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

2974. Deptels 5566,2 5567, 5592.3 Near East Arms Control.

In seventy-minute farewell interview with President Nasser on June 7, I made brief tour d’horizon of specific current issues between USA–UAR as reported Embtel 2975.4 At close of this I turned to subject of Near East arms control, saying this was one of most fundamental and urgent USA interest in Middle East area. Progress in this field with UAR assistance would form strong bond of mutual interest and would help keep relationship of two countries in balance even when differences on specific matters generated some heat. President Kennedy had inaugurated discussion of this topic beginning with McCloy mission last summer. President Johnson equally concerned in and urgent for it.

I opened presentation by handing President original copy of President Johnson’s letter of May 20 re this subject. I then recalled last discussion (Embtel 2632)5 regarding UAR “declaration of intent” on non-acquisition nuclear arms and acceptance IAEA safeguards. President Nasser immediately responded by saying he was prepared to answer President Johnson’s letter with a statement that UAR had no intention of building or procuring atomic weapons. As to IAEA, he would be prepared to accept this international safeguard at time construction of nuclear power plant in UAR imminent.

To accept safeguards before any possibility of plant existing would put him in difficult position since he had no reason to issue statement and he would be accused of doing so only under “great power pressure”. However, once UAR decided to build nuclear installation it would be appropriate to [accept?] IAEA safeguards and this he was prepared to do. He requested I personally and directly inform President Johnson of this.

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In response I suggested statement covering this might be included in same letter that disavowed intent acquire nuclear weapons. We would hope this letter could be discussed quietly and off the record while in draft form to be sure it met purposes both parties. President Nasser opined this would be possible although he did not give me a firm commitment.

I then turned to larger topic of Arab-Israeli arms race, opening presentation with detailed recapitulation of reftel 5592. In connection with this I cited UK newspaper report re possible number of missiles in 1966 and development of CW warheads [garble—possibility] that made international community nervous and would certainly generate matching response from Israel. Nasser said he had not seen article in question but had read report in Bonn newspaper claiming UAR developing nuclear warheads for SSM’s. He said this was completely untrue, as letter assurance to President Johnson would make clear. Beyond this I could not draw him out [garble] number of missiles or type of warheads being developed.

On basis above, I expressed deep concern that level of weapon sophistication was rising so rapidly that ultimate explosion in Middle East seemingly unavoidable. Since Israel and UAR now apparently in defensive positions sufficiently balanced to provide mutual security, this seemed logical and most favorable moment to consider how arms level might be frozen. While fully recognizing inhibitions to direct UAR-Israeli contact USG believed that quiet, unpublicized third part action could well bring arms growth to halt, without imperiling reasonable security interests of both parties.

Nasser answered by saying UAR defensive position versus Israel was indeed much better than it had been five years ago. Israel had a certain advantage in ground to air missiles since the country was so small that a dozen Hawk installations would adequately protect its air fields. In contrast, UAR so large with air fields necessary in such scattered areas that protection by ground to air missiles not entirely practical. Hence his military people agreed SSM’s as necessary counterbalance to values Israel derives from Hawk installations.

Nasser admitted arms escalation was under way, saying every time Israel acquired more sophisticated aircraft, he had been forced to do same or to seek some compensatory weapon. In the beginning Soviets had sold arms to UAR at 30% discount, but during past few years they had charged UAR full price. This applied specifically to last two purchases of Super MIGs. While recognizing this continuous matching and over-matching of armaments expensive and unending, he had real problem with his military men who kept urging increase of quantity and sophistication of arms. “All military men are alike—American, Russian, and Egyptian,” the President said. His problem is [Page 171]how to bring about halt in SSM increments without being open to accusation he has been bludgeoned into this by great power pressure.

I immediately rejoined that it was not great power pressure which urged the move but inherent and inescapable danger of arms race in itself. Unless Israel and UAR could find some way to scale down or stop arms race the day of final conflict marched inexorably nearer. Should such a conflict come, it might be much more difficult to control than was Arab-Israeli clash of 1956. Then only two major powers were involved—USSR and USA. Now a third power has appeared on scene—Communist China. While USSR and USA had made some initial steps toward approaching problem of arms limitation and, I opined, shared mutual interests in avoiding world conflagration, same could not be said of Communist China. President agreed ChiComs a new and intransigent element on world scene. I then traversed again arguments for seeking unpublicized, basic steps towards arms limitation, saying we would welcome any specific ideas he could put forward. This requires broad and statesmanlike thinking and no other Arab leader either in position or with capability to do this but Nasser himself. We therefore would welcome his ideas. President could be sure we would continue to present this topic to him both by Ambassadorial representation and through direct communication between highest Government sources. If at this time he told me that door was closed and this matter was not to be raised again, I would of course report this to my Government. Nasser answered he took no such view and would look forward to further representations on matter.

In course of above presentation I specifically reviewed matter of inspection of production of fissionable material re reftel 5566.

At close of interview Nasser spent some moments discussing our personal relationship, expressed his gratitude for the 43 interviews we have had during the past 35 months, then accompanied me to my car for a final farewell.

Comment: I believe we should now move to rivet down statement on non-acquisition of nuclear arms and IAEA commitment. Although no concrete progress made in general arms control, I believe Nasser is certainly open to further and more specific approaches in this field. I doubt if much will be gained by continuing to urge that he “put his ideas forward.” Here as elsewhere Nasser usually reacts rather than acts. Most productive next move would probably be a detailed proposal from USG, probably presented by special and high ranking Presidential emissary to which Nasser can give definite response.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL UAR-US. Top Secret;Exdis.
  2. Telegram 5566 to Cairo, May 28, referred to a statement Badeau had made in a May 7 conversation with Nasser and warned that any implication that production of fissionable material could be monitored unilaterally not only was factually incorrect but also tended to undercut the U.S. position on IAEA safeguards for the UAR and Israel. The U.S. position at the Geneva Conference and elsewhere was that a complete cutoff of fissionable materials for weapons purposes by the United States and the Soviet Union required inspection. (Ibid., DEF 18–4)
  3. Documents 62 and 64, respectively.
  4. Dated June 8. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL UAR-US)
  5. Document 52.