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

No. 16
The same group on our side met with Nasr and Zacharia tonight2 for four hours. Following dinner I reopened the conversation [Page 48] with a reiteration of the importance which we attached, and hoped Nasr attached, to the operation at hand and reviewed alternative policy decisions that would face Egypt, Israel, and the Western powers dependent upon obtaining or not obtaining a settlement. A most important concern was what I might say to the Israelis tomorrow. I expressed the hope that I would be able to indicate flexibility in his position concerning the issues so as to be optimistic about achieving a final settlement solution. We discussed the alternative positions which would confront Egypt and Israel dependent upon obtaining the settlement and pointed out that each country would have to decide what a settlement was worth and what they would be willing to concede as a price for obtaining it. I indicated that we anticipated the Israelis would be looking forward to direct negotiation at some point and probably would make more concessions by direct negotiations than through an emissary.
While there were extended conversations and discussions Nasr then made following points:
He could not presume to speak for the entire Arab States but would have to establish an atmosphere in which they were willing to accept settlement.
Any Arab who proposed settlement at this time would be regarded as a traitor and would face loss of power or the threat of assassination.
Nasr in reviewing the possibility of his country facing drastic action by Israel or the continued necessity of heavy military expenditures took an attitude of complete resignation saying “even though we consider a public works program of irrigation, schools, hospitals, and such things highly essential we have done without them for 1000 years and can continue to do without them for ten years more if necessity requires it in order to preserve the independence of our action.” His attitude indicated a fatalistic approach to what his country might have to face but a very active concern with what he might have to face in terms of his own political future.
Should it become known that any Arab leader has opened direct negotiations with Israel such leader would have committed political suicide or worse. He therefore insisted that direct negotiations in the near future was an impossibility and said that he felt it must be left completely out of the agenda of our talks. We inquired if this attitude would prevail even if Ben Gurion should come to Egypt and he replied that the locale would make no difference.
Nasr stated that while there were several issues the only real problem in achieving settlement was that of boundaries. I asked him at this point if he could not agree to a more flexible position than that which he took yesterday.3 He indicated that some flexibility was possible but insisted that the territorial link between the Arab countries had to reflect not only lines of communication but (A) the establishment of substantial sovereign Arab territory in the Negev [Page 49] and (B) give the impression to the Arabs that they had recovered a substantial part of the territory which they feel was unjustly taken from them.
I then asked Nasr if in view of his refusal of direct negotiations at this time it would be possible to agree upon the principles of settlement through an exchange of documents to be signed by both countries comparable to the “Heads of Agreement” arrangement used in the settlement of the Suez dispute. Nasr doubted that this were possible and stated that he was willing to make commitments and pledges to me as an Emissary on a Top Secret basis but could not exchange any form of agreement directly with Israel and could not allow any of his pledges to be made public. He stated emphatically that if news of the operation at hand should leak he would immediately deny having had any such conversation.
I then asked if he thought it would be practicable for Egypt to direct a letter or document on a unilateral basis as a voluntary act without reference to our talks to the President setting forth assurances that Egypt would not engage in further hostilities and setting forth in broad principles the solutions which they believe possible of boundaries and the refugee problems. A similar letter might then be sought on a voluntary basis from Israel. Nasr thought this might be possible and agreed to meet … tomorrow night to try to draft such a letter.4 We also suggested that he include in his letter allowing Israel the use of the Suez in the absence of a continued state of war, the lifting of the secondary boycott and the elimination of the blockade of Aqaba. While Nasr indicated agreement to include the latter three items in the letter we are not clear upon exactly what terms and whether these items would be conditioned upon the cessation of immediate hostilities or a longer term settlement agreement. I repeatedly pointed out to Nasr that oral pledges in the best of faith remaining Top Secret would allow a continuation of political pressures such as those associated with supplying arms to Israel in the light of the Egyptian-Czech arms trade. He said that he understood this point of view but wants to be in a position of not openly initiating settlement agreements with Israel at this time which he considers politically disastrous in Egypt and the other Arab States.
I now plan to depart Cairo Sunday5 afternoon and arrive in Israel at approximately 5 p.m. I would appreciate your comments concerning our most recent conversations sent direct to me at Israel with copy to Cairo.6 We will transmit to you tomorrow the draft text of my proposed letter which Nasr might agree to. I am particularly [Page 50] interested in your evaluation of the effectiveness and worth of this arrangement in the light of Nasr’s complete conviction that he cannot enter into direct negotiation in the near future.
  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Alpha—Anderson Talks with w/BG & Nasser. Incoming Telegrams—Jan.–March 1956. Part I. Secret. According to Dulles’ message, infra, this message was dated January 22.
  2. January 21.
  3. See supra.
  4. See Document 30.
  5. January 22.
  6. Infra.