58. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Talbot) to the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (McGhee)0


  • Prospects for Dealing with President Nasser


  • Your Conversation with me of May 231

Regarding the inquiry which you indicated you had received from the White House as to whether current indications of an improved atmosphere in U.S.-U.A.R. relations might make it possible for us now to deal with President Nasser, the following information regarding recent and planned initiatives in U.S.-U.A.R. relations may be helpful.

There has been an undoubted improvement in the atmosphere in recent weeks, stemming largely from the U.A.R. need for PL-480 wheat, President Nasser’s gratification at the President’s recent letters and cordial talk with the U.A.R. Ambassador and mounting evidence of U.A.R.-Soviet friction. The pendulum in U.S.-U.A.R. relations is thus now swinging again in our direction. So far, however, this is a question of atmosphere rather than substance, prompted in part by factors over which we have no control, notably tensions in U.A.R.-Soviet relations and a reduction in inter-Arab friction. No significant modifications of substantive U.A.R. positions have yet occurred. With many of these, notably Cuba, the Congo, the Arab boycott and Israeli Canal transit, we disagree. Nor has there been any modification in the fundamental realities which form the framework of U.A.R. relations with the West and the Soviet Bloc. The Arab-Israel question, U.S. inability to purchase Egyptian cotton and continued U.A.R. dependence on the Soviet Bloc for large-scale military and economic assistance heavily circumscribe what can be done to develop a more fruitful U.S.-U.A.R. relationship, and we have no illusions that any broad understanding is possible. In this context, [Page 143] any effort to exert unilateral U.S. pressure on Nasser for quick solutions of central problems, such as the Palestine issue, would most likely: (a) undo the limited progress already made in improving U.S.-U.A.R. relations; (b) force the U.A.R. to express renewed support for extremist Arab positions; (c) render it more difficult for the U.A.R. to adopt a more balanced role on world problems such as the Congo where the U.A.R. has not always been unhelpful; and (d) afford further opportunities for Soviet exploitation.

Faced with the foregoing realities, we have concluded that, while it is not now feasible to expect significant help from Nasser in solving major international problems, much can be done to push the pendulum of U.S.-U.A.R. relations more in our direction. Embassy Cairo concurs in this general view. According to Embassy despatch 894 of May 8,2 “In the short run, the basic positions of the Regime on international issues are not subject to much change, but the violence with which they are expressed and promoted might be reduced”. Accordingly, we have felt that our best course is to continue constant probing of the U.A.R. on important issues like Cuba and the Congo while fostering personal contacts with Nasser and his senior advisors and continuing modest economic assistance. This policy is designed: (a) to demonstrate U.S. sympathy for the massive challenges of industrialization and over-population facing the U.A.R.; (b) to make clear that the U.A.R. need not rely fully on Communist Bloc assistance; and (c) to develop a U.S. position which will permit timely exploitation of Soviet errors and periodic tensions in U.A.R.-U.S.S.R. relations.

While conveying an impression of modest yet friendly cooperation with President Nasser, this policy has been designed to create uncertainty in Cairo as to our ultimate intentions. Specific requests to Nasser have been avoided which might give him the renewed impression that we need him more than he needs us.

Pursuant to this general posture, the following specific steps have been initiated since March 1:

Five letters have been sent from the President to President Nasser, including messages on the Congo, Cuba and the Palestine refugee situation.3
A recommendation has been sent to the President that we consider an official visit here by President Nasser as a means of developing further mutual confidence and contacts.4
We arranged for the President to have a long and cordial private talk with the U.A.R. Ambassador.5
On May 27, we concluded a PL-480 supplemental agreement with the U.A.R. covering additional shipments of 200,000 tons of wheat and flour.
Former Ambassador Lodge was encouraged to call on President Nasser with personal greetings from the President. Mr. Lodge’s call received cordial treatment in the Cairo press and he has asked to see the Secretary on his return to report on his conversation.6
Ambassador Reinhardt, before his departure, and more recently our Chargé d’Affaires, have made clear to President Nasser and his senior advisors that there is a relationship between continued U.S. aid and U.A.R. attitudes and policies towards the U.S.7

In the foregoing terms we are now dealing effectively with President Nasser with modest success. The President’s letter on the refugee problem has prompted preliminary favorable comment in Cairo, and it has been indicated that we may receive a constructive reply. This reply and Mr. Lodge’s account of his talk with Nasser should give us additional information as to how Nasser currently views U.S.-U.A.R. relations.

