209. Telegram From Bromley Smith of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson in Texas1
CAP 81450. McGeorge Bundy came away from a 90-minute meeting with Nasser yesterday with the impression that there is no prospect for early improvement in the Middle East situation.
Following is a report of the Bundy conversation from our representative in Cairo:2
Subject: Nasser-Bundy conversation July 3.
- (N.B. Following drafted from notes taken in course debriefing Bundy after his talk with Nasser this morning and just before his departure [Page 405] for Beirut. Request Bundy make such changes or comment as he desires.)
- Bundy saw Nasser for ninety minutes this morning. Bundy found Nasser relaxed and candid. Bundy came away from meeting with impression there no prospect for early improvement in the Middle East situation.
- About 1/3 of conversation had to do with Ford Foundation business. Nasser very cordial toward Foundation. He admitted UAR birth control program had got bogged down in last couple of years because of higher priorities assigned to other activities. Bundy made point Ford wanted to help but could not do so if no budgetary support from UAR. Said program of this importance needed Presidential leadership. Nasser took note.
- Political portion of discussion opened with fairly lengthy and fairly standard Nasser lecture on Middle East, attachment of people to their land, etc. Nasser evidently feels himself hemmed in by public opinion. Although Nasser referred to “extreme left” and “extreme right,” Bundy’s impression was that his real concern is that Egyptians having suffered defeat are taking refuge in pride.
- Nasser did not give impression he interested in any diplomatic initiatives. He seems believe present UAR diplomatic position is sound and is not disposed undertake any tricky initiatives for sake of movement.
- On refugees, Nasser referred to previous Anderson conversations and stressed UAR prepared accept compensation and repatriation as solution. Nasser said this in way to indicate he believed this was movement forward in UAR position. Bundy pointed out repatriation not now practical alternative. Nasser did not react.
- Nasser said his reason for linking Suez Canal and refugees was that until there is solution to Palestine problem, he could not allow Israel flags pass through heavily populated areas of Canal. He had already told Jarring he prepared allow Israel cargoes. Seemed to him this created no practical problem for Israel. Israel had plenty of other places to show her flag. But Israel flag in Suez Canal presented practical problem to Nasser. Bundy countered that refugee question presented practical problem to Israel requiring practical answer. Nasser said problem must be solved by Palestinian leaders. Bundy felt Nasser recognized that his was timid position but he wouldn’t get off it.
- Nasser felt that if great powers worked together there would be progress on Middle East. Bundy said he had heard that from Soviets. If great powers had an agreed solution in mind, this might be so. But neither Soviets nor ourselves had an acceptable solution. While both Soviets and U.S. had influence they alone could not produce progress. Bundy recalled that one year ago he had counseled President [Page 406] Johnson that distance between two sides so great there was no practical opportunity for U.S. expend political capital to produce a solution.
- Bundy said Nasser’s remarks had indicated an underlying belief that no political solution is in sight. Nasser said “Then there is only one other solution.” Bundy said: “How unfortunate.”3 This closed political portion of conversation.
- Miscellaneous gleanings:
- Nasser did not press view that U.S. one-sided but did say U.S. 100 percent pro-Israel. Bundy said we only 77 percent. Nasser rejoined 110 percent. (Mutual laughter.)
- Nasser said UAR would fight better next time, he had taken initiative obtain Soviet military advisers, etc.
- Bundy said he going Israel, asked Nasser if any message for Israelis. Nasser: “Tell them we are patient.”
- Of all Bundy’s previous Egyptian interlocutors during this visit, Nasser mentioned only Heykal by name and with warmth.
- Nasser said he didn’t think Hussein had much freedom of action. Said other Arab leaders did not give as much support to November 22 Res as did UAR.
- Nasser thinks Israelis realize there will never be bilateral agreement between Israel and Egypt.4 It follows that Israelis don’t really want settlement.
- In conclusion Bundy saw Nasser as a man heavily preoccupied with a problem without a solution. The existence of Israel occupation is a heavy weight on the morale of Egypt. But consequence is not Anglo-Saxon notion of need to negotiate out of this situation. Rather, Nasser’s reaction is that this is time to show no weakness.
- Bundy asked me make clear to Dept his belief that Nasser did not regard this conversation as a major encounter. At no time was there anything resembling a negotiating situation.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, United Arab Republic, Vol. VII, Cables and Memos, 6/68-1/69. Secret. Repeated to Walt Rostow at the LBJ Ranch.↩
- Telegram 2833 from Cairo, July 3, which is quoted below. (National Archives and Records Administration,RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 7 US/BUNDY)↩
- Bundy commented on Bergus’ account of his meeting with Nasser in telegram 10757 from Beirut, July 5. He found it to be accurate but suggested an amendment at this point. “My response to Nasser’s hint at renewal conflict was somewhat stronger than ‘how unfortunate’ and less convinced that he meant what he was suggesting. My own guess is that renewal hostilities are far from his personal intent, and my reaction was both stronger and less credulous, as perhaps, ‘that would be most unfortunate for all concerned, and surely there is a better way to be found.’” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Lebanon, Vol. I, Cables, 2/68-1/69)↩
- Bundy qualified this in his comment on Bergus’ summary to indicate that Nasser was referring to an agreement by direct negotiations.↩