321. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East


  • Secretary Dean Rusk
  • Foreign Minister Gromyko

Secretary Rusk opened by reporting that Foreign Minister Fawzi (UAR) had spoken at some length to him the previous evening about the desirability of limiting arms shipments to the Middle East. The Secretary emphasized this was a private conversation and he might not be speaking for his government. Nevertheless, it was interesting. He went on to point out that arms shipments become circular and cumulative. Arms competition exists in the area not only between Israel and Arab states but as between various Arab states.

Gromyko said that the UK had also raised this question.

Secretary Rusk pointed out he had raised the question of smaller arms race at the opening of Geneva conference. He asked if there is some way we can act? He asked Gromyko if he had any sense of what [Page 558] De Gaulle’s attitude towards an agreement to limit the arms flow to the Middle East might be? Gromyko said he didn’t know.

Secretary Rusk said that Fawzi had underlined that the other needs of the region were so great that it was wrong to divert resources to military purposes.

Gromyko said the arms issue should not be tied to other matters, and he added a disparaging remark about those interested in the use of military force. He went on to say we should give the matter further thought. We know the UK position, we don’t know the French position. He recalled Anthony Eden raised the question in 1956, concluding however, that the arms limitation should not be tied as a string to other Middle Eastern issues.

Secretary Rusk said we could be flexible in the matter of procedures.

Gromyko then asked: When the Secretary talked of the Middle East, did he refer merely to Israel and the Arab states or did he include other countries of the region?

Secretary Rusk replied that the problem lay between Israel and the Arab states on the one hand, and as between certain Arab nations on the other. He said we both agree on the necessity of keeping nuclear weapons out of the whole area, to which Gromyko assented with a nod.

Gromyko said that until the Middle Eastern issues before the General Assembly are solved, none of the other area problems can be handled. He said he didn’t know what would happen.

Secretary Rusk said some countries of the area believe regional ideas might take some of the heat out of Arab–Israeli confrontation. Fawzi had mentioned, for example, regional work in economic and social development.

Gromyko then probed further Secretary Rusk’s conversation with Fawzi.

Secretary Rusk said it was very limited. They talked about the Strait of Tiran; and Fawzi thought, perhaps an answer could be found on an informal basis. It would be hard to settle it on a formal basis.

Gromyko said the distinction was artificial. It was the substance that matters.

Secretary Rusk said they also talked about arms limitation. Beyond these two matters, he was frankly discouraged by Fawzi’s attitude.

Gromyko asked if Fawzi was specifically speaking for his government.

Secretary Rusk responded negatively; they had spoken on a personal basis, since there are no relations between the UAR and the US. He could not say that Fawzi’s view on arms flows to the Middle East was Nasser’s view. But Fawzi is an experienced and careful diplomat. [Page 559] He doubted that his views were wholly personal; but he just doesn’t know exactly how official his statements were.

Gromyko asked: What other points were raised?

Secretary Rusk said the principal difficulty was that the UAR couldn’t move to resolve any issues if it appeared that their resolution was related to military action or issues were settled because of military action. Frankly, he got the impression that making peace would not be easy. Going back to armistice lines was no solution. An armistice is inherently temporary. The Arabs claimed the rights of belligerence; that is, a state of war with Israel. That also meant Israel could take the view a state of war existed. The task was to eliminate belligerence and establish permanent frontiers. The Israeli remember that Nasser closed the Strait of Tiran by exercising his rights of belligerence: that is, a state of war with Israel.

Gromyko said the question of degree is very important here. When territory is occupied the situation is very different. If we tried to deal with this question on the basis of everything or nothing, it would be difficult or impossible to solve, so far as he could judge.

Secretary Rusk said that the Chairman’s statement before the UN had emphasized that the Soviet Union regards Israel as a state. The question is: how do those who accept that view demonstrate that it is the case?

Gromyko said that the US and the USSR stand responsible for the creation of Israel as a state. Without the US and the USSR it would not have been created. He seemed to remember it had been created in the UN by only one vote. It would not have been possible unless the Soviet Union and the US had agreed. The Soviet Union had established diplomatic relations with Israel, which is the highest form of recognition. Those relations had been broken in 1956 and again in 1967 when there was a second round of aggression; but he stood by the Chairman’s statement.

Secretary Rusk said: How can we establish that with sufficient clarity so that the Middle Eastern states will not constantly whip up propaganda urging the extinction of Israel?

