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John F. Kennedy Administration: UAR Informed of Planned Sale of Missiles to Israel

(September 26, 1962)

This is a memorandum of conversation from a Talbot-Kamel meeting informing the United Arab Republic of U.S. willingness to sell missiles to Israel.

H.E. Mostafa Kamel, UAR Ambassador

NEA--Phillips Talbot
NE--John R. Barrow

Mr. Talbot called in the UAR Ambassador to inform him of our decision to inform Israel of our willingness in principle to sell short-range defensive surface-to-air missiles. He stressed that this represented no change in our policy or in our desire for long-range cooperation with the UAR. He also said we continued to oppose an arms escalation in the area and to deplore the waste of economic resources entailed in arms acquisitions. Mr. Talbot said he was aware of the UAR view that it could not undertake an arms limitation arrangement until there was progress on general arms limitation at Geneva. However, the process should start somewhere and he hoped the UAR would give further serious thought to the problem.

The Ambassador received the news in restrained fashion, though expressing regret that he had been in the dark and had been unable to help in dealing with the problem. He said he continued to believe as in the Bible "that it was essential to freeze the Arab-Israel conflict, and to remove it from internal American politics. He said he had struggled for four and a half years to build an atmosphere of mutual confidence, and was thus very sensitive to any action which would derogate from that confidence. He said he had mentioned in a meeting with President Kennedy that it was dangerous to formulate policy in the Middle East from documents and reports. It was necessary rather to have a feeling for the situation. He was concerned lest the impression be created in the Arab World that the United States was really not free to follow a neutral policy as between the Arab States and Israel.

The Ambassador also referred to President Nasser's meeting with President Eisenhower in September, 1960, in which, according to Kamel, President Eisenhower had assured Nasser that the U.S. did not want to get into the business of providing arms to Israel, since Israel's friends were providing arms. The Ambassador asserted that rather than Israel needing to fear the Arabs, the contrary was true, since Israel's policy is basically expansionist and that it would not hesitate to undertake aggression to achieve its aims if at any time it felt this could be accomplished with impunity.

He stressed that the UAR had never objected to the US pursuing friendly relations with Israel, but at the same time the UAR could not seriously believe that Israel thought it was being threatened by the Arabs. He said the Israelis are losing sight of the fact that the Communists are a bigger danger to Israel than the Arabs. If the Communists should ever control the area, Israel would not exist "for longer than five days." He said that it was difficult to understand why Israel should insist on destroying every attempt at rapprochement between the Arabs and the United States. He assumed, however, that the reason for this Israel policy was to create an image of a beleaguered Israel which would help Israel obtain additional funds from the U.S. The Ambassador took strong umbrage at a speech made by Levi Eshkol, the Israeli Minister of Finance, in which Eshkol dwelled on the so-called UAR missile threat. The Ambassador said that Dr. Kaissouni who was here on the same mission as Eshkol, namely to attend the IMF-IBRD meetings, had never uttered a single word against Israel nor had he, the Ambassador, ever done so in a public forum. He said that the UAR would consider that it was abusing the hospitality of the US if it used the US territory as a platform for attacks against a country with which the US has friendly relations.

In another context, the Ambassador said that the UAR basically had nothing against the Shah of Iran, but how did Iran expect the UAR to react when it invited the Israeli Minister of Agriculture to Moslem religious celebrations in that country? By such actions, the Shah is stirring up trouble for himself, both internally and among Moslems everywhere. He said the Syrians were also making a big mistake in putting Murtada Maraghi (ex-Egyptian Minister of Interior under Farouk widely known for his connections with anti-Nasser opposition movements) on display. He reiterated his familiar theme that the UAR has no wish to perpetuate quarrels and only responds to attacks from other states. He also said, in connection with activities by Israel, that one could be sure that, despite their quarrels, the Arabs would unite together to meet any common threat.

Mr. Talbot mentioned a "Voice of the Arab Nation" clandestine broadcast of September 22 referring to the Kennedy-Nasser exchange of letters in 1961 and containing sharp personal criticism of the President. Mr. Talbot noted that in a more recent letter Nasser had stated that there are areas of cooperation and areas of differences between the US and the UAR. The UAR did not agree with all of our policies nor can we agree with all UAR policies. Nevertheless, there was an obligation to keep public discussion of our differences within proper bounds.

The Ambassador asked whether we were certain that the "Voice of the Arab Nation" was in fact a UAR clandestine station. He said that he had recently raised this subject with his government and was told that his government believed that the station was in fact operated by Israel. He asked that the US recheck its information. He would be interested in whatever facts we might be able to uncover regarding the source of these broadcasts. Mr. Talbot stated that we would institute a further inquiry.

Mr. Talbot took the initiative to mention Crown Prince Faisal's forthcoming visit, stating the Crown Prince was coming to have a medical checkup, and to attend the U.N. General Assembly, but would also have talks with US leaders. Mr. Talbot said we could not forecast the nature of the talks, but he could assure the Ambassador there would be no change in our policy toward the UAR. The Ambassador stated that the UAR has great respect for Crown Prince Faisal and considers him a sincere patriot. Mr. Talbot remarked that Faisal had also spoken to him of his feeling for President Nasser and of his regret that differences had arisen. The Ambassador expressed confidence that these differences would soon be resolved.

The meeting concluded in friendly fashion with the Ambassador suggesting that publicity on the missiles be kept at a minimum. He said he fully understood that the US has internal problems in connection with the forthcoming Congressional elections. He said he had gone to great length to explain the situation to Foreign Minister Fawzi whom he had seen a few days earlier in New York. He noted that November was not far off, and hoped that the US could avoid succumbing to pressures before the election.

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