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September 5, 1967

Report on the conversation between Marko Nikezic and Dean Rusk at the State Department.

FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS Confidential Number 429390
Belgrade, 5. IX – 1967.

Pol. Number. 013/III – 727
24.V 1968


on the discussions of State Secretary M. Nikezic with D. Rusk in the State Department, 31. VIII – 1967.

Those present:

From the American side: Dean Rusk, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicholas Katzenbach, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Ledi, Assistant to the Minister for Europe, Joseph Sisko, Assistant to the Minister for International Organization, Lucious Battle, Assistant to the Minister for the Near East, and C. Burke Elbrick, Ambassador to the SFRY.

On our side: State Secretary Marko Nikezic, Ambassador Bogdan Crnobrnja, Ambassador A. Vratusa, Minister Counselor M. Bruner, the Secretary of the Embassy Z. Knezevic, and referent for the Department on the USA, S. Pobulic.

Rusk mentions that of course they have not had enough time to study the message and because of this his current statements should not be seen as an answer. However, they have carefully read it and they have the impression that some of the positions are very close to their own, and they have some reservation concerning others.

He stated that the American condition continues to be based on 5 points from Johnson's speech on the eve of the meeting of the UN General Assembly.

We wanted to use this occasion for an open and honest exchange of views, and asked does the State Secretary have anything else to say concerning last night's presentation.

The State Secretary said that he wanted to add some commentary to the written text of the message concerning the ideas of President Tito from recent meetings and our thoughts about all of this, believing that this will ease understanding of our position which has been stated in the message. He notes that the basics were brought to light one day earlier during the meeting with President Johnson, but he thinks that it is useful to say something in a wider context to the American State Secretary /Note: Rusk was not present at the meeting with President Johnson/.

The State Secretary speaks about the differences and approaches of individual Arab governments to the problems of the crisis, which has not only in expression of different views of their leaders, but firstly it is because of the different positions in general of these countries, especially with the current crisis.

As he already said to President Johnson, President Tito did not ask of any of the Arab leaders that they accept his point of view. However, with Nasser he was able to determine the greatest understanding and the acceptance of his arguments. We view as understandable that the [UAR], which has suffered the most, has gone the greatest distance in terms of a realistic view as to the possible exits from this crisis. The State Secretary warns that the government of the [UAR] finds itself under pressure both from the left and the right, and within its country as well as from the outside. At this moment it is not even important from where these pressures are coming for the radical requests to assume extreme positions – but they are coming from Alzire to Saudi Arabia – because in action they are the same.

In relation to the objection of President Johnson that it is difficult to expect a one sided withdrawal of Israel because it is right to ask that if following this its neighbors would try to “grab it by the throat,” the State Secretary desires to explain in detail why in our points of our suggestion the questioning of the withdrawal of Israeli troops was separate from problem of free sailing and others. It is not so that it creates the possibility that following the withdrawal of Israeli troops on the Arab side then it would be brought into question the implementation of the remaining points envisioned by the agreement. Neither do we have such an idea nor do we believe that the Arabs would have the strength to behave in this fashion. It is clear that all of the points of this settlement would have to be implemented, the only question is of phases and the modality as to what should be the subject of discussions. In the same view, and in connecting with the other objection of President Johnson that free sailing through the Suez should not be conditioned to the solving of other questions, the State Secretary states that the sailing through the Suez is one of the issues that needs to receive its own solution, but that President Tito once again was convinced during this visit, that along with all of his understanding for realistic relations and the need for political solution which President Nasser has, that today not a single government in the [UAR] would not be able to accept the passage of the Israeli flag though the Suez, and still remain in power. This is the reason that we believe that the realization of individual parts of the agreement has to be divided in time in order to be achieved.

The State Secretary returns again to the conversation with Johnson, and his statement concerning the vital interests of the USA in the Middle East and of the needs of the USA to cooperate with the Arabs, as well as the earlier statements of President Johnson, which Tito conveyed to the Arabs, concerning those where /Johnson/ does not wish to do anything in the direction of humiliating the Arabs. In relation to this the State Secretary says that as a whole President Tito believes that on the basis of the up to now realistic positions of Nasser the situation can evolve, under the condition that pressure and overboard request from the side does not prevent this. From President Nasser the situation demands courage in his assuming responsibility in this direction – he himself is aware of this, and I must say that President Tito in this view also expressed to him his thoughts. However, so that movement can be allowed in this direction it is necessary that good will and a readiness for a realistic solution be shown from the other side as well, so that a step from one side is followed by a step from the other side. The USA as the largest Western power can especially have a big influence on the position of Israel and on the development of the situation as a whole.

