197. Telegram From the Department of State to the Interests Section in the United Arab Republic1

10839. Ref Cairo 2802.2

1. For two reasons we have felt short hiatus was desirable before responding to Sadat’s talk with you December 24.3 We do not want Sadat to place unreasonable expectations upon summit dialogue as means of solving tough problems we face. Second, we wish to underscore our unhappiness with Sadat’s own recent public statements attacking U.S. While we are prepared to tolerate considerable discrepancy between UAR’s public and private statements, Sadat overstepped mark in his ASU] [Asyut] speeches.4 At same time, President is appreciative of Sadat’s desire to open private dialogue with him, and we do not [Page 703] believe we should close door on any channel which might improve US–UAR relations and thus contribute to our efforts to achieve peace settlement. Moreover, Riad’s oral reply to Secretary5 set positive framework for President’s reply.

2. At early and appropriate occasion you should answer Sadat orally along following lines:

A. President Nixon is pleased that President Sadat has thought it useful to communicate directly, personally, and so frankly with him. The parties to the Arab-Israel dispute are now engaged in important and complicated negotiations. The U.S. has pledged its willingness to give such help as it can to the parties directly concerned. Moreover, we believe there are other world problems as well as aspects of our bilateral relations which might usefully be discussed at the highest level between the two countries. We would like to assure President Sadat that President Nixon believes this channel to be a useful augmentation of traditional diplomacy. We will give full and earnest consideration to any messages that President Sadat may care to send him. We appreciate President Sadat’s readiness to do likewise and hope that the public tone and atmosphere of our relations will make continuation of this dialogue possible. We think it essential that the UAR understand our goals and policies. Noting that President Sadat recently said on American television that he was uncertain about what the U.S. wanted in the Mid-East,6 we hope through exchanges such as this to make our views clear.

B. President Sadat has spoken frankly of the differences which separate our two govts. Such differences do exist and are real. This does [Page 704] not alter the fact that we in the U.S. wish to see a sovereign, stable, and developing Egypt living in peace in the area. We recognize that other Arab countries feel deeply involved in Egypt’s destiny, and that Egypt feels involved in the destiny of other Arab states. We are impressed by the dignified and effective manner in which the Egyptian people closed ranks after the sudden death of President Nasser and, in accordance with the constitutional process, chose new leadership. We are following with sympathetic interest the efforts of President Sadat and his new govt to tackle the problems affecting the daily lives of the citizens of the UAR. The U.S. has cooperated with the UAR in economic and social development in the past. The economies of our two nations are supplementary in many respects, and we believe that there are many helpful steps in the reconstruction of Egypt which we could take to our mutual economic advantage.

C. Reconstruction requires peace. We believe that a just and lasting peace is possible. It will not be easy. Resolving problems that have been allowed to fester for over two decades is never easy. One of the hardest things for any nation to do is to put aside the grievances of the past and build for the future. But the promise of peace makes such efforts essential.

D. Talks under Amb Jarring have begun in a positive way. Secretary Rogers has recently written to FonMin Riad at length conveying our views of the present situation, stressing his conviction, which President Nixon shares, that the opening of these talks presents a real opportunity to move toward a settlement.7 It would be a tragedy, as Secretary Rogers said in his letter, to miss this opportunity. None of us can be sure of being able to control the flow of events if the situation is allowed to return to hostilities, as it almost certainly will at some point if there is not a just and lasting peace settlement.

E. In one important respect President Sadat’s comments reflected a misunderstanding which President Nixon hopes he can dispel. The U.S. does not look upon Egyptians as a quote defeated people unquote. The U.S. has great respect for the UAR—a civilization that has been a force in the world for 5,000 years. (You should interject as your personal comment that after carefully checking, Washington is unable to find any statement by a Presidential adviser along the lines alleged by Sadat.) Moreover, President Nixon does not believe that any peace settlement can be enduring if it is based on the humiliation of one side. We do not believe Security Council Resolution 242 treats either side as defeated, and that is why the U.S. supports it. It provides the framework for a settlement that is honorable to both sides and that ensures the es[Page 705]sential interests of both sides. We continue to give Resolution 242 our full support and we stand by our past statements of what we believe is entailed in that Resolution.

F. We do not underestimate the difficulties ahead. The critical factor is the spirit which the parties themselves bring to the talks that are now beginning. In a true negotiating atmosphere—one in which each side makes a genuine effort to understand and deal with the concerns of the other side—much can be accomplished. President Nixon wishes to assure President Sadat that the U.S. recognizes its responsibilities if such conditions emerge.

G. At the same time, President Nixon hopes President Sadat will agree that after more than 20 years of conflict the Arab side too has responsibilities. The Security Council Resolution calls for a commitment to live at peace with Israel but leaves much to be spelled out in terms of the practical arrangements that will give assurance the peace will not break down. Given the background of the past two decades, the U.S. believes it is only reasonable for Israel to feel it has the right to hear from the Arab states themselves as to what the specific elements of the peace will be. President Nixon does not see how this requirement can be construed by the Arab states as an attempt to impose humiliating conditions upon them. To the contrary, it is a matter of vital concern to both the Arab states and Israel, and is therefore one of the proper subjects for the talks now in train under Amb Jarring. We believe outside powers can and will at the appropriate time play an important supplementary role in helping the parties reach agreement, but we are persuaded this cannot take the place of reciprocal undertakings worked out by and binding on the parties themselves.

