463. Memorandum for Record1

SUBJECT

  • Under Secretary Ball’s Report to the President on his Cyprus Peacekeeping Mission

PRESENT

  • The President
  • McGeorge Bundy
  • R.W. Komer
  • Under Secretary George Ball
  • Asst. Secretary Phillips Talbot

Mr. Ball described the critical nature of the situation as he saw it, underlining his belief that this was the most dangerous confrontation since the Cuba missile crisis of October 1962. We were close to a major disruptive war. Ball was convinced the Turks were not bluffing; Inonu had made clear he’d have to move if there were another incident like Limassol. The Greek PM had said the same; he’d have to move if the Turks did. And the Chief of the Greek General Staff had sent Ball a message (through our Ambassador) that if the government didn’t move, the Greek military would get a new government that would. There was a 50/50 chance of a Greek-Turk war, which could easily get out of control.

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The Cyprus Government was unable to control its own people; its only interest was to get UN protection against Turk intervention so the Greek extremists could go on killing Turks. The UK ministers did not seem to understand the gravity of the situation when Ball saw them in London over the weekend, but he’d just had word that they now had their own reports and fully agreed.

Ball outlined his own proposal,2 commenting that no peacekeeping force we could get through the UN would be sufficiently big. Moreover, a UN peacekeeping force couldn’t shoot policemen, which was the heart of the matter. The British were unwilling to take on the Greek Cypriot police (who had led the charge at Limassol). But unless a force could take on all the extremists if necessary, it couldn’t calm the situation. What was really needed was an “army of occupation, not a peacekeeping force.” This only the Guarantor Powers could provide.

The President told Ball the latter had done all that was humanly possible; the President was only sorry he didn’t succeed. The President fully agreed as to the gravity of the situation. He thought a Greek-Turkish war was inevitable unless we sidetracked them in some way. He was prepared to try out the Ball plan if all his advisers agreed it was our best bet. Ball indicated that Rusk was in favor; so was Adlai Stevenson. The President said Stevenson had seemed less alarmed than Ball the previous evening, and instructed Ball to reach a meeting of minds with him.

Bundy thought the odds of a Greek/Turk clash a little less than Ball, but agreed that his plan was the best idea available even so. We should act on the worst assumption in any case, and try to get our allies signed on as soon as possible. Ball said we should pressure the UK to call a summit meeting as soon as Papandreou was sworn in. He and Inonu were the people to deal with. We should have an “observer” present to make sure the UK didn’t falter. Ball thought it might be best if he went himself. It might also be a good idea to send General Taylor to talk to the Greeks and Turks about the military side, since the chief risks were that the Greek Cypriots would oppose a Turk landing or that Greek and Turk forces might clash.

The President agreed Ball should go if necessary. Bundy interjected that Ball’s mission had been a success in that if he hadn’t gone the Greeks and Turks might have been at war by now. The President reminded Ball he’d been in favor of Ball’s going a week earlier. As the President saw it, we might have to tell the Turks “it’s goodnight, nurse” if they did move. We were in a position to force them to settle the issue peacefully. If we told Inonu we’d cut off aid, he’d have to back down. Ball pointed out that [Page 987]Inonu, great man though he was, wasn’t a free agent; he led a minority government. Also his own military might force his hand.

The President directed that we talk in the toughest language if necessary to all parties. Ball assured him that he’d minced no words. Turkish restraint so far had been admirable, but they’d have to move now if there were another incident.

Bundy suggested it might be time for a Presidential message to Inonu urging him to keep calm. The President agreed (State will draft).3 He also agreed to send a message to Home telling him we saw merit in the Ball plan—providing all in the USG were on board.

At the end there was a brief discussion of how to deal with the press. The President approved accenting the gravity of the situation but avoiding any comment on possible solutions.4

R.W. Komer 5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Histories, Cyprus. Secret.
  2. Ball outlined the plan in telegram 3961 from London, February 16. (Ibid.)
  3. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XVI, Document 16 and footnote 1 thereto.
  4. See Document 464.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.