193. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Arab Republic 1

5632. Talking Points for Presentation Letter From President to Nasser .

FYI: We wish you to deliver in person Presidential letter to Nasser which will be sent separate message.2 Primary purpose of letter and your meeting is to put limited and exceptional US arms sale to Israel in most acceptable light. Recognizing Nasser will be almost bound suspect hidden US commitment to arm Israel and abandon “evenhanded” policy, you should bear in mind following rationale:

Sale to Israel would be an exception to our arms sales policy made to prevent significant arms imbalance from posing a threat to peace resulting from overconfidence or from desperation.
Sale to Israel is limited commitment that we will strive to keep limited and exceptional assuming Arabs show restraint.
Sale is measure forced on us by complex of events including continued heavy Soviet arms supplies to area; threatening posture of Unified Arab Command and Arab spokesmen toward Israel, particularly in connection with Jordan Waters; and Bonn’s withdrawal as source arms supply for Israel.

Secondary purpose this approach is to invite resumption of dialogue with Nasser, particularly on arms control but also on other matters of difference between us. You should make sure this point is not lost.

Since we naturally wish avoid giving Nasser a stick with which to beat Husayn, we don’t want to highlight Jordan arms sale as reason we are selling to Israel too. Therefore, it mentioned only briefly in your talking points. If Nasser raises Jordan matter, we wish you to make clear distinction between US sales to Jordan and prospective sales to Israel. Sales to Israel have different justification, in that their rationale is to prevent significant imbalance in arms from posing threat to peace from overconfidence or from desperation. While it is obviously impossible prevent Nasser from assuming some linkage between US sales to Jordan and those to Israel, we count on you to make distinction and avoid direct linkage between two.

[Page 411]

Although we want over-all signal to be in nature of warning some US assistance to Israel will occur, we do not want this to appear as threat or ultimatum. Tone of presentation should be calm and reasonable without nuances of indignation or complaint. End FYI.

Following are talking points:

President has been increasingly concerned by strains that have developed in relations of US and other Western states with Near East and particularly by recent divergence of US and UAR policies. Deterioration of Western relations with area has coincided with heightening of tensions growing out of Arab-Israel dispute. Threat of hostilities over Jordan Waters and activities of Unified Arab Command have brought to fore continuing arms rivalry in Middle East. Resulting tensions have perhaps inevitably increased doubts and suspicions about attitudes and policies of outside states toward states of Near East. President has asked you to discuss his concerns in detail, to clarify United States policies, and to invite Nasser to resume dialogue on arms control and on various matters of difference between US and UAR.
As Nasser must already know, Israelis have been reacting strongly to spite aspects Arab water diversion schemes, inflammatory and belligerent posture conveyed by Arab statements and UAC arms buildup, and then German arms cancellation. As part of continuing US effort to reduce tensions, President sent Harriman/Komer to Israel to calm Israelis down and talk out their worries. They discussed all aspects current Near Eastern situation and reviewed US policies with Israeli leaders. They explained that US opposition to aggression by any Near Eastern state against another applied to Israel as much as to Arabs. They stressed to Israelis our continued interest in peaceful resolution of area disputes.
Harriman/Komer talks have eased situation, but basic problems remain and are still a potential cause of war. Arabs appear concerned lest Israel make military strike outside its borders. But Israel in turn is disturbed by statements some Arab leaders they intend some day wipe out Israel. For our part, we are concerned by Israeli arguments that they might have to act to prevent continued influx of Soviet arms from eventually giving Arabs upper hand. Israelis have convincing case because of continued UAC buildup and stated Arab intentions on water diversion. Because of such pressures we also fear Israelis may someday feel forced shift from peaceful nuclear program to weaponry.
US effort has been to try insure Israeli restraint by (a) counselling peaceful solution to water issue; (b) reassuring Israelis on our opposition to aggression and use of force; and (c) warning them against any acts of desperation. To achieve those objectives, and to preserve atmosphere in which peaceful solutions possible, we reassured Israelis that to extent we agreed on existence of dangerous imbalance that [Page 412]cannot be corrected by arms from other sources, USG would make a direct but limited sale of arms as an exception to existing policy.
We want Nasser to see this in perspective. As he knows, we have been most reluctant to become direct supplier military equipment to any of principal parties to Arab-Israel dispute. We know each side has been able to obtain weaponry from other sources, and we are well aware each side considers itself best judge of what is required defend itself as sovereign state. In our relations with both Israel and Arabs we have taken all possible steps to arrest self-defeating military rivalry and resultant waste of funds needed for improving peoples’ welfare. But our restraint has not been matched by the Soviet Union. While making massive supplies of arms to states in area, it has pretended it is working for peace while using Arab-Israel dispute to foment discord in its interest.
We regard arms rivalry as self-defeating since each side ultimately can match armaments obtained by other, but always at risk provoking preemptive attack and at regrettable cost to progress and economic development. Thus there is danger that one side will get military advantage substantial enough to tempt it to launch preemptive attack—particularly if that advantage appears to be declining. Key to shaky peace in Near East therefore may lie only in preventing imbalances in categories of arms that might lead to preemptive strike. This does not mean outsiders have right to regulate armaments in absence of agreement among states concerned, tacitly or otherwise. It means only that it may be in international interest to accede to some arms requests in order to prevent conflicts.

