455. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1


  • Your Talk with Arab Ambassadors—Wednesday, October 4

As background for your meeting with the Arab Ambassadors at Ernie Goldstein’s2 lunch, the following describes the tactical situation [Page 867] which will be uppermost in their minds. I’m also attaching talking points and sketches of each Ambassador and his problems.3

The situation, in a nutshell, is that the key Arabs have just about agreed to the US–USSR draft resolution linking Israeli withdrawal with the end of belligerency. Now the focus is shifting to defining what practical steps would be needed to carry out such a resolution. Neither we nor the Israelis want to settle for mere words. As we begin to spell out possible follow-up steps, this comes as a new shock to the Arabs, who see it as further evidence of our backing Israeli demands. In detail:

The Arabs decided at Khartoum to try regaining their lost territories by political rather than by military means, and they turned Nasser and Hussein loose to see what they could get. As a group, they showed no real change of heart about Israel and not much realism about the kinds of concessions they might have to make to get a settlement.

Nasser and Hussein decided Saturday4 to accept the substance of the draft US–USSR resolution, but they still aren’t thinking seriously about steps to implement such a resolution. Hussein is in Moscow with Nasser’s proxy to persuade the USSR to approach us on reviving a slightly revised version of the July resolution. Ayub, also in Moscow, will back Hussein.

The USSR. Foreign Minister Gromyko confirmed to Secretary Rusk that our joint July draft resolution is still the basis of their position, but he felt we were interpreting it differently on (1) the type of follow-up we expected from the Arabs and (2) Suez Canal passage for Israeli ships. Gromyko left the impression that he could support any solution Nasser would accept. He agreed that the trick is to find a formula for ending belligerency that the Arabs won’t find humiliating.
The British. Wilson is hard pressed to get the Suez Canal open. Caradon has suggested aiming for a Security Council meeting next week, just to show movement.5 But both Eban and Goldberg urged him to slow down until there is a wider consensus on the wording and meaning of a resolution. Meanwhile, the British are moving to resume relations with the UAR.
The Israelis are generally satisfied with our cautious strategy in New York, though they’ve repeated their serious reservations about the US-Soviet draft. They recognize that the Arabs at Khartoum faced up to the reality of their defeat and believe that letting more time pass is the [Page 868] only way to force them to face up to the further steps they must take to reach a real settlement. They object strongly to the US-Soviet draft resolution because they believe the Soviets and Arabs would read it as requiring withdrawal to 4 June borders. This would not give them latitude to negotiate the “reasonable and secure boundaries” you spoke of on June 19.
Our position is still evolving. In New York, Secretary Rusk and Arthur Goldberg have been saying that the US-Soviet draft is a good starting point. We’ve also been pointing out, however, that any such resolution is only half of the equation. It’s no good unless everyone agrees in advance how he will follow up. These are the questions we will be answering for ourselves in the next days:
Do we stick with the US-Soviet draft ourselves? Ambassador Goldberg on August 12 explained this draft to you and discussed Israeli objections.6 The fact that Nasser and Hussein want the Russians to try a slightly revised version on us (to justify reversing the earlier Arab rejection) may give us a chance to take account of some of Israel’s concerns. We don’t want to get stuck forcing Israel back to 4 June borders as a matter of principle, but we will probably have to work from the July draft.
Where should we focus the UN discussion—in the General Assembly or the Security Council? The Arabs may push for a Security Council resolution so they won’t be forced to vote on it. The bleakest interpretation of their motives is that they would then feel free to ignore it. The best is that Nasser and Hussein want to avoid voting so they can make a private deal free from Arab scrutiny. We’re still undecided, but Goldberg told Caradon we favor going to the Security Council only if there is prior agreement among the parties involved on what it means. Eban agrees.
Whose side does time serve? Should we push? Right now, we’re waiting for the Arabs to play out their negotiations with the Russians and to come to us. This squares with Eban’s approach. However, we don’t think time is on our side. Time will make it harder for any Israeli government to give up the security which present borders provide. Time works against us in the Arab world because the longer Israel sits on occupied territory, the harder it will be to convince friendlier Arabs that we’re not reneging on our commitment to territorial integrity. Therefore, we’ve hinted to the Jordanians that they ought to get serious about working out a deal with the Israelis that could carry out any UN resolution.

What’s on the Arab Ambassadors’ minds boils down to one big question: Will we make good on our pledge to support the territorial integrity of all states in the Middle East?

Our best answer is that we stand by that pledge, but the only way to make good on it is to have a genuine peace. The tough question is whether we’d force Israel back to 4 June borders if the Arabs accepted terms that amounted to an honest peace settlement. Secretary Rusk told the Yugoslav Foreign Minister: “The US had no problem with frontiers as they existed before the outbreak of hostilities. If we are talking about national frontiers—in a state of peace—then we will work toward restoring them.”7 But we all know that could lead to a tangle with the Israelis.

Jerusalem is an equally important but separate issue. Our basic position is that we won’t go along with unilateral changes and the people on the ground are best able to work out practical arrangements. Beyond that, these principles make sense:

  • —No one wants Jerusalem divided by barbed wire again.
  • —All religions must have access.
  • —It’s logical for Jordan to resume a role as custodian of the Islamic Holy Places.
  • —It’s also logical that Jordan should continue to share the economic gains from tourists in Jerusalem.

Our purpose at lunch. The most important thing you can accomplish is to give these Ambassadors the feeling that you haven’t closed your mind to them and that you honestly feel our position serves their long-term interest in peace.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, President’s Appointment File, October 4, 1967. Secret; Nodis. A handwritten “L” on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Special Assistant to the President E. Ernest Goldstein.
  3. None of the attachments is printed.
  4. September 30.
  5. Telegram 1124 from USUN, September 30, reported that Caradon had suggested this to Goldberg that day. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR/UN)
  6. No other record of this conversation has been found.
  7. Rusk met with Foreign Minister Nikezic on August 30. According to telegram 30825 to Belgrade, September 1, which summarizes the conversation, Rusk said the key to a settlement was to end the state of war and belligerence and that if a way could be found to deal with this, other things would fall into place; the difference between pre-June 5 positions and secure national boundaries was an important difference. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR)