222. Memorandum Prepared in the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs1


  • 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 outlined 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 Israeli and the Egyptians together on a settlement. Both the Israeli 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, the program averaging about $75 million annually. The United States has also continued to contribute to the relief of Arab refugees from Palestine, the contribution averaging 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 United States relations with Israel and several of the Arab States. The United States has approved sales in relatively small amounts of arms to the Arab States and Israel. More recently the United States suspended a decision on a large Israeli request to purchase arms in the United States because of the Israeli raid in Syria in December, because discussions regarding an Arab-Israeli settlement were continuing, and because it was believed that a [Page 410] favorable decision would in present circumstances be disastrous to the Western position.

During the past year the United States has, in general, looked to Egypt under Prime Minister Nasser to take leadership in meeting the major problems in the Near East. Nasser has, however, failed to move toward a settlement with Israel; he is now delaying in 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 and, possibly to prepare for a large-scale attack on Israel; he terminated negotiations with the United States for arms and made agreement with the Soviet Union through Czechoslovakia; his radio and press are now speaking strongly against the West generally including the United States on the score of “colonialism”. Egyptian propaganda undoubtedly was an important factor in the recent Jordanian affair, which operated to the detriment of the West; similarly, Egyptian propaganda and material help to anti-French forces in North Africa have greatly exacerbated the situation there; Nasser has opened the African door to Soviet penetration; he has arranged with the Soviets to send nuclear scientists to Cairo to set up a research reactor laboratory; in violation of the United States resolution, Egypt maintains a blockade of the Red Sea. Against this background there seems little likelihood the Western powers will be able to work with Nasser in the foreseeable future. There is a serious danger that, despite his protestations to the contrary, Nasser in fact plans to lead the Arab countries in a war of annihilation against Israel as soon as he feels that victory is assured. In this he would cooperate with the Soviet Union to the extent necessary to obtain Soviet support to counter any action by the Western powers. The United States will therefore have to consider other means of obtaining United States objectives in the Near East.

United States 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 are willing to cooperate with the United States and other Western countries. United States 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. The attitude of the other Arab states and of Israel toward the United States is, in fact, being undermined to a serious degree by Egyptian actions.

There is attached (Tab B) a Plan of Action which includes measures which the United States and its allies might take with respect to Egypt and the Near East… .

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II. Discussions with the British and Others

Prior to a United States decision with respect to the Plan of Action, it will be desirable to discuss it with the British who also are giving urgent thought to the problem, their estimate of the situation closely paralleling our own. 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 United States policy would be enhanced by British support and cooperation. It might even be stated that British opposition to any important aspect of the program might undermine the success of the Plan of Action.

At the outset of conversations with the British it would be wise to have a frank discussion regarding the need for absolute secrecy in connection with any plans which might be considered. British leaks in the past have created considerable difficulty for the United States. One factor is that the British sometimes feel that public knowledge that they are working with the United States on specific aspects of the Near East problem serves their interest. Recent press stories regarding British reappraisal of their relations with Egypt might be expected to be intensified unless we can come to an absolutely clear understanding on the conditions of secrecy to be imposed in connection with our willingness to engage in joint planning.

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 other countries may be decided on an ad hoc basis in the light of developments.

This document does not describe military aspects of the problem of military planning which might take place between the United States and the United Kingdom in the light of the possibility that hostilities in the Near East will, despite our efforts, break out.

III. Further Discussion with Nasser

Another basic question centers upon desirability of a further frank discussion with Nasser. The United States 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 [Page 412] Egypt. Nasser has temporized and finally refused. Faced with this refusal, what should we do?

Should we now tell Nasser that we propose to revise our policy of cooperating with him unless he clearly demonstrates a willingness to reciprocate? Should we say that we plan to withdraw aid for the Aswan Dam, economic and technical assistance, deliveries of surplus and CARE supplies, 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, to cooperate with General Burns in bringing quiet to the frontier between Egypt and Israel, and to desist from anti-Western policies in the area?

On balance, we believe that if the US 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 US approach as a last effort to bring pressure upon him. He would make public his refusal to entertain the US proposals because he would estimate that his action would appear a rebuff to the US 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 approval of surplus sales, and lack of progress in negotiations on the Aswan Dam should have a useful effect. Nasser would soon conclude that relations with the US were not proceeding smoothly and would raise the question with American officials. The response might be that friendly relations between countries are reciprocal. Further US and British measures would be keyed to Nasser’s willingness to reverse his present policies… .

Tab A

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

“7. Availability to the US 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.

