389. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East


  • The Secretary
  • Amb. Anatoliy Dobrynin, USSR
  • Deputy Under Secretary Kohler

Ambassador Dobrynin called on the Secretary at 12:30 p.m. in response to the latter’s invitation. The meeting lasted through luncheon and broke up at 2:20 p.m.

Ambassador Dobrynin opened by reading from handwritten notes the following oral statement which Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko had asked him to make to the Secretary:

“We have reviewed the results of the last period of work of the United Nations General Assembly. Our statements at the Assembly set forth the position of the Soviet Union. If the American press tries to interpret that the position as it was expressed in the statements of the Soviet representatives at the General Assembly, at the final meeting in particular, was too rigid, then we must disagree with such an assertion. One cannot deny the fact that Israel unleashed the war, that she was the first to launch an attack and that she has subscribed to this at the General Assembly. This is the main thing.

[Page 714]

“Defending the Arabs and insisting on the necessity to adopt recommendations on an immediate withdrawal of the Israely (sic) troops we, the Soviet Union, were trying to make the situation easier in certain sense for the Americans too, that is to work out such wordings of the recommendations which would be mutually acceptable, though possibly being not completely to the liking both of Israel and of the ultra extremist circles in the Arab countries which cannot reconcile to the very fact of Israel’s existence.

“This is what we proceeded from in our latest talks with Amb. Goldberg and other U.S. representatives in New York.

“We noticed that the latest wordings which were suggested from the American side were somewhat different in form from all the previous ones on respective questions and we gave the American side understand this.

“We hope that this would be taken note of. But we also have noted that the U.S. Government if it indeed does not want a resumption of the war in the Middle East and does not push development of events in that direction should have displayed greater flexibility.

“Under these circumstances it would be also easier for the Soviet Union to take steps in the direction of finding of mutually acceptable solutions corresponding to the lawful interests of the Arab States as well as to all countries of the Middle East.

“You, Mr. Secretary, know the position of the Soviet Union toward Israel as a state. Thus, what was said on our side during the last two meetings with Amb. Goldberg and other American representatives in New York with regard to the need of more flexible approach on the American side as well as what was said by the American side concerning Soviet-American relations and the link of the entire problem with the relations between the USSR and the US, all this still holds its significance.

“Noting the importance of the question of Israeli troops withdrawal we must emphasize it once again that if the American side are prepared to keep consultations going as a continuation of the latest talks then we shall be also ready for this to find formulas—fully acceptable to both sides—of the recommendations of the General Assembly which has not completed its work yet. It would facilitate the settlement of question concerning the liquidation of the results [of] Israeli actions; and in our opinion the US must have no interest in resumption of the war in the Middle East if the US Government is indeed guided by long range fundamental interests but not by the present day interests and does not follow conjuncture demands by Israel which are being dictated rather by spirits of military success today than by the care for tomorrow.”

[Page 715]

The Secretary said that he appreciated Mr. Gromyko’s statement and would probably have an oral statement in response which Foy Kohler would transmit to the Ambassador before his prospective departure for Moscow on leave. Meanwhile, he commented that in his view both the United States and the Soviet Union have an interest in not having military solutions in the Middle East. We must face the fact that both of us have some “crazy people” to deal with in this area. We had been hopeful but not optimistic on the formula of a resolution worked out between Ambassador Dobrynin and Ambassador Arthur Goldberg in New York last week. We had thought the moderate Arab representatives might accept the formula, but we knew they were intimidated by Cairo, Algiers, and Damascus. He had even thought it possible in the light of his conversation with UAR Foreign Minister Fawzi in New York that the Egyptians might be reasonable. However, they were apparently impressed by the more extreme positions of Algiers and Damascus. The dynamics of the situation among the Arabs were that the most extreme position tended to become the common position. If there could have been a secret vote of the Arabs he felt that many would have accepted the agreed formula. Dobrynin interjected, “Yes, 8 or 9”.

The Secretary continued that the United States has no interest whatsoever in inflammation of the situation on the Middle East or in maintaining Israel in the territorial positions it occupies. However, it was clear that Israel would be difficult and that the question of Jerusalem in particular would be a severe issue.

Ambassador Dobrynin asked why the United States had abstained on the Pakistani resolution on Jerusalem. This was hard to understand in view of the statements on the subject issued by the White House and the Department. The Secretary replied that we had tried to negotiate with the Pakistanis to get reasonable language to which we could agree but they had refused to talk with us since they had the votes required for passage. Dobrynin commented that nobody knew about our attempts to negotiate with the Pakistanis so that the result was that the whole Assembly had been very surprised by our abstention.

