133. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1

738. Subject: Call on Gromyko—Middle East. Ref: State 020685.2

Discussion of ME took up approximately ⅔ of my 90 minute review Feb. 11 with Gromyko. Other subjects in septels.3
I led off, closely following points in reftel, and stressing positive points of President’s reply4 to Kosygin. Discussing need for ceasefire and reports of additional military assistance to UAR, I wished to caution against such assistance as could increase the level of violence on both sides. For this reason, the USG favors scrupulous adherence by both sides of UN ceasefire resolutions and I mentioned US approaches being made respectively in Cairo and Feb. 12 Four-Power meeting. At same time I was obliged to state that if USSR introduced more sophisticated weaponry or took other steps of extraordinary nature, we would have no alternative but to consider setps to restore the balance.
Gromyko took up ceasefire first. He said USSR could not consider ceasefire outside the context of actions which Israel is taking. These actions are flagrant military provocations, and are expression of Israel’s complete ignoring of UN decisions. Soviets must draw conclusion that US statements that it will take steps toward Israel and will cool off extremist statements have not been justified. Ceasefire and ME situation cannot be discussed without considering concrete actions being taken by Israel, which is carrying out systematic, provocative attacks on Arab states. Neither USSR nor USA has received reports that UAR actions are not consistent with UN decisions. It is not UAR, Syria, Jordanian, or other Arab troops which are on Israeli territory, but the reverse. Gromyko then asserted it would be hard to find one honest objective world statesman who would say that the Arab states are to blame for tense ME siuation. The fault lies with Israel.
On arms deliveries, Gromyko wished to remind the US of Sov. Govt. position, which has been expressed in messages to the USG and by Kosygin to the President. Moscow is not against discussing question of limiting arms deliveries to the ME. However, USSR proceeds from idea that for all practical purposes such discussion is not possible while [Page 394] Israel occupies Arab territories. To discuss matter while Israeli troops are on Arab territories creates false, distorted situation. If USG wishes to find just solution to this question, it cannot object to the Soviet Government’s position. When the question of the withdrawal of Israeli troops is resolved, as well as other problems relating to Middle Eastern settlement, our two sides could begin to discuss question of limiting arms deliveries to ME. Once Israeli troops withdraw, Gromyko did not think US and USSR would face tremendous difficulties on limiting arms deliveries. Any possible agreement would depend, however, on concrete positions of parties.
Gromyko said Soviet Government had paid attention to statement expressed in President’s message to Kosygin regarding US interest in restoring relative balance in the event anything is done for benefit of the Arabs. He said USSR regrets that USG poses the question way it has. Israel, which ignores UN decisions, occupies Arab territories and by its policies, is source of tension and acute situation in ME. In Soviet view, USG would occupy more just position if it used all its possibilities and influence to bring about reduction of tension in area exert influence on Israel, instead of taking position it did in President’s message. While USG says USSR should exert influence on Arabs, the victims of Israeli aggression, and hints that in interest of maintaining the balance US will take certain steps, the US is making statements regarding new deliveries of phantoms. Mention is made of dozens of plans, but perhaps it may be more. US actions can only complicate the situation. USG proposals are one-sided, pro-Israel and not objective. They are not designed to help reach agreement.
Gromyko went on to assert the USSR had made many efforts to find an agreement. At times it seemed to Moscow that our two sides had achieved some rapproachment of positions. However, under the influence of facts not known to the Soviet side, the US would then begin to retreat from its previous positions, would reorient its stand. Such an approach undermines all positive movement in negotiations.
Gromyko said the development he was talking about has found expression in the positions taken by the US representative in the Four-Power talks. In effect, the US adopting a take-it or leave-it approach, which the USSR rejects. The USSR wishes to find an agreement acceptable to all parties. However, if in the future the USG continues to use this approach, it promises little in the way of achieving agreement.
Gromyko then said that the USSR is ready, just as before, to continue Two-Power ME talks. He wanted me to inform my government of this. At the same time, he said he would like to have the USG occupy a more constructive position than heretofore.
Gromyko said he would like to make an observation not directly connected with my remarks, but related to the general problem [Page 395] of finding a ME settlement. In essence, he said there seemed to be no divergences of views between the USSR and the USA when the USG asserts that it is not enough to solve just the question of the withdrawal of troops, but that other questions need to be settled. We both agree that what is needed is the cessation of war and the establishment of a durable peace. We both seem to attach great importance to the idea of a durable peace, yet nothing comes of this and it puzzles the USSR. Perhaps misunderstandings have or are taking place. Gromyko said USSR was ready to do whatever is necessary henceforward so situation can be normalized and not worsened but this does not all depend on USSR.
I responded by saying my remarks were intended to follow up on the President’s reply to Premier Kosygin and to draw attention to the 3 special suggestions which might help the situation in the ME. I did not wish to recapitulate the President’s letter, which I was certain would receive due consideration by the Soviet side. I noted the President had said the ceasefire had been violated by both sides, and that the UAR in early 1969 had announced a policy of not observing the ceasefire. I wished to stress, however, that a ceasefire was a means and not an end in itself, but intended to moderate the current situation and to facilitate negotiations for a settlement. Under such circumstances why would anyone want to oppose a ceasefire. I added that, should the USG decide to provide planes to Israel, this would be done in light of the balance existing in the ME, a balance which might be disturbed by Soviet deliveries to the Arabs. The US has been frank in its position, for example President Nixon made this point in his Jan. 26 message5 to the American Jewish community meeting in Washington.
Referring to Gromyko’s assertion that US seemed to be backing off from various positions on ME, I pointed out that any changes we had made were for the purpose of finding a fair-handed solution. Actually, the evolution in our position had sometimes been made for this purpose in the direction of Arab and not solely Israeli interest and had been in response to Soviet urging, as for instance in the the matter of outlining our ideas on frontiers. We certainly could not be accused of pointing our position toward a more adamant, rigid line. In conclusion I stressed we fully appreciate the importance the Arab states attach to withdrawal, which is a key feature to our proposals. The Arabs, however, should not underestimate what the establishment of peace means, not only to the Israeli Govt., but also to world opinion at large.
Gromyko reiterated his assertion about the US tending to back off from previous positions. I responded briefly by saying I did not want to renegotiate everything that had been done in New York and Washington, but wished only to concentrate on certain points which the USG felt would bring about an early normalization in the area. I closed this part of the discussion noting I was pleased that the Soviets apparently also wish an early normalization of the situation.
Comment: Despite his sophistry, Gromyko was even-tempered in his presentation and seemed to be impressed by the steps we are taking to urge a ceasefire and by our warnings concerning an arms escalation in the ME.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VI. Secret; Priority; Nodis.
  2. Telegram 20685 to Moscow, February 9, contained Rogers’ instructions for Beam. (Ibid.)
  3. Not further identified.
  4. Document 126.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 126.