328. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East


  • U.S.
  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador Goldberg
  • Governor Harriman
  • Mr. Adrian Fisher, Deputy Director, ACDA
  • Mr. Malcolm Toon, Country Director, SOV
  • Mr. Alexander Akalovsky, First Secretary, Amembassy Moscow
  • U.S.S.R.
  • Foreign Minister Gromyko
  • Deputy Foreign Minister Soldatov
  • Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Ambassador Fedorenko
  • Mr. Yuri Vorontsov, Counselor, Soviet Embassy, Washington
  • Mr. Victor Sukhodrev, Counselor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

After lengthy discussion of the nonproliferation question, the conversation turned to the Middle East.

Ambassador Goldberg opened the conversation on the subject by stressing that the U.S. wanted to seek common ground. As things stood today, it appeared that no resolution proposed thus far would carry. He stressed that the U.S. was prepared to work hard to find common ground, noting that as in the Security Council common ground in the General Assembly usually emerged once the U.S. and the USSR had found it.

The Secretary suggested that it might be more profitable now to discuss the substance of peace in the Middle East. He thought that a few very short statements could describe that substance. Both the U.S. and USSR agree that it is in their interest to have peace in the Middle East and not to be drawn into an adversary role or hostile posture vis–à–vis each other. Both the U.S. and USSR also agree that Israel has the right to exist. The U.S. and USSR agree that no state of war should exist between Israel and its neighbors. They agree that the refugee problem must be solved. They agree that priority should be given to economic and social development in the area rather than to projects which could be conducive to war. Both the USSR and the U.S. agree that their influence in the area is not unlimited and that they are faced with a very complicated [Page 574] situation. Finally, they agree that there should be freedom of maritime passage to international waters. The Secretary wondered if these statements, to which Mr. Gromyko did not object, might not constitute a basis for peace.

Mr. Gromyko commented that the Secretary had avoided the main question, namely withdrawal of Israeli troops and liberation of occupied Arab territories. Whatever one’s motivations, the problem could not be resolved without withdrawal. No one could of course dispute the desirability of peace but what kind of peace could there be if territories remained occupied. In talking about settlement or peace, the Secretary surely realized that a peace treaty would be impossible under present circumstances. As to the question of arms deliveries, this matter was up to the countries concerned to decide at the proper time. In any event, it hadn’t been arms but rather Israeli policy that had started the war. Noting that the Secretary had referred with interest to his conversation with UAR Foreign Minister Fawzi,2 Gromyko said that the question of Aqaba and the Straits of Tiran—which had been raised by the Secretary in more general terms now—should be considered in the light of that conversation. One should not underestimate Fawzi’s remarks, and he believed that there was a basis for accommodation here. Mr. Gromyko then criticized Ambassador Goldberg for being overly pessimistic about the situation in the General Assembly. One must not look at things this way and must make every effort to reach an understanding, something the USSR certainly wants. For some reason withdrawal does not suit the U.S. and the USSR and others cannot understand why. If the U.S. were more objective, it would agree that the main problem is withdrawal and that without withdrawal neither the U.S. nor the USSR can be certain about what tomorrow will bring; in fact it could bring precisely what the U.S. and USSR wish to avoid.

The Secretary pointed out that the suggested formulations for withdrawal called for withdrawal to the armistice line rather than to national territory; in other words, withdrawal would continue the state of suspended war. It would be an improvement if one talked about withdrawal to national territory. In this connection, in talking about armistice lines the Arabs put aside the point that Israel was to have access to Suez, and they evidently do not have that in mind when they talk about armistice. The U.S. believed that it was very important that the third struggle in the area be the last one. While there may be contentions or claims, there must be no state of belligerency. It was impossible to ask Israel to act as if there were peace when Egypt exercised the [Page 575] rights of belligerency. The Secretary said he often heard that withdrawal was a precondition—precondition to what?

Mr. Gromyko said it was precondition to peace; in fact, withdrawal in itself was peace.

Ambassador Goldberg said that peace could perhaps be built on the following formula: prompt disengagement, withdrawal, and termination of belligerency. One could not have withdrawal in the middle of a war; this had been tried before but had not worked. In the past there had been withdrawals and war started again. He wondered if Mr. Gromyko disagreed with this formula.

