164. Message From Robert B. Anderson to the Secretary of State, at Karachi1

… I met with Nasr, Zacharia and Ali Sabri at 1745.2 Nasr said he wanted to review the objectives of the mission, which he understood to be two fold—the first involving an understanding of and the development of agreed courses of action for the settlement of broad economic and political problems in the Middle East; secondly, the working out of the Israeli problem. That he is now somewhat confused as to what he regarded as our insistence with his meeting with a representative of the Israeli Government prior to the development of agreed plans for wider problems in the area and prior to the basic resolution of the differences between Israel and Egypt. He also reiterated a feeling that the West powers were aligning themselves with Israel by public declarations and that he was becoming increasingly fearful of Zionist influence. He pointed out that recently the Defense Minister of Israel had issued a call for technicians, laborers and military volunteers throughout all of Europe and the Western countries to assist Israel in its military effort.3 [Page 303] That this call by Israel had not been challenged by the Western powers and that it was likely to provoke counter action by efforts in the Arab States to rally the Moslem world against Israel. He therefore became increasingly fearful of an East-West struggle with the Western powers and Moslem states opposing each other. He reiterated that even if the differences between Egypt and Israel could be resolved, such a resolution cured only one aspect of the problem since he would not speak for the other Arab States.
He repeatedly referred to the fact that he was concerned that our emphasis on an early solution of the problems and the possibility of some meeting between the Arab leaders and a representative of the IG was simply an effort on our part to please Ben Gurion and was not really directed toward the solution of his problem. We reminded him that our objectives have remained constant. We were seeking essentially to avoid war either through aggression or as a result of incidents, that we were, therefore, concerned with maintaining the armistice, reducing incidents which increased tension and of achieving an acceptable settlement of the differences between Israel and her neighbors, that of necessity the element of timing was important, that there were differences in procedural approach to these objectives, that Israel was anxious for an early meeting and an early resolution of the problems, that Nasr was reluctant to meet with representatives of the IG and envisioned a longer period to condition public opinion and to secure the acceptance of other Arab States of settlement terms, that we had accepted his conclusions that he could not meet with BG at this time, that our suggestions of a meeting with a private citizen of Israel was to introduce such elements of confidence as to afford to Nasr the time he obviously wanted to consult with other Arab States and to avoid an arms race or the pressures of [on] the respective countries to secure additional arms, that the suggestion was not being made to “please Ben Gurion” but was an effort to produce a period during which negotiations and consultations could be carried out in the absence of tensions, that we were still anxious to work out areas of understanding and cooperation between us and Egypt, looking toward the achievement of Egyptian efforts to better its own economy and to afford a type of Egyptian leadership in the Arab world or toward the maintenance of free governments and free people in an atmosphere of peace. I took this occasion to point to the Syrian-Israeli incident on Lake Tiberias and told Nasr the gravity which we attached to the affair, that we had urged the Israelis not to take retaliatory action. Asked him if he would not speak to the Syrians urging them to return the boat and prisoners.4 He replied very brusquely that he [Page 304] would speak to the Syrians but that such incidents gave him little concern and were “a part of my daily routine”, that he had gotten to the point that he frequently did not read the details of reports of such incidents and when he saw the report in the paper he usually “turned the page”. He quite obviously will do little more than mention our concern to the Syrians. Despite the unconcern which Nasr had for the border incidents and his feeling that a settlement could not be achieved in the foreseeable future, he several times reiterated that Egypt would not declare an aggressive war against Israel and would wage war only as a defensive measure. He conceded under questioning, however, that despite the declarations of his intentions, war could become a reality as a result of progression from an incident which was not designed to provoke general fighting.
I then asked Nasr how, in view of his determination not to meet with any representative of the IG, we could maintain the armistice and avoid war through aggression or accident during the period of time which he regarded as essential to a settlement. He replied by saying that all of this could be accomplished by both sides simply retiring 1 kilometer from the border and by strengthening the UN truce observer group. I asked him if he thought it would be helpful for the United Nations to sponsor wider efforts toward the maintenance of an effective armistice. He thought there might be some advantages in such an effort but continued to reiterate that all that was necessary was the procedure outlined above.
I asked Nasr if in the light of his refusal to meet with any representative of the IG he would consider meeting with an American citizen of Jewish faith, either under the auspices of the IG or simply in his capacity as a U.S. citizen, who might be more influential with the IG on account of his faith. Nasr replied by saying “he would still be a Jew”. I asked him if I was to take this as declining and he said yes. In our judgment Nasr has now completely closed the door to the possibility of any meeting with any representative of the IG or any direct meeting with any U.S. citizen of Jewish faith on the basis of negotiation. At this point I asked Nasr if he would be willing to get into the details of proposals to settle the differences between Egypt and the IG beginning immediately with details of discussions of the problem of refugees, of the Negev, etc. He replied that he would engage in such conversations if it were completely understood that they were between the Egyptians and the United States. At this point we reviewed our prior conversations with him on the various check list items. He maintains the position which he has heretofore taken item by item. The only problems presenting substantial difficulty remain those of the refugees and the Negev. Neither of these problems he was willing to discuss tonight in detail [Page 305] but stated that Ali Sabri could begin discussions . … He made quite clear that the position which he had taken on the Negev, i.e., the return of all of the Negev to the Arabs, he regarded as a compromise between the partition plan of 1947 and conditions as they exist today. He pointedly did not want to discuss details of either major problem but only to authorize discussions to begin. Nasr then stated that after each point had been agreed to between Egypt and Israel it would then become “his job” to secure as far as possible the agreement of other Arab States to the settlement proposals, although he made clear that certain of the Arab States would likely insist on some changes to agreed proposals between Israel and Egypt, as, for example, territorial concessions in the Lake Tiberias area to Syria.
