Conversation with Nasser About Israeli Missiles, Johnson Plan

(August 24, 1962)


This is a telegram from the Embassy in the United Arab Republic to the Department of State transmitting a conversation wtih Nasser about the Hawk missile purchase by Israel and the Johnson Plan.

Presidential letter read thoughtfully by Nasser who then asked me to open discussion. My presentation followed closely excellent talking points paper prepared by Department and additional cabled instructions and was prefaced by emphasis on President Kennedy's intent to deal fully, frankly and confidentially with Nasser on major policy issues, especially those which reflected differences of view. I also stressed that nothing in ensuing discussion should be interpreted as indicating shift in present improving USA-UAR relations. Nasser briefly acknowledged this and noted that there are bound to be policies on which two countries differ. Although not effectively stated apparent Nasser appreciated forewarning missiles and consultation on refugee situation. Detailed discussion as follows:

1. Missiles: My presentation built on long-standing character Israeli request, our belief in increased military capability of UAR and Nasser's repeated statements that UAR eschewing aggressive military policy toward Israel thus making increased defensive capacity Israel irrelevant. In response Nasser dwelt chiefly on political repercussions missile sale, seeming unperturbed by military implications. He predicted general and sharp attack on USA by Arab Governments since we are breaching our past policy of not being arms supplier especially to Israel. In particular he noted that Israeli issue now hottest theme of intra-Arab propaganda warfare and is being used particularly by Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia as weapon to attack UAR with accusation that American price for continuing substantial UAR aid program is Nasser's acquiescence in softer Israeli line. Until the present, UAR has not responded to these attacks since they are factually untrue, unbelievable to most intelligent Arabs and therefore cannot hurt the UAR. However missile sale will raise issue with new insistence and content and Nasser careful not to commit himself on how this issue would be handled in future. Later in conversation Nasser returned to this theme stating that American or Western sale to Israel of any kind of missiles even those known to be purely defensive would be countered by Soviet offer of variety missiles to Arab states. Nasser implied that blame for expansion Soviet arms role in Middle East could thus be laid at door of USA.

I then stated President Kennedy's urgent interest in arms control currently focused on Geneva Conference but including regional problems, citing Secretary Rusk's statement on latter. In view of this urged that there is still time before missiles become operational to make attempt to moderate Arab-Israeli arms escalation. Nasser's response gloomy and unenthusiastic citing failure of arms embargo at time Palestine war which had operated against Arabs but allowed Israel to obtain tanks and other weapons from France. He also pointed out that two of three signatories of tripartite anti-aggression agreement had assisted Israel to attack UAR and once again France had supplied arms, aircraft and air crews. In light of this past record he would not trust any arms agreement to be effective against Israel. Nasser then repeated numerous statements made on earlier occasions that UAR had no intention attacking Israel and that it is now policy UAR to build up armed forces only as deterrent against Israeli attack which UAR believes constant possibility in view of declared Israeli expansionist intentions and bitter experience 1956 Israeli aggression.

I strongly urged that continued thought be given to this matter pointing out that UAR itself urging great powers negotiate arms limitation at Geneva and Arab-Israeli problem should be approached in same spirit. Nasser replied that arms agreement at Geneva would be easier than agreement between Arabs and Israel. I concluded by urging again matter be reviewed by UAR and indicated USG and personal readiness to continue discussion at any time.

2. Johnson Plan: After outlining salient features Johnson Plan I pointed out that (A) plan nearer to Arab approach to refugee problem than Israeli since includes opportunity for repatriation and is not dependent on general peace treaty or resolution other Arab-Israeli issues, (B) Plan does not require UNGA action or detailed concurrence interested governments but only tacit agreement to allow PCC get underway, (C) Plan fully safeguards sovereign rights states involved, (D) initiates continuing process that hopefully may erode problem and hostile attitudes toward it, (E) what is asked is not necessarily overt support but acquiescence to allow PCC get Plan underway and undertaking refrain from propaganda aimed at influencing refugee choice.

Nasser's response moderate and slightly encouraging. He stated that in discussion with Johnson he had objected to proposed quota figure of 20,000 for Israeli repatriation and was glad to know that whole quota idea now dropped. His objection quota that it would result in making Arabs continuing minority in Israel with typical minority problems already enhanced by second class treatment Arabs now living in Israel. If refugees told that only 20,000--or any other modest figure--could return Israel they would naturally vote against repatriation. Nasser then stated that final solution refugees could come only when majority allowed to return to own homes thus making Israel into a binational state with Arab group large enough to ensure equality of rights and treatment. He recognized that this would strike at basic Zionist concept and might take "70 years" to accomplish.

My rejoinder that whole quota idea now our purpose being to institute continuing process that would hopefully so commit both Israel and Arabs to accept and deal well with repatriated or resettled refugees that irresistible momentum would be created. Nasser responded with interest to this saying that if refugees felt there could be growing repatriation of groups over long future their attitude to immediate resettlement would be more constructive. He noted that in 1955 Egypt offered to resettle considerable refugee group on east bank Suez Canal but refugees turned down offer fearing they would lose repatriation right.

Nasser promised to give further thought to Johnson Plan and I stated interest and willingness discuss it further and in detail with him or any member UAR Government he indicated.

Comment:

1. While cordial and occasionally turning on well-known charm Nasser more serious and thoughtful than in previous meetings. This not surprising in view of double dose unpalatable medicine administered.

2. Interesting to equate Johnson Plan results here with similar discussion in Israel. While both guarded, inconclusive and reserving decision, Nasser not as negative as I expected and showed some disposition to consider merits of plan.

3. I sensed genuine appreciation our frank, early and confidential approach that is likely to be considerable asset in maintaining current USA-UAR relations.

4. I expect some adverse and public UAR reaction when Hawk agreement becomes public knowledge since Nasser may be driven to defend himself against Arab accusations that he has sold out on Israel.

5. Strong will provide fuller account this serious and detailed discussion.

Badeau


Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.