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

38131. For Bergus.

1. We request you see Heikal promptly before Sadat makes his speech on Sunday.2 We feel that Sadat, as a result of his trip to Moscow,3 has made up his mind in concert with USSR to go ahead along the lines indicated and nothing short of our being able to deliver a categoric Israeli yes answer to the latest Jarring initiative would result in any change in his position for the time being. We feel, however, that a brief interim hand-holding sort of message might help in a very marginal sort of way.

2. As we analyze the Sadat letter,4 we believe it is a manifestation of his present ambivalence; regardless of his close ties to the Soviets, he does not feel that the Soviets can produce Israeli withdrawal. On the other hand, we have indicated to him that we are going to continue our efforts with both sides to try to achieve progress, but he knows we have not been able to produce Israel thus far and cannot be expected to produce results on the basis of Sadat’s self-created deadlines. His ambiva[Page 781]lence is also reflected in tough talk on the one hand and yet an almost plaintive plea to the U.S. indicating an unwillingness to close any doors with us.

3. Though we obviously do not agree, we know reasoning behind UAR and USSR decision for a non-extension of the ceasefire. Foreign Minister Riad has said time and time again that the only thing that will work with the U.S. is pressure applied in circumstances where the tensions are high and where U.S. fears renewal of hostilities. Sadat knows that general view of the world, and in particular ours, has been that he has no desire to resume the shooting. He undoubtedly realizes that threat to renew fighting over past months has not been a very credible one, and posture of non-extension is an attempt to recreate that as more credible option and to concert with USSR on increased pressure on U.S. in climate of a threat to open hostilities.

4. All of the above is by way of background, but we want you to have the benefit of our thinking in this regard. We feel that you should see Heikal immediately and make the following points orally (do not leave any paper), which we hope will as a minimum underscore to Sadat our continuing desire to play a constructive role which he acknowledges as a fact.

A. You should tell Heikal that President Sadat’s message is being given the most careful study and consideration. We appreciate fully the sense of urgency which President Sadat feels since we recognize that the positive move made by the UAR recently has provided a new opportunity for progress. We regret, however, that President Sadat will not find it possible to extend the ceasefire, for we continue to feel that the efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement can best go forward without deadlines. In any event, we hope he would make his intention clear to heed SYG’s appeal to Quote withhold fire, to exercise military restraint, and to maintain the quiet which has prevailed in the area since August 1970 Unquote.5 All the broad support which the recent UAR move has generated in the world would be dispelled if UAR resumes shooting.

B. We intend to continue our efforts with both sides to help achieve a peace agreement because this is in our mutual interest.

C. You should point out that we are fully aware of the importance which the UAR attaches to the question of guarantees and for this reason we agreed to start talks in the Four and to continue to develop our ideas in this regard.

D. Finally, we note that President Sadat has said that the door is open with respect to Suez Canal proposal. You should first recall to [Page 782] Heikal that on February 13 we conveyed an Israeli message to the UAR.6 We had hoped and expected a reply from the UAR and when no such further indications had come we had thought UAR had lost interest. You should tell Heikal that we welcome indication that this avenue is still open and as a result we are examining what may be possible in this regard and would also welcome UAR views.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 656, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. I. Secret; Flash; Nodis; Cedar Plus. Repeated Priority to Tel Aviv and to USUN.
  2. In his March 7 speech, which was broadcast over UAR radio and television, Sadat declared that he would not extend the cease-fire along the Suez Canal, which would expire that evening. He said that the United Arab Republic would nonetheless continue to participate in ongoing diplomatic efforts to achieve a settlement with Israel. (New York Times, March 8, 1971, p. 1)
  3. According to telegram 477 from Cairo, March 6, Sadat was in Moscow from March 1 to 2, where he had “intensive talks with Soviet leaders.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1161, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks Edited and Indexed, March 5–11, 1971)
  4. Sadat’s letter, written in response to Bergus’s presentation to Heikal on March 4 (as reported in telegram 454 from Cairo, March 4; ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 129, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East—Nodis/Cedar/Plus), was handed to the Ambassador in Cairo shortly before midnight on March 5. As instructed by Sisco in telegram 36085 to Cairo, March 3, Bergus had relayed the message that the United States intended to continue its efforts “to bring about a peaceful settlement” in the Middle East but that the United Arab Republic should understand that it would “take time for Israeli leadership and the Israeli people to fully fathom and comprehend the significance of the positive move” that it had made. (Ibid., Box 1161, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks Edited and Indexed, March 1–4, 1971) In his March 5 letter, Sadat wrote that it was shocking that the United States, “as it appeared to us from this message, is waiting for the Israeli statesmen and the Israeli people to understand our constructive stand, but they do not adequately assess, we feel, the explosive psychological burden which our people bear as a result of their territory’s continuing under the yoke of occupation.” (Telegram 478 from Cairo, March 6; ibid., Box 656, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. I)
  5. The quote is from the Secretary General’s official report on Jarring’s activities. See footnote 5, Document 213.
  6. The message, which was conveyed to Sisco by Rabin during a meeting at the State Department on February 12, stated: “We are willing to discuss with Egypt arrangements for the opening of the Canal, even as a subject to be treated separately from other issues. The unknown elements in Sadat’s proposal are more than those specified, and we welcome the readiness of the US as expressed by Mr. Sisco in the conversation of February 8 that the US is ready to use its good offices for a detailed clarification of the subject. We have taken that President Sadat, too, wishes to engage in a clarification process. USG is requested to transmit this, our position to President Sadat.” (Israel State Archive, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 5252/7)
  7. Bergus met with Heikal on the morning of March 7 and delivered orally points A–D. When the Ambassador recalled a previous remark by Mahmoud Riad that the end of the cease-fire “did not necessarily mean that GUAR would stop shooting,” Heikal responded that, while it “would not start shooting right away,” he “doubted this position could be held for very long.” Heikal also said that, if Nixon could give Sadat a “firm pledge that USG would support Jarring’s request that Israel withdraw from Gaza and Sinai,” Nixon could prevent Sadat from being “increasingly isolated and overcome by Egyptian hawks.” (Telegram 490 from Cairo, March 7; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1161, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East Edited and Indexed, March 5–11, 1971) In a follow-up telegram sent that afternoon, Bergus reported Sadat’s reaction, as presented by Heikal, to the Ambassador’s comments that morning: Sadat wanted the United States to know that “he still considers his initiative on the Suez Canal to be valid,” that it would “offer the necessary formula for the United Arab Republic, the United States, “and others’ to move out of the present impasse,” and that it would also be “a test of all three parties’ intentions.” (Telegram 491 from Cairo, March 7; ibid.)