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

No. 115

We have been analyzing the conversations of last night2 and thinking in terms of the present position of this operation and possible future courses of action. Our current speculation and analysis is as foil:

Small likelihood Nasr may have from the beginning had in the back of his mind a feeling that any settlement with Israel cannot be achieved within the foreseeable future, but has been willing to work toward a settlement which would come at some undefinable future date. His thinking has more than likely been in terms of a settlement if and when the right circumstances developed.
He realized from our earlier conversations that we were thinking in terms of a considerably shorter period. As a consequence he has from time to time cautioned that a complete settlement might require “months” but to the best of our recollection the longest time which has been discussed is a period of six months. Even this length of time we have urged was unrealistic and would produce considerable problems. Heretofore he has not wanted to disillusion us and was willing to talk of the three phases leading to settlement in terms [Page 311] of making progress as rapidly as possible so as to leave us to hope that by mutual effort the time could be shortened or that secret arrangements could come reasonably soon and be kept secret until an appropriate time came to announce them. Likewise, he has possibly from the beginning resolved that he would not meet with any representative of the I.G. but he allowed us to hope that such meeting at some level was possible. He even authorized me specifically to say to B.G. that the question of a meeting at some agreed level was open and under consideration.
Nasr has now concluded that he should frankly make his position that he does not believe a settlement can be made in a matter of even several months and that he is unwilling to assume the kind of leadership in a controversial issue which might make such a settlement achievable at the loss to Nasr of public popularity and which could incur the danger of increasing differences between Nasr and other Arab leaders.
Nasr, I think, made clear both in discussing the Jordan Valley plan and the Israeli dispute that he does not want to sponsor any settlement of a controversial issue under either his personal leadership or the leadership of Egypt. This he fears would endanger his prestige in the Arab world.
It may very well be that his discussion last night making clear that he would not sponsor an Israeli settlement, but would consider a proposal coming from the outside, may have been influenced by our talks on the previous evening3 when we urged him to take a position of leadership in the approval of the Jordan Valley plan. He was quite unwilling to lead one side of an Arab controversy looking to the approval of the Johnston plan and therefore may have felt that he should make clear to us that he was likewise unwilling to accept the leadership in the settlement of the controversial Israeli dispute.
While Nasr likely had in his mind from the beginning a basic feeling that he was thinking in much longer terms of time than we were, and probably in terms of a different approach, it may well be that his current talks with the Syrians and the Saudis have precipitated his thinking to a point that he felt that he must now make clear to us both his long range concept of any settlement agreement as well as to disabuse our minds that he was going to accept a position of leadership on these issues in terms of sponsoring them with other Arab States.
One cannot necessarily conclude that Nasr has not had a change of position since the beginning of our talks and is merely making clear his position at this time. It may be that he has really [Page 312] changed his point of view or his estimate of the situation. Sources here have been advised by Labouisse that the refugee situation is made more acute now than at any other time in the past. He may well feel that increased friction among Arab States has made problems more difficult. It has been suggested that he may have gotten to a point where he lacks confidence in his own competence since staff work in support of his efforts is very meager. He may feel, however, that under his current program of caution he is making progress toward achieving a position of increased responsibility in the Arab world and does not now want to endanger that progress prematurely by assuming a position of leadership in issues highly controversial within the Arab States. We think that all of these items of speculation and analysis are deserving of weight.
While he is now willing to discuss the terms of a proposed settlement with representatives of the U.S. who would discuss like terms with the IG, Nasr makes clear that he would remain uncommitted to such a plan until it had been likewise approached by other Arab States. Hence the kind of thinking which we much indulged in, i.e. arriving at agreed terms which would be kept secret until some future date at which they would be mutually announced by Egypt, IG and other participating parties, seems out of the question for Nasr would not now commit himself to settlement terms which the IG could rely on as a final future plan to be announced until the other Arab States had also agreed. He does not appear to appreciate the inconsistency between this point of view and the mind of Egyptian leadership in the Arab world which we have been talking to him about and which we have told him we would cooperate in achieving within the context of the approval of the Jordan Plan and a settlement with Israel. If, therefore, we proceed to discuss with Nasr specific terms of a settlement agreement we can only discuss them with the IG as tentative arrangements which Nasr will secretly discuss with other Arab leaders and which he will try to sell to them but not as an agreed basis of settlement which the Egyptians would openly sponsor at some future selected date.
Throughout both of our conversations this time Nasr has, on his own initiative, repeatedly asserted that he does not want aggressive war against Israel. His real attitude, I think, requires careful analysis. One is inclined to believe that he would like to see war avoided but that he is not willing to assume aggressive leadership to avoid it. That he is not now so concerned about the possibility of an Israeli attack. There is quite a mixed impression … as to whether or not Nasr now is really fearful that the Israelis might attack. There is also an element of fatalism in his attitude toward Israeli danger as well as a feeling among members of the staff here that he feels that the U.S. has sufficient influence with Israel to prevent an attack and [Page 313] that we now believe it is in our own national best interest that such an attack be avoided.
It would seem undesirable at this moment to undertake the kind of task of laying a plan before each party to the dispute, and saying that this represents our very best estimate of what is fairly achievable under all of the circumstances since, at least from the Arab side, it would be discussed only as a document which Nasr would tentatively agree to subject to the acceptance by other Arab States with whatever modification they demanded. Under these circumstances it seems hardly possible that the Israelis would disclose their best terms for settlement. While this is an impression only, it could very well be that if a plan of settlement should be openly laid by the UN or a group of powers before both sides to the dispute including all the Arab States concerned, that while there may be loud clamoring and complaint from Arab States they might well prefer this kind of an imposed settlement to one which would be sponsored by any one or group of the Arab States. This is a matter for our future thinking and consideration.
In view of the great importance of the Middle East and its resources to the Western world and the NATO structure, it seems that all variations of speculation should now be carefully weighed and analyzed and perhaps judgment reserved. For example, of real importance may very well be the outcome of the tripartite talks which are now taking place in Cairo which could very well shed light on Nasr’s current thinking and the validity of our own analysis. It seems to me that one primary consideration now should be what course of action lies open to us that best preserves our interest in the Middle East and which course most effectively denies the spread of Soviet influence. An analysis of these problems obviously cannot be placed in this cable but should be the subject of all our thinking. Our own feeling here is that added emphasis is now placed upon the proposal of going to the United Nations, seeking strong authorization to enforce the armistice and keep the peace.
Whatever may be the reasons motivating Nasr in his conversation of last evening one factor which now concerns me greatly is Nasr’s stated unwillingness to assume a position of leadership in the sense of arriving at a program which he believes to be solid and giving it open and vigorous support with other Arab States, even with the assured backing of our government and our best efforts to influence in his interest other Western powers. Rather he wants to assume the position of discussing proposals not on the basis of their representing his best conclusions but on the basis of there [their] being possibilities. He also made quite clear that after agreeable conclusions had been reached he still wanted to be in the position of accepting something which others put forward rather than of putting [Page 314] forward something as a leader which he believed to be to the best interest of the Arab world. Again it is a matter of speculation but one has to consider that Nasr may have concluded that his best chance of securing a position of leadership in the Arab world is to maintain issues around which Arab and Moslem opinion can be rallied. For example, during our discussions concerning the approval of the Jordan Plan he said “I could not openly urge the acceptance of a plan that would destroy the entire case for the refugees.”
We feel that perhaps the most imminent problem is the reaction of the IG to a realization that a meeting in the foreseeable future is not possible and a feeling of despair that a settlement does not appear possible at any time in the near future.4
Drafted 1630Z 6 March.

