96. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom 1

204573. Subject: Middle East.

Under Secretary Rostow today briefed British Ambassador on current status our consideration Middle East crisis. He said Secretaries Rusk and McNamara had drawn up our “marching orders” for next two weeks. We were prepared to proceed with next steps to resolve crisis now that Israelis had reached decision not to attack. Plans would be presented to President for his approval and accordingly were not firm at this time. President would want to consult with Congressional leaders, because of possibility force might be needed at end of road. But we hoped to have Presidential answer on “marching orders” and declaration very soon. All our planning is ad referendum the President.
Re joint planning for naval force in Red Sea, discussions still going on in Pentagon as to size of force. McNamara thinking now in terms of a staged escalation, with a larger force positioned in the Red Sea, so that our capability doesn’t in the first instance depend so much on Sixth Fleet. Decision probably reached in next few days. McNamara would then suggest time for meeting of naval groups and locus of meeting later this week.
We have learned Israeli owned ship flying Panamanian flag carrying cargo of hides in vicinity. Might be useful for this ship to go through Strait, forcing Nasser to clarify his stand. Israelis tell us that if ship stopped, they will protest but will not open fire.
In UN, we aiming for moratorium on Nasser’s threat to close the Straits, with transit available to all flags, in the situation as it was.
Re declaration of maritime nations, we will try to get as many signers as possible. Declaration would not mention threat of force but would not exclude this possibility.
At same time we plan approaches to a smaller group of countries concerning naval escort plan. We would wish in first instance to establish who should approach whom. For instance, British and Dutch might go to Nordics.
Ambassador Dean asked how many countries were on smaller list. Under Secretary Rostow replied this not final. We are thinking of France and Italy among others. Ambassador Bohlen will receive instructions to weigh in with the French. We might even wish to use Djibouti for naval escort force.
On precise details of escort plan, there are various possible scenarios. The choice will depend on events as they develop.
Rostow said he had noticed Bonn not on list of countries to be approached to sign declaration of maritime powers. He thought British should approach Germans. In view fact declaration referred to signers’ membership in UN, probably necessary for Bonn to issue a separate but parallel statement.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Eugene Rostow’s Special Assistant Alan R. Novak and Thomas M. Judd (EUR/BMI), and approved by Rostow. Repeated to Tel Aviv, Cairo, Bonn, The Hague, and Paris.