238. Telegram From the Interests Section in Egypt to the Department of State1

1422. From Wiley to Sisco. Ref: State 101690.2

1. When Mohammed Riad gave me copy of paper left with him by Bergus on May 23 (text sent septel),3 he said he had some other points to raise with me concerning the paper. FonMin Riad wished to know whether we considered this document to be an official U.S. paper. Mohammed said that he had considered Bergus paper as personal and unofficial until Bergus had asked for reply to his paper through Heykal. In eyes of FonMin, by this action, Bergus converted his personal paper into official USG paper. Heykal then transmitted request to the Presidency and reply was prepared and given to Bergus. FonMin wanted USG to realize that the President’s speech on May 204 and the [Page 871] communication handed to Bergus on May 205 were the official statements of the UAR position. If paper left by Bergus with Riad on May 23 was not an official U.S. paper, there would have been no need for additional reply from President. If USG still considers Bergus paper as personal and unofficial, UAR would have to reconsider its reply.

2. Wiley asked why President’s latest paper could not have been in response to informal discussions between Bergus and UAR officials. Mohammed said that this was hypothetical question since Bergus had, in fact, left written document and asked for reply through Heykal. He did not know what the President would have done under such hypothetical circumstances. It quite possible that President would have seen no reason to add to his May 20 statements in absence of official USG paper.

3. Mohammed also said that FonMin had been disturbed over the publicity emanating from Paris after Bergus had met with Secretary. UAR Foreign Ministry had understood that USG wished to conduct quiet diplomacy and had been surprised to note news accounts stating that Bergus had carried message to Rogers.6 FonMin was particularly disturbed over characterization of message as less rigid than previous UAR position. Mohammed then said that Sulzberger article appearing in International Herald-Tribune June 27 was obviously based on inside information and he was certain that the UAR had not given such information to any journalist.

4. Mohammed also said that FonMin had been disturbed to find out that Rogers had discussed details of the paper with French FonMin. As a result, GUAR had given paper to French, British, and Soviet Ambassadors in Cairo. Until they learned that Secretary had discussed subject with French FonMin, GUAR had told no one about its position.

5. Comment: Above comments were no doubt based partly on pique felt by FonMin over extent to which Heykal has encroached on his official role. At same time, believe FonMin understands that using [USG?] must follow Sadat’s instructions on delicate matter of channels. FonMin no doubt feels he also has some legitimate grievances on publicity and that we should be aware of his feelings. We have also been told by several journalists that the FonMin had issued instructions to the press to play down the Bergus-Secretary meetings. In fact, the meetings have received only limited coverage in the UAR.

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6. In my meeting with Mohammed I did not receive impression that UAR has any desire to withdraw its latest paper or that concerns expressed above will jeopardize future efforts to negotiate partial settlement. FonMin apparently engaging in legalistic hairsplitting to preserve his own amour-propre and to defend dignity of office of UAR Presidency.

7. I recommend we tell Mohammed that we have no objection to their considering Bergus paper as official paper if they wish to do so.8 Important thing is not whether paper was official or unofficial but where we go from here in achieving partial withdrawal and opening of Canal.9

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1163, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, June 1–18, 1971. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Cedar Plus. All brackets are in the original except “[USG?]”, added for clarity.
  2. In telegram 101690 to Cairo, June 9, Sisco wrote to Wiley: “In my conversation with Ghorbal yesterday he continually referred to a Qte Bergus paper. Unqte I have just spoken with Don Bergus since I have no knowledge of any such paper. He tells me that this is probably a paper emanating from the informal exchange between himself and Mohammad Riad at Mohammad’s house May 23rd. In this conversation Don reports he made some suggestions about how certain points might be formulated in the UAR position. Don reports he had some typed ideas on yellow paper and left it with Mohammad Riad. He does not have a copy with him and therefore requests you to get a copy of what was left with Mohammad and transmit it immediately.” (Ibid., Box 657, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. II)
  3. The paper outlined the elements of an interim agreement for Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. The most important provisions included: 1) specific lines behind which Israel would withdraw its forces (east of the passes); 2) a zone to be occupied and administered by UN-authorized observers; 3) a six-month cease-fire; and 4) a mandate for Egypt to clear, open, and operate the Suez Canal “for ships of all nations except for those nations claiming or actually exercising belligerency against the UAR.” The entire paper is in telegram 1419 from Cairo, June 10. (Ibid.)
  4. On May 20, Sadat gave a speech before the Egyptian National Assembly ostensibly to announce that subversive elements within the government had been plotting a coup against him and to discuss what he wanted in the preparation of a new constitution for the country. In the address, he took the opportunity to raise the issue of his Suez Canal proposal, comment on Secretary Rogers’s recent visit to the Middle East, and criticize Israel, saying: “If they want peace, we are for peace. As for the statements emanating from Israel, they make no difference whatever. These are the statements which Sisco conveyed. This is because Israel continues to be enticed by victory and Nazism. The Israelis continue to attempt to live past dreams and fantasies. All this does not concern me. What concerns me is that the United States should define its stand because we are now facing historical stands that must be fully defined, it being a matter of war or peace.” (FBIS 26, May 20; ibid., Box 1163, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, May 19–31, 1971)
  5. See footnote 4, Document 234.
  6. The New York Times reported that Bergus and Rogers met in Paris on June 8, and that Bergus had conveyed a message from Sadat that “slightly advanced the prospects for an interim agreement.” (June 9, 1971, p. 14)
  7. The opinion piece argued that while there was hope that Egypt and Israel might achieve an interim settlement that summer, the agreement probably would not be followed by a formal peace. (New York Times, June 2, 1971,p. 41)
  8. On June 12, Kissinger discussed the issue of the Bergus paper with Nixon in the Oval Office and said: “Well, Mr. President, what they’ve done on the Suez is just screw it up in such an unbelievable way by—I had it all set so that after the deadlock you’d write a letter to Golda Meir, and she was going to make some additional concessions to you, which we could have taken to the Egyptians as proving you could get things out of the Israelis. What I didn’t count on was the vanity of these people at State. They went over to the Egyptians instead of presenting the Israeli plan, and forcing them to react to that. They never presented any plan and started dickering with the Egyptians on their own. Then our Chargé in Cairo submitted a written plan—[Nixon interrupted and asked, “Bergus?” and Kissinger affirmed that it was Bergus] submitted a written, unsigned plan, which the Egyptians have now adopted, which, in effect, instead of an interim settlement, ties the interim settlement to the Israelis withdrawing from all of Sinai, which they have already rejected in February. The Israelis don’t know yet that we’ve submitted this piece of paper. But as soon as that surfaces—which it will, because the Egyptians have already proposed it—we’ll be at the same deadlock as we were at the end of February. And then, they’re going to come in here and ask you to cut off economic and military aid to Israel.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 518–3)
  9. In a meeting with Rogers on June 29, Rabin formally responded to this incident with “surprise and astonishment that action on crucial issue had been taken by US official without approval his government and consultation with Israel.” Rogers responded that the United States was “not sure of Israel’s purpose in making issue of case which appears to have little substantive impact.” (Telegram 118212 to Tel Aviv, July 1; ibid., NSC Files, Box 1164, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, July 1–16, 1971)