21. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Joseph Sisco
  • Emil Mosbacher
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • Dr. Mahmoud Fawzi, Foreign Affairs Assistant to President Nasser
  • Mohammad Riad, UAR Foreign Ministry Official
  • Ashraf Ghorbal, UAR Minister in Washington

The President opened the meeting by commenting directly to the effect that: We have before us the question of resuming relations. He guesses it comes down to the question of who makes the first move.

The President then broadened his comments to the effect that the United States regrets that it does not have formal relations with a larger number of the Arab people.2 He said what troubles him most is the fact that our nation is cut off from these people. The time comes when we must forget the recriminations of the past and build a new relationship. This is also true among the peoples of the area.

Dr. Fawzi responded that as long as there is no “implementation of the UN Resolution” there “will be difficulties.” He then went on to explain that the UAR’s principal concern is to provide better lives for its people. How can the UAR get on with that job while its territory is occupied? The UAR must spend 300 million pounds yearly for arms, a serious drain from the resources available for economic progress. The UAR government hopes to widen and deepen our relations. This is not just a matter of “sentiment,” but a matter of mutual interests.

The President agreed that vital interests are involved on both sides. He felt that a new attitude was required on both sides and that nothing could be gained from simply analyzing again and reiterating the attitudes of the past. Speaking specifically of the Arab-Israeli impasse, the President said that the practical problem is how we bridge the gap between the two sides. We believe that it may be possible to narrow that gap but that it will only be possible to bridge the gap if the parties involved want to take serious steps toward each other. We will [Page 69] do our part in an affirmative way with full respect for the concerns of both sides. The President felt that if our effort cannot be made the beginning of a new relationship, we will have missed an opportunity.

Dr. Fawzi said the UAR recalls with deep gratitude the US role in 1956–57.3 He felt frankly that this time the US is not sufficiently exerting an influence comparable to its interests. He hoped that time would show him to be wrong. The UAR is ready to entertain any suggestion for doing anything it has not done that it might do.

The President asked whether Dr. Fawzi thought an Arab government could survive which made peace with Israel. He recognized that there are practical political problems in the UAR as in Israel—that when governments try to solve these problems they face obstacles which we all recognize.

Dr. Fawzi replied that, for the UAR’s part, “we are taking the chance.” He said the UAR is ready to assume its responsibility under the UN Security Council Resolution, knowing full well that other Arab governments are not happy with the resolution. Still the UAR is going ahead.

Dr. Fawzi said that the UAR would like the US position to be more clearly defined. Maybe the US does not find this exactly the right time for revealing its position, and that is understandable. But nevertheless the UAR would like to know precisely where the US stands.

The UAR’s concept is that Israeli troops must withdraw to June 4 lines. Although it is beyond the scope of the resolution to discuss rectifications in the boundaries and this is more an issue on the Israel-Jordan border, the UAR would not object to changes provided they are genuine rectifications and not “annexations.”

The President said we are in a delicate position too. The US Government could come out and say that such-and-such is the way to solve this problem. But we believe this is a way not to get the problem settled. The Arab Governments might not like our solution. The Israelis might not like it.

The President conceded that the US has not done as much as it might have until recently but we are going to make a more active effort. He asked Mr. Sisco to comment on the question of our being more specific.

[Page 70]

Mr. Sisco said we had tried to be “rather specific” in our recent papers4 although we have not formulated a blueprint of our own. We believe that a peace settlement requires the full assent and cooperation of both parties. We have tried to indicate a framework within which the parties might find common ground. Our working paper contains a “deliberate vagueness” because we are still working toward that common ground and not trying to dictate it.

Dr. Fawzi reiterated that the UAR hoped we would tell them our position—not necessarily today but “assure us that your position does not allow for the ‘acquisition of territory by force.’”

The President said that we have supported the UN Resolution which includes that language.

Mr. Sisco said that a good part of the current problem is that the resolution is differently interpreted. One reason it was unanimously passed was that it allowed for differing interpretations. The UAR believes it calls for withdrawal to pre-war boundaries. Israel points out that it mentions only “secure and recognized boundaries” which it argues must be negotiated between the parties.

The President said he did not believe that there will ever be a precise statement that would satisfy either side. He did feel, however, that with a new relationship between the Arab and American peoples and with a new US administration, the UAR should attach significance to the fact that we want a solution based on the principles spelled out in the UN Resolution.

