104. Editorial Note

On December 9, 1969, in a public address before the 1969 Galaxy Conference on Adult Education in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State William Rogers outlined a proposal for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement. The position set forth in the Secretary’s speech, which became known as the Rogers Plan, incorporated most of the language contained in the United States proposal handed to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco on October 28, 1969 (see Document 98). Rogers enunciated the main elements of his plan as follows:

“Peace between the Parties

“—The Resolution of the Security Council makes clear that the goal is the establishment of a state of peace between the parties instead of the state of belligerency which has characterized relations for over 20 years. We believe the conditions and obligations of peace must be defined in specific terms. For example, navigation rights in the Suez Canal and in the Straits of Tiran should be spelled out. Respect for sovereignty and obligations of the parties to each other must be made specific.

“But peace, of course, involves much more than this. It is also a matter of the attitudes and intentions of the parties. Are they ready to coexist with one another? Can a live-and-let-live attitude replace suspicion, mistrust and hate? A peace agreement between the parties must be based on clear and stated intentions and a willingness to bring about basic changes in the attitudes and conditions which are characteristic of the Middle East today.

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“—A lasting peace must be sustained by a sense of security on both sides. To this end, as envisaged in the Security Council resolution, there should be demilitarized zones and related security arrangements more reliable than those which existed in the area in the past. The parties themselves, with Ambassador Jarring’s help, are in the best position to work out the nature and the details of such security arrangements. It is, after all, their interests which are at stake and their territory which is involved. They must live with the results.

“Withdrawal and Territory

“—The Security Council Resolution endorses the principle of the non-acquisition of territory by war and calls for withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 war. We support this part of the Resolution, including withdrawal, just as we do its other elements.

“The boundaries from which the 1967 war began were established in the 1949 Armistice Agreements and have defined the areas of national jurisdiction in the Middle East for 20 years. Those boundaries were armistice lines, not final political borders. The rights, claims and positions of the parties in an ultimate peaceful settlement were reserved by the Armistice Agreement.

“The Security Council Resolution neither endorses nor precludes these armistice lines as the definitive political boundaries. However, it calls for withdrawal from occupied territories, the non-acquisition of territory by war, and for the establishment of secure and recognized boundaries.

“We believe that while recognized political boundaries must be established, and agreed upon by the parties, any changes in the preexisting lines should not reflect the weight of conquest and should be confined to insubstantial alterations required for mutual security. We do not support expansionism. We believe troops must be withdrawn as the Resolution provides. We support Israel’s security and the security of the Arab states as well. We are for a lasting peace that requires security for both.”

Rogers explained that “in our recent meetings with the Soviets, we have discussed some new formulas in an attempt to find common positions.” He outlined the three principal elements as follows:

  • First, there should be a binding commitment by Israel and the United Arab Republic to peace with each other, with all the specific obligations of peace spelled out, including the obligation to prevent hostile acts originating from their respective territories.
  • Second, the detailed provisions of peace relating to security safeguards on the ground should be worked out between the parties, under [Page 316] Ambassador Jarring’s auspices, utilizing the procedures followed in negotiating the Armistice Agreements under Ralph Bunche in 1949 at Rhodes. This formula has been previously used with success in negotiations between the parties on Middle Eastern problems. A principal objective of the Four Power talks, we believe, should be to help Ambassador Jarring engage the parties in a negotiating process under the Rhodes formula.

    “So far as a settlement between Israel and the United Arab Republic goes, these safeguards relate primarily to the area of Sharm al-Shaykh controlling access to the Gulf of Aqaba, the need for demilitarized zones as foreseen in the Security Council Resolution, and final arrangements in the Gaza Strip.

  • Third, in the context of peace and agreement on specific security safeguards, withdrawal of Israeli forces from Egyptian territory would be required.

