115. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- Nasser’s “Appeal” to You—A New Diplomatic Initiative
As you know, Nasser inserted an unusual open message to you into his annual May Day speech (Tab A).2 The first two-thirds of the speech was a simplistic and dreary review of the last 23 years of the Arab-Israeli problem. The last third of the speech was a direct “appeal” to you to help restore peace in the Middle East, albeit on Egyptian terms. This came a day after an interview with US News and World Report in which Nasser dwelt on his willingness to make peace with a Jewish state. (Tab B)3
Nasser said specifically to you that, despite all that has happened, he has not completely closed the door to the U.S. He warned, however, that if the U.S. takes “another step toward confirming Israel’s military superiority” it would “affect all U.S. relations with the Arab nations for several decades and perhaps for centuries.” Then he launched his “appeal” to you. He asked two things:
—“If the United States wishes peace, it must order Israel to withdraw from the occupied Arab territories.”
—If the U.S. does not have this capability, then he “requests” that the U.S. “refrain from giving any new support to Israel as long as it occupies Arab territories—be it political, military or economic support.”
If the U.S. does neither, Nasser said, “the Arabs must come to the inevitable conclusion that the U.S. wants Israel to continue to occupy our territories so as to dictate the terms of surrender. This—and I am still addressing myself to President Nixon in a last attempt—will not happen.”
This, Nasser continued, is “a decisive moment in Arab-American relations” that will determine whether “we will declare estrangement forever” or if “there will be a new serious and definite start.” All this he was saying to you because “the situation is delicate and because the [Page 382] consequences are extremely dangerous.” Yet “nothing can prevent us from making another and final appeal for the sake of peace in the Middle East.”
The Egyptians have followed up Nasser’s speech with diplomatic moves apparently intended to emphasize that it is a serious initiative. The following day UAR Foreign Minister Riad called in the head of our Interests Section to tell him he hoped that we would take the speech seriously as an appeal for peace rather than to interpret it as propaganda or a threat. He said that Nasser hoped that you would respond in a positive manner. Riad also told the British ambassador in Cairo the same thing and asked specifically for British support. At the U.N., the Egyptian ambassador has asked for U Thant’s support and requested that he circulate the speech as a U.N. document. The UAR is also sending special representatives to the other Arab states to explain the statement that the UAR desires a political solution and to stress the seriousness of Nasser’s appeal to you. Cairo has asked African governments to press the appeal with the U.S.
As if to complement this diplomatic offensive, Nasser just prior to his May Day speech gave an interview to a correspondent of US News and World Report in which he said, among other things, that the UAR agreed to accept the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine and would guarantee free Israeli passage through both Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. He emphasized his desire for peace but made clear that it must be on the basis of complete Israeli withdrawal. He has also unexpectedly volunteered another interview to an American for use on National Educational Television.
What Does It Mean?
It seems clear that Nasser has embarked on a peace offensive and is taking steps to project to the U.S. the image of someone sincerely interested in a peaceful settlement. It is not as clear, however, what are his intentions in doing this at this time.
The most obvious explanation is that Nasser is trying to head off a hasty U.S. commitment to provide more aircraft to Israel in the wake of the Israeli public allegations that Soviet pilots are flying operational missions in the UAR.4 On the other hand, Nasser gave the impression that he felt he was talking from a position of strength. Having stepped up his military activities along the Canal and with Soviet help having strengthened his air defense system, Nasser may think he is now in a stronger political position to talk more openly about peace. He may [Page 383] even think that he can now put increasing military and political pressure on the Israelis and on us. In any case, he might feel in a better public posture to justify further military activity if he can say the U.S. rejected his appeal for peace. Alternatively, we may be seeing a genuine appeal from a man who feels he is increasingly coming under the control of the Soviets but cannot begin to pull away from their grasp until he can show some tangible progress toward regaining the occupied territories.
Nasser’s appeal comes at a time when the increased Soviet commitment in Egypt as well as recent developments in Jordan warrant a new overall look at our strategy in the Mid-East. The staff work is being prepared for such a review.5
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 636, Country Files, Middle East, UAR, Vol. IV. Secret. Sent for information.↩
- Attached but not printed at Tab A is an extract of the speech.↩
- Attached but not printed at Tab B is the article in theMay 2 U.S. News and World Report.↩
- See footnote 4, Document 111.↩
- See Document 116.↩