62. Message From Prime Minister Wilson to President Johnson 1

I have not been in touch with you direct so far about the Middle East situation because our people have been in such close and continuous touch and particularly because George Thomson has himself been in Washington discussing all this with Dean Rusk. But we have taken stock today in the cabinet in the light of what we have heard from George Brown in Moscow (which I am bound to say, is not so far particularly encouraging on this front: of George Thomson’s report: of my own talk yesterday with Eban (you will have had an account of this via George Thomson): and, finally, in the light of De Gaulle’s proposal that this should be handled, at least initially, on a four power basis.

The French have told us—and no doubt yourselves—that they are thinking in the first instance of a meeting of the four permanent representatives in New York. Their approach rests as you know on the basic proposition that, if any good is to come out of the Security Council, it can only result from some four power understanding. It is not at all clear to me how far De Gaulle has thought through this proposition. His political purposes are, of course, fairly transparent in terms of French influence and of seeking to avoid French involvement in any exclusively Western approach. ( Eban told me that De Gaulle advised him strongly not to get too closely involved in any exclusively Western tie-up.)

But the fact that this approach may be designed to enhance French standing and, perhaps, to cut down to size some of the General’s Western allies, need not, in my view, prevent our recognizing its intrinsic merits. It seems to us to have two potential advantages. First, if we can get the Russians into a four power discussion—and as far as I am concerned I would be glad for this to happen either at ambassadorial level in New York as at present suggested by the French, or eventually at a much higher level somewhere else (summit [Page 107] if necessary in view of the terrible dangers involved)—this could mean that they are clear-headed enough to see the immense dangers of a major confrontation with the West in a part of the world where neither side can confidently expect to control the passions or reactions of the local participants. In that situation, there might be a prospect of reaching agreement with them. Secondly, if the French initiative peters out because the Russians will have nothing to do with it, the French can hardly then just fold their hands and play no further part. The prospect of drawing them into a wider Western operation should be somewhat enhanced. Either way, the prospects for peace should be a little brighter.

These are the reasons why we decided today to announce our support for the French proposal—and I dare say that in authorizing Arthur Goldberg’s statement of support for the idea, which I saw last night, your government had the same kind of considerations in mind.

Meanwhile, we have, as you will have heard, agreed that George Thomson should continue to work out with Dean Rusk the terms of any eventual approach to the other maritime powers and of the draft declaration for which we might canvass their support. When the cabinet discussed this this morning, it was clear to us, from the reports already received from our ambassadors in a number of key maritime countries, that we should not get the kind of support that is required for any such declaration until all efforts to get something constructive out of the Security Council have demonstrably failed. In these circumstances, and given the intrinsic value of the French proposal anyway, we felt that before we could finally decide on the terms and method of proposing the joint approach to the maritime powers, we must give the French four power approach a chance to prove itself.

As I write this, I learn that by the time it reaches you, you will probably have talked with Mike Pearson. I need not say how much I welcome this meeting. Canada has a key role to play in all this and we shall of course be keeping in the closest touch with them too. This is indeed a further reason why I am very glad that I shall be able next week to see both Mike and yourself. Clearly we shall have to give a good deal of time to the Middle East situation. I hope things there will be a bit clearer by the time we meet—and I hope even more that there will not have been a major explosion there—but I am sure you share my own desire that, overshadowed as events may be for the time being by the Arab-Israel crisis, we shall be able to have a good talk about the other important issues on our agenda.

If, meanwhile, you can let me know how you see things, especially in the light of your talk with Mike, I shall welcome this.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. II. Secret. The transmission time on the message is 2313Z, which is apparently in error, since Rostow sent it to the President at 6:45 p.m. with a memorandum noting that it was more detailed than the indirect report the President had received that afternoon in Canada. He also noted that Rusk was reading it. For Wilson’s account of British policy during the crisis, the war, and its immediate aftermath, see Harold Wilson, The Chariot of Israel: Britain, America and the State of Israel, pp. 329–361.