227. Editorial Note

On May 6, 1971, Secretary of State William Rogers and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco met with Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad at Sadat’s home in Cairo. It was the first meeting between a U.S. Secretary of State and an Egyptian President since Secretary of State John Foster Dulles visited President Gamal Abdel Nasser in May 1953, and the highest level of contact between Egyptian and U.S. officials since Egypt broke diplomatic relations with the United States during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Rogers sent President Nixon a brief report of his meeting with Sadat in a May 7 telegram from Tel Aviv:

“For President from Secretary.

“1. Quote Tell President Nixon that I welcome you, Mr. Rogers, with open mind and open heart Unquote, President Sadat said. Behind these words, which opened my two and one half hour talk with him, at which only FonMin Riad and Sisco joined, is a decision taken by Sadat with some risk to seek a peace agreement by relying heavily on the US and an intention to try to work out an interim Suez Canal settlement. [Page 828] He views a Suez settlement as a Quote test of peace Unquote. Sadat also said some things about the Soviet presence which I will report to you personally.

“2. Throughout the visit, at all levels, there was warm cordiality evident. Quote We disagree on a number of things, Unquote said the Foreign Minister, Quote but we are not questioning your motives Unquote. This represents a significant change in the psychological atmosphere here. In ten different ways, as you can imagine, they said what is needed is Quote more squeeze Unquote on the Israelis who in their judgement have misled the U.S.; they contend that Israelis have demonstrated anew in recent weeks their greater interest in territory than peace.

“3. Sadat is intelligent, forceful, sensitive, an emotional nationalist, deeply suspicious of the Israelis, and a thoroughly political man. He is obviously attracted to the idea of being the peacemaker and was at pains to say that I should tell you that if he is given something to work with, he Quote has the authority to make the decisions; he is in control Unquote. In this connection, he gives my trip credit for forcing his hand to fire Ali Sabri well before I arrived. He is supremely confident he can control the other members of the Federation, including Qadafi, the young Libyan leader whom he describes as a true patriot, but inexperienced. He is adamant he cannot Quote give up one inch of territory Unquote.

“4. There were two concrete results: first, Sadat gave us enough to keep the negotiations alive on an interim settlement, and there is a considerable amount of bargaining ahead in the coming weeks and no immediate results should be expected. He and Fawzi are both more favorable to a Suez interim settlement than Foreign Minister Riad. Second, on the bilateral side they were anxious to reflect improvement in relations and to hold out hope rather than despair. This is the reason we announced, with their approval, that we were increasing our respective staffs by one in Washington and Cairo, that we would take another look at debt rescheduling, and continue our consultations.

“5. On the physical side, Cairo shows the wear and tear of years of neglect. People are very friendly with Americans, and the Soviets are most inconspicuous. The war seems far away, people are busy doing their thing, the streets are full of Egyptian-assembled Fiat cabs, and the only reminder of hostility are a few non-descript soldiers carrying a shoulder re [sic] walking guard in a relaxed manner around the famous Liberation Bridge in the middle of the city.” (Telegram 2660/Secto 127 from Tel Aviv, May 7; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 657, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus Vol. II)

[Page 829]

When Rogers returned to Washington after stops in Israel and Italy, he had two conversations at the White House with President Nixon where he provided further details of his meeting with Sadat. Both conversations were recorded on the White House tapes. The first conversation took place in the Oval Office on May 10 from 3:30 to 4:53 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) The editors transcribed the portions of the conversations printed here specifically for this volume.

Rogers: “[Sadat] started out by saying, ‘I know what’s uppermost in your mind, and I want to talk about it at once.That’s the Soviet Union.’ He said, ‘I don’t like the fact that we have to depend on the Soviet Union as much as we do.I am a nationalist.I want to remain a nationalist. I am an Arab. I have deep feelings.I have all the weaknesses that we Arabs have.I love my country; I love the land; it is ours.I don’t want to have to depend on anyone else.And, the only reason I have is because we were humiliated and I had no place to turn—we had no place to turn.’ But he said that ‘I hope that something can result from the initiatives you’ve been taking.The position that I took with Jarring is because I would like to become much closer with the West.’ He said, ‘There’s no reason why the Arabs should be closer aligned to the Soviet Union.’ He said, ‘My people like the West better.We appreciate your values and our association with the West—business opportunities.’ He said, ‘I like American businessmen.’ He said, ‘My decision to respond as I did to Jarring, my decision to say that we would live with Israel in peace; that we would sign a peace agreement; that we would not interfere with internal affairs etc., was because I thought that would break the logjam; I thought that’s what the West wanted. I thought that’s what the United Nations wanted.Now we find that Israel won’t respond.’ He said, ‘I have the feeling that you are the only nation who can do anything about it.Everybody else wants to do it, but doesn’t have the ability.’ He said, ‘I realize too that you can’t change overnight.’ He said, ‘You’ve sort of built a monument in your relationship with Israel that can’t be affected quickly, but can be changed over a period of time. And if you can do that, I’m prepared to change our relationship with you.’ He said, ‘If we can work out some interim settlements on the Suez, we’ll renew diplomatic relations with you. Secondly, I think that others will too.’

