484. Letter From President Johnson to Premier Kosygin1

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I fully share the concern expressed in your letter of October 20 about the continued tense atmosphere in the Near East and the lack of [Page 936] progress toward a political settlement in that area. I cannot, however, subscribe to your assessment of the causes or to your inaccurate description of United States policy.

The explosive nature of the situation was dramatically underscored by the news of the sinking of an Israeli destroyer in the eastern Mediterranean by an Egyptian patrol boat equipped with surface-to-surface missiles. This act of war was the most serious of a series of threats and counter-threats, acts of terrorism, and hostile deployments of armed forces during recent weeks. The situation calls for the best efforts of both of us and of others to secure strict observance of the existing cease-fire and to exercise restraint in the provision of arms to the countries in the Near Eastern area.

Unlike the Soviet Union, the United States has for many years followed a policy of restraint in the arms field, a policy which has been even more restrained since the hostilities of last June. However, the continued flow of massive quantities of Soviet arms to certain States in the area has created a situation very difficult for others to ignore. While we have sought and will continue to seek to limit the arms race, the continued flow of Soviet arms will necessarily bring about some response by various countries in and out of the region. We may well have to resume shipments of arms ourselves to some of the Arab countries as well as to Israel. In these circumstances I would again propose that the Soviet Government agree with us that arms supplies to the Near Eastern countries should be registered with the United Nations. I would be glad if we could go on from there toward an agreement on an effective arms limitation program which would diminish the dangers and permit the countries of the Near Eastern area to use their limited resources for their much needed economic development. I assure you that we are prepared to undertake immediately serious discussions towards this end.

As for political settlement, my Government has been doing its part for peace in every forum, at every level and at every hour, both before and since the outbreak of hostilities. We have consistently upheld the principles which I stated publicly and repeated to you at Glassboro:

  • First, the recognized right of national life;
  • Second, justice for the refugees;
  • Third, innocent maritime passage;
  • Fourth, limits on the wasteful and destructive arms race; and
  • Fifth, political independence and territorial integrity for all.

We were guided by these principles when our representatives in New York worked out jointly with your representatives, toward the close of the Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly, alternative drafts of a resolution which would bring about force withdrawals, [Page 937] an end to the state of belligerency between Israel and its Arab neighbors and establishment of a stable basis for peace in the Near East. We were prepared to have either of those drafts presented and adopted by the Emergency General Assembly, but, as you know, this was not possible because of objections from certain Arab countries.2 We have attached no new conditions or new interpretations, nor have we weakened our adherence to any understandings with your government or other governments. On the other hand, we have been surprised that your representatives in New York have been circulating to delegations at the current General Assembly drafts, the texts of which do not conform to those agreed in the Emergency Session. I believe it is desirable that our representatives in New York continue their consultations to try to clear up any misunderstandings. We should ascertain whether we do not in fact agree on underlying policies.3

I believe that the opportunity is before us to move forward. Recently representatives of some of the Arab States have stated to our representatives that an acceptable resolution of the Security Council can be formulated on the basis of the five principles of peace set forth in my statement on June 19. This could be implemented by a special United Nations representative working with the parties on the basis of such a framework. My representatives in turn have made it clear that this would be an acceptable way to make progress toward peace in the area.

The same Arab representatives have said that the best way to achieve the objective of securing an acceptable Security Council resolution would be for the non-permanent members of the Council to proceed promptly to draft a resolution along these lines. My representatives assured the Arab states concerned that we would of course cooperate wholeheartedly in their effort.4 We have confirmed that position both to the President of the Security Council and to Deputy Foreign Minister Kuznetsov in New York.

[Page 938]

Mr. Chairman, I stated to you at Glassboro that the first and greatest principle of peace is that every nation in the area has the fundamental right to live free from claims and acts of war and belligerency and to have this right respected by its neighbors. I welcome your statement of belief in this principle. Equally, there need be no doubt of the United States position that troops must be withdrawn. But there must also be, as I made clear in my statement of June 19 and again directly to you at Glassboro, recognized rights of national life, guarantees of the freedom of innocent maritime passage in international waterways, limitation of the arms race, a solution to the refugee problem and respect for the political independence and territorial integrity of all states in the area.

Mr. Chairman, in a context of peace, no state is justified in either refusing to withdraw its forces from the territory of another state or claiming the right to assert or pursue a state of belligerence against another state.

On this common basis, which we believe is acceptable to the great majority of the world community at the United Nations, there should be no difficulty in fashioning a resolution which will promote negotiations through the good offices of the United Nations in order to bring about a just and durable peace in which every state in the area can be assured security.


Lyndon B. Johnson
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Nodis. Filed with a memorandum of an October 24 conversation between Dobrynin and Kohler at which Kohler handed the letter to Dobrynin. The memorandum of conversation includes the text in translation of an oral message in Russian that Dobrynin gave Kohler. It reads as follows: “The Soviet Government believes it would be beneficial now to have a confidential [Note: also carrying the sense of authoritative] exchange of views concerning a political settlement in the Near East. We proceed from the assumption that such a confidential exchange of views would better assist the task of settlement. In this we see purpose in possible consultations between representatives of our two states. The aim of our approach is to find a path leading to the settlement of the Near East crisis through common efforts on the basis of respect and due regard for the lawful rights and interest of all states of this region. Of course, such a course of action can only be successful in circumstances of appropriate mutuality of efforts undertaken.” Brackets in the original quote.

    Drafts of the letter to Kosygin, along with related materials, are in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence File, USSR, Kosygin Correspondence, Vol. I.

  2. In the text of the draft letter included in Document 483, this sentence and the following sentence read: “We were prepared to have either of those drafts presented to and adopted by the Emergency General Assembly when, because of objections from certain Arab countries the Soviet side withdrew its support. We would still be prepared to go ahead with those drafts which we considered joint ones and not, as you state in your letter, the United States ‘own proposals.’”
  3. In the text of the draft letter cited above, this sentence reads: “We should ascertain whether we do not in fact agree on underlying policies and determine whether we can achieve agreement promptly on a Security Council resolution which would help move the parties toward peace.”
  4. In the text of the draft letter cited above, this sentence reads: “My representatives assured the Arab states concerned that while we continue to adhere to our understanding of the provisional agreement we reached with your government in July, we should of course also cooperate wholeheartedly in their effort.”