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

3351. Dept pass as necessary. I have just returned from a meeting lasting one hour fifteen minutes with President Nasser.2

I began by congratulating him on his re-election3 and on the great confidence that the people of the UAR have shown in him. He replied that he was pleased with the response of the people. He had had a brief rest out of town with the Vice Presidents who, under his instruction, had not been allowed to talk business. He remarked that the campaign had been unfortunate in one respect and that was that three people had been killed during a demonstration of support which had caused him great sadness.

I then told the President that I was delighted to have a talk with him. I wanted to emphasize the great importance I attached and my govt attached to our continued conversations. I said that we were in a difficult period and that it was essential that we maintain regular, close and frank contacts with each other. He agreed. He then said that he had received the message I had sent him via Dr. Hatem (he obviously meant Sami Sharaf) which had reached him just as he was preparing his speech for Assiut4 and that what I had told him had been very helpful and had been contrary to every other bit of info that he had. He also expressed his appreciation for my having kept him informed of my movements and intentions with respect to briefing him on the Harriman mission. He so strongly implied that if he had not received my message his speech might have been different that I said again that we must not, either of us, permit ourselves to act on any matter unless we were sure that we had talked it out together and had the best info available. He nodded pleasantly and agreed.

I then said that I was happy to present to him a letter from the President.5 He appeared pleased. He opened it and read it twice with [Page 422]great care. I had a slight feeling he was about to react to the contents of the letter and I stopped him from commenting, saying that as the President had requested I was there to brief him in detail on a great many matters of some complexity. I said that again in the interest of being sure that we had no misunderstanding I had written down the points that my govt had instructed me to make and would follow closely an outline and suggested that we have a frank talk thereafter. I then carefully went over the points contained in Deptel 56326 which I had paraphrased on paper (with a very few minor changes where I felt he might be offended or confused by one or another word). I went very slowly, watching him closely as I proceeded. He stopped me once or twice and I repeated phrases.

He then said “This gives me a good opportunity to talk about a number of things.” I said I was glad to hear him say that. He again seemed on the verge of an emotional response but quickly got himself under control. He spoke strongly about the tanks that Germany had sold to Israel. He said that the UAR had known for some time that military equipment was being sent to Israel but that the UAR had believed it was entirely of German manufacture. He said that the info about the tank deal had reached him two or three months ago and had really caused “all the trouble.”

He said it led to the Ulbricht visit which had been pressed upon him for three years. He said with great feeling there was no Soviet pressure at any time contrary to what newspaper reporters in the US had indicated. East Germany had never been mentioned by Mr. Khrushchev except insofar as the German problem itself was discussed. He repeated emphatically there was no Soviet pressure and appeared to irritate himself at the thought.

He then launched into various statements with respect to the numbers of tanks going to Jordan. He said this would lead to more tanks going to Israel which would lead to more tanks needed here. I attempted to get him off the question of numbers and the inter-relationship of the Jordan-Israel-UAR problem by saying that the Jordanian and the Israeli deals were for different reasons and that I did not have info on the Jordanian matter which was somewhat separate from the general problem we were discussing and that I assumed that through the UAC he would know the details of the Jordanian armament. He then said (and came back to this point a couple of times) that he did not know how many tanks the Germans had sold or delivered to Israel. Estimates ranged from 60 to 300 or even more. He said “I suppose you are now going to match all the tanks they haven’t delivered. We don’t know [Page 423]how many were promised or delivered although our military consider that 80 percent have been received.”

I replied that no sales contracts had been entered into but that the present possibility was for a limited number of older models although that this was not yet a firm deal. He then sought other details and I made the statement contained in my instructions with respect to supersonic aircraft, less sophisticated aircraft and to the absence of other weapons on the horizon. I stressed the fact that the supplies we made available would be sales and at the same price to all buyers. This seemed to relieve him.

The President then made some general comments. He said that the US “counted all the Arabs together.” He said “The Arab world cannot be brought together quickly or easily. You must realize this from your own experience with NATO.” He said that what really had to be considered was Egypt. Egypt would be the country which must be knocked out in the event of a conflict. He said that no one could count upon the other Arabs, either individually or collectively and that Egypt was the mainstay as far as military power in the Arab world was concerned.

