78. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

I have a memorandum of conversation, October 12, 1966, between Nasser and Mr. James E. Birdsall of New York,2 a lawyer and friend of Arthur Krim’s.

Also he called on me and reported directly his impression that Nasser desperately needed a food loan and that we should comply.3 You will recall this was a view conveyed to us by a number of transient businessmen late last year. At that time Mr. Birdsall’s contact with Nasser came through a Mr. Siddiqui, of ALCO Products, Inc., and Ali Hafiz, member of the Egyptian National Assembly.

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Against this background, I report the following:

At 4:10 p.m. today, Friday, May 26, 1967, Mr. James E. Birdsall telephoned the following message:

“I have this message, conveyed from Nasser. I don’t vouch for it. I am just the conduit.

“Earlier Siddiqui visited Cairo and had a visit with Nasser. Nasser told him he would still like to be friendly with the U.S. and would like to see Siddiqui again after May 20. On May 20 Siddiqui cabled Ali Hafiz in Cairo and inquired whether visit still desired. Less than 24 hours had reply that emphatically Nasser wanted to see him. On May 24 he visited Nasser.

“This is the message from Nasser: ‘Now is the time when all Arab people are waiting to see an act of friendship on the part of the USA. His urgent request is that the U.S. undertake no direct military action in the form of landings, shifting of naval fleet, or otherwise. Nasser assured Siddiqui that the UAR had no intention of fighting. What they are doing is returning to the 1956 frontier. He assured Siddiqui that this matter would soon be terminated without any fighting. He informed Siddiqui that his current actions were intended only to prove to the Arab world that Saudi Arabia and Jordan are false friends. And the Arabs should follow Nasser who is their friend. He also wishes to prove that President Johnson is impartial as between the Arabs and Israel and that he will not take any sides in the present war of nerves. If President Johnson can grant Nasser’s request, he can be assured that Nasser will place his entire services at President Johnson’s disposal.’

“If, after President Johnson’s consideration, there is any good news to convey to Cairo, Nasser requests that he (Birdsall said he assumed it would be from him (Birdsall) to Siddiqui to Ali Hafiz to Nasser) cable to arrange another meeting at an early date.”

Mr. Birdsall ended by saying he would like a telephone call as to whether message given to President Johnson, so he can notify Nasser.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. II. Confidential. A note on the memorandum in Johnson’s handwriting reads: “Walt, What do you suggest—L.” A copy was sent to Rusk with a handwritten note: “Sir: This is the roundabout message from Nasser mentioned by Walt Rostow.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL UAR-US)
  2. Not found, but see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XVIII, Document 341.
  3. No other record of this conversation has been found.