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

1995. From Talbot. Accompanied by Ambassador Badeau I had two hour discussion with Nasser on Tuesday2 evening. Throughout conversation he was cordial, quiet-voiced, and apparently relaxed. He repeatedly referred to Israel as the main irritant in U.S.-UAR relations, suggesting that U.S. policies in election year much on his mind. He clearly appreciated hearing directly from President.

I opened by presenting letters from Mrs. Kennedy and from the President.3 Nasser laid aside Mrs. Kennedy’s letter for later reading but opened President’s letter and read it through slowly and carefully. I then said I had come in expression President’s desire continue full and frank discussion that had characterized President Kennedy’s relations with Nasser. President Johnson, who had sat at his predecessor’s side as Kennedy administration policies shaped, had carefully reviewed our Near Eastern policy.

Recognizing problems that necessarily affect our relationships, he was ready to pursue effective relations with UAR, seeking ways to resolve problems and where possible working to broaden areas of common interest.

I said Ambassador Badeau had already spoken to Nasser about continuity of U.S. policies, and we hoped he understood our readiness to continue cooperation in economic and other fields. We were glad of contribution American cereals making to meeting Egypt’s consumption requirements and that proceeds from their sale also helping meet investment gap. As we had told Dr. Kaissouni during his very recent visit to Washington, we also were prepared as matter of practice carry on with development lending. There were, indeed, some problems to be overcome first, but Nasser would understand importance meeting these problems, such as International Monetary Fund terms for stabilization agreement. In fact friends of UAR, both governmental and non-governmental, had come believe IMF agreement to be central accomplishment necessary for further development assistance. However, our willingness in principle to negotiate loans remained as before.

I commented on recent Cairo summit conference, saying we impressed by moderate and statesmanlike management of meeting, applaud [Page 59] Arab decision to use peaceful means to resolve disputes, commend reduction of tensions apparent between several Arab states and governments, and hope some improvement in UAR-SAG relations might also result.

I said this opportunity discuss broad field of U.S.-UAR relations with Nasser emboldened me mention several issues which would probably face us in course this year. One, of course, was refugee problem. As he knew, for three years we had exerted strong efforts to deal with this difficult, seemingly intractable problem.

As no overall solution found in past 15 years, we had hoped some step-by-step arrangement might help start process by which genuine progress could gradually be achieved. We now had impression Israel might take in some refugees, but in absence understanding of what Arab side would be willing to do, we found it difficult to press forward with this initiative. We had tried energetically to find path toward implementation of Paragraph 11 of UN Resolution 194.4 In autumn we would be facing question of termination of UNRWA, with anticipated debate over future of Palestine refugees. If, by that time no progress made, situation would be difficult. He could understand we would find it hard continue status quo indefinitely.

Nasser responded that, as he had said before, we have few problems in our direct relations. Troubles arise out of third party issues. First among difficulties in our relations has been, and continues to be, Israel. As he had said in recent speech, US had always supported Israel and had supported status quo. Arabs could not accept this. Arab-Israel problem could never be settled until Arabs got their rights. Refugees have right to return to Palestine homeland. Dr. Joseph Johnson 5 had come to talk about 20,000 refugees going back. If Arabs accepted this, life would be intolerable for them. At present Israel with more than 2,000,000 Jews has about 250,000 Arabs, who live under martial law restrictions as second class citizens. If all refugees returned, there would be more than 1,000,000 Arabs in country and balance between communities would be better.

Returning to subject of refugees later, Nasser said it seems insoluble problem. It cannot be solved by war nor can it be solved by peaceful [Page 60] means because Israel will not give Arabs their rights. I noted Dr. Johnson had withdrawn illustrative figure of 20,000 refugees; what he really sought was a process that might progress so long as both sides were willing. In absence of agreement on final solution, step-by-step process seemed only path to progress. Nasser said Arabs could not accept this nibbling at problem. I said we all would need in coming months look carefully for ways to progress, else there could be great difficulties ahead. He assented with smile.

Nasser returned to theme that US supporting status quo to protect Israel. I said I thought he underrated US efforts to work constructively with all nations in area. This was our policy with UAR, as he knew. Nasser said he agreed. President Kennedy had worked for peace, but then after latter’s death had come new policy statements by Alexis Johnson and President Johnson which troubled Arabs. Perhaps exact wordings used should not have caused anxiety; this had already been explained to him. But Arabs are sentimental people and had felt hurt at these speeches coming right after Arab summit, which praised Israel and had no warm words for Arabs. I commented that Alexis Johnson’s speech, scheduled before we knew of summit meeting, had been effort to state carefully the various considerations in American Near Eastern policy at beginning this important year. Careful reading of President Johnson’s speech would show that American assistance in study of desalting was explicitly extended to any interested country. Ambassador Badeau noted that American desalting specialist had in fact been working with UAR specialists in past year.

[Here follows discussion concerning Yemen and Cyprus.]

I noted that we had been disappointed to hear his reference to American base in Libya. We felt he knew US policy of support of freedom and independence of Near Eastern countries and we were surprised at his mention of a matter really peripheral to US–UAR relations since we had thought both countries seeking to broaden area of common effort. Nasser responded that as we well knew he doesn’t like system of bases anywhere in world. He had mentioned bases in this speech and had identified British bases, so he referred to American base also. He had been thinking primarily of our support of Israel, and this was a connected question.

Comment: At several points in conversation Nasser found ways to reinforce impression he obviously sought to convey that what we are doing for Israel is on his mind in this election year. He gave appearance of willingness discuss any subject and suggested, as I did, that this sort of candid review helpful in our relations. In parting he asked me express his best wishes to President Johnson and said he would be replying to President’s letter.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL UAR-US. Secret. Received at 6:35 p.m.
  2. March 3. See also Document 24.
  3. Document 20. The letter from Mrs. Kennedy has not been found.
  4. Resolution 194 (III), adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 11, 1948, established a Conciliation Commission for Palestine and instructed it on various subjects. Paragraph 11 resolved that refugees wishing to return to their homes should be permitted to do so and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return. It also instructed the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement, and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation.
  5. Joseph E. Johnson was appointed Special Representative of the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine in 1961 to conduct indirect negotiations between Israel and the Arab states to seek a solution of the refugee question. Documentation pertaining to his efforts is in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, volumes XVII and XVIII.