508. Telegram From the Ambassador to Pakistan (Oehlert) to President Johnson1

5602. 1. When you posted me here you told me to feel free to communicate directly with you when I believed the circumstances justified it.

2. It is fair to say that I have not abused that privilege.

3. The circumstances do now justify it.

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4. Our national interests in this country—indeed in this part of the world—have reached a crisis.

5. Having, unsuccessfully, used every other means at my command to resolve this crisis, I have no other resource except to place the problem on your overburdened but broad shoulders.

6. Whatever its troubles may be with some of its East European satellites, the USSR has made and is making great progress in this part of the world:

It has attained its century-old ambition to reach warm waters;
The strength of its Mediterranean fleet grows apace;
It has made a captive of the more belligerent Arab states, especially the UAR, Syria, Algeria and Iraq;
It has obtained a naval presence in the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf;
It has made India largely dependent upon it because of military supply;
It has largely outflanked the friendly Arab states of Jordan and Saudi Arabia;
It has at least partially outflanked Iran and Turkey.

7. It is clearly contrary to our national interests for Pakistan to move into the Russian orbit—not only because of Pakistan itself but also because of the effect upon Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

8. The following has happened with respect to Pakistan:

Our liberalized military supply policy of April 1967 has not obtained Pakistan any end items:
Efforts through Germany, Italy and now Belgium have all failed;
The failures have been due in large measure to Indian pressure.
We have seen the first visit in history of a Russian head of state to Pakistan.
We have seen the first visit of a Russian naval vessel (a squadron) to Pakistan;
We have received the termination notice on Peshawar;
The USSR has indicated a willingness to sell lethal end items to Pakistan despite strong Indian protests.

9. If Pakistan is forced to rely on Russia for arms, Peshawar is lost and all of our other vital interests in this part of the world, including Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are jeopardized.

10. Time is of the essence.

11. Pakistan prefers U.S. made arms for logistical and ideological reasons but has been unable to come by them.

12. Our commitment to third party sales dates back to April 1967.

13. Our commitment of “one hundred tanks now and one hundred later” dates back to March 1, 1968.

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14. All of the heat we might expect from the Congress, the press, or India has already been taken by our declared willingness to see Pakistan get tanks from Italy etc.

15. Our commitment of those tanks was conditioned on:

No further acquisition of tanks or other lethal end items by Pakistan from anyone without consultation with us;
Scrapping the present tank inventory on one for one basis;
Purchase price and terms acceptable to us.

16. Our commitment of those tanks was not conditioned upon any Peshawar extension. In fact, my positive instructions were not to link the two.

17. During my June 1968 Washington consultations all responsible officials to whom I talked in State, Defense, Joint Chiefs and the intelligence community agreed that if the Belgian tank deal fell through we should sell the tanks directly if need be.

18. The only reservation to the above was one of timing because of a concern for Congressional reaction.

19. During my consultations I met with the Georgia delegation, the Florida delegation, the Zablocki Subcommittee in executive session, and an informal group of members of Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees at the invitation of Dick Russell.

20. All, and especially Russell and Senator Symington, were strongly in favor of a change in military supply policy for the subcontinent to allow direct sales of lethal end items on a case by case basis. Such a policy modification, or at least a special exception to the present policy, for the two hundred tanks committed would not be an embarrassment to the next administration.

21. On the contrary, it is the only way to keep the next administration’s options open. With all the other problems facing it, it will be at least a year from now before the next administration can fix on a subcontinent arms policy. It will then be too late. Peshawar will be gone and the Paks will be in Russian hands. By moving now we can prevent this from happening without in any way committing or binding the policy of the next administration.

22. I beseech you, Mr. President, to move forcefully and immediately to get Ayub his tanks.

23. It may not even be necessary to make a direct sale. Iran is ready, able and willing to provide the tanks. Ayub knows this. If we do not allow it, he will certainly conclude that we do not want him to have any tanks and never did.

24. An Iranian sale would be 100 percent in accord with our present policy. It would need no modification of or exception to that policy. It would not represent the slightest deviation in principle from our al [Page 1007] ready expressed willingness to approve a sale by Germany, Italy or Belgium.

25. The only reason ever advanced for not approving such a sale when the possibility first arose last December has been that if we do approve it, the Shah will want to buy more M–60’s from us than our experts think he should in the interest of his own budgetary considerations.

26. It is the Shah’s own money. He is no longer receiving aid.

27. For him to buy more M–60’s from us is in our own interests:

Balance of payments-wise.

28. It can not please the Shah to refuse to allow him to do this.

29. If the Shah wants more modern tanks he will get them—if not from us then from the French or the Russians—which would not be in our interests.

30. If we let the Shah sell Ayub the tanks our balance sheet would look like this:

The Shah will be pleased;
Ayub will be pleased;
The Russians will be slowed down in Pakistan and in all of South Asia and parts of the Middle East;
Our financial interests will have been served;
Peshawar retention will be helped;
We will have fulfilled our commitment.
  • None.

31. Mr. President, on December 23, 1967, in Karachi, in your presence I told Ayub that Pakistan was not my client but that my only client was the USG. I told him that while I had great respect for him and for his government and for their accomplishments and hoped that I could often be of assistance to his government’s interests, I had come here only to serve my own government. You will remember the context in which those remarks were made.

32. I have not changed.

33. I give not one fig for Pakistan except as its interests are ours.

34. My earnest request to you to approve Iran and if for some unforeseen reason that should fail then to make a direct sale, is based exclusively on our own national interests.

35. I know that the greatest American I have ever known will forgive me for plagiarizing him—I am a free man, an American and an Ambassador of the United States of America in that order.

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36. It is in those three contexts, Mr. President, and only those three, that I seek your action.2

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Pakistan, Vol. IX, Memos, 5/68–11/68. Top Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only for the President. An interim acknowledgment of this telegram on August 6 by Bromley Smith at the White House [text not declassified]. (Ibid.)
  2. Hamilton and Bromley Smith sent a copy of this telegram to President Johnson in Texas on August 6. (Memorandum to the President; ibid.) They also sent a copy of telegram 17737 from New Delhi, July 31, in which Bowles pressed for a reversal of the decision to countenance the sale of tanks to Pakistan in light of the purchase of Chinese tanks by Pakistan, the impending purchase of Soviet arms including tanks by Pakistan, and the adverse impact on U.S.-Indian relations of even an indirect sale of U.S.-originated tanks to Pakistan. (Ibid., Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 90, August 1–10, 1968) On August 9 Battle sent a cable to Oehlert assuring him that every effort was being made to facilitate a third country sale of tanks to Pakistan. He noted, however, that an Iranian sale continued to pose significant policy problems. (Telegram 217963 to Rawalpindi; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 12–5 PAK)