200. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, March 3, 19581

SUBJECT

  • Return of Ambassador Hussein from Cairo

PARTICIPANTS

  • Dr. Ahmed Hussein, Egyptian Ambassador
  • The Secretary
  • NEAWilliam M. Rountree
  • NEJohn Dorman

The Secretary said he had noted a lessening of Egyptian press attacks against the United States Government during Ambassador Hussein’s absence and believed the Ambassador may have been partially responsible for this. The Secretary wished to thank the Ambassador for his efforts in this respect.

The Ambassador said that, prior to his recent departure from Cairo, President Nasser had asked him to convey the President’s greetings to the Secretary and to assure the Secretary that Nasser wished to have good relations with the United States. Egypt did not wish to be hostile or aggressive against any country. Nasser wished the Secretary to know that he would never attack any country and would act only in self-defense. The Secretary replied the United States would never attack Egypt; on the contrary, we had recently come to Nasser’s assistance when he was attacked.

The events which had recently taken place in the Near East, the Secretary said, were of historical significance whose outcome was hard to foresee.

The Ambassador outlined the origin of the United Arab Republic as recounted to him by Nasser. Things were going badly in Syria, and there was danger of a Communist take-over. The Syrians believed that union with Egypt was the only way to prevent such a take-over.

[Page 433]

The Secretary remarked that although this may have been the cause for the Union, he hoped that the creation of the United Arab Republic did not merely transfer the danger of a Communist take-over to a larger arena.

The Ambassador said that Nasser was not prepared for the timing of the Union. In a meeting between a group of Syrian officials and the Egyptian junta in Cairo, Nasser set forth certain conditions under which he would agree to union with Syria: officers in the Syrian Army engaged in political activities must resign from the Army; all political parties in Syria, including the Communist Party, must be dissolved; Communist activities must be carefully watched and a policy of neutrality must be maintained. The Syrian officials agreed to these provisions, the Ambassador said, and one could now only hope for the best.

The Secretary noted that we had recognized the United Arab Republic and had extended our good wishes. There were many basic problems in respect to the Union which had to be resolved. In the meantime, the Secretary hoped that the United Arab Republic would not undertake any activities aimed at the overthrow of other federations which were being established in the Near East. The Secretary was concerned over Nasser’s violent speech in Damascus a few days ago which could lead only to difficulties. These difficulties were of concern to us, he said, since we had extended recognition and good wishes to both federations.

The Ambassador noted there had been some differences between the two federations. The Iraqis and the Jordanians had apparently made remarks hostile to the United Arab Republic. However, the Ambassador hoped things would soon cool down since a calm atmosphere would be in the best interests of all parties. The Secretary pointed out that the United States was no opponent to Arab unity, but we hoped that unity would develop peacefully rather than through coercion.

The Ambassador said he had been told by Nasser that the Imam of Yemen had taken the initiative in asking to federate with the United Arab Republic. The Imam had sent his son, Crown Prince Badr, to negotiate the terms of the federation.

In reply to a question by the Secretary, the Ambassador said that the Suez Canal talks had broken off because the demands of the Suez Canal Company were excessive. Mr. Rountree said that according to our information the two parties at the last meeting had come up with demands which differed substantially. It had been agreed that the meeting should be adjourned until the end of March which would give both parties an opportunity to consult with their principals.

The Ambassador said he had talked with Mr. Eugene Black, President of the IBRD, in Cairo and had asked Mr. Black to urge the Secretary to ask the British and the French to be more conciliatory in [Page 434]their negotiations. A satisfactory conclusion to the Suez Canal negotiations would have important political significance which might set off a chain reaction favoring an improvement in relations between Egypt and the West. Of the three members representing the Suez Canal Company, Mr. Georges-Picot, the Frenchman, was the most difficult. However, Nasser was anxious to reach an early solution. A satisfactory termination of these negotiations would facilitate an early settlement to Egyptian negotiations with the United Kingdom and France.

The Ambassador said he had urged Nasser to effect a truce with the United States. The Ambassador had no far-reaching solution to suggest to the Secretary but merely urged that the political atmosphere be allowed to clear and eventually progress could be made toward an improvement in Egyptian-United States relations. The Secretary commented that he would take the Ambassador’s recommendations into consideration.

The Ambassador said he would like to close with one personal observation. The Israel problem was behind the current difficulties in the Near East. Both the Communists and the Zionists were working against a solution to the Israel problem. The United States should take a firm stand to ensure that Israel would not be given a privileged position as far as the United States was concerned. It was true that the position of the United States against Israel at the time of the Suez invasion had had a deep effect throughout the Near East, and it was too bad that the United States had not followed through. The Secretary commented that any effect which the United States position may have had in the Near East at that time was short-lived. However, he realized that the Arab-Israel problem was a very serious one and all-pervading, and he hoped that an early solution could be found.

The Secretary referred to the greetings which the Ambassador had conveyed from President Nasser and asked that his personal greetings in turn be transmitted to Cairo.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Confidential. Drafted by Dorman.