4. Memorandum for Record1

UAR Press Attache Habib came in today at his request (the real power in the UAR Embassy, he is leaving for Cairo January 6th to handle press releases with Western correspondents during Arab summit).2 He wanted any words of advice I had to offer.

Pointing out the considerable improvement in US–UAR communication which had taken place under President Kennedy, a policy which President Johnson had already told Nasser he wanted to continue,3 I stressed that 1964 was likely to prove a real test of our improving relationship. This was primarily because of the Jordan waters, one of those Arab-Israeli issues on which the US and UAR necessarily disagreed. We were impressed by Nasser’s handling of this problem so far (I cited Port Said speech4 and Haikal commentary), and we emphatically hoped that Nasser as the No. 1 Arab leader could sustain a policy of restraint. I gently reminded Habib how circumstances over the last year—particularly Yemen—had led to the Gruening Amendment,5 [Page 7] which seriously limited our freedom of maneuver. I feared that an outpouring of Arab hostility over the Jordan waters would lead to great Congressional pressure on the Administration. This (despite our own recognition that the Arabs intended no military action) might just force our hand. If we could only get through 1964 without a real setback in US relations with the Arabs, I felt sure that the obvious uptrend of the last few years would be continued and strengthened.

Habib seemed most receptive, but asked what kind of an “out” we could provide for the Arabs. I replied that we had attempted to devise just such an out with the unified plan of 1955, calling for an equitable division of the Jordan waters among various users. We were insistent that Israel stick to this allocation, which left 60% of the waters for the Arabs. Habib asked what our attitude would be toward an Arab call for international observation and checking, both of water withdrawals and of nuclear developments. I parried that our response would obviously depend on the nature of the proposals but in principle I felt we would favor any such international arrangement that seemed acceptable to the parties.

As Habib left he mentioned Abu Simbel and the UAR’s hope that President Johnson would send some personal message when the US contribution was made. I told him only half jocularly6 that if he could manage in some way to keep the Israeli issue in the icebox (as Kamel keeps saying) during the Arab Summit, we could suitably memorialize US help for Abu Simbel.

R. W. Komer 7
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, United Arab Republic, Vol. I. Secret.
  2. The Arab Summit Conference was held January 13–17 in Cairo. Documentation relating to it is in the National Archives and Records Administration,RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 UAR.
  3. Reference is to an oral message from Johnson to Nasser which had not yet been delivered. For text of the message, see telegram 2860 to Cairo, December 23, 1963, in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XVIII, Document 391.
  4. A memorandum by Robert W. Komer of the NSC Staff commenting on the speech is ibid., Document 395.
  5. Reference is to an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1963, signed December 16, 1963 (P.L. 88–205; 77 Stat. 387), barring U.S. foreign aid, including assistance under P.L. 480, to any country that the President determined was engaging in or preparing for aggressive military action against the United States or any country receiving U.S. assistance. The amendment’s sponsors made it clear that it was aimed at the United Arab Republic.
  6. The words “only half jocularly” were added in Komer’s handwriting.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.