101. Telegram From the Embassy in Egypt to the Department of State1
2625. Had another four-hour marathon discussion with Nasser last night covering current topics and basic Egyptian-American relationship on basis my Washington consultations and subsequently received instructions. Nasser was amiable and serious but in tough mood. I endeavored reciprocate in kind. Following is summary topics covered.
Israeli withdrawal: I opened by noting violent local reaction to Secretary’s supposed proposals to Eban and called attention to Departmental clarifications which made it clear that Secretary’s suggestions were in complete accord with phasing of action contemplated by two UN resolutions and were in no sense sell-out to Israel as press alleging. Furthermore no mention had been made of Egyptian assurances.
Nasser appeared accept these clarifications but then took line that any leniency shown by Egypt re Israeli transit Aqaba or Suez could be considered as betrayal of Arab cause re frontiers and refugees. These matters formed whole which should not be dealt with piecemeal. Furthermore, unwarranted reference to Gaza as base for Egyptian aggression against Israel when fact was had merely been one place among others from which defensive retaliation had been made following Israeli attacks.
I said surprised hear this line being taken after what I understood to have been hopeful progress made. Did Nasser really mean to say that he would now oppose innocent passage of Gulf of Aqaba if Israelis withdrew? Nasser reflected for some time and then said no [Page 174]final decision on this specific point. We then discussed at some length and I argued would be colossal mistake to take negative position on this point for following reasons: (a) we convinced right of innocent passage legally sound; (b) negative decision would place Egypt in most unfavorable light; (c) frontier and refugee questions should be decided on own merits, (d) attempted relating of immediate Aqaba problem with matters falling under long term settlement was contrary to his own concept of getting out of present phase of tension into phase of ad hoc peace and allowing cooling off period before attempting final settlement; (e) far from betraying Arab cause, enlightened attitude re Aqaba would be in Arab interest; (f) re using Aqaba as bargaining points smacked of petty bazaar trading when broad gauge approach required.
Nasser listened attentively but still refrained from giving definite answer. My impression is that he openminded on subject but that others have been urging hard line and fact that yesterday’s and today’s press have featured negative statements on subject from Director of Information is disquieting.
Eisenhower Doctrine: I gave clarifying statement on general aspects of Doctrine based on notes taken in Washington, i.e no question of filling vacuum; use of armed force only against overt armed attack; no desire establish protectorate, sphere of influence or indulge in power politics; opposition to all aggression; not trying play divisive role among Arab States; pressure to participate and no intention to isolate; not seeking new pacts or alliances, et cetera. Nasser professed interest and said clarified much which had been vague. He then asked how question would be put to interested countries. I replied this was aspect of matter which would be responsibility of Ambassador Richards, who would also of course be in position to explain other points more fully and authoritatively than I could do. Nasser then explained that reason he had posed this question was that he wished avoid being approached in such a way as put him in corner. He did not wish to be placed in position of conflict with US in fact, wanted have understanding. But his suspicions had been aroused by certain statements attributed to the Secretary regarding the position of Egypt vis-à-vis the Doctrine and he hoped he would have opportunity for discussion which would avoid his being put on spot. I replied felt no reason for concern on that score since up to GOE if it desires have Richards come at all and, in event he does, prescribed purpose (as being communicated to GOE in note under preparation) is to “discuss and explain.”
At no time in this or any other connection Did Nasser mention Soviet counterproposal for Mid-East area.
American-Egyptian relations: Nasser’s request, I developed this subject frankly and at considerable length along general line taken by Secretary in discussion with King Saud and made following points: [Page 175]
- We had been most sympathetic to the new regime at its very beginning and had expressed our sentiments not just in words but in acts and material support.
- Despite this favorable disposition on our part, developments (or “turning points” to borrow a phrase used by Nasser) had taken place which had resulted in a deterioration of our relationship, e.g. Czech arms deal, recognition of Communist China, manner in which announcement made of nationalization of Canal.
- Our role in connection with French-British-Israeli attack appeared to have had a favorable effect at the time but it is now daily routine for papers under government subsidy to vilify US as imperialists and conspirators with Israel just as if nothing had happened.
- Furthermore, the extensive way in which Egypt has recently cultivated relations with the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc is an open book. Not only do we regard this as a perilous policy for Egypt but it is also obvious that its development cannot but nave a negative effect on relations with us.
- Against this background, we could only feel that we had done just about all we could to show our good faith and yet it is obvious that our present basic relationship leaves much to be desired. This is not to say that we have actually come to the end of the road but things are clearly not as they should be and we feel that, if progress is to be made toward an improved relationship, the Egyptians should give us some indication of their good intent. Furthermore, for purpose of completing record and contrary to what he might have been led believe, I wished make clear why we are not interfering in any way in Egyptian internal political situation, nor were we trying to isolate Egypt from other Arab countries. If our cooperation with certain countries gave that impression it was result and not objective.
Nasser’s first reaction was one of rebuttal. The Czech arms deal was the result of Israeli aggression and failure to come to agreement with US/Recognition of China had followed receipt of report regarding an Eden-Bulganin talk in which a Mid-East arms ban was discussed. If he had been hard on Americans in announcing Canal nationalization, we had hurt Egypt by attempting undermine its economic reputation on calling off the Aswan Dam deal. As regards, Russia, GOE had first turned there as matter of force majeure to obtain arms and relationship had developed and broadened as the result on the one hand of economic warfare being waged on Egypt by West and on other hand the readiness of Russians to arrange to meet Egypt’s needs. How could relations with Russia become other than closer when Egypt has no other place to turn as an outlet for its cotton and for supplying necessary imports. How in such circumstances could Egypt restrict its relations with the Soviet Union without actually penalizing itself?
