21. Message From Robert B. Anderson to the Department of State1

No. 2
Our first meeting with PriMin Nasr was arranged at the home of Colonel Zacharia Tuesday evening2 at 8 PM. Present at the [Page 29] dinner were the PriMin, Zacharia, … myself [and others]. The dinner was a pleasant social affair. General economic conditions and the desirability for the improvement of standards of living in Egypt and elsewhere were the subjects of discussion.
Prior to going in to dinner the PriMin expressed his concern about the terms of the letter had [he?] had received from the World Bank with reference to the Aswan Dam.3 When it was suggested that the matter might finally be resolved by his meeting directly with Eugene Black, the PriMin was hesitant and said “it appears from the terms of the letter that Mr. Black wants to replace me in this country”. I gave him repeated assurances that Mr. Black was concerned only with making sound financial arrangements and in no way wanted to infringe on his prerogatives or interfere with the Egyptian power of decision. I emphasized that Mr. Black under his responsibility to investors in the World Bank approached the problem from the view point of a financier who had definite responsibilities to his own investors. The PriMin then stated that he too felt that the matter had been approached purely from a financial point of view and that he had informed his Minister of Finance that he would have to take the problem over and solve it personally as the issue of terms connected with the loan were essentially political.
We then told the PriMin that Amb Byroade and other members of the Dept were discussing the matter of the loan with the World Bank and that we felt confident that terms of reference could be included in another letter which the Prime Minister would find acceptable. This concluded the discussion with reference to the Dam but numerous other references during our dinner and subsequent conversation emphasize the great importance which the Prime Minister attaches to the project and to the development of terms of financial arrangements which are politically acceptable.
After dinner the Prime Minister indicated that he was now ready to discuss the business at hand. At this point I stated to him that one of the primary interests of the President stemmed from a great belief in the advantages of world peace in order to afford the fullest opportunities for all countries and all peoples to better their standard of living and to increase their capabilities of productivity and of the utilization of the world goods. I added that he recognized in the Prime Minister one who had shared in military experiences and who therefore appreciated the destructiveness of war and the tremendous problems encountered by nations in preparation for war. We also had an appreciation for his national aspirations and his sincere desire to engage in a productive program of public works and to better the way of life for his people. I pointed out to him that we [Page 30] fully recognized that he had certain problems both in his own country and with neighboring countries which were peculiar to his part of the world because of the history, culture and background of the Arab people. We realized that these problems would have to be dealt with in a manner that was consistent with their traditions and with his own national problems and aspirations.
I pointed out to him that I did not come as one who had all of the answers to any problems nor as a final adjudicator of what might be wrong or right on differing points of views, but rather to explore the problems of his country as he saw them and to be a patient and careful listener to his own explanation of the problems which confronted him and of their possible solutions. My hope was to determine the elements of negotiability between the differing viewpoints and to reconcile if possible the gaps between them. Because I proposed to visit Israel as well as Egypt I might raise certain problems and propose solutions from time to time for discussion but that I hoped he would understand that raising such problems or solutions did not necessarily indicate an advocacy of the solution but was rather a means for exploring it.
At this point I told the Prime Minister that I would be very pleased if he would indicate to me his own thinking about the problems of his country because I was anxious to understand them completely. The Prime Minister stated that while he did not wish to unnecessarily review historical background, he felt that he should to some extent indicate some historical occurrences which currently influenced the situation with which he was confronted.
The Prime Minister opened his conversation by saying that the Israeli problem was a combination of issues. The first part of the issue was that of existing tensions between Israel and Egypt. These tensions involved the basic questions of territory and refugees. He stated however that the much larger and more important problem was the divisions of thought in the Arab world and the necessity for some kind of unity that was inspired from within the Arab world. The Prime Minister stated that the solutions of both problems were interrelated and could not be solved independently.
