31. Telegram From the Department of State to the U.S. Interests Section of the Spanish Embassy in the United Arab Republic 1

92844. Cairo’s 1136.2

President Johnson received Birdsall briefly afternoon December 18.3 Birdsall delivered letter and oral message from Nasser. Letter extends greeting to President and his family, and has short substantive text as follows:

“At this time which is sacred to both our people I feel that good relations should exist between our people.

I have sent a special message through Mr. Birdsall. I trust you will receive it in the spirit which I send it.

With highest personal regards. Sincerely. Signature, in Arabic.”

Oral message was: (1) Nasser asked Birdsall convey expressions of his highest esteem for President and wished him to know that he regrets break in relations, desires resume them and will endeavor induce other Arab countries who broke relations to resume. (2) Nasser also expressed hope President will use his influence to bring about an Israeli withdrawal. At same time Nasser would permit himself to accept “state of non-belligerency” between UAR and Israel. (3) Nasser hoped solution to refugee problem consistent with continued existence Israel could be found. (4) He hoped President would make gesture of [Page 59] friendship to Arab nations after resuming relations, but he understood our relations with Israel. (5) Nasser would appreciate invitation to visit United States and hoped that President would acknowledge messages conveyed by Birdsall.
President thanked Birdsall and said he would consider messages and what form appropriate reply might take.
Birdsall in separate conversations with Walt Rostow and Battle was somewhat fuzzy on details and it difficult to tell how much of oral message was Nasser and how much Birdsall.
We believe we should reply to Nasser in reasonably forthcoming manner but do not think we should send special emissary for purpose. Accordingly, and unless you think it would be unwise do so, you should seek immediate appointment with Khouly and tell him you have Presidential oral and written messages for delivery Nasser only. We can visualize some difficulties arising from fact Khouly apparently unaware of Birdsall visit, but Nasser presumably able to handle that. You should decline discuss contents messages except with Nasser. When you see Nasser you should explain that we are taking the extraordinary step of asking for your meeting with him because we do not know who in his government is privy to the Birdsall conversations and wish both to avoid embarrassment to him and to insure that he gets the message in its original form.
Following is text of written message.4

“Dear Mr. President: Thank you for your kind letter of December 9 and for your greetings to myself and my family. In turn, I send best wishes to you and your family, and special greetings for the New Year.

I share your belief that good relations should exist between our people and your regret at the break in relations between us. I hope that we can move calmly and deliberately to the restoration of those relations on a basis of mutual trust and respect.

Mr. Birdsall has delivered your special message to me and I am asking Mr. Donald Bergus to convey my reply to you personally. He is fully authorized to convey any response you may wish to send and enjoys my full confidence. Sincerely, signed Lyndon B. Johnson.”

Following is verbal message from President:5
I share President Nasser’s desire for resumption of relations. It is imperative, I believe, that diplomatic relations be resumed in a climate conducive to friendship between our two countries. Diplomatic relations cannot be isolated from the attitudes of trust and confidence that they should represent, and I would suggest that each of us examine [Page 60] ways in which we can improve the atmosphere both in the United States and in Egypt. I have in mind, for example, an effort to clarify public misapprehensions surrounding the unfortunate events of June 5. It is inconsistent with friendship to leave an impression that the United States engaged in military actions against his people which caused loss of life and hardship, when we in fact had no part in them. Mr. Bergus is prepared to discuss further steps.
I am pleased to note President Nasser’s readiness to accept a state of non-belligerency with Israel. We hope he shares our belief that a resumption of hostilities is unthinkable. With regard to his request that I use my influence to get the Israelis to withdraw, the United States Government is prepared to put its full weight behind a reasonable settlement of the Arab-Israel dispute within the terms of the November 22 Security Council Resolution, which I am pleased that the UAR supported. As President Nasser knows, that resolution affirms that a just and lasting peace should include Israeli withdrawal as well as the termination of all claims and rights of belligerency. To achieve this end, I think it essential that all of us cooperate fully with the Secretary General’s personal representative, Ambassador Jarring, and that we seek to find a settlement all parties can accept. I assure him of my willingness to cooperate with all parties in an effort to bring success.
I share President Nasser’s hope that a solution to the refugee problem consistent with the continued existence of Israel can be found. President Nasser may be assured that when I said on June 19 that any solution must include justice for the refugees, I meant it.
It is not clear what President Nasser has in mind in asking that I make a gesture of friendship to the Arab nations and we are not sure whether Mr. Birdsall has reported this request accurately and in its proper context. Perhaps President Nasser would wish to clarify. In meantime, I would like to point out that we have long sought to maintain an even-handed policy as between the Arab states and Israel and to have good relations with both sides, and we have helped in the economic development of the entire Middle East. The deterioration of our relations with the UAR in the past year has been due largely to unfortunate misunderstanding of our motives and tragic suspicions as to our intentions. If now the UAR wishes to move into a new period of friendship based on trust, I think friendly and mutually satisfactory relations are possible. If they are not ready, I do not think isolated gestures of friendship by either side will have much effect. There must be a basic wish for meaningful relations and a determination to bring them about.
I have noted President Nasser’s interest in a trip to the United States and would be pleased if such a visit can be arranged in the wake of a settlement of the Arab-Israel crisis.
President Nasser should be assured that I have great respect for his person and his country. Although we have had our share of problems in recent years, this need not prevent the establishment of a relationship based on mutual respect for each other and mutual recognition of the limitations each of us must face in dealing with our common problems.
You authorized provide substance of above to Nasser as an aide-memoire if you deem appropriate. Since Elsie Hafez aware Nasser message, you may use him as channel rather than Khouly if you wish.
Signed original being pouched.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL UAR-US. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Drafted by Parker on December 21; cleared by Battle, Davies, and Bromley Smith; and approved by John P. Walsh in S/S.
  2. Document 13.
  3. See Document 21.
  4. A signed copy of this letter, dated December 30, which was subsequently sent by pouch to Cairo, is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence File, UAR-Presidential Correspondence (1 of 2).
  5. A copy of this message, dated December 30, is ibid.