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500. Telegram [text not declassified] to the White House1

[document number not declassified]. Eyes Only to Secretary of State and White House for the President:

[Page 974]

Following is text message dictated (but not read) by Anderson in presence [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], and edited and in parts reorganized by latter at specific Anderson request, early evening 2 November. For the Secretary of State attention of the President from Anderson.

This will be a somewhat difficult message because of the circumstances under which it is being dictated at the Beirut airport en route between Cairo and Baghdad.
I met today with President Nasir at 1230. He advised me that he was leaving later today for a vacation in the desert near Al Almayn, and that this would be the first real vacation he had taken in fifteen years. He was looking forward to swimming, sitting in the sun and having time to think and relax. He opened the conversation by saying, “above all else, try to make clear to your government and your people that we are eager for a political settlement, for a political peace.” He stated that this had not been true in the very beginning, after the cessation of hostilities on 9 June, because “we were in a state of confusion, uncertainty and doubt. We did not know, but we feared what the Israelis were going to do.” Now, he said, “we know that our interest lies not in war, but in peace.”
He then said, “Please try to convince your people and your government that any question of direct negotiation, or even of negotiations with a third party mediator present, would be an act of suicide. It would be so for me, and it would be so for any other Arab leader.” He further said that even if he attempted this or agreed to it, it would be suicide on the part of any other Arab leader not immediately to denounce it and to demand to resume hostilities against the Israelis. Nasir said, “under these circumstances, let us try to be practical and, if we all want peace, and we do, then let us find a way to settle our differences and live in peace.” He said we did not believe that the details of an agreement could be worked out in public, or that anything could be effectively begun by negotiations by a committee or any mediator appointed by the U.N. until some formal action had been taken by the U.N. “as a first step.” He then suggested that a resolution be offered to the Security Council which would involve as its basis the five points that President Johnson had made, and which he described as follows:
The right of Israel and of all other nations in the area to live;
Free movement of “innocent” shipping in the waterways of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Suez;
Full withdrawal by the Israelis from the territories which they had occupied at the time of the hostilities;
A declaration of non-belligerence between Arab states and Israel; and
Finally, settlement of the problem of the refugees.
Nasir stated that after the adoption of this type of resolution, which he thought we should accept because it was based on the principles announced by our President, the resolution should direct the Secretary General to appoint one or more persons to consult with the Arab nations involved and with Israelis and, from these negotiations, to draw up “a declaration for detailed implementation, which would then be submitted again for adoption or ratification by the Security Council.
At this point, I told him that as I understood it, the Israelis professed they would not be satisfied with any declaration made by third persons, even including the Security Council, and that they wanted some contractual undertaking between them and the Arab countries which would ensure non-belligerence and the other ideas he had referred to. Nasir said that he could not speak for all the other Arab countries, but as for himself, he would be willing to sign such a (Security Council) declaration “after it had been agreed to,” or, as an alternative, write a letter or other document to the Secretary General or to the Security Council undertaking to carry out the details and implications contained in the declaration. He felt that the other Arab countries would be willing to do the same thing, but reiterated that “he could not speak for them.” It is quite clear that he is willing to undertake contractual obligations, just so long as they are not incorporated into a simple treaty jointly made and signed between the UAR and Israel. This point he made from time to time, referring always to the fact that even such an agreement would be suicide.
Nasir then said that the most difficult problems were going to be the Suez Canal and Jerusalem. I said that obviously I could not speak on any of these topics, but could only explore his own thinking. In this connection, I asked if he could agree to let any ship, including the Israelis, transit the Suez Canal if such ships carried not the flag of the country involved, but the U.N. flag. Nasir said, “I do not rule this out but there is still the question of logs, manifests and trouble with the people. On the other hand, if you will settle the refugee problem then I can allow Israeli ships to transit,” he said. I told him I was skeptical that the Israelis would ever negotiate for a resettlement in Palestine. At this point, Nasir said, “All right, then, let us settle with them by agreeing to pay them compensation.” In order to clarify this point, I stated again that I wanted to be quite sure that he would agree to a mutual settlement of the refugee problem without giving the refugees the alternative choice of resettlement (comment: in Palestine) or of taking money instead, and he again said that if resettlement is not possible, we can agree on a mutual compensation. He continually links the free passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal with the settlement of the refugee problem.