At this point the Prime Minister said he wanted to make quite clear that the problem was much more difficult today than it was a year ago. He went back historically to the beginning of 54 at which time he stated that the Egyptians as a people were relatively little concerned about Israel. However, the occurrences during 55 had now brought about a condition in which the people of Egypt were all deeply and emotionally concerned about Israel and felt a very strong resentment and anger which had not heretofore existed. This made his task a much more difficult one.
Continuing his historical review the Prime Minister pointed out that in 1954 a debate was going on between the leaders of the various Arab states as to whether or not it was possible to enter into cooperative arrangements with the Western powers. By the end of 54 the Arab leaders had decided that cooperative arrangements could be made with the Western powers and that preferably they would be undertaken through a loose autonomous confederation of cooperation rather than entering into a formal pact between the great powers and respective Arab countries. He indicated that the only country which felt that cooperation would be difficult was Syria who did not want to submit the “cooperative thesis” directly to its legislative body but proposed to agree to cooperative measures on an oral and informal basis. The Prime Minister stated that at the time of decision in the Arab countries they were concerned with two things: one was Arab unity and the other was the development of sufficient strength to give them a sense of security. This Arab decision, the Prime Minister indicated, reached a final conclusion at a meeting of Foreign Ministers in Dec 54.4
In Jan of 55 the Baghdad Pact was announced which the Prime Minister pointed out came as a severe disillusioning surprise. He made repeated references to the fact that the Baghdad Pact not only proposed to establish defense arrangements, but included in its terms an invitation to all other Arab Nations to join in the Pact and thereby establish a political philosophy whereby the Arab nations who should subsequently adhere to the pact would be entering into a political as well as a defense arrangement with powers outside of Arab world. He stated emphatically that the Baghdad Pact was viewed by him and his Government as a political ideology designed to isolate Egypt. That, one by one, nations in the Arab world would be brought into the Baghdad Pact until finally Egypt would be left alone to confront the Israelis. He said that he would say quite frankly under these circumstances his country was forced to take counteraction.
This counteraction expressed itself primarily in terms of a propaganda campaign against Turkey (as the principal seeker for additional members) but included as well propaganda efforts against Great Britain, the United States, and colonialism. The Prime Minister pointed out, therefore, that some of the strong feeling which existed today in the Arab countries and particularly in Egypt against the Western powers and which would now make more difficult a settlement with Israel, resulted directly from their propaganda efforts which they felt were essential to their own security at a time when [Page 32] the Baghdad Pact threatened to isolate them from the rest of the world. The Prime Minister said that during this period with a great deal of reluctance they had “burned several of their bridges behind them”.
He then went back to the question of securing Arab unity and said that there were four major considerations which had to be taken into account in the solution of this problem. First, and most important, was the resolution of differences of opinion between the Arab States and the establishment of an informal security arrangement which would be inspired from within rather than from without the Arab States. Second, he was concerned with the influence and the expenditures of money by the Saudi Arabs. Third, he was concerned with the expenditure of money and the influence of the U.S., as for example the influence of the U.S. exerted in behalf of such things as the Baghdad Pact which he regards as counter to the Arab nationalist interest. Fourth, he was concerned with the resolution of the debate within the Arab countries as to whether or not at this time cooperative arrangements could be entered into between the Arab States and the Western powers.
The Prime Minister then pointed out that under present circumstances as outlined by him, any announcement of a settlement between Egypt and Israel would produce a very unpopular reaction both within Egypt and the other Arab countries. He stated that he liked to take a calculated look at the risk he was running and had determined that upon making an announcement of a settlement he would lose at least 60 percent of the support of his own people and a like percentage of the support of people in the other Arab countries. This, incidentally, is the same percentage of loss of support which Nasr calculated he would and did lose as a result of the dismissal of General Naguib5 and this is the rate of recovery of support which he believes he experienced following that incident. He felt that he would recover the support of the people within Egypt through a program of public works and demonstrating an interest in the establishment of better standards of living and that within a period of 30 to 60 days he would recover 30 percent of the support he had lost and within six months he would recover all except 10 percent of the support he had lost. He stated that while he felt that he could also recover the support of people in other Arab States it would be more difficult, take longer period of time, and that in this instance he would have to be helped by the Western powers rather than to have his progress impeded.
