309. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting of the President and Chairman Kosygin, the Middle East & Vietnam


  • Yuri N. Tcherniakov, Counselor, USSR Embassy
  • Eugene V. Rostow, Under Secretary for Political Affairs

Part I—Middle East

Counselor Tcherniakov apologized for shifting the lunch to which he had invited Rostow some time ago from the Embassy to a restaurant. He explained that the Embassy staff had been sent to New York, and hoped that it would help facilitate a meeting between the President and Chairman Kosygin. Rostow replied that the President did indeed wish to see Chairman Kosygin. As Tcherniakov knew, an invitation had been issued before we had been officially informed that the Chairman was coming. Tcherniakov said that that fact was appreciated, but, he said, there were difficulties, since the main purpose of the Chairman’s trip was his appearance at the U.N., and there were complications with respect “to allies and others.” Rostow said we understood these problems so far as Chairman Kosygin was concerned. There were complications also for the President. We thought it natural for the Chairman, when in a country, to call on the head of its government. However, the question of discussing the possibility of a visit was in the hands of the Secretary, who was doubtless in touch with Foreign Minister Gromyko on the subject. Tcherniakov said that was the case, and the men were being assisted by the Dobrynin-Thompson “task force.” He hoped they succeeded in solving the problem. Rostow said we hoped so too.
Tcherniakov asked how Chairman Kosygin’s speech2 was received in the State Department. Rostow replied that we thought it was “not too bad.” In reply to a question, Rostow remarked that we thought two points in the speech were of particular importance: (1) Kosygin’s assertion that Israel had the right to live; and (2) his comment that the [Page 523] leading powers had to find a common vocabulary. Tcherniakov agreed that these two statements were the important aspects of the speech, adding that he hoped we understood that propaganda efforts had to be diminished “gradually.”

On the first point—Israel’s right to live—Tcherniakov said that there never was any question of the Soviet position on this issue, which they viewed as fundamental. There had been a good deal of discussion about how much emphasis it should receive in the Kosygin speech, but all had agreed that the statement had to be made. Rostow remarked that we were accustomed to reading Soviet speeches with care. The important fact was that the theme had been stated. Tcherniakov said the Arab doctrine of a right to destroy Israel was “nonsense,” and the source of a great deal of the “tragedy” in the area.

He hoped we would use our influence with Israel not to be too hard in their victory, referring to Arab pride, and confusion of thought at this point. He thought time was needed for the dust to settle.

Rostow said that as Tcherniakov could see from the President’s statement, we did not think, in view of what had happened during the last ten years, that it was practical or realistic to expect the Israelis to withdraw until there were assurances they would return to a condition of peace. Surprisingly, Tcherniakov said he fully agreed. Rostow said there were natural anxieties everywhere that the Israelis had large territorial ambitions. We could not speak for the Israeli Government, but our impression so far was that Israel did not want great territorial changes, but peace and security. There were marginal problems, of course—the Syrian heights, Sharm al-Sheikh, the Gaza strip, and, most difficult of all, Jerusalem. Tcherniakov said that naturally something would have to be done about border security and international interests in Jerusalem.

Rostow said that we had been interested during the last few days by a flow of reports at various levels about a growing interest among the Palestinian Arabs in an arrangement of reconciliation with the Israelis, involving either the West Bank of the Jordan or even the whole of Jordan. We had no governmental position on the question, but, on preliminary consideration, we found the idea important. If the Palestinians could reach an accommodation, through a federation or otherwise, it could eliminate the refugee question, make it easier to solve the question of Jerusalem, and relieve the other Arab states of the incubus of their supposed obligation to wipe out Israel. Such a plan could also simplify problems of border security.

Tcherniakov said, speaking personally, that he was most interested in the possibility. He was not aware that the idea had come forward in recent days. The Soviet Government had supported a proposal of that [Page 524] kind in 1947 or 1948, when the Palestine problem was acute. He asked whether he could call the possibility to the Foreign Minister’s attention. Rostow replied that of course he could, stressing, however, that it was not a United States Government position.

Rostow put emphasis on the issue of arms limitation. We thought a resumption of hostilities in the face of the cease fire was unthinkable. Tcherniakov dismissed the possibility.

On the second point in Kosygin’s speech-the need of the leading powers to achieve a common vocabulary, Rostow said we were in full agreement. Tcherniakov would have noticed the President’s care to avoid making the propaganda war worse. The President’s speech stressed our interest in “narrowing differences” with the Soviet Union. The Chairman would find us ready to cooperate in the effort. Tcherniakov referred to the spirit of Tashkent, and the need for us together to work out an approach that could bring peace to the Middle East. He stressed that the Soviet Union had tried to prevent hostilities, as we did, but that there were forces in the situation which couldn’t be controlled. Rostow said we had been puzzled by the rumors of an Israeli mobilization against Syria, which seemed to persist even after the Secretary General had denied them. Rostow said that we had been at pains to make our position clear to the Soviet Union throughout the crisis. We had noted that they had never publicly supported the Egyptian claim with regard to the Gulf of Aqaba. From the point of view of the two countries’ national interests, and in the light of what Tcherniakov had said, he thought it should not be difficult for the Soviet Union to accept the approach indicated by the President’s five principles.

Rostow asked Tcherniakov if they thought Nasser could survive. He replied that in their estimate it was possible. Nasser lacked a sense of reality, but perhaps recent events would help in that regard.

[Omitted here is Part II—Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Rostow. The meeting was held at the Madison Hotel.
  2. Kosygin addressed the UN General Assembly on June 19. An excerpt of his speech is printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 534–537.