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

1644. For Secretary and Sisco from Sterner. Ref: Cairo 1639.2

1. Atmosphere of our meeting with Sadat last night was genial and personally warm, but below surface we could detect mood of exasperation and puzzlement as to purpose of our mission. With effort, Sadat converted this into humorous treatment, but tension and increasing suspicion that we are merely leading him on were clearly there.

2. We nevertheless emerged with strong impression of a man who still wants, and is still in a position to do business on an interim agreement. When we paid him compliment on his reply to Jarring initiative, but then went on to say that in terms of what was possible we thought we had to concentrate on interim agreement, he nodded vigorously. At no point during conversation did Sadat even mention SC Resolution 242 or Jarring Mission or otherwise reflect any hardening on linkage of interim agreement to question of borders in final settlement. Absence of any warning signals on this leads us to think he fundamentally views purpose of interim agreement in same manner we do—as device that defers judgments on shape of final settlement but wins time for political processes to work on both sides. I think Sadat could buy something along the lines of formulation we have in mind on linkage of interim agreement to on-going efforts achieve overall peace settlement.

3. Although somewhat impatient with the need to cover all this ground again, when we explained value of his renewed assurances, he carefully and unequivocally affirmed his previous position on each of points we were instructed to raise. On important point about with [Page 883] drawal of Soviet operational military personnel he was again very explicit: they would be asked to leave upon conclusion of an interim agreement. He made it clear he would not be doing this as favor to U.S. but because he himself would like to see them depart as soon as probability of renewed fighting appreciably decreased.

4. Sadat sounded like a man who is in control of his country and who had few immediate concerns about his ability to stay there in foreseeable future. At one point, as he was talking about May 13 arrests,3 he said “Nasser could afford to be compassionate; I can’t; I’m going to be cruel and severe.”

5. We did not get much help when we raised problem of lines of communication with UARG. He dismissed this with wave of hand saying once areas of agreement are achieved with him orally Foreign Ministry could be brought in at appropriate moment. It sounded as if he were talking about briefing some third country. But he was definite in stating his wish that we continue to use Heykal as channel to him. This obviously leaves us with problem of continuing friction with Foreign Ministry. We don’t see much to do about it except continue to do business as President desires while conducting handholding operation with Ministry. Perhaps Cabinet reshuffle expected this month will give us line-up in Ministry that will make this whole arrangement easier.

6. One thing that struck us about Sadat’s comments was his barely disguised criticism of Soviets for not giving him adequate arms to face Israel. His beef seemed to be about quality rather than quantity. Implication was that he thought Soviets had better stuff to give but were holding out on him, whereas U.S. was giving Israel its first-line equipment.

7. I believe we impressed Sadat when we said Washington saw first step of next phase of intensive discussions as beginning in Israel, and that we were readying Sisco for this purpose. If we can show him some palpable progress, even if it is modest, I think we can keep him on this course through the summer and maintain his negotiating flexibility. We have, however, just about exhausted handholding potential in any further missions to Cairo or talks with him unless we can show him some real substance.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 657, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. III. Secret; Priority; Nodis; Cedar Plus.
  2. Telegram 1639 from Cairo, July 6, reported the substance of Sterner and Bergus’s 90-minute conversation with Sadat that evening. They explained that they wanted to meet with him to share the U.S. assessment of the situation in the Middle East after having reviewed the results of exchanges with both Egypt and Israel on an interim settlement. They told him that they believed he took a “courageous and statesmanlike step” with his positive reply to the Jarring initiative in February and that the Israeli reply was “unsatisfactory.” That said, they thought that the “best avenue for progress in immediate future was in negotiations on an interim settlement” and that “the next order of business should be to explore, in specific terms, how the differences on an interim settlement could be narrowed.” They then informed him that “Washington was actively considering how best to carry out early, intensive discussions” with Israel, but before they did so, Rogers wanted to “touch base” with Sadat to “make sure that premises on which we were proceeding were mutually understood.” Sterner had been sent, they said, so that he could “report fully to the Secretary on his return.” (Ibid.)
  3. Sadat announced on May 15 that more than 100 people, including Minister of War Mohamed Fawzi and Minister of Interior Sharay Jumaa, had been arrested for plotting a coup against the government. (New York Times, May 16, 1971, p. 1)