180. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

I am increasingly concerned, as I know you are, about the continuing delay in moving the Middle Eastern problem toward a more permanent solution. Israel seems to be saying that they will not discuss the substance of outstanding questions with Ambassador Jarring in the absence of face to face discussion with its Arab neighbors. Further, it has refused to act with restraint in Jerusalem and has not even made such a token gesture as withdrawal from the Saudi Arabian islands of Tiran and Senafir.

Israel’s Arab neighbors, for their part, seem unwilling to talk seriously about the substance of a permanent settlement and are resting upon periodic propaganda exercises aimed at both Israel and the United States in such forums as the Security Council.

Meanwhile, the influence of the Soviet Union in such key countries as Egypt, Syria and Iraq continues to grow at the expense of our and other Western interests. You are familiar with the arms problem in the area and the refusal of the Soviet Union to discuss the matter seriously with us prior to Israeli withdrawal.

I have been trying to think of some way in which we could get this problem off of dead center—a situation filled with danger.

One possibility would be that we and the Soviet Union discuss this matter secretly and in complete detail-putting together a package which the two of us would then try to impose upon the countries of the area. I do not believe that this would work. I doubt that we and the Soviets could agree simply because their and our interests are in direct conflict. I doubt that the two of us could impose a result upon the countries of the area. We failed to restrain Israel last June and there is serious question as to how far the Russians could go with, say, Egypt and Syria.

Another alternative, which appeals to me, is that we ourselves get into a more serious dialogue with both Israel and its Arab neighbors in an effort to find a basis for a settlement with which both sides could live. This would mean asking someone, very privately, to be in touch with both sides on your behalf on a more serious basis than we have yet attempted. There is some difficulty in having the same individual [Page 357] talk both to Israel and to the Arabs because such a person might be looked upon merely as a conduit to the other side and would not be treated with complete frankness. This suggests that we might ask two highly competent Americans to try to see what could be done-one talking with Israel and the other talking with the Arabs.

It seems to me that Arthur Goldberg would be a good person to carry on serious talks with Israel after he leaves his present UN post. I have reason to think that he would be willing to do so. He is a tough-minded man and a superb negotiator and would be trusted by Israel even though points of real disagreement may come up.

As for the Arabs, my mind turns to one of the following (in order of preference): David Rockefeller, Eugene Black, John McCloy and Robert Anderson. I would put Robert Anderson higher on the list except for his private interests in the area.

You might wish to give this idea some thought in order that I may discuss it with you at your convenience.

For your information I am attaching a summary which I asked Luke Battle to prepare of all of the suggestions which we have made to both sides in the Middle East.2 In thumbing through this, you will note that we have been very active in our efforts but that our advice thus far has been largely ignored by both sides. We have had some limited response here and there but the record indicates that both sides have been very stubborn up to this point.3

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central File, Confidential File, CO 1-6. Secret.
  2. Dated May 21; not printed.
  3. Rostow sent this memorandum to President Johnson on May 23 under a covering memorandum in which he indicated that he was inclined to agree with Rusk’s suggestions. (Ibid.)