191. Message From the Ambassador in Egypt (Byroade) to the Secretary of State1

No. 128
Regret not seeing Nasser as agreed with Anderson at time his departure.2 I wanted wait as long as possible allow Nasser have second thoughts. In view Nasser’s schedule and as I thought it wise [Page 349] not to place request for meeting on subject Anderson mission, waited, waited a bit too long in asking for appointment. After Anderson’s departure Nasser sent word he would rather wait until tripartite meetings concluded. He asked me to come to his home for lengthy meeting evening 13 March.
After few opening remarks Nasser launched into subject of Anderson mission, thus indicating it much on his mind. Said he disturbed at reports that Anderson had left here discouraged. Said perhaps he had made mistake in being too honest as to what he thought he could and could not do, but he thought it best all around that there be no change of misunderstanding. He thought he had from beginning made it clear that he could not agree now to scheduled meeting with Ben Gurion, Sharrett or other official representative of IG. There was insistence upon this subject to point where he frankly became very jittery about entire project, as we seemed not to understand his situation in this regard. Said he was tense during meeting and had made every effort be clear. Had therefore not spoken as freely as usual in view seriousness of subject. Perhaps Anderson wrongly concluded he had changed his position because of his manner of conducting conversations.
As regard second point, ie question of launching agreed formula for settlement, he also could not understand our feeling that he had changed his position. He had never understood that it was our understanding that he would on Arab side “put proposal in the air” as his own. We must certainly know enough about this problem and conditions in the area not to expect him to agree to such a proposition. If the agreed terms could be launched by someone else such as U.S., UM [UK?] or some other state he would “do his best” convince other Arab States to accept settlement terms. This he still willing to do even though project looks more difficult in some respects than when first discussed. To agree now to do more would be deceiving us. Regardless of what future might hold as to state of our relations, he did not intend get himself into position where our President could say he had been deceived by him. He was not playing game of stalling until he gained greater arms for striking purposes as Israelis alleged. He was for project and would help to extent of his ability but could do no more.
Will report this channel only items in the general discussion that followed which particularly connected with state of Arab-Israeli tension and Anderson mission.
In discussion possibility and consequences of war he exhibited a state of relaxation and confidence quite unlike his appearance of apprehension and tension during last summer prior to Czech arms deal. He stated he did not really believe there would be war. He did not think war would come if the Arabs were strong. I told him it [Page 350] obvious there increasing suspicion with govts and in world public opinion, in wake of important meetings here and other developments in Arab world, that Arabs themselves might start war. His reply was categoric. He said “I have written a letter to your President.3 I will not deceive your President. I will not start a war with Israel. I give to you and to him my word on that issue, not as a politician but as a soldier”. He also said this, which is exact quote: “It must be apparent to you anyway that we could not really win a war if we were foolish enough to start one. Under these conditions you would feel you had to move in. I would then in effect be fighting the U.S. and Britain as well as the Israelis. In such an impossible position I might be compelled to take Russian help and then where would I be going, and where would my program to build my country end up. I do not want another Korea here. I do not want to see a world war. I do not want to gamble so foolishly with the future of my own country”. I asked if he thought any other Arab State wanted war with Israel. His answer was equally positive that they did not.
Nasser realized during this conversation that he was speaking for the record and did so deliberately and slowly, thus facilitating my writing his exact words—which I have never tried before. (In view of recent doubts, and as high levels in our govt must be aware … that Trevelyan has reported … that a plan had been prepared during recent meetings here for Arab attack in June, I hope this message will reach same levels.) I do not believe Nasser values U.S. friendship so lightly as to so deliberately deceive us on this vital issue. For my part I am willing to believe that discussion might have taken place as to how Arabs might launch attack if they later came to such decision following new developments, such as large amounts of arms to Israel, which might make them conclude to take a chance. I do not believe however any such decision for attack was taken or seriously considered. My impression is that Trevelyan now believes this also the case, although he of course generally gloomy as to total developments which affect British position in entire area.
Nasser, who for some reason does not seem to share fully our concern re preventive war by Israel, said war could come in one of two ways. The first was Banat Yacob issue. Syria felt bound to resist this project. As an insight on this problem in Syria he told me that Kuwatly had stated he had no alternative. Shishakly in 53 had successfully opposed this diversion and had gotten away with it. His position would be untenable if he failed where Shishakly had succeeded and he would be faced with an army coup. (His remarks on the JVP in State cable.4) The other possibility was an incident [Page 351] along the border which would get out of control. No raids were planned from the Arab side—although retaliation for Israeli raids inside Arab territory could not be avoided. He said this true for Syrian front, as elsewhere. Arrests inside Israel which Israelis label Fedayeen were really intelligence scouts but he could not admit this publicly. As long as Israelis retain their position re El Auja and as long as their posture in Negev as a whole was shifting and unclear, he felt he had occasionally to send reconnaissance groups inside. In discussion of Fedayeen activities he said none were planned and no single one could be sent on a mission without his personal approval. This is a matter in which he would not delegate authority to anyone, not even General Hakim Amer. Furthermore, if time came when he decided use Fedayeen in retaliation, he would tell me first.
On question of border incidents and raids there at least was an answer, if Israel would agree to mutual withdrawal of troops. He had favored this position for months but especially wanted it now as means of preventing incidents and also for other reasons, to enable him to bring his army back to Canal Zone. His striking force was no longer there but he still had too many troops across the Canal. In addition there were administrative and morale problems which would be solved by getting his troops out of the Sinai Desert.
Nasser said there are three steps that must be taken:
The easing of tension along the borders. This he felt could be done through the U.N. The cardinal feature of this would be the separation of troops but other measures such as increased observers probably would be helpful.
The easing of tensions between Arab States.
With general easing of tensions in entire area accomplished by a and b above the Anderson mission could succeed. It should most certainly not be abandoned but conditions should be created for its success.
Will try to convey to greatest extent possible such recommendations as I may have ….5
1200 14 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.
  2. See Document 173.
  3. See Document 75.
  4. Document 195.
  5. Byroade sent a separate account of this March 13 conversation with Nasser to the Department in telegram 1835, March 14. (Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/3–1456)