“Well, we had a long talk and went into a few details, which he spelled out what he would like.He would like to open the Suez; he would like a withdrawal by Israel of some considerable distance—he didn’t mention the distance, but he previously talked to some of us—some of his people had—and he’s talking, by considerable distance, a number of kilometers.But I think he’s willing to bargain on that.He wants Egyptian troops to cross the Canal . . . it’s his land and he wants [Page 830] to move his troops. And I argued with him that there’s no particular reason why they had to have any troops.It would be unacceptable to Israel to permit large numbers of troops on an interim basis because it would look as if he was trying to take military advantage of the situation on an interim basis.”

Nixon: “How’d he react to that?”

Rogers: “Well, it was negative at first instance.”

Nixon: “But he’s open to it?”

Rogers: “Happened upon the observer force—the peacekeeping force—whatever.He was quite flexible about that. He said, ‘Any kind is satisfactory. I don’t care.’ I said, ‘The United States couldn’t even fathom the thought of having Russian presence across the Canal.’ And he said, ‘We wouldn’t want it either.’ He said, ‘That’s not a big part; we wouldn’t expect that.’”

Nixon: “I don’t think they like them.”

Rogers: “He said, ‘I’ll tell you—you may not believe this but this is the truth: I have to pay for everything. All—I pay for.I can’t afford it. It’s a drain on me.We should be spending money for other—I pay for it in hard currency.’ He said, ‘I pay for the salaries and expenses of the Russians who are here—all of them.’ He said, ‘That’s very costly.’ He said, ‘I don’t like that; I need the money for other things.’”

Nixon: “They’re so damn poor.”

Rogers: “In the city it’s really poor; it’s a sad looking city.”

Nixon: “It could be a very nice city; so goddamn poor.”

Rogers: “He said he wanted to have diplomatic relations with us; ‘we’d like to have diplomatic relations with you. We can’t do it now.’ I said, ‘Why don’t we take some steps to indicate that our relations are improving.’ He said, ‘Fine.’ Interestingly, he said, ‘I want you know that I am the President; nobody else;’ he said ‘I rule this country.’ He said, ‘There’s some doubt about this. As long as I’m President, I can make decisions.’ But you come away with the impression that he has made a commitment to peace. At least for the short run.Which is going to be difficult for him to back away from.In other words, he’s spent a good deal of political capital on paving his step.And if something doesn’t happen, then he’s going to be in a political dilemma because he’s not strong enough to start trouble with Israel. He couldn’t carry out his threat. Although, I must say, he didn’t make a threat. He never suggested anything in terms of time. He never said this has to be done or else.He never said anything of that kind. And you have a feeling that he knows his limitations in terms of military strength—he’s just not prepared to renew hostilities. On the other hand, he realizes the value of some success.And I gave him the talk about what a great [Page 831] statesman he’d be if Suez was open.Pointing out that he would get the credit throughout the world on it.

“So I think he would like to get a settlement on the Suez.He wants to be sure that it’s phrased, and described, and explained in such a way that it doesn’t seem as if he’s lost, he’s made a concession, that he’s given up something.He wants to make it clear that he still expects a complete withdrawal.And I think that that can be done. I don’t think that will be a difficult problem, really.

“The impression that you get from Sadat, he is genuine, at least for the moment, in wanting to improve his relations with the United States. And he is willing to go much farther than any other Arab leader has ever gone in stating what he’ll do with Israel.

“He said, “If the United States wants to do it itself, that’s fine with me.’He said, “If you wanted to move troops in, that’s all right with me.I have no interest in violating the security interests in anything you want to do, in anything the United Nations wants to do, or anyone else wants to do. It’s all right with me. All I want is my land back. I don’t want anything else; I don’t want to bother Israel. I’ve made my decision.I’ll live with them in peace.I’ll sign an agreement. I’ll do all the things they’ve always said they’ve wanted.I just want my land back.’” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation No. 496–13)

Rogers returned to the White House on May 19, where he met with the President in the Oval Office from 9:05 to 10:14 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Although most of their conversation focused on the pending announcement of the recent ABM agreement and U.S.-Soviet relations, the two began with a discussion of the Middle East, and in particular Rogers’s May 6 meeting with Sadat:

Rogers: “What we have done up to this point, is to pursue a policy of trying to get the Arabs to have some trust in us. They finally did. They finally accepted the initiative. The only way that could ever be settled is to have the United States play a part. Everything else was hopeless. The United Nations had no chance. Jarring had no chance [unclear].”

Nixon: “No one would.”

Rogers: “Now, we had no reason to suspect that it would work out as well as it has to date, although this is what we were trying to do. Now, Sadat is a very forceful man. He has a lot of strength. He is nationalistic as the devil. He probably is untrustworthy, so I don’t want you to think that I’m trusting him.”

Nixon: “Sure.”

