456. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Luncheon Hosted by Mr. Goldstein in the Fish Room at The White House, 1:00 p.m., 4 October 1967


  • Ambassador Abdul-Hamid Sharaf, Jordan
  • Ambassador Talat Al-Ghoussein, Kuwait
  • Ambassador Ibrahim Hussein El-Ahdab, Lebanon
  • Ambassador Ibrahim Al-Sowayel, Saudi Arabia
  • Ambassador Rachid Driss, Tunisia
  • Ambassador Fathi Abidia, Libya
  • Ambassador James W. Symington
  • Mr. Walt W. Rostow
  • Mr. E. Ernest Goldstein
  • Assistant Secretary of State Lucius D. Battle
  • Mr. Harold H. Saunders

The Vice President came in part way through the luncheon

The President joined the group at the end of the meal for twenty minutes

Before the President came in, there was a general conversation with the Vice President and Mr. Rostow striking generally the following themes:

[Omitted here is discussion concerning the possibilities of technology, communications, and regional cooperation.]

When the President entered, he explained—because he had just come from a session with Secretary Fowler—his problems with the Congress over budget cutting. This introductory part of the discussion ended when the Ambassador of Kuwait responded by thanking the President for giving the Ambassadors an opportunity to meet with him. The Ambassador concluded by suggesting to the President that now is a time of great opportunity in the Middle East for the US to make an important move for peace. In the ensuing discussion, the President made generally the following points: [Page 871]

He felt he understood the problems and positions of the Arab countries and welcomed hearing the Ambassadors’ ideas and suggestions. He said he continues to be deeply immersed in the problem of achieving peace in the Middle East and pledged the continuing concern of Secretary Rusk, Ambassador Goldberg, Mr. Battle and other U.S. officials in the search for peace.
In response to Ambassador Al-Ghoussein’s point, the President described our difficulty in arranging a peace settlement:
  • —He cited the advice he had received from an older man early in his career: “You can tell a man to go to hell, but making him go there is different thing entirely.” He said he had tried in May to persuade President Nasser not to go to war, but that didn’t work. He had pleaded with Foreign Minister Eban not to go to war, but that didn’t work. Now making Israel pull back is easier said than done.
  • —He had found in situations like this again and again that one party to a dispute urging a third party to become involved always assumed that the third party had influence over the second party that the third party did not have over the first party itself. For instance, the President said Senator A asks him to use influence with Senator B that Senator A knows the President doesn’t have over Senator A himself. The same is true in the Arab-Israeli dispute.
  • —There is some similarity to a marriage. Once it gets into trouble, a third party may be useful in salvaging it but that third party risks the worst kind of abuse for meddling.
In response to the Ambassador of Jordan, he said he continued to support strongly the territorial integrity of all states in the area. However, he repeatedly linked this with the other four principles stated on 19 June. By way of analogy, he noted that he was having iced tea with the Ambassadors but that he did not consider this his whole lunch but would have a hamburger and some ice cream later on. Similarly he could not talk about the territorial integrity without returning to the other four principles of peace which he had stated over and over again. He implied further that he could not make the Israelis withdraw no matter how much he believed in territorial integrity.
He did not see how a settlement could be reached if the parties to the dispute could not “reason together.” He said he had spent most of his life trying to get people to reason together and find areas of agreement, but so far he had not succeeded in this case.
He reiterated our desire for peace. Alluding to charges by some Arab governments that we had attacked them on 5 June, he recalled the Russians saying to him at one point that one problem in Vietnam is that no one believes us when we say we will withdraw and we have no long range intention of staying. The President said it is absolutely true that we have no such intention but the problem was making people believe that. Similarly, in the Middle East, he had found it difficult to convince [Page 872] people that we are sincere in our desire for peace and have no other motives.
The President concluded by quoting a story about Charles Lamb who, on reading a distasteful story, threw the book on the floor and said of its author, “I hate that man.” His wife retorted, “How do you know? You don’t even know him.” Lamb replied, “If I knew him, I’d like him.” The President said his purpose in wanting to visit with the Ambassadors was for everyone to get to know each other a little better in the hope that “when we know each other, we will like each other.”

In the course of the conversation, the Ambassador of Lebanon picked up one of the President’s analogies. The President had said he couldn’t tell his daughters whom to marry and when. In fact, he said with a smile, he couldn’t even pick the preacher for the wedding. The Lebanese Ambassador said that the West had been the preacher at an earlier marriage in the Middle East and that what the Arab countries were asking for was for the preacher to return as a counselor now that the marriage was in trouble.

The Jordanian Ambassador made the most articulate—and most moving—Arab presentation. He began by saying that the problem, of course, had its roots but he did not want to argue history. His main concern was that the Government of the United States over the years had solemnly reiterated its support for territorial integrity to all the states in the area. The Arab governments feel they have a right to expect the Government of the United States to honor that pledge. They have been deeply hurt that we have not. He pointed out that half of Jordan is occupied and that, while the Government of Jordan is willing to discuss the elements of peace, it is impossible for it to negotiate while its territory is occupied. All this was said in the most moderate and inoffensive way possible and it was in response that the President responded that we continue to support strongly the principle of territorial integrity but that the problem of putting that support in practice was a difficult one which we had not yet solved.

Harold H. Saunders2
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Saunders Files, Middle East, 9/1/67–10/31/67. Confidential; Exdis. This copy of the memorandum is filed with a copy of an October 5 memorandum from Saunders to Battle enclosing the original for Battle’s approval. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the President arrived early in the luncheon, accompanied by Vice President Humphrey, Secretary Rusk, and Secretary McNamara. After introductions were made, the President, Rusk, and McNamara departed, while the Vice President remained and joined the group for lunch. The President returned after lunch.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.