H. President Sadat expressed concern that the US may misunderstand Egypt’s reasons for accepting assistance from the USSR and may underestimate the UAR’s independence of policy as well as the UAR’s desire to have good relations with both the Soviet Union and the US. We share his regret that the Mid-East problem has acquired a US-Soviet aspect. We also share his hope that the UAR’s relations with the US can improve. For us, the fact that the UAR has close relations with the Soviets should not necessarily be an impediment to concrete steps to improve US–UAR relations. At the same time President Nixon hopes that the global responsibilities of the U.S. will be taken into account in Cairo; the United States cannot ignore what the Soviets do, anywhere in the world.

I. In closing President Nixon wishes to say he was heartened by President Nasser’s acceptance of our peace initiative last summer. Despite later obstacles, we believed then and still believe that the US and the UAR can work together for peace on a basis of mutual interest and mutual understanding. Washington hopes that Mr. Bergus can be in [Page 706] close touch with Minister Riad to discuss the parties’ positions on various substantive issues as they are tabled in the Jarring talks in the coming weeks.8

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 636, Country Files, Middle East, UAR, Vol. V. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Sterner and W.B. Smitt II (NEA/UAR); cleared by Sisco, De Palma, and Kissinger; and approved by Rogers. All brackets are in the original except “[Asyut]”, added for clarity.
  2. Telegram 2802 from Cairo, December 28, 1970, contained Bergus’s recommendation that the United States “respond fairly soon” to the oral message that Sadat had conveyed to Nixon on December 24, believing that “it might be useful” for Nixon to “reply on the eve of the actual resumption of the Jarring talks.” (Ibid., Box 637, Country Files, Middle East, UAR, Vol. VI) After receiving no indication of a response to Sadat’s message, Bergus wrote on January 19: “I urge Department take another, and urgent, look at possibility President Nixon’s sending message to Sadat along lines suggested in my 2802 of December 28. I think Sadat’s anti-American noises have, for the moment, abated to level where we can, with dignity, resume dialog.” (Telegram 103 from Cairo; ibid.)
  3. In his conversation with Bergus, Sadat expressed how “deeply touched” he had been by Nixon’s December 21 message to him, as conveyed to him through Fawzi. He then proceeded to list the “many important differences” between the United States and the United Arab Republic, including the notion that the United States believed that the latter wanted to “promote a confrontation between two superpowers in the Middle East” and the idea that Egyptians should have behaved like “defeated people” in the aftermath of the 1967 war. (Telegram 2798 from Cairo, December 24, 1970; ibid. Nixon’s letter is discussed in Sadat, In Search of Identity, pp. 277–278.)
  4. As reported in telegram 49 from Cairo, January 11, and the New York Times, January 12, 1971, p. 4, Sadat delivered a series of speeches in the early part of January, at least two of which were given in the Middle Nile town of Asyut. Bergus wrote that Sadat criticized Israeli-American propaganda for trying to portray the United Arab Republic as refusing to accept continuation of the cease-fire after February 5 and claiming that Sadat had “decided to declare war” on that day. Sadat explained that he had merely said that he would “not be bound” to the cease-fire after February 5 and “would not renew it,” which he argued was “completely different” from a declaration of war. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1159, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks Edited) Because of the speeches, Sisco had told Kissinger that the Department was “holding off” on providing a recommended message from Nixon to Sadat. Sisco continued: “We didn’t like the President to have to send something when this guy Sadat is hitting us publicly.” (Transcript of a telephone conversation, January 13, 12:07 p.m; ibid., Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 3, Chronological File)
  5. After discussing Rogers’s letter with Sadat (see Document 196), Riad replied to Bergus and Wiley on January 19: “Egypt and the United States have the same basic idea” regarding a “peaceful settlement” based on Security Council Resolution 242. Riad continued: “The Secretary thinks the Security Council is now inappropriate and that we finally have a chance to achieve peace. This means he must have something in his mind or must intend to do something. The President and I have, therefore, decided that we can postpone our decision to call for a Security Council meeting.” According to Bergus, Riad then said that the United Arab Republic could not extend the cease-fire because, he remarked: “That can be done only on condition that there is a serious move towards peace. We cannot allow an indefinite continuation of the cease-fire. There is, however, a lot of time. The big powers can do something in the next few weeks.” (Telegram 109 from Cairo, January 19; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR) In a separate telegram summarizing the meeting, Bergus wrote that the United Arab Republic hoped that, before February 5, Israel would present a “new and substantive response to Jarring” or that the Four Powers would “intensify their efforts and issue public statement covering points of substance.” (Telegram 108 from Cairo, January 19; ibid.)
  6. Reference is presumably to an interview with Sadat conducted by James Reston of the New York Times in Cairo on December 23, 1970. Sadat said, as reported by Reston: “The U.S., believe it or not, I don’t know their stand up till now.” (New York Times, December 28, 1970, p. 1)
  7. See Document 196.
  8. Bergus presented Nixon’s oral message to Sadat on January 23, as reported in telegram 145 from Cairo, January 23. Sadat first responded: “I believe President Nixon’s message leaves us exactly where we are.” He further remarked that the United States was the “only power” that could “bring about a peaceful settlement” and that it was “unrealistic to expect the parties to come together in a negotiation.” Sadat “would not sit alone at the same table with Israel as long as Israeli occupation continued,” he said, explaining that he would only negotiate with Israel “in the presence of the Big Four or the Security Council.” Sadat concluded with the comment that the United States Government should not view his statements as a “final answer to President Nixon’s message” and affirmed that the direct channel between the two of them “could be very useful.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1160, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files)