205. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Battle) to the Ambassador at Large (Harriman)1


  • Your Meeting with the Shah of Iran: Middle East Crisis

During your visit to Paris, I recommend that you meet with the Shah to discuss the Middle East crisis and specifically to increase his understanding of and support for our policy.

[Page 378]


The current Arab/Israel crisis has had repercussions in Iran. At the same time Nasser called for the evacuation of UNEF, he also publicly requested Jordan and Saudi Arabia to intervene with the Shah to stop sales of Iranian oil to Israel. (Iranian oil has been supplied to Israel since 1957 and has been carried by tanker around the Arabian Peninsula through the Gulf of Aqaba to Eilat.)

In response, the Iranian Government issued an official denial that Iranian oil was being sold to Israel. This is technically true, since the transactions are made through third parties. At the same time, the Iranians became concerned about their isolated position among the Islamic nations of the Middle East and about the effects of Iran’s ties with Israel on Iran’s efforts to establish closer relations with the moderate Arab states. On May 31, the Iranian Government issued a statement supporting “the legitimate rights of Moslem peoples” and saying that it regards “as necessary the securing of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people as mentioned in the U.N. resolutions.” The statement also expressed the hope for a peaceful solution to the present crisis. The Iranian press has from the first attacked Nasser for instigating the crisis.

Iran’s concern about its relations with the moderate Arab states has no doubt been increased as a result of King Hussein’s flight to Cairo to effect a grand reconciliation and to sign a military agreement with the UAR. At this writing King Faisal is still in Europe, but we do not exclude the possibility that he, too, may in some manner make a gesture toward improving his relations with Nasser in the name of Arab solidarity against the Israel threat.

In their talks with us, Iranian officials have been expressing the hope that we would take a firm line to keep the Gulf of Aqaba open. The Shah undoubtedly believes that we bear much of the responsibility for the crisis for not having acted vigorously to oppose Nasser long since. Some Iranian officials have indicated a concern that we might resume aid to Nasser in order to end the crisis.


Suggested talking points for use with the Shah:

The present crisis in the Middle East is grave and highly dangerous.
The U.S. is doing its best to urge restraint on all parties to the dispute.
We do not believe that Nasser wishes to be the first to shoot in the present situation. Indeed, it would be against his interest to do so. He has again proven his ability as an expert, albeit a malevolent one, in exploiting and building upon the events of each day. He has been able to create [Page 379] circumstances in which the very firmly held anti-Israel sentiments of most Arabs come to the fore.
For the past six months to a year, Nasser had been convincing himself that the U.S. was determined to destroy him and to humiliate Egypt. He viewed the cessation of significant U.S. aid to Egypt in the UAR’s growing economic crisis, his failure to achieve a victory in the Yemen, resistance to his designs by Kings Faisal and Hussein, and even the good relations between Iran and the United States in this light.
Nasser, therefore, is trying to exploit the current crisis to his advantage. He has consistently sought to identify publicly the U.S. with Israel. He now believes he is in a position whereby the U.S. and Israel face the painful choice of either accepting his “victory” (withdrawal of UNEF, closure of the Straits of Tiran) or committing “aggression” against Egypt. He strongly hopes for the former. He believes, however, that if he is destroyed as a result of Israel/U.S. military action, he can destroy with him a good many Western interests in the area. He considers this a deterrent. There is some speculation that among Nasser’s objectives is the resumption of U.S. aid to the UAR. We have told the Iranians that there is no possibility that we will resume aid to the UAR in the foreseeable future.
There is good reason to believe that the Soviets may have been instrumental in touching off the present crisis by floating in mid-May in Damascus and Cairo a report that a massive Israel attack on Syria was imminent. Since then, they have attempted to reap full propaganda advantage of the theme that Israel is the aggressor and has U.S. support, that the Soviet Union is the protector of the Arabs and that the Soviet Union hopes war can be avoided if only the U.S. will restrain Israel. The Soviets seem to have been taken by surprise by Nasser’s proclaimed closure of the Gulf of Aqaba and have thus far confined themselves to general statements in support of the Arab position that the Straits lie in Egyptian territorial waters.
We certainly do not approve of Hussein’s early public capitulation to Nasser. Hussein as a sovereign independent ruler has to decide where his best interests lie. He has assured us that this gesture was solely for the purpose of insurance and that his attitude toward and intention to cooperate with the United States is unchanged. Whether Hussein will be able to maintain this position under the pressure of events cannot be predicted with certainty.
It would be helpful if the Shah were to let the Israelis know that his attitude toward them is unchanged and that his intention is to maintain the present relationship with them in all its aspects as circumstances warrant. The Shah could also usefully counsel the Israelis to exercise military restraint in order to give the fullest opportunity for multilateral diplomacy to work. We would hope that Iran would take no steps to interrupt the commercial relationships whereby Iran obtains oil.
We would also hope that the Shah would get word to Faisal and Hussein indicating that the present crisis should not be allowed to impair the close relationship which Iran has with both countries. This relationship is based on a mutuality of interests which continues to endure.
The U.S. position in this crisis has been made clear by the President in his statement of May 23. The United States is firmly committed to the support of the political independence and territorial integrity of all the nations of the area. The United States strongly opposes aggression by anyone in the area, in any form, overt or clandestine. The United States considers the Gulf of Aqaba to be an international waterway and feels that a blockade of Israeli shipping is illegal and potentially disastrous to the cause of peace. The United States is making vigorous efforts to obtain effective United Nations action to resolve this crisis. Concurrently, we are consulting urgently with the maritime nations of the world with a view to multilateral action asserting our right to use this international waterway.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by UAR Country Director Donald C. Bergus and cleared by Eliot.