248. Notes on President Johnson’s Meeting With Congressional Leaders1

[Here follows discussion unrelated to the Middle East.]

[Page 487]

Secretary Clifford noted that both of these presidential candidates have been talking about the request of Israel for military equipment. He wanted to know if we have in the recent weeks a request for standard equipment from Israel. He said both candidates talked about it yesterday and what’s the status of the situation?

Secretary Rusk said the President might want to comment on that.

The President said:

“Yes. In the last five minutes—there is a constant request from Israel. Vice President NIXON said day before yesterday he was going to give them jet planes. Well, we’re giving them jet planes, a good many of them now. And they said, what kind of jet planes. He didn’t specify what kind. I don’t know—he may have spoken later on the facts. What they want is the Phantom plane. We have put ourselves in the position to sell them Phantom planes with a decision not later than January of this year by some adjustment in our production schedules if we conclude that by that time the military parity is such and the requirements of their security are such that it is desirable. We don’t want to be in a position of just being arms merchants and starting an arms race with the Russians there, and we’re also trying very hard to use this to try to bring about the success of the Jarring mission, to get both of them to do something themselves to find an area of agreement in that part of the world.

“The Russians have stepped up their supplies to the Arabs substantially and they have replaced a good deal of what was lost in the June conflict. I might say that the encouragement the candidates have given some folks in this campaign year is not unanticipated and unexpected. For that reason, we have put ourselves—they have really—are for giving them whatever is necessary to insure the favorable consideration at their hands. March 31st I took a step that didn’t require that of me and we are going to look at it very carefully and be sure that we think that it is not only their interest and our interest but in the world interest before we act.

“And the Congress I think, the House indicated its approval of supplying the Phantom when it passed the Foreign Aid Bill. The Senate has also indicated its feelings to a somewhat more modified extent. The measure is still in conference. I’m not saying that we are going to supply them or not going to supply them, but that decision hasn’t been reached now and our Joint Chiefs haven’t passed on it. They think they have adequate security at the present time. The Israelis I think really demonstrated that they had it. Since then we have made available some very fine jet aircraft to them, but it is not the ultimate in the world and it’s the ultimate they seek.”

President Johnson observed that the Israeli Deputy Minister had been here and it was an off the record meeting. The Ambassador was [Page 488] with him and they took the position in the light of the events in Czechoslovakia that the reaction to the Middle East the last day or two with the skirmishes they have had to require very prompt action on the part of the United States. The President asked Walt Rostow to comment. Mr. Rostow reported that Deputy Prime Minister Allon was making a strong plea to the President for the 60 Phantoms. He said the arguments taken were—that after the Czech experience it had (a) made the Russians anxious to have us or somebody else take the light of the world publicity off them, and (b) possibly encourage the Egyptians to start probing across to the Canal because of the passivity of the Western reaction to the Russian entrance into Czechoslovakia, and he therefore urged, along with the conventional arguments that we advanced, not to be delivered until they announce them.

Mr. Rostow reported that in private conversation before the President came in, Luke Battle and Rostow probed them a bit on their position in Jerusalem which is critical to the possibility of a deal with Hussein, and he indicated considerable give on the press issue, our position with respect to religious monuments, but nothing on the sovereignty of the city as a whole. Rostow said that he and Battle had pressed them on the Jarring mission, and they said they were forthcoming with Jarring. Allon’s main pitch was that the Arabs will not begin to make peace until they are convinced that Israel is unattackable, and that the Phantom delivery is the key to that.

[Here follows discussion unrelated to the Middle East.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room, September 9, 1968, 5:45 p.m. to 7:24 p.m. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room at the White House. The Congressional leaders including Speaker of the House John McCormack and Congressmen Carl Albert, Gerald Ford, Leslie Arends, and Melvin Ford. Also present were Secretary of State Rusk, Secretary of Defense Clifford, Walt Rostow, Budget Director Charles Zwick, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Arthur Okun, and Legislative Counsel to the President Harold Barefoot Sanders. A heading describes the notes as President Johnson’s notes, but they were prepared from a tape recording by either President Johnson’s secretarial staff or by his staff in Austin after the President left office and began his research for his memoirs. The tape recording on which the notes are based is ibid., Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. The notes have been corrected to accord with the tape recording.