454. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State1

1174/Secto 44. Following is uncleared memcon.

Secretary met with FonMin Riad (UAR) at latter’s request for about one and a half hours to review Middle Eastern situation. Sisco only other person present.

Conversation opened by both Secy and Riad confirming desire for better relations. Riad said there had been mistakes made in past by everybody, by UAR, US, and others. He was not attempting to exonerate UAR, for main responsibility for past mistakes rests with it. Stressed a strong desire to work towards better relations between UAR and US and recounted some of his efforts in past to this end.

Secy said we have over years supported principle of political independence and territorial integrity for all in area. He recalled our action at time of Suez, support of the government during the Lebanese crisis, support of certain countries who sometimes felt themselves under pressure from UAR, and affirmative vote last year in SC censuring Israel. We made major efforts in all capitals during pre-June 5 period in order to avoid hostilities. When we invited Vice Pres Mohieddin to visit US, we thought we had commitment from Israel they would not resort to hostilities. Should Riad or anyone in UAR Govt be under impression we acted in bad faith, this would be a fundamental misunderstanding of [Page 863] our position. There was no deception on our part and we were astonished at events as were a good many others.

Moreover, Secy expressed regret that after beginning of hostilities it was not possible to achieve a cease-fire promptly; this would have prevented many headaches for a number of us. Crucial problem ahead, said Secy, is how conditions of peace get established in ME.

Secy said when Nasser announced closing of Gulf, we knew Israel regarded this as a casus belli. This action by Nasser also cut our throats by undermining our credibility with Israel. If we were today to ask Israel to withdraw on basis of an informal indication that everything would be all right, they would laugh in our face. This approach was tired in 1957 and failed. Secy said it is important to bear this background in mind to understand why we attach fundamental importance to question of renunciation of belligerency, ending the state of war, and bringing about a state of durable peace in area. Too often, Secy said, Arabs have been too late in seeing, determining, and acting on basis their own national interests.

As he did on Saturday with Goldberg,2 Riad told of confusion in Cairo during early period of hostilities. He told of Soviet reports of an Israeli build-up along Syrian border, he lamented that generals exaggerated military information given to Nasser, and recalled Hussein’s report that hundreds of airplanes were involved, and their belief these must be American. He confirmed their air force was out of action in first two and a half hours of hostilities. He expressed UAR disappointment at failure of US to come out categorically against Israeli aggression as in 1956.

Raid described Israel as still drunk over its recent military victory. He confirmed UAR trying to build up its armed forces. He stressed UAR has no territorial claims, and that principal problem between it and Israel is refugees. He admitted their past propaganda has been a mistake. He said recognition of Israel’s right to exist not being challenged by UAR. He said UAR has signed the Armistice Agreement,3 the Lausanne Protocol,4 and asked for implementation of UN partition [Page 864] plan.5 All these things implicitly mean recognition of Israel. Serious problem is that of borders. In his judgment Articles I and II of the Armistice Agreement are key features of peace.

Riad also seemed to imply, though he was not explicit, that giving expression to non-belligerency should not be a problem. However, no UAR Govt could accept Israeli vessels going through Suez Canal. This is not a practical question but one of prestige for both UAR and Israel. He said Israel is presently destroying installations along canal.

Riad said UAR could accept certain principles, provided other side also accepted them. He then went on to link, in perhaps a more direct way than in conversation with Goldberg, solution of refugee problem with opening Suez Canal to Israeli flag ships. He said Israel must respect the resolutions of the UN on refugees. (We assume he meant para 11 of Res 194,6 though he did not mention it specifically.) Riad said we cannot surrender. If we were to give in on Suez, it would become an Egyptian national objective to remove “this surrender”. A solution of this kind, if imposed upon us, would be temporary and not permanent.

Riad felt time was not in favor of peace. There was need for prompt peaceful settlement. He has pointed out to other Arabs that if Arabs had won war there would still have to be a peaceful settlement. In such circumstances, maximum Arab objective would have been implementation of UN partition plan.

Secy said we need a handle in order to move towards a peaceful settlement. Secy agreed on importance of refugee problem and regretted that solution had been frustrated because of political factors. He had always thought that if refugees could be given a private opportunity for choice, results would be acceptable to all. Trouble has been that if such an opportunity was given to refugees, Shukairy would indicate to them their throats would be cut unless all voted for return to Palestine. Riad interjected if it came to that UAR could remove Shukairy. UAR policy has never been to place any impediment on any Palestine refugees if they should want to leave.

