51. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State1

5426. Subject: ME Crisis.

Although he had studiously avoided contact with other SC members during the day seeking to discuss ME crisis, Sov Rep Fedorenko saw Goldberg at his request on short notice at 7:30 p.m. May 23. Atmosphere was cordial despite obvious differences of approach.
Goldberg, who accompanied by Buffum, explained we had from beginning of this crisis sought to include Sovs in consultation including suggestion to SYG that he consult Sovs since we consider both of us have major responsibilities for preventing war in ME. He said our understanding, based on various talks with Sov officials including Gromyko, was that Sovs shared our view that war in this area was undesirable and it was in our joint interests to try and prevent it. Fedorenko agreed this was so.
Goldberg then explained reasons why we support convening May 23 SC to discuss issue and outlined approach we planned to take in Council mtg as follows: [Page 83]
Although SYG is in Cairo, we share Sov view that SC has primary responsibility for keeping the peace and believe it should not shirk this responsibility.
As result Nasser statement on closing Gulf of Aqaba and Eshkol’s announcement this wld constitute act of aggression, we are convinced current situation extremely fragile and cld erupt into hostilities momentarily.
Under circumstances while we wld not advocate giving SYG blank check, we think SC cld contribute to his efforts pacify situation by calling on parties to exercise maximum restraint and cooperate with U Thant’s efforts.
Another facet of current situation involving both Sovs and US, indeed all maritime powers, was Nasser’s decision not only to close entrance to Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping but also to prevent shipment of “strategic materials” through gulf. Over thirty countries involved in shipping via this route who, like ourselves, would be unwilling to submit to interception and inspection by UAR. We assumed USSR, as proud country, wld also be unwilling accept similar limitations. Goldberg said that if Dardanelles closed to Sov Union, for example, we cld imagine this cld create intolerable situation for them.
US approach in SC mtg wld be calm and unprovocative seeking maximum degree of agreement of Council members designed to facilitate U Thant’s efforts and not to impede them. We believe the maximum support of appeal for restraint by Council cld have salutary effect particularly if supported by both Sovs and US.
Fedorenko heard out Goldberg’s presentation in more serious vein than usual but demurred on several points. In particular, he argued that SC mtg not necessary now; various govts concerned, including our own, have just made statement on this issue which should suffice. Implying—but not saying—that Sovs had made bilateral approaches to Arabs, he said that what our govts do directly in a matter of this kind is much more important than what is done at UN. He professed view that SC likely inflame situation further, said he sees no need for SC to move so rapidly and expressed preference mtg be delayed until SYG ready to report. He acknowledges, however, right of members to request mtg under present circumstances and intimated that while he was opposed to holding mtg this evening as we had originally suggested, he wld acquiesce in mtg tomorrow (Goldberg assented re timing).
Fedorenko also recalled that Sov position in earlier days (1957) had held that entrance to Gulf of Aqaba was in Egyptian territorial waters and therefore under UAR control. He seemed unprepared to respond to Goldberg’s observation that past eleven years’ practice of free passage had proved, if anything necessary to do so, that Gulf of Aqaba is international passage. He also did not appear to have recognized that not only Israel but large number of maritime countries were directly involved by terms of Nasser’s closure of gulf.
He seemed to take at face value US assurance that our purpose in Council wld be to avoid polemics and seek non-contentious outcome designed to strengthen peace in ME and was remarkably mild in his protestations that SC mtg not necessary for this purpose.
At conclusion of mtg Fedorenko suggested we review situation tomorrow once more to ascertain real need of SC pursuing matter to conclusion now. Goldberg readily agreed, emphasizing once more that peace extremely precarious and that while we have urged Israel that confrontation shld be avoided, we had no assurance this was possible. Our one concern was to leave no channel unexplored for maintaining peace.
Interesting sidelight was Fedorenko’s almost open contempt for GA as reflected in his comments on lack of judgment and utility in convening special session on SWA; he has made similar disparaging remarks concerning GA in past.
He also seemed most susceptible to Goldberg’s argument that in crisis situation of this kind, if SC is to retain any respect and authority, it must not abdicate its responsibilities. He also appeared take some comfort in statement that US did not believe SYG shld get blank check and that SC had its own responsibilities apart from U Thant’s.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Confidential; Priority; Limdis. Repeated Priority to Moscow, and to Cairo and Tel Aviv. Received at 12:32 a.m. and passed to the White House, DOD, CIA, USIA, NSA, and CINCSTRIKE at 12:50 a.m.