At this point he stated with some bitterness that even when he thought he was taking actions which would be approved by the [Page 33] West, he was frequently attacked both by the British and the American press, and even more importantly was attacked by sections of the Lebanese press which he pointed out he believes are substantially controlled by the USIA. (As an example, Nasr stated that when he supported Eden’s Guildhall speech he was severely criticized in the Lebanese press. This, he believes, resulted from efforts by a Western power to discredit him with other Arab countries. This is the sort of thing which he believes we could, through our influence, prevent reoccurring).
While he appears to be concerned with what is said in the world press his very obvious direct interest is what is said in the press in this part of the world which he believes to a large extent is influenced by Britain or the U.S. He stated during one point of his conversation that he was sure that certain very influential elements of the press in certain of the Arab States were either financed by the British or by the USIA.
At several points during his discussion I asked the Prime Minister if he would repeat his points because I was anxious to understand clearly his point of view and on one or two occasions I asked him if I might express in my own terms my understanding of what he was saying to me in order that he would be sure that I understood his point of view. By this means we believe that he feels that his point of view was made quite clear.
At one point in his conversation he said quite significantly that he and his govt felt that powers with whom they were friendly should exchange views and ideas prior to taking action even though all of the views and ideas were not universally accepted by their respective govts and that “my govt does not like to be confronted with surprises such as the Baghdad Pact which require counter surprises”.
The Prime Minister expressed himself very forcibly against what he considers the aggressive actions of Great Britain further to implement the Baghdad Pact and pointed out that he had said to the British Ambassador that only trouble could result from General Templer’s visit to Jordan. He then reviewed the reaction of the Jordanian people against Jordan’s adherence to the Baghdad Pact and said that he felt the same reaction would take place in most of the Arab States.
We consider significant the emphasis which the Prime Minister continued to place on the Baghdad Pact. He regards it as the beginning point of serious deterioration of relationships between Egypt and Western powers. He feels that it came to him as an unwarranted surprise. He is convinced that it has political implications adverse to national Egyptian interest. I pointed out to him that we had regarded the pact solely as a defense arrangement and never [Page 34] as a political ideology directed against Egyptian interests. I pointed out to him also that despite urgings we had not at this time adhered to the pact. The Prime Minister seemed to appreciate these expressions. Neither of us mentioned at the meeting the fact that we would soon have conversations with the British but it was obviously in his mind.
At the conclusion of the PriMin’s talk I asked him if I might sum up for my own benefit the points which I understood him to have made and that I proceeded to do. The PriMin acknowledged he thought I had an understanding on the points of view he expressed. I pointed out to him that he had very significantly raised the larger aspect of the problem of leadership in the Arab world and I felt we could very usefully explore any ideas which he might have in this regard. He stated that while he would like to have positive help in this area it must be help which his people would understand and that neither he nor ME should take such actions as would indicate that he had “sold out to the Western powers”. I reassured him that what we were seeking to do was to explore kinds of things which might be helpful to him in a spirit that would contribute to the objectives of a peaceful settlement of current tensions and of maintaining a peaceful world. The PriMin thought that this could be usefully discussed.
My personal reaction to our first meeting was that the PriMin was pleased by the idea of a representative of President coming to discuss his problem with him, that he was much more concerned with the question of Arab leadership than with the immediate problem of tensions between Egypt and Israel, that he did not at our first meeting want to enter into detailed discussions involving territories or refugees but rather wanted to feel out our own position with reference to his leadership in the Arab world. I have the impression that he is confident of his own position in Egypt and relatively confident of his ability to dispose of a settlement between Egypt and Israel and still maintain a strong position in the Arab world if he is positively and in the right way [supported?] by the Western powers and their allies and if he is not impeded either by adverse propaganda or by aggressive arrangements which he considers political as well as defensive. He specifically referred from time to time not only to our own conduct of affairs but the influence which we would have with other Western powers in supporting his efforts at settling the tensions between Israel and Egypt.
