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

2887. Saw Nasser tonight and gave him our views on Gaza situation along general lines of Deptel 2993.2

Essence his reply was “what’s all the fuss about?” He had merely taken action following precedent of Port Said and saw no reason why Gaza should be treated differently. He knew, of course, that many ideas had been advanced for some sort of transitional arrangements for Gaza but he had always opposed and, with that in mind, had publicly taken exception to second part of February 22 statement of SYG which he considered vague and liable to lead to misunderstanding. He had also instructed Fawzi to make clear his views in this regard.

That had been his basic thinking. Immediate cause of his announcement had been abrupt refusal of General Burns to allow Egyptian liaison officers to go to Gaza and reports that civilian situation there was getting out of hand, especially as result rumors that Gaza would be placed under international regime. In circumstances he had decided that prompt action was required to dispel uncertainty. In so doing he had acted entirely within his rights and failed to understand what all the commotion was about.

I replied cause perfectly clear. For period of about 5 months now men of good will from most countries of world had been preoccupied with problem created by attack on Egypt and great and heartening progress had been made by cooperative effort in UN. In fact, Nasser himself had told me on several occasions of his original doubts re UN but of his later satisfaction that he had put Egypt’s fate in hands of UN. Now, however, just as success of this great experiment is about to be realized, he had taken action brusquely and in such way as to indicate he was taking crack at organization that had saved him. If it was true that he had reached his decision in thinking merely of a little agitation in Gaza and a slight misunderstanding with General Burns, then he had indeed acted in disregard of things far more important and Egypt’s reputation could only suffer thereby.

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Nasser admitted that he had perhaps not considered all implications of the matter but added that there really was not much point in taking Western opinion too seriously since anything he did would be turned against him by the British and French, as well as American press. This was game where cards stacked against him and he just could not win.

After further discussion along lines foregoing in which I endeavored put matter in more rational perspective, I asked Nasser what he intended in fact to do. He said that Governor and 6 officers would go in tomorrow and that Bunche and Burns fully informed. Did I have any suggestions? I said I did and that was to hold up action until time could be given to think things over more carefully and act accordingly. When Nasser indicated that matters had gone too far for this, and that, in any event, he felt immediate action necessary to meet necessities of situation, I said then had second suggestion. This was to plan publicity and action in such a way as to indicate full recognition and appreciation of UN role and intention to cooperate constructively with UNEF and other UN agencies in Gaza. This was second best to withholding action but it could make real difference if it were done in forthright way and followed up by sincerely cooperative acts. Of course, he had it in his power to stage a turbulent reception for Governor which would leave UN ignominiously in background but it would be great mistake. Much water had gone over dam but still not too late for helpful action. Decision lay with him. I sincerely hoped he would decide wisely.

For moment at least this approach seemed to sink in and Nasser said he would think over seriously. Conversation closed on that note.

Am seeing Bunche and Burns as soon as this telegram sent and will fully inform.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/3–1357. Secret; Niact. Received at 10:06 p.m. Also sent Niact to USUN. A copy was sent by Howe to Goodpaster for his information on March 13; Howe’s covering memorandum is ibid.
  2. Document 214.
  3. Hare reported to the Department of State on his conversation with Bunche and Burns in telegram 2896 from Cairo, March 14. (Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/3–1457)