184. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Lebanon1

175618. 1. Lebanese Foreign Minister Fouad Boutros, accompanied by the Lebanese Charge Soleiman Farah and Lebanese Ambassador to London Nadim Dimeshkie, called on the Secretary on June 3.2 The following summary of the talk is based on an uncleared memo of conversation, is FYI, Noforn, and subject to change on review.

[Page 365]

2. The Foreign Minister explained that he had come to discuss two related problems: (a) that of the Lebanese-Israeli border, and (b) the general problem of an Arab-Israel settlement. (The conversation, however, was limited to the first problem.) The Foreign Minister explained that since June 1967 the Government of Lebanon had been concerned by a number of “threatening statements” by high ranking Israeli officials with respect to Lebanon’s southern border. More recently, the Israelis attacked a Lebanese village on the pretext that commandoes from Lebanon had caused incidents in two Israeli villages. He wished to make clear that the Lebanese Government had taken a firm stand against the commandoes. Commando training was not permitted within Lebanese territory, and the Lebanese Army had done its best to control transit of commandoes from Syria. The Lebanese Government, however, could not completely insulate its borders to commandoes. The Israelis should be aware that the initiative and responsibility for commando activity belonged to the Ba’ath Party of Syria or those who support the Ba’ath and not the Lebanese Government. In any event, the GOL could not accept the principle that the Israeli Government had the right to attack Lebanon simply because one or two incidents within Israel may have resulted from commandoes slipping through Lebanese security arrangements.

3. The Foreign Minister could not believe that Israel considered Lebanon a threat to its security. He stressed that the Lebanese southern border was the only armistice line where practically no incidents had occurred since 1949. The border was recognized both as an international border, a cease-fire line, and an armistice line. In addition, Lebanon was not involved in the June 1967 fighting.

4. Despite all this the Israelis after the June war repudiated the Lebanese-Israeli armistice agreement. The Foreign Minister thought he could at least understand the rationale for the repudiation of the Jordanian and UAR armistice agreements. He could not see logic, however, in the repudiation of the Lebanese agreement. It was in this general framework, that Lebanon could only interpret Israeli actions and statements as indicating some Israeli design upon southern Lebanon. For a time the GOL thought of taking the matter to the Security Council but it finally decided that the Foreign Minister’s trip was a better answer. Certainly an attack by Israelis on Lebanon would be in nobody’s interest as it could easily result in the disintegration of Lebanon as now constituted, lead to the loss of that country to the Western world, and induce a radical political trend which could only cause trouble for Israel. In view of the importance of this matter, the Foreign Minister felt that Lebanon had the right to ask the United States as a friend and major power to take a position on this matter and to use its influence with the Israelis.

[Page 366]

5. The Secretary addressed himself first to the policy question. He made clear that the United States supports the present southern border of Lebanon and attaches great importance to the preservation of the territorial integrity and independence of Lebanon. Furthermore, we accepted without qualification GOL assurances of its non-involvement in terrorist activity across its southern border. However, as the Lebanese Foreign Minister had pointed out, others might well be operating from Lebanon territory. The Lebanese Government should make quite clear that it opposed as a matter of public policy terrorist activity. The Foreign Minister replied that the GOL did not recognize or deal with commando organizations as political entities, and it would continue to do everything to interdict and control terrorists. The GOL, however, could not publicly oppose the activities of commandoes because what the Israelis called terrorism the Arabs call resistance. Those involved were people who were trying to regain their homes and were acting in somewhat the same fashion as the resistance movement in Europe during the last war. He emphasized again that the GOL would not give the commandoes assistance and would continue to try to prevent them from using Lebanese territory.

6. The Secretary suggested that the strongest position the Lebanese Government could assume was to object to the abuse of its territory by any organization or state. The Secretary continued that we had had a good deal of experience in Vietnam with infiltrators and realized the problems which the Lebanese Government was experiencing. We were opposed not only to the raids but also against retaliation of those raids. We had made our position on retaliation clear in a number of UN resolutions. We had a special interest in Lebanon and would see if there were anything further we could do with respect to the problem the Minister raised. The Secretary went on to say that the fundamental problem was that terrorist activity inspired retaliation and that the two in tandem prevented the prospect of peace.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 LEB. Secret. Drafted by Houghton on June 3, cleared by Battle and Special Assistant to the Secretary of State Harry W. Shlaudeman, and approved by John P. Walsh in S/S. Also sent to Jerusalem, Amman, Tel Aviv, London, and USUN.
  2. While in Washington, Boutros also met with Eugene Rostow on June 3 and with Walt Rostow and Joseph Sisco on June 4. A memorandum of the conversation between Boutros and Eugene Rostow is ibid., POL 27 ARAB-ISR. Boutros’ meeting with Sisco was reported to Beirut in telegram 176147, June 4. (Ibid.) A memorandum of the conversation between Boutros and Walt Rostow is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Lebanon, Vol. I, Memos, 2/65–1/69.