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10. Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

COMMENTS ON THE EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT MESSAGE OF 1 FEBRUARY 1973

1. Egyptian Presidential Advisor Hafiz Ismail’s message of 1 February 19732 reflects more clearly than most previous Egyptian messages on the subject of secret US–Egyptian talks the paranoia and cynicism of the Egyptian leadership regarding the sincerity and good intentions of the US Government with respect to the terms of a “just” settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Egyptians find themselves torn between their hopes and their fears as they approach the hard, cold reality of negotiations on the basic problem that is eroding their political viability. On the one hand, they desperately wish a settlement and seem to be ready to take the internal and external risks they realize will be necessary throughout the process of obtaining one. On the other hand, they firmly believe they were misled and toyed with in the previous US peace initiative, that of 1970–71,3 and they are still smarting from that experience.

2. Further, as Arabs, their emotions and exaggerated sense of pride continually interfere with their reasoning and judgment. Needless to say, this is particularly the case when the question involves Israel and American support of Israel. The Egyptians feel that their worst fears [Page 23]were confirmed by the results of the previous US discussions with them regarding a peace settlement and they are now alert to the slightest indicator that the US Government may not honor its commitments at each step of this new effort. They are quite likely to misinterpret minor differences in this light and to react to them in a manner that will appear out of all proportion to the technicality involved. Further, they are undoubtedly applying what they know of the American-Vietnamese negotiations as a guide as to how to proceed with honor in meeting secretly with a party that at this point they will not assume is a neutral. In that context they may well now have decided, upon further reflection, that they would appear too eager for a settlement and too ready to make concessions if they agree to come to the United States for the first meeting. Once the Egyptian leaders feel their pride is at stake on such a point, they could become quite obstinate and the only factor that then might move them to action would be what they seem to assess as the critical nature of their internal political situation.

3. Another major factor in considering the Egyptian response of 1 February is the consistent indication in their recent messages that they would like to publicize such a meeting as soon as it could be done without causing a breakdown in the negotiations. President Anwar Sadat has used nearly every trick in his bag to quiet his domestic and foreign critics. He has very little left in that respect and probably reasons that an official disclosure of a meeting between Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Ismail would be a political tour de force that would further quiet his critics, at least as long as the talks continued. (In relation to this point, we should stress that Sadat has shown himself to be a very short-range thinker.) Such publicity would make the site of the meeting an important factor in terms of Egyptian and Arab pride and critical comment. In Arab terms, a neutral point would not necessarily represent a compromise in dealings with the US Government, whereas a meeting site in the United States could be so interpreted by Sadat’s critics.

4. The suggestion that Mr. Ismail could not now travel to the United States under any circumstances is, however, a distinct departure from the earlier Egyptian willingness to meet in New York if a meeting in London were not compatible with Dr. Kissinger’s schedule. The previous Egyptian flexibility on this point was expressed specifically in their messages, including Mr. Ismail’s previous message to Dr. Kissinger of 24 January 1973.4 Admittedly, the Egyptians had always shown that they preferred a third country site, but they had also at one point gone so far as to allow us to obtain US visas for them in their alias passports. One incident of note between 24 January and the Egyptian[Page 24] change of position on 1 February was the meeting in Cairo on 25 January between President Sadat and the Soviet Ambassador to Egypt, Vladimir Vinogradov, who had just returned from consultations in Moscow. We note this was their first meeting in six months. On the same day the Soviet Ambassador in Damascus conferred with Syrian President Hafiz Asad. On 30 January the Soviet Ambassador in Baghdad met Iraqi President Hassan Bakr. While we do not know specifically what was discussed at these sessions, it is perhaps noteworthy in this context that in his 1 February 1973 message, Hafiz Ismail explained that the prevailing state of US–Egyptian relations was the reason for his not agreeing to meet in the United States. He then noted that he would be travelling to Moscow in early February. Ismail further noted that the present state of Egyptian-Soviet relations is more favorable than that of Egyptian relations with the US. He added, “This is the difference.” This flurry of Soviet diplomatic activity suggests that Moscow may be preparing for or even stimulating a revival of interest in a Middle Eastern settlement, now that a Vietnam peace agreement has been signed. The Soviets certainly would not wish to be left out of a settlement effort and could have made this point so strongly to Sadat that he now feels more restricted and inhibited, even in terms of the technicalities of meeting arrangements. The validity of this speculation may be enhanced by the information we received after drafting the comments above that Cairo’s Middle East News Agency has reported that Soviet Ambassador Vinogradov received a Soviet military delegation from Moscow at Cairo International Airport on 1 February 1973.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 131, Country Files, Middle East, Egypt/Ismail, Vol. II, January 1–February 23, 1973. Secret; Sensitive. The paper was forwarded to Kissinger under cover of a February 1 memorandum from Helms who wrote that the paper was in response to a February 1 request from Kissinger’s office.
  2. Ismail’s February 1 message stated that the Egyptian Government still considered London the most suitable place for the meeting and suggested that if Kissinger could not travel there on February 22–23, it might be advisable to postpone it to a later date. Ismail wrote that it was “simply not appropriate under current circumstances” for him to travel to the United States for a meeting with Kissinger. (Ibid.)
  3. In January 1971, UN Special Representative Gunnar Jarring proposed direct negotiations leading to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. In February, Sadat told Jarring that Egypt would terminate all states or claims of belligerency with Israel, as well as respect Israel’s “right to live within secure and recognized boundaries” and would open the Suez Canal in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the Canal. In a meeting with Rogers in Cairo, May 6, 1971, he added that if the Israelis agreed to this proposal he would also remove the Soviet military presence in Cairo. Although the peace “initiative” was Sadat’s, it was quickly labeled a U.S. initiative when Secretary Rogers began active negotiations between Egypt and Israel, April–August 1971. Despite Rogers’s efforts, and pressure from Nixon, the Israelis refused to withdraw from the Suez Canal. Documentation relating to the 1971 peace initiative are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIII, Arab–Israeli Dispute, 1969–1972.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 4.
  5. On February 4, Ismail sent Kissinger a message that the Egyptian Government appreciated the difficulties of holding the meeting outside the United States during February, but that there were “certain considerations which render it difficult for Mr. Ismail to visit the United States for such a private meeting.” Ismail noted, however, that it would be possible for him to proceed to Washington if an official invitation were extended to him by the U.S. Government. If this were acceptable, he could arrive in Washington on February 22, hold talks with Secretary Rogers on February 23, and meet with Kissinger at Camp David February 25–26. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 131, Country Files, Middle East, Egypt/Ismail, Vol. II, January 1–February 23, 1973) On February 6, Kissinger replied, suggesting the best mode for Ismail’s proposed trip to the United States. (Ibid.)