499. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East


  • U.S.
  • The Secretary
  • Foy D. Kohler, Deputy Undersecretary
  • John M. Leddy, Assistant Secretary for EUR
  • Malcolm Toon, Country Director, SOV
  • USSR
  • V.V. Kuznetsov, First Deputy Foreign Minister
  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador
  • Yuri N. Chernyakov, Minister-Counselor, Soviet
  • Embassy
  • Igor D. Bubnov, Counselor, Soviet Embassy

The Secretary said that he understood the non-permanent members of the Security Council were still engaged in trying to work out a resolution. If they should not succeed he assumed that our two delegations may have to meet over the week-end to ascertain if they could be of some help. Kuznetsov said he would like to sum up his impressions from discussions in New York of the Middle East problem. It is clear that the Arab countries, and especially those most directly concerned with the problem such as the UAR, have adopted a more constructive realistic position. They now are ready to agree to substantial forward steps in the spirit of resolutions already adopted or agreed to by our two delegations. This is encouraging; we should recall, for example that the position of the UAR differs considerably now from the position taken during the emergency session. Kuznetsov went on to say that six non-permanent members (India, Brazil, Argentina, Nigeria, Mali, Ethiopia) have worked out a draft resolution which has come to be known as the Indian draft. Kuznetsov had held the impression, perhaps naively, that this resolution had some chance of acceptance. He had met with the U.S. delegation and had discovered that the delegation was not prepared to cooperate and in fact was not even willing to support resolutions [Page 970] that it had helped draft at the end of the emergency session. Kuznetsov felt that so long as the U.S. delegation took this attitude the prospects for agreement were not bright. He doubted that India, Argentina and Denmark, which had been assigned tasks of working out still another resolution, could succeed unless there should be a change in the position of the U.S. delegation.

The Secretary suggested that there might be a possibility of merging the Danish and Indian drafts, but Kuznetsov said this was impossible since the Danish draft makes no reference to the June 5 date. It was his view and that of a good many other delegations at the UN that the Danish draft would simply amount to rewarding Israeli for aggression. Kuznetsov said the crucial question for his government was to ascertain why the United States had retreated from the position it apparently held early this summer when it supported the Latin American resolution and the two draft resolutions prepared and agreed to by the U.S. and Soviet delegations.

The Secretary said that the basic problem was not whether Moscow and Washington can agree on the elements of a settlement but rather whether a resolution can be worked out which would be acceptable to the countries directly concerned. In the Secretary’s view there are two alternative roads we can follow: the first is to settle all problems in the area; the second is to work out general principles for the settlement of these problems. The Secretary pointed out that he did not wish to engage in negotiations on the Middle East problem since these should properly take place in New York. He did, however, wish to make a few general observations. Reverting to his point that there are two approaches we can follow, he pointed out that some delegations tend to apply one approach to the problems of particular interest to them and the other approach to problems of direct concern to the other side. For example, both the Arabs and Israelis seek a formula which would be precise on what they seek but imprecise on what the other side seeks. A resolution drawn along these lines would cause real trouble; a formula for example that would be precise on withdrawal but imprecise on the use of the Suez Canal was simply unacceptable.

Kuznetsov again asked why the United States is not prepared to support the draft resolutions worked out at the end of the emergency session which, in his view, were in accord with the principles stated by the Secretary.

The Secretary said that he did not wish to discuss in detail the controversy over the draft resolutions which was well known to both sides. The important thing was to ensure that we have agreed understandings of any draft resolution that may be developed. This had not been the case with the earlier draft resolutions. The Arabs, for example, had subsequently [Page 971] taken the position that the clause “freedom of international waterways” did not apply to the Suez Canal. In any case, the Secretary felt that we should now focus on how we should proceed from here.

Kuznetsov again said that he could not understand why we were not prepared now to support the draft resolutions worked out earlier. Does the problem concern only the date? He would remind the Secretary that both drafts contained the June 4 date; the only difference between the two was that one draft was expressed in precise terms and the other reflected general principles. There was considerable suspicion at the UN as to the motive for omitting a date relating to withdrawal. Kuznetsov himself wondered about this. He had noted the recent speech by the Israeli Prime Minister and had also noted that there had been no statement by any U.S. official publicly disagreeing with that speech. If this should mean that the United States now favors awarding Israeli aggression with territorial gains the situation is indeed dangerous. It was understandable, therefore, that Kuznetsov should seek a straight answer to the question: Does the United States favor withdrawal of Israeli forces to the positions held before June 5?