While our meeting was very friendly and our discussion quite frank, I think it should be emphasized that the Prime Minister spoke time and again about the fact that the problem was a difficult [Page 35] one and involved many factors. No doubt one of our most difficult problems will be that of timing. The Prime Minister raises the question that our objective must be accomplished by stages as he expressed … in December.6 He now seems to be preoccupied with stage 2—that is the support or acquiescence of other Arab States. We believe that a large part of our discussions during the next few days will be concerned with working out the kinds of support the U.S. can give toward reaching the objectives of this phase. I think that we should be conservative in our hopes for an early resolution of this problem.
Our meeting ended at approximately midnight… . My next meeting with the Prime Minister is scheduled for Thursday.7 He requested Wednesday for his own thinking. Any suggestions, comments or advice will be appreciated.
… At this stage the PriMin reemphasized certain points which he regards as major. He specifically said that he felt confident of being able to sell a “reasonable” settlement with Israel to the Arab world providing that he could be absolutely sure that he would not have the United States, Britain, Turkey or Iraq working against him. He expressed himself as willing to accept the Presidential emissary’s assurance that the United States would not engage in such activity and would use its influence to persuade other states to refrain also. However he is deeply suspicious that, no matter what assurances might be given by the U.S., certain elements in the British Govt (specifically British intelligence) as well as Turkey and Iraq might be unable to restrain themselves from taking advantage of every vulnerable moment to attempt to destroy Egypt’s prestige and position in Arab world by presenting Egypt as traitor to Arab national cause. The PriMin said he was not sure how satisfactory assurances on this score could be worked out but he would give the matter serious and detailed thought and would hope to have more specific suggestions for his next talk with the Presidential emissary.
The second point on which the PriMin dwelt at considerable length related-to the timing of a possible settlement. He argued that whereas a year ago feeling in Egypt and the Arab world generally was comparatively quiescent as far as Israel was concerned the Gaza raid and subsequent Israeli aggressions have inflamed feeling in Egypt and particularly in Syria which would make announcement of any settlement absolutely not feasible in the immediate future. In further discussion of this point he agreed that it might be possible to conclude a settlement quickly if the announcement of it could be deferred until he has had time to prepare the proper psychological moment. Among other things it will be necessary to relax the [Page 36] currently vigorous and virulent anti Israeli propaganda in the Arab press and radio. He would not estimate how much time this would require but made no objection to the suggestion that six months without further border incidents or provocation would probably be sufficient.
His final point referred back to what he said earlier but was expressed more specifically. He does feel that the development of a regional economic aid program channeled under Egyptian leadership through the Arab League would be one of the most helpful things that the U.S. could do.
In discussing the Israeli position both the PriMin and Colonel Zacharia professed surprise at our supposition that the question of the Negev would be the most difficult one for the Israelis to compromise upon.
  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Alpha—Anderson Talks w/BG and Nasser. Incoming Telegrams—Jan.–March 1956. Part I. Secret. No documentation has been found in Department of State files or at the Eisenhower Library to indicate that either the President or the Secretary of State had given Anderson a formal title. According to documentation in Department of State files, Anderson and others associated with his mission transmitted 134 specially numbered messages to Washington. Outgoing messages from Washington to Anderson and to associates were transmitted unnumbered, until February 27. Thereafter, there were 13 specially numbered outgoing messages. All messages dealing with substantive matters, which were declassified for publication, have been included.
  2. January 17.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 1.
  4. The conference of Arab League Foreign Ministers at Cairo concluded on December 16, 1954.
  5. Naguib was dismissed on November 14, 1954.
  6. No record of this conversation has been found in Department of State files.
  7. January 19.