392. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Middle East

PARTICIPANTS

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

I had lunch with the Soviet Ambassador today at his invitation and talked with him from approximately 12:30 to 2:20.

The Ambassador inquired if I had brought the response to Foreign Minister Gromyko’s oral statement which the Secretary had promised in his conversation with Dobrynin on July 24. I told him that I had and read to him and then left with him a copy of the following oral statement:2

“We welcome Foreign Minister Gromyko’s message of July 24, indicating that the USSR is willing to continue bilateral discussions on the Middle East situation.

“Though the United States had reservations regarding the utility of the emergency General Assembly session, it sought earnestly to reach [Page 721]agreement with the Soviet Union and with others on a general resolution which would contribute to a stable and durable peace in the Middle East. The position taken by Ambassador Goldberg with Foreign Minister Gromyko and members of your delegation was intended to bring about a productive result; our objective was to find words which would provide a solid base for constructive solutions to Middle East problems without offense to any party.

“We were pleased that it was possible to reach common ground with you in New York on a draft text which envisaged the withdrawal of Israeli troops and at the same time recognized the right of Israel and all other states in the area to maintain an independent national existence and to live in peace and security. We hope you agree that Ambassador Goldberg cooperated fully, and in a spirit of accommodation, with you and with others in working out language which would be broadly acceptable. In our view, the principles stated in that resolution are basic and inseparable elements in building of a lasting peace in the Middle East.

“Assuming as we do that you would not wish to encourage intransigence among the Arabs, it is possible to envisage further conversations which may help stabilize and improve the situation in the area. Our purpose, like your own, is to curb irresponsible extremism with respect to the Middle East dispute from whatever quarter it may arise.

“We consider that as permanent members of the Security Council with special responsibilities it would be useful and desirable in the spirit of Article 33 of the UN Charter for the USSR and the US to carry forward their discussions looking toward a stabilization of the situation in the Middle East. In particular, the conditions for settlement would naturally be improved if the US and the USSR, together with other Governments with interests in the area, could find ways and means to bring about restraint in the arms race in the Middle East. This is a matter we would like to discuss further with you.

“I will be glad to have your thoughts on how further discussion on Middle East questions can be pursued with your government.

“In the meantime, we hope both our governments can exercise their influence on the parties concerned to help maintain the cease-fire proclaimed by the UN and, in particular, to urge cooperation with the efforts being made by the Chief of Staff of UNTSO to this end. We would be deeply concerned about a resumption of hostilities in the Middle East and will do everything we can to move the situation promptly toward a peaceful settlement.”

After listening to and then reviewing this statement, the Ambassador asked whether this meant we would envisage action in the Security Council. I replied that we would be quite prepared to have the [Page 722]Security Council adopt the resolution which had been discussed between him and Ambassador Goldberg during the Special General Assembly. He commented that the Arab position would probably remain the same and that the Arabs would still probably not accept the resolution. I responded that we were open-minded as to tactics, provided that the basic principles embodied in the resolution were preserved. Speaking personally, it seemed to me that if we consulted we might well agree that it would be better to let a little time pass and allow Arab passions to cool before acting. From the US point of view, we were certainly not interested in a repeat of the acrimonious debates and the impasse characterizing the last special session of the General Assembly.

He probed a bit on the question of arms restraint. In reply I referred to the President’s proposal that arms deliveries to the region might be registered to the UN. However, I continued that we were open-minded as to methods and tactics but did feel that the principal supplying powers should agree to restrain their supply of arms to the end that there be a reasonable balance, so that no one in the area would be tempted to resume hostilities. I said that at present the principal unsettling factor was the Soviet resupply of arms to their friends. He interjected that this resupply was at a level much less than what the Arabs had lost to the Israelis. I said I was willing to accept this statement but that the Soviet resupply was real enough to begin causing some alarm and to develop pressures for arms deliveries not only to the Israelis but to the moderate Arabs. In this connection, I reminded him of the Secretary’s statements at his recent press conference.3

He then inquired about the reference to supporting the efforts of General Bull, referring to the differences between the Israelis’ claim that the cease-fire line ran through the middle of the Suez Canal and the Egyptians’ claim that the Suez Canal was theirs. I replied that as long as the Suez Canal was closed, this was certainly a hypothetical question. We are not talking about a legal settlement of the boundaries between Israel and Egypt; these could only be determined at a later stage and in another context. As far as we were concerned, the Sinai Peninsula was still within UAR sovereignty, but we recognize that they would have some difficulty in exercising this sovereignty at the present time. Consequently, our present interest was limited to the question of establishing an effective cease-fire line wherever that might be and having that line accepted by Israel and the UAR.

In reply to his inquiry, I told him that we had purposely left the question of venue for further discussion vague. As far as we were concerned, [Page 723]this could take place in Moscow or Washington or New York. However, we had realized that they might have more of a problem than we had in this respect, so we had left the decision to them. The Ambassador expressed his appreciation, indicating that he was not at all sure what Moscow would prefer. In this connection, he referred to his own hopes to go on leave (though adding that he has not yet received specific approval). He also said that while there had been some rumors that Fedorenko would be replaced, there had to his knowledge been no decision on it.

In conclusion, the Ambassador expressed appreciation for the message, saying that he now fully understood it and that he would report to Moscow.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR/UN. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Kohler. The memorandum is part II of IV.
  2. The text of the oral statement was cleared by the President. (Memorandum from Walt Rostow to the President, July 26 at 7:30 p.m., with Johnson’s handwritten “L. OK”; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Dobrynin/Kohler Conversations, Vol. I)
  3. Rusk commented on this at a news conference on July 19; for the transcript see Department of State Bulletin, August 7, 1967, pp. 159–167.