55. Action Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Resuming Relations with Nasser

Nasser was pleased with your message,2 and I think on the whole your exchange improved the atmosphere. Bergus’ account of his talk with Nasser is attached.3

The main question now is our next step. Bob Anderson has volunteered to see a representative of Nasser in either Geneva or Malta next week, and Gene Black will be in Cairo on a regular visit January 31 to February 6. Do we want to use either?

There are two issues:

  • —Do we ask to discuss details of resumption? You have already told Nasser that you share his desire to resume relations and that Don Bergus is prepared to discuss details. From Nasser’s failure to have the Foreign Office get down to cases with him, we begin to assume that he wants us to initiate discussions so they can say we came begging. Commissioning Anderson or Black to offer to begin talking specifics would lay you open to the kind of news stories the Cairo press launched during Anderson’s last mission picturing you as running after Nasser.
  • —How do we handle retraction of the false charges that we took part in the June war? Nasser told Bergus he didn’t make any, but those charges were the reason Nasser gave for breaking with us. We probably can’t expect Nasser himself to retract, and a casual retraction in one of their newspapers wouldn’t help us too much. But it might be possible for us to say unilaterally we assume that, by resuming relations, Cairo had acknowledged that the basis for breaking was unfounded.4 [Page 119] Or we could say Egyptian officials had told us they acknowledged the charges were wrong. We’d have to pre-arrange this with the Egyptians, but I assume you still feel we ought to get some satisfaction on this subject.

I would vote against using Bob. He could take this line: We’re ready; talk to Bergus. But that seems hardly worth a trip from Cairo to Geneva and back. Besides, a special meeting of this kind might attract more publicity than we want.

I think Gene Black could serve a useful purpose in Cairo. I would recommend authorizing him to say two things:

  • —Urge Nasser to have his Foreign Office get down to specifics with Bergus. You are ready to resume.
  • —You have a political problem that requires setting the record straight on the false charges. Can’t we work out a formula that will meet both your needs and Nasser’s?

I think it’s worth using Gene. I don’t have any illusions about changing our relations with Nasser much, though I do think we’re better off with a U.S. presence in Cairo to show we’re not abandoning the field to Moscow. But resumption with Cairo would pave the way for resuming business in other Arab capitals-a first step toward repairing the damage to our position throughout the Arab world. No one will move till Nasser does.

We don’t honestly know whether Nasser really wants to resume. He believes we’re 100% behind Israel, and he frankly admitted to Bergus that suspicion of us is so great that it is not yet possible to move into a new period of friendship based on trust. But another probe by Gene Black seems to risk little for the chance of a worthwhile gain.

Walt

Approve Black talking to Nasser about this subject5

I would prefer that Black just listen and stick to generalities

Approve the line you have suggested

Call me

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, United Arab Republic, Vol. VI, Memos, 8/67-7/68. Secret. A handwritten notation indicates the memorandum was received at 5:20 p.m. Another handwritten notation reads: “Mr. Saunders notified 1/22/68.”
  2. See Document 31.
  3. Document 34.
  4. Bergus proposed this formula for breaking the impasse on the issue of the “big lie” in a conversation on January 18 with Foreign Ministry official Mohamed Riad. Riad saw some merit in the suggestion, and Bergus recommended it to the Department. Bergus and Riad also reviewed other aspects of Bergus’ January 6 conversation with Nasser. Bergus made the point that since the United Arab Republic had broken relations the initiative for the resumption of relations should come from Cairo and that relations, if restored, should be substantive rather than formal. Riad noted that his government feared that an initiative from Cairo might meet with an embarrassing public rebuff from Washington. Bergus responded that President Johnson’s response to President Nasser’s message should put to rest any concerns that the United States was setting a trap for the UAR. Bergus and Riad also discussed the issue of compensation for U.S. property damaged during the June war and agreed that it should not pose a problem. (Telegram 1413 from Cairo, January 20; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL UAR-US) Rostow sent a copy of this telegram to President Johnson on January 21 under cover of a memorandum in which he stated: “It is clear we are beginning to communicate.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 57, 1/16-24/68)
  5. Johnson checked this option.