August 1, 1967
Letter, Walter Ulbricht to Leonid Brezhnev
This document was made possible with support from The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
To the General Secretary of the Central Committee
Of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Comrade Leonid Ilyich B r e z h n e v
Dear Comrade Brezhnev!
As you know, following a decision by the Politburo of the SED, a delegation headed by Comrade Dr. Gerhard Weiss, Deputy of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, has visited the United Arab Republic [UAR] and the Syrian Arab Republic [SAR] between 6 and 22 July 1967. There they had meetings, on mandate by the Chairman of the State Council of the GDR [i.e., Walter Ulbricht himself], with Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Dr. Nureddin al-Atassi, as well as with numerous leading personalities from both states. After receiving the report of the delegation, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the SED deemed it necessary to inform you about some conclusions.
In general, I want to say that the assessments and conclusions, as reached at the Budapest meeting of the parties and governments of the socialist countries [on 11 July 1967], have been confirmed and reinforced by the experiences of our delegation. Please allow me now to inform you in detail about the conclusions from the visit of our delegation.
I. United Arab Republic
Our delegation had two meetings with President Nasser, the second one two days before his speech at the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution [23 July 1967]. As the most important fact regarding future developments, we are assessing that in the second meeting President Nasser had overcome a certain mood of depression and pessimism expressed at the first meeting. [In the 2nd meeting] he displayed substantially more realistic positions, the way he also had outlined them in his speech on 23 July. The latter has to be defined as a programmatic one. In light of the second meeting - also confirmed by the above mentioned speech from 23 July -, our delegation had gained the impression that President Nasser is beginning to take the first correct steps towards charting a realistic policy, in order to overcome the consequences of the military defeat and to solidify the state authority of the UAR. In the second conversation with our delegation (27th of July [sic]) President Nasser emphasized the importance of the political path. He defined the main question as securing the achievement and the future progress of the social revolution in the UAR. Therefore the mobilization and increase of influence of the people’s masses with regard to the entirety of social life are an urgent necessity.
Those statements made by Nasser in the night of the 21st of July have to be rated even higher, since his closest partners in UAR leadership, Ali Sabri and Zakaria Mohieddin, had stated to our delegation a few days earlier that neither a political-diplomatic nor a military path does exist. Ali Sabri thought there is only one way out, namely the solidifying of domestic positions and the strengthening of the military forces. Ali Sabri advocated against any political struggle to secure the UAR, for instance in the United Nations, and recommended a “state of limbo”. This meant: no actions in the U.N. or the international arena and also temporarily no military action. In spite of these wrong positions held by his closest advisers (and the still more extreme positions of [Houari] Boumédiène and al-Atassi), it is a fact that President Nasser has arrived at more realistic positions. He has defined those as being the political line of the UAR in his speech on 23 July. This is evidence for both the opportunity and necessity of establishing a systematic and trusted cooperation with Nasser himself. We are of the opinion that it is in the joint interest of the socialist states that Nasser’s position is getting strengthened within the UAR and among the Arab and other non-aligned states, as well as within the international arena. Our delegation has noted that in all our meetings President Nasser has displayed a much more positive and clear position pertaining to the Soviet Union than it was, for instance, the case with President al-Atassi, but also with some other leaders of the UAR.
Our delegation assessed the domestic situation in the UAR as being very unstable. This is also the opinion of Nasser. With the crushing of the army, the previous domestic main pillar of support for President Nasser has been broken.
The Arab Socialist Union [ASU] has yet to develop into an effective political mass organization. Our conclusions are that actually only in Cairo, Assuan, Alexandria, and Port Said active ASU organizations are existing. So far the ASU is more of a central bureaucracy and less established in professional or social organizations. So far, it has not been able to organize the people’s resistance. The organs of UAR state power are still permeated by conservative and reactionary elements. In their current political and social composition and structure, they do not yet fulfill the role of an organizer of non-capitalist development and of a protector of national-democratic state authority. Leading forces in the government, the ASU, and the Army Command are coming from the middle class, respectively the bourgeoisie, and have so far enjoyed privileges. Thus the domestic situation is characterized by the contradictions between the far-reaching social-economic transformation regarding property and production patterns on one side, and the entirely insufficient developments of a revolutionary people’s party, of trade unions, and of a revolutionary-democratic state authority on the other side. After the military defeat, this deep transformation of the political super-structure of the country has now become a mandatory necessity in order to guarantee the further progressive development of the country and to defend its national independence. This is especially necessary to master the economic situation, which will become extremely difficult over the next months. In his meeting with our delegation, and also in his speech on 23 July, President Nasser hinted at changes in the economic plan. This will result in a slow-down in speed and scope of the industrialization in favor of purchasing raw materials, food, spare parts, and of consumer goods. You are well aware of their problems regarding grain supply and the lack of hard currency due to the closure of the Suez Canal and the interruption of tourism. Nasser and other Egyptian leaders have expressed that the United States will exploit the extremely difficult situation of the UAR to blackmail it into political concessions through economic pressure. It has to be expected that the UAR will turn to the Soviet Union and other socialist countries with new economic requests for aid.
