30. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • The Mid-East Talks with the USSR So Far

What We Have Done So Far

Joe Sisco has seen Dobrynin four times now, three this past week.2 The discussion has proceeded along three tracks: (1) attempts to clarify each other’s position on the main issues listed in the November 1967 UN resolution; (2) Soviet answers to US requests for clarification of the Soviet plan laid out in Moscow’s December 30 note;3 (3) clarification of our working paper distributed Monday for discussion among the four powers. The next session will be April 2.

Much of the discussion has taken place in highly liturgical language—“just and lasting peace,” “secure and recognized boundaries,” “agreement between/by the parties,” “binding agreement.” These are the words of the November 1967 UN resolution and of the argument since over its interpretation. They are the words in the working paper we have surfaced in the Four-Power talks. What follows is an effort to identify the real issues behind those words, which are hard to pin down without talking about concrete proposals—something we are not yet prepared to do, partly because of Israel’s strong objection to that procedure.

Common Ground Established

We seem agreed on some of the more general principles:

The aim is a real settlement (“just and lasting peace”). Dobrynin has now said that Moscow does not want just another armistice. The test will come when we get down to details, but this point is worth establishing in view of Israel’s concern that Nasser just wants to buy Israeli withdrawal at the cheapest price to get ready for the next round. [Page 110] While the Soviets may figure that even a reasonable settlement will leave them enough tension to exploit, their present position seems to leave us room to press for specific arrangements to make the terms of settlement as secure as possible.
The Near Eastern parties must participate (“agreement”). Dobrynin says Moscow is thinking of a settlement agreed to by the Arabs and Israelis. While big-power talks may constitute pressure, the “question of imposing a settlement does not arise.” This point is worth establishing because the Arabs believe that all we have to do is say the word and Israel will withdraw. Even de Gaulle’s thinking contains this theme. But the USSR seems to recognize the dilemma we share—we must move our clients by persuasion rather than by dictat.
A related point is that any US–Soviet views must go to the parties through Jarring, at least officially. Unlike de Gaulle who sees a possible role for the four powers independent of the UN, we and Moscow seem agreed on the desirability of keeping a formal UN buffer between us and the parties to avoid having to absorb all the shock of their reaction ourselves. This, of course, assumes continued exchanges between the parties and Jarring.
Agreement should be reached on all issues listed in the UN resolution as a package. While we are not yet clear on the exact sequence for implementing the elements in the package, Moscow recognizes the practical fact that the Israelis will not withdraw until its security and recognition are guaranteed. This is an important shift from the 1967 Soviet argument that Israel must withdraw before other issues could be negotiated.
Israel has a right to exist as an independent state. This is not new in the Soviet position, but it is important as the one major point on which it differs with Cairo.

Remaining Issues

While there are also differences on a number of secondary points, the important issues at this point are these:

1. Peace—What kind of relationship will exist between Arabs and Israelis after a settlement? Moscow has circulated (December 30) a specific sequence of agreements and implementing steps for arranging Israeli withdrawal. We have not, because we must try to meet some of Israel’s requirement that these specifics be worked out by the Arabs and Israelis themselves. Therefore, we have chosen to describe our position in terms of a set of carefully worded principles, though behind these we have in mind staff studies of each major element of a settlement.

The issue is this: The farther we can go now in defining precisely the obligations of each side, the more certain we can be of Soviet motives. [Page 111] It is easy for Dobrynin to say Moscow wants a real settlement. It is important for us to close as many loopholes for future exploitations as possible, though frankly this is difficult as long as we keep ourselves from talking specifics. So we keep pressing Dobrynin to define the relationship which will exist between Arabs and Israelis after a settlement.

The importance of the issue is that the long-run position of the US in the Middle East will thrive almost in proportion to the degree to which tensions are reduced. While Moscow profits from exploiting divisions—Arab-Israeli, radical-moderate—the US has interests in all these camps (friends and political interests in Jordan and Israel, oil in Iraq and Saudi Arabia) and can pursue a coherent policy only when tension is at a manageable level, as it was between the late 1950’s and early 1967.

