251. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Ashraf Ghorbal, Minister,UAR Interests Section
  • Harold H. Saunders

Ghorbal had asked on September 9 to see me, presumably to find out what the President had said to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Allon. However, when he opened yesterday’s conversation by asking what was new, I gave him a copy of the President’s speech to B’nai B’rith2 to read and we spent most of our time talking about that. We covered the following ground:

Ghorbal’s reaction to the President’s speech was quite positive.3 He said he hoped that this was a first step toward a more active Presidential role in attempting to move the Arab-Israeli impasse toward a settlement. He singled out the following points for initial comment:
  • —He “saluted” the President’s call for the parties to get substance on the table and begin talking specifics of a settlement. He thought that was extremely important coming from the President and hoped Israel would take note and put an end to the sterile semantic exercises that Eban has been engaging in.
  • —He regretted that the President had not mentioned “withdrawal.” When I said I thought that was implicit in the paragraph on territorial integrity, he said an issue as important as this should be explicitly handled.
  • —He started to object to the fact that the President had said we cannot return to the situation of June 4 in a paragraph having to do with territorial integrity. He felt this confused “boundaries” and “situation.” However, when I marched him through a sentence-by-sentence [Page 494] reading of the paragraph pointing out that we had always said there could be border rectifications in the context of an agreed settlement and that the President had also explicitly ruled out drawing boundaries on the right of conquest alone, he backed away. In the course of the discussion, he said that the GUAR accepted the concept that we could not return to the “situation” of June 4—that we should end the state of war, draw permanent boundaries and settle the other outstanding issues mentioned in the Security Council Resolution.
  • —He started to say that the Jerusalem paragraph was weak, and I pointed out that we had elevated it to the status of a separate principle. He immediately said it might be serious that we had removed Jerusalem from under the concept of territorial integrity. I said that was not our concept at all; in fact, we had never thought of it.
He asked whether I had drafted the speech. I said, “We consider this the President’s speech.”
When he asked about Allon’s talk with the President, I said it was a short 15-20 minute call scheduled so that Allon could pay his respects. When Ghorbal tried to find out exactly who had said what, I said it was a short conversation in which there was no detailed substantive exchange. The Deputy Prime Minister had briefly outlined Israel’s view of the current situation in the Middle East, and the President had stressed the importance of moving forward to peace. When Ghorbal asked whether Allon had raised the Phantoms, I simply smiled and said that it wouldn’t be surprising if he had. Ghorbal said he certainly would have, had he been in Allon’s place.
When he chided us for our role in helping Israel to bring the current Suez Canal incidents4 to the Security Council, I countered by asking him—since he had raised the issue—what inferences we should draw from the sudden increase in mining incidents on the Israeli-occupied side of the Canal. He made the following two semi-contradictory points:
  • —The Israelis are throwing up a smoke screen and manufacturing these incidents. According to his information from Cairo, the Egyptians had no knowledge of anyone crossing from the Egyptian side. He said the Israelis themselves were engaged in a “ridiculous little cops and robbers business” to draw attention away from their own failure to move toward peace.
  • —People in the Arab world are becoming generally frustrated and an increase in incidents like this is exactly what we must expect from now on. When I said this sounded as if he were suggesting that there might indeed be a connection between an increase in the number of incidents and a conscious policy decision, he simply said that there were Arabs on the Israeli side of the cease-fire line who were frustrated too.

H. S.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Harold H. Saunders, UAR, 1/1/68-1/20/69. Confidential. Copies were sent to Walt Rostow, Walsh, Battle, and Parker.
  2. Reference is to the speech President Johnson made on September 10 at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington on the occasion of the 125th anniversary meeting of B’nai B’rith. Among those in attendance was Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Allon. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pp. 944-950.
  3. In a summary of Middle East reactions to the speech prepared for the President on September 16, Rostow noted that Ghorbal viewed it as a positive step. He added that the Jordanian Ambassador had called to congratulate the President on a “balanced” speech, and that Ambassador Rabin had said, “We are very satisfied.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. II, 4/68-1/69)
  4. See footnote 3, Document 247. The exchange of fire across the Canal growing out of the original incident continued, and the United States called on both Israel and the UAR to exercise restraint. (Telegram 236892 to Tel Aviv, September 12, and telegram 237145 to Cairo, September 12; both in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR)