269. Telegram From Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State1

6786. Secto 12. Following based on uncleared memcon,2 Noforn and FYI, subject to revision upon review.

Begin summary. Secretary and UAR Foreign Minister Riad met for hour and fifteen minutes October 1. Both agreed next two weeks at UN critical and expressed hope Jarring could begin to make progress. Secretary tried to elicit from Riad clear statement what Egyptians were prepared to accept with regard signing peace document, terminating state of war, Israeli transit of Canal, refugees and form of negotiations. Riad’s responses did not add anything new to what we know of Egyptian position with possible exception his remarks on refugees and willingness sign document. He seemed accept idea refugees be allowed express privately their desires re resettlement and indicated procedural question of signing peace document not as important as details therein and guarantee of implementation. Secretary asked whether Egypt [Page 535] could accept Rhodes formula for negotiations and Riad dodged question. End summary.
Secretary received UAR Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad in his suite at Waldorf Astoria afternoon October 1. Riad accompanied by Mohammed Riad, Hassan Sabry al-Khouly and Ashraf Ghorbal. Sisco, Buffum, Pedersen and Parker (NEA) also present. Secretary opened substantive discussion by asking for UAR view of situation and where it thought progress could be made. Riad said there had been no significant progress since their previous meeting a year ago. He gave review of developments since then, noting that King Hussein had understood from our assurances that passage of November 22 resolution would mean Israeli withdrawal. Egyptians had doubted this at time and events have proved them right. UAR had cooperated fully with Jarring, but Israel had not. Jarring had said that he had a beautiful car but had no fuel for it. We had to decide how to give him a push. If Jarring failed he would issue a report and the matter would revert to the Security Council. This question had to be faced in the next two weeks.
The Secretary agreed that next two weeks would be critical. Jarring and the Foreign Ministers concerned were in New York and we needed intensive work by everyone to get some genuine motion. US would do everything to encourage them. We fully supported November 22 resolution. Secretary sometimes wondered, however, whether there were not several resolutions, given differing interpretations of parties. These differences were important because resolution was not self-implementing. We had hoped parties would avoid a procedural impasse and had not believed that Israel should insist on bilateral negotiations, nor that the Arab side should exclude them for doctrinaire reasons. We thought there should be talks at some stage. We ourselves did not attach tragic importance to procedure and the Secretary himself had engaged in negotiations with representatives of Peking and Hanoi, two governments we did not recognize. We had exercised flexibility and hoped the parties in the Middle East would do the same.
Secretary said November 22 resolution was a package, but it was made up of many parts. This was classical problem of diplomacy. The whole may be too big to deal with, but pieces could not be separated from it. We had hoped that by this time Jarring would begin to put pieces together to find out where problems are. Secretary then asked what Egypt’s main problems were from a national point of view, leaving aside the interests of Jordan and Syria. We had the impression problems between Israel and Egypt were not all that formidable. Where were the real difficulties for Egypt? Were they bilateral or did they involve Jordan and Syria?
Riad said greatest problems were between Israel and Egypt because Israel had manifested territorial claims to Sinai since 1956. Egyptians [Page 536] could not take at face value declarations by Israeli leaders that they wanted peace. Problem was one of security, not of procedures. He then reviewed familiar Egyptian version of Israeli perfidy regarding the Rhodes and Lausanne Agreements.3 Given this history, problem for Egypt was how to guarantee a solution.
Secretary said he gathered part of problem not so much procedure but of insured implementation. Egyptians were not rejecting procedures in themselves, but saying results of any agreed procedure must be carried out. Riad said after two experiments it clear a piece of paper signed by the Israelis was worthless. Secretary said he could understand UAR concern that agreement be carried out, but could not understand why it not prepared sign agreement either multilateral or bilateral. Riad said UAR not refusing to sign document. UAR said it had obligations and must honor them.
Secretary said he did not wish to be critical but with regard importance of signature he recalled that President Eisenhower had undertaken commitments regarding navigation in the Straits of Tiran. Egypt had not objected but in 1967 had pointed out that it had not signed the commitment and was not bound by it. We were thus left high and dry by an action we took on behalf of Egypt. Signatures were important. Secretary then asked if there were text of agreement worked out by Jarring and it were nailed to the wall for those who wished to sign and Egypt signed it one day and Israel signed the next, would the UAR accept?
Riad said question of wall or table irrelevant. UAR was ready to sign in accordance with its obligations. Whether on same page or a different copy was not real question. He had not thought it through, but the UAR was ready to sign a document which constituted a full plan for settlement.4
Secretary said leaving question of signature aside for a moment and assuming withdrawal taken care of, what were the other problems? Was the UAR ready for the elimination of state of war? Riad said it was in the resolution. The Secretary said that was not his question. [Page 537] Riad said insofar as non-belligerency is in resolution UAR was ready to give statement, as he had told Jarring, to end state of belligerency. It would be effective when Israelis withdrew.
