60. Draft Memorandum by the Ambassador to Canada (Butterworth)1


  • Conversations of the President on May 25, 1967, with External Affairs Minister Martin and Prime Minister Pearson

I do not believe that any significant exchanges of views took place between the President and the Minister for External Affairs until after the President met with the Prime Minister and Martin at Lake Harrington. [Omitted here is a description of the trip to Lake Harrington.]

The discussions at Harrington Lake can be divided into three unequal parts, the longest of which took place between the President and the Prime Minister and Martin after lunch within hearing of all the United States and Canadian advisers.2 Careful notes were taken by the former. In point of time the subject of Vietnam bulked largest, but what was said about the Near Eastern crisis constituted the essence of the attitudes enunciated by the President on the one hand and the Prime Minister and Martin on the other at the luncheon.3 This second exchange was stimulated by the arrival of the telegram from Prime Minister Wilson to Prime Minister Pearson which, as intended by the former, was read in whole or in part by the Prime Minister to the President and those assembled.4

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The second division of the discussions occurred at the luncheon table at which were present the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister for External Affairs, Special Assistant Rostow, Canadian Ambassador Ritchie and myself. The only matter of consequence that was discussed was the Near Eastern crisis and, as mentioned above, the basic position the President took in these discussions and that by the Prime Minister and Martin were repeated in the general discussion held later in the living room. Other aspects were as follows: (a) Martin, backed by Pearson, was at pains to make clear that the report was false that the Secretary General of the United Nations had disapproved of the Canadian-Danish initiative in the Security Council. Martin said that he had been able to reach U Thant in Cairo by telephone and had been assured by him that the report was untrue. (b) Correspondingly the President made clear that the U.S. had not accepted the French proposal, that he had only authorized Ambassador Goldberg to talk bilaterally with representatives of any government and that Goldberg had been misunderstood.5 (c) The Prime Minister indicated that there were still some 800 peace-keeping Canadians in the UAR, that the Canadian force was being run down more slowly than the others because Canada was responsible for those logistics. (d) At one point in the conversation there was a discussion about the extent of the respective commitments of the U.S. and Canada to Israel, particularly with regard to the Gulf of Aqaba. As I recall it, it arose out of a remark of Rostow’s that Israel had paid for its right of free passage into the Gulf with its blood and it had obtained guaranteed recognition from the international community of this right. Mention was made of the Tripartite Declaration, of the fact that Great Britain had virtually withdrawn from its commitment and of a letter of commitment which former Secretary of State Dulles had written. The Prime Minister was obviously anxious to make the point that whereas Canada had recognized the right of Israel to have access to the Gulf of Aqaba, it had not done what he regarded the U.S. as having done, namely, made any commitment towards guaranteeing that right. (e) Rostow once or twice expressed views which were along the lines of paragraph 1 B of Department’s ExDis Circular 202592, May 26.6 (f) He also brought out the fact that according to the information supplied by [Page 102] Lloyds a tanker of Liberian registry was loading and was due to reach the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba on May 29 and drew the inference that this interval was available to formulate an effective decision. (g) There also occurred an exchange of information about the stated determination of the Government of Israel to go to war rather than to submit to the closure of the Gulf of Aqaba and Pearson and Martin quoted statements made to them by the President of Israel, who was just completing his visit to Canada, and from the Government of Israel received through diplomatic channels. (h) There was also some discussion of whether U Thant had obtained any assurances of value from President Nasser and Pearson seemed to harbor a faint hope that this could mean a willingness to withdraw the blockade of the mouth of the Gulf in exchange for Israel accepting what it had previously refused, namely, a peace-keeping contingent on its side of the border as well as on the UAR side. Incidentally there was no note taking at the table and the atmosphere of the conversation was friendly and casual rather than intense and precise; views were exchanged with no attempt to concert.

The third phase of the conversations occurred after lunch when the President and the Prime Minister decided as all rose from the table that they would like to remain and have a talk deux. This lasted for some time during the course of which, having checked with Rostow, I went into the dining room to hand the President the original of ExDis telegram 201714 of May 257 from the Department, which an officer had just brought from the Embassy for delivery to the President.8

[Omitted here is a summary of the conversation, on unrelated matter, en route to the airport.]

W.W. Butterworth
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Canada, Vol. V. Secret. Drafted on May 26. The President met with Prime Minister Pearson and External Affairs Minister Martin at the Prime Minister’s summer residence at Lake Harrington, Quebec, following a visit to the Canadian Universal and International Exhibition (EXPO ’67) in Montreal. According to Johnson’s Daily Diary, he was at Lake Harrington from 1:25 to 3:45 p.m. (Ibid.)
  2. The conversation after lunch is recorded in a May 25 memorandum of conversation drafted by Davies and Country Director for Canada Rufus Z. Smith, except for a private conversation between the President and Prime Minister, which according to Prime Minister Pearson, concerned Vietnam. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Canada, Vol. V)
  3. According to the memorandum of conversation cited in footnote 2 above, Pearson said he thought the best course was to seek quadripartite agreement in the Security Council but if necessary, they should accept quadripartite talks outside the United Nations. Johnson responded that he would consider quadripartite talks only in the frame-work of the United Nations.
  4. According to the memorandum of conversation cited in footnote 2, it contained the following points: George Brown reported that the Soviet attitude on the Near East was not particularly encouraging; Eban had told the British that the Israelis would not strike until he returned from his talks in Washington but if nothing had been worked out by then, Israel would have to strike first; and the British supported De Gaulle’s proposal for quadripartite talks even if it meant talks outside the United Nations.
  5. Reference is to Goldberg’s May 24 statement before the UN Security Council; see footnote 2, Document 57. A memorandum concerning the background of Goldberg’s statement is attached to a June 1 memorandum from Read to Rusk. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR)
  6. Circular telegram 202592, May 26, stated the options open to the U.S. Government seemed to be twofold: to limit its actions to UN and diplomatic channels, which would “almost certainly” lead to an Israeli strike against the UAR and perhaps hostilities with Syria, or to give firm assurances to the Israelis that the Strait of Tiran would remain open and take all necessary measures either alone or with the British to enforce them. Paragraph 1(B) was the second option. (Ibid., POL ARAB–ISR)
  7. Telegram 201794 to Ottawa, May 25, conveyed briefing points for the President’s discussion of the Middle East situation with Pearson. (Ibid., POL 27 ARAB–ISR)
  8. According to the President’s Daily Diary, on the helicopter from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House, Johnson and Rostow talked briefly about the meeting with Pearson, “summarizing by saying that ‘Canadians and Europeans will still not accept responsibility … they say it’s not their trouble, and why should they get in the Middle East now, too.’” (Johnson Library)