174. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
- Middle East Dialogue with the Soviets
The Soviets have now tabled their new formulations2 in the Four Power talks. Since this step brings into the open the debate over their significance, I thought you might want to look at this issue in detail. [Page 536] You will recall that those formulations (a) concede Arab control of the fedayeen and (b) advance the time when peace would become effective.
At Tab A3 is a memo produced by the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at State on the new Soviet formulations. I call it to your attention because it presents a much more hopeful interpretation than either Bill Hyland or I have provided you in recent memos and because it will have a lot to do with conditioning State’s interpretation.
Following are a brief summary of the major points in the INR memo and a short critique of it.
The INR memo argues: “The fact that Moscow is now willing to advance beyond dead center on two questions which the UAR has in the past been unwilling to confront and which involve a long-resisted Egyptian surrender, in principle, of the strongest Egyptian bargaining ploys against Israel, implies that the USSR has strong policy reasons for moving to this position.” Since presumably the Soviets were willing to use their new leverage with Cairo to extract these concessions, “the resultant impression is that the USSR means to convey a signal of its desire to bargain seriously.”
Moscow’s move is seen as having two immediate tactical advantages:
- —First and foremost, it appears designed to force the U.S. to face up to the problem of its relationship with Israel. Moscow expected its move would complicate the U.S. decision on jets for Israel. But more important, Moscow may see this as the ultimate inducement to press Israel to withdraw.
- —Second, it may have been calculated to remind us that no direct U.S. approach to Nasser attempting an end run around Moscow can succeed.
The memo then moves on to discuss Soviet motivations:
- —It is assumed that the Soviets would not have made their move if they had not been prepared for a positive U.S. response that could eventually lead to a settlement on favorable terms. Moscow’s postulated readiness to settle the Arab-Israeli problem rests on indications that they are still considerably worried about an Israeli attack against the Arabs and a possible American military involvement in future hostilities as well as the effect of heightened tension in the Middle East on important ongoing Soviet-American relationships in other fields.
- —The Soviets would like to open up the Suez Canal.
- —It is asserted that the USSR no longer believes that its leverage with the UAR and other Arab states depends on opposing a settlement. Even with a settlement it is thought that Moscow would have many things going in its favor in the Middle East.
The INR memo concludes that, even though Soviet interest in dampening the Arab-Israeli dispute now seems substantial, it is unlikely that it is strong enough for them to willingly undercut the position they have so painstakingly and expensively built up in the area. The new positions communicated by Dobrynin imply that Moscow means business but that the deal will have to meet Arab sensibilities on regaining their territories and on the refugee problem. Finally, the Soviets will be anxious to keep the diplomatic action in our bilateral channel in order to emphasize their co-equal role with us in the region and as the best way to overcome both Cairo’s possible faintheartedness and Tel Aviv’s probable obstructionism.
While many of INR’s points seem valid, it seems to have been written out of the context of the record of the past year’s negotiations. A review of that negotiating history clearly reveals that after 15 months of effort there has been little, if any, net progress toward coming up with a joint document. It is true that the Soviets have suddenly reopened the bilateral dialogue, which for all practical purposes was suspended since late last October, but they have done so in a way that attempts to wipe the slate clean of all we have discussed over the last year.
The simple fact is that their new formulations are changes in their June 1969 document, which we felt we passed in our drafts of last July and October. One of their two opening concessions on the peace issue—Arab control of the fedayeen—is important but it simply does not stack up to what they want us to do in return. They want us to give away Israel’s entire position on withdrawal before the peace negotiations—which their document ignores—even begin.
It is correct, as the INR memo says, that the Soviets have again signalled a desire to bargain. However, the terms are such that I question whether we are yet within range of serious negotiation unless the U.S. is prepared to press now for Israeli acceptance of certain borders before negotiations begin. Moreover, while I can find several strong incentives for the Soviets to keep the talks open, I still see none that are compelling enough for them to back down very far from the maximum Arab positions. I can see why they might want to re-open the negotiating door as a safety exit because the potential for their military involvement. But my guess is that they would like to draw the present [Page 538] situation out just as long as they can—see the U.S. position eroded just as much as possible—before they turn to political settlement.
Attached at Tab B4 is a copy of a memo I recently sent to you spelling out in more detail my analysis of our bilateral talks with the Soviets.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 646, Country Files, Middle East, General, Vol. VI, August 1970. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. Not initialed by Saunders. The memorandum indicates Kissinger saw it.↩
- See Document 159.↩
- Attached but not printed is a June 9 intelligence brief, “USSR-Israel-Arab States: Moscow’s Push Toward a Middle East Settlement,” prepared by the Bureau of Intelligence and Research for the Secretary.↩
- Attached but not printed.↩