Rogers: “But, he is [unclear]. He has decided to—I’m convinced—to change his position. He is determined to become closer to the West for economic and political reasons. He—he’s got a hell of a situation [Page 832] there. He’s spending his money on his arms. He knows his people can’t operate them; can’t fly the damn airplanes. He’s surrounded with Russians—he doesn’t like that very much. Now, what I wanted to say to you, and he told me this in private, and then he told Joe [Sisco] the same thing. And he didn’t say it unequivocally; he said it as categorically as you possibly can. And I haven’t briefed—I haven’t told anybody at the State Department, or anywhere else—”

Nixon: “That’s right.”

Rogers: “—because it would be a disaster if we did—”

Nixon: “Got out.”

Rogers: “He said, ‘I have to have this current agreement. It’s important for me to have the new agreement. You’re the only one who can help us get it—you, the United States. I don’t like the presence of the Russians. I am a nationalist, but I had no way of defending our country. We had no way of defending our country, except to get Russian help. You wouldn’t give it to us; nobody else would. It’s costing me a lot of money. I’m paying the salaries of the Russians. I’m paying cash for the equipment I get.’ And, he said, ‘I want to give you this promise: that, if we can work out an interim settlement—and it’ll take me six months to open the Canal—I promise you, I give you my personal assurance, that all the Russian ground troops will be out of my country at the end of six months. I will keep the Russian pilots to train my pilots, because that’s the only way my pilots can learn to fly. But, insofar as the bulk of the Russians are concerned, the ten or twelve thousand, they will all be out of Egypt in six months if we can make a deal.’”

Nixon: “On, on, on Suez?”

Rogers: “On the interim Suez.”

Nixon: “‘Interim’ means Suez, in other words—?”

Rogers: “Suez [unclear].”

Nixon: “I see.”

Rogers: “The final peace agreement is—”

Nixon: “The key to [unclear]—”

Rogers: “—the whole ball of wax. The interim is—we’re talking about the Suez Canal. Now—and I said, ‘Well, Mr. President, you know, based on that, we may be able to work it out.’ I said, ‘The complicating factor is the Russian—the presence of the Russian troops. If you can assure us that they’ll be out in six months, that makes our problem a lot easier.’ I said, ‘You tell us that we shouldn’t be so pro-Israeli. We have to be supportive of Israel’s position, because you got the Russians here, in large numbers.’ I said, ‘For as much as we would like to be friendly as hell with you, we can’t as long as you have this number of Russians here. You might as well realize it.’ I said, ‘We have to supply Israel with arms as long as you’ve got a large number of Russian troops [Page 833] in your country. On the other hand, once that is not the case, once they’ve left—or, most of them have left—it’s a different ballgame.’ Now, when Joe [Sisco] went back, he [Sadat] told him again, he said, ‘I told the Secretary, as well as I’ll tell you: I give you my assurance; we’ll work it out.’”

Nixon: “Um-hmm.”

Rogers: “Now, if that should be done—and we have to take it obviously with, with a grain of salt—but, if he stays in power, and he could do that—he could deliver. It would be the greatest thing for, for you, Mr. President, and for the administration, as possible. I mean, to get the Russians out of Egypt—”

Nixon: “The important—the important thing is to get the deal.”

Rogers: “It’s to get the deal . . . And, and then, as we were leaving, I talked to him about it. He said who would communicate with me: ‘Don’t do it through channels; get in touch with Heikal,’ he said, ‘on any personal thing.’”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Rogers: “He is, he is relying considerably upon Heikal’s judgment, and Heikal’s really friendly with the West . . . Obviously, [laughs] Sadat, at one point said to me—he took me over to the side. We talked, just the two of us, for a while. He said, ‘When this is over with, I’m going to make you pay for a lot of this.’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘It’s just been done to some of our towns.’ He says they were done along the Suez, done by your planes. And he tells us, “You’re going to have to help me rebuild those.’ In other words, it’s very significant that—”

Nixon: “Yeah. Yeah.”

Rogers: “To be thinking down the road. He wasn’t—in other words—”

Nixon: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Rogers: “—he was thinking about tomorrow—”

Nixon: “It’s a very interesting point, Bill. He wants economic assistance from us—”

Rogers: “Of course, of course.”

Nixon: “And that’s, of course, our big stroke in the Middle East, right—?”

Rogers: “Of course . . . I think that it’s possible, if he stays in power, that we could make a breakthrough here that will have tremendous importance.”

[Omitted here is conversation unrelated to Rogers’s meeting with Sadat.]

[Page 834]

Rogers: “And I think that the thing that I want to close with on this note is that—”

Nixon: “It’s the right time—”

Rogers: “—we are going to have to squeeze—”

Nixon: “The Israelis.”

Rogers: “—the Israelis.”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Rogers: “Sadat said—he’s, he’s a pretty clever fellow—he said, ‘Mr. Secretary, I want you to know—’”

Nixon: “Um-hmm.”

Rogers: “‘—that I don’t expect you to do too much all of a sudden.’ He said, ‘I know you can’t hit ’em; you can’t make ’em do things.’ He said, ‘Just squeeze them!’ [laughter]” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 501–4)