316. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

269999. 1. You should deliver this as a personal message from the President to Prime Minister Eshkol:

2. “Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I am writing to you, first, to welcome the prospect of your visit here later this month,2 and secondly, to raise with you again a subject that has become of increasing importance to me as I enter the closing days of my Administration.

As I look back over my five years in office, I find that one endeavor overshadows all those that have called upon my time and energy. This has been the search for peace. Central to it has been our effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The United States has assumed a special responsibility for this endeavor. It is at the heart not only of my own nation’s security interests but also of the security of every nation in the world. As you know I am personally deeply committed to this task.

My deep concern on this subject was expressed to you personally as long ago as June 1964. Since then there has been no slackening of the arms race in the Near East, and the weapons introduced into the area have grown increasingly sophisticated. It would be a tragedy—an irreversible tragedy—if this arms race extended into the field of nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons delivery systems.

Secretary Rusk emphasized these points last month to Foreign Minister Eban when he stressed the United States’ concern that Israel’s continued delay in signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will [Page 626] have the effect of increasing, rather than reducing, pressures for other area states to develop or acquire nuclear weapons.

We have carefully studied your Government’s paper handed to Ambassador Barbour on October 28.3 We welcome the reaffirmation of your Government’s assurances that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the area. It is our strong conviction, however, that with a Non-Proliferation Treaty now in existence, only Israel’s adherence to that Treaty can give the world confidence that Israel does not intend to develop nuclear weapons.

I therefore welcome the statement in your Government’s paper that you are engaged in intensive study of the implications of signing the Treaty. It is my earnest hope that this study will result in a decision to sign the Treaty at an early date. Israel’s failure to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty would be a severe blow to my Government’s global efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. The United States would also be deeply troubled if operational strategic missiles were to appear in the Near East. I hope you can give me an encouraging response on these matters when we talk later this month.

It will be good to see you here. You are welcome not only as a distinguished and esteemed colleague but as a close personal friend.

Sincerely,

Lyndon B. Johnson
Rusk
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL ISR-US. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Drafted by Sterner; cleared by Atherton, Davies, and Walt Rostow; and approved by Rusk. Rostow also cleared the telegram with President Johnson. (Memorandum from Rostow to Johnson, November 10; Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Harold H. Saunders, Israel-Nuclear-Dimona-Desalting, 11/1/68-1/20/69)
  2. On November 12 the Israeli Embassy informed the Department that Prime Minister Eshkol had been advised by his doctor to defer the U.S. trip scheduled for November 25. The Embassy indicated that Eshkol hoped to make a brief trip in December to meet with the President. (Telegram 271424 to Tel Aviv, November 14; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL ISR-US) Walt Rostow sent a memorandum to President Johnson on November 13 informing him of Eshkol’s change in plans and inquiring about a suitable date for an Eshkol visit in December. The President responded with a handwritten note on Rostow’s memorandum that reads: “Let’s Forget Visit.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Memos, 6/68-11/68)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 292.