234. Telegram From the Department of State to the Interests Section in Egypt1

92945. For Bergus. Ref: Cairo 1245.2

1. Sadat’s idea of your personally delivering message from him to President and Secretary3 poses something of a dilemma. On one hand, [Page 860] we do not want to appear to rebuff Sadat and want to make clear we always look forward to receiving any personal message he wishes to send. Our judgment, on which we would appreciate your comment, is that Sadat is playing for time and of course we should do what we can to help in this regard. He may have concluded that for the time being at least, he is too exposed to carry out promptly his undertaking to send Fawzi with his reply to the specific points conveyed to him by Sisco on behalf of the Israelis.

On other hand, we have asked ourselves what sort of a message is Sadat apt to send. On basis Riad’s May 20 approach,4 our estimate is that he will: (A) Reiterate his continuing interest in an interim Suez Canal agreement; (B) stress the three key points of the UAR position, namely, Egyptian troops across the Canal, a commitment of total Israeli withdrawal to the international border, and a limited ceasefire. Unless there is some flexibility on these points, more in the spirit of how Sadat expressed himself rather than Riad, their reiteration can only tend to lock Sadat in, and it unlikely that any response on our part would be helpful in moving on toward an interim Suez Canal agreement. Having you carry such a message and seeing the President would tend to polarize positions rather than maintain the kind of constructive ambiguity which is important at this stage and which in our judgment continues to offer some hope for reconciliation based on picking up certain tentative exploratory thoughts expressed both in Cairo and in Tel Aviv.

2. Our thinking on how to proceed is that we should neither react directly to Riad démarche of May 20, which would only lead to fruitless and argumentative debates, nor convey it in precise terms to Israelis which would strengthen their inclination to stand pat for now. Rather, we believe time has come for us to develop Quote common denominator Unquote proposal that seeks to bridge gap between Egyptian and Israeli positions on key issues and seek to move Israelis and Egyptians toward middle ground. To begin this process, we will need further early consultations with Israelis and meanwhile need to find ways to keep dialogue going with Egyptians which will not lock them further into positions on which there must clearly be some give if there is to be an interim Canal agreement. If our estimate is correct that Sadat is seeking to delay sending Fawzi to Washington at this time, we should [Page 861] also find way to help him in this regard, which could take pressure off his idea of sending you back with message.

3. In light foregoing, you should convey following to Haikal:

A. We can understand that, in view developments since Sisco-Sadat meeting May 9,5 Sadat may feel time not propitious to send Fawzi here, and President Sadat need feel no concern that we will misinterpret delay.

B. President and Secretary look forward to receiving messages from Sadat at any time in interest of furthering objectives we both seek. They would prefer you not absent yourself from Cairo at this delicate time in efforts work out interim Canal agreement, when your presence on the spot is of great value to us. Furthermore, such trip by you would inevitably be publicized and could lead to unhelpful speculation. We think it better for now to keep discussions in quiet diplomatic channels and therefore want to defer for now decision on your return.

C. Sadat can be assured, however, that any message he may send will get immediate attention of Secretary and President, and that you can use special channels to assure it is fully protected.

D. It would be helpful to have further, concrete Egyptian comments on possible ways of taking into account in any interim settlement following three ideas which Sisco conveyed May 9 and which Riad’s comments May 20 did not address. In raising these questions, it important that you prepare ground carefully so that UAR responses not take on rigidity of FonMin Riad’s presentation. We want door to remain open on these points and would prefer no concrete response from UAR rather than repetition of FonMin Riad’s unhelpful and dogmatic approach.

(1) Need to make clear that Canal will not only be cleared but also opened and operated for international navigation, including Israel’s once clearance is completed.

(2) Need to express ceasefire in way which avoids explicit deadlines and thus makes possible greater degree of withdrawal.

(3) Need to relate interim agreement to final settlement in way which does not prejudge either side’s position on terms of final settlement while at same time assuring that interim arrangements are in fact transitional and temporary leading to full implementation of Security Council Resolution 242.

4. We recognize, of course, that Sadat message may be more substantive than we anticipate in para 1 above and could, for example, deal with such issues as his relations with Soviets or diplomatic relations [Page 862] with us. We do not want to close door on Sadat’s idea of sending message with you, but would want to have some advance idea of its nature before reaching final decision and would also hope in such circumstances its delivery could be handled in way (e.g., in connection your return on leave) which avoided dramatic publicity and risk of awakening undue expectations or speculation that could disrupt rather than help current negotiating process we are seeking to carry forward on interim Canal agreement.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1163, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, May 19–31, 1971. Secret; Priority; Nodis; Cedar Plus. Drafted by Sisco, Sterner, and Atherton; cleared by Kissinger; and approved by Rogers. Repeated to Tel Aviv.
  2. In telegram 1245 from Cairo, May 22, Bergus reported that in his 45-minute meeting with Heikal “quite a lot” had happened since he had met with him on the previous day, particularly that Sadat and Riad had had “some kind of session” in which Mahmoud Riad had “sworn fealty” to Sadat’s “partial settlement policy.” Bergus also believed that, based on Heikal’s remarks, the Soviet Union was “putting heavy pressure on Egyptians to get interim settlement out of exclusive American context.” At the end of their conversation, Heikal assured him that Sadat was “still very interested” in the interim settlement. (Ibid.)
  3. Heikal conveyed this idea to Bergus on May 23 at 8 p.m. (Telegram 1246 from Cairo, May 24; ibid.)
  4. Bergus met with Foreign Minister Riad for an hour on May 20. In his abbreviated report on their conversation, he wrote that the position paper the Foreign Minister tried to hand him—and his subsequent remarks—“practically slam the door on further discussion of interim agreement on the Suez Canal.” Riad said that the Egyptian Government insisted on three conditions to which Israel had to agree to continue a dialog on the issue: “A) firm linkage between interim settlement and final settlement; B) Israeli withdrawal east of the passes; C) six months’ ceasefire during which Jarring will draw up timetable.” (Telegram 1230 from Cairo, May 20; ibid.) A detailed account of their meeting is in telegram 1231 from Cairo, May 20. (Ibid.)
  5. See Document 231.