He then brought up the question of territory. Here, Nasir said that the key point is that Israel cannot be allowed to expand, that for every Muslim nation, regardless of whether or not it borders on Israel, the consuming fear is that Israel plans territorial expansion. He said this is one of the basic problems in trying to unite the New and the Old City of Jerusalem. It is regarded by everyone of the Muslim faith as a violation of their religious rights and as Israeli expansion.
He then stated this, that again he would speculate that certain territory surrounding the state of Israel might be regarded as essential to their own security. Nasir said that if this is so, let us demilitarize it. Again he said, “I cannot speak for all others, but as for me, I will withdraw permanently all forces 10 miles, 15 miles, or any agreed number of miles from the borders.” I asked him what he would think about the complete demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula. He said, (“This I cannot do, because it is too big and extensive a land for me to say that no military personnel can ever be placed there. I can agree that no military personnel will ever be placed in Sharm al Shaykh, or within 10 or 15 miles of the Israeli borders, if they or their state will agree not to place troops within the same distance.” He said again, “I cannot speak for Jordan or Syria, but I believe that the same principles would be agreed to by them.”
Nasir said that except for territory, most of the Arab nations are leaving other details of the Arab settlement to him. He said, “It is a task I do not want, but one which others have asked that I undertake. It, however, must be expected that each will decide with reference to his own territory, and each of the neighboring states must agree on the final settlement.” I told Nasir that obviously I was going fully to communicate his views to my government, and he said, “This is exactly why I am telling you, and I hope we will be getting a response that is favorable from your government. You are going to Iraq. If you get any kind of response, please advise my Ambassador in Iraq, and I will be glad to receive you at any time you want to return.” Nasir stated, “Please try to explain to your government that however desperately we want peace, we cannot have it at the price of destroying ourselves or any other Arab leader, when you can be absolutely sure that anybody who succeeds me or any of the other Arab leaders will be much more radical against the Israelis than we are.”
Nasir said that some of the Arab states, notably Syria and Algeria, had been very vehement with him in stating, “You cannot agree to a resolution or a declaration which includes the right to live for Israel.” Nasir said, “I merely pointed out to them that we are no longer talking about Israel's right to live. We are talking about our own right to live.” He repeated this two or three times. He also said he believed [Page 977]the Israelis had in mind his economic destruction, because at present he had no revenue from the Suez Canal or from tourism, and now they had destroyed his refineries. He said, “Therefore, my task is now to build a strong economy within my own country. This is the best way I can retaliate.”
I asked Nasir if he would give me his own version of the sinking of the Israeli ship Eilath. He said he would be glad to. He said this ship had been patrolling in and out of UAR waters for a number of weeks, “just on the border.” On or about 11 July, this same ship had attacked and sunk two Egyptian torpedo boats and killed their crews. This, he said, attracted no world attention. “Also, they sank them in our own waters.” He said then General Rabin issued a statement saying that the Israelis were looking for the Egyptian navy, but the navy was hiding. He said that in addition to this, an Israeli plane sank another Egyptian torpedo boat in the Suez. As far as the actual sinking of the Eilath was concerned, Nasir said, “It was all finished and done with before I even heard about it. I was first informed about 6:30 in the evening. At that time, I was not dealing with what should or should not be done. I was dealing with a fact that had already happened. I am sure that military commanders in other parts of the world do not ring up their presidents and ask them what to do every time there is an invasion of their territory.” Nasir ended the conversation by saying, “I want nothing but peace. I want to go as far as humanly possible to achieve it. But I must not be asked to do the impossible. I must not be asked to do something that would be condemned by every other leader and by my own people. I am willing to go as far as the facts of life will allow me, and I hope you will make this clear to and get a favorable response from your government. Surely, they can support the principles of your President, and surely we can find ways to work out the details of implementation. Surely, peace must not depend both on circumstances and procedures, upon the demands of the Israelis, some of which they themselves know are impossible for us.” Nasir again asked me to stay in touch with his Ambassador in Iraq and be prepared to return if a response for his government was forthcoming.
I asked Nasir whether all of the difficulties concerning Yemen had been finally settled and if his agreement with the Saudis was going to be carried out. Nasir replied, “Our relationships in Yemen have been settled for good. We are going to carry out our agreements. The same goes for all of the other states in the Southern Arabian Peninsula. My concentration is going to be on the development of the UAR.”
