465. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1
- King Faisal’s Reaction to Your Letter2
Since you’ve now seen King Hussein’s somewhat bitter letter,3 you will also want to be aware of King Faisal’s testy reaction to your recent letter. Both reflect Arab feeling that we have let them down and are taking a pro-Israeli line by not pressing Israel to withdraw as we did in 1957. Ambassador Eilts reports that he had about as difficult a session with Faisal as he’s ever had when he presented your letter.4
Faisal is sensitive about our intimating that the Arabs didn’t go far enough at Khartoum. He feels we don’t understand the risks Arab leaders are taking by any show of moderation toward Israel.[Page 887]
He, like Hussein, clearly sees Israel as the aggressor. He’s no longer willing to admit that Arab provocation played a role in bringing on the June war.
Significantly, he says he’d be willing to end the “state of belligerency” provided Israel recognized such Arab rights as the refugees’ right to go home. He, like Hussein, feels we’re asking them to give up their hole card—ending the state of war—in return for Israeli troop withdrawal but not for settlement of their main long-term grievances. (This same theme creeps into Hussein’s report that Nasser now links opening the Canal with a refugee settlement.)
At the root of Faisal’s reaction are 20 years of frustration beginning with the UN resolution creating Israel, which he believes came about only as a result of US pressure. He was at the UN himself in 1948 and speaks from deep personal conviction. Ever since, with the exception of 1956–57, he believes we have leaned toward Israel. He just doesn’t believe—no matter how many times we say it—that we can’t influence Israel.
Jerusalem is his most sensitive spot. As guardian of Islam’s holy places, he believes he has a special obligation. Our abstention on the Jerusalem resolutions in July hit him especially hard—as it did most Moslems.
Eilts did his best to calm Faisal, but he was clearly upset. He may relax a little when he has time to reflect.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Saudi Arabia, Vol. II. Secret. A handwritten “L” on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.↩
- For President Johnson’s September 25 letter to King Faisal, see Document 447.↩
- See Document 462.↩
- Eilts said this in telegram 1357 from Jidda, October 5, commenting on the meeting with Faisal the previous day at which he presented the President’s letter. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR)↩