Mr. Gromyko said that the very fact of the presence of Israeli forces in Arab territory constituted aggression. Even if the guns were silent, war persisted. So from that standpoint Ambassador Goldberg was close to the truth. On the other hand, his statement contained a contradiction inasmuch as he spoke of peace while opposing withdrawal. This contradiction should be eliminated. The U.S. seems to avoid the conclusion that withdrawal, together with what could be done with respect to Aqaba and the Straits of Tiran, would change the atmosphere in the area and create better conditions for solution of other problems. Any solution of those problems was impossible in the present situation. Moreover, the present situation was fraught with dangers for tomorrow.

Ambassador Goldberg commented that his formula took care of Aqaba since it called for termination of belligerency, which had been the basis for UAR action on Aqaba. Mr. Gromyko said that others might have a different interpretation.

Mr. Gromyko continued that progress seemed to be hindered by an accumulation of suspicions, sympathies, and antipathies. Perhaps Ambassador Goldberg’s pessimistic assessment was the result of this situation. What the U.S. and USSR should do was to consider the problem from the standpoint of their vital interests and rise above all suspicions and other emotional aspects of the situation. Neither the U.S. nor the USSR wants hostilities between Israel and the Arabs, and no one could dispute that the chances for peace would improve if there were withdrawal. It would be dangerous to approach the situation with pessimism and resignation. One should not underestimate the possibilities for common understanding, which could be achieved if we wanted peace; the Soviet Union definitely wants peace and wants to work for it.

Ambassador Goldberg wondered why Mr. Gromyko disliked his formula. He noted that he had derived it from Mr. Kosygin’s statement that all nations must have the right to live; nations could not live except in peace, and this was the common ground between us. He pointed out that in expressing his pessimism about the present situation in the UN [Page 576] he did not mean that the U.S. and USSR should not seek common ground. On the contrary, he was eager to seek such ground.

Mr. Gromyko said that as far as Israel’s right to existence was concerned, Mr. Kosygin’s statement was sufficiently clear and he did not believe that even the Israelis had any doubts on this score. As to Israeli/Arab relations, the best way towards a settlement would be withdrawal and then everything else would fall into place.

Noting that he was in no position to speak for Israel and that he did not expect Mr. Gromyko to speak for the Syrians, the Secretary wondered if Syria would refrain from resuming the artillery positions and from shelling the low land on the Israeli side if Israel were to withdraw from the hills it now occupies. The Secretary noted in this connection that as far as he knew there was no serious territorial problem between Israel and Syria and that the main problem was the fact that the Syrians had been shelling Israeli territory.

Mr. Gromyko said he also did not know of any territorial claims; moreover, the Soviet Union knew that the Syrians had no aggressive intentions. Perhaps some leaders in Israel did not like the fact that the hills in question were higher than their own heads, but that was their problem. As to the specific question posed by the Secretary, he was not in a position to speak for the Syrians and the question should be asked of them directly.

When the Secretary pointed out that this was not merely a question of risk but rather of experience on the part of the Israelis, Mr. Gromyko said that it was not the hills that were at fault but rather those who had started the war. He reiterated, however, that the question should be addressed to the Syrians directly.

Pointing out that he was not raising the question of responsibility or blame, the Secretary said that in his view the closing of the Straits of Tiran was a unique act of war. Nasser had based this action on the state of belligerency; his action was therefore a belligerent act.

Mr. Gromyko said the question now was how to approach a peaceful settlement. In his view, withdrawal was the best approach and it was hard to conceive what else could be done. In advocating this approach the USSR did not proceed from any selfish interests—all it wanted was restoration and maintenance of peace. While it was true that many Soviet ships had been using Suez and now had to take the more expensive route around the Cape, the USSR was not the only one in such a position. He wanted to reiterate that all the USSR was interested in was peace and to express the view that if the U.S. shared this objective peace could be ensured.

The Secretary expressed the hope that both sides would continue working during the next several days in order to find common ground. [Page 577] He also hoped that the Soviet side would not discourage flexibility on the part of the Arabs; he counseled Mr. Gromyko not to be more Arab than the Arabs themselves.

Mr. Gromyko said the Secretary had no reason to be concerned in this respect. On his part, he hoped that the U.S. would be flexible and would not raise rigid conditions which would create obstacles in the way toward agreement.

The meeting ended at 10:15 p.m.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Akalovsky and approved in S/S on June 29. The memorandum is part II of II. The meeting took place at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in New York.
  2. See Document 327.