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48. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Bowles to President Kennedy 0

SUBJECT

  • Considerations Affecting a Possible Official Visit Here by President Nasser

President Nasser is a key Arab leader. The Department has periodically considered the possibility of an official visit by him to this country. Because of the Palestine problem and Egyptian dependence on the Soviets for military and economic assistance as well as sales of cotton, Nasser’s political orientation has favored Moscow, which he has visited on several occasions. Privately, however, he retains great interest in, and respect for, the United States. An official visit here by Nasser might thus afford significant advantages, including (a) catering to Nasser’s “dignity” (Sulzberger’s column (enclosed)1 in the April 3 New York Times also makes this point); (b) affording a relatively inexpensive opportunity for the U.S. to do something to counter the influence the Soviets have acquired through their assistance and cotton purchases; and (c) both before, and hopefully after, such a visit, inducing a less antagonistic attitude towards us on Nasser’s part (Nehru’s visit here several years ago has had something of this effect). Nasser’s reception in New York during the United Nations General Assembly in 1960 came as a pleasant surprise to him and resulted in a brief improvement in the atmosphere. A longer visit would build on this favorable start, but it should be emphasized that no major or fundamental reorientation of Nasser’s thinking is to be expected. Maintenance of reasonably stable relations with the U.A.R., and establishment of a cordial personal relationship between yourself and Nasser will establish a climate in which Soviet Bloc errors in its dealings with the U.A.R. may well become more expensive politically to the Bloc (but probably not to the extent that this has been true in India).

In the past, anti-Nasser sentiment in this country, fear of alienating our allies, notably King Hussein and the Shah, and Nasser’s own behavior have militated against an official visit. However, new elements in the situation suggest a fresh look might be taken at this question. These include: (a) the fact that there is a new administration in Washington [Page 115]without a record of prior actions on Near Eastern matters which might complicate a visit later on; (b) the Near East has been relatively tranquil in recent months, creating a more favorable atmosphere for a visit; (c) tension between Nasser and Hussein appears recently to have eased, and Nasser seems to be more interested than formerly in a role as a constructive Arab leader; (d) U.A.R.-Tunisian differences have similarly been reduced; and (e) the assignment of a new U.S. Ambassador affords an opportunity for an initiative.

A particular problem is presented by outstanding invitations which Nasser has to visit Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela. There are unofficial indications that Nasser may visit some of these countries in the fall, perhaps in connection with a trip to the next United Nations General Assembly. While Nasser might be reluctant to compromise the possibility of an official visit to the United States by visiting a Castro-ite Cuba at the same time, our new Ambassador,2 if authorized to allude to the possibility of a United States visit, would have to obtain an understanding that a Nasser trip to Cuba either immediately before, after or otherwise in conjunction with a visit here would be unacceptable. The Ambassador’s allusion to a U.S. visit would, of course, avoid either the form or the substance of a commitment.

Outside events continually arise which have an important impact on U.S.-U.A.R. relations. For this reason, it would be advisable not to extend Nasser a formal invitation for a visit here far in advance of the suggested time for the trip. Accordingly, we believe considerable latitude will be needed to assure that, in arranging a Nasser visit, we take advantage of special circumstances which may arise. At the same time, we believe it would be helpful for hints about such a visit to be dropped to Nasser in the near future. In this way, Nasser’s desire to make an official visit here may be turned to our advantage by encouraging him to adopt a more moderate attitude on such questions as Cuba where extremism would obviously render an official visit out of the question.

In view of the foregoing considerations, we suggest that you approve the following preliminary recommendations with a view to an eventual visit here by Nasser:

1.
That, in principle, a visit here by Nasser would be useful.
2.
That such a visit be tentatively scheduled for the spring of 1962, although an earlier date would not be precluded if this proves feasible on political grounds and in the light of other commitments. The dates [Page 116]for an official visit would not be discussed with Nasser until a few weeks before the desired time.
3.
That our new Ambassador to the U.A.R. be authorized orally to inform Nasser, when he presents his Letters of Credence (which we now estimate will be during the last week of June), that you are very much looking forward to inviting him to pay an official visit here as soon as both his schedule and yours will permit.3

Chester Bowles 4
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 786B.11/5–1661. Secret. Drafted by Brewer between May 10 and 15 and cleared by Conger (U/PR), U. Alexis Johnson, Strong, Talbot, and Stevenson (CMA).
  2. Not printed.
  3. President Kennedy appointed John S. Badeau as Ambassador to the United Arab Republic on May 29. He presented his credentials on July 19. Information relating to Badeau’s appointment, which was recommended by Under Secretary Bowles, is in Department of State, Secretary’s Staff Meetings: Lot 66 D 147, Chester Bowles’ Telcons, February 1961 and March 1961.
  4. In a May 11 memorandum to Bowles, Talbot recommended that this memorandum be sent to the President and noted that an invitation to Nasser had been periodically under consideration in the Department of State. “While we do not wish formally to recommend to the President at this time that Nasser be invited to come to this country, the President has informally expressed to me the opinion that, under appropriate circumstances, Nasser should be invited to come here. Accordingly, we feel it would be desirable to bring some of the considerations which bear on this problem to the President’s attention. We would hope in this way to obtain preliminary guidance in connection both with a possible eventual invitation to Nasser and in connection with the consultations which we will soon be having with our new Ambassador-designate to the U.A.R. ” (Department of State, Central Files, 786B.11/5–1161) Bundy passed this memorandum to President Kennedy on June 9; see Document 64.
  5. Printed from a copy that indicates Bowles signed the original.