167. Telegram From the U.S. Interests Section of the Spanish Embassy in the United Arab Republic to the Department of State1

2321. Following from Anderson:2

I met this morning (May 5) with President Nasser for more than an hour and a half. He made the following points.
We must very clearly understand that he has a severe internal problem. He and his Cabinet are completely opposed to war. He does have elements in the armed forces who would welcome a return of fighting because of the humiliation of the June war and because they now have better training and “technical help.” He does not agree and has told his officers in a recent meeting that he would not be willing to risk war again and felt that we should make every effort to achieve [Page 328] peace. It is clear, however, that he must give some lip service to the attitude of his soldiers.
He also said that there were “other elements” in the country who would welcome a return of hostilities and that we must understand that he had to deal with these elements in his own way.
He said the restoration of diplomatic relations with the U.S. was, from his point, desirable but it ran contrary at this moment to public opinion until there was at least some signal from our side that we wanted to implement the Security Council resolution and would not continue to talk in such terms as “in the context of” or other terms which he described as vague and as supporting the Israeli view. He said “I am not asking arms nor aid. I am simply asking a clear unequivocal statement that the U.S. supports the resolution and the propositions in President Johnson’s statement.”
He discussed the Jarring formula but was undoubtedly not entirely familiar with its wording because he asked me twice to lend him a copy and spent several minutes reading it carefully and finally said “There is nothing in this formula that I can object to.” He also stated, however, that he would not want to oppose amendments offered by Jordan if they were insisted upon. Again, he regards statements by the U.S. as being equivocal and of trying to unilaterally define the meaning of the November resolution of the Security Council in a manner consistent with Israeli ambitions.
He stated that he would “plan to see” Jarring on his return to Cairo on the 10th and that he would discuss tonight with his Cabinet the acceptance of the Jarring formula. Nasser said “I am not going to quibble about words in the Jarring formula if both sides will approach it in good faith. However, I must make it abundantly clear that neither I nor any other Arab leader could possibly have direct talks with the Israelis in New York, although they were perfectly willing to work through Jarring.”
He asked me if I thought my country was prepared to have a constant state of tension in the Near East simply because the Israelis demanded directed negotiations.
I replied by saying that it was not in my power to express my country’s policy and certainly not to express an opinion about the position of the Israelis.
Nasser reiterated the same points made by Riad as to territory and stated his willingness to open the Canal to Israeli goods and finally to Israeli ships but by stages.
He spoke for several minutes on the unrest and frustrations of the youth of the country, not only here but elsewhere, and [stated?] that for the first time in his administration internal problems had to dictate a substantial part of his policies.
He also stated that he wanted me to make very clear that his country “was not going Communist.” He said “If I am gone, the probable result will be either a new war with Israel or a complete unwillingness to make peace on any terms.” Both the President and Riad emphasized their concern about their growing economic dependence on the Soviets and Riad stated “We have sold our cotton so far in the future that I don’t know how we will meet all our obligations.” The President emphasized that he would welcome any attitude on our part that would give him an excuse to turn away from the Soviets, although he said “I am not asking you for military equipment.” He informed me that Ali Sabri had left his government and he knew that Ali Sabri had been regarded as a Communist but he said “For your information, even he deplores the involvements which are forced upon us by your attitude with the Eastern bloc because our natural friends are the West.”
We talked considerably about commercial activities and he stated he had told his Cabinet before and would mention it again that there must be much greater emphasis on private enterprise in this country. Our talks went to petroleum, fertilizer, land reclamation, the resumption of the tourist trade and a host of other similar subjects indicating his great concern with Egypt’s economic condition.
He has gained weight since I saw him last, has restored his sense of humor and appears much more relaxed.
He urgently said that in the absence of any other more formal communications between our countries he hoped that I would come frequently and asked if I couldn’t stay a few days to continue our talks. I told him I was leaving tomorrow for London.3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL UAR-US. Secret; Priority; Exdis.
  2. Robert Anderson visited Cairo in the course of a private business trip to the Middle East. He was briefed in Washington on the progress of the Jarring Mission and was asked to stress to Nasser U.S. efforts to facilitate the success of the mission. (Telegram 157034 to Cairo, May 2; ibid., TRV ANDERSON ROBERT B) Anderson also met in Cairo on May 4 with Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad; a report of that meeting was transmitted to the Department in telegram 2320 from Cairo, May 6. (Ibid., POL 27 ARAB-ISR)
  3. Rostow sent a copy of this telegram to President Johnson on May 7 under a covering note in which he noted that it showed Nasser at his most conciliatory. He also sent the President a copy of the cable reporting Anderson’s conversation with Riad (Document 168) with a covering note in which he observed that the conversation represented “the first gleam of hope we’ve seen in the Middle East.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, United Arab Republic, Vol. VI, Memos, 8/67-7/68)