5. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • U.S./U.K. Policies in Middle East—Working Level Discussions, First Round


  • Mr. John E. Killick, Counselor, British Embassy
  • Mr. Patrick R. H. Wright, First Secretary, British Embassy
  • NE—Rodger P. Davies
  • NE—Curtis F. Jones
  • NE—George C. Moore

Mr. Davies opened the discussion by noting that our aim was to compare mutual assessments of the situation and to summarize the approaches of our two countries in order to lay the groundwork for [Page 10] subsequent higher level discussions. He stressed that both the U.S. and the U.K. had the same overall objectives in the Near East: we wished to prevent the U.A.R. from imposing itself on the area or from imposing a U.A.R.-dominated Arab solidarity. Where we differed was really only in methods of attaining these objectives. He would be less than frank if he did not admit that some courses of action proposed by London caused concern since they could only lead to a confrontation with the U.A.R. and Arab nationalism in situations where it is doubtful that the West had the capabilities to come out on top.

Mr. Davies then spoke from the attached paper2 (a copy of which was subsequently given to the British participants) which gave working level views point-by-point on the British paper concerning the Middle East which had previously been provided. During this presentation the following additional comments were made.

Concerning Libya, Mr. Killick summed up HMG’s view that while the British might preserve certain overflight and landing rights in Libya as a result of the present discussions, they were under no illusion that these would last; realistically, they expected that Nasser would ultimately force them completely out. He agreed that, in the event of a republican coup in Libya, Libyan sentiment would be opposed to a U.A.R. takeover; it was questionable, however, if the Libyans would be sufficiently strong to prevent such a takeover.

The British were in general agreement concerning our views on Jordan and noted that talks on Jordan’s economy were again due in the coming few months.

On Iraq, Mr. Killick commented that HMG feared Iraqi instability would be enhanced because the GOI lacked the governmental machinery to be able successfully to operate the socialized state which it appeared to be developing. He made no particular comments concerning the Gulf, Iran or the Omani rebels.

On Yemen, Mr. Killick noted that, from the U.A.R. standpoint, this was a special operation, pre-dating the First Arab Summit; it did not fit the pattern with which Nasser was working elsewhere to advance Arab Socialism. Mr. Davies asked if much of the reported U.A.R. activity in the south (which was not yet as strong as it might be considering the resources available to the U.A.R.) should not be considered as a reaction to covert Saudi and U.K. aid to the royalists. He noted that success of his military in intervention in the form of continued existence of the YAR was vital for Nasser if he were to continue to have the support of his military commanders. On the other hand, the situation in that country was important for the British and only of peripheral [Page 11] concern for us. Thus, a determined effort to promote a viable YARG might be the best way to get U.A.R. troops moving out of Yemen. Mr. Davies also noted that return of one-third of Nasser’s fighting forces from an area where they could easily be isolated increased his capabilities for action in other areas.

On the question of oil in the Middle East, Mr. Killick emphasized that Nasser’s activities were only a potential, not an actual, danger at the present time. He commented that London was perhaps more sensitive to the problems of Western Europe’s need for oil than was the United States; that London’s concern over the balance of payments and the necessity for relying on U.S.-dollar sources of oil supply was much greater than the United States perhaps realized. Mr. Davies said that the situation throughout the oil industry would change over time. There was a mutuality of interest between the Arabs and the West and the main Western needs would in effect be met as long as there was free access to the oil on reasonable price terms.

Mr. Davies referred to a recent informal U.S. intelligence estimate that the U.S.S.R. was prepared to give massive political and economic support to the U.A.R. in the belief that the parallels between their system and the Arab Socialist Union gave them an opening for increasing their influence in the area. The U.A.R. was aware of Soviet motivations but was confident Arab nationalism and Islam were strong enough to prevent any Soviet breakthrough; in the interim, the U.A.R. could profit by continuing its contacts with the U.S.S.R. The estimate concluded that U.S. policy was based on an assessment that in the Arab world Cairo would always have more influence than Moscow, that any losses to our position throughout the area occasioned by Nasser’s Arab nationalist drive would be essentially peripheral (“special positions,” e.g., loss of Wheelus Air Base) and that our basic interests in the Near East would be maintained. We believed that forcing a major confrontation between the U.A.R. and the West would threaten our basic interests, rather than our peripheral ones, and could well lead to establishment of a true Communist puppet state in the area which would present problems of a much greater magnitude for us all. Mr. Davies suggested that, on this basis, we (the U.S. and the U.K.) and, later, our Western allies should work to improve our capability to influence trends in the U.A.R. particularly by increasing our aid to that country. The aim would be to make the U.A.R. economic structure more compatible with that of the West and to woo the U.A.R. into closer ties with the Western world.

As a general final comment, Mr. Killick said that he agreed with much of the U.S. presentation. Noting that his remarks were personal, informal and unofficial, he said that there was a great deal of emotionalism in the U.K. in this pre-election time concerning issues in the Middle East. He agreed with Mr. Davies that the interests of both our governments [Page 12] would be served by delaying a confrontation between us concerning our policies in the Middle East until after our mutual election periods. Specifically, he said that London would not want us to change our policies except perhaps to give more importance to the threat of Nasser. In Yemen, HMG believed Nasser was after total victory and was himself forcing a confrontation.

Mr. Davies responded that we did not disagree that Nasser should be prevented from establishing hegemony over Yemen, but we felt strongly that encouraging Saudi aid to the royalists—with almost inevitable U.A.R.-Saudi hostilities—was not the way to achieve this. We agree that Nasser aspires to dominate the Arab world, but we do not believe he has the capability. In the long run, the Arabs themselves, not we, will be the ones able to give check to Nasser if we do not unnecessarily interpose ourselves between them in their disputes and give free rein to the divergent and divisive forces among them. Western intervention could only consolidate the Arabs.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 1 NEAR E. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Officer in Charge of Arabian Peninsula Affairs George C. Moore.
  2. Neither of the papers was attached.