382. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Egyptian Ambassador (Hussein) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Rountree), Department of State, Washington, October 9, 19571

SUBJECT

  • Egyptian Situation

Following up on his call on the Secretary of October 8, Egyptian Ambassador Hussein called at his request on Mr. Rountree on October 9. The Ambassador said that he hoped to be able to take with him to Cairo certain constructive suggestions on how to improve U.S.-Egyptian relations which he could discuss with President Nasser. He expected to be away for about two months and thought that his trip could be useful in view of the fact that it has been over a year since he has been in Cairo. The Ambassador said he would leave for New York on Friday2 and have lunch with Dr. Fawzi, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, who expected to remain in New York at the General Assembly for about a month.

The Ambassador went on that after his conversation with the Secretary on October 8 he had telephoned to Dr. Fawzi concerning the Secretary’s reference to the blocked Egyptian funds. Dr. Fawzi had indicated that he had been in touch with Secretary General of the UN Hammarskjold in order to find out what practical steps could be taken to carry out the Egyptian assurance that it desired to reach agreement with respect to the compensation of the Canal Company shareholders. Dr. Fawzi said that he had also been in touch with certain friendly governments, including the U.S., in order to obtain similar suggestions from those countries. Dr. Fawzi had reported that he had heard nothing further from Mr. Hammarskjold or from the countries he had consulted. Mr. Rountree said he was aware that Dr. Fawzi had mentioned this question in general terms to Ambassador Hare in Cairo but he was not aware that Dr. Fawzi had in any way addressed a request to us to provide any ideas regarding solution of the question. We were also aware that Dr. Fawzi had been in touch with Mr. Hammarskjold and Mr. Rountree imagined that the matter was now between Dr. Fawzi and the Secretary General of the UN. Mr. Rountree then reminded the Ambassador that at a meeting between Messrs. Anderson, Dillon, Black and Kaissouni,3 we had made an informal suggestion that it might be possible for Egypt to agree to negotiate with members [Page 757]of the Suez Canal Company board as individuals representing the shareholders rather than as directors of the Company. We assumed that the Egyptian Government would prefer to do business with persons familiar with the affairs of the company rather than with some other party who in the final analysis would only have to refer the discussions back to the Canal Company. Dr. Hussein agreed that there might be a misunderstanding with regard to what Dr. Fawzi had wanted and said that he would talk to Dr. Fawzi by telephone again prior to leaving Washington. If there were any further suggestions or comments he wanted to pass on to the Department on this subject before leaving for Cairo, he would telephone to Mr. Rountree.

Mr. Rountree then recalled that the Secretary yesterday had emphasized that the U.S. did not consider the door closed to improved relations with Egypt. He reviewed the Secretary’s statements regarding our concern over apparent Egyptian unawareness of the dangers of its present policies in relation to Soviet designs for domination of the area. He stressed that we had no doubts in our mind regarding the ultimate aim of the Soviet Union and its ill concealed efforts to subjugate the area through one means or another. Mr. Rountree said that it was difficult for him to understand how Egypt could have so misinterpreted a unilateral pronouncement of the U.S. in favor of the very integrity and independence which Egypt sought and treasured such as was embodied in the President’s Middle East proposals. The U.S. sought no special political, economic or territorial interest in the Near East and our main objective was the creation of an atmosphere in which all the states in the Middle East could live in tranquility and without fear for their security and integrity. In such an atmosphere there should be no problem with respect to constructive relationships between the U.S. and countries of the area. We had made efforts to reach such a state of relationship with Egypt, but unhappily Egypt had embarked on another course and although we had no quarrel with Egypt’s right to be neutral if it desired, we did object to Egypt’s activities in trying to undermine the right of other governments to make their own choice. We were deeply concerned by the effects of Egyptian policy in terms of facilitating the ultimate aims of the Soviet Union in the Near East.