The State Secretary further said, referring to his conversation with Rusk in June, that we are now even more convinced that Nasser is the only one with whom an agreement can be reached for a durable peace, because he has an understanding for the necessity of this type of solution, and he has the support within the country for this. In relation to this he noted that, it is understood, there can be consideration to the toppling of Nasser and there are some extremists among the Arabs who would perhaps like to replace him. However, they, even if they succeeded, would have to the next day deal with the same problems, and find themselves with the same dilemmas, but a solution would be further away, because in the meantime the situation could only worsen. As we had agreed upon with President Johnson, things, if we were to allow them to follow their own course would only have the tendency to worsen.

Taking into consideration Rusk's words in his speech about “factors of peace in the Near East” which according to the American viewpoint are the following:

1. The Relations of the Arabs – Israel / he went into the history of the conflict/;

2. The insecurity in the relations between the Arab countries themselves. In this domain, the USA is satisfied that, how they were informed, in Cartoum and agreement was reached between the [UAR] – S. Arabia about Yemen;

3. The danger that the USSR and the USA would be pulled into a conflict in the Near East. He speaks optimistically and noticeably positively about the joint policy of the USA and the USSR that they avoid confrontation. He refers to Glassboro as well:

4. Not that importantly, but for them an important development nonetheless is that American public opinion is not very ideal because of the breaking of diplomatic relations with the USA by some Arab countries on the basis of totally unfounded Arab accusations concerning the involvement of the USA in the military conflict; to this Administration to a large extent has its hands tied with an elastic approach to the [UAR] and some other Arab countries / Congress/. The USA is not pleading for the resumption of relations, but it is necessary to understand “that even great powers are sensitive.”

According to their point of view the key question is the conflict. Rusk underlined that he was not certain that this question could be solved on a de facto basis. Arguing that if the Arab countries allow themselves the right to maintain the war status then you cannot object to Israel doing this as well. This is not a subject for the Arab countries or for Israel but for others as well. So, for example, when Nasser refers to the state of war and he closes the Tiran moreuz, he did not do this only against Israel but also against others, concretely with this he “grabbed (the USA) by the throat.”

The USA would like that the question of ending the war status be resolved through specific solutions, because this is a condition for long term peace in this region. They /USA/ believe that if this question – war status – is possible to solve, then the other problems would gain a new dimension / Katzenbach mentions here as an example the legal implications for Suez, if that question were to appear before the international court of justices/.

Rusk continues that without the ending of the war status there would be no qualitative difference even if Israel were to withdraw to the lines before the 5th of June. If the USA asked of Israel that it withdraw under the current conditions, they would refuse referring to earlier experiences, to the fact that the USA in 1957 also worked for withdrawal but with this that it would be guaranteed /to Israel/ the free sailing through Tiran. The one sided action of closing the Tiran moreuz Nasser has in great measure damaged the /credibility/ of the USA. He reminds us that even then / in 1957/ Nasser was not ready to sign the agreement on withdrawal, but that he, as it is now again suggested, accepted it through silence, harvesting the fruit of this agreement.

Following this Rusk spoke more generally about the agreement of the USA – USSR concerning the draft resolution before the end of the General Assembly. He underlined that the two powers had come to an agreement concerning important questions such as: the existence of Israel, ending the war status/with the formulation which could be accepted also by the Arab countries – it does not demand, for example, a formal recognition, diplomatic relations, and so forth/, the solution of the refugee problem, free international sailing/along with this he underlines that this agreement encompasses all “waterways.”/ According to their information, and that is also as they were informed by the Russians, the [UAR] was ready to accept this as a basis, but that Alzir and Syria objected. Unfortunately, he said, in formulating the Arab positions up until now the most radical elements always prevailed. He stresses that he does not see in the future a solution if, for example, Alzir is going to set Arab politics. However, if the Arabs refuse the draft resolution of the USA – USSR, Israel will do the same. Even the fact that both sides reject the same thing, already in itself means something. If it is impossible to already find some formulation to which both one or the other would support, then the objection of the opposing side can allow the other side to tolerate this. They /the USA/ wish to begin from the draft resolution of the USA – USSR which in a responsible phase could be brought before the Security Council. The USA is lying to itself that time is not working in the interest of peace. Maybe it was necessary through some time that the spirits be pacified, but in the future the situation with time may become even more difficult.

