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

2222. In over 2-hour call on Nasser yesterday prior proceeding Washington consultation, I led off by emphasizing highlights of President’s Mid East proposals on basis Circr 580.2 Also reviewed Deptel 20463 with emphasis on bad turn of events dating from Soviet intervention in area.

Nasser said had read speech ten times and still found vague. In fact his staff had feared ulterior motive but he had advised against rushing to hasty conclusions in thought lack of clarity here probably result of speech having been intended primarily for American consumption.

Nasser then launched into long and diffuse account of his problems which difficult follow but seemed center around role and manifestations of public opinion in influencing policy, especially with reference growing strength Communist movement in Egypt. Great importance, he maintained, must be given to popular emotions and reactions and particularly to those which arouse people’s suspicions. He didn’t want give impression of being prisoner of such forces and in fact had stood out against at times. But it was phenomenon to be taken into account in what, as previously mentioned, he regards as World War III (psychological). Main problem in area is thus internal situation in each of Arab countries in terms of its people and their reactions. His interest primarily in Egypt, secondarily in other Arab countries.

Nasser then referred to a series of “turning points” beginning with Baghdad Pact, ending with recent crisis and also covering Gaza raid (which he surprisingly interpreted as attempt force Egypt by intimidation into Baghdad Pact); Soviet arms deal, shift of Egyptian trade toward Soviet bloc (which he attributed to Western economic warfare) consequent foreign press vilification of Egypt (which he could not but compare with simultaneous articles praising Israel’s military establishment and estimating its potentiality to take Cairo or Damascus in few days), Aswan Dam offer and withdrawal and nationalization of Canal. He drew conclusion that this course of events had convinced him that there was no danger from Soviet aggression and that main problem was internal, especially in respect Communists, who are now bringing USSR (as well as domestic toward problems) [Page 17]into propaganda. [sic] Bulganin’s letters to British, French and Israelis case in point. Also at Port Said Communists had emerged from underground and openly infiltrated National Guard and Liberation Army. Before crisis he had studied Communist problem and decided serious but manageable; now, however, they are so strong as to make inadvisable moving openly against them, although surveillance being continued. Aims of Egyptian Communist party, he said, are to liquidate colonialism, destroy “military dictatorship” and then by pretending fostering of democratic government attain political domination.

Returning to President’s Mid-East proposals Nasser said he had told Malek yesterday much more could be accomplished by timely gestures than by assistance. (As illustration overwhelming power of dramatic gesture Nasser said he had referred Malek to episode of Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians, Quran Sura 7:103-126: metamorphosis rods of “every skillful enchanter” into snakes “deceived the people’s eyes and overawed them” but rod of Moses transformed into snake “swallowed up their lies” so truth was established and that which they did became null …4).

Nature of struggle as he sees it is psychological; we see danger in outside aggression. We put blame on Russians; Egyptians put it on British, French and Israelis. If President had referred to aggression in general, he would have been understood. What Nasser wished emphasize was difference between immediate danger and merely prospective danger. If we know there is man with gun behind door we don’t worry about another man with gun said to be lurking down the street. Egypt’s immediate problems concern Israel, British and economic difficulties, including Egyptian assets frozen in US. Difficult understand our talk of assistance when Egypt’s own funds withheld and when we refuse sell wheat which Russians readily furnish.

At this point I intervened to observe that Nasser had spoken at length of importance of public opinion—of its suspicions and fixations. But what about Nasser himself? After all, a head of state may have to take public opinion into account but he must see further and wider than others. That is a requirement of leadership. Furthermore, President’s address clearly showed understanding of matters preoccupying Arabs, including nationalism. Why could latter not take equally comprehensive view of problem?

Nasser’s only reply was to reiterate importance he attaches to people and to say he wanted to make them alive to nationalism and Arabism in order to combat communism. In this he is succeeding. West on other hand puts itself in position of opposing nationalism whereas eastern bloc appears favor. What would happen if he stood [Page 18]up and said Soviets were greatest threat when the Egyptian people see them as helpful and sympathetic. People can be led but only up to point.

I replied this reaction most disappointing and hoped further study would result in more favorable appreciation and understanding President’s intent. Then, thinking new approach might elicit new angle, I asked what he would suggest as one-minute summary of his views. He kept within minute but idea was same. Said: (1) proposals vague; (2) proposals not in accord with immediate problems as seen by people; (3) others work on people, why don’t we?

Foregoing difficult evaluate. To begin with Nasser looked haggard, seemed distraught and his presentation verged at times on incoherent but no way know whether this result of illness, overwork, worry over recent problems within government, or what. In circumstances probably mistake seek too much clarity out of his presentation but for purpose speculation following interpretations could be considered:

Take Nasser’s statements at face value. In this case he would appear to be convinced that his political position is basically dependent on popular support, that such support dependent on his beating drums of nationalism and Arabism; that Russians beating same drums for own purposes; that he cannot as consequence take stand against Russians or clamp down on Communists in Egypt at this stage of what he calls World War III (psychological); that USG would be well advised use psychological approach and not put so much dependence on economic assistance.
Accept foregoing as having certain basis in fact but presented in such way as arouse American apprehension re Communist threat in Egypt and thus lead to conclusion that any assistance given Egypt would not be at its request but in fulfillment American objectives, and that it should be focused directly on Egypt’s internal situation. This could be useful position for Nasser maintain during period of indecision and also for bargaining purposes later.
Regard Nasser’s equivocal position as possibly being preparation of ground for some contemplated arrangement with Soviet bloc or similar arms deal.

On basis available information and pattern Nasser’s previous behavior second alternative or some variant of it seems most likely explanation, although third alternative will bear watching.

Following telegram covers other points discussed.5

[Page 19]

Suggest this telegram be confined American use except as Department may otherwise indicate.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.80/1–1057. Secret; Priority. Received at 5 a.m., January 11. Repeated to London, to Paris, Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, Jidda, and Tel Aviv.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 7.
  3. Vol. XVI, p. 1324.
  4. Ellipsis in the source text.
  5. Infra.