  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. See Document 164.
  3. See Document 162.
  4. On March 7, Hoover informed Anderson that he appreciated his “excellent” analysis of the March 5 meeting and told Anderson that he agreed “with paragraph 13 your message No. 115 that most imminent problem is impression that is left with IG as result of present round of discussions. In view of your intimate awareness of all problems involved, am inclined leave to you decision as to how to play it with them. It is clear that IG hope of arranging early direct meeting cannot be realized and that plans for area must be based on assumption that settlement in near future not likely. At same time, am inclined to believe it wise to include in discussion with IG leaders idea that lack of concrete progress at this time due to impasse arising from IG insistence on direct talks and unwillingness reveal positions on issues to an intermediary and of Nasser’s position of unwillingness to plan direct meeting though willing discuss issues. Also believe it desirable to reflect, even though indirectly, possibility of other approaches to problem of settlement, such as concentration on separate problems, e.g., resettlement of refugees, or suggestion of terms of possible settlement by some UN official or organ or international leader.

    “Believe it also desirable for you to leave definite impression with IG leaders that we fully aware of their sense of insecurity and that we are most actively at work on policies and actions for assuring security of Israel in way that will also preserve vital interests of Free World in area.” (Message 12 to Anderson at Athens, March 7; Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Alpha—Anderson Talks w/BG & Nasser. Outgoing Telegrams—Jan.–March 1956)