Following this Rusk puts out the view that a path to peace has to be found in which there will be no worrying parties, so that the entire situation can be totally renewed. He said that from the USA the formulas, forums/which would be the ones discussed/ and the modality are unimportant and that they were ready to listen to all suggestions in the direction of a common goal – durable peace.

Rusk stressed that President Tito was correct when he placed great importance on the question of the refugees. According to their /the USA/ viewpoint is that a solution exists, if the problem frees itself from its political framework. If, let's say, the refugees were given the individual right to freely and secretly express where they would like to live, they /the USA/ are convinced that only an unimportant percentage /10-15%/ would express their with to return to Israel, and in this situation Israel would be able to accept this. However, as long as there is insistence that all refugees must return, Israel will be forced to reject this. The problem is not easy, it has accumulated and sharpened through 20 years; because of the final solution it is important to approach it through the “back door,” distancing it from its political background.

The State Secretary says that he would not like to have any mist understandings in regards to our /Yugoslav/ end goals. Yugoslavia as a country of the eastern Middle Lands is directly interested in strengthening peace and stability in this region and its interest is that a solution of the crisis in the Near East bring about a lasting peace. We also consider that the ceasefire is not an answer to the problems in this region and that a definite and stable peace would be in the interests of Israel, as well as the Arab countries. In the end, the Arab countries are those that are under a constant military pressure of a stronger opponent, and from which pieces of their territory are constantly taken, so that it would be in their vital interest to affix borders and that they be protected from these actions.

In the meantime, so that this type of solution can be obtained it is necessary to take stock of the current political situation in the Arab countries, that is that it will take a long road until the Arab masses come to an understanding of the situation and that in many things the Arabs in this moment cannot go in the direction of public declarations. A solution would for sure have to include the definition and respect for borders on the part of all states in this region and in giving guarantees on the part of the great powers or the UN. How this would be formulated would depend on how the negotiations went, in which order things would be solved and in what time, because, of course, many things that cannot be solved in the next 2 or 3 months could be stated and confirmed in the course of one or two years. It is important that a firm agreement of all interested parties exists and that include the acceptance of peace and guarantees, and there should be an understanding for the fact that these things need to occur in a certain order.

Rusk underlines that this is a very confidential, open conversation between us. He says that it is tragic that the Arabs have a sense of injustice, that they have to pay for the sins of Hitler. If he were /Rusk/ an Arab, he would also likely see things this way. However, he is not an Arab and he does not see things in this way. To him it seems that the Arabs with their unrealistic (view) had many times “arrived late” to protect their own interests. That is how it was before the end of the Mandate in 1948 when he (Rusk) negotiated with the representatives of the Arabs and with the representatives of Zionist organizations. At that time, for example, Feisal was against the suggestion that a modest quota for settling Jews be approved of 2500 individuals monthly, he argued that the Jews could send 2500 pregnant women, which would in fact mean 5000 people; later, the Arabs rejected UN resolution from 1948, so that they could only later be sorry for doing so. And not too long ago, after the initiation of the conflict in the beginning of June, when the USA asked for an immediate ceasefire, the Arabs with the help of the USSR delayed the adoption of this resolution, which brought significant detriment to them. If that resolution had passed immediately, maybe things would have developed differently. He /Rusk/ hopes that the Arabs will not now be late again.

Following this he set forth that the Arabs individually are reasonable people, but when they act publicly, then they represent themselves completely differently. He thinks that it is now necessary to find out what the Arabs in fact are prepared to accept and at the same time not be insulted.

Rusk says that he until now spoke about the Arab side, and that now he wanted to say something with regard to Israel. It is important, he says, to think about what kind of perspective a nation of 3 million has in the sea of over 100 million Arabs, which will soon grow to 2000 million. He is convinced that many Israelis also think about this and are trying to find the roads to peace. They /the USA/ are encouraging them in this.

The State Secretary says that it is extremely important that they /the USA/ think like this and that they and other Western countries, influence Israel. It would be necessary, as Rusk even said, that Israel is taking stock of its future, including that through 30 years time the great countries – USA, USSR, China – maybe will be busy in other areas, and they would not be able to devote that much attention to the Near East like today, and then the balance of power between Israel and the Arabs maybe will be significantly different.

