447. Letter From President Johnson to King Faisal1
In view of my continuing close concern with the difficult situation in the Near East, I particularly welcomed your thoughtful letter of September 62 and have carefully considered Your Majesty’s views. Our warm personal relationship permits us to speak as friends, and I would like to reply in the same spirit of frankness and constructive concern which characterized Your Majesty’s own message.
I agree that the recent Khartoum conference marked notable progress for the forces of Arab moderation. Your Majesty’s own statesmanlike role at these meetings was a major contribution to this result.
I am especially encouraged by the decision to liquidate the longstanding Yemen problem. It will, I hope, mark the beginning of a return to stability in Southwest Arabia in which both your country and mine are so deeply interested. I congratulate Your Majesty warmly on this happy result of your long efforts, as well as on the progress already discernible in implementing the decision.
The decision to lift the oil embargo was also welcome. This action has removed a complicating factor in relations between the Arab countries and the West which was not of our making. American public opinion has reacted favorably to this evidence of Arab desire to return to business as usual.
The Khartoum decisions regarding an Arab-Israel settlement are more difficult for us to evaluate. The final communiqué states what the Arabs will not do but, except by indirection, is silent on what the Arabs [Page 847] may be willing to do. The Arab decision to turn away from a military solution is most welcome. But the absence of any statement on the key issue of belligerency leaves a major obstacle to settlement unresolved.
Frankly, we do not see how one party can continue to invoke rights of belligerency while attempting to impose on the other obligations of a state of peace. An Israeli withdrawal, unaccompanied by appropriate assurances from the Arabs, would seem to us prejudicial to Israel’s territorial integrity, in which we are as interested as we are in the integrity of each Arab state. Return to the unstable armistice existing before June 4, 1967, can hardly be in anyone’s interest, since this very instability led to such grave consequences.
I believe what is needed is a more permanent settlement to which all governments in the area would in some manner be committed. Only this result will assure peace and progress for the region in which both the Arabs and Israelis must live together.
The draft resolution tentatively agreed upon by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Emergency Session of the General Assembly, linking troop withdrawal to an end of belligerency and renunciation of attendant rights or claims by all the parties, could in our view be a useful basis for such a settlement. The United States Government has, however, no fixed position as to exactly how a settlement may be achieved. In this connection, when I spoke on June 19 of the need to recognize rights of national life, I of course meant the acceptance by each state of its neighbor’s right to exist free from any menace of belligerency. I was not prejudging the question of formal recognition.
The United States Government played a central role in bringing about Israeli withdrawal in 1957, but at that time no such mutually accepted basis for coexistence was established. Those arrangements accordingly did not endure. I do not think it possible to travel the same road again. In our view, those who inhabit the area must themselves take the primary responsibility for finding a mutually acceptable basis on which coexistence is tolerable. This naturally applies to both sides, and we are, of course, ready to help when it is clear what concrete steps are envisaged.
I cannot stress too strongly to Your Majesty that our principles—which I outlined publicly on June 19—are designed to be both even-handed and beneficial to all parties concerned. We oppose threats or use of force by both Arabs and Israelis. On the basis of those principles, we favor Israeli withdrawal and an end to military or paramilitary actions by either side. Above all, we see a vision of the better life which peace would bring to all the people of the Middle East.
Our position is not based on transient considerations, such as the attitude towards us of certain Arab states, but rather on an assessment [Page 848] of what we believe is required to prevent yet another round of warfare at some later date. We naturally hope that those Arab states that have broken relations with us will soon manifest an attitude towards us that will permit relations to return to normal. It is hard to have understanding without contact, and restoration of our relations with these Arab countries would be helpful. But we believe that realism and willingness to compromise by the parties directly concerned are the basic ingredients needed to end the present Arab-Israel impasse.
In closing, I should emphasize to Your Majesty that I continue to value highly our close and friendly relations with you and your government. We will try at the coming session of the United Nations to help find some way to resolve the current difficulties. Meanwhile, I welcome our continuing personal exchanges as a means of strengthening our mutual understanding of the great difficulties which still lie ahead.
All best personal regards,
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence File, Saudi Arabia. No classification marking. Walt Rostow sent a draft of the letter to the President with a covering memorandum of September 19 stating that the Arab leaders at Khartoum had commissioned Faisal to write to him, and the draft letter was thus “our response to Khartoum.” He commented that at Khartoum the Arabs had taken “a first short step toward realism and, while it isn’t enough, we don’t want to throw such cold water on it that we discourage further efforts or cause our friends to give up all hope of sympathy from us.” (Ibid., Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 43) A copy of the draft was sent to Bundy with a September 21 memorandum from Saunders that states the President had written Rostow a note asking him to be sure Rusk and Bundy were “on board on this one.” Bundy’s handwritten revisions appear on that copy of the draft. (Ibid., NSC Special Committee Files, Saudi Arabia) Telegram 45719 to Jidda, September 28, transmitted the text to Jidda for delivery. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 SUDAN) Telegram 1356 from Jidda, October 5, reported that Ambassador Eilts had presented the letter that day. (Ibid., POL 27 ARAB–ISR)↩
- For text of the King’s letter, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXI, Document 301.↩