Note that in my talk on the first day I arrived, I told Nasir we were still puzzled as to why he had massed troops in the Sinai and we believed this was why the whole issue had come about. Nasir did not [Page 978]refer to the Gulf of Aqaba, but said, “Whether you believe it or not, we were in fear of an attack from Israel. We had been informed that the Israelis were massing troops on the Syrian border with the idea of first attacking Syria, there they did not expect to meet great resistance, and then commence their attack on the UAR.” I said to him that it was unfortunate the UAR had believed such reports, which were simply not in accordance with the facts. Nasir said that the information had not come to him from sources he would suspect. He added that among other signs “your own State Department called in my Ambassador to the U.S. in April or May and warned him that there were rumors that there might be a conflict between Israel and the UAR.” I told him that so far as I knew, I had never heard this report before.
Nasir observed that the U.S. must remember that Jerusalem presents a special problem for all three faiths. He commented that “In this country, we are Muslims, but we are not Islamic.” I asked Nasir if he would consider permitting both the Old and New City of Jerusalem to come under a single Israeli administration with respect to such things as public utilities, etc., but with each faith to have custody and supervision of its Holy Places. Nasir replied that even if he agreed to this any such solution would leave Israel ultimately confronted with war or resistance so far as anybody could see into the future. He said that nothing he or any other ruler in the world could do would prevent that people will do things in the name of religion that they would not consider doing in the name of politics. On the other hand, he thinks Jerusalem could be zoned so that each faith would have the administration of its own sector. “My country is Muslim, Christian and Jewish, and I expect it always to be so. Each has his own particular interest in how we settle the issue of Jerusalem.” We had no further discussion on this subject, because Nasir said this was obviously a matter of such importance that it would have to be the subject of negotiations, and one or more persons should be appointed by the Secretary General pursuant to the Security Council resolution discussed earlier above to manage such negotiations.
Concerning the shelling of the Suez refineries, Nasir commented that he recognized it as retaliation for the sinking of the Eilath, and that he thought the Israelis had done this because it would hurt the UAR economically. He said, “We could have attacked their refineries, but we decided that this had gone far enough, and we should have peace and not escalation.”
Nasir's willingness to sign an agreed UN declaration or writing a letter to the UN agreeing to the terms of such a declaration is, of course, conditioned on Israel's willingness to do the same.
On conclusion of our meeting, Nasir thanked me for coming and expressed the hope that he would receive a favorable response to the suggestions incorporated in the foregoing.
After leaving Nasir, I proceeded to see Zakariyah Muhyi Al Din at his home. Zakariyah began by asking me to brief him on what had taken place between Nasir and me, and I did so. Zakariyah asked whether we had gotten into discussions of details concerning the territories involved, especially the Gaza Strip. I told him Nasir had said other nations must be consulted insofar as their territories were concerned, but that the Gaza Strip had not been mentioned today. Zakariyah said that relinquishing the Gaza Strip could not be decided on by the UAR or the Israelis. The UAR had never annexed Gaza formally because it is territory belonging to the Palestinians, as is some of the territory on the West Bank of the Jordan. I asked that if this is true, who speaks for the Palestinians. Zakariyah smiled and said he did not know. I asked whether it would be Ahmad Shukayri, and Zakariyah again smiled and commented that Shukayri was an appointed, not an elected official, and that there might well be some other political voice who could speak for the Palestinians. He seemed disappointed that the issue had not been discussed by Nasir. I take it as Zakariyah's implication, and only that, that he does not believe the fate of the Gaza Strip should be a determining factor. He is, however, concerned about the people in the Gaza Strip, as to whether or not they could be incorporated into the State of Israel, and perhaps more importantly, as to whether the Israelis would allow them to stay. He said, “The real problem is not the land but the people, and whether after we make peace the natives would be ejected as undesirable.” I told him that these were the sorts of things I had gathered from Nasir, and that they would be the subject of discussions by one or more persons who might be appointed by the Secretary General pursuant to the resolution cited above.
