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

12682. Subj: Mid East.

1. On Jan 20 Egyptian Interests Section Chief Dr. Ghorbal accompanied by Counselor Sharara2 called on Assy Secy Sisco. Ghorbal noted he had just returned from Cairo where he had seen all appropriate officials up to and including President Sadat and noted that what he had to say was on instruction. Sisco offered to bring him up to date since their last conversation and noted that Jarring had announced Jan 20 his in [Page 973] tention to go to Africa for consultations and will then see if talks under his auspices can be restarted. Sisco said we continue to support Jarring Mission and would welcome any progress Jarring can make. With reference to the US role in any talks on an interim agreement Sisco said we were unable to tell from Sadat’s Jan 13 speech3 if the door to an interim agreement was closed but have drawn no conclusions from the speech. He noted, however, that we might soon be raising prospect of interim talks with Egypt.

2. Sisco recalled that when US had proposed interim talks in October 1971 Egyptian response was positive whereas Israelis were neither positive nor negative. While considerable time has since elapsed we have intensively consulted with Israelis in the course of the last two weeks and hope soon to have their assent to entering talks in proximity. At that point the US will notify Egypt of this diplomatic opportunity and Egypt will face a decision. Sisco said we shared Egypt’s disappointment in lack of progress to date.

3. Sisco noted US did not conceive of these talks in lieu of the Jarring talks but only as complementary to them and as a first step toward full implementation of SC Res 242. We continue to feel that an interim agreement is feasible, that the Israeli and Egyptian positions on an interim agreement are reconcilable and that our role has been and will continue to be a constructive one. We recognized Egypt’s disappointment and fact there had been some loss of confidence in US; Egypt would have to decide itself whether we can play useful role. Situation is admittedly currently more complicated than it was in Oct. But Arab-Israel negotiations are a “history of lost opportunities.”

4. Sisco called Ghorbal’s attention to recent public statements in Israel suggesting more forthcoming attitude toward interim talks. He emphasized DefMin Dayan’s call for need to “compromise” and noted PM Meir’s more flexible recent statements. Sisco said Israel continues to be interested in an interim agreement. He said while the Arab world assumption has been that an election year circumscribes US diplomatic efforts this in fact not the case. President Nixon had declared this an era of negotiations and the achievement of a peace settlement, even limited partial one, in the Middle East would be popular domestically. Thus no incorrect analyses of US position should be made.

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5. Ghorbal thanked Sisco for completing the picture. He asked Sisco if he could be told anything specific on the details of recent US discussions with Israel on an interim agreement. Sisco said that the details are not yet buttoned down and that he would defer any discussion of them until such time as he could be more precise. He said that both Egypt and Israel have been anxious to know where US stands but that if the US role is to be constructive the US cannot take a stand on the issues before the parties enter into negotiations. Sisco assured Ghorbal that US will be active when the time comes. Sisco emphasized neither side can attain its desired preconditions before negotiations begin and said he wished Cairo to reflect on this fact. We found it difficult to see an alternative to talks on an interim agreement at this time.

6. Ghorbal said that he was distressed to hear Sisco use phrase “no prior conditions” in context negotiations as this was an Israeli thesis. Egypt felt it had to know what end of the road was, and as far as Cairo was concerned this was overall peace settlement in accordance with SC Res 242. Ghorbal said it was important for Sisco to understand present mood in Cairo. Cairo feels 1971 was a wasted year. The US itself had made 1971 a year of decision and Secretary Rogers’ trip to Cairo last June [May] was an earnest of US endeavor to achieve peace in the Middle East. But warmth engendered by the Secretary’s trip has not totally evaporated. Egypt had said yes to everything US asked of it. What more does Washington want, Egyptians are asking? Sadat had shown great patience and only latterly had explained his and Egypt’s grievances against the US in public fora. However Cairo feels that the opportunities lost in 1971 were lost mostly through fault of US.

7. Ghorbal said that US praise for various Egyptian positions taken in course of last year made only more bitter the fact that US was renewing supply of Phantoms and Skyhawks to Israel and now had signed arms licensing agreement with Israel. He said that a significant portion of Egyptian society regarded these as “bellicose actions” against Egypt and emphasized this feeling was held from rank and file to policy levels. He called the Nov Arms Technology Agreement4 reminiscent of US court decision two years ago permitting US citizens to fight in foreign armies without losing their US citizenship5 and said this [Page 975] allowed US citizen Jews to fight side-by-side with the Israelis against Egypt. Why, Ghorbal asked, does US allow Israel to drag the US into new commitments of far-reaching consequence? Not only is the US building Israel’s own arsenal, he said, but the recent agreement will allow Israel to export these arms and encourage situations such as those which earlier occurred in the Sudan and in Biafra.

