195. Telegram From the Embassy in Egypt to the Department of State1
2028. Events re Syrian-Egyptian union have been crowding upon us so fast that it has been difficult keep up with them reportorially and put into perspective at same time. However, following product of week-end’s rumination is offered as summary of our current thinking. In so doing, I wish pay tribute to outstanding reporting job done by Embassy Damascus and to say that, although approaching matter from different angles, we have found that our understanding and interpretation of what has happened have been so fast that it has been difficult keep up with them reportorially and put into perspective at same time. However, following product of week-end’s rumination is offered as summary of our current thinking. In so doing, I wish pay tribute to outstanding reporting job done by Embassy Damascus and to say that, although approaching matter from different angles, we have found that our understanding and interpretation of what has happened have been so close as to amount to virtual identity. We have also found much in common with interpretive comment of Embassies Beirut, Amman and Baghdad despite obviously great difference of impact of union in those capitals.
At outset I would make three general observations. First is that situation created by pell-mell rush into union is so complex and confused that it does not lend itself to simplified conclusions. To attempt such could hardly fail result in error. Second observation is that, for purposes of analysis and determination of action, it would seem advisable to consider matter both short-term and long-term rather than telescope into one decision-making process. Third observation is that in situation as fast-moving and unpredictable as this it would be advisable to maintain full maneuverability, such as we have indeed done so far.[Page 423]
As regards short-term aspects, and with special reference to question of recognition, there are both pluses and minuses including following:
- Unresolved doubt as to motivation of union.
- Apprehension and/or opposition by certain Arab States with whom we are closely related.
- Misgivings re future of coalition which, including prospectively Yemen, has common denominator of having become seriously committed both economically and militarily to USSR.
- Possible repercussions in Israel, which so far however seems to be taking in stride.
- General anti-Western bias of any Arab nationalist movement.
- Prospect of inordinate aggrandizement of Nasser.
- Union as planned meets general requirements for recognition as set forth in Depcirtel 7192 since no opposition apparent except possibly by Syrian Communists and adherence to international commitments by both countries has been publicly assured (Embtel 1964).3
- Union also meets conditions of our traditional policy re Arab union except for possible effect in area but would be difficult make publicly adverse finding to that effect in face statements of Prime Ministers of Lebanon and Iraq, whatever may be their real feelings and ultimate intent. Furthermore, declarations of intent of Syrian and Egyptian leaders have thus far been moderate.
- Consensus of Diplomatic Corps here is that recognition will be accorded automatically by their governments. Germans have already so advised Foreign Office here and others, such as Italian and Greek, have indicated intention move rapidly.
- Prevalent belief that union constitutes at least temporary setback to Communists merits consideration.
- Desirable avoid giving impression of animosity to cause Arab nationalism and unity.
- To extent that Soviets may be in somewhat of quandary, we should not make their problem easier by setting ourselves up as target for them. Possibility even exists we might be able steal publicity call from them although probability is they will see danger of this and recognize promptly.
- Opposition to union by non-recognition or delay would foreseeably have effect not of checking momentum of union movement but rather of stimulating it and also contributing to its orientation against west and our Arab friends.
- Unity is fact. Regardless of misgivings, we should stay in business both in Egypt and Syria. Drawing balance of foregoing pluses and minuses would indicate advisability, for purely tactical purposes and without prejudice to formulation longer range strategy, of prompt recognition and not opposing UN entrance. Delay could place us in very awkward position since would be difficult identify reasons for so doing which would not require protracted period for clarification. Decision recognize could of course be complicated by failure of one more friendly Arab Governments to follow suit but we would respectfully suggest that this is matter where we must be guided by our own basic interest and not be unduly influenced by special interests of others, particularly in absence Arab unanimity.
As to form recognition should take, we inclined recommend simplest possible procedure without commentary although thought might be given to using occasion for re-enunciation our traditional policy on Arab unity, especially if so doing might facilitate favorable reaction to possible subsequent union moves of other Arab states such as Iraq and Jordan and/or possibly enable us steal march on Soviets. We are doubtful however that any comment re Egyptian-Syrian union per se would be useful.
As regards long-term implications of union many of items listed above re short-term angles would also be pertinent but we would wish study further before attempting basic analysis. However, following tentative thoughts come to mind:
- Although Syrian-Egyptian union has disquieting implications, it is still too soon foresee outcome and conclude that combined Syria and Egypt will be as potent or aggressive as some understandably fear. In any event, there will probably be digestive period during which hardly likely UAR will be in position indulge in outside political adventuring unless under compulsion of active opposition either internal or external. However, suggestion that immediate impact may be exaggerated is not meant to minimize eventual importance if and when unity really made effective. Neither does it exclude possibility that pro-union sentiment may materialize outside Syria and Egypt without necessity of direct stimulation by UAR.
- As presently outlined, new set-up is not entirely radical departure from that previously existing since foreign and military affairs are apparently only powers to be initially reserved to central UAR government and there was already close coordination between Syria and Egypt in both these fields as result essentially identical foreign policies and institution of joint command. Most important development is dictatorial powers given Nasser but this again is not entirely new phenomenon in view of past immixture of Nasser in Syrian affairs operating through such persons as Sarraj and Kuwatly.
- Aside from foreseeable disadvantages, new regime may offer us opportunities, hitherto greatly limited, for both positive and negative action. In positive sense, fact is that Nasser has scored his greatest successes outside Egypt as irresponsible champion of Arab nationalism, whereas his popularity in Egypt, where he had to assume responsibility, [Page 425]has been much less. Now for first time he must assume responsibility outside Egypt and it remains to be seen whether result will be increased prestige or disenchantment. If latter should be case it is possible foresee deflation of Nasser’s ego to point where he would be more amenable to reason and impelled deal more constructively with us. This is by no means meant to suggest that Nasser may suddenly change his spots but merely to foresee the possibility of his coming down a bit from his high horse under compulsion of events and consequently being more tractable. But this is only possibility and opposite could well be case. In that event, it would seem that there might be opportunities to undercut him in his newly extended and more vulnerable position which have not been existent as long as we have had to deal with him as dominant figure in supine Egypt.
- In this situation, we would suggest carefully distinguishing in post-recognition phase between what we do and what we say [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. During shakedown stage and on assumption UAR does not rashly embark on hostile campaign against us or our friends, it would, we believe, be advisable to assume “dead-pan” public attitude while privately and vigorously examining and weighing all elements in situation in order determine most effective line of action. If in due course and contrary to real expectation we should find constructive exploitation possible, we could emerge into open to degree thought desirable. If on other hand we should find necessary oppose, we should endeavor avoid showing our hand [1½ lines of source text not declassified]. Finally we also see possibility, even probability, that situation may fee so characterized by complex and conflicting currents that we may find it desirable to combine both positive and negative policies by helping in certain fields and undercutting in others. This is not exactly inviting prospect but may turn out be most realistic. After all, any policy designed deal effectively with what in many ways is unnatural situation hardly lends itself to ideal blueprinting.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 786.00/2–1058. Top Secret; Noforn. Repeated to Amman, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Jidda.↩
- Circular telegram 719, February 6, stated that recognition customarily depended on whether the new government was in control of the situation with the assent of the people and whether it was willing to meet its international obligations. (Ibid., 786.02/2–658)↩
- Telegram 1964, February 5, transmitted a summary of the Cairo press for that day. (Ibid., 786.00/2–558)↩