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


  • Evolution of Positions in US–USSR Talks on the Middle East

Attached is a detailed study of the evolution of the U.S. and Soviet positions on a Middle East settlement through six negotiating phases over the last 15 months.2 Since that study is comprehensive, the 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 of last year, the U.S. 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 talks3 (though he appears to have understood that direct talks were involved only at signing) if the U.S. were 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 response4 seemed to leave open the door to some procedure comparable to Rhodes talks. In April, Dobrynin told Sisco that the Soviets could no longer accept the Rhodes formula. Dobrynin’s informal alternative was that the parties would have contact between themselves through Jarring with the understanding he could use “various forms.”

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 [Page 504] the day Israel begins withdrawing but would permit the Arabs to say that final peace does not come into being until withdrawal is completed. Until recently, they have tried to do this by distinguishing between de facto (beginning of withdrawal) and de jure (end of withdrawal) peace. In their most recent formulation, however, the Soviets have compromised by saying that juridically cessation of the state of war and establishment of the state of peace will begin when the “first stage” of Israeli withdrawal is completed. 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. 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 document5 the general obligations of Article 2 of the UN Charter, but until recently resisted inclusion of any specific stipulation that would have the effect of committing the Arabs to control the fedayeen. They have recently (June 2), however, given in to us on this point.


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-Shaykh and the Sinai.

The USSR has insisted throughout on total withdrawal to pre-war lines. Since we went to our fallback position on October 28,6 the Soviets have increasingly pressed us to be more detailed and specific especially on Gaza, Sharm al-Shaykh and the Golan Heights. They appear to be in the process of making any further progress contingent on this issue as they have already done in the Four Power Talks.

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.

[Page 505]

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.


The US has insisted throughout on freedom of passage for Israel through the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal. In our October formulations, we have linked security arrangements at Sharm al-Shaykh 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 Israelis in the past. [The US has resisted this.]7


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 at one point they were willing to discuss it as a possible side understanding.

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 and the Soviets have not clarified it since then.


What most strikes me after completing this review is how little real progress we have made after 15 months of talking with the Soviets [Page 506] on the Middle East. For all practical purposes, we are now effectively back to where we began when the Soviets presented their working document to us in June 1969. After actively discussing a joint document between June 17—when they produced their draft—and September 30, the Soviets in December simply turned aside our October 28 formulations—containing a major concession from us on boundaries—as providing no basis for a joint document.

Now they have reopened the dialogue with a concession to us—Arab control of the fedayeen—but have linked it to our being even more forthcoming on the withdrawal issue (in effect asking us to bargain away all of Israel’s position). Moreover, by continuing to insist on talking only about modifications in their June documents, the Soviets seem to be wiping the slate clean of Sisco’s Moscow talks last July8 and Secretary Roger’s talks in September9 which provided the basis for our October 28 document.

Beyond this there are a number of important issues on which the Soviets have either retrogressed (negotiating procedures, withdrawal, nature of agreement), held firm (waterways, refugees, demilitarized zones) or not moved enough on to make any real difference (timing of withdrawal, juridical state of peace).

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Soviets are not negotiating in good faith with us. They seem to be too content with the present situation on the ground and our difficulties in the area to back down much from the maximum Arab demands. 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 Arab position as we have taken from Israel’s. Yet we have no evidence that the Soviets intend to do this.

If this is a valid interpretation, the logical question then arises as to why the Soviets seem intent on keeping up a dialogue on the Middle East. It may be that they view the bilateral talks as a potential escape hatch if the situation on the ground begins to get out of hand and their commitments to the Arabs start them down the road to a confrontation with us and Israel. They are after all playing a dangerous game with their SA–3s and pilots. It may also be that the Soviets view their talks with us as a way of keeping us a bit off guard as their military presence increases in the area and as a potential safeguard against some precipitate act by us to reverse the situation. Finally, there is the apparent fact that Nasser still wants to keep the political settlement option open and the Soviets would rather do his bidding than let him alone with us.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 646, Country Files, Middle East, General, Vol. VI, August 1970. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. The memorandum was not initialed by Saunders.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 87.
  4. See Document 109.
  5. See Document 58.
  6. See Document 98.
  7. Brackets in the source text.
  8. See Document 69.
  9. See Documents 81 and 87.