II. Syrian Arab Republic
The meetings with the leading Syrian personalities, like President al-Atassi, Prime Minister [Yussuf] Zuayyin, Minister [Abdullah] al-Khani, and others, took place directly before and after the Cairo Conference of the heads of state and governments of the 5 Arab States. The talks conveyed the expression that the Syrian leftist Ba’ath leadership has not yet drawn such realistic conclusions from the military defeat as President Nasser has done. At the time when our delegation was around, the SAR leadership had no clear concept for overcoming the results of the aggression. A realistic analysis of the international, intra-Arabic and domestic balance of forces was lacking. Although the orientation towards a rapid rebuilding of defense capabilities is obviously correct, the talks held with President al-Atassi, Prime Minister Zuayyin, General Secretary [Salah] Jadid, and others, showed that they are underestimating the political struggle on an international level as well as the political mobilization at home. With regard to the restoration of defense capabilities, the SAR leadership does not just aim at the aid, but also at the direct involvement of the Soviet Union and other socialist states like the GDR. President al-Atassi is demanding from the GDR not just the delivery of aircraft but also the sending of pilots. As al-Atassi and Zuayyin were saying, they are viewing the defensive struggle against Israel as a fight “in the first row of defense of the socialist camp”. From there they are deducing the political, moral, and material “obligation” of the USSR and the other socialist states to engage comprehensively in the defense of the progressive Arab states.
The situation in the Syrian Arab Republic is insofar different from the United Arab Republic as the leftist Ba'ath leadership - which is dominating the party, government, and military leadership - is acting politically in a more unified fashion. In contrast to the ASU, it has the structure of a large number of local party organizations. However, the Ba’ath Party does not have a sufficiently broad mass base. There does not exist a relationship of trust between the Ba’ath Leadership and the trade unions. First and foremost, however, the leftist Ba’ath leadership is refusing to cooperate loyally and on equal footing with the Communist Party of Syria. In the opinion of our delegation, the reactionary forces in the SAR are fractured in organizational terms. The fact that the Communist Party of Syria is supporting the leftist Ba’ath leadership in its anti-imperialist policy and in its progressive domestic policies, does so far inhibit the reactionary forces to gain broader influence.
Our delegation had extensive talks with the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Syria, Comrade [Khalid] Bakdash, which demonstrated the complete agreement between our two parties on all issues discussed. Comrade Bakdash expressed his great appreciation for the positions held by CPSU and SED. Our delegation informed Comrade Bakdash about the main topics of the Budapest meeting of the socialist states.
The Syrian Arab Republic as well is faced with severe economic problems. During the talks it was stated that industrialization plans will have to be scaled back. Al-Atassi and Zuayyin said that they will push out the Western powers from their economic positions in Syria. They are expecting that this void will be filled completely by the socialist states. The Syrian Arab Republic as well will submit to the socialist states new significant requests for aid, both pertaining to trade as well as with regard to credits.
III. Political Issues Concerning both the UAR and the SAR
Our delegation noted that in both the leaderships of the UAR and the SAR there do exist unclear, respectively wrong, positions with regard to several political issues. Those wrong positions are more pronounced with the Syrian Ba’ath leaders:
a) The leaderships of the UAR and the SAR are both correctly viewing the Israeli aggression as part of the imperialist global strategy. However, to our delegation they unilaterally characterized the imperialist advances as a significant strengthening of imperialist positions. Even President Nasser, but even more so all other ministers of the UAR government, were calling the United States the “richest and strongest power in the world”. This tendency is bolstered by the pressure from rightist forces in the country’s interior, but also within the UAR government.
b) Over the course of the last 20 years, the leading forces of the Arab states, not the least those of the UAR and SAR, have pursued an unrealistic policy with regard to the existence of the State of Israel. In a certain sense they are captives regarding this issue to the extreme nationalistic sentiments they themselves have furthered. The extreme nationalistic slogans are also used by the reactionary Arab states as a leverage against the progressive Arab states. One can also not close one’s eyes from the impression that in all Arab states the nationalistic propaganda about the destruction or elimination of Israel is a means of diverting the people’s masses from the domestic political, economic, and social problems.
