85. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel 1

203966. Memcon Between Ambassador Harman and Under Secretary Rostow.

At his request Ambassador Harman called on Under Secretary Rostow, 6:30 p.m., May 27.

Mr. Rostow opened the conversation by saying that we had many rumors, some good some bad. The news from the Dutch was good and the British were standing firm on their proposal. Harman asked about the French. Mr. Rostow said that we had pushed the French very hard on the UK proposal. We had pushed the Indian Ambassador very hard as well.
Ambassador Harman indicated that he had talked to Mr. Sisco about the UN situation and that he had heard that USG was working out solution putting the finger on belligerency. Mr. Rostow replied yes and that in our view positions taken in the UN tended to become permanent. [Page 161] He noted that Harman had heard what highest authority had said on question of passage for Israeli flag ships through Gulf of Aqaba. The USG was not opposed to a two or three week even-handed moratorium which would enable a high-level representative of the Secretary General to visit the area and study the situation. The key issue in any proposed moratorium was whether or not the UAR would agree not to blockade the Strait of Tiran.
Ambassador Harman asked if USG was firm on the question of allowing Israeli flag shipping into the Strait of Tiran. Rostow replied that Ambassador had heard what US officials had said on this question during Eban visit.
Ambassador Harman asked what other nations were taking same line. Rostow replied that to date we had affirmative responses from the UK, Dutch and Canada. Rostow also said that USG was working out a tentative scenario over the weekend. Harman emphasized that it was important for him to be in every step of the way as GOI expected to sign maritime declaration. Rostow said USG expected that GOI would sign declaration and that it was possible that GOI could have ship in escort squadron as well.
Rostow asked that GOI give us report on the actual number of Israeli flag vessels in the last five years which had actually passed through Strait of Tiran. Harman agreed to provide this information but said it was academic in view USG position.
Harman asked when USG thought that tentative scenario would jell. Rostow said probably this weekend.
Rostow noted that escort force was merely to show flag and that the ultimate guarantee for safety of this force was US 6th Fleet and vessels from other maritime powers stationed in Mediterranean. Our general thought was to get the maritime declaration out soon and continue planning to assemble naval presence but not to surface it until SC action reached certain point probably in two or three weeks. Rostow also noted that USG would have to consult with Congress and mobilize public support for its position. Harman said that two or three weeks’ delay disturbed him as actions were beginning to take place on the ground. This was part of over-all situation and it was time for quick action. The tactics taken in the SC were of crucial importance.
Rostow noted that when Foreign Minister Eban had asked if it was USG position to pursue UK initiative vigorously he received an affirmative answer. Harman said that he had been asked for a detailed appraisal of US position and wanted to use the word determination. Rostow said words that had been used were fealty to prior commitments and determination but that problems of US Constitutional process and necessity of gaining public support had been clearly explained.
Harman asked about question of liaison between Israeli and US military. Rostow replied that in fact the place to start was with intelligence and that we should inform Ambassador tomorrow as to first steps.
At 9:15 p.m., May 27, Ambassador Harman was called in by Rostow who explained the USG had just received important message from Soviets which was phrased not as threat but as an appeal. The Soviets claim to have information that an Israeli attack was imminent. They had appealed to the US to use its offices to prevent the Israeli attack. Rostow also indicated that Soviet message had indicated a desire to use Soviet influence to restrain Arabs. We had forwarded an urgent message to GOI stressing importance of GOI not making first military move.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Grey and approved by Grey for Eugene Rostow.