14. Memorandum of a Conversation, White House, Washington, January 11, 1956, 2:30 p.m.1
- The President
- Mr. Robert B. Anderson
- Secretary Dulles
Mr. Anderson told the President he expected to leave on his mission on Sunday.2 We then discussed the various elements of the situation which might give the United States negotiating power.
I said that oftentimes matters which were insoluble in isolation became soluble in a larger context. Here there was a larger context, namely, the future leadership of the Arab world. Egypt was ambitious to hold this position, which it felt was now challenged by Iraq, with the backing of the UK and Turkey. Iraq was now a key state in the Baghdad Pact of Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and the UK, and the UK was exerting influence to bring Jordan first and then perhaps Syria and Lebanon into the Baghdad Pact. Egypt, with backing from Saudi Arabia and the present Syrian Government, was opposing this movement. The United States had maintained a position of flexibility. It had not joined the Baghdad Pact nor had it exerted any influence in favor of enlarging the Baghdad Pact through the adhesion of other Arab countries.
I believe that Nasser would be willing to pay a considerable price to get the support of the United States in limiting the Baghdad Pact to its present Arab membership with concentration upon the peril from the North, with Egypt maintaining its hegemony of the Arab countries.
Our policy in this respect might have to be firmed up when Eden arrives and it would be important to know Nasser’s view before then, if possible.
The second bargaining position we had was in relation to cotton, where we could either destroy or help Egypt’s market.
The third point was the Aswan Dam.
These latter two points could probably not be openly negotiated, but could be delicately suggested. In the case of the Aswan Dam, Nasser was very nervous lest we attempt to use aid to control his political policies.[Page 21]
A fourth position which might be hinted at was that if good relations continued and developed between the Arab States and the West, this would undoubtedly call for paralleling the Suez Canal with another canal which could be financed by the oil companies and which could increase Egypt’s revenues.
I pointed out that Egypt would not make a settlement with Israel unless it could carry along in that settlement the other bordering Arab countries, namely, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Here the possibilities of the Johnston plan for water diversion were considerable and beneficial to these states. Failure to reach an agreement would undoubtedly mean that Israel would itself divert all the water for its own purposes, which it could easily do because of the geographical configuration.
There was also the problem of indemnifying and resettling the refugees. This would take large sums of money, to which the United States would contribute and would bring large sums into the area. We talked about various locations for possible resettlement, including perhaps 50,000 in Israel. Mr. Anderson raised the possibility of using the Sinai Peninsula as an area for resettlement. We also discussed the possibilities in Iraq and Iran. The President raised the question as to whether the Arab countries would be tempted to look to Israel as a manufacturer. I said I doubted that this was an inducement at the present, because the Arabs would still want to maintain some economic restrictions against Israel.
Turning to the Israeli side of the picture, I said I felt that the Israelis should realize that their position had been completely altered by the entry of the Soviets into the picture. Up until now, Israel had been strong and somewhat arrogant, relying upon the fact that the Western powers were the only purveyors of arms to the area and that this fact, coupled with their natural sense of discipline and organization, enabled them to maintain a military superiority over their Arab neighbors. But with the Soviet surplus arms available to the Arabs they, with their population of about 40,000,000, had an absorbent capacity which could not possibly be matched by the 1,500,000 Israelis. Furthermore, the political interests of Britain and France were altered by the possibility of loss of the oil from the Arab countries. That would be a crippling blow to their economy and to the NATO forces, and they would not be willing to pay this price merely to back Israel against the Arabs here in the United States. There was also a growing realization that backing Israel might be very costly to vital United States national interests.
Israel from now on would have to play the part of a good neighbor to the Arabs and not seek to maintain itself by its own force and foreign backing. Unless the Israelis realized this, they were doomed. The present was their best time to negotiate a settlement [Page 22] because they still had a military equality and would not be negotiating from weakness. Also, the full significance of the changed situation was not yet fully reflected in changed political attitudes.
I said that so far as the immediate issue between Israel and the Arab States was concerned, I felt that money could deal basically with the problem of the refugees. The most difficult problem was the Negev and the question of Israel’s access to the Gulf of Aqaba and Egypt’s access to Jordan and Arabia. At this point we got out a map and studied it. It was pointed out that the Egyptians could block the channel between the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea and that the Israeli port of Elath was never really dependable. I pointed out our suggestion about the converging triangles across the Negev. The President threw out the suggestion of a causeway across the Gulf of Aqaba which would connect the Sinai Peninsula with Saudi Arabia.
We discussed somewhat the question of the cost to the United States. We agreed that the question of money within reason would not be an obstacle because a settlement would be so valuable to the United States and would attract such large political support that Congress would almost assuredly vote the necessary funds which, although considerable in the aggregate, could not usefully be spent very rapidly.
The President expressed to Mr. Anderson his great personal confidence in him and the great importance which he attached to his mission.
Mr. Anderson said he would like to be able to quote some of the President’s views to Colonel Nasser as those of one military man to another. The President said he could do so and I suggested, and the President agreed, that Anderson should feel that he had a free hand in attributing to the President the views with reference to the matters we had discussed. It was understood, however, that no firm commitments should be made except ad referendum, and that the matter of our relationship to the Baghdad Pact was particularly delicate in view of our relations with the UK.