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“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


Immediate Measures to be Undertaken …

A. Against Egypt

The United States will continue to delay the issuance of export licenses covering arms shipments whether purchased under the United States—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 Kingdom would pursue a similar policy.
The United States and the United Kingdom will continue to delay the conclusion of current negotiations on the High Aswan Dam. Plans will immediately and quietly be undertaken to reallocate the $55 million from FY 1956 funds which have been set aside for Phase One of the Dam project, assuming United States–United Kingdom–International Bank for Reconstruction and Development–Egyptian agreement. (If an agreement with Egypt should subsequently prove feasible, funds might be provided from FY 1957 appropriations for the initial United States contribution.)
The United States will continue to delay pending Egyptian requests under Title I, P.L. 480. (It is not intended in this phase that the United States will delay or cancel up to 200,000 tons of wheat already purchased by Egypt under P.L. 480 and P.L. 665.)
The United States anticipates that the CARE program for 1956 may total as much as $100 million as against approximately $40 million during 1955. A decision on the program for 1956 is imminent. The United States could delay approval of any sum or approve an amount of perhaps $8 million for the first quarter of 1956, leaving a decision regarding the balance until later.
The United States will suggest to the British that they consider means of slowing down the withdrawal of British troops from Suez. Under the United Kingdom–Egyptian agreement of 1954, 75 per cent were to be withdrawn by February 18 and 100 per cent by June 18. It is realized that this suggestion might be impracticable.
The United States should consider, in the light of over-all policy implications, making facilities available to other countries for interference by jamming of hostile Egyptian broadcasts. The possibility of offering to Iraq expanded radio facilities to counter Egyptian broadcasts should be studied at once. Further steps might be initiated … to counter Egyptian and Saudi anti-west propaganda in local presses.
While the United States should not in this phase adhere to the Baghdad Pact or announce its intention of doing so at some future date, it will send, with appropriate publicity, a high ranking military official to participate more directly in military discussions among the Pact members, and will send senior officials to attend economic meetings.

B. In other countries

In addition to these measures vis-à-vis Egypt, the United States and the United Kingdom should undertake immediate programs in other countries of the area to enhance their position and reduce Egyptian influence. Some steps should be undertaken immediately; with regard to others, immediate planning should be undertaken for implementation as circumstances dictate:

