully articulated that risk as to themselves. The sense of frustration is likely to be translated into pressure on the Israelis to do something they won’t do, and we won’t want to ask them to do since it is so hard to get a concession from the UAR.

There are some positive potentialities as well as risks in Tito’s activities. He does have influence in Egypt. He might be able to accomplish something.

In any event, the people I met (a) affirmatively wanted not to shut the door in Tito’s face; (b) hoped an orchestrated dialogue with Tito would move him to a position of utility, or of less disutility, thus hopefully preventing a rough round in the UN. I said in this connection that we hadn’t yet altogether made up our minds on how to handle Tito; but that I should be inclined to recommend the effort, on prudential grounds. But I added that we all ought to remember that it might be harder to hold off a more “moderate”, plausible but still unsatisfactory Tito Resolution than one which is visibly unfair and unrealistic.

2. Jerusalem.

The two Jerusalem Resolutions have been passed. The Secretary General has sent Thalman3 out to Palestine. A report has been filed.4 Most people agreed that a piecemeal approach, dealing separately at this point with the Jerusalem problem in isolation, made no sense and could do no particular good. On the other hand, I heard no strong voices of resistance to another Resolution. All hoped we could get by without one, and in any event persuade the Pakistanis and the Jordanians to put up a text that could be understood—a text consistent with our own position—if there has to be a Jerusalem Resolution.

We shall face pressure at home to vote “with the Arabs for once” if a Jerusalem Resolution does come up. The Europeans are not very staunch on this subject, although they are sympathetic, and some of the Dutch at least are knowledgeable.

I recommend that we pursue low-level talks about possible texts with the Pakistanis, as a precaution. It ought to be possible to get a text we might approve tactically, for purposes of such a Resolution.

[Page 833]

3. Initiatives

A. The United Nations.

There was general—though not universal—agreement that the West should move forward soon in the Security Council to obtain the best possible Resolution calling for the appointment of a Special Representative to talk to the parties.

Everyone thought that on the whole we should probe the Soviets well before the Assembly to ascertain whether they would go back on our understanding about the Draft Resolution. Even the appearance of a Soviet-American front should nudge the process forward.

If that draft fades, what do we do? The Israelis, of course, would prefer doing nothing in New York, until they reach Hussein and Nasser. The British urge Security Council action as soon as possible, preferably on the basis of the US–USSR draft, otherwise on any basis that might open the Canal.

I pointed out the risks of such a course. The Egyptians are openly ignoring their international obligations under the Treaty.5 No one is saying a word on the subject. If now we make a deal, offering Nasser a reward for his sins, we prepare the way badly for serious negotiations later. We know that no partial, Suez—only Resolution will work; if we waste time and effort on such a non-starter, we simply postpone the day of movement on the one problem that could begin troop withdrawals: a declaration of non-belligerency. I raised the only-half facetious thought of a leak to the press to the effect that we were talking to the Soviets about moving the cease-fire line five miles West of the Canal if the UAR continues to ignore its obligations under the Convention. Such a story could help bring talk back to the real world—and indeed, action along these lines would be the quickest way to open the Canal!

B. Direct Negotiations.

This subject was discussed only in London, with the British, with David Bruce, and with Ambassador Barbour, whom I met there Saturday6 morning.

Clearly, the British put a higher priority on getting Nasser started than on Hussein. They are probing Nasser’s recent trial balloon about opening a dialogue with them.

There was very little talk about what concrete suggestions could or should be made to stir Nasser into action, either by us, by the British or by the Yugoslavs. I told the British simply that we were thinking about how to answer Cairo’s request for “modalities”, but hadn’t yet decided [Page 834] what to say, and with what degree of formality. We want to avoid “creeping recognition”.

Problems in connection with the possibility of negotiation between Israel and Jordan are discussed in a separate memorandum.

And I shall shortly circulate a rough sketch of a memorandum or talking points we might use in responding to the requests of the Soviets, the Saudis, the Egyptians, and others, as to what we think might be done now.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Secret. Copies were sent to Katzenbach, Kohler, Harriman, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Joseph Palmer II, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs John M. Leddy, Battle, Hughes, Sisco, Meeker, Chairman of the Policy Planning Council Henry D. Owen, Julius C. Holmes, who was heading a special State-Defense Study Group on the region, Walt Rostow, Goldberg, and pouched to London, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Amman, and Paris NATUS.
  2. Rostow’s luncheon meeting with Evron on August 22 was reported in telegram 25406 from Tel Aviv, August 23. (Ibid., POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR/SANDSTORM)
  3. Ambassador Ernesto A. Thalmann of Switzerland was named by the Secretary-General as his Personal Representative to obtain information on the situation in Jerusalem as a basis for the report requested by General Assembly Resolution 2254 (ES–V) of July 14, 1967.
  4. For text of the Secretary-General’s report of September 12 on the situation in Jerusalem, see UN document S/8146 (A/6793).
  5. The Constantinople Convention of 1888; see footnotes 4 and 5, Document 271.
  6. September 16.