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382. Telegram From the U.S. Interests Section in Cairo to the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization1

3876. Subject: Middle East Negotiations. Ref: Cairo 3870.2

1. Fahmy’s extraordinary performance last night was a mixture of gamesmanship, frustration and genuine concern. Despite his bombast, he wants a peaceful settlement and has staked his reputation on it. Same time, he is acutely conscious that radical Arab critics are charging Egypt with having become soft. With competing Arab centers of power such as Algeria, Syria, and money-rich Saudi Arabia to contend with, Egypt’s objective of retaining pre-eminence in the Arab world can only be retained by continuing to lead the pack. Syria shows signs of kicking traces and Assad’s unexpected trip to Qadhaafi worries Egyptians. To keep others in line, Fahmy realizes Egypt desperately needs something tangible to point to to justify its current more moderate line.

2. Failure to achieve initial phase disengagement through U.S.-sponsored six point agreement has come as a blow to Fahmy and his government. Rightly or wrongly, Sadat had expected some initial Israeli disengagement prior to the peace conference and that USG would press a reluctant Israel to do so. Before recent African and Arab forums, GOE representatives from Sadat down boldly gave justificatory assurances that this would happen. They must now eat crow, and attribute awkward position in which they placed themselves to USG unwillingness fulfill what they conceived as obligation. They are fearful they will be fed a bone and lose face at home and abroad.

3. Fahmy’s warning that unless substantial disengagement is agreed upon and finalized at first session of peace talks should not be entirely discounted. For the sake of form in Arab world and at home, Egyptian leadership may find it has to do just that. Yet Fahmy is still desperately hoping that something will come out of first phase talks that GOE can use to continue to justify the policy he and Sadat have devised. Though rejecting adequacy of initial phase disengagement for this purpose, it will be noted that he significantly threw out thought that either “large or medium” scale disengagement must emerge from the first phase of the conference (para 7 reftel). To my knowledge, this is the first time Fahmy has used the term “medium” scale disengage[Page 1047]ment. Heretofore his dichotomy has been “larger” and “first” or “initial” stage.

4. Conceivably, a face-saving formula may be found by casting whatever disengagement proves to be negotiable at upcoming Geneva talks by focusing on “medium” stage disengagement, whatever that may be, and trying finesse so called “first” or initial phase. Fahmy did not define what he meant by “medium” stage disengagement, but given his earlier concern about broader UNEF-manned belt somewhere around Mitla Pass area, something along these lines, if Israelis will buy it, might just do the trick.

5. Fahmy and other senior Egyptians are currently highly sensitive to any suggestion Israeli elections should govern pace of negotiations. They need be discreetly reminded of this salient fact, whether they like it or not, though conceivably time factor could also be finessed by all parties quietly agreeing that Christmas, Muslim Bairam holidays (January 3–4) and Coptic Christmas (January 7) offer at least a plausible reason to defer second phase of conference until mid-January. We hear from press sources that at least some responsible Egyptians are acknowledging that, despite current high level of tension which GOE-inspired press is maintaining, no change in Egyptian policy likely to be made until January 15 or after. This may or may not be so.

6. Meanwhile, as previously reported, Fahmy remains deeply worried about his personal position. He believes that his contacts with the army are good, but seems worried about possible adverse university student reactions. He is also mindful of his many critics and rivals in Peoples Assembly, press and elsewhere at home and in radical Arab world and has sometimes spoken of his “at least five rivals” for his job. At the moment he still seems to have Sadat’s confidence, but the President is mercurial and could easily make him a scapegoat. The image of an omnipresent, bitter Mahmoud Riad, who as Arab League SYG still gives frequent vent to how USG let him down, is indelible in Fahmy’s mind. He is afraid that the pace we envisage may be too slow to keep Sadat, Arab and public opinion in line and him in office. Result is he is likely to continue to play it tough.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 639, Country Files, Middle East, Arab Republic of Egypt, Vol. X, Nov.–Dec. 31, 1973. Secret; Immediate; Cherokee; Nodis. Also sent Immediate to the Department of State.
  2. See footnote 6, Document 380.
  3. In telegram Secto 17/3214 to Cairo, December 10, Kissinger responded to Eilts, thanking him for his helpful analysis. He instructed the Ambassador to tell the Foreign Minister that the Israelis were even angrier with him at this point than Fahmi was. The Secretary added that he wanted to assure Fahmi that he would stick literally to his understandings with him and with Sadat. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1179, Harold H. Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—1973 Peace Negotiations, December 13, 1973 thru Dec. 17, 1973 [1 of 3])