Mr. Rountree reviewed some of the efforts we had made to reach agreement with Egypt and the difficulties which we had encountered. He said that he had no desire to go over this ground simply for the sake of the exercise alone, but rather to set the positions of both Egypt and the U.S. in better perspective. He said that Ambassador Hare had on several occasions had frank talks with President Nasser, the most [Page 758]recent one having been on August 30.4 We had endeavored through these talks, which had fortunately been characterized by frankness, to set forth our views on the current situation not only with respect to U.S.-Egyptian relations but also with regard to Syrian developments. It was unfortunate that no specific progress had been made and we could only note with regret the continuing hostile attitude of the Egyptian press and government radio. Mr. Rountree also mentioned our disappointment that in his recent speech before the General Assembly the Egyptian Foreign Minister had shown little disposition towards accommodation with the U.S. and had in fact omitted any reference to the role which we had played last fall in connection with the aggression against Egypt. We had had the impression that our action had been of very great assistance to Egypt and had indeed earned the appreciation of the Egyptian people. At the present time there appeared to be no further evidence of that appreciation and of the contribution which we had hoped our action would have made toward amelioration of American relations with Egypt.

Ambassador Hussein commented that he in all honesty could not say that all the actions of his government had been well considered or had contributed to the easing of tensions. He did not believe that too much weight should be given to what was written in the Egyptian press or aired on the Egyptian radio. He believed that these manifestations of hostility were more symptomatic of a certain attitude and state of mind with respect to the US which now existed in Egypt. Rightly or wrongly, Egypt believed that the US was employing economic warfare against Egypt with the hope of reducing Egypt to compliance with American desires. Here Ambassador Hussein cited the usual Egyptian complaints with regard to wheat, CARE programs, medicine and blocked funds. He then went on to describe the almost psychopathic fear of Israel which had forced the Arab states, particularly Egypt and Syria, to turn to the Soviet Union for assistance. He personally doubted that any Egyptian or Syrian had any desire to become a Communist or to permit the satellization of their countries. He hoped that American policies would, however, not push Egypt and Syria closer to the Soviet Union. He was certain that neither Egypt nor Syria desired to be dependent on the Soviet Union for their economic well-being and for their national defense. Egypt had already shown signs of such wariness with respect to dependence on the Soviet Union and he recalled that such personal emissaries of President Nasser as Mr. Amin, who had called on Mr. Murphy, were evidence of President Nasser’s reluctance to be driven to greater dependence on the Soviet bloc. Ambassador Hussein emphasized that it was necessary for the [Page 759]West, particularly the US, to find some means of accommodation with the Arab states to blunt the psychological victory which the Soviet Union has won. He doubted whether the Soviets would desire or could achieve satellization of the Arab states since they might feel that they should consolidate the success of their first step in estranging the Arab states from the West before embarking on further actions which in turn might arouse deep popular suspicion and reaction against the Soviet Union.

Ambassador then Hussein inquired again whether there were any suggestions which Mr. Rountree could make which would contribute to breaking the present impasse in US-Egyptian relations. What specific action could be taken, he inquired, to identify the areas of disagreement and to decide how to resolve them. He would, of course, put the same questions to President Nasser, whom he would “try” to see and would be in touch with Ambassador Hare on the subject.

Mr. Rountree said this was not a question which could be answered offhand and that he would give it further thought. He believed that the first and most important step was to regain mutual confidence between our two countries. It was pointed out that one of the obstacles was the apparent impression in Cairo that Egyptian policies are wholly right and our policies are wholly wrong. It was clear that such a contention could not provide a favorable basis for reestablishing that mutual confidence which we believed had existed in 1955.

The Ambassador thanked Mr. Rountree for his views and said he would look forward to hearing further from him should any ideas occur to him before departure for Cairo.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.74/10–957. Confidential. Drafted by Stabler.
  2. October 11.
  3. See Document 375.
  4. Hare spoke with Nasser concerning the Syrian situation on August 31; see footnote 6, Document 367.