115. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

SUBJECT

  • Evolution of Positions in US–USSR Talks

On December 30, I gave you a wrapup of US and Soviet positions as stated in the US formulations of October 28 and the Soviet response of December 23.2 Attached is a detailed study of the evolution of the US and Soviet positions through five negotiating phases since March 18. Since that study is comprehensive, following is an analytical summary of the changes on each major issue:

Negotiating Procedure

The US has insisted throughout—either in text or in gloss—on direct negotiations at some stage. In September–October, the US added the concept of Rhodes-type talks to the discussions and text.

The USSR in early phases urged us not to complicate the process by emphasizing direct contacts. In September, Gromyko told Rogers he would agree to Rhodes-type talks (though he appears to have understood that direct talks were involved only at signing) if the US were [Page 348]more precise on boundaries. In December, the USSR returned to the position that the big powers should not commit the parties to any particular form of negotiation, but the Soviet December 23 response seemed to leave open the door to some procedure comparable to Rhodes talks.

Timing of Withdrawal and Peace

The US has insisted throughout that Israeli withdrawal would begin at the same moment the state of war is ended and a formal state of peace begins.

The USSR has persistently struggled to create a distinction that would satisfy Israel by having the peace agreement come into effect on the day Israel begins withdrawing but would permit the Arabs to say that final peace does not come into being until withdrawal is completed. They have tried to do this by distinguishing between de facto (beginning of withdrawal) and de jure (end of withdrawal) peace. The USSR has also dwelt on a two-phase Israeli withdrawal which would permit UAR troops to move into the Canal area as soon as Israeli troops have withdrawn 30–40 kilometers.

Obligations of Peace

The US has enumerated the general obligations of nations to one another as defined in Article 2 of the UN Charter.3 In addition, the US has insisted on a stipulation that governments control all hostile acts from their territory, specifically including those of non-governmental individuals and organizations.

The USSR accepted in its June 17 document4 the general obligations of Article 2 of the UN Charter, but has throughout resisted inclusion of any specific stipulation that would have the effect of committing the UAR to control the fedayeen. The December 23 reply neither reaffirms nor repudiates earlier acceptance of the general obligations of the Charter.

Boundaries

The US position has evolved:

  • —March 24: “Rectifications from pre-existing lines should be confined to those required for mutual security and should not reflect the weight of conquest.”
  • —October 28: Israel should withdraw to the pre-war UAR-Israel border provided adequate security arrangements can be negotiated in Gaza, Sharm al-Sheikh and the Sinai.

The USSR has insisted throughout on pre-war lines. As the US position has evolved, the USSR has become more precise in insisting on our affirming UAR sovereignty over Sharm al-Sheikh and Arab sovereignty over Gaza.

Demilitarized Zones

The US position has evolved from stating that the entire Sinai should be demilitarized to holding that the belligerents should negotiate their size and the procedures for enforcing them.

The USSR has consistently held that demilitarized zones should be on both sides of the borders, not giving advantage to either side. The UN Security Council should work out procedures for enforcing them.

Waterways

The US has insisted throughout on freedom of passage for Israel through the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal. In its latest formulations, it has linked security arrangements at Sharm al-Sheikh to securing free passage through the Straits.

The USSR has accepted the principle of free passage but linked passage through the Canal to the Constantinople Convention of 1888 which permits governments sovereign over canals to close them to states with whom they are at war. This has provided the UAR’s justification for closing the Canal to Israeli in the past. [The US has resisted this.]5

Refugees

The US has accepted the principle of free choice for the refugees between repatriation to Israel and resettlement with compensation. But the US has balanced this with progressively more specific provisions to give Israel control over the individuals and the total number of refugees allowed repatriation. The latest formulation includes an annual quota.

The USSR simply calls on Israel to carry out past UN resolutions which call for repatriation or resettlement with compensation. The USSR has resisted any restrictions, although in mid-summer they were willing to discuss it as a possible side understanding.

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Nature of Agreement

The US, while experimenting with language, has from the start insisted that the final accord should be an agreement or contract between the parties, should be reciprocally binding, should be signed by the parties and should be deposited with the UN for endorsement by the four permanent members of the Security Council.

The USSR in earlier stages clearly accepted the idea of a binding document—a final accord between the parties—signed by the parties and deposited at the UN. However, the December 23 reply ignored this point entirely.

Conclusion

What most strikes me after completing this review of the documents is the cavalier nature of the December 23 Soviet reply. After actively discussing a joint document between June 17—when they produced a draft of their own—and September 30, they simply turned aside our October 28 formulation—containing the position they wanted from us on boundaries—as providing no basis for a joint document.

This has taken place when—as a review of the above positions shows—we might well reach agreement if they would take as much distance from the UAR’s position as we have from Israel’s.

There seem theoretically to be two possible explanations:

  • —They are testing whether a flat rejection will cause us to make a few last concessions.
  • —They are sufficiently content with the present situation not to be willing to press until after the Arab summit,6 which they may have calculated would turn out worse for the US than it did.

It may be that Nasser’s failure at the summit to win the political, financial or military backing he wanted slightly increases our advantage. In any case, the December 23 response is such a step backward that it warrants a sharp rebuff and even telling Dobrynin that we have nothing more to say.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VI. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. Kissinger wrote the following comments on the memorandum: “Excellent paper. Now let’s get same for European Security.” A large bold handwritten “P” appears in the upper right hand corner of the memorandum. Kissinger drew an arrow to the “P” and wrote, “What does this mean?”
  2. Saunder’s memorandum of December 30 has not been found. The U.S. formulations of October 28 on the Middle East are in Document 98; the Soviet response of December 23 is Document 109.
  3. Article 2 of the UN Charter contains seven principles to guide the conduct of its signatory nations. The text of Article 2 is in A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941–1949, p. 118.
  4. A translation of the Soviet response is in Document 58.
  5. Brackets in the source text.
  6. An Arab summit, which included the Defense and Foreign Ministers of 13 Arab countries, met in Rabat, Morocco December 21–23 to discuss a common military and political strategy against Israel. The summit ended without issuing a communiqué.