Having all this in mind, the President said that we still have the very delicate problem of the negotiations and how to bring about a solution in accordance with those principles. This will require trust between the parties. “We do not ask you to buy a pig in a poke.”

Dr. Fawzi said again that he understood the US might not wish to reveal its precise position today or tomorrow, but he hoped that it would not be delayed for long. Even more important, when it is revealed he hoped it would be fair.

The President said quickly he could assure Dr. Fawzi of one thing—that our position would be fair. The President realized that unless the solution were fair to the people in the area it would not survive. All sides must accept it.

Dr. Fawzi said that the UAR only wants the US to “use its friendly and firm persuasion with all of us.” The UAR could not ask us to support a peace that would not be good for Israel any more than it could ask us to support a peace that would not be good for the Arabs. Forcing Israel on the Arab world would not assure peace, but if the US tells the [Page 71] UAR that it will pursue further effort toward a fair peace, the UAR will take this seriously.

The President said that he would be presumptuous to get into the details of the settlement himself. But he knew one thing—that no settlement in history has lasted unless it is based not on sentiment but on the vital interests of the parties involved and unless it has contained an element of fairness to both sides. Perhaps sometimes a party outside the conflict can be more objective than those involved about what is “fair.” A lasting peace must have that self-enforcing quality that grows only from the conviction that it was the fairest settlement possible under the circumstances.

The President said that we are not tied to any preconceived notions about the nature of the settlement. We have differences upon specific aspects of it within our own house. The position which the President wants the US to take is not to be on either side. We are, he said, only on the side of peaceful settlement with justice.

Dr. Fawzi said, “That’s fair enough for us.” The President in the preceding exchange had mentioned the refugee problem, and Dr. Fawzi said he especially appreciated the President’s concern for the refugees.

The President said he has a strong feeling about their problem. This is not only a matter of great humanitarian concern, but he realized there could not be a lasting peace unless an effective move was made to solve that problem. If it is left unresolved it will be a poison in the atmosphere that undermines the peace. But he emphasized that even without that factor, we have a strong humanitarian concern for helping these people.

Dr. Fawzi hoped that we would get over this hump soon and not waste any more time.

The President noted that Dr. Fawzi had earlier mentioned our efforts in 1956 but had been kind enough not to mention the Aswan Dam.5

Dr. Fawzi, with a twinkle in his eye, said, “Well, it’s a nice day.”

The President felt that the Dam is a great human achievement and he personally wished that we had played a part in it.

The President went on to say that the important job now is to build a peace for a later day. There are many problems to be solved. He had told King Hussein that this is one area where the American people [Page 72] would, he felt, look with favor on being of assistance. There are lots of things there to be done.

Dr. Fawzi said he had seen Mr. McNamara at the World Bank.6 He had not asked Mr. McNamara for anything, but Mr. McNamara himself had laid out the great potential for progress in the UAR. Dr. Fawzi said there are “fantastic possibilities”—oil in the Western Desert is almost as great as that in Libya and there are possibilities for other development.

The President said that he shares Mr. McNamara’s dream for the future. One of his greatest frustrations about the present situation is that it does not allow us to get on with that future. If we are to do so, we shall all have to take major steps. We shall all have to stick our necks out but it will be worth it.

The President then walked Dr. Fawzi out to his car at the foot of the path behind the Oval Office.

Harold H. Saunders7
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 635, Country Files, Middle East, UAR, Vol. II. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Saunders drafted the memorandum on April 15.
  2. The UAR, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, and the Yemen Arab Republic all severed diplomatic relations with the United States during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.
  3. Reference is to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s call for British, French, and Israeli forces to withdraw from the Suez Canal Zone after their invasion in October 1956, as well as the success of his administration in compelling them to do so. The invasion was in response to the UAR’s nationalization of the Canal on July 26, 1956.
  4. See, for example, the working paper, Document 17.
  5. In response to Nasser’s overtures to the Soviet Union to provide arms to Egypt and fund the Aswan High Dam project, the Eisenhower administration withdrew its loan offer for the project in mid-July 1956, provoking Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal the following week.
  6. Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, January 1961-February 1968; President of the World Bank, April 1968-June 1981.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears Saunders’s typed signature.