Zakariyah said that he thought so far as he knew I had clearly outlined Nasir's views. He said, “We want to go as far as we can, because we know that war can only destroy us both, and that peace can allow us to fulfill our obligations as a nation. But please do not ask us to do the impossible, and please try to tell your people that regardless of what others might say, direct negotiations or negotiations with a mediator could not be possible, and even the Israelis know this as well as we. I asked Zakariyah if it were not possible to change public opinion on this subject, and he said, “No. Neither in this country nor in other Arab countries. We might change their opinion on other topics, but not on this.”
I asked Zakariyah if there were anything he would like to add to the review of Nasir's views. He said, “Yes. First of all, we would like to have a new start in relationships between our two countries. We have been through a period of confusion. We know beyond all doubt that it is not in our interest to have any misunderstandings with the U.S. We [Page 980]hope that your country feels the same way. We are fearful that your government just does not understand us and that your people do not understand us. We are fearful that they do not know what is possible and what is impossible. Please explain that above everything else, we are nationalists. We are Egyptians and we are not trying to rule the Arab world. You may not believe that Nasir from time to time has felt that he has been put into a corner. He feels he has been personally disliked at high levels of your government.” I said that this was not so. Zakariyah went on, “He has great respect for your President and for your people. He knows he has made mistakes, but he thoroughly wants, as we all do, the friendship of the United States and their help in making peace—but within the framework of what is humanly possible. We do not think we can accomplish this. We do not think our public relations are good, and we would like to be able to depend on someone to get our point of view across. I hope that you get a favorable response from your government along the lines of your talks with President Nasir and that we can move to peace. We will be anxiously awaiting the response that is made as the result of our conversations.”
Zakariyah made the point that prior to the Khartoum meeting, the feeling for continuation of some form of hostilities against Israel was very strong. He said in fact that only on this aspect has there ever been Arab unity. But at Khartoum, Nasir took the initiative in seeing that the UAR must have political peace, correct its own errors and settle its own problems with Yemen and the other states in the Arabian Peninsula.
Regarding Jerusalem, Zakariyah made essentially the same points as had Nasir. He noted that this problem was of concern not only to the Arab countries, but also to a great many of the African and other countries where there were high concentrations of the Muslim faith.
I was advised that if the UN Secretary General were to appoint an individual or group to draft a resolution along the lines noted above, Zakariyah might well be sent to join Foreign Minister Riyad in the discussions in New York. Like Nasir, Zakariyah thanked me for coming to Cairo and expressed his hopes for a favorable response.
I suspect the only way for me to be advised of the response to the foregoing is to return to Beirut. When I return will depend on how far we get in contractual discussions with the Government of Iraq. I can and will, however, interrupt those discussions and come to Beirut to communicate with you [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. We have devised a method so that he can discreetly request me to return here. I assume there is no great hurry about getting back to Nasir, since he told me he was going on vacation. I gather this is to be a short vacation, but Nasir did not specify the number of days. I also suppose he [Page 981]would want to be in touch if you consider the response a matter of urgency. I will do nothing until I hear further from you. If it is decided for any reason that I should not communicate a response to Nasir, I will return to Beirut after conclusion of the conversations in Iraq and from Beirut proceed home.
I was asked by Pace of The New York Times and Carruthers of the Los Angeles Herald whether I would visit with them. I only spoke to Pace on the telephone and told him that I was discussing commercial fertilizer and land reclamation as I have been doing for some years. I would not give him the names of anybody with whom I had had conversations. I did say that I was acting entirely on my own, discussing commercial matters of long standing and was not in the UAR with any official status.
I have dictated this [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] in Beirut and will not have time to have it transcribed for reading before I depart for Baghdad. I shall read it and make such corrections as may be necessary on my return to Beirut.
One final point from discussion with Zakariyah: While he spoke of making a new start in our relationships, he said that of course at some point, we must renew formal, diplomatic ties. I said only if this were the wish of President Nasir and that they should then instruct their Foreign Minister to be in touch with our Secretary of State. I noted it was they who broke relations, and they who would have to take the necessary steps to discuss their resumption.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Sandstorm/Whirlwind. Secret. Also sent to the Department of State. Rostow sent the telegram to the President at 2:30 p.m. with a covering memorandum, in which he commented that the Nasser-Anderson conversation was important and interesting. Citing paragraph 25, he noted that Anderson was “wholly correct” in his conversation and in dealing with the press, and he added that he had “talked firmly” to the Chief of the United Press International Washington Bureau, “who promised to try to kill the story.” The handwritten note “PS, 11/3/67” on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.