Thus, if two sides are unwilling find peaceful accommodation or to arrange some kind of attenuation in arms race, international community has no alternative to selling arms to correct imbalances and thereby to preserve peace. In observance this principle, USG sold Hawks to alleviate Israeli apprehensions of UAR bombers. For same reason USG now would be prepared to sell Israel limited types and quantities of arms required for their defense if assured of Israeli restraint. This exception has not been lightly made. It has been made clear to Israel Government, as President has asked you to make clear to Nasser, that just as we have not lightly made this exception in past we do not intend to do so in future.

FYI: If Nasser asks about specific US commitments, you may say: US has made no sales agreements with Israel but has agreed consider limited Israeli requests. If he asks about tanks, you may say: Limited number of older model US tanks are probably on horizon for obvious reasons. If he asks about supersonic aircraft, you may say: USG does not contemplate selling Israel supersonic aircraft in F–104 category. If he asks about less sophisticated aircraft, you may say: We continue [Page 413]prefer Israel use European suppliers unless significant imbalance develops in area. If Nasser asks about other weapons, you may say: No arrangements for any other equipment on horizon as yet. If he asks about price, you may say: US arms supplies will be sales at same price to all buyers. End FYI.

US need to sell arms to Israel of course will be governed by what Arabs do. Nasser should realize that if Arabs challenge US on any limited arms sales to Israel, they might provoke US public reaction that would jeopardize USG’s restrained and evenhanded approach to Arab-Israel problem.USG has always resisted going as far as Israel keeps pressing it to go. Should Arabs force a showdown, they would undercut US incentive to limit arms sales to Israel and force very polarization of Near East situation USG seeks to avoid. Arab restraint toward their own arms acquisitions and toward Israeli acquisitions from Western powers would facilitate Western efforts to exert similar restraint. Thus we want to assure Nasser that impartiality and restraint remain basis of US arms policy. Any US sales of weapons to Arab states or Israel will be minimum dictated by circumstances.
In this connection, President wants Nasser also to know we have agreed to sell certain arms to Jordan. We considered Jordan request carefully over period of several months. Although Arabs may not appreciate danger, alternative of Soviet arms in Jordan would mean Soviet presence and influence in unstable area from which they previously excluded. Resultant dangers to stability of entire Near East would threaten Arab as well as US interests. US therefore decided it would sell arms to Jordan to prevent Soviet exploitation of situation.
USG holds firmly to other tenets of its Arab/Israeli policy beneficial to both sides. USG will keep up pressure on Israel not to go nuclear. As Nasser undoubtedly aware fact of recent American visit to Dimona has been revealed by US press.3 USG also determined to oppose aggression from any quarter and to continue effort to reduce risk of war. These are more important, in our view, than limited arms sales.
Indeed, given special relationship we have had with UAR, we hope our two governments may still find a way to reverse Near East arms spiral. We have been gratified by indications UAR leaders share our conviction that Arab-Israel dispute is insoluble by force of arms. In face of world opinion and US commitment to oppose aggression, neither side will ever achieve military capability to impose solution on [Page 414]other. Consequently, best hope of reducing arms drain is for Arabs to renounce development of certain categories of weapons in return for similar renunciation by Israel.
We should also work together to find some way of avoiding a Jordan Waters crisis. Most immediate threat to peace is prospective Lebanese action to begin to divert Jordan tributaries to Syria. Most critical element in this project is its representation by Arabs as device to deny water to Israel. We believe tension could be relieved and magnitude of Israeli counteraction reduced if Arabs would present their projects in more positive light, indicating that purpose is to guarantee Arab users’ access to water to which they entitled on basis internationally accepted riparian laws and usages. As Nasser knows, USG believes Johnston allocations meet these criteria. We recognize neither Arabs nor Israel refer to Johnston Plan publicly, but we wonder if some other formula could be devised that would encourage both sides to stay within their legitimate allocations.
We welcome ideas of Nasser and UARG as to how Arab-Israel situation may be defused; we are ready to cooperate in any way we can in mutual Arab-US interest. FYI: We have given some thought to consideration Arab-Israel arms race by Geneva Disarmament Conference. Do not however believe it advantageous surface this idea at this time. End FYI.
President recognizes sensitivity these issues and hopes his frank views will be considered in same spirit in which offered. We are seeking to reason together in effort to prevent conflagration which would spread far beyond confines of the Near East.

FYI: If Nasser appears likely to react violently and publicly to news you deliver, you may add that if Nasser desires, President is prepared to send a special emissary to discuss whole complex of Near East matters more fully with him. President considering this as a device to provide a “cooling-off” period. End FYI.

Contingency talking points on other subjects Nasser may raise will follow by separate message.4

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Talbot, Symmes, and Komer; cleared by Davies and Komer; and approved by Talbot.
  2. Telegram 5664 to Cairo, March 19, transmitted the text of the letter (Document 192). (National Archives and Records Administration,RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL ARAB–ISR)
  3. An article by John W. Finney, entitled “Israel Permits U.S. To Inspect Atomic Reactor,” appeared in The New York Times on March 14. The text was transmitted to Near Eastern Embassies in circular telegram 1692, March 14. (Ibid., AE 11–2 ISR) Telegram 922 to Tel Aviv, March 11, states that Finney was working on a story, beginning from a lead given by Foreign Minister Eban in a “Meet the Press” television interview. (Ibid.)
  4. Telegram 5686 to Tel Aviv, March 20. (Ibid., POL UAR-US)