10. Information Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (Popper) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • The UAR and UNEF

As you know, the Arab-Israeli situation has changed considerably during the day, and as of 7:00 p.m. (yesterday)2 we still do not know exactly how matters stand. It is clear that the UAR has requested that UNEF Forces withdraw from certain observation posts along the [Page 12] UAR-Israeli frontier (presumably this does not include the Gaza Strip). The UN Secretariat has told us that at some points the Egyptian forces are now standing between the UNEF Force and the border, thus facing Israeli territory. The Secretariat also says that the UAR has requested within 48 hours the evacuation of the UNEF observation post at Sharm al-Shaikh, strategically situated on the Gulf of Aqaba. The deadline for this movement would be tonight3 our time.

During the day (yesterday),4 the Secretary General announced that he was urgently seeking clarification from the UAR as to its intentions with respect to the continued presence of UNEF in the area. The UN spokesman’s announcement said:

“The UNEF went into Gaza and Sinai over ten years ago with the consent of the government of the UAR and has continued there on that basis. As a peacekeeping force it could not remain if that consent were withdrawn or if the conditions under which it operates were so qualified that the force was unable to function effectively. The Secretary General regards the situation as being potentially very grave. On the basis of reports thus far received from the Chief of Staff of UNTSO, the Secretary General knows of no troop movements or concentrations along any of the lines which should give rise to undue concern.”

This statement obviously impairs our ability to keep the Force in place over UAR opposition. The general principle has been that UN peacekeeping forces are emplaced with the consent of the government on whose territory they are stationed. What is not clear-and there is no precedent-is whether, that consent being removed, the UN Force is required to depart.

On this issue, in a report of the Secretary General on a study of the experience with UNEF (Document A/3943, 9 October 1958)5 Secretary General Hammarskjold stated:

“The consequence of such a bilateral declaration is that, were either side to act unilaterally in refusing continued presence or deciding on withdrawal, and were the other side to find that such action was contrary to a good-faith interpretation of the purposes of the operation, an exchange of views would be called for towards harmonizing the positions. This does not imply any infringement of the sovereign right of the host Government, nor any restriction of the right of the United Nations [Page 13] to decide on the termination of its own operation whenever it might see fit to do so. But it does mean a mutual recognition of the fact that the operation, being based on collaboration between the host Government and the United Nations, should be carried on in forms natural to such collaboration, and especially so with regard to the questions of presence and maintenance.”

Our first reports of the Secretary General’s discussion today with the countries contributing forces to UNEF indicate that he is playing for time. He appears to have said that any request for withdrawal of UNEF Forces should be sent to him and not to General Rikhye, the UNEF Commander. The UAR representative in New York has not as yet received instructions to approach the Secretary General on this subject. The Secretary General has given the UAR representative an 8-page Aide-Memoire6 recalling the circumstances under which the Force was established and apparently appealing for a delay. However, it is our estimate that neither the Secretary General nor the troop-contributing nations would be eager for a test of will on this issue.

USUN agrees that every effort should be made to delay any UNEF withdrawal by all appropriate means. The personal message which U Thant is sending to Nasser today may help. There will be Big Four consultations today7 (US, UK, France, USSR) with or without the participation of the Secretary General. If the situation has not eased, Ambassador Goldberg will be asking you for authority to move urgently toward a Security Council meeting. Other UN representatives have suggested that the General Assembly, which is in session, might also take up the matter.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Confidential. Drafted by Popper on May 17. The memorandum was evidently sent to Rusk on May 18.
  2. “Yesterday” is a handwritten addition on the memorandum.
  3. “Tomorrow night” was changed by hand to “tonight” on the memorandum.
  4. “Yesterday” is a handwritten addition on the memorandum.
  5. Secretary-General Hammarskjold’s report of October 9, 1958, on the experience with UNEF is printed in Public Papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations, Vol. III, Dag Hammarskjold, 1956–1957, pp. 230–292.
  6. The aide-mémoire is quoted in Secretary-General Thant’s May 18 report to the UN General Assembly. (Ibid., Vol. VII, U Thant, 1965–1967, pp. 424–433)
  7. “Tomorrow” was changed by hand to “today” on the memorandum.