He then reviewed the events of 1956 and the precarious position the UAR was in at that time drawing the moral that the UAR must always be able to defend itself against aggressors. If the UAR had not been able to hold out for nine days if would have made no difference what the UN or anyone else did. We talked for a few minutes of that period and I reminded him rather delicately, I thought, of the US role in 1956. He said that the UAR was appreciative of that role but repeated again that it had to be able to withstand attacks. At that point I reaffirmed our desire now as in ’56 for peace in the area and of our readiness to do what we could to assure it.

By this time the President became quite reminiscent and reviewed the efforts of the past to solve the Israeli problem. The statement by Ben Gurion re earlier US efforts which recently appeared in the press seemed very much on his mind. He expressed some concern that this statement would hurt him in Egypt and the Arab world because it implied the possibility that he was willing to come to terms on the Israeli problem. He indicated that he had been willing during the Anderson Mission7 to go along with a reasonable settlement but had been turned down by the Israelis. He said that he considered the Israelis a threat to him and that the Arab world was concerned about increase of population and immigration into Israel which would increase the [Page 424]threat. He said that earlier proposals which he had been willing to go along with at one time would perhaps have solved the problem but “you would have had something other than Israel as it is today.” In effect the plans amounted to a new kind of state based on Jews and the Arab refugees living together. Now he saw no solution to the Israeli problem for years—50 or 60, maybe more.

During his comments he spoke of the Jordan waters; of the difficulty of getting agreement in the Arab world to a plan; of the minimal effect that the diversion plans would have on the actual supply of water available to Israel; and of the relation to immigration of additional water supplies that Israel might have. I repeated the arguments in my instruction with respect to “spite” aspects of the Arab plan which I said was a source of tension and that I thought we must all look to every source of strain and tension in this delicate situation and try to remove them. He nodded but made no comment.

At about this time an air raid warning went off and we sat silently for a few minutes. I wondered what the realities of the Middle East had for us now. He then assured me this was only a practice and a local one. We immediately returned to the arms tension. He said “You have told me you are going to sell arms to Israel. The pressure from my military will be to equal its arms. The pressure from my military resulting from the German deliveries, even though the amount is uncertain, has already been forthcoming.” I said this was the point I had been making with respect to the need for some curtailment of the unfortunate arms race in the Middle East. This is the thing we must work toward. He made no comment and did not pursue the matter.

As I started to leave I repeated the need for our govts to keep in close touch. I said that we were in difficult period and that we must not permit ourselves on either side to risk grave dangers because of misunderstanding or misinformation and that I hoped that he would talk with me again after thinking over what I had said. He asked me if I would give him a copy of the notes from which I had worked or alternatively to send him a memorandum. I said that the notes were informal with my pencil scribblings but that I would leave them—which I did. (Included paraphrase paras 1–14, not FYI paras, of Deptel 5632.) I said that after he had studied them perhaps a further talk would be in order. I said that all times if he felt uncertainty as to our intention or purpose or even curiosity as to what was going on I would welcome a call from him or one of his staff. I also said that if he had questions I could not answer I would say so and would attempt to get him my govt’s view in any situation by special emissaries here if he had any feeling that this would be useful. I said that the President stood ready to assure that he knew the details of [Page 425]our positions and would provide an emissary if he wished to go into depth on any issues. He said no, “I would prefer to continue as we are going.” He expressed approval of the President’s desire that talks continue and said that he would be happy to see me at any time I felt it desirable.

Comment: The conversation, except for the one or two almost emotional moments, could not have been more cordial. His tone was friendly, warm, and more in sorrow than in anger (after he learned of our intentions). The only real emotion came with respect to the tank sale by the Germans.

Neither the Yemen nor any of the other contingency subjects were raised and I made no effort to bring them up as I felt we had both had enough.

Battle
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL UAR-US. Secret; Priority; Exdis.
  2. The meeting took place on March 24.
  3. Nasser was elected to another 6-year term on March 16.
  4. The message has not been further identified. The speech at Assiut was given by Nasser on March 8. Telegram 3117 from Cairo, March 9, reported that the speech contained no direct attack on the United States and that the “preponderance of venom” was reserved for UAR relations with West Germany, which had recently declared the intention of recognizing Israel. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15–1 UAR)
  5. Document 192.
  6. Document 193.
  7. Robert B. Anderson visited Egypt and Israel in early 1956 as President Eisenhower’s personal representative. For documentation concerning his mission, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XV, pp. 16343 passim.