[Page 865]

Secy agreed time was not on side of peace. He said some in Israel realize basic problem is how Israeli people are to live in peace with 200 million Arabs in area. Riad should not conclude from Israeli press that Israel is not in position to make necessary decisions which would facilitate peace. Our present consultations with other dels are intended to ascertain what is possible in terms of peace. Five principles stated by President Johnson on June 19 remain our basic point of departure. We have no interest in supporting Israeli territorial expansion, but we cannot write a blueprint or impose on Israel a settlement. Our objective is to help find a way to peace with understanding of parties. Riad expressed doubt understanding could be built in circumstances where Israel is occupying UAR territory. He expressed regret us seemed to be on sidelines. Secy said we were doing more than that. Riad said if we can get understanding on principles involved, UAR could concern itself with a UN rep.

Turning to Soviet policy, both Secy and Riad agreed that it is neither in UAR nor US interest for a confrontation to take place in ME between major powers. Riad expressed concern regarding our view that two parties must work out understanding. He insisted it is too late for that, US is involved. If US remains on sideline, it would result in a settlement imposed on UAR. Riad then ticked off principles he believes essential: withdrawal of Israeli forces; freedom of passage; no territorial gains from use of force; and respect for UN resolutions on refugees. He said SC should endorse these principles, and practical implementation could take place subsequently with assistance of a UN rep. Secy said when US announces support for certain principles, this has practical consequences, and we are asked what we are going to do about them. If resolution is passed by SC which does not ask parties to take specific acts, there will be no peace in area. Riad said again if there is no understanding and a solution is imposed on UAR “this govt or some other UAR Govt” would sign surrender, people would be told this, and elimination of “surrender” would become an objective of UAR policy. Secy agreed surrender is not path to peace. Riad said any Israeli territorial gains means surrender, though not a change from a state of war to a state of peace.

Secy said he wished to raise a procedural point. From time to time he has received reports that attempts have been made by this or that Egyptian to make contact with US, and that we had made it difficult to achieve this contact. We are not clear as to who such Egyptians are, and whether they are authentic representatives. Could Riad give us any guidance on this matter since US does not want to get involved in an internal UAR matter. Riad said he did not know why US and UAR should discuss matters in any mysterious way, there is no need for third parties between us, and that he hoped that discussions and contacts made could be continued. Secy made clear that for our part Don Bergus in Cairo is a most official contact for US, that Amb. Goldberg available, [Page 866] and that if there was need he himself could come back to New York at some future date. Riad was vague about his future plans, saying he would probably stay in New York to see whether something can come out of SC. He stressed that contacts should be continued and a SC resolution would be a starting point towards peace.

Secy emphasized there must be great precision and clear understanding regarding any UN resolution. US–USSR resolution was a constructive approach, but both Arabs and Israelis objected to it. Secy said we have had enough resolutions which mean different things to different people. It may take some time to assure that there is full understanding of what any resolution means. We need “something” to move toward peace, but we do not see that “something” in detail.

Secy asked whether Riad believed that concept of a “holy war” is primarily in propaganda field or whether this is a policy question. Riad did not answer question directly, but said “holy war” approach achieves nothing, that UAR propaganda had been a mistake, and that UAR is presently suffering as a result. Nasser tried to face up to public opinion problem at Khartoum, and this is why a number of Arabs said he had been very courageous. Riad agreed that Nasser is probably still only Arab who can lead public opinion in area. Riad said Cairo Radio has been changing its approach in recent days.

Meeting concluded on note that both sides would maintain contact.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR/UN. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Received on October 4 at 0144Z. Another copy of the telegram indicates that the memorandum of conversation was cleared in S on October 19. (Ibid., POL UAR-US)
  2. Telegram 1127 from USUN, October 2, reported the meeting on Saturday, September 30, between Goldberg and Riad. (Ibid., POL 7 UAR)
  3. See footnote 4, Document 53.
  4. The Lausanne Protocol, signed separately at Lausanne on May 12, 1949, by Arab representatives and Israeli representatives with the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, provided that an attached map showing the 1947 UN partition plan for Palestine would be taken as a basis for discussion during negotiations then underway at Lausanne. The text is printed in the Commission’s third progress report, UN document A/927; also printed in Yearbook of the United Nations, 1948–49, p. 198; also see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. VI, pp. 998999.
  5. The UN partition plan was set forth in Resolution 181 (II), adopted by the General Assembly on November 29, 1947. The text is printed in Yearbook of the United Nations, 1947–48, pp. 247–256, and in A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941–1949, pp. 695–709.
  6. Resolution 194 (II), adopted by the General Assembly on December 11, 1948. The text is printed in Yearbook of the United Nations, 1948–49, pp. 174–176, and in A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941–49, pp. 719–720. Paragraph 11 stated that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date and that the compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property.