467. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1


  • US and Soviet Positions on Mid-East Resolution

We have had a series of talks with the Soviets this week on where we go in the UN.2 Arthur Goldberg—and apparently Dobrynin—thinks we’ve hit a dead-end. Since Secretary Rusk wants to discuss this with you soon, here is a preview of the argument.

A more detailed rundown of issues and positions is attached, but the key question is whether we make any concessions in order to revive the US-Soviet draft resolution of July.

The problem is that, despite our July agreement on the wording of that resolution, we and the Soviets were interpreting it differently. They want a loose resolution calling for Israeli withdrawal which states Arab obligations loosely enough that they can be disregarded.

Arthur told Dobrynin Tuesday3 that we are prepared to go ahead with the July draft subject to consultations by both us and the Soviets with the principal parties and provided we have a clear understanding on what the resolution means and what would be required in the way of affirmative acts by the parties. He said it must be clear that the resolution means that (a) Arabs renounce belligerency and that (b) if belligerency ends, the Canal would be open.

The question we haven’t solved yet is whether there’s a half-way position between Arthur’s hard line and moving to our fall-back position of a general resolution using language from the UN Charter and appointing a UN representative to see what he can work out.

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Most of us feel we ought to try to salvage something from our July understanding with the Soviets, although we recognize that any dilution of our July position would bring us into a head-on clash with Israel.4 Also, we have to consider that the Israelis say we’ve already gone too far in committing ourselves in essence to withdrawal to 4 June boundaries. Only the Israelis are content to see time run on.

I will be having breakfast with Secretary Rusk and Arthur tomorrow, and we will try to report to you later in the morning.




I. Should we press urgently for a UN resolution?

Most of us believe, as Secretary Rusk said this morning, that “time is not working for a peaceful settlement.”5 We don’t want to miss a chance for settlement while positions are still fluid. Even the Arabs are in a hurry because they know that the longer Israel sits on the West Bank the harder it will be to dislodge her. The USSR wants to look as if it’s helping the Arabs. The UK is the itchiest of all since the Canal’s continued closure is costing Wilson—and Britain—a great deal.
Only Israel is in no hurry. Eban feels the Arabs won’t face up to reality—and the necessity to accept and deal with Israel—until they realize no one else will solve their problems for them. Eban feels they’d be readier to negotiate if the UN failed to provide an answer.6

II. Is the US–USSR draft resolution acceptable?

The Arabs and the Soviets now want to change the language to be tougher on the Israelis. For instance, they’d like to call for withdrawal to lines of June 4th rather than to negotiated final boundaries.
Goldberg told Dobrynin we considered the July draft acceptable provided we could agree in advance on interpretation. He said this is as [Page 893] far as we could go. (The Israelis objected strongly to that.) If the USSR was going to allow the Arabs to change the language, we should be allowed to reconsider too.7

III. How much do we have to nail down before we go to the Security Council?

Despite our desire to move ahead, we can’t see passing any resolution which can be interpreted later to suit each party’s policy. Ambassador Goldberg told Dobrynin that the major powers must agree before passing a resolution on what it means. The main Mid-East belligerents must share this understanding, including the fact that ending belligerency means opening the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping.8
The Arabs and Soviets now want to avoid specific interpretation. They argue that we’re trying to write a peace treaty before we’ll let a resolution go through the Security Council. They’re probably trying to get away with a resolution they can cite as calling for Israeli withdrawal while they get away with as little response as possible. But they do have a point when they say, “Why would we give up our hole card-ending belligerency and opening the Canal-before we’re sure the Israelis will come to terms on issues that are basic to us, like refugees?”9

IV. How can we be sure both parties accept the UN principles when passed?

We and the British currently agree that the necessary follow-up to pre-agreed interpretation would be some affirmative act by the Arabs to show that they were really renouncing belligerency. Among other things, Goldberg would require pre-agreement that Tiran and the Suez Canal would both be opened to Israeli shipping. Gene Rostow has indicated to the Soviets that we would consider a two-step process by which there was general acceptance of the principles of withdrawal and the end of belligerency as guidance for negotiation but no actual withdrawal until negotiations ended.
The USSR and the Arabs believe the question of opening the Canal should be left to a later stage of the negotiations along with the refugees and that we should not try to pin these points down before passing the resolution. Nasser sees the end of belligerency as his ace in the hole and neither he nor Faisal understands why the Arabs should give this up [Page 894] before they get satisfaction on some of their basic aims like a refugee settlement.10

V. Should we shoot for direct negotiation or settle for a mediator?

Israel publicly rejects mediation and maintains that the only believable sign that the Arabs are terminating the state of belligerency will be their willingness to sit down and talk with the Israelis. Privately Eban would be willing to accept a UN mediator without a specific mandate but believes there’s no point in going to this “fall back” position until we’ve ascertained whether the US and USSR can come to terms or not. The Arabs, of course, refuse to negotiate directly with Israel.11
The US–UK believe a UN mediator will be necessary in any case to work out the details of carrying out a resolution. But we also recognize that, if we fail to reach a common interpretation of a resolution with the USSR, we may have to settle for a very general resolution quoting more general principles from the UN Charter and throw the matter to a UN representative.12
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, United Nations, Vol. 8. Secret. A handwritten “L” on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Telegram 51942 to USUN, October 11, recorded an October 10 conversation between Goldberg and Dobrynin. It states that the principal impressions to emerge from the conversation were that the Soviets wanted to negotiate down from the tentatively agreed U.S.-USSR draft and that they wished to avoid a specific interpretation of the resolution which would require affirmative acts by the Arabs to recognize Israel and renounce belligerency. Goldberg said the United States had been flexible but was not interested in negotiating down from the U.S.-USSR draft. Both sides would want to consult the parties concerned, and therefore talks should be on an ad referendum basis, but the negotiations had to be open-ended both ways; if one side could suggest changes, the other side must be free to do the same. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR/UN) Under Secretary Rostow and Soviet Minister Tcherniakov also discussed the Middle East at lunch and again later in the afternoon on October 11. (Memoranda of conversation, October 11; ibid., POL 27 ARAB–ISR)
  3. October 10.
  4. A comment in Bundy’s handwriting next to this sentence on his copy of the memorandum reads: “Nothing in it.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Special Committee Files, UN Resolutions)
  5. Rusk made this comment at his October 12 news conference. (Department of State Bulletin, October 30, 1967, p. 561)
  6. A comment in Bundy’s handwriting next to Section I on his copy of the memorandum reads: “U.S. need not be in a hurry. Agree with Eban.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Special Committee Files, UN Resolutions)
  7. A comment in Bundy’s handwriting next to paragraph II.B. on his copy of the memorandum reads: “Goldberg is no longer the ideal negotiator.” (Ibid.)
  8. A comment in Bundy’s handwriting next to paragraph III.A. on his copy of the memorandum reads: “This won’t happen.” (Ibid.)
  9. A comment in Bundy’s handwriting next to this paragraph on his copy of the memorandum reads: “Nonsense—refugees and Canal were not [illegible—tied?] till Nasser tied them.” (Ibid.)
  10. A comment in Bundy’s handwriting next to paragraph IV.B. on his copy of the memorandum reads: “Nonsense.” (Ibid.)
  11. A comment in Bundy’s handwriting next to paragraph V.A. on his copy of the memorandum reads: “U.S. and USSR cannot come to terms.” (Ibid.)
  12. A comment in Bundy’s handwriting next to paragraph V.B. on his copy of the memorandum reads: “Correct.” (Ibid.)