18. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Sisco) to Secretary of State Rogers 1


  • Assessment of Rabat Arab Conference—Information Memorandum

The Rabat Arab Summit conference ended December 23 with the Arab leaders in clear disarray. Participants confirm that no decisions were taken on the central issue of whether the Arabs should renounce the continued search for a political settlement. In fact, this potentially explosive issue was apparently not even discussed by the conferees. UAR General Fawzi’s estimate that it would require at least three years and enormous cost for the Arab armies to reach the point where the [Page 57] Israelis are today apparently had a sobering effect on the Arab leaders. As a result, their assessment of the military situation was realistic and the advocates of an early military solution were largely by-passed. The door to a peaceful settlement was therefore tacitly left open. In particular, the UAR emerged with greater freedom of action—if Nasser chooses to exercise it.

Reactions to the outcome of the Summit can be summarized as follows:

Eastern Arab Moderates (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon)—The moderates were relieved a decision for war was not taken. More importantly, perhaps, the oil-rich states were also able to avoid making substantial new financial commitments to the front-line Arabs. Saudi sources assert that Faisal made no new commitments to the UAR, Jordan, or the fedayeen. The Kuwaitis have announced a one-time payment of $28 million to the UAR in addition to their regular Khartoum subsidy payment and have promised an unspecified contribution to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Jordan—The Jordanians are pleased that the more bellicose Arabs were neutralized at Rabat. They feel that Jordan and the UAR now have greater freedom of action to search for a peace settlement and Ambassador Sharaf expressed to me the view that the efforts of the Summit will therefore be beneficial. Jordanian leaders have expressed some disappointment that the conference ended without positive decisions taken and without firm pledges of additional financial or military aid to Jordan. Some further assistance may yet be forthcoming, however, from the Saudis. Jordan will be consulting shortly with the UAR and other so-called “confrontation” states to assess future courses of action.
The Militants (Syria, Iraq, Southern Yemen)—These states found no support for their calls for renunciation of the search for political settlement, for adoption of an Arab plan for “total liberation” of Palestine, and for creation of a fund from which the “confrontation” states could meet their arms purchase needs. These three, together with Libya and Sudan, publicly blame Arab conservative leaders for the indecisive outcome of the conference.
The Maghreb—The Moroccans and Tunisians share with the Eastern moderates a sense of relief that the confrontation with the militants at Rabat did not end with a victory for the latter. Both Tunisia and Morocco avoided definite commitments to the Arab front-line countries, although Morocco has agreed to levy a special tax for the benefit of the PLO. A significant development at the conference was the alignment of Algeria with its moderate neighbors, as well as Saudi Arabia. President Boumediene is clearly concerned about UAR influence on the new Libyan revolutionary regime, and some tension [Page 58] between him and Libya’s Qadhaafi was reported. Libya promised additional aid ($48 million) to the UAR plus some unspecified assistance to the PLO.
Fedayeen—There is general agreement that the principal beneficiary of the conference was the PLO. PLO/Fatah leader Arafat emerged from the meeting with enhanced prestige. Details of reported financial pledges of $36 million plus some arms, however, remain to be negotiated on a country-by-country basis. The belief that any settlement by the Arab states must also have Palestinian concurrence seems to have gained ground, particularly among the North Africans and Kuwait. The Lebanese and Jordanians anticipate increased difficulties with the fedayeen whom they fear will now be encouraged to assert even greater independence in those two countries.
UAR —Nasser clearly lost his bid to rally the Arabs behind his leadership. He did, however, emerge from the conference with his basic options still open to continue the search for a political settlement, as well as the promise of a modest increase in cash support from the Libyans and Kuwaitis. There are those, in fact, who suspect that Nasser wanted General Fawzi’s military plan to be rejected in order that he might be left free to seek additional military and economic aid while remaining open to possibilities for a political settlement. In any event, if Nasser is preparing the ground for an Egyptian-first policy it may be a while before clear evidences of it appear. For the present, he has carefully avoided labelling the conference a failure or blaming the conservatives directly, while at the same time encouraging formation of close Cairo–Tripoli–Khartoum ties. His intentions to continue the search for a political settlement may become clearer following the proposed meeting in Cairo later this month of the “confrontation” states (UAR, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, plus probably Libya and Sudan). The militant radicals will, however, be in the majority at that meeting and Nasser may not want, or feel that for tactical reasons he cannot appear actively to seek, a political solution.
The Soviets—The Soviets appear relieved that the conference ended without a decision for war. However, the evident disunity in the Arab ranks and the resulting diminution of Nasser’s prestige and his claim to Arab leadership must have been disappointing to Moscow. The Soviets may wish to defer further progress in either the Two-Power or Four-Power contexts until Nasser makes up his mind where he wishes to go from here.
Israel—Despite some initial gloating in the Israeli press at the evidence of Nasser’s inability to unite the Arabs behind him, the outcome of the Summit Conference is not necessarily seen in Tel Aviv as beneficial to Israel. The fedayeen have obviously emerged with new prestige and at least some new Arab support. In particular, however, [Page 59] the Israelis are likely to view with dismay the probability that the USG will be encouraged by the apparently favorable effect its recent Middle East initiatives have had on the Arab moderates to continue pressing its proposals despite strong, adverse Israeli reaction.

Implications for the US —The US came out as well as possible at the Summit. Proposals by the radicals to take further measures against US interests in the Arab world did not materialize. Not only was Nasser’s bid to rally the moderate as well as the radical Arabs behind his leadership a failure, but the moderates were able to resist, for the most part, demands for substantial further financial contributions to the Arab military effort. Above all, our Arab moderate friends appear generally pleased by your December 9 speech and by our October 28 and December 18 proposals.2 Although these were not formally discussed at the Summit, they apparently strengthened the hands of the moderates and thus helped to keep the door to a political settlement open. While most of the Arabs continue to have strong reservations about the details of our proposals on both the UAR and the Jordanian aspects of a settlement, the assessment of most of our Arab posts—as well as the Jordanians—is that the US should continue to stand on these proposals as a balanced basis for a peace settlement which we should continue to encourage.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 ARAB. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information. Drafted by Wrampelmeier and cleared in NEA, NEA/ARP, NEA/IAI, NEA/ARN, NEA/UAR, AF/N, and EUR/SOV. It was transmitted to Kissinger with a January 7 covering memorandum from Eliot.
  2. For Rogers’s December 9 speech, see Document 15. Documentation on the October 28 and December 18 U.S. proposals is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1969–1972.