Secretary said assuming it was agreed to end the state of belligerency simultaneously with withdrawal, how could Egypt deny Israel passage through Suez once belligerency ended? Riad said if state of war ended, UAR would have to fulfill obligations regarding international traffic through Canal, but Israeli use of the Canal had been linked to refugees since 1951. Israelis must respect rights of others if they want their own rights respected. Secretary said he could understand organic connection between state of war and use of Canal, but not between use of Canal and some third question. As maritime nation interested in free transit we were concerned that such transit might be denied solely for political reasons. Egyptians might deny use of Canal to us some day because of Viet-Nam problem or some other political issue. Riad said this not problem because Americans had not killed people of Canal, as Israel had. There were two aspects of the Arab-Israel problem, one of refugees and one of expansion. Refugees were humanitarian problem which Israel had refused to consider to date. Canal was unimportant to Israel in material terms, but refugee issue was of great importance to Arabs. Secretary remarked that elimination of state of war had no substance without free passage. Riad said he had told Jarring that once there was agreement on refugee settlement Israeli cargo could transit Canal. Once that settlement was implemented the Egyptians would permit Israeli flag to use it.
Secretary said we very concerned about refugees. Why not let some reliable person go to each refugee privately and individually and ask him where he wanted to live? Would that work? Riad said this was in the UN resolution and could be done through a referendum or a plebiscite. Secretary said he was not thinking of a referendum where everyone would be told to vote one way or have his throat cut. Riad said that if the refugees had free choice, very few of them would go back to Israel and said that if money could be invested in, for instance, the West Bank for economic development projects this would attract many of them. He did not know why we had not tried this approach in past. Secretary said he would agree, of course, that new refugees, i.e. those who had fled since June 1967, must be allowed to return. Riad said this would come about naturally once Israel withdrew. Secretary noted that he did not think money would be a problem if there was a serious solution in sight.
Secretary said we had no problem with agreement on a sequence of events which might be called a timetable. We were concerned, however, with original idea put forth by Kosygin last year that withdrawal must precede everything else. We did not know if the Soviet [Page 538] view had changed, but we were wary of withdrawal first. This was, frankly, our problem in Paris. We had no objection to stopping the bombing, but Hanoi insisted that everything else must be held in abeyance until that happened.
Riad asked who was to set forth the timetable. Secretary thought it would take care of itself once there was agreement on substance. Riad said UAR had made its position clear on substance, but Israelis refused to discuss details. Secretary said he thought this might be because of procedural points. If Arabs did not exclude direct talks and Israelis did not exclude indirect talks as matter of doctrine, progress could start. Riad said he did not understand. Talks could either be direct or indirect. Secretary remarked that they could also be a combination of the two. Riad said Israelis insisted on direct negotiations, which Egypt could not accept. Rhodes talks had been indirect until the end, but the Israelis were refusing this combination now. The Jordanians had told the Israelis they were ready for such negotiations but Israel must first accept resolution unequivocably. Israel had refused.
Secretary asked if UAR was ready to accept Rhodes formula. Riad said Egyptians had tried it twice and it didn’t work. Jarring was now engaged in indirect negotiations in effect. He was going from one party to the other, in same way Bunche did. All this talk of negotiations was rhetorical. Israelis simply did not want to reach agreement.5
Buffum said perhaps there was some confusion arising from Khartoum formula. We understood it to mean that there could be no formal peace treaty. Did we understand correctly that UAR did not exclude eventual face-to-face encounter and signature of a document if it could be assured that Israel would keep its part of the bargain? Riad said at Khartoum it was agreed there would be no direct negotiations, no peace treaties, and no diplomatic recognition. It did not mean UAR could not sign piece of paper stating it would honor obligations and send it to SYG or SC.UAR’s responsibility was not only to Israel but also to UN. It also wanted Israel to be responsible to UN. It wanted a better guarantee of Israeli performance than it had in the past.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 ARAB-ISR/SANDSTORM. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Amman, Cairo, Tel Aviv, and London.
  2. A memorandum of this conversation is ibid., Conference Files: Lot 69 D 182, CF 320.
  3. On February 24, 1949, Egypt and Israel signed an armistice agreement at Rhodes. For text, see UN doc. S/1264/Corr.1 and Add.1. On May 12, 1949, representatives of the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine and the Governments of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria signed a protocol at Lausanne which provided that talks on a peace settlement should commence based upon a map showing the 1947 partition lines. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. VI, p. 998.
  4. Mohamed Riad, on instructions from the Foreign Minister, subsequently clarified the UAR position on this issue to stipulate that the UAR was not prepared to sign the same document with the Israelis, but was prepared to sign identical, separate documents that would have a binding effect. (Telegram 6802 from USUN, October 2; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 ARAB-ISR/SANDSTORM)
  5. Mohamed Riad subsequently clarified this position to establish that the UAR was not prepared to accept the Rhodes formula. (Ibid.)