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

SUBJECT

  • Reply to Nasser’s Letter

You will recall Nasser’s letter (Tab D)2 thanking you for our Security Council vote against the Israeli parade in Jerusalem and urging you to compel Israel to respect UN resolutions. He sent the same letter to other members of the Security Council, and the British and Canadians have already sent substantive replies.

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Secretary Rusk recommends (Tab B)3 you write back, urging that Arabs and Israelis not lose this chance for peace; reaffirming that you stand by your five principles; and offering to help if Jarring can start “serious discussion.”

These points are deliberately general to avoid their being overtaken by Jarring’s latest talk in Cairo, but they are basic. Nasser’s most revealing comments to Bob Anderson were:

  • —“I am not asking arms nor aid. I am simply asking a clear unequivocal statement that the US supports the UN resolution and the principles in President Johnson’s statement.”
  • Nasser would welcome any attitude on our part that would give him an excuse to turn away from the Soviets.
  • Nasser asked if we will accept constant Near East tension simply because Israel demands direct negotiations.

It looks now as if Jarring will move to New York and continue his talks there in hopes of getting substantive talks started. This letter encourages Egypt in a general way to participate.

The main issue has been whether to reply at all since this was a circular letter (though delivered personally to Secretary Rusk). Most of us feel that this is a ready-made opportunity—not only for making the move toward Nasser we have long thought desirable but also for restating your commitment to your five principles of last June 19. (Most Arabs feel we’ve moved away from them to back Israel’s insistence on direct negotiations, a peace treaty and territorial gain.)

I have no illusions about winning Nasser over. However, if there is to be any hope of a political settlement, the Arabs must see some hope that we, at some point, will at least take a fair middle position between Arab and Israeli claims. This letter would not solve the problem but it would be a useful start.

You will be interested in the attached intercept (Tab C)4 which describes how Bob McNamara hopes to move into the Egyptian situation. He has a report from his staff saying that the Egyptians don’t know how to make the most of the Aswan Dam’s water and power and the Soviets aren’t helping. Bob feels there may be a chance for him to move in there in the right political context, and he has obviously begun exploring.

The letter at Tab A5 is for your signature if you approve. It is pretty much as Secretary Rusk sent it over, except that I have added the personal touch in the final paragraph.

Walt
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence File, United Arab Republic-Presidential Correspondence. Top Secret.
  2. Document 161.
  3. Not attached. A copy of this May 9 memorandum from Rusk to Johnson is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR.
  4. Not attached.
  5. For text of this letter, see Document 171.