The State Secretary continues that this is the minimum that can be asked of Israel, because Arabs are being asked for very significant sacrifices. We /Rusk and he/ can as observers coldly rashen about what is unavoidable now in finding a solution, but you have to keep in mind that the Arabs are deeply convinced in the correctness of their grievances when they talk about the expulsion of 1 million Palestinians. It is undoubtable that it is correct that Israel is an artificial creation, and that in the most recent dates, a state created by a single organized action in the 20th century at the expense of constantly taking Arab territory and expelling the Arab inhabitants. We, Yugoslavs, were for a different solution, believing that it is possible for Arabs and Jews to live together in a single state, like the Jews had lived with the Muslims for hundreds of years.

It did not come to this and Israel is now a fact which we consider that it is necessary to accept. However, it is necessary that they show greater wisdom if they wish to be accepted for the future by their neighbors, because the successes of the Israeli generals are not any kind of guarantee for the lives of their children and grandchildren: they have only proved that Jews can be talented also for the business of war as for other things as well, when they focus on this. However, that is not the greatest wisdom and it is no kind of guarantee for the future.

With this the discussion concerning the near east was practically concluded.


Tying his comments to the perspective for the future Rusk expressed concern for Latin America, where Castro represents for them “a serious problem.” He said that they will attend the conference of ministers of the OAS, in mid September, which will consider the problem of Cuba and because of this he will not be going to the General Assembly all the way until 26th of September.

The State Secretary expresses his hope that they /OAS – USA/ in their conclusions remain in the framework of the political debate. Rusk responds that, in the meantime, Cuba represents a serious and practical problem through its interference. The State Secretary says that even we sometimes end up with the short end of the stick with the Cubans, for example, what they said about us during the meeting of OLAS, but we still believe that nonetheless one should respond to words only with words.

Rusk following this specifically mentions China, that they do not understand the real background of the current developments and that they are concerned.

As a bright spot he mentions the agreement with the USSR of the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. He underlines that this is the first and not the final step. The State Secretary responds that it is very important that this be only the first step, because for non-nuclear countries this would represent a one sided discrimination, in which they would be sentenced to technological backwardness, and so forth.

Rusk speaks about the problem of the anti-rocket ballistic systems stating with the absence of an agreement between the USA – USSR about this question, both sides would have to spend without real goals tens of millions of dollars and that this would be an arms race that would reach astronomical figures, creating great new dangers. To the question of the State Secretary if they were already negotiating about this with the Russians, he responds evasively, that they had not yet begun, but they were prepared for this, continuing that Kosigin had come to Glassboro with “an unfounded” assumption that the USA was interested only for the organization of defense rocket systems, but that the USA was prepared to negotiate a limit to the offensive (systems).

In the end Rusk gives recognition to the efforts of President Tito to help build a firm peace in the Near East, in which his role is especially important considering the relations with the Arab nations. They /the USA/ wish to continue with the current discussions with us on a confidential basis. Rusk will in detail inform Goldberg of the message and our discussions. He is interested (to learn) when the State Secretary will come to the General Assembly so that they can meet again.

According to the notes of Minister
Counselor Dr. Mirko Bruner
Approved by
Marko Nikezic

The Cabinet of the President of the Republic
The Cabinet of the President of the Federal Parliament
The Cabinet of the President of the FEC
Comrade Mijalk Todorovic
“ Edward Kardelj
“ Koca Popovic
“ Petar Stambolic
“ Ivan Gosnjak
“ Veljko Vlahovic
“ Nikola Ljubicic
“ Veljko Micunovic
“ Nijaz Dizdarevic

In State Secretariat for Foreign Affairs:
M. Pavicevic, D. Belovski, M. Pesic,
I, Njegovan, M. Vosnjak, R. Cacinovic, R. Uvalic,
R. Radovic, D. Petrovic, A. Bozovic, D. Bernardic,
The Embassy – Washington, Political Archive.

Memorandum of conversation between Yugoslav Foreign Minister Marko Nikezic and Secretary of State Dean Rusk at the State Department. The discussion is a continuation of earlier talks between U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson and Yugoslav president Josef Tito. Rusk and Nikezic clarify the mutual positions of their countries on the crisis in the Middle East resulting from the recent Six-Day War. They also touch upon U.S.-Cuban relations, political developments in China, and tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over plans for anti-missile systems.


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Yugoslav Archives, Fond No. 507, File. No. IX, Subject No. 109-V 1967. Translated for CWIHP by Tanja Rajic

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