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

SUBJECT

  • Gift and Message from Iraq’s President

Attached2 is a special recommendation from Secretary Rusk that you briefly receive the Deputy Chief of the Iraqi Army on January 23, 24 or 25 just long enough for a few words and an exchange of gifts.

This is a rather unusual request but one that warrants serious consideration. General Sabri is here at the Pentagon’s invitation for an orientation tour with four other senior officers who have considerable political power in Iraq. But President Aref at the last minute took [Page 371]advantage of his trip to have him bring you a personal gift (a carpet) and message.

I wouldn’t normally recommend you spend your time this way—nor would Secretary Rusk. However, we both feel strongly this is an opportunity we shouldn’t miss.

Iraq is at a crossroads. If its moderates—headed by Aref—can win out, Iraq could break out of Nasser’s sphere and become stabilizing influence. In the short run, this is important to our oil companies which are trying to work their way out of the box Syria has them in. A more radical government in Iraq might threaten to nationalize them. In the longer run, our objective in the Middle East is to encourage governments like Aref’s to stand on their own—and not to get sucked into the more radical Arab nationalist movements that cause us (and Israel) so much trouble.

We have considered inviting Aref here for a visit but so far have judged that would do him more harm than good in his own sensitive political situation. However, by this gesture he is reaching out to strengthen his relationship with you. This is unexpectedly encouraging. I believe we ought to reciprocate by receiving his emissary.

Secretary Rusk, to save you, has suggested only that you receive General Sabri. It would spread the advantage we gain to receive all five of the generals because the corps commanders in Iraq are often the keys to political stability. I recommend you receive the entire delegation.

Walt

I’ll see General Sabri

I’ll see all five together if Secretary Rusk would like3

Disapprove

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Iraq, Cables&Memos, Vol. I, 12/63-7/68. Confidential.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. This option is checked. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the President saw the five Iraqi senior officers from noon to 12:09 p.m. on January 25. (Johnson Library)