Dobrynin interjected at this point that there is a feeling among the Arab delegation that the entire question should be aired publicly in the General Assembly. The Soviet delegation would be reluctant to see this happen since this would give rise to a polemical atmosphere which would not facilitate agreement. Thus it is vital to clarify the question raised by Mr. Kuznetsov if we are to have a clear understanding between our two governments.

The Secretary said that the U.S. position from a national point of view was clear; we had no interest in nor did we favor territorial changes in the area. He would point out that if the Arabs had cooperated in bringing about an early cease fire the question of territorial gains would never have arisen since Jordan and Syria would not have become involved. The fundamental question, however, in the Secretary’s view is how is peace to be secured in the area. Peace cannot be ensured if we are to be precise only on withdrawal and imprecise on such vital questions as belligerency, the right of Israel to exist as a state, freedom of navigation, etc. A formula which suffered from this weakness would leave open the possibility of a request for immediate sanctions against one party’s failure to abide by precise conditions but would not provide for any enforcement measures in the event the other party should choose to ignore imprecise conditions. The Secretary felt strongly that either we move with precision on all points or we move on the basis of general principles.

Kuznetsov agreed that any formula for settlement should incorporate the basic peace measures cited by the Secretary as well as provision for withdrawal. The two draft resolutions worked out by the U.S. and Soviet [Page 972] delegations incorporated both elements. If the United States should agree to support either of these draft resolutions a solution can be found. It was Kuznetsov’s impression that both drafts were acceptable to the United States, and this impression was reenforced by the following passage contained in the President’s letter to Kosygin of October 23:

“We were guided by these principles when our representatives in New York worked out jointly with your representatives, toward the close of the Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly, alternative drafts of a resolution which would bring about force withdrawals, an end to the state of belligerency between Israel and its Arab neighbors and establishment of a stable basis for peace in the Near East. We were prepared to have either of those drafts presented and adopted by the Emergency General Assembly, but, as you know, this was not possible because of objections from certain Arab countries.”2

The Secretary asked Kuznetsov if he were convinced that the two governments had the same understanding of the two draft resolutions.

Kuznetsov said that it was precisely to clarify this point that he sought an answer to the question of whether the United States favors complete withdrawal or not. He would like at this point to cite the following passage from Kosygin’s letter to the President of October 21:

“The Soviet Government proceeds from the position that it is necessary to eliminate without delay the after-effects of aggression and, at the same time, to prevent the breakout of a new military conflict in this area in the near or more distant future.”3

The Secretary observed that it was important that we not be more “Israeli” in our attitude than Israel and that the Soviets not be more “Arab” in their position than the Arabs.

Kuznetsov completely agreed with this.

The Secretary again observed that if the non-permanent members of the Security Council should not be successful in working out a formula our two delegations should resume their discussions. He wished again to stress the distinction between our mutual national views and the positions of the states in the area. For example, we have disagreed with Israel for almost 20 years over the questions of Jerusalem and Jordan; other territorial problems in the area present less difficulties. It would be useless for us to agree to a resolution which would be unacceptable to the states directly concerned.

Kuznetsov said he assumed from the Secretary’s remarks with regard to differences between the United States and Israel that Gaza could remain under UAR control. In any case, he felt strongly that if the [Page 973] United States could support the Indian draft a solution could be found. The Arab delegations are now in a bad mood; they fear that the tabling of the new Danish draft, which deviates from previously agreed principles, would mean that all the efforts made and work done so far would go down the drain. It is important to recognize that there is a limit to how far the Arabs can go; they cannot risk humiliation or support any action which would be interpreted as an infringement on or diminution of their national sovereignty. The situation will become more dangerous as time goes on and if the Arabs should feel that the other side does not want peace in the area.

The Secretary said that it was unfortunate that India had worked out a draft which incorporated the essence of the Tito plan.

Kuznetsov said that this was simply not true. The Indian draft was much easier on the Israelis and imposed more obligations on the Arabs than the Latin American draft.

The Secretary said that he had the feeling that the Indians were trying to be more Arab in their outlook than the Arabs themselves, possibly because of their problems with Pakistan. Beyond this the Indians had not bothered to consult with us in the preparation of their draft, and we did not feel that this was a proper way to proceed. In any case, the Secretary would have an opportunity to discuss the problem further with Ambassador Goldberg this afternoon and he would assume that Ambassador Goldberg and Mr. Kuznetsov would be meeting over the weekend.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Toon on November 3. Approved in S on November 8. The memorandum is part I of IV. The time is from Rusk’s Appointment Book, which indicates that the conversation took place during luncheon at the Department of State. (Johnson Library)
  2. Document 484.
  3. Document 480.