I noted Nasser’s use of term “economic warfare” and asked whom he had in mind since we certainly had no such idea in respect Egypt. Nasser said had Britain, French and also US, and especially frozen funds, in mind, but there were also other difficulties with US such as [Page 176]our unwillingness sell wheat for pounds, failure to carry through with construction of road to Alexandria, et cetera. Perhaps we did not regard them as economic warfare but he did and wished again make clear Egypt’s only alternative was turn to Russia and resulting sympathy for Russians inevitable. But he wished emphasize that in any event external economic pressure on Egypt could not be very effective since Egypt essentially self-sustaining and pressure affects only few. There was no idea here of playing off East against West, merely matter of necessity.
Re Egyptian press, Nasser maintained not instructed but free to discuss and that in any event only reacted to American press which was really poisonous re Egypt and perhaps unfortunately he had habit of reading it. Also he had noticed that American correspondents were responsible for spreading most of rumors detrimental to Egypt.
Regarding attitude of Americans in Egypt toward regime Nasser maintained much talk Cairo that crisis was American-inspired and that American firms were only ones dismissing employees. It was even said hunger strike of Doria Shafik2 was American-inspired (I naturally took strong exception these imputations).
However, said Nasser, he agreed this was situation not just to be deplored but also remedied. He was willing to do what he could to help. He couldn’t forget early friendship or our recent help in crisis. He felt certain something could be worked out, and, after having time to think it over, would like to talk again.
IPC pipeline and Canal: I raised question of reported Egyptian interference in recent discussions of Syrians with IPC representatives for repair of pipeline and recalled earlier assurance given us that regard (Department telegram 2639).3Nasser said reassurance had been in entire good faith at that time but that, when Israelis began making difficulty over withdrawal, he had agreed with Syrian Prime Minister following meeting with King Saud here late January that, if Israelis remained obdurate, there would be no repair of pipeline and [Page 177]Canal clearance would be stopped. Action of Syrians had therefore been in accord this agreement and there had been no further action here. I expressed concern and then asked whether this also meant work on Canal clearance being held up (which would check with reports of failure Egyptian authorities remove explosives with consequent delay in salvage operations). Nasser thought a moment and then said felt best leave statement stand as made.
Nasser also renewed demand that Canal tolls should be paid direct to GOE and said that alternative suggestions he had heard for payment to some other agency would definitely not be acceptable. I expressed belief should be possible work out some suitable formula and we very much hoped Hammarskjold could continue effective work he had been doing last October in promoting solution based on six points and 1888 Convention.
- Clandestine radio: Nasser referred to previous discussion re clandestine British radio attacks on Egypt and said Egypt would be ready reciprocate within about ten days. I said depressed hear this. Tragedy to see so much effort go into troublemaking when so much constructive work needs to be done. Nasser professed agreement but said had no alternative but to fight back against continuing vicious British propaganda which designed undermine regime. Added East and West Africa would be especial targets.
- Saud visit: I said had followed discussions in Washington up till time my departure and had been especially impressed by how much can be accomplished when there is basic good faith on both sides (this being intended as an indirect comparison with Nasser’s own and frequently cited suspiciousness). However, I would not attempt comment further other than to make observation which Saud could not make himself and this was the able and loyal way in which he had presented the views and defended the interest of the Arab countries with leaders of which he had previously conferred in Cairo.
- Conclusion: Conversation was at one and same time encouraging and discouraging; encouraging, at least mildly so, in sense that Nasser was willing and even eager to talk over general problems basically and frankly; discouraging because of seemingly chronic deviousness and lack of constancy with which he approaches specific questions such as Canal, Aqaba, IPC pipeline, etc. Also I gained stronger impression than ever before of degree to which he feels it necessary to rely on Soviet support and fails to appreciate latent danger in so doing, despite frequent reiteration his usual thesis regarding keeping free from dependence on any great power, including Soviets.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/2–1557. Secret. Received at 2:24 a.m., February 16. Repeated to Damascus and Tel Aviv.↩
- In telegram 2526 from Cairo, February 6, Hare reported that a “leading Egyptian feminist”, Doria Shafik, had told him that she had that day begun a hunger strike at the Indian Embassy, demanding an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory, a “final and just” solution of the Arab refugee problem, and the end of the “dictatorial” regime in Egypt “which can only lead my country inevitably to bankruptcy and anarchy”. (Ibid., 684A.86/2–657)↩
- In telegram 1851 from Damascus, February 8, Moose reported that the Egyptian Ambassador had recently advised the Syrian Government that Nasser wished Syria to take no action concerning repair of the pipeline unless Israel withdrew from Gaza and Sinai, (ibid., 883.2553/2-857) In telegram 2639 to Cairo, February 9, the Department of State instructed Hare to call this report to Nasser’s attention, to remind him of previous Egyptian recommendations to Syria that pipeline repair begin at once, and to emphasize that no obstacles should be placed in the way of repairing the pipeline because the reopening of both the pipeline and the Canal were vital to the economic well-being of many nations, and essential to restoring normal conditions in the area. (Ibid.)↩