195. Telegram From the Embassy in Egypt to the Department of State1

1841. In discussion last night with Nasser he commented freely upon prospects for JVP which he said had been discussed at tripartite meeting here. Gave him substance Department telegram 2182.2 Said he could not be optimistic in any way as to short range prospects for this plan. There was no question of technical engineering aspects involved as he saw it. Most of Arab politicians had no comprehension as to technical aspects. They were against it for purely political reasons.

I asked if he could see chances of success within a month. He said no he could not. The problem now rested primarily around situation in Syria but Jordan would also present difficulty even though they seemed to want item included in league discussions this month. In Syria all political parties had agreed that no action could be taken. He stated that Ambassador Riad personally believed in project and had been recently in touch with the President, Prime Minister and party leaders. There was no chance that Syria could now agree and probably could never do so as long as parties here were negotiating for position in future government.

Nasser said he could only see one possible chance to get early approval of project which he agreed was technically sound. First of [Page 361] all name must be changed to something else. Every refugee knew name of “the Johnston Plan” or “The Jordan Valley Plan”. It had been used in domestic politics and for agitation purposes to point where he felt neither Syria nor Jordan might never be able agree to accept Plan under either name. Secondly could we not separate project into two parts and proceed independently in each of Arab States and Israel with negotiations and actual work while retaining master plan concept which would not be publicized. He stressed that he was thinking of procedural changes in presenting the Plan, not of technical engineering features which he thought would not require major adjustment.

Nasser went into great detail about importance of the psychological in dealings with Arabs (and illustrated his point of view in some amusing stories.) In our logic we might think his suggestion naive or even foolish. Nonetheless, he felt he knew psychology of Arabs which could not be successfully ignored. The problems in ME he added could be solved best by psychologists rather than politicians, and the indirect manner could often achieve the desired result where a frosty approach was doomed to failure. He felt in general we were too stubborn about pressing named concepts after chances for their success had been politically destroyed. He felt that if we were wise we would publicly admit that plan under either of these two names was completely dead and abandoned. We might then approach each individual state, (perhaps through our Ambassadors, so that there would be no emissary to call public attention to fact that new effort was involved), and obtain agreement that work within that state should go ahead through normal aid agreements. This would in end give area the entire project on both sides. Under questioning on such matters as international water control, use of Tiberias, et cetera, Nasser admitted that his suggestion needed study to see if it was practical. However, he thought we should give it a real try.

We are not competent in this Embassy to judge whether Nasser’s suggestion could be accepted as being practical. I am aware of fact that Arabs not us insisted on Arab League consideration. However, Nasser was willing last night to admit that Israeli construction at Banat Yacob might be accepted under such a diffused approach. In view of dangers in this issue, would hope Department would give every consideration to some such approach which might remove this issue as a possible causa belli between Arab States and Israel.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.85322/3–1456. Confidential. Received at 1:53 a.m., March 15. Repeated to London, Amman, Beirut, Damascus, Jidda, Baghdad, and Tel Aviv.
  2. Document 183.