This situation makes it also difficult for far-sighted and progressive politicians like Nasser to come up with a realistic concept for the resolution of the Israel problem, based on the rights of the Arabs and the existence of the State of Israel. As it is known, this unrealistic general position has led to the Arab states preventing at the United Nations session the adoption of a compromise resolution. The latter would have provided the Arab and socialist states with a strong international law and political position in the struggle for the withdrawal of the Israeli forces. The governments of Algeria and Syria, as well as some leading personalities from the UAR themselves, have had such a strong influence on President Nasser at the meeting of the 5 heads of state in Cairo that Nasser moved to the intransigent position of Boumédiène, al-Atassi, [Abdul Rahman] Arif, and others. In his speech on 23 July as well, President Nasser did not indicate a realistic concept regarding the Palestine question.
IV. About the Development of Relations with the GDR
The government of the UAR and SAR stated their general willingness to establish diplomatic relations with the GDR. President Nasser has made the promise to establish diplomatic relations with the GDR, potentially also without other Arab states, as soon as the international position of the UAR is strong enough to undertake this step and to be able to withstand imperialist countermeasures. The Syrian Ba’ath leadership has made a decision to establish diplomatic relations with the GDR.
Because of its longstanding attitude of solidarity with the progressive Arab states, as well as because of its clear and principled stance with regard to the Israeli aggression, the reputation of the GDR in the UAR and the SAR has definitely improved. In both states the position of the SED and the government of the GDR is rated very highly.
However, our delegation has gained the impression that, apparently due to strong influence by Algerian President Boumédiène, the progressive Arab states are currently using the issue of normalizing relations with the GDR as leverage in order to receive the maximum of military aid, as as well as of political and economic support, from the Soviet Union, the GDR, and other socialist states. President al-Atassi stated clearly that the establishment of diplomatic relations with the GDR cannot be viewed independently from the relationship of the progressive Arab states with the socialist countries in general.
Therefore we are expecting that the establishment of diplomatic relations will still require major efforts and take a certain time.
V. On the Practical Measures
The experiences of our delegation do confirm the necessity of the consequent implementation of decisions and agreements from the Budapest meeting. The Politburo of the SED has commissioned a group of comrades to draft a comprehensive concept for a long-term political, economic, cultural, and military support of both the UAR and SAR. As the most important and primary task we are considering a systematic political consultation of Presidents Nasser and al-Atassi, so that they will develop themselves step by step a realistic political concept on international as well as on domestic issues. Such a political consultation is obviously complicated due to the objective and subjective situation. The idea of such permanent political consultation, especially of President Nasser, is in our option based on the fact that the more realistic position of Nasser, as expressed in his speech on 23 July, was of course also a result of his talks with Comrades [Nikolai] Podgorny and Malick, and ultimately also with our delegation. In my opinion, the question of how such a continuous tactful political consultation could be arranged at the proper level does warrant a special review and discussion between [the two of] us.
In accordance with my statement in Budapest, the Central Committee of the SED and the Government of the GDR have sent a couple of experts to the UAR and the SAR to work on various societal levels. A number of additional advisers and specialists will follow in due time. With this information, we want to follow up on the agreement at the Budapest meeting that our parties shall continuously consult about the problems of the Middle East. It would be very convenient for us to get to know your opinion and your experiences regarding the problems and proposals discussed in this information.
With communist greetings!
of the Central Committee of the
First Socialist Unity Party of Germany
1 August 1967
 Translator’s note: Date in the document. From the context it appears to be inaccurate. It must be the date of the 2nd meeting with Nasser, not of the first - i.e. 21 July instead of 27 July.
Ulbricht writes to Brezhnev about the delegation to the UAR, led by Mr. Weiss. Ulbricht assesses the political situation in the UAR with respect to Nasser and the weak situation of the Arab Socialist Union. Ulbricht also informs Brezhnev about the situation in the SAR, which seems to be worsening due to a lack of concepts for postwar recovery. Ulbricht suggests sending economic and political experts in order to strengthen the cooperation between the UAR, the SAR and the socialist countries.
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