22. Telegram From the Embassy in Egypt to the Department of State 1

1312. 1. Following Embassy comment re Nasser’s proposal to British Ambassador (Embtel 1294)2 and general problem organization ME defense.

2. We are now faced rather acutely with old dilemma of role of Egypt in our Middle East defense thinking. This problem occupied much time at Istanbul Conference of ambassadors in May 1954 but conference ended without clear-cut decision re Egypt’s role. We have [Page 30] hoped Egypt would acquiesce, with some grumbling, in northern tier approach to Middle East defense and, without joining, accept supporting role. Egypt could, under these conditions, be termed eligible for modest military assistance in view of her base agreement with West, her task of protecting canal and fact she would serve as general base area for northern tier.

3. We now know how deeply Egypt has been disturbed by attraction of northern tier for other Arab states. Egypt has applied great pressure to prevent them from joining. On our side we have not been eager to see states other than Iraq and Iran join at an early date as, while it looks good on paper, it would cause further drain upon our limited resources and be awkward in view of Israeli problem. What we wished rather was an increased orientation of these states toward West, an increase in stability of governments and a general improvement in their economic conditions. As these conditions are important in the rear area of the northern tier we have thus had a plan of action in which limited military assistance could be extended to northern countries plus Egypt and in which certain essential economic development would be stimulated in these and the other Arab states.

4. I believe this policy thinking has been and still is logical and in the best interests of the United States. I see no reason for change in view of recent developments.

5. Although Egyptian press has made great fuss reflecting attitude of RCC, the Iraq-Turk pact has not aroused great feeling among many educated Egyptians. Most intellectuals are attracted by idea that what Turkey and Iraq do is of no concern to Egypt. Unfortunately these people are of little influence. I make this point only in case Department may have assumed from press that there is general mass feeling against pact here in Egypt. There is feeling but it is primarily among men governing Egypt and opposition elements.

6. As Department knows, present government, while sincere and undoubtedly working very hard for what they consider to be best interests of Egypt, is still doctrinaire and inexperienced. Iraq’s challenge to Egypt’s ME leadership came as surprise and shock, Iraq-Turk pact was contrary to Nasser’s own area defense planning based upon Egypt and premature for GOE. (He sincerely considers his ideas advantageous to general interests of US in Middle East). The pact caused RCC to go into tantrums and get so far out on limb that some action became necessary on their part. The desire to save as much of Nasser’s own plan (Embtel 1120)3 as possible and for Egypt to resume its Arab world leadership has caused Egypt to embark on idea of the new club [Page 31] which Salah Salem has been attempting to sell to Arab states. We believe that once Egypt considers it has regained initiative and restored its prestige, it will be more inclined think and act reasonably.

7. We do not believe Egypt is particularly enthusiastic about new club or that she has any illusions regarding its military potency.

8. Question now is how bad this all is from viewpoint of our own interests. New club as a substitute for Arab collective security pact is likely be even less effective than ACSP. Nevertheless, Egyptian propaganda and political action against Iraq-Turk pact has probably made it unlikely that Jordan or Lebanon, and certainly Syria, will adhere at early date to northern tier arrangements. As stated above, this delay may not be serious since our thinking has not been towards haste in this direction in any event. Egypt certainly will not join pact, but we have never been certain that we wanted this even in long term. (It is an interesting thought that a northern tier arrangement tied to West plus a general grouping under leadership of Egypt in south would probably be the best possible organization of ME from viewpoint of US interests were it not for problem of Israel. We must, of course, include security of Israel in our thinking. This among other things causes our logic to be different from that of Arabs who, having entirely different concern re Israel, do not take into account our own concern and are therefore baffled by our lack of support for unified Arab forces.)

9. One thing seems certain here. While we cannot give the new organization Egypt is attempting to form our blessing and support for many reasons, any attempt at this juncture to meet it head on with public disapproval would be counter-productive. This would greatly react to our disadvantage by arousing all-out counter-attack on US in much of Arab world and only increase Egyptian-Syrian-Saudi determination to proceed as now planned. Our best course would seem to be one of caution and display of relative disinterest. Reaffirmation of our support for northern tier can be done as necessary to meet situation in north but this should not be accompanied by condemnation of indigenous action here in the south. If we can avoid public opposition, the new club may be brought around in time to offer something to build upon. To get our support they would have to agree to moves re Israel; with time and disillusionment with efforts of club to achieve strength they might seek our aid and this would be opportunity for US to use lever. Any immediate effort to present this southern arrangement as being in support of northern tier (paragraph 3, Embassy reference telegram) would fail but even this may become possible as time moves on.

The above line of thought suggests following courses of action:

Refrain from public comment re new club.
Advise Jordan and Lebanon quietly and in conjunction with UK to stay out of the new arrangements;
Tell Egyptians we take realistic and practical view of Middle East defense problem and are adopting a wait and see attitude as to how new arrangements will shape up and under what rules.

In meantime we strongly disfavor efforts to undermine Iraq.

If we can follow something along above lines it is my belief that general fuss here will blow over. I find British Ambassador thinking in similar vein. In meantime this official position would of course be supplemented by private efforts with Nasser to try to get us back in step on whole range of ME problems.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 780.5/3–855. Secret. Repeated to London, Damascus, Beirut, Jidda, Amman, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, and Tehran.
  2. In telegram 1294 from Cairo, March 7, Ambassador Byroade reported that during a conversation of March 5, Nasser had described the ESS Pact “as good a foundation for ME defense arrangements as is now possible”, and asked whether the United Kingdom would be willing to back the ESS Pact. Nasser reportedly said that the agreement was not directed against Iraq, but was a result of the Iraqi-Turkish treaty. (Ibid., 774.00/3–755)
  3. Document 11.