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

3060. (Note: Since content of this message does not strictly speaking fall into any of the special distribution captions of which I am aware, I have not used one of them. I request, however, that distribution be as closely limited as if I had.)

1. Summary: During routine call on Undersecretary Ismail Fahmy at Ministry Foreign Affairs November 13, subject of next moves re peace in Middle East came up. In response to my statement that US view remains as previously expressed (State 205883),2 Fahmy made standard, resistant rejoinder but then allowed himself “personal” observation that “it is up to us (Egypt)” to devise something new to inject into situation. Although he would not specify what this might be, I do not rpt not on reflection think we can prudently assume he was talking about politico-diplomatic initiative, nor that he was speaking as “personally” as he professed. Even though he would not signal what Egypt’s hole card is, he wanted me to believe there is one. End summary.

2. As conversation developed, each of us acknowledged that following US elections, and in part stimulated by reports of Secretary Rogers’ statement on “Meet the Press” November 53 and Egyptian re[Page 1075]sponse thereto (Cairo 2988),4 publicists and diplomats in Cairo have been busily trying to get out of each of us what is new. I said that I have responded to such queries by restating importance USG attaches to inauguration of process which engages parties to Arab-Israeli conflict in discussion of settlement—as before. Fahmy allowed as how he too has been replying that he has heard nothing new, but he went on to say that both Cairo diplomats and reports from Khalil in Washington have it that the diplomatic pundits there believe something new is actually in the making. He supposed, what with President’s announced intention to re-organize this administration, it would be at least January before new policy approaches surface. I simply repeated what has been communicated to me and said I did not think it would be useful for me to join in speculation about anything else.

3. Fahmy responded with acknowledgment of latter point, disparaging comment about possible “trial balloons,” and standard statement of inability to understand why USG has moved from ’69 to its present position. After a pause, however, he said he did not expect change in US stance, so in his personal view “it is up to us.” Egypt’s next move, he continued, is going to “require a lot of work” on their part; he would not be drawn on what that would involve. I said at one point that just as I was not going to try to anticipate what if anything new USG might say, I would not keep asking GOE what they have that is new; I assumed that if they have anything new to say, they will let me know.

4. Fahmy said that this might not be necessary. He said I would be able to perceive the “new” situation when it develops, and “they will feel it in Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem too.” Fahmy continued that “we will have to pull ourselves together here” and get a lot of work done, and he wound up, as he had started, saying he knows that the next move is Egypt’s.

5. In response to my reiteration of the “negotiating process” point, Fahmy rather briskly said that this is not the heart of the matter. Egypt’s leadership, in the eyes not only of other Arab states but also of [Page 1076] the people of Egypt, could not at the present stage be seen to be seeking a deal. (Comment: This part of the conversation was the most elliptical, but I thought it prudent, all things considered, not to try to nail Fahmy down; his role in the policy-making on this issue is not clear anyway.)

6. Fahmy’s remarks about forthcoming UNGA debate I am reporting separately.5 In the foregoing context, he seemed to be saying that this was something GOE figures it has to get through tactically, with as large a friendly vote on a resolution as possible. He said he assumed the US would abstain rather than wind up in small, negative minority.

7. Comment: Fahmy is too accomplished a pro to embark solo on what has all the earmarks of the first round of a poker hand. (He said at one point he would not be making a record of this part of our talk; maybe not. I would be surprised if he believed I would not.) He was, I think, saying Egypt has a hole card, and wants US to believe it is potent, in the hopes this will bring US to produce a change in Israeli policy. The thought (also reflected in government inspired press) that US policy cannot be expected to change can plausibly (if illogically) be read as part of an effort to make us take seriously the threat of Egyptian action, thus (hopefully) impelling the change they seek.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 638, Country Files, Middle East, Egypt, Vol. VIII. Secret; Nodis. A typed notation at the top of the first page reads: “Our Interests Section in Cairo reports that during a routine call on Undersecretary Fahmy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, Fahmy indicated that Egypt has a hole card and wants the U.S. to think it is potent, in the hope that this will bring us to produce a change in Israeli policy. Fahmy observed that it is up to us (Egypt) to devise something new to inject into the situation.”
  2. Telegram 205883 to USUN, November 10, reads in part: “A. As we have consistently made clear, we do not think Middle East debate at this time can serve any practical purpose. If anything, it is more likely to delay time when parties face up to fact that there is no realistic alternative to getting down to some kind of meaningful negotiating process. B. We take it as forgone conclusion that no resolution, however carefully formulated to avoid exacerbating sensitivities of either side, will emerge of the kind that could help in any way to get such negotiating process started. In these circumstances we believe the best possible outcome, after all concerned have had their say during debate, would be to adjourn debate without any resolution. This would leave matters where they now stand and avoid further complicating the atmosphere for getting negotiations started.” (Ibid., Box 1169, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, November 1–30, 1972) The UN General Assembly discussed the Middle East in plenary meetings November 29–December 8. See Document 320.
  3. When asked about the Middle East, Rogers said: “There isn’t as much attention focused on peace as there is on war, but we have had a cease-fire in the Middle East now for about 27 months. We are going to do what we can diplomatically to see if we can get negotiations started between Egypt and Israel, and very soon now we will be very active in discussions of that kind to see if we can get negotiations started. We think that the Security Council Resolution 242 has to be implemented fully, but we think that a good beginning is to attempt to work out an agreement between Egypt and Israel that would open the Suez Canal, have a partial withdrawal, and have a commitment to full implementation of Security Council Resolution 242.” (Department of State Bulletin, November 27, 1972, p. 622)
  4. Telegram 2988 from Cairo, November 7, transmitted the Egyptian Minister of Information’s statement: “Egypt has previously declared on several occasions her rejection of the holding of direct negotiations with Israel. She has also declared her rejection of partial solutions to the Middle East problem. The last of these occasions was the opening session of the present People’s Assembly session, when President Anwar El Sadat stated that America has obstructed every attempt to achieve peace based on justice and wants to face us with acceptance of a fait accompli. The President also stated in his speech that we would not cede one inch of Arab land and that there would be no negotiations with Israel.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR)
  5. Telegram 3065 from Cairo, November 14. (Ibid.)