780.00/6–153

No. 136
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Jernegan)1

confidential

Subject:

  • The Situation in Egypt and the Near East
[Page 378]

Participants:

  • The President
  • Ahmed Abboud Pasha
  • The Egyptian Ambassador

Also present:

  • John D. Jernegan, NEA
  • Thomas Stephens, The President’s Appointment Secretary

The President did most of the talking during the half-hour conversation. He opened by inquiring as to the present economic situation in Egypt. Abboud Pasha replied that Egypt was suffering from an economic crisis, largely due to its inability to sell its cotton abroad. The President asked about possibilities of finding petroleum in Egypt, to which Abboud Pasha replied that prospects were excellent and that one of his reasons for being in the United States was to meet a Texas oil man to discuss this very question.

Abboud Pasha spoke briefly regarding Egypt’s need for economic assistance. He emphasized the importance of Egypt in the Middle East, saying that it was, in fact, not only the most important country in the area but really the only important country in the area.

After further general discussion of economic matters affecting Egypt, the President commented at some length on the political situation in the Near East. The essence of his remarks was:

1.
He was intensely interested in the area and his primary objective was to bring about peace between its states. He was thinking especially of the Arab–Israeli quarrel. It was essential that both sides stop quarrelling and that they respect the existing frontiers.
2.
The US wanted to be friends with all nations in the Middle East, because we believed that only through friendship could the nations of the world unite against the Soviet danger which threatened us all. We intended to be fair to all the Near Eastern states and to show no favoritism. He knew it had been said that there were five or six million Jewish votes in the US and very few Moslem votes, but he was not running for office. He had been dragged into office but he could not be made to do anything he did not believe was right.
3.
In addition to the Arab–Israeli problem, the other great problem in the area was that of the Suez Base. Here he believed both sides wanted a settlement and that a satisfactory arrangement would not be difficult to achieve if it were not for the excited public opinion on both sides. The leaders were unable to sit down quietly and reach a logical solution because, figuratively, someone was standing behind the back of each of them with a raised dagger.
4.
The Soviet danger which hangs over all of us make us all more disposed to be conciliatory and to resolve our disputes. Unfortunately, it seemed to create a tension which made it more difficult to get together. Nevertheless, he believed a satisfactory solution was possible. He intended to work for it and he would not allow himself to be discouraged by the difficulties.
5.
One of the reasons it was important for the states of the Near East to get along together was that their quarrels made it harder for the US Government to give them assistance. People in the US [Page 379]who opposed foreign aid programs could argue that it was useless to assist the Near East when the states of that region did nothing but fight among themselves. Despite all this, the President believed it was important to help the area and he would persevere in this policy.
6.
The President assured the Ambassador and Abboud Pasha that we would do nothing and would undertake no commitment that would be “illogical” with regard to Egypt. Our objective was a reasonable solution to present difficulties.

During the course of the President’s remarks, which were made informally and not in the exact order set forth above, Abboud Pasha interjected observations to the effect that (a) American policy toward Israel had created fear in the Arab states; (b) the US, nevertheless, was not regarded as an imperialist state; (c) the refugees were the real problem in the Palestine situation; and (d) one of the difficulties in the Anglo-Egyptian dispute was the inferiority complex which seventy years of British occupation had created in the Egyptians–if it were not for this, Egypt could admit British troops just as American troops were admitted to France and England.

At the close of the conversation, Ambassador Hussein told the President that Secretary Dulles’ recent visit to Cairo had had an excellent effect and created much hope among the Egyptians.

  1. A handwritten note on the memorandum reads: “Sec saw 5 June. R[oderic] L. O’C[onnor].”