34. Telegram From the U.S. Interests Section of the Spanish Embassy in the United Arab Republic to the Department of State1

1310. 1. I was received by Nasser at his residence at 12:30 PM today (Jan 6). Conversation lasted forty minutes. Nasser seemed in excellent health and good spirits. He was clad in sweater and slacks. There were no manifestations of his nervous habits, such as knee-jiggling or finger-cracking although he still has his little giggle. He was friendly and cordial throughout, making usual inquiries about family, etc. 2. I referred to Birdsall visit to Cairo Dec 9, Birdsall’s return to US and his being received by President Johnson Dec 18. I then handed text of letter from President Johnson to Nasser which he carefully read.2

3. I then stated that in addition to delivering letter from Nasser to President Johnson, Birdsall had also passed an oral message.3 I then reviewed five points set forth in para 2 State 92844.4 Nasser’s eyes got bigger and bigger as I read this. I said one of main reasons why I had asked to see him personally was that we were not sure how much of these five points had been Nasser and how much Birdsall. This got a big laugh from Nasser.

4. I then slowly and carefully read out President Johnson’s verbal message to Nasser. He listened attentively after which I handed him aide-memoire summarizing substance of verbal message.

5. Nasser began his remarks by asking me who was Birdsall (whom he calls Birdswell) and who was Saddiqi. I gave as much biographic data as I could, emphasizing fact that Mr. Birdsall and his associates had no connection whatsoever with USG. Nasser said he had come to conclusion that Birdsall was a purely unofficial emissary. Since Birdsall visit Dec 9, tentative arrangements had been made at Birdsall’s request to receive him in Cairo again on Jan 4. However, Nasser had subsequently heard from Birdsall that response to his messages to President Johnson would be coming through another channel.

6. Nasser then, using aide-memoire based on verbal message as text, went over it and commented on a number of its points.

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7. First of all, he said he had made no requests through Mr. Birdsall. He had told Birdsall that he did not believe there was any direct conflict between the United States and the UAR and that the UAR had good intentions toward the US. There were, however, a number of “indirect questions” which troubled US-UAR relations.

8. As to diplomatic relations, Nasser said he had told Birdsall that their resumption would be to the mutual interest but this would take time despite the fact that there were good intentions on both sides. Nasser was pleased at steps recently taken to improve the atmosphere in US-UAR relations. He mentioned specifically the return of American personnel, the American University at Cairo, and the prospective return of the Ford Foundation.

9. Nasser then went into the question of charges of US military participation in June war. He mentioned he was aware of suggestion I had made to Vice President Mohieddin last October that Heykal publish denial in El Ahram. When Mohieddin had conveyed this suggestion to Nasser, latter had said, “What is there to deny?” Nasser went on to say that apart from what may have appeared in the newspapers, there had never been any official declaration that US aircraft had taken part in the attack on the UAR. He said he had been asked by his own high command at noon on June 5 to issue statement that US and British aircraft were participating. He had told high command that he would not make such a statement until they could produce American pilot or plane. He then reviewed history of telephone call with Hussein, etc., and said he had only quoted what Hussein had told him. He noted that Hussein had since retracted. He therefore felt that question was being exaggerated and that one should make distinction between what was said officially and what appeared in the papers so far as direct US assistance to Israel was concerned. He went on to state that there remained the question of “indirect participation” of the United States in that the US had given Israel considerable quantities of arms and money.

10. Nasser then moved on to para B of verbal message, saying UAR had made clear its policy re Arab-Israel settlement. If Israel willing to withdraw, UAR willing to accept state of non-belligerency. If Israel unwilling to withdraw, then it not only Nasser’s policy but his duty to liberate Egyptian territory occupied by Israel. Nasser asked if his FonOff had shown me Eban letter to Jarring. I replied affirmatively. Nasser said he took this message as indication Israelis “were not very serious.” As to the Suez Canal, Nasser said it was well known that this issue was linked to the question of justice to the Palestinian refugees.

11. On para D of verbal message, Nasser disclaimed any request that the US make a special gesture towards the UAR or the Arabs generally. He said that he had told Birdsall his feeling that the US stand at the United Nations had been one hundred percent in favor of Israel. [Page 69] He had told Birdsall that he did not want economic aid from the United States, he wanted justice. He repeated to me now that that was still his position. He preferred justice to aid. He referred favorably in this connection to statements made by President Kennedy to effect US would oppose aggression from any quarter in the Middle East.

12. As to British Security Council resolution,5 Nasser recalled that his government had asked through me for assurances of US support for this resolution.GUAR valued subsequent USG assurances and celerity with which they had been given.

13. Nasser then dwelt at some length on second half of para D of verbal message where it refers to “new period of friendship based on trust” and “tragic suspicions.” On “tragic suspicions” he referred to his 1966 conversation with Birdsall which he said was based largely on suspicions created by Mustapha Amin affair. At this point I interposed that I had spent over five years of my life directly concerned with improvement and strengthening of US-UAR relations. I felt that dark suspicions were perhaps the major obstacle. I had discussed this many times with his associate and my good friend, Hassan Sabri El Kholi, and urged that whenever suspicions arose, we should talk them out together fully and frankly. Nasser made approving but noncommittal noises. Nasser then went on to say, “If I told you that it was now possible to move into a new period of friendship based on trust, I would not be myself. It is impossible for me to say that as of today I now have full confidence and trust in US Government. I think we can get these but it needs time. We must work together to build confidence.”

14. Nasser denied that he had asked Birdsall to tell President Johnson that Nasser would like to visit the US. It had been Birdsall who raised this point. He said, “Of course, I would like to visit the United States but I know that it would be impossible in the absence of diplomatic relations between us.”

15. At this point I said that my government would not agree with some of the statements of substance which President Nasser had made. I had discussed these issues at length, however, with members of his government and I was sure that he was aware of our viewpoint. Nasser said he was.

16. Nasser then turned to President Johnson’s written message to him. He said he would like to thank the President for this letter and to express all his best wishes to the President and his family. He hoped we could work for better relations between the two countries based on trust and confidence. He also hoped we could work for the resumption [Page 70] of diplomatic relations which might take some time. He thanked the President also for his verbal message.

17. Nasser said he was always prepared to discuss any question with which the United States wished to deal and that he was “ready to receive Mr. Bergus at any time the United States Government so desired.”

18. Comment: I will be pouching details of circumstances under which this meeting was arranged. I have, however, assured GUAR of willingness that Nasser’s receiving me would be kept secret.6

Bergus
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL UAR-US. Secret; Priority; Nodis.
  2. See Document 31.
  3. Documents 12 and 21.
  4. Document 31.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 1.
  6. Bergus reported on January 8 that Nasser told Foreign Minister Riad that he was pleased with the tone and content of President Johnson’s message and that Johnson had mentioned a possible Nasser visit to the United States. (Telegram 1313 from Cairo, repeated by Rostow to President Johnson on January 9 in White House telegram CAP 80218; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, United Arab Republic, Vol. VI, Cables, 8/67-7/68)