The United States and the United Kingdom will commence negotiations with the Sudan, looking toward the extension of technical assistance and possibly economic aid to that country; support Sudan in its contention that the Aswan Dam should not proceed in the absence of a suitable agreement; interest the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in undertaking at least preliminary discussion of International Bank for Reconstruction and Development assistance as soon as the Sudan currency problem is worked out. In summary, we would work with the British in developing … a situation in Sudan which would minimize Egyptian influence [Page 415] and the possibility of Egypt succeeding in undermining the Western position in Sudan.
The United States and the United Kingdom 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 under way. The British are also considering urgently what additional aid they might extend in our joint efforts to persuade the Libyans to reject Soviet and Egyptian offers in favor of firm alignment with the West.
The United States would urge the British to make every effort to maintain present treaty relationships with Jordan, and should seek by all means available to prevent a situation in which a pro-Egyptian coup d’état would succeed. …
The United States would consider with Ethiopia possible Nile development and an expanded economic assistance program. Ethiopia should be assured that the United States, the United Kingdom and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development will not take action in relation to the Aswan Dam which would be inimical to Ethiopian interests.
The United States would take practical steps to counter Egyptian influence in Yemen and other Arabian principalities. To the extent that Egypt might work with the Soviets (such as, for example, arranging the supply of Soviet arms to Yemen), we might enlist the help of King Saud.
A series of high-level visits to Egypt’s neighbors by military and civilian officers from the United States should be undertaken to demonstrate interest in the area.
The United States will, in the most forceful way feasible, dissuade the Israelis from undertaking work at Banat Ya’cub which might precipitate hostilities and thus endanger the whole Western position in the Near East to the direct advantage of the Soviets. Aside from diplomatic approaches of the type now being made from time to time, we should urge United Nations Secretary General Hammarskjold to take the lead in obtaining an undertaking from the Israeli Government not to proceed, or threaten to proceed, in the immediate future. In addition, a high-level message should be communicated by the United States to the Government of Israel, perhaps through an early meeting between the Secretary and the Israeli Ambassador.3 At this meeting the Secretary might discuss the Banat Ya’cub problem along the following lines:
As a result of the failure of recent efforts to bring about negotiations between Egypt and Israel, and in view of the continuing deterioration of the situation in the area, the United States is now [Page 416] reviewing its Near Eastern policies, including its attitude toward the present Egyptian regime. We are hopeful that our new approach to the problem will improve the situation. Meanwhile, however, we are deeply concerned lest any decision by the Israeli Government to proceed with work at Banat Ya’cub, or otherwise to take precipitate action which could spark an explosion, might produce consequences which not only would imperil the Western position in the Near East, but Would gravely imperil Israel’s own security. It is therefore of utmost importance that such a contingency be avoided while we are reviewing our policy and taking measures which we believe offer the greatest hope for improvement of the basic situation.
Our request that the Israel Government not undertake work at Banat Ya’cub or give further indications of its intentions of doing so is made without regard to the question of whether Israel has or has not the right to proceed. This point might be argued either way, but the important thing is to avoid the grave risks which would be entailed if Israel should begin work. The Israel Government has recently requested a United States loan of $75 million for water and irrigation projects elsewhere. While no commitment can be made until the projects proposed can be studied in detail, our initial reaction is that they have substantial merit. We would be willing to give sympathetic consideration to the Israeli application in the absence of precipitate activities at Banat Ya’cub, and plans in this direction would be fully adequate to justify an Israeli decision not to undertake at this time simultaneous work at Banat Ya’cub.
In discussing this matter with the Israeli Ambassador, the latter undoubtedly would relate the question again to arms for Israel. He might be informed that, for reasons previously explained, the United States could not sell arms to Israel at this time without jeopardizing our influence with the Arab States. However, if other countries wish to sell arms to Israel we would interpose no objection.
All of the foregoing would be placed on an entirely secret basis, obtaining assurances from the Israel Ambassador that our confidence would be respected.
For a further indefinite period, the United States will continue to deny export licenses for military items to the Arab states and Israel. Saudi Arabia and Iraq present special problems, however, which might be dealt with as indicated in subsequent sections. This would entail an Israeli reaction with which we would have to live.
The United States and other friendly countries will continue to press for effective United Nations action to reduce area tensions. We will support Secretary General Hammarskjold’s activities and subsequent action by the Security Council or General Assembly. We will continue to take quiet steps to bring about an easing of tensions between Israel and its northern neighbors.
The United States and United Kingdom will find means of strengthening pro-Western elements in Lebanon by an immediate offer of economic aid in the form of grants or loans for projects designed to create the most favorable impact upon public opinion. [Page 417] While the United States should not in present circumstances offer to sell arms to Lebanon, we might consider an arrangement whereby the French, who have a special interest in Lebanon, would sell limited quantities.
Saudi Arabia presents a special problem of considerable magnitude. Their principal concern regarding their relations with the West (aside from the Israeli issue) relates to Buraimi and American arms. We must not permit Saudi Arabia in desperation to turn from the United States to the Soviets for arms. We must find ways, in connection with the negotiation of a new air base agreement, which should be concluded at the earliest possible moment, of assuring King Saud that some of his military needs will immediately be met, and others provided for as soon as possible. Means to provide a United States military mission, without onerous strings, should be found. The importance of a friendly Saudi Arabia with lessened Egyptian influence is of such great importance that the British should undertake a generous agreement on the Buraimi issue, going as far as is necessary in relation to Buraimi itself to assure an early successful outcome of the negotiations. Wherever the site of the negotiations, the British should send a negotiator of high level empowered to make major decisions. The United States should make itself available for any assistance it might render to the parties in finding an acceptable solution.
Consideration should be given to a discreet warning to King Saud that the ultimate Egyptian objective is to obtain control of Saudi Arabia and to unseat the King. Relying upon Egypt for arms, whether from the Soviets or from the West, would play directly into the hands of the communists, and the Egyptians. We should immediately undertake planning for a sustained effort to detach Saudi Arabia from Egyptian influence ….
Every effort should be made to develop cooperation between Iraq and Jordan. The British, by virtue of their position in both countries, would be more effective than the United States in this program. The United States should make a determined effort to bolster the Nuri Government and assure Nuri of our full support despite our present inability to adhere to the Baghdad Pact.
The Executive Branch will prepare a draft of a Joint Congressional Resolution which would authorize the President to use military force if necessary in case of aggression by Israel or the Arab states. These preparations should be coordinated as closely as possible with any action which might be taken by the United Nations… . Close and continuing consultation with Congressional leaders should be maintained throughout implementation of … this plan. A key Senator, such as Senator Mansfield, might be induced to follow developments and the Administration’s policies in [Page 418] the area with especial interest so that he could render maximum assistance in the Senate.

Arab Reactions:

Those measures relating to Egypt are relatively mild and would not be known to the Egyptian public in the first phase 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 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. Israeli reaction to arms to Saudi Arabia (paragraph 10 [11?]) would be sharp and would be turned to increased pressure to secure arms for Israel. This pressure would be somewhat reduced by the assurances contained in paragraph B–7 above.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/SNEA Files: Lot 61 D 417, Omega #I. Top Secret. The first draft of this memorandum is printed as Document 192. See also Document 209. The source text bears a notation that Dulles saw this memorandum.
  2. Top Secret. Drafted by Rountree and Wilkins on March 28.
  3. See supra .