The practical elements of the issue are:

Controlling fedayeen. The US is concerned that the Arab governments—more UAR, Syria, Iraq than Jordan—will sign an agreement and then stand back while the fedayeen violate it. Dobrynin discounts this possibility; he says the fedayeen will dry up when Israel withdraws. We remember how mounting terrorist activity in 1966–67 started the sequence of events that led to war. We also recall that we (and apparently the USSR) were powerless to stop this activity. Convinced that no big-power guarantees can police this, we believe it is crucial that the governments on the ground—the only ones capable of rolling up the terrorists at the source—commit themselves to stop it, at least as an organized movement. We want to be as precise as we can because we have no reason to trust Nasser or the Syrians; after all it was our tacit 1957 understanding with Nasser that he renounced in closing the Straits of Tiran in 1967.
Enforcing the peace. The only practical measure of the intentions of the Arabs and Soviets is to determine what they will commit themselves to in the way of policing for demilitarized zones and guarantees for free navigation and any other rights which are part of the agreement. Again, we have done staff work on these issues, but it will be difficult to draw Dobrynin out further until we are prepared to get specific. Dobrynin is hard to disagree with when he says Moscow can go no further in defining “peace” than to point out that the collection of practical arrangements worked out on each of the major issues will define the Arab-Israeli relationship that will exist. We have said much the same to the Israelis ourselves.

We have two choices:

Continuing our efforts to persuade both the Soviets and French to define more precisely how they see the relationship between Arabs [Page 112] and Israelis after a settlement. Both Dobrynin and the Quai4 have essentially told us this is no longer a fruitful exercise. They seem to have gone as far as they will until we are ready to talk in terms of the specific collection of arrangements that would define the situation after a settlement.
Surfacing our own specific views on the various elements of a settlement. We have numerous staff studies and a working-level document putting these together into an illustrative peace plan. We have carefully avoided getting specific for fear that the Israelis would refuse to go further with us. The time may have come for us to face the decision to begin surfacing specific proposals. This may be the difference between continuing a diplomatic holding action largely on Israel’s behalf and trying to turn this exercise into one that could have a chance of producing results.

The main risk of surfacing our own plan now is that of Israeli refusal to cooperate. We are familiar with strong Israeli objection to the Four-Power talks. They are still with us because we have stopped short of breaching their basic principle that the Arabs and Israelis must reach the settlement themselves. It can be argued that they need us and in the end will come along. That may be true, but there is a large amount of go-it-alone thinking in the Israeli mood now.

The advantage would lie in the possibility of getting a real negotiating process started.

2. “Secure and recognized boundaries”—To what lines must Israel withdraw? In the working paper we have circulated we say that any changes in the pre-war lines should be confined to those required for mutual security and should not reflect the weight of conquest. But again, we have stopped short of expressing our views on where the lines might be drawn, and we are arguing principle.

The issue is this: Israel is determined to redraw Israel’s boundaries to enhance its security. As Eban says, if this is to be the final map of Israel, Israel wants to draw it right this time. The Arabs, of course, regard any boundary change as Israeli conquest and Arab humiliation. We have frankly resisted all insistence for return to pre-war boundaries mainly because we knew we could not force Israel out of Jerusalem.

The importance of the issue: The basic fact is that we know that Israel is determined to change the lines and we cannot dissuade her. In a longer range vein, while we have no interest in supporting Israeli expansionism, the future stability of the area will depend on removing [Page 113] as many points of friction and Israeli fear as possible. Israel’s militancy is directly related to its sense of insecurity.

The practical elements of the issue are:

The US has no stake in where the lines are drawn. Our only real criteria are (a) that the parties be willing to live with them (that would allow for fair exchanges) and (b) that points of future frictions (such as the divided fields and haphazard lines under the old armistice regime) be minimized. We do not see topography as the sole guarantor of security, as many Israelis do, and we are ahead of others in thinking about alternative means of guaranteeing security. We are more concerned, for instance, about control of Sharm al-Shaikh, and we seem to have thought a lot harder about the practical problems involved in policing DMZ’s.
Positions of UK, France, USSR. Our concept of what reasonable boundaries might look like does not differ greatly from British, Soviet and French views. The USSR talks of border rectifications in terms of a few kilometers, but they might be moved further if some reciprocal exchange could be arranged (e.g. Gaza to Jordan).
Jerusalem. One reason we have stuck so hard against “return to June 5 lines” is our conviction that no one could force Israel out of Jerusalem. The USSR has no stake of its own there but must support strong Arab claims. There is, therefore, a premium on working out some mixture of Jordanian and Israeli presence in the city.
Israel’s position apart from Jerusalem, is furthest from ours on the West Bank and Sharm al-Shaikh. We have not come up yet with satisfactory alternatives to Israel’s plans for these areas. We are ignoring the Golan Heights.