“Such an approach directly addresses the principal national concerns of both Israel and the UAR. It would require the UAR to agree to a binding and specific commitment to peace. It would require withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from UAR territory to the international border between Israel and Egypt which has been in existence for over a half century. It would also require the parties themselves to negotiate the practical security arrangements to safeguard the peace.” (Department of State Bulletin, January 5, 1970, pages 7–11)

On December 10, 1969, Israel rejected Rogers’ proposals. At 10 a.m., the National Security Council met to discuss the situation in the Middle East. When discussion turned to the best forum to continue negotiations, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger made the following comments about bilateral talks between the Soviet Union and the United States:

“US–USSR talks have been confined to the UAR because the issues seemed more tractable, because a UAR settlement would facilitate a Jordan settlement and because we thought the USSR might press the UAR. Those who argued for entering those talks did so on three grounds. First, for global reasons, the US had an interest in seeing whether it could negotiate seriously on a range of important issues. Second, the USSR’s persistent requests since September 1968 to talk about a Mid-East settlement suggested that Moscow might be uncomfortable in the Mid-East and might participate seriously in trying to work out a reasonable arrangement. While we maintained a proper skepticism, it made sense to probe far enough to see what was possible. Third, the USSR should pay at least as much of the price for a settlement as the U.S. in expanding its influence with its clients. Those who opposed this course argued mainly that the USSR did not want a real peace; it simply wanted to persuade us to press Israel to give back [Page 317] the territory of Moscow’s clients. Since the USSR was not likely to act seriously, it did not make sense to formalize the USSR’s role in the Mid-East by giving it a place at the peace table.”

President Richard Nixon then commented:

“It has been one of our assumptions in the U.S.-Soviet talks that we could get the Soviet Union to help bring the UAR around. Mr. [John] McCloy yesterday hit hard on the following point: Nasser tells him and other American businessmen that the Egyptians don’t want to be exclusively in Soviet clutches. They would like the opportunity for direct communication with the U.S. The oil people all seem to feel that we are making a mistake not to have a direct channel of communications with the Egyptians.”

Rogers remarked as follows:

“We do have direct channels of communication with the Egyptians. It is interesting to note that when I sent my letter [outlining the Rogers plan] to [UAR] Foreign Minister [Mahmoud] Riad, [Soviet] Ambassador [Anatoly] Dobrynin came in and told me that [Soviet] Foreign Minister [Andrei] Gromyko had been embarrassed by what I had said in my letter. Riad had turned over a copy of my letter to Gromyko. Here was an opportunity given to the Egyptians to communicate with the U.S. and not to involve the Russians, and the first thing they did was to turn over the communication to the Russians.”

After further discussion about Middle East issues not directly related to the Soviet Union, Nixon remarked:

“On the Middle East, however, it is fair to say that Soviet interests can only be served by tension. I know it is sometimes said that the Soviets are uncomfortable in the present situation. But I sometimes have trouble understanding why.”

The following exchanges then took place:

“Mr. Helms: I think they want the situation to stay the way it is.

“Secretary Rogers: I am not so sure of that. I believe they are quite concerned about the consequences of the kind of explosion Israel could provoke.

“Dr. Kissinger: The longer Israel holds its conquered Arab territory, the longer the Soviets cannot deliver what the Arabs want. As that time drags on, the Arabs must begin to conclude that friendship with the Soviet Union is not very helpful—that it led to two defeats, one of which the U.S. rescued the Arabs from, and to continued impotence in regaining what they have lost.

“Secretary Rogers: The Soviets have some of the same problems with the UAR that we have with Israel. They cannot just walk in to Nasser’s office and gain his acceptance of any proposition they may put to him. They must consider the fact that the more radical Arab [Page 318] elements like the fedayeen are going to blame the Soviets for not producing what the Arabs want.

“President: Then it is possible to argue, is it not, that if we want the Soviets to help, Israel is producing that result by scaring them. Why should it not be our policy to let Israel scare them a little bit more?

“Secretary Rogers: I think our position is pretty well spelled out now as a result of my speech last night. The position I elaborated on there is thoroughly consistent with the UN Security Council resolution.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Minutes Originals 1969 [5 of 5]) The minutes of this meeting are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1969–1972.