KC Johnson

Yemen Tapes

               Ass’t Secretary of State Phillip Talbot: Mr. President, the problem, I think, remains, as it has been till now, which is how to get this disengagement started. The tension is growing very considerably; that letter [King] Faisal sent to you showed a man in a box, and feeling very strongly that he’s in a box—not only because of Yemen but because of the change [in government] in Iraq.

And this is a matter of concern to all of us, I think. We come at a time when the Soviets have had perhaps the most stunning defeat in recent years in the Middle East, and we assume that this means they will now shift to somewhat riskier efforts than they may have been prepared to do before they lost this major investment in Iraq. That both the Soviets and the UAR do have [unclear]. And it is important even more now to get this thing [in Yemen] moving as rapidly as we can.

The UAR, after a period of stalemate, has started a major drive to mop up in the Yemen [situation]. Nasser explained this to our ambassador, [John] Badeau, yesterday as an effort (which he, of course, said would be successful in a matter of two of three weeks) to interdict the Saudi supply lines going into the area. You know—

                   President Kennedy:   So how far away from the border are they [the Egyptian forces]?

                   Talbot: Well, at the moment they’re some miles from the border; presumably, he’d come within two or three miles of the border in this process of moving forces up against the Najran supply base. (The Najran supply base is a Saudi base probably five miles outside the border, although this is a little in depth area through here.) And there will be more Egyptian military activity near Saudi Arabia in the next two or three weeks than there has been till now.

I think an awareness of this has disturbed Faisal; and our information today is that he is rather deeply depressed, and so are the [Yemeni] royalists, by these new attacks.

                 Dean Rusk: In a lot of places here . . . He [Nasser] has not performed in Yemen, he is undermining us in the Wheelus Base [in Libya], and he is pitching this arms race into the Near East.

President Johnson: Well, this [vote on the pending UN resolution] is not going to help us with him, is it?

Rusk:  But I think it’s important for Nasser to know that we’re not … that he mustn’t take us for granted on these things … I think an abstention on this is something of a warning to Nasser that we’re coming close to the end of the trail on this business.

President Johnson:  Don’t you think they’ll pound us like hell all over the United Nations and all over the papers of the country?

Rusk: Oh, I think that there will be … there will be …

President Johnson: [UN ambassador Adlai] Stevenson will be running around raising hell like he was about the Venezuela delegation, won’t he?

              Rusk: Oh, I think he will be … he will be personally unhappy for two or three days, but I don’t think there’s going to be any major press campaign picking this up.

President Johnson: Have you already told him what to do?

            Rusk: Yes. Well, I told him—we had an instruction for him several days ago not to have a resolution that condemned the British, and this does. It says it “deplores”—this thing the other day—but to express a general regret about violence along that frontier.

The resolution went beyond the point where we felt we could, in our total interests here, support it. But as it now stands, he is willing to—he is ready to do what we talked about this morning. But he just wanted to be sure that you knew that it’s a close, balanced decision, and that he had some concern about it.

           President Johnson: Well, you just tell him that I do know, but I knew at the last minute. Didn’t know anything about it beforehand, I don’t know anything else.

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