274. Memorandum of Conversation1



New York, September-October 1968


  • Middle East (Part VIII of VIII)


  • US
    • The Secretary
    • Deputy Under Secretary Charles E. Bohlen
    • Ambassador J. R. Wiggins
    • Wm. D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • USSR
    • Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko
    • Ambassador Ya. Malik
    • Ambassador A. Dobrynin
    • V. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

The Secretary referred to a proposal that a multilateral document settling the Arab-Israeli dispute in the Middle East be signed by all the parties, including Israel, Egypt and Jordan. He did not care what such a document might be called, a Treaty or any other designation would do, as long as it was signed at a minimum by Israel, Jordan and the UAR. If substantive questions were resolved, the parties could sign the same document, not necessarily at one and the same time; thereby they would assume certain obligations which they would undertake to carry out. Mr. Gromyko inquired whether the Secretary had discussed this possibility with Riad. The Secretary indicated he had, although at the time Riad was accompanied by some other Arabs. He said that if an Arab has an Arab for an audience things have a tendency to become difficult. Riad had thought, however, that perhaps the various parties could sign different copies of the same document. Mr. Gromyko proposed that such a document be signed first by one side, and then Mr. Jarring could take it to the other side, so as to get it signed by all parties. Then, after all had signed it, suppose the members of the Security [Page 545] Council also signed, at least the permanent members. The Secretary thought such a procedure might be possible. In any case, said Mr. Gromyko, we should not let a comma stand in the way of peace if there is agreement on substantive issues. The Secretary said that he was interested to see a reference to a multilateral document in Mr. Gromyko’s statement and suggested we see what could be done in this respect. A second problem had to do with passage through international waterways. Our understanding of the Soviet position was that the USSR had no objection to international waterways being open. We take the same view; both our countries are maritime powers. If the Arabs said that they were prepared to end the state of war with Israel, it would seem that the obstacle to the passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal would also have been removed; for over the years the only justification for barring the Canal to Israeli shipping had been the state of war. It follows then, that if the UAR now says that it is prepared to end the state of war, but would postpone consideration of the question of opening the Suez Canal, then these are merely words without any real substance. Riad had said that Suez would be dealt with in connection with the refugee question. The Secretary had suggested to him that each refugee be asked where he wanted to live, whether he wanted to return to Israel or live in other countries, and that this be done in a most confidential manner so that he would not get his throat cut for having chosen one option over another. He was interested in the fact that Riad did not turn down this idea. Perhaps we could make progress on this basis, with the help of the Swiss or someone else. Mr. Gromyko asked for the Secretary’s estimate of the number of refugees who would elect to return to their former territory. The Secretary guessed that number to be no more that 10 per cent of all the refugees. If this were really so, Israel would be prepared to receive them; it could not, however, commit itself to receive unlimited numbers. Mr. Gromyko then inquired as to the possible sequence of steps concerning the Canal and the refugees, once such a poll among the refugees had been taken and Israel had agreed to accept those who wanted to return. The Secretary thought that one possibility was to have UNRWA or the Swiss or some other neutral carry out the job of polling the refugees, possibly Jarring or some such person. If we could get this arrangement made and on the basis of that unlock the problem of opening the Suez Canal, that in turn would unlock the problem of the state of war; then we could take up territorial matters and troop withdrawal. The Israeli cabinet had not as yet reached any firm conclusion on the subject; but it was the Secretary’s impression that there were no territorial problems that could not be solved between Israel and Egypt; there were none between Israel and Lebanon: the territorial problems between Israel and Jordan, he was sure, could be solved by quiet, behind the scenes negotiations. There was also not much of a problem in this respect between Israel [Page 546] and Syria. Jerusalem, however, did indeed present a very thorny problem. Replying to Mr. Gromyko’s inquiry, the Secretary said that while he would not object to the Gaza Strip being classified as Arab territory, it was not Egyptian territory. He did not know what solution could be found for the Gaza Strip, possibly a UN solution; of course, he knew that Jordan wanted Gaza; but this problem would perhaps be eased once the refugee problem was out of the way. Thus he took the view that the solution of each point at dispute made the solution of other points easier.