8. Ghorbal said the USG had told Egypt that it had only limited leverage with Israel but now Egypt wonders why US has surrendered even this limited leverage. He noted US interests in the Middle East were immense and cautioned that US policy decisions on the Mideast should be based upon full appreciation of the situation as it exists which was why he was going to such length on this occasion.

9. Continuing Ghorbal said Cairo feels she has been fed nothing but generalities and semantics in the last year and while she has received the praise of the US, Israel got arms and assistance. Cairo no longer is prepared to believe that problem is one of finding right formulae for peace settlement but rather fundamental change not only in Israeli policy, but even more in US policy. While US words mollify Egypt, US in practice is giving Israel guns and butter. Record in last four years shows that when supplied with more armaments Israel does not become readier to negotiate. Thus US argument that it is giving weapons to Israel in order to induce Israel to enter negotiations does not impress Cairo.

10. Ghorbal adverted to announcement in Jan 20 press that Israel intended to establish an Israeli city in the Gaza Strip and said this was but one further example of lack of Israeli intent to withdraw. When President Nixon came to power Cairo’s assessment had been that the US wanted better relations with Egypt. At that time he noted Egyptian spokesmen were instructed to emphasize that the Phantoms then being delivered to Israel had been contracted for during the Johnson administration. This is no longer the case. US aid level to Israel in 1971 was $600 million—a new high—and that $80 million was the comparable figure for the Johnson administration.

11. Ghorbal emphasized that picture he had drawn was by instruction brought to Asst Secy Sisco’s attention and said that what must now be sought is peace in the Middle East based on security for all. When the US approached Egypt, Egypt would bear this in mind. However the US should bear in mind that in any approach to Egypt on an interim agreement generalities will not suffice nor will ambiguous phrase [Page 976] ology. Either of these will make Cairo think the time is once again being frittered away in preservation of a ceasefire which in Cairo’s view is of limited utility. Cairo’s feeling is that the ceasefire is all the United States cares about.

12. Sisco replied that US feels ceasefire is in the interests of both Israel and Egypt and that were the ceasefire presently in existence our sole desideratum we would not now be as active diplomatically as we are. He told Dr. Ghorbal that he appreciated and understood his exposition of Cairo’s views and emphasized US remains available and willing to play a constructive role should both parties so desire. He said that US would not press Egypt to enter into interim negotiations but when and if time came simply inform Egypt straightforwardly, and frankly that the opportunity existed. Cairo would have to make up its own mind.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 658, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. V. Secret; Nodis; Cedar Plus. Drafted by Seton Shanley (NEA/EGY), cleared in NEA/EGY, and approved by Sisco. Repeated to Tel Aviv, Amman, Beirut, London, Paris, Moscow, and USUN. All brackets are in the original except “[May]”, added for clarity.
  2. Yousef Sharara.
  3. In the speech, Sadat criticized the United States for, according to reports, its decision to sell Phantoms to Israel as well as for enabling Israeli territorial ambitions in the Middle East. Furthermore, he warned the Nixon administration that its support for Israel jeopardized U.S. oil interests in the Arab world. (New York Times, January 14, 1972, p. 1) Marshall Wiley reported from Cairo, however: “Sadat speech on Jan 13 leaves door open for further USG effort to arrange proximity talks. Sadat emphasized his willingness to seek negotiated settlement and did not rule out possibility of future US role in spite of his attacks on US policy and on Secretary.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 658, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. V)
  4. The memorandum of understanding by which the United States agreed to provide technical and manufacturing assistance to Israel’s arms industry. It established “streamlined procedures” for American consideration of Israeli arms requests without specifying which weapons the program would include. Its signing in November was not announced at the time. (New York Times, January 14, 1972, p. 1)
  5. Reference is probably to the Supreme Court decision, reached on May 29, 1967, that prevented Congress from passing laws that stripped U.S. citizens of their nationality without their consent. The decision was based on the specific case of a U.S. national who had voted in an Israeli election and had had his citizenship revoked in 1960, but it dealt broadly with Congress’s efforts to regulate the participation of U.S. nationals in the foreign affairs of other countries. In the case of Israel, the issue once again emerged in October 1969 when the U.S. Embassy in Israel confirmed, in response to questions, that the service of U.S. citizens in the Israeli armed forces would not lead to the loss of their nationality. (New York Times, October 21, 1969, p. 15)