193. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 81328. Herewith full text of Bergus’ rationale for U.S. invitation to Riad to come to Washington.2

Parker visit has given us opportunity re-canvass GUAR views re Jarring Mission, peaceful settlement, et al from Presidency, FonOff, Heykal and others. What we hear from Egyptians, what we hear from Jarring, and what we hear from Israelis adds up to a pretty depressing picture of stalemate.
Egyptians, feeling they have one-upped Israelis by May 9 exchange with Jarring, are now making fairly energetic efforts gain increased public support in world capitals, but even they realize that this is a long-term process of limited value. Whether or not they believe that time is on their side, they are certainly acting as if they thought so.
Israelis evidently remain convinced that Arabs will in time be forced by their own interests make peace on Israel’s terms and in manner prescribed by Israel.
Russians have more than recovered from illusory “defeat” inflicted upon them by June war. Their politico-military position in Egypt is excellent, better than anything they ever enjoyed before, better than politico-military position of US vis-a-vis Israel or any Arab state. Russians can call the tune as to what military assistance will be furnished and manner in which it will be used. Russians probably have effective veto over any possible major UAR offensive action. Russians now have military and intelligence facilities in UAR greater than they ever dreamed of two years ago.
Wish re-emphasize point that Russians are now out of the arms race so far as need to compete with Western suppliers is concerned. Their position here so solid that they would no longer feel constrained respond in kind to increase in number or sophistication of Israel weapons by more deliveries to Israel of American hardware. In such eventuality our guess is that Russians would have little difficulty persuading UAR that Egyptian interests required even more Soviet presence and direct Soviet capability on Egyptian soil, in Egyptian airspace and in Egyptian waters, rather than more Russian weapons.
We believe that this trend of growing Russian influence is not irreversible. If we believed to the contrary, it would be our duty recommend direct confrontation with Soviets in Middle East before things get irreparably worse and contagion spreads. But we remain convinced that once UAR’s rational and irrational fears of Israel began to be allayed, Egyptian nationalism would reassert itself to point of limiting Soviet military presence and influence here.
If this line of reasoning has any validity, it follows that an early and equitable settlement of Arab-Israel problem is a supreme national interest of the United States. It means US must play more vigorous role in promoting such a settlement for two reasons:
Despite logic of our position that parties to dispute must play leading role in settlement, fact is that after one year it has become evident that they incapable of doing so. US is thus far unable to provide necessary catalyst. As Secretary Dulles put it on August 26, 1955: “Both sides suffer greatly from the present situation, and both are anxious for what they would regard as a just and equitable solution. But neither has been able to find that way. This may be a situation where mutual friends could serve the common good. This is particularly true since the area may not, of itself, possess all of the ingredients needed for the full and early building of security and well-being.” (underlining ours)3
A settlement clearly promoted by the United States would be a historic diplomatic triumph with lasting benefits to US throughout the area and in many other underdeveloped regions. We would have produced something which the parties themselves, the Soviets, the British, the Western Europeans, the non-aligned states, the United Nations were incapable of providing.
We firmly believe that the US has the substantive ideas and the diplomatic gifts to promote such a settlement. As to substantive ideas, there are file cabinets of documents dating back from the “Operation Alpha” days of 1954-1955 to the summer of 1967 as to what could be done. We are either unduly modest or self-deceptive if we say USG doesn’t have the capability of devising a just and equitable settlement.
As to tactical capabilities, we will confine our remarks to Egypt. Egyptians continue in touching, if exaggerated, belief that only US can produce settlement remotely acceptable to them. Our diffidence to make the effort is read by them as sinister intent. Their attitudes toward USG are now comprised of suspicion, distress and, paradoxically, considerable loneliness; we believe a tactical gesture from US would go far toward promoting some basic rethinking throughout GUAR and instill new readiness examine substantive problems involved in settlement (boundaries, refugees, Gaza, Suez, and Aqaba) ab initio.
We believe one useful tactical measure would be to invite UAR FonMin Riad to Washington for talks on nature and substance of equitable settlement. This has a great deal to commend it. For one thing we think Egyptians would leap at the opportunity. Privately they would be highly gratified. Publicly they could sell a Riad trip to Washington to their own public opinion and that of the other Arab states as a continuation of UAR efforts “explain” Arab position in foreign capitals.
From here, it would seem that U.S. domestic reaction would be positive to such a gesture. It could be stated that despite the absence of diplomatic relations, USG wishes leave no stone unturned in its support of UN and Jarring efforts achieve peaceful and equitable settlement. U.S. as permanent member of Security Council wishes consult with FonMin of one of principal parties to Arab-Israel dispute. Moreover, it could be intimated that USG intends consult in due course with Eban and Rifai as well, although for a variety of reasons, I would hope that Riad visit could come first.
Would appreciate Department’s comments on this proposal.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, United Arab Republic, Vol. VII, Cables and Memos, 6/68-1/69. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. The telegram quoted is telegram 2679 from Cairo, June 15. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR)
  3. There is no underlined text in the quoted telegram.