205. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Soviet Reply to our Mid-East Démarches

Deputy Foreign Minister Vinogradov’s omnibus reply to our three démarches2 offers nothing concrete that would indicate that the Soviets or UAR intend to restrain their missile build-up, let alone tear it down. Yet, both the tone of the oral statement and Vinogradov’s comments suggest that the Soviets may have blinked, if only slightly.

There is very little truculence in the formal statement and, rather plaintively, Vinogradov asked “rhetorically,” how could rectification be accomplished? This last question is perhaps the operative part of the Soviet presentation, and may be the diplomatic opening that we need, especially if coupled with that part of the formal statement—which Vinogradov called attention to—that offered bilateral talks or a multilateral effort to move toward a settlement.

This could be pure evasion, particularly in light of the continuing missile build-up and direct Soviet involvement in it. (This last aspect incidentally seems to be getting lost in the shuffle. We will ultimately have to face up to the question of how to deal with the issue of Soviet presence.) On the other hand, having sliced several large chunks off the salami both the Soviets and the UAR may feel that they can resume [Page 618] political maneuvering to bring the Israelis back to the conference table, or at least to retrieve what they may have lost politically by the violation through isolating Israel (and us) as the opponents of talks.

The fact that Vinogradov displayed responsiveness to the concept of “rectification,” even if rhetorically, could be a key opportunity. Read one way, this could be a cautious invitation for us to respond and could be a signal that the Soviets do not reject the idea privately broached by Beam to Vinogradov on September 3,3 that removal of some missiles would be a necessary sign of good faith. Under this interruption, the Soviets could be inviting us to follow up and give them our ideas of what would constitute rectification, but in the secrecy of bilateral channels.

If so, it would be a great mistake to become involved in the morass of detailed numbers games over this or that missile site, or as currently proposed by Sisco, to put to the Soviets a list of actions they should take.

What we need is a concept that matches our general position that neither side should gain a military advantage and that a balance should be maintained. Under this approach what we should concentrate on is the number of operational missile sites as of August 10 and tell the Soviets that what we expect is that they will, in whatever manner they choose, restore this situation. If the Soviets do not accept our estimate of number of operational missile sites and claim there were less, so much the better. If they claim there were more, within limits we could go along and say this becomes the new ceiling. This approach focuses on the critical military item (missile launchers) and avoids the ambiguity of “related” equipment, occupied vs unoccupied, mobile vs stationary, SA–2 vs SA–3.

This approach could be linked to the other Sisco idea of cancelling out violations in return for dropping further investigation of Israeli violations.

In any case, it is worth exploring whether Vinogradov has in fact given a signal, or is merely throwing sand in our eyes. It does not appear to warrant, however, the proposed Sisco approach of elevating the rhetoric but rather a fast, but quiet BeamVinogradov negotiations. That this had already started would, presumably, have some effect on the meetings with Mrs. Meir.

Hal Saunders points out that it is difficult from intelligence to determine the number of operational sites. Using “occupied” sites might bring us close enough to the general concept to establish a reasonable [Page 619] base. The intelligence people would have to go back over the photos and do a best guess list of occupied sites which represent military capability. He feels that this approach might be a better one than the more elaborate Sisco proposals now that there may be some opening to explore, but wonders whether the Soviets are really prepared to make that kind of concession given the fact that they and the Egyptians have not even broken stride in their build-up since our approach of September 3.

I do not know of course whether, in fact, the Soviets will make any concessions. The point is that we probably should exhaust this possibility, particularly in view of what may have been some very mixed signals to the Soviets during August. If it proves fruitless, we will have to haul out the heavy artillery.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 713, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VIII. Secret; Nodis. Sent for urgent information. Initialed by Kissinger.
  2. See Document 201.
  3. See Document 201.