466. Telegram From the Department of State to the U.S. Interests Section of the Spanish Embassy in the United Arab Republic1

52853. 1. Battle met with UAR Fonmin Riad at latter’s suite in Waldorf Oct. 10. Conversation relaxed and friendly but somewhat inconclusive. Following items of particular interest.

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2. Riad said UAR had broken relations with US because of confusion of first day’s fighting compounded by false information supplied by Air Force commanders, Syrians, and Jordanians. UAR civilian leadership had been misled by military who unwilling admit scandalous state of unpreparedness which responsible for crushing defeat UAR Air Force on June 5. To cover their own disgrace military had alleged presence US planes and pilots as excuse. Details his remarks this regard will be reported separately.2 They as close as we likely to come to getting apology from UAR.

3. Riad said UAR drawn into confrontation with Israel by chain of circumstances starting when Kosygin or Brezhnev told Anwar Sadat in Moscow that the Israelis were concentrating troops and would attack Syria on a specific day. This was not idle speculation at military attache level but appeared to be solid and well-based information. A similar report was given by Soviets to Jordanians. Egyptians had no alternative but to take it seriously and therefore move troops into Sinai. Army Commander in Sinai found UNEF between his forces and Israelis in central sector. He therefore asked for withdrawal UNEF from that sector, but there had been no thought of asking for withdrawal UNEF from Gaza or Sharm ash-Shaykh. U Thant had given all or nothing reply, however, and Egyptians had found themselves in difficult position. One thing led to another and they found themselves at Sharm ash-Shaykh. Once there, as reaction to constant needling from Saudis and Jordanians on subject, they closed Straits, not thinking passage through them very important to Israelis. Then they realized that Straits were used for oil tankers. “I forgot Israel’s oil pipeline.” Everything connected with Sinai operation and closure Straits had been done without prior planning and without study. Army had not been ready. Its troops were not trained and did not know how to use their equipment. Equipment itself was not ready. Troops had been placed in Sinai like toy soldiers in a shop window.

4. Battle said all our efforts had been toward preventing outbreak of war. He had been very glad Zakaria Muhi al-Din was coming to Washington and had been immersed in plans for visit. He had hoped [Page 889] once we began talking something could be worked out. We too had been in difficult position. Basis for Israeli withdrawal in 1957 was USG assurances regarding freedom navigation in Straits of Tiran. Egyptians had pulled rug out from under us. This was past history, however, and we had to look at future, which was not going to be easy. All of us had obligation to find a more permanent solution to problem. Middle East must be allowed develop peacefully and could not face prospect of war every ten years. A permanent solution was imperative. We did not know the answer but we knew it was imperative.

5. Riad said UAR was facing aggression and must remove traces. Main problem, Palestine, continued to exist. If not solved it will always be a case of future troubles. He had been working on this problem for 20 years already and another 20 years were as nothing in terms of time. Israelis after defeating Arabs were not ready compromise. Why should they?

6. Riad said settlement meant (an Israeli) state with borders. Question was where borders were. Quarrel was not about existence of Israel but about its borders. It had been a mistake for the Arabs to talk of Israel’s destruction. They should have concentrated on refugees and partition, because Arabs even if they defeated Israeli army would not be able to destroy Israeli people. Arabs were prepared for a settlement. Shukairy himself had endorsed the principle of settlement when he signed the Lausanne protocol and when he called for an implementation of the partition resolution at the UN after 1948. It was difficult to discuss a settlement, however, while Israeli forces were on UAR territory. We must remove them. It will be difficult but we must do it.

7. Battle commented that hostilities offered no solution. There was, however, more flexibility in the Israeli position than Arabs seemed to think. Israelis want to find contractual basis for their existence. While we want Israelis to withdraw it very awkward for us to press them on this issue until participants can come to terms on belligerency. Such an agreement would be beginning. At least it would create the basis for a settlement. Suez, Tiran and the refugees were all tied to belligerency.

8. Riad asked if we thought a single word would change things. German/Soviet non-aggression pact did not prevent aggression. No word or a piece of paper would create peace. Starting point was not non-belligerency. Arabs had found word “belligerency” in book on international law and used it as a basis for political stand. UAR could not expect USG to create miracles or to force any country to do something against its will. But UAR did expect USG to make correct analysis of situation and to have clear stand on question of refugees and aggression. It was not question of dictionary definitions but question of US attitude. If US had position on Canal, it should state it. Maybe [Page 890] Egyptians would accept, maybe they wouldn’t. Point was USG should make its attitude clear. For Egyptians’ part they had to make clear determination to get Israelis to withdraw. “There is war today; there is firing on our cities and soldiers. Security Council does nothing. We do not expect it to, but must control our nerves and do our best to solve situation. Resolution in UN is not a solution. It is a start, but no UAR government can grant passage through Suez to Israeli ships and survive.”

9. At this point Battle asked whether Egyptians were talking about Israeli flag shipping only or whether they meant Israel cargo and Israel-owned ships as well. Riad obviously had given no thought to this question and seemed puzzled by it.

10. Riad said he had told Goldberg UAR accepted five points of President Johnson. If something could be done about refugees then there would be no problem between Israel and UAR.

11. Battle said it was heartbreaking to see what was happening to the Canal. Super tankers were making it obsolete. Denial of the Canal, however, was not hurting the world but was hurting Egypt. Riad said UAR not trying to hurt anyone. Closure of Canal was a political measure. Riad said UAR had no territorial designs on anyone. Just let Israelis withdraw and they could have peace.

12. Battle said this appeared to be a welcome change in the UAR attitude. Riad said previous Arab propaganda had been in error. It was in UAR’s interest to settle Palestine problem.

13. Riad said we needed to restore and normalize relations. There were many things to settle, he was not talking in terms protocol. (Implication was restoration relations must await some progress on settlement crisis.) UAR knew US could not give orders to Israel and should not be angry if we did not do so. At same time US should not be angry at UAR if it stood up for its rights. Battle said that with regard to relations we had a problem in the formal sense of the word. We were ready to have that problem removed, but we had not sought the break in relations. Initiative up to UAR. UAR had its problems of dignity and we had our own dignity. There would have to be compensation for property and something had to be done about Big Lie. We did not want to be legalistic or difficult but in some way history had to be corrected. We had no fixed ideas on this score and wanted to be fair. We also wanted a fair, just and permanent solution to Middle East crisis. We should not have to face a nightmare there every ten years.

14. In closing, Riad said he had hoped to return to Cairo in mid-October but did not know now when he would be going. Battle said he would be at Riad’s service if the latter wished to see him or others in Washington at any time.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Parker on October 11 and approved by Battle. Repeated to USUN, London, Tel Aviv, Amman, Jidda, Beirut, Tripoli, Rabat, Tunis, and Ankara.
  2. An October 10 memorandum of conversation contains the details of Riad’s remarks on this subject. He said there was great confusion on the day of the attack, and “the wrong information had been given even to the President.” The military command had “deliberately misled Nasser in order to cover up its own errors.” On June 4 and 5 the air force generals were quarreling with each other; furthermore, the radar and anti-aircraft facilities were shut down the morning of June 5 because Amer and Air Force Commander Sidqi Mahmoud were scheduled to depart for Sinai at 9 a.m. When the Israelis came over, “there was not a single UAR fighter in the air.” The air force generals, unwilling to admit their unpreparedness, had invented the story that the Israelis had twice as many planes as they actually had and therefore must have had outside help. (Ibid.)