There seem to be two ways of handling the issue:

We could go on much as we have been and say to the Israelis: “If we could get such-and-such commitment on ‘peace’ from the Arabs, would you then reveal your territorial requirements to Jarring?” This is what Jarring has been trying to do, and the Israelis would probably continue to refuse unless that such-and-such included direct Arab-Israeli contact. However, one added wrinkle might be to try our hand at eliciting Soviet support in arranging some sort of secret meeting with the UAR to satisfy Israeli requirements.
We could go to the Israelis and say: “If we could get such-and-such practical arrangements from Nasser or Hussein (demilitarized zones, etc.) would you withdraw to these boundaries?” This would require US to put a detailed US plan on the table at least with the Israelis. So far we have refused to do this, arguing with Dobrynin and others that only the parties themselves can draw the proper lines (especially on the West Bank). That has been part realism (the parties do know the [Page 114] terrain better than we) and partly defense (we know Israel will be tough to move especially without an Arab bargaining partner).

The main obstacle to the second course, again, is Israeli insistence on negotiating their own arrangements directly with the Arabs. A secondary problem is that the people on the ground really do have a better sense than we of what boundaries make sense.

3. “Agreement between the parties”—How much direct negotiation between the parties can we achieve? In the diplomatic shorthand, the argument is over whether there must be agreement “between” or “by” the parties. It is possible to achieve agreement of both sides without its being arrived at by contact between them, but again we have had to cope with Israeli insistence on direct negotiation. In our working paper we have actually supported indirect negotiations to start but have said that, as a practical matter, we believe direct contacts will be necessary at some point.

The issue is twofold: (a) The Israelis require some kind of direct negotiation for political purposes, and we think at some point it would be a lot more efficient for local experts to work out their own arrangements. (b) We were the middle-man in 1957, and we got badly burned. Therefore, we would like to see Nasser take greater responsibility for bailing himself out this time.

The importance of the issue is mainly tactical, partly substantive. The overriding point is that some degree of direct negotiation is necessary to bring Israel along. We have also argued that the arrangements are more likely to stick if the Arabs strike their bargain directly with Israel and accept responsibility for it. But if Israel were not insisting on direct contact, we probably would not.

The practical elements of the issue are:

The Israelis insist on a direct confrontation. We must take this into account, even if we do not wholly share their reasoning.
The USSR and France believe a direct meeting non-essential, if not impossible. Dobrynin says Jarring could do the whole job.
The UAR refuses in principle, but we have indications that Nasser might agree to some sort of meeting under Jarring toward the end of the process.

The only way to handle this is for us to go on insisting in the Four-Power forum that there must be a meeting under Jarring at some point. We judge that this is essential to bring the Israelis along, and we cannot really accept the Arab point that they absolutely cannot meet with Israel. The problem is to devise a formula which will permit direct contact as part of the phasing of implementation (see below). However, the problem might also be met by attempting to arrange secret UAR–Israeli contacts (as suggested above). In either case, we would have to develop more concrete suggestions.

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4. “Binding agreement” or “contractual agreement”—How can the implementation of various elements of the agreement be phased and enforced so as to let each party feel he is giving up at each stage an advantage commensurate to what his adversary is giving up? We have staff studies on the possible legal forms of agreement and on the guarantees that might stiffen enforcement of the agreement, but we have not surfaced any of these.

The issue is (a) that Israel is being asked to give up something concrete in return for Arab promises on paper and (b) that the Arabs refuse to negotiate with the pistol of Israeli occupation at their heads. The question is how to assure Israel that the Arabs will make good if it withdraws all the way. The question is equally how to assure the Arabs that Israel will not just stop its withdrawal half-way on some pretext.

The importance of the issue is twofold: First is the question, again, of maximizing those elements in the agreement which will persuade Israel that the obligations the Arabs assume are binding—that the costs of not meeting them as defined in the settlement will be great enough to deter the Arabs from violation. Second is the tactical need to structure the implementation in such a way as to satisfy each side at each stage that it is getting as much as it is giving up.

