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


  • Soviet Response to Middle East Initiative
[Page 542]

Assistant Secretary Sisco met again July 12 with Ambassador Dobrynin concerning our new Middle East initiative. This account is as interesting in revealing the emerging nature of our diplomatic initiative as it is in confirming emerging outlines of the Soviet response.

Summary of Conversation

Sisco began by explaining, in answer to a question Gromyko had asked Ambassador Beam,3 that we oppose the Arab demand for an Israeli commitment to total withdrawal as a pre-condition to negotiations or to Four Power agreement on guidelines for Jarring. He said we feel that the final borders must be agreed between the parties, not imposed, but should exclude other than insubstantial changes. Sisco also said that we wanted positive reaction from the parties before submitting our proposals in the Four Power forum and that delaying tactics in hope of getting the initiative changed through the major power talks would simply not work. Finally, Sisco noted that the new Soviet formulations (presented last March directly to us and more recently in the Four Power talks) are a “step forward” and our reply would be influenced by (1) whether the negotiating process under Jarring begins and (2) by the degree of Soviet military aid to the Egyptians.4

Dobrynin took the line that our proposals were too thin and that in his opinion it would be best to table our initiative in the Four Power talks where they could be strengthened with the suggestions of other powers. Why, he wondered, had the U.S. taken a unilateral initiative instead of discussing it first in the major power forum, particularly when the Soviets had just made a forthcoming move on the issue of peace that we had stressed so much. Dobrynin stressed the continuing Soviet interest in the U.S.–USSR talks and Moscow’s disappointment over the delay in the U.S. answer to the new Soviet peace formulations.


In our official contacts with the Soviets on the new initiative, they have at all levels indicated their suspicion of our strategy. A certain measure of mutual suspicion is probably inevitable in dealing with the Soviets, but in this case, it is probably increased by the timing of our initiative which did come on the heels of what they regard as the first real concession they have made in over a year of talks on the Middle East. That concession (Arab control of the fedayeen) is only one aspect [Page 543] of the larger problem and came with unacceptable strings attached (acceptance of the rest of the Soviet proposals and especially a prior Israeli commitment to total withdrawal) but it presumably was carefully weighed and probably intended to draw us out from behind our inflexible position. Now, in the Soviet eyes, we have responded, for all practical purposes, by sidetracking the Two Power and Four Power channels in favor of a unilateral and direct approach to the parties with essence of our earlier proposals.

More important, however, than this Soviet suspicion, is their concentration on the issue of total Israeli withdrawal. Dobrynin did not get directly into this but from all indications, including Ambassador Beam’s recent talk with Gromyko, this is why the Soviets keep harping on fleshing out our initiative in the Four Power forum. Of course, it might be natural to expect positions on both sides to harden on this issue just before a possible negotiation.

The most important question for the Soviets, and for that matter for Nasser, is whether the U.S. is prepared to press the Israelis to withdraw totally from the occupied territories if the Arabs make the concession of agreeing to negotiations. All of the Soviet talk about the need to give Jarring more detailed guidelines really boils down to the Soviets pressuring us to settle the boundary issue before Jarring resumes in contrast to our insistence on having negotiations start before boundary issues as Gaza, Sharm al-Shaikh and Jerusalem are worked out. This has been the essence of the Soviet strategy in the Four Power talks for some time and they apparently intend to pursue it in response to our new initiative.

The most important insight that comes to me out of the first week’s maneuvering over our initiative is this: It is, at the moment, little more than an energetic effort to rush the Soviets and Egyptians to agree to begin negotiation in hope that the U.S. will make the key concessions on boundaries in return. We have hinted; but we have not decided. We may not want to make that decision. But Dobrynin sees the effort for what it is, and I will be surprised if the Egyptians and Soviets let us get away with it. We are asking them to play their key card with no more than a hint that we might play ours in return.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 646, Country Files, Middle East, General, Vol. VI, August 1970. Secret; Nodis. Originally sent for information, but Saunders changed it to action. Copies were sent to Haig and Lord.
  2. In telegram 105385 to Manila, Beirut, Cairo, and additional posts, July 2, the Department reported on their discussion. (Ibid., Box 1155, Saunders Files, U.S. Peace Initiative for Middle East, 6/10–7/23/70, Vol. 1, 4 of 5)
  3. See Document 175.
  4. Kissinger wrote “What proposals are new initiatives?” in the margin.