192. Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs (Wilkins)1


  • United States Policy in the Near East

1. Preamble

United States policy in the Near East during the past three years has followed three principal lines:

Political. The United States has striven for a settlement between the Arab States and Israel. The Secretary’s speech of August 26, 1955 outlines in principle the various ways in which the United States was willing to contribute to a settlement. The United States has endeavored, thus far without success, to bring the Israelis and the Egyptians together on a settlement. Both the Israelis and the Egyptians have proved difficult, but the Egyptians have been the main stumbling block in recent weeks.
Economic. The United States has maintained a small technical assistance and economic development program for selected Arab States and Israel. It has averaged about $75 million annually. The United States has also continued to contribute to the relief of Arab refugees from Palestine. This contribution has averaged about $22 million annually. The United States has made known its willingness to assist in a number of important regional projects. These include the Johnston Plan for harnessing the Jordan River and the Egyptian Plan for the Aswan Dam to control the Nile.
Military. The United States has supported Northern Tier Collective Security from its first inception in a loose defense arrangement between Turkey and Pakistan to the formation of the Baghdad Pact. The United States has not joined for a variety of reasons but primarily because of the effect which such action would have on U.S. relations with Israel and with Egypt. The U.S. has approved sales in small amounts of arms to the Arab States and Israel. More recently the U.S. suspended a decision on a large Israeli request to purchase arms in the U.S. because of the Israeli raid in Syria in December and because discussions regarding an Arab-Israeli settlement were continuing.

During the past year the United States has, in general, looked to Egypt under Prime Minister Nasser to take leadership in meeting the [Page 353] major problems in the Near East. Nasser has, however, failed to move toward a settlement with Israel; he is now delaying on taking the initiative with respect to the Johnston Plan and has raised a number of serious objections with respect to the provisions of the proposed Aswan Dam agreements; he has inaugurated a series of bilateral military pacts with Syria and Saudi Arabia because of opposition to the Baghdad Pact; he set aside the offer of American arms from the U.S. and made an agreement with Czechoslovakia; his radio and press are now speaking strongly against the U.S. and other Western countries. Against this background there seems little likelihood the U.S. will be able to work with Nasser in the foreseeable future. The U.S. will therefore have to consider other means for obtaining U.S. objectives in the Near East.

U.S. objectives in the Near East (which are listed on Tab A as recapitulated in NSC 5428) include the development of friendly relations with Near Eastern Governments which are willing to resist the extension of Soviet influence and which, at the same time, are willing to cooperate with the U.S. and other Western countries. U.S. objectives also include the reduction of current Arab-Israel tensions through the conclusion of a settlement between the Arab States and Israel and some solution for the Arab refugee problem. All of these objectives and many of the others listed on Tab A have been adversely affected in one way or another by the present attitude and actions of Egypt under Nasser. In fact, the attitude of the other Arab States and of Israel toward the U.S. is being affected to a serious degree by Egyptian actions.

There is attached (Tab B) a plan of action which includes measures which the U.S. and its allies might take with respect to Egypt and the Near East. …

II. Discussion with the British and Others

Prior to a U.S. decision with respect to the Plan of Action, it will be desirable to discuss it with the British. The British continue to hold highly important assets in the area. These include British treaty relationships with Iraq, Jordan and Egypt. The success of future U.S. policy would be enhanced by British support and cooperation. It might even be stated that British opposition might undermine the success of the plan of action. It may also be desirable to discuss a certain limited number of these measures under the plan of action with the French, the Turks, and perhaps some other countries. The French and the Turks, for example, have certain interests in the area and would feel that they should have been consulted. A decision with respect to consultation with the French, the Turks and [Page 354] other countries may be decided on an ad hoc basis in light of developments.

III. Further Discussion with Nasser

Another basic question centers upon desirability of a further frank discussion with Nasser. The U.S. has looked to Egypt under Nasser, as stated above, to take leadership in the Near East. We have discussed with Nasser during recent months various constructive steps which might have been taken in the Near East by Egypt. Nasser has temporized and finally refused. Faced with this refusal, what should we do?

Should we now tell Nasser that … we plan to withdraw aid for Aswan and to join the Baghdad Pact unless Egypt cooperates with us? Shall we also ask Nasser if he would now be willing to press the Arab States to accept the Johnston Plan and to cooperate with General Burns in bringing quiet to the frontier between Egypt and Israel?

On balance, we believe that if the U.S. should now approach Nasser with a series of proposals which he would regard as threatening him he would turn them down and make known his action to the Arab world. He would interpret the U.S. approach as a last effort to bring pressure upon him. He would make public his refusal to entertain the U.S. proposals because he would estimate his action would appear a rebuff to the U.S. and would be popular with the Arab world.