The practical elements of the issue are:

The nature of the agreement. We hold no brief for a peace treaty, but we do want some international instrument we can point to in case of violation. In 1967, we had no written undertaking from Nasser which might justify US or international action to hold him to his agreement to leave the Straits of Tiran open to Israeli shipping.
Phasing its implementation. Dobrynin has suggested that an initial declaration of intent and then a set of agreed documents covering all elements of a settlement be deposited with the UN as Israeli withdrawal begins and that they go into effect on the last day of withdrawal. Dobrynin recognizes the practical requirement for achieving agreement on all issues before withdrawal. We have countered that the agreements must be binding—i.e. in effect—before withdrawal can begin. However, we recognize that some compromise formula is necessary here.
Guarantees. The Israelis want an Arab signature on a contract, and the Arabs may go as far as to sign a joint document of some sort, though not a peace treaty. But we feel that the self-enforcing provisions that are written into the agreement (e.g. automatic penalties for violation) and the international guarantees that may supplement it will contribute far more to making the agreement binding than signatures on a treaty, which have psychological value in Israel but little practical value.

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The practical way to handle this is to concentrate discussion on (a) the forms an agreement might take and (b) the ways of phasing implementation. These are practical problems susceptible of practical solutions if other conditions can be met. But we have to be able to begin talking specifics to get to them.

One Issue Not Yet Addressed

Although we and Moscow agree that we should work through Jarring, we have not yet really worked out in detail how we will relate our bilateral conclusions, the Four-Power conclusions, Jarring and our bilateral contacts with Cairo, Amman and Jerusalem. In part, we have not done this because we needed to see first how much common ground we might find to work from. While we may wish to try one or two Four-Power meetings to get a similar feel for them, we now need to be more precise about how all these relate.

General Conclusions From the Soviet Talks So Far

We and the USSR are closer than we might have expected on the substance of a settlement. While we have yet to get specific enough to determine how far the Soviets are prepared to go, our greatest differences seem to grow more out of the positions of our respective clients than out of our own particular interest in one form of arrangement over another. Moscow may well have decided that even the best possible settlement will leave enough residual tension for it to exploit.
The main point of disagreement relates to how we get from here to there, and we are handicapped by our unwillingness so far to surface concrete ideas. We both recognize the need. Moscow is working hard to achieve for the Arabs a face-saving legal fiction which makes it appear that the Arabs have committed themselves to nothing until the Israelis have withdrawn. But the effort to achieve this fiction feeds natural suspicion that Moscow is trying to build escape hatches into the settlement for later Arab use. We are trying to argue Dobrynin toward our position without being able to surface practical suggestions of our own.

Operational Conclusions

The recurrent theme in this paper is (a) that we do not yet have a fully developed position and (b) that to the extent we have developed one, we have not surfaced it for tactical reasons. This suggests that we need:
  • —an agreed government position on the terms of a settlement;
  • —an agreed position on the tactics of presenting that position.
We also need a clearer position now on how to relate the Two-Power and Four-Power talks and on how to relate both to Jarring. The [Page 117] SiscoDobrynin channel seems a useful one. Its usefulness suggests that we should use the four-power talks mainly to divert attention from the US–USSR channel. We can also use it to discipline the French and as an inducement to the Soviets, who may want to deal more with us than with the others.
While we have so far avoided the worst dangers of an unprepared position, the whole burden of the talks could still fall on us—for producing all the substantive proposals and for bringing the Israelis around. One essential aim for us in the Four-Power forum is to draw the others into sharing the practical problem of moving Israel. If we are expected to deliver Israel, we must make it clear that they are expected to deliver the Arabs.
A good definition of an equitable settlement is one that will make both sides unhappy. If so, we must have Soviet help, and the Soviets must share the blame for pushing an unpalatable solution.


That you authorize NSC consideration of (1) a specific plan and set of objectives for relating the US–Soviet talks, the Four-Power talks and Jarring’s continuing mission; (2) a paper considering the advantages and disadvantages of surfacing concrete proposals of our own on the elements of a settlement; (3) a detailed statement of what those proposals might be.5

Attached (Tab B)6 is a tabular presentation of the positions of the Four Powers on each of the major issues.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 653, Country Files, Middle East, Sisco Middle East Talks, April–June 1969. Secret; Nodis. The memorandum is not initialed by Kissinger. A copy was sent to Halperin on April 2. A virtually identical copy of this memorandum was sent to Kissinger on March 28 by Saunders, which indicates that he was the drafter. (Ibid., Box 649, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Negotiations, March 27–May 31, 1969)
  2. Saunders summarizes these meetings in Document 38.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 1.
  4. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located at Quai d’Orsay in Paris.
  5. There is no indication that Nixon approved or disapