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

2632. Reference Deptels 5140, 5141,2 5168.3 President Nasser received me 1930 hours May 7 for 45 minute interview. In light of Deptel 5168 I focused discussions principally on possibilities Middle East arms race alleviation along lines set forth in reference telegram.

My presentation opened with transmittal written text of Presidential letter contained in Deptel 5140. After carefully reading this and requesting exact meanings of certain words, President recalled this subject had been discussed with John McCloy and Secretary Talbot. I reminded him that origin of discussion was President Kennedy’s earnest concern for practical steps in the reduction of armament and containment nuclear development which would further world peace. As President Johnson’s letter indicated he completely shares this interest and is desirous of carrying it forward. The presentation I was about to make was at President Johnson’s request and represented his thinking.

I then put forward in slightly expanded form the views set forth in Department telegram 5141, emphasizing particularly the following:

The accelerating pace of sophisticated weapons acquisition between the UAR and Israel generated geometrically progressing danger so that any step, small in itself, greatly increased chances of final explosion.
Israeli financial and technical capability is such that they will match, and perhaps overmatch, every step taken by UAR as Adzhubei statement in Paris re SSM’s shows. Result is not only that UAR security can never be absolutely established but growing financial burden will make it increasingly difficult for UAR to support weapons and economic progress at same time.
As a great power US has embarked on course of self-disciplined restraint in aspects of weapon development vis-a-vis Soviets. Without formal agreement or special verification procedures, Soviets have taken similar steps. While admittedly these are limited they are not only a [Page 120] hopeful beginning in containment of arms development but indicate quiet process by which some advance can be made without formal bilateral negotiations. UAR as great power in Arab world should be willing to follow same path.
USG deeply concerned over all nuclear development and particularly over possibility of nuclear weapons in Middle East. In view of this we consider it essential to peace of area as well as to world interests that IAEA safeguards be accepted. As I had pointed out to President Nasser on earlier occasions, we consider this one of most effective and practical steps to meet Arab fears that Israel may be developing nuclear weapons. I therefore bespoke UAR support on IAEA safeguards, expressed concern at UAR criticisms of these at Geneva Disarmament Conference, and invited any constructive views President desired to put forward on this subject.
Although USA does not share Arab belief Israel inevitably expansionist, I stressed our vigorous opposition to any Israeli expansionism beyond its borders and our strong reaction to any aggressive threat against States in area. With this as background I dwelt at some length on USG commitment to general peace and tranquility in Middle East. This is sometimes interpreted by Arabs as being a pro-Israeli policy but I was sure President Nasser understood the falsity of this and recognized that howsoever strong Arab distaste for Israel might be its continued presence is a hard fact that had to be taken into account in seeking to prevent undue arms acceleration with ensuing danger of conflict.
In conclusion I reviewed plan whereby UAR would unilaterally and quietly give USG assurances that it was prepared not to go beyond its present level on either number or sophistication of advanced weapons, particularly rockets. On this basis chances are good that similar undertaking can be obtained from Israel both as to increase and deployment of SSM’s and most importantly the eschewing of nuclear weapon development. A first step would be President Nasser’s affirmative answer to the request made in President Johnson’s letter for written assurance re UAR intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

President Nasser listened quietly to this presentation, asking several questions for clarification of English technical words and details of proposal. He then requested that I send him as soon as possible a written summary of the presentation I had made,4 saying that this question was of such importance that he would have to study it carefully [Page 121] before giving any answers. He promised to see me for a “long session” after the Khrushchev visit.

President Nasser then said that he would be replying to President Johnson’s letter and that he would give assurances on UAR’s purpose to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons as the President had requested. I probed to discover whether this assurance was a private one for President Johnson alone or would be in such a form that it could be made public, but without success. The President again assured me that he would answer President Johnson’s request affirmatively but could not be drawn into either the exact form or contents of the commitment.

Comment: During McCloy conversations on above topic, the President put forward immediately objections to the plan. That he did not do so in this interview I consider somewhat hopeful; certainly a small gain will have been made if Nasser fulfills his intention to give President Johnson the assurances he seeks re UAR acquisition nuclear weapons. While Nasser will certainly give me one or more long sessions on above topic and other basic questions of UAR-USA relationships after Khrushchev visit, I believe it unlikely these will be completed before Eshkol arrival in USA June 1st. In my opinion it would be a mistake to press any timetable of talks that suggests this exercise is governed by Eshkol visit.

Perhaps one reason for not prolonging the discussion was that President Nasser is obviously under the weather. He looked grey and drawn and told me that ever since his return from Yemen he had been ill and was still taking heavy doses of antibiotics.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 US/McCLOY. Top Secret; Exdis.
  2. See Document 50 and footnote 3 thereto.
  3. Telegram 5168 to Cairo, May 6, urged Badeau to find out from Nasser as soon as possible his reaction to the arms limitation probe before Eshkol arrived in Washington on June 1, so that the President could actively support a new approach to Israel. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 US/McCLOY)
  4. Telegram 5503 to Cairo, May 14, stated that the Department wanted to review the draft of a written presentation of the points made by Badeau before giving it to Nasser. (Ibid.) Telegram 2709 from Cairo, May 15, reported that Badeau sent a memorandum of the conversation to Nasser on May 12. (Ibid.)