We believe it would be preferable quietly to commence the measures, described on the attached Plan of Action (Tab B) … . Such measures as delay in the issuance of export licenses, and lack of progress in negotiations on the Aswan Dam should have a useful effect. Nasser would soon conclude that relations with the U.S. were not proceeding smoothly and would raise the question with American officials. The response might be that friendly relations between countries are reciprocal. Further U.S. measures would be keyed to Nasser’s willingness to reverse his present policies… .

Tab A2

To recapitulate briefly from NSC 5428,3 these objectives are listed as follows:

[Page 355]

“7. Availability to the United States and its allies of the resources, the strategic positions, and the passage rights of the area, and the denial of such resources and strategic positions to the Soviet bloc.

“8. Stable, viable, friendly governments in the area, capable of withstanding communist-inspired subversion from within, and willing to resist communist aggression.

“9. Settlement of major issues between the Arab States and Israel as a foundation for establishing peace and order in the area.

“10. Reversal of the anti-American trends of Arab opinion.

“11. Prevention of the extension of Soviet influence in the area.

“12. Wider recognition in the free world of the legitimate aspirations of the countries in the area to be recognized as, and have the status of, sovereign states; and wider recognition by such countries of their responsibility toward the area and toward the free world generally.”

“9. a. To deter an armed attack by Israel or by the Arab states, and if an armed attack should occur to force the attacking state to relinquish any territory seized.

b. To reduce current Arab-Israel tensions and promote an eventual clear-cut peace between the Arab States and Israel.

c. To alleviate the Arab refugee problem.”

Tab B


A. Measures to he Taken … (approximately March 15–April 15):

The United States will continue to delay the issuance of export licenses covering arms shipments whether purchased under the U.S.-Egyptian Reimbursable Assistance Agreement or from commercial sources in the United States. The United States will continue to delay giving approval to the Department of Commerce for the export of such items as commercial vehicles which are obviously intended for the Egyptian army.
The United States will continue to delay the conclusion of current negotiations on the High Aswan Dam.
The United States will continue to delay pending Egyptian requests under Title I, P.L. 480. (It is not intended that the United [Page 356] States will delay or cancel up to 200,000 tons of wheat already purchased by Egypt under P.L. 480 and P.L. 665.5)
The United States anticipates that the CARE program for 1956 may total as much as $180 million as against approximately $40 million during 1955. A decision on the program for 1956 is imminent. The United States could approve an amount of perhaps $10–$20 million for the first quarter of 1956, leaving a decision regarding the balance until later.
The United States would suggest to the British that they immediately slow down the withdrawal of British troops from Suez. Under the U.K.-Egyptian agreement of 1954, 75 percent were to be withdrawn by February 18 and 100 percent by June 18.
The United States would commence negotiations with the Sudan, looking toward the extension of technical assistance and possibly economic aid to that country.
The United States would continue to take steps to counter Egyptian influence in Libya and to strengthen the position of the West. A program has already been worked out and discussions with the Libyans are planned shortly.
The United States would continue to urge the British to make every effort to maintain present treaty relationships with Jordan.
The United States would consider with Ethiopia possible Nile development and an expanded economic assistance program.
The United States would take practical steps to counter Egyptian influence in Yemen and other Arabian principalities.
Commencement of a series of high-level visits to Egypt’s neighbors by military and civilian officers from the United States to demonstrate U.S. interest in the area.
Interference with hostile Egyptian broadcasts by jamming.
The United States and other friendly countries would initiate moves in the United Nations Security Council and, if necessary with the United Nations General Assembly, looking toward the creation of an Agent General for the Near East.

Arab Reactions:

Most of these measures are confined to Egypt. Some of them, however, relate to other Near Eastern countries. Those measures relating to Egypt are relatively mild and would not be known to the Egyptian public unless the Egyptian Government made them known. The initiation of the measures relating to Egypt during the near future should have an immediate effect on the Egyptian Government. Nasser and his colleagues would wonder and probably conclude that the United States was in this way making known its [Page 357] opposition to Egyptian policy. There would be little advantage to the Egyptians in publicizing their apprehension because delays are not uncommon and the United States has not definitely broken off negotiations.

The other Arab states would probably not be aware of the measures which the United States had taken relating to Egypt.

Israeli Reactions:

The Israeli press and public would probably not be aware of the steps which the United States had taken relating to Egypt.

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Omega—Egypt—Dam, Miscl. 1956. Top Secret. The source text contains no information to indicate who read it. Document 209, however, refers to it, indicating it was seen.
  2. Top Secret.
  3. For text of NSC 5428, July 23, 1954, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. IX, Part 1, p. 525.
  4. Top Secret. Drafted by Wilkins on March 14.
  5. Reference is to the Mutual Security Act of 1954.