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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Memorandum on Improving U.S.-Egypt Relations

(December 1, 1966)

This memorandum discusses how to proceed with improving U.S.-Egypt relations, and encourages Secretary of State Dean Rusk to meet with both President Nasser and King Hussein of Jordan on his next trip to the Middle East.

UAR Decisions Up in the Air

Before Secretary Rusk leaves for the Far East Sunday,/2/ we badly need to get him to focus on the UAR. Two decisions must be made:

/2/December 4.

1. The food recommendation has been hanging fire in State for three weeks simply because Ray Hare tried unsuccessfully to talk with the Secretary before he discussed it in the IRG. As you remember, the Egyptian economic delegation told you officially in September that the UAR would have to have our answer by the end of November in order to get grain elsewhere if necessary. This is such an important decision that we should not make it by default.

2. Budget Bureau now has the Presidential Determination necessary to continue our technical assistance program. The President agreed in June to continue this when he approved offering CCC credit sales for six months, but we can hardly ask him to sign a new Determination without having some notion of where we're going.

One way to handle this would be for the Secretary to stop in Cairo on the way to Paris. The main problem in our UAR relations is lack of confidence. Nasser believes we're out to get him, and the fact that our high level travellers bypass him just confirms his belief. The Egyptians still consider that postponement (for pressing US reasons) of the Secretary's scheduled visit last spring was a calculated slight, but the invitation has been repeated.

A visit would have several advantages. If we can't make a food decision now, he could explain why. He could also make plausible our line that, even though we have difficulties with further concessional food aid, we're not trying to bring Nasser down. At the least, it would give the Secretary a chance for a heart-to-heart talk with Nasser which could be a sound basis for the President's decision.

We are coming to believe that we've reached a "crossroads" in US-UAR relations--though not necessarily the "crossroads" Kamel keeps talking about.

The Kennedy experiment is over. We gambled that a three-year food deal, personal correspondence, and a certain amount of human respect for Nasser might moderate his revolutionary policies. We probably went too far too fast, but we have been frankly disappointed in results. He continued clandestine organization against the more moderate, oil-rich monarchies; he ventured into the Congo rebellion; more recently, his army has become increasingly Draconian in the Yemen; Radio Cairo continues to agitate Arab "nationalism"; his policy often parallels Moscow's.

Now that that experiment has run out of steam, and we have to decide among three possible courses:

--We can give up, drop food aid and try to live with a potentially more troublesome UAR.

--We can go on--if the President will approve--with an uncertain series of interim food agreements.

--We can seek some new base for our relationship, though less ambitious than our 1962 effort.

Our own inclination is to try the last, though we would settle for the second this time. We can't see that the first buys us anything and it could cost us a lot. Nasser could behave much worse and do much greater damage to our interests. On balance, within the Arab world he has been a restraining force vis-a-vis Israel. His present involvement in Syria is a force for restraint, not aggression. He has not precipitated attacks on Western oil interests or inhibited movement of oil.

The Secretary's visit could be the first step in building something new. The main disadvantage to his going now without going to Amman would be our apparent support for Nasser at a time when Nasser's propaganda machine has King Hussein on the ropes. It would be ideal if the Secretary could go to Amman too though that may be impossible.

We think this idea is worth considering. But the main point is to find out how the Secretary plans to handle these UAR decisions. If we're going to let them drift till he comes back, we ought to be signalling the UAR that we're just being indecisive--not saying no.

Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, United Arab Republic, Vol. V. Secret. Filed with a brief covering memorandum of December 2 from Wriggins to Rostow, suggesting that he talk to Rusk and urge him to stop in Cairo on the way to Paris. Rusk was about to leave on a trip in which he visited several countries in Asia, concluding with a visit to Paris, where he attended a December 15-16 meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.