164. Editorial Note

At the Department of State press briefing at noon on June 5, 1967, a reporter asked Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey if he would reaffirm that the U.S. position was neutral. McCloskey replied: “Indeed, I would: I would be more than happy to. We have tried to steer an even-handed course through this. Our position is neutral in thought, word, and deed.” The reporter asked, “Do you feel we can continue to maintain a neutral position, no matter what happens in the Middle East?” McCloskey replied, “That will be our effort.” (Memorandum from Joseph Califano to the President, June 5; Johnson Library, Appointment File, June 1967, Middle East Crisis)

Special Assistant to the President Joseph Califano called Secretary Rusk at 4:25 p.m. to tell him McCloskey’s statement was “killing us with the Jews in this country” and to ask if Rusk could “swamp McCloskey with a statement of his own.” Rusk replied that he might be able to say something at his background press briefing at 5 p.m., but that what was meant was that the United States was not a belligerent and its citizens in [Page 312] the area were entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens of a neutral country. It did not mean the United States did not have a deep concern for the situation and was not working hard in the Security Council to find solutions. (Notes of telephone call from Califano, June 5; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls) Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Califano called Rusk at 4:45 p.m. to discuss the matter further. Clark expressed concern that the Neutrality Act might compel the President to issue a neutrality proclamation, which would be “unthinkable.” They agreed that Rusk should emphasize that the thrust of U.S. policy was to restore peace in the area and to bring about a cease-fire. (Notes of telephone call from Clark and Califano, June 5; ibid.; Memorandum from Califano to the President, cited above) In a statement released to the press later that day, Rusk referred to President Johnson’s May 23 statement reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the support of the independence and territorial integrity of all the nations of the Near East. He stated that the United States was not a belligerent in the current fighting but that this did not mean indifference; the United States was making a maximum effort in the Security Council to bring about a cease-fire. In response to a question, he stated that the U.S. Government had not made any determination as to who had initiated the violence. (Department of State Bulletin, June 26, 1967, pages 949–950)