337. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Seven Points

PARTICIPANTS

  • Dr. Ashraf Ghorbal, U.A.R. Interests Section, Embassy of India
  • Mr. Richard B. Parker, Country Director for NEA/UAR

Mr. Parker said that the UAR Foreign Ministry had given Don Bergus the text of the UAR’s comments on the Secretary’s seven points on the morning of December 4.2 He could tell Dr. Ghorbal on a personal [Page 668] basis that the Department, including the Secretary, had found the response most disappointing. Not only did the Egyptians insist on an irritating and counter-productive rehash of everything since Genesis, but they had not responded in a frank and open manner. In his presentation of November 2, the Secretary had made an important and far-reaching initiative. He had committed us to a position which our friends the Israelis had not liked and which would have entailed considerable difficulty for us in terms of implementation. The Israelis had recently assured us that the Egyptians would get us off the hook by responding negatively. Their forecast had been amply justified by the document we had received that morning. If the Egyptians wanted us to help them, they would have to learn something about dealing with the United States Government. The sort of foggy replies that the Egyptians specialized in only succeeded in irritating people.

Dr. Ghorbal said we would have to understand in the first place that the prologue reciting Israeli misdeeds was an essential expression of deep and bitter feeling on the part of the Egyptians. Their territory was occupied. They had a long history of injustice at the hand of Israel and they could not disregard this or set it to one side. Mr. Parker said that on the previous day Dr. Ghorbal had been searching for a word to describe an action which produced a result contrary to that desire. That word was “counter-productive”. This was the term which should be applied to the prologue.

Dr. Ghorbal went on to say that the Egyptian response was not really an answer to the seven points, but rather an amplification and a reaffirmation of what Mahmoud Riad had already said on November 2. As Dr. Ghorbal had said earlier, Mahmoud Riad had given his response on November 2. The Americans had chosen not to accept it as definitive. Riad had now reaffirmed it. The Americans kept getting the Egyptians to make concessions while the Israelis made none. Then they proceeded from the new position of the Egyptians and asked them to compromise further instead of asking the Israelis to move. There were some things the Egyptians could accept and others they could not. The US could not, in any event, expect the Egyptians to set forth in a document of this sort, which might fall into the hands of anyone, a position more forthcoming than that given by Riad. It would also have to understand the atmosphere in which this response was drafted. While, on the one hand, the Secretary had been very fair and forthcoming in his statements to Riad, he had also made much of the fact that American leverage with the Israelis was limited. Mr. Parker had subsequently informed Dr. Ghorbal that the seven points were not a peace plan but were rather a statement of the sort of position we could support. Mr. Parker had also said that we could not guarantee Israel’s acceptance. Indeed, the Israelis did not like the seven points. All the while, Eshkol and Dayan were making bellicose statements about the [Page 669] retention of territory, the consolidation of the Golan Heights and other territories into Israel, on the inevitability of war, etc. We could not expect the Egyptians to put their hands in ours, given these uncertainties.

Mr. Parker said that we had made what seemed to us a reasonable offer. We had delineated the position we could support, a position which was not unfavorable to Egypt. If the Egyptians had accepted it wholeheartedly, we would at that moment be working in an effort to get it accepted by the Israelis. The Egyptians were always asking us to put pressure on Israel, but they were not willing to make it possible for us to use what leverage we had.

Dr. Ghorbal and Mr. Parker proceeded to examine the Egyptian reply point by point. With regard to the indivisibility of withdrawal, Mr. Parker noted that the Secretary had proposed as an eighth point an understanding that Egypt’s acceptance would be with the understanding that the problems of the other Arab states and Israel would be regulated in a satisfactory manner. It was, of course, difficult to visualize any settlement which returned the Golan Heights to Syria given the fact that Syria refused to cooperate with Jarring or to accept the November 22 Resolution. In these circumstances, did the UAR response mean that if all other issues were taken care of and the sole remaining issue was Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and the Israelis refused to withdraw, the UAR would not go to settlement? Dr. Ghorbal said that was correct. Egypt could not settle with Israel as long as Arab territory beyond what Israel already had before June 1967 was occupied. Mr. Parker commented that Egypt was likely to forfeit a settlement over this issue.

On termination of belligerency, Mr. Parker noted that the language of the Egyptian response seemed to mean that termination would come after withdrawal. Was this the intent? Dr. Ghorbal said he understood the response to mean that termination of belligerency and withdrawal would be simultaneous.

As for the navigation issue, Mr. Parker noted that the response tied free navigation to the resolution as a whole and not just to the refugee issue. This was a better formulation than the earlier Egyptian position.

On the question of refugees, Mr. Parker said the UAR response was unclear. The Secretary had made a specific proposal. The UAR had replied in general terms that it accepted the UN resolutions on the subject. This was not news, nor was it responsive. Given the fact that both Dr. Fawzi and Salah Gohar had commented to foreign ambassadors that the Secretary’s proposal regarding refugees was unacceptable, we suspected this response was a rejection. Dr. Ghorbal said he did not think this was the case. He believed that the UAR was at the moment consulting with Palestinian leaders as to what they could accept. Until [Page 670] those consultations were finished, the Egyptians could not commit themselves to any detailed understanding on the issue. We should interpret the present response as keeping the door open and meaning that the UAR did not reject the Secretary’s proposal, which after all, was not contrary to the UN resolutions.

Mr. Parker noted that the UAR rejected a permanent UN presence at Sharm Ash-Shaikh. We could not expect the Israelis to settle for less, if indeed they would accept even that. The idea that the Israelis would accept a temporary UN presence which the Egyptians could recall when they felt like it, as they had done in 1967, was unrealistic. Both we and the Israelis had to have reassurances that the Straits would be kept open and neither of us trusted the Egyptian word in this regard, given past history. Dr. Ghorbal said that we should stretch our imaginations on this problem. What we wanted was freedom of navigation, not a UN presence. In a climate of peace, a satisfactory arrangement should be possible. Egypt, however, could not alienate for eternity a part of its territory, no matter how remote or how unimportant as real estate. We should stop talking about a permanent UN presence and start thinking about some arrangement which would give satisfactory assurances to both sides without derogating from Egyptian sovereignty. Mr. Parker suggested that if the Egyptians had any ideas in this regard they should bring them forward.

Mr. Parker noted that the UAR also rejected the concept of signature of the same document. This presumably was because Egypt rejected sulh (reconciliation), in accordance with the Khartoum formula, although it was now talking of peace (silm), at our urging. Signature of the same document was a symbol of sulh, just as the handshake was a symbol of reconciliation in any ceremonial sulh. The Egyptians should realize that without sulh there would be no silm. If the Egyptians wanted to get the Israelis out of their territory, they had better start thinking about sulh.

Dr. Ghorbal said that we should be ingenious enough to find a way to get around the question of signature. The Arabs simply could not sign the same document with Israel. They could, however, sign identical documents on the same day, both of which could be registered immediately with the UN and published simultaneously side by side, both committing the two parties to the same things and having the binding force of contracts. Signature on the same piece of paper should not be blown up into an obstacle to agreement. Mr. Parker commented that it was this very inability of the Arabs to sign that same piece of paper which convinced the Israelis that the Arabs were not prepared to offer meaningful peace.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 ARAB-ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Parker.
  2. The text of the UAR’s response to the Secretary’s seven points was transmitted in telegram 4047 from Cairo, December 4. (Ibid., POL 27 ARAB-ISR) In his comments Bergus noted that UAR policy remained focused on the demand for Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab territory. (Telegram 4051 from Cairo, December 4; ibid.)