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

1373. Yesterday Nasser invited me for unannounced and locally quite secret meeting with him today outside Cairo. Conversation, almost entirely on matters arising from defense organization, lasted 6 hours without interruption. Had set as my goal convincing Nasser unwisdom from Egypt’s point of view of pursuing Saudi-Syria-Egyptian Pact. While am certain he convinced move unwise was unable devise with him any method by which proposed pact would be called off. He reiterated, almost in sadness, Egypt now too committed to change course and meetings for finalization would probably be soon.

Salah Salem was invited for part of meeting and proved utterly incorrigible. He sees everyone conspiring against Egypt. Many phrases of Damascus aide-mémoire were quoted to prove we following two policies re ME. He raved on our schemes to force an Israeli favored type of peace in area. Am afraid I responded with quite undiplomatic clobbering of the rascal which according to local etiquette should at least await greater personal acquaintance and several Turkish coffees. Discovered later Nasser had asked his presence to (1) hope I could get him somewhat out of his severe case of suspicion and persecution complex and (2) let me see type of problem he had to contend with.

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My appraisal of Nasser personally rises with each meeting. Unfortunate part of all this is that he is basically pro-West and certainly anti-Communist. I reiterate my belief that Nasser is not hostile to northern tier approach nor Turk-Iraqi Pact in itself. Fact that we may choose to expand this by picking off one by one the rear area states understandably distasteful to him. Believe however, that but for Syria factor could even persuade him to indicate publicly he not opposed. The brutally strong démarche recently by Turkey to Syria upset him greatly.

Believe we might get Nasser soften language Egyptian draft new pact although I did not at this meeting hold this out as important. Stressed that world opinion would draw its conclusions on manner and atmosphere in which new pact came into being. I told him my personal opinion that Secretary would have no alternative, when questioned by press after pact signed, but to be critical as American opinion would be convinced that arrangement neutralist and aimed at sabotage of realistic defense arrangements. He said this would be disastrous and hoped Secretary, knowing more of true nature of things than appeared on surface, could find way of not being politically critical.

Nasser once went so far as to say if we would agree to put no pressure on Syria to join Iraq and northern tier and agree to consult him in advance should we change our minds perhaps new pact sponsored by Egypt would not be necessary. However, his advisers told him in Arabic they thought this unwise as Turkey and Iraqi effort would continue and Syria “must be committed quickly” before it became too late. Nasser replied in Arabic he not sure they were correct. Did not follow up on this idea as, while I believe best results in area require that Egypt be consulted, and that status quo in fact be maintained for awhile if possible, we cannot appear to give Egypt a veto. Also do not see how we can appear to assume the responsibility for what Syria herself may or may not decide to do in present unstable situation. Perhaps from vantage point of Department some idea may emerge from this.

Nasser now very much in a box and he knows it but cannot see his way out in near future. Frankly neither can I. Know he is still searching for alternatives and something may emerge. It would be great pity if regime should fall into discredit and fail because of all this as, in spite of childish behavior this item of foreign policy, and ravings of Salah Salem, this basically the best that Egypt has had in our lifetime. Neither am I discouraged re future cooperation if way can be found around present difficulties.

Until further developments, can only reiterate my previous recommendations re distinction between private and public efforts. Have left no doubt our feeling re northern tier, Egyptian efforts interfere [Page 43] internal affairs other ME countries, nor our lack of support for their new pact arrangement. If at all possible, however, let us work at this without public condemnation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.74/3–2055. Secret. Priority; Limited Distribution. Repeated to London, Paris, Ankara, Tel Aviv, Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, and Jidda.