197. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Present Thinking on the Middle East

British Foreign Secretary Stewart has asked to discuss the Middle East with Secretary Rusk at the NATO meeting because he believes we’re approaching another crunch point. To pave the way, he sent several officials from London and New York for talks with Nick Katzenbach this morning.2

They believe pressures are mounting to throw the whole issue back into the UN Security Council. A big border incident could put it there [Page 384] any time. In addition, the Russians seem to be angling to get it back there, probably to isolate us.

We would probably lose control if the issue goes into the Security Council now. There would be overwhelming support to amend the November 22 resolution and to spell out the terms of an imposed settlement. If Israel refused to accept, the next step would be sanctions. We’d face the demand to cast our first veto, thereby isolating ourselves from the Arabs.

Our main difference with the British is that we think we may have a little more time. They see July as a watershed, after which we start going downhill if we let events and Jarring go on at their present pace. We’re not sure the crunch will come quite that soon, but we’re not complacent.

Our other difference is that it’s not as easy as they think to figure out how to become more active in helping achieve progress toward a settlement. We would have to persuade the Israelis to talk with us about the substance of a peace settlement. So far, they have held out for direct negotiations and refused to talk substance with anyone but the Arabs. Our purpose would be to get for the Arabs a solid Israeli commitment to terms that the Arabs would consider at least reasonable enough to talk about.

The problem is how to appear to the Israelis to be making an honest effort to help and not to be selling them out. Secretary Rusk will only be exploring with Stewart the pros and cons and possible tactics. Obviously, he would wish full discussion with you if and when he has a precise recommendation to make.

Walt
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. II, 4/68-1/69. Secret; Nodis.
  2. Notes on these talks are ibid. The talks were summarized in a June 21 memorandum from Battle and Sisco to Rusk. (National Archives and Records Administration,RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR) An agreed minute drafted at the conclusion of the talks on June 21 was transmitted to London in telegram 188442, June 22. (Ibid.)