President Nasser’s reply letter on Cuba was well-received at the White House and the U.A.R. Ambassador has been informed that the President will be sending Nasser another letter following the Vienna meeting. We believe this would afford a most useful opportunity, not only to get our version of the President’s talk with Khrushchev to Nasser ahead of the Russian version, but also to set forth how the new administration views the threat which the non-aligned countries actually face in the coming decade. A draft along these lines will be prepared as soon as possible after the President’s return from Europe.

Meanwhile, President Nasser has, of course, been active in organizing a “summit meeting” of some non-aligned governments. A preparatory, largely procedural, meeting at the Ambassadorial level will convene in Cairo on June 5 to determine the date, place and agenda for [Page 145] the main conference. Preliminary guidance has already been sent to our field posts and more detailed information is in preparation. Since the June 5 meeting will be largely procedural and the President will be sending another message to President Nasser soon after his return from Europe, we consider that the further Presidential message to Nasser, in advance of the June 5 meeting, might be regarded in Cairo as evidence of undue U.S. nervousness regarding its outcome.

Recent U.S. initiatives have made clear to the U.A.R. our interest in more cordial personal contacts. A U.A.R. request for massive PL-480 wheat assistance in FY-62 is now before us. We conclude that these developments, unless complicated by some unrelated occurrence such as last year’s “Cleopatra” picketing case,8 will induce Nasser to continue to take a more moderate attitude, both in direct U.S.-U.A.R. relations and in the councils of the uncommitted countries. The more moderate treatment now being accorded the U.S. by U.A.R. propaganda media, and reports from our Embassy regarding the improved atmosphere in U.S.-U.A.R. relations, support this conclusion and indicate that, in our recent and prospective initiatives, we are on the right track provided we do not force the pace.

  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, Egypt. Secret. Drafted by Brewer on May 29. Attached to a May 31 memorandum from McGhee to Walt Rostow, indicating that this memorandum was written in response to Rostow’s query to McGhee on whether the United States might be able to deal more successfully with Nasser in light of the apparent improvement in U.S.-UAR relations. McGhee also noted that the memorandum printed here took the position that although there had been some recent improvement in U.S.-UAR relations, the improvement was more one of atmosphere than substance. McGhee concurred with NEA’s conclusion that “we are on the right track provided we do not force the pace.”
  2. No record of the conversation has been found.
  3. Despatch 894, May 8, is entitled, “Evaluation of the U.S. Aid Program in the United Arab Republic.” (Ibid., Central Files, 786B.5–MSP/5–861)
  4. The Department of State’s file of correspondence between President Kennedy and President Nasser (Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 149, Pres. Kennedy-Johnson/UAR Correspondence, 1961–1965) indicates only four letters were sent from President Kennedy to Nasser during this period. These are: March 1 on the Congo; May 3 on Cuba; May 11 on the Palestine refugee situation (see Document 47); and April 17, a letter of introduction for Ambassador Lodge to Nasser.
  5. See Document 48.
  6. See Document 44.
  7. Documentation relating to Ambassador Lodge’s visit to Egypt is in Department of State, Central File 032-Lodge, Henry Cabot. No record of Lodge’s subsequent report to Rusk has been found.
  8. Reinhardt reported on his final conversation with Nasser in telegram 1558, March 17. (Ibid., 611.86B/3–1761)
  9. Reference is to the refusal of the Seafarers International Union in April 1960 to allow the unloading of the UAR flag vessel Cleopatra in New York harbor in retaliation for the UAR boycott of Israel and alleged abusive treatment of union members in Egyptian ports. Documentation is ibid., 811.062.