The Secretary resumed, saying that we were now looking ahead and felt it was important soon to take some first steps. We were considering what this might be. We had no Government positions yet but speaking personally he thought it possible that if UN observers were placed at Sharm-el-Sheikh, it was then possible that Israel might withdraw well back into the Sinai Peninsula, perhaps half way. Dobrynin asked why not the whole way. The Secretary responded that Israel was not likely to be persuaded to go that far. He repeated that what we needed in the near future was some demonstration of movement. Sharm-el-Sheikh was a simple and uncomplicated problem. The Suez [Page 716] Canal would be much more complicated. In any case, he felt that the atmosphere might be improved in the Middle East by some such step as partial Israel withdrawal in the Sinai Peninsula. Dobrynin asked from what point the Israelis might withdraw. In response, the Secretary repeated that he was speaking personally and unofficially simply in order to illustrate his point. He then referred to a map and speculated that if Sharm-el-Sheikh were taken care of the Israelis might pull back to a point about half way up the Peninsula.

The Secretary then said that Syria was another point where something might be done. For example, if it could be agreed that for some distance on both sides of the Syrian-Israeli border there would only be police forces. Dobrynin interjected that he hesitated to use the term but would the Secretary mean a “demilitarized zone”? The Secretary replied that he had in mind essentially that, i.e., a zone in which there would be no heavy equipment and guns. He reiterated that he was only thinking aloud and searching for some practical steps, that there had been no consultation and that these were not U.S. Government positions or proposals. However, he felt that he would like to keep in touch with the Soviets as to what could be done. On the whole, he said he was optimistic except on two points: First, how to get the Arabs to accept non-belligerence and, second, Jerusalem. Ambassador Dobrynin asked why Jerusalem was so difficult. The Secretary responded by recalling that the United States has never recognized rights of any one to control Jerusalem, but commented that there were some very strong feelings involved and that there would be great difficulties with Israel on this point. Ambassador Dobrynin wondered why the Secretary had not mentioned Jordan. The Secretary said that in the case of Jordan the principal problem would be that of Jerusalem.

He wanted to mention another thing; he felt that when public discussion focused on Israel this tended to conceal another basic problem, that is the fear which other Arab Governments feel of the so-called progressive Arab States-Egypt, Algeria, and Syria. It would be useful if these three could give assurances that they had no hostile intentions against the moderate Arab States. Ambassador Dobrynin professed some surprise that these States should need assurances. He commented that it would be very difficult for the Soviets to talk to the Egyptians in such terms. The Secretary resumed, recalling that U.S. relations with the UAR have been good sometimes in the past and with the other Arab States as well, but at other times difficult. He cited the instance when U.S. planes had been sent to Saudi Arabia when that country felt threatened. He commented that the Arabs seemed able to unite only against Israel. When one talked to an individual Arab alone he might seem reasonable, but if another were present, he became crazy. He then remarked that the Soviets had probably [Page 717] learned this in connection with their own consultations with the Arabs and cited as an example of what he meant the Saudi Arabian representative Barodi, who in public made very violent speeches. Dobrynin replied that the Soviets had not even tried to consult with Barodi. The Secretary then repeated he felt a number of Arabs would have accepted the UN resolution had it not been for the extreme positions of Algeria and Syria. He had the impression that even Fawzi would have accepted the compromise language.

Ambassador Dobrynin then noted that the head of the Department’s Egyptian Desk was going to Cairo. The Secretary confirmed this and said that this move was in accordance with our stay-behind agreement with the Egyptians.

Later at luncheon Ambassador Dobrynin returned to the subject asking how the United States intended to proceed with respect to the Arabs. He commented it was evident from Soviet contacts with the Arabs in New York that the latter harbor some very hard feelings towards the United States. The Secretary responded that he felt some of the Arab States would be quite willing to make peace with Israel. However, they were all afraid of Radio Cairo which was able to stir up their people and bring them out into the streets. We had once felt that Nasser would exercise a moderating even restraining influence in the Arab world but this time had apparently gone. Ambassador Dobrynin observed that there had been some “ultra-extremists” pressures on Nasser (by implication which he had resisted). Then had come the Israel surprise attack. The Secretary said it was very important that Soviet Chairman Kosygin believe the assurances which President Johnson had given him at Glassboro. He must understand that there had been no double dealing. The United States had made every effort to restrain Israel and we had felt that we had an assurance that they would not move while we tried to find a solution for the question of passage through the Strait of Tiran. We had simply been unable to control them and had had no advance information whatsoever about their move. He himself had been awakened at 2:30 in the morning to receive this information.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Confidential; Limdis. Drafted by Kohler and approved by Walsh.