68. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1
UK-US TALKS ON THE NEAR EAST
At the request of the UK, intensive US–UK talks occurred on Wednesday and Thursday2 on the Near East Crisis. The British delegation was headed by George Thomson, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and the U.S. delegation by Under Secretary Rostow.
Thomson reported that the Cabinet: feared that the imminent closure of the Gulf of Aqaba would inspire a counterstrike by the Israelis. This, in turn, might lead to a bloodier war than occurred in 1956, possibly involving the major powers. In view of these dangerous possibilities, the Cabinet authorized discussions in Washington and Moscow, a public statement by the Prime Minister reaffirming the right of free and innocent passage in the Gulf of Aqaba, a cautionary warning to the Israeli Government, and approaches to the maritime powers proposing a multilateral Declaration of the rights of innocent passage.
The U.S. side shared the British assessment of the seriousness of the Near East Crisis.
The ensuing discussions resulted in tentative agreement on a staffing and ad referendum basis along the following lines:
- Press for effective action through the United Nations, and in particular at the current meeting of the Security Council, to guarantee freedom of passage through the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba. We should seek to ensure that any resolution included an endorsement of the principle of freedom of passage. If the Soviet Government abstained, the principle would have received U.N. approval. In the event of a Soviet veto, action by the maritime powers would nevertheless be seen to have received wide international support.
- U.S. and U.K. diplomatic approaches in the capitals of maritime states to canvass support for a multilateral declaration (text attached)3 to assert freedom of passage through the Straits of Tiran. This diplomatic action would take place at the same time as action in the United Nations. The countries to be approached might include Denmark, [Page 117] Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Greece, France, Panama, Liberia, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Turkey, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Philippines, Ethiopia, Kenya and Malagasy Republic.
- U.S. and British military advisers were to explore the possibilities and modalities of military actions deemed necessary to assert freedom of passage through the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba. Discussions commenced on the basis of a tentative British plan involving (a) a small UK-US probing force to escort merchant vessels in the Straits of Tiran; (b) a covering force consisting of the British carrier Hermes and its escorts; and (c) a deterrent force in the Eastern Mediterranean consisting of the 6th Fleet, the British attack carrier Victorious and the British bombing force on Cyprus. The British contemplated these forces to be under U.S. command.
The JCS prefer that the force be designed as a protective presence—not for escort duty—and be capable of defending itself. There is as yet no meeting of the minds between the military on the design of the force, which will have to be taken up by the two Governments.
Minister Thomson flew back to London last night and will report to the Cabinet today. An attached report from Ambassador Bruce4 indicates that the Cabinet is taking a cautious approach to the Near East Crisis and will only reluctantly assume a leading role.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL UK-US. Secret; Nodis. No drafting information indicated. The date is handwritten on the paper with a query but is evidently correct. The text, except the last paragraph, was sent to London in telegram 203642, May 26. (Ibid., POL ARAB–ISR)↩
- May 24 and 25↩
- The draft declaration, dated May 24, is attached but not printed.↩
- The report from Bruce is not attached.↩