Gromyko said you can’t stop propaganda. We can’t settle that. Let us be practical. Let us start with the Strait of Tiran, as Fawzi indicated. Secretary Rusk said he could get no answer from Fawzi on Suez. On the Strait of Tiran, Fawzi would like the US and the Soviet Union to go to Israel and say the Strait of Tiran was open de facto. But the credibility of US in Israel is low on that point. That is what we told Israel 10 years ago.

Gromyko urged avoiding artificial problems.

Secretary Rusk asked if the Security Council might not assume responsibility on this question.

[Page 560]

Gromyko said that Tiran is not simply a case of territorial waters. It is a complex case. Such cases have been dealt with through international conventions.

Secretary Rusk asked if Gromyko had seen Fawzi before or after he had seen him (between 7:30 and 9:00 p.m., June 22). Gromyko said: Before.

Secretary Rusk said Fawzi was cautious generally with him except on the question of Tiran and the arms flow to the Middle East.

Gromyko said: But he gave the answer. It would be very good to create a situation with withdrawal. Without withdrawal the situation was very dangerous.

Secretary Rusk asked if withdrawal comes about and a state of war persists, what would happen to Israel’s relations with Syria and the UAR in the future?

Gromyko pointed out that Japan and the Soviet Union had ended the war and then taken 10 years to sign a peace treaty.

Secretary Rusk asked how was this done.

Gromyko said Prime Minister Hatayama had made a declaration that a state of war had ended.

Secretary Rusk said that perhaps it could be done through similar but unilateral if not joint, declarations.

Gromyko said that we should not be unrealistic. We should look for factual situations. Try to create an absence of tension by withdrawal. This was very important. Although you may not like the word, we would say that the situation should be approached dialectically.

Secretary Rusk said that some of the Latin Americans fancy themselves as lawyers. They take the view that if the UAR considers itself in a state of war with Israel, Israel cannot commit aggression against the UAR.

Gromyko said that the situation is dangerous to everyone in the Middle East, including Israel. They appear to show no concern for the future. Secretary Rusk said that a concern for the future is precisely the issue with respect to belligerence.

Gromyko said the Arabs want peace.

Secretary Rusk said we must find a way to register that as a fact.

Gromyko said Israel is behaving as if it is more powerful than the US and Soviet Union put together.

Secretary Rusk said he thought there were forces of moderation in Israel as well.

Gromyko said the answer lay in withdrawal.

[Page 561]

Secretary Rusk said the question was: withdrawal to state of peace or withdrawal to state of war? The issue was one of the status of relations among the states of the area rather than territory.

Gromyko said the shooting itself has stopped. Military action has stopped. But occupation is a continuation of war. It is still an application of force. This must be eliminated first. He said: you overlook—and please don’t overlook—that withdrawal will create an atmosphere more favorable for consideration of other matters. Taking the view that everything must be settled or nothing, is unrealistic and dangerous.

Secretary Rusk said there will be great difficulties so long as Israel believes the Arabs feel free to pursue a policy of destroying Israel.

Gromyko said that thinking and doing are different. Some Arabs want to live in peace. It would be good if there were no propaganda; but, at the same time, if there are no attacks, the atmosphere for solution of other problems will improve. You can’t solve all problems at once. Take, for example, nuclear question. We couldn’t solve it all at once, so we stopped atmospheric texts. We proceeded realistically. Then we went forward to non-proliferation which, again, is only a partial step. If we are successful, who knows, perhaps we will take a further step. We haven’t exhausted all the possibilities. In many fields of international life, including Middle East, we must make progress by being realistic. We must not be controlled by moods. We must rise above our sympathies.

Secretary Rusk said we have mentioned questions such as refugees, arms flows to the Middle East, regional and economic and social development. Of course they cannot all be determined at once. But no partial measure will work if one side wants to leave open the possibility of shooting.

Gromyko said what matters most is that there is no shooting.

Secretary Rusk referred again to Nasser’s posture on Tiran.

Gromyko said: Let us look not to the past but to the future. Think it over. It would be good if we could get withdrawal. Israel itself would gain. You and we must accomplish this.

Secretary Rusk said we will be in touch.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 US. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Walt Rostow and approved on July 5. Secretary Rusk and Foreign Minister Gromyko were in Glassboro with President Johnson and Soviet Premier Kosygin for their summit meeting, held at “Hollybush,” the residence of the president of Glassboro State College. This meeting was held while Johnson and Kosygin had the meeting described in Document 320.