Volume #21 - 568.|
VISIT OF SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EXTERNAL AFFAIRS TO CAIRO, NOVEMBER 10-12, 1955
Memorandum of conversation with Prime Minister of Egypt|
November 11th, 1955|
CONVERSATION WITH COLONEL GAMAL ABDEL NASSER,|
PRIME MINISTER OF EGYPT, CAIRO, NOVEMBER 10, 1955, 7.00 P.M.
I spent an hour with Colonel Nasser last night (7.00-8.00), having previously discussed international matters, especially North Africa and Israel, with the Foreign Minister for twenty minutes. Nothing very significant developed in the talk with Mahmoud Fawzi, who was as friendly and courteous as ever. He said how very glad he was that I was in Cairo, gave me a personality sketch of his Prime Minister (a plain, blunt, but very sincere and honest soldier-patriot), and underlined the seriousness of the deterioration of relations between Israel and the Arab States, in the face, as he put it, of the aggressive military attitude and strength of the former. He thought, however, that the very seriousness of the situation might assist in finding a solution, if the United States and the United Kingdom showed understanding and wisdom, and if Israel did not force all-out war.
I found Colonel Nasser quite as impressive and attractive a personality as I had been told he was. He is certainly plain and blunt in words, but friendly and modest in manner. He gives an impression of sincerity and strength, without any trace of arrogance or self-assertion. He said, of course, that he was a man of peace, "as every decent soldier is", and that his great ambition was to work for Egypt's social progress and economic development. But national security came first and, therefore, because of Israel's aggressive attitude, he had had to divert resources, meant for peaceful development, to defence. If he had not done so, public opinion would have forced him to. I merely said that it was a tragedy for Egypt, as it would have been for any country, that this was felt to be necessary.
The Prime Minister then went into the history, in detail, of the recent controversial arms transactions. He said that it was necessitated by the aggressive attitude and the boasted military superiority of Israel, with all the resources of Zionism, especially United States Zionism, behind it.
He had warned Washington and London that he could not remain passive in these circumstances, that he would prefer to get arms from them, but that if this were not possible, he would secure them from behind the "iron curtain". He claimed that the United Kingdom and, particularly, the United States (who always put the interests of Israel ahead of the Arab States, because of Jewish power and wealth and influence there), thought that he was "bluffing". Their surprise and violent reaction when the transaction was announced, therefore, was more because their "bluff" was called than because they had not had any knowledge of such a possibility.
I ventured to give Colonel Nasser my own view that the United States and United Kingdom were far less prejudiced in favour of Israel than he thought, and that I was sure that they tried to follow an impartial policy in these matters. We knew from our own experience in Canada that Israeli requests for arms which would add to their present level of offensive strength were turned down in the three capitals, in spite of great pressure exercised on their behalf. That pressure would now be much greater and more difficult to resist. But where would an arms race get us? Egypt felt herself threatened and weak - therefore she strengthened her armaments for security. No one could object to that in principle, but the result was that Israel would then feel insecure (especially because of the refusal of the Arab States to recognize her existence) and in her turn would get more arms. Then Egypt had to catch up again. Where would it all end?
Colonel Nasser agreed that it was a very unfortunate and even dangerous development, but what could Egypt do?
This gave me an opportunity to ask whether the Arab States would recognize the existence of a State of Israel on any terms. He said that they would. I said that then it becomes a problem of political negotiation to agree on terms. Such agreement would give them far more security than communist arms. I then asked him what were their basic conditions for recognition.
He said the United Nations partition resolutions of 1947.30 I reminded him that the Arab States had already gone to war against these and that, in any case, it was quite unrealistic to go back to them now. After a word or two with Fawzi, the Prime Minister said that the U.N. Resolutions of 1948 (the Bernadotte proposals?) were what he had in mind.31
I asked him about the Dulles proposals of August which, I said, my government thought wise and sensible and would support as the basis for a solution.32 He said that they were too general, but he agreed that the points mentioned by Dulles were the ones that had to be settled. First of all, boundaries, where there would have to be important changes, and secondly, refugees. Nasser insisted that the Arab refugees would not agree to be settled in any place except Palestine. They had tried unsuccessfully to persuade some to settle in Egypt. He also stated that Arabs were still fleeing from Israel because of the unjust and discriminatory treatment they received there. When I expressed some scepticism about this, he insisted that Arabs in Israel were "second-class" citizens only.
I asked the Prime Minister about the possibilities of practical co-operation between Israel and the Arab States, particularly in such a project as the Johnston Irrigation Scheme.33 Colonel Nasser said that this was a good project and would benefit the Arab States, but that no Arab would believe, in the present circumstances of fear and hatred, that it was not designed to favour Israel. He felt that the Johnston proposals could not be implemented until the political situation was better.
Colonel Nasser more than once mentioned Israel's aggressive military actions, breaches of the truce, etc., and claimed that Egyptian forces had shown great patience and discipline. He said that he was having increased difficulty in holding back the army in the face of these provocations.
I told Colonel Nasser that while there were extremists in Israel, as in all countries, there were also moderate men there doing their best to avoid extreme courses and working for a fair and agreed settlement. I thought that Mr. Sharett was one of these, and Colonel Nasser agreed. He blamed Mr. Ben Gurion, however, for much of Israel's new aggressiveness and for trying to force a solution on the basis of recognition of the present boundaries.
Colonel Nasser was interested in my trip to Russia and this gave me a chance not only to mention Russia's power and expansive strength, but the danger of encouraging her in the old Russian designs against the Mediterranean and the Middle East. These designs, which were historic, could mean no good for Egypt, especially when Russian imperialism could use international communism to stir up trouble and further its ends. I said that I thought that these designs were very much in Moscow's minds when they offered military and diplomatic assistance to Egypt and the other Arab States; that "he who supped with the devil", etc.
Colonel Nasser said that these considerations were very much in his mind, but he thought that they could avoid the dangers I had mentioned. In any event, what was the alternative? I repeated, "An agreed political solution", and I assured him that every nation which desired peace would be glad to assist in bringing it about.
I confess that my talk did not give me any reason for undue optimism as to the possibility of such a solution being found in the immediate future.