At this point Nasr introduced what we regard as a completely new and discouraging element. He said “even when this is done, Egypt will not put the proposal forward as its own idea but we will then have to discuss the appropriate outside source to make the proposals, which will be submitted to Egypt and the other Arab States for acquiescence. Such proposals might be offered by the U.S., by the UN or some other nation. This we will have to decide at that time”. I made clear to Nasr that so far as I was concerned, this was a new element and that we had heretofore thought that Egypt would sponsor a settlement agreement embodying the principles which it had agreed to… . Nasr tried to make it appear that this was not something new but something which he had perhaps not made clear. We are personally of the opinion, however, that this is an entirely new element and, while it may have been in Nasr’s mind, it was never expressed at any prior meeting. It is inconsistent with the idea that we have continuously discussed that Egypt assume the position of leadership in the Arab world and of having the national prestige and courage to make proposals which the other Arab States could be induced to adhere to. In the course of discussions of the question of Egypt taking a position of leadership in arriving at a settlement with Israel involving Egyptian meetings with representatives of Israel, Nasr said, “you continue to talk of the problems with Israel as if they were my problems which I have to settle. They are, in fact, your problems and you must settle them. My only part is to be helpful in trying to sell an agreed plan to other Arab States. I am willing to discuss Egyptian policy and American policy but you will have to solve the problem of Israeli aggressiveness”. To date this has been the most disappointing conference since the beginning of the mission. These points seem fairly clear:
There is no possibility in the near future of a direct meeting between representatives of the IG and the Egyptian Government. He is completely haunted by the fear of his own personal safety and [Page 306] four times during our conversation tonight referred to the fact of Abdulla. He said “I am unwilling to gamble my future or that of my country in any circumstances similar to the Abdulla incident”.
Nasr has ruled out the possibility of a U.S. Jewish citizen acting in behalf of the IG.
He will conduct conversations only with the United States as such and is unwilling or unable to spell out a time table during which such discussions would reach a conclusion.
If a set of proposals for the settlement of the IG-Egyptian dispute could be agreed to by both sides, Nasr considers his sole role in the operation to make an effort to sell the agreed proposals to the other Arab leaders. This he believes he could do but only subject to the other Arabs making modifications in the agreed proposals. He said categorically “I cannot lead the other Arab States or I would end up leading myself alone”. This is quite a departure from our earlier conversations in which we discussed Egyptian leadership in this area.
Any proposals agreed to by the Egyptians and the IG and finally concurred in by other Arab leaders would then have to be sponsored by some outside power or the UN, and this subject Nasr says we should leave for discussion “at that time”. He obviously does not look forward to any early resolution of the problem. He repeatedly pointed out that “this has been going on for 7 years and cannot be resolved in the near future”. He quite clearly is thinking in terms of a more effective armistice without a settlement during a number of months to come and probably for the foreseeable future. He believes that a more effective armistice can be achieved simply by mutual withdrawal of forces from the border and increasing the observer group. These 2 conditions he categorically accepts.
As to any enlarged role of the UN, even to the point of increasing the effectiveness of the armistice, he is exceedingly vague about and has no real suggestions. It seems clear that the U.S. is now confronted with determining its course of action in absence of a settlement. At this time it appears that what we can most realistically hope and work for is not the settlement of the dispute but the avoidance of war.
We would greatly appreciate the Secretary and Department’s thinking on the effects which a report of this meeting will have on the IG and any guidance which you can give.5 When the IG is appraised of the current Egyptian position, they undoubtedly will re-appraise their own position, and it seems eminently important that we give our best thinking at this time to the measure of influence which we bring to bear on their re-appraisal and the preparations which we make in the light of possible decisions at which they might arrive.
A proper evaluation of the recession from our objectives which seem to come out of today’s conference should be evaluated [Page 307] in the light of the fact that Nasr is currently carrying on conversations with the Syrians and the Saudis. The effect of these conversations on his position is something which we can speculate about but cannot now accurately evaluate at this stage. Before leaving tonight I told Nasr that we planned currently to depart for Israel on Wednesday6 and that some additional conversation might be desirable. He agreed to hold additional conversations tomorrow evening at 1100 P.M.7 This obviously will be after the meeting with the Saudis. At this moment I doubt the fruitfulness of any additional conversations but wanted to leave the door open. Your earliest advice and comments will be appreciated.
We plan to depart Cairo at 1200 noon Wednesday and arrive Athens approximately 300 P.M. Your reply should be sent in accordance with these movements.
Drafted 2300Z 5 Mar.
  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Alpha—Anderson Talks w/BG & Nasser. Incoming Telegrams—Jan.–March 1956. Part II. Secret. Also transmitted to Washington for Hoover.
  2. On March 5.
  3. Ben Gurion issued this appeal on February 21 while addressing a meeting of the Histadrut in Tel Aviv.
  4. See Document 159.
  5. See footnote 4, Document 168.
  6. March 7.
  7. See Document 173.