205. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Arab Republic to the Department of State1

2818. Re Deptel 2856.2 Two-hour conversation with Nasser last night devoted almost exclusively to presentation substance reference telegram and very basic discussion US–UAR relationship. Much was repetitive as both he and I endeavored make sure that respective views fully understood and conversation too tortuous to attempt reproduce point by point. Following however is substance which I believe clear to both of us in end.

Following my original presentation, to which Nasser listened attentively and with obvious interest, he said he welcomed our approach and wished again give assurance that he desired good relations with USG. However, there was basic point which he felt should bring up frankly since in his opinion it was all-important in determining true [Page 447]nature of our relations. He would put question simply, stripped of all diplomatic niceties, since that is way that he and his colleagues think and work as result their military background. Question was, to use military term, “what is your objective?” In past Nasser had been convinced that our objective was to find some way of affecting removal of himself and his regime and, since problem in their eyes was therefore one of survival, they had reacted by such means as were available to them as small power facing hostile great power. This was also one of reasons why friendly advances of Soviets had been welcome. But, suppose difficulty should develop with Soviets in future, would USG use that or some other adversity of UAR to attempt to dispose of regime? Foreign Minister Malik had confidently passed around work on his return from Washington last year to effect that “Americans have written Nasser off.” If this was true then, what are our real intentions now? Question is important because “I want to feel that my back is safe.” That, incidentally, was reason why Egypt remained aloof in Hungarian crisis; at that time Suez crisis was still on and Egypt felt too vulnerable to risk offending Soviets whose oil, wheat, et cetera, Egypt urgently needed; it became question of survival, not principle. (Nasser brought this up twice in conversation in such way indicate well aware of facts of Hungarian tragedy and that had been preying on his mind.)

Nasser added that in posing question of our basic intent, he was aware that our relationship had improved very materially in recent months and that there are now no especial outstanding problems between us unless it might be indirect problem of hostility between UAR and Hashemites. Nasser said he realized this problem might be differently evaluated, depending on varying points of view, but UAR was convinced that basic factor was hostility of Hashemites. If, therefore, the UAR pursued policy based on that conviction, would USG, which friendly to Hashemites, regarding such policy as being directed against it? Nasser hoped we would not so conclude because that not UAR intent but he could foresee possible complications. Aside from this, however, he perceived no specific current difficulties and would even go further and say that UAR is not opposed in principle to American objectives in ME area, although there is sometimes problem of understanding exactly what we want.

I told Nasser appreciated his frankness in stating so clearly what he had in mind and, although this not point specifically covered in my instructions, it would seem obvious that answer was implicit in nature of approach I authorized make. Would hardly be reasonable to so clearly express our desire for improved relationship while harboring at same time intent sabotage regime.

[Page 448]

Nasser said appreciated and wanted believe but that matter had recently come up in deliberations preparatory to Moscow conference in which some of his advisors, taking note of more favorable indices of American attitude, had expressed apprehension might be merely tactical move while basic hostility remained unchanged. As consequence, it would be helpful to him if he could be given clear and authoritative reply to his question. It was true he had been suspicious, not he believed without reason, but, if he could be given authoritative assurance of our non-hostile basic intent, he would accept it without question and “it would have great effect on our whole relationship, greater, far greater, than anything else.” In so saying, he did not wish to seem to be questioning or suspecting our approach but it was important to make sure that friends of now would remain friends in time of trouble. In so saying, he also wished give assurance that UAR has no secrets and always prepared answer our question frankly.

I replied that although, as previously stated, I felt no doubt re reply his question, I would report my government in form presented.

Regarding his offer reply and questions, I said would take at word and ask two. First was what foreseen as result Moscow visit. Second was that we too have our mental reservations and basic one is whether and when UAR foresees something approaching more “neutral” position between USG and USSR.

After several moments initial hesitation, Nasser said his desk piled with documents re Moscow visit but he could assure only specific item of importance which UAR representative intend raising is scaling down cost of arms deliveries to Syria. No more aid or weapons will be requested and no specific political commitments will be sought for simple reason that Soviets would doubtless try exact counter commitments which UAR desires avoid. UAR will however ask for assurance of respect of neutrality and expects clause that effect will be included in communiqué which will be in terms generalities of Bandung and Brioni precedents. In fact, Nasser gave impression that work well advanced on communiqué although not clear whether merely UAR draft or result advance consultation with Soviets. In any event, he said did not anticipate any difficulty with latter who always receptive UAR suggestions.

Regarding “neutrality” that really misnomer; more correct term would be “non-alignment” and meaning of term is that UAR should be able to take frank and independent attitude with both sides as various matters arise. In this connection, one could look back for past two years and would be difficult find any action by Soviets detrimental to Egypt, except for improper activity of Soviet Embassy in Damascus following proclamation of UAR but preceding plebiscite. In that case, Nasser had addressed strong protest to Khrushchev through EG Embassy in Moscow and had received prompt assurances. However, [Page 449]during first part of same period USG had taken certain actions obviously inimical to Egypt against which latter had to act in self-defense. (In this connection Nasser returned to his famous “choke in their fury” statement and said that, if Soviets should withdraw aid in similar circumstances, he would give it just as hard to them as he had to US.) Now situation much improved and regretted could not have been sooner. At one time he had tried to take initiative by personally inviting Lodge visit Cairo while on trip in area, either officially or unofficially as he might desire and he had been disappointed when finally refused. (Was obvious he was still sensitive on this point and that mere mention was somewhat embarrassing to him. Fact he got it off his chest, however, was interesting indication of his apparent desire really open up.)

Concluding, Nasser said wished repeat appreciation our proposals and would like have written itemization of specific moves we had in mind; that affirmative reply to his question regarding our basic intent far outshadowed anything else we could do and could basically change whole relationship; that, finally, he could give assurance he had no “back in the head”, a rather quaint rendition of “ulterior motive.” In this connection Nasser ridiculed malevolent designs sometimes attributed to him re pipelines, Suez Canal and oil of Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf; also said aggressive attempt extent UAR would be politically calamitous. Substantive conversation closed on this note.

On taking leave, Nasser said supposed his Moscow trip would be subject much speculation in American press. I said that inevitable. All I could say in wishing him good trip was that he would keep his eyes open. He said he would but I wish he had not seemed so confident.

Although it might be desirable for Nasser to have reply his question regarding our basic intent before he leaves Moscow, I am rather doubtful whether we could do so in short time remaining before his departure Tuesday morning without seeming to be acting with undue and perhaps undignified haste and also to be relating this matter to Moscow visit, which is what we have wished avoid and which I made clear to Nasser yesterday. Do believe however that reply should be reasonably prompt for possible communication to him in Moscow but in any event to have ready for conveying to him on return assuming no seriously untoward developments meantime.

Please note distribution this telegram same distribution reference telegram.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.86/4–2658. Secret; Priority. Repeated to Damascus and London.
  2. Document 203.