Mr. Gromyko said that it would be good for each of our two sides to try to work with the appropriate sides for the purpose of influencing them toward a solution. But, could we be sure that this work would not be in vain, that Israel perhaps would then come out with a statement saying it did not agree with the US position?

The Secretary emphasized that he was presenting the US view of these problems; he did not, however, have any way of guaranteeing that Israel would see things the same way as we. In this connection he also said that in June 1967 we had received Israeli assurances that they would not be the first to take military action, yet they had done so. On the other hand, the Arabs were exaggerating; he was convinced that Israel was not engaged in a major campaign of territorial expansion. Mr. Gromyko asked if we had any good grounds to believe in a successful settlement of the various disputes if we worked in this direction. The Secretary suggested that we keep in close touch during the next three or four weeks as Jarring explores all of these possibilities first hand. Mr. Gromyko asked if the Secretary was suggesting that we keep hands off during that period of time. The Secretary replied that Jarring needed the support of the US and the USSR to be successful in his efforts. To Mr. Gromyko’s question whether the Secretary was in touch with Israel directly, the Secretary replied that he was. Mr. Gromyko then said that we should work in parallel to get all possibilities considered while Jarring was proceeding with the matters he was working on. The Secretary called attention to a statement by Eban, in which he had strongly commended and supported Jarring’s efforts. We would also support Jarring’s work by talking with Israel and the Arabs, although he was sure Mr. Gromyko knew that our influence with the Arabs was not very great. Ambassador Malik remarked that it seemed to him our influence was not very great with Israel either. Secretary Rusk repeated that Jarring was working and said “let us work behind the scenes.” Mr. Gromyko asked that we keep in touch through the respective ambassadors; everything should be done to find a solution—such was the view of the Soviet Union. The Secretary added that we seemed to have common views on the points mentioned although we disagreed on the most important point of view of arms limitation in [Page 547] the Middle East. Mr. Gromyko reminded the Secretary of the assurances the USSR had given several times to the effect that when the problem of Israeli troop withdrawal was resolved, the USSR would be willing to consider the question of arms limitation. The Secretary said he hoped it would not be too late for that by then. Mr. Gromyko said we should be realistic; who would be causing trouble, surely not Nasser or Syria. The Secretary thought both sides sometimes acted as if they were crazy. Ambassador Malik objected that the Arabs were victims of aggression. To that the Secretary said that in the same vein we could then proceed to mention the Straits of Tiran, the Arab Holy War and so on; we could argue all the way back to 1945. The fact is that we have to start where we are and try to make some sense. Mr. Gromyko said that in the meantime it would be good if both sides could be prevailed upon to refrain from any acts which could inflame the situation. He thought that the US could strongly advise Israel not to stir up trouble. The Secretary said frankly that we had been doing so almost every week; we get back reports of terrorist acts by El Fatah, etc. As concerns Lebanon and Jordan, these two countries have been trying to restrain the terrorists and Israel knows that. We would like to see a situation where there were no incidents in any direction. He agreed that at times Israeli reaction to terrorist acts was too violent. Mr. Gromyko said that he was glad to know the Secretary would talk to the Israelis. For his part, he was sure the Secretary knew that he had made many private as well as public statements counselling restraint. The Secretary said it would be good if Syria could be prevailed upon to cooperate with her Arab neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan. Mr. Gromyko said that Syria’s position, with part of her territory occupied, had to be understood. To that the Secretary replied that the Syrians had been engaging in hostile acts long before June 1967. Syria had even then been a center for El Fatah. He asked the Foreign Minister to keep in touch.

The meeting ended with a brief discussion of what to say to press inquiries. It was agreed to mention the subjects and areas which had been discussed but also to state that no definite conclusions had been reached.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 69 D 182, CF 321. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by William D. Krimer and approved in S on October 17. The meeting took place over dinner in Suite 42A at the Waldorf Towers. The conversation was summarized in telegram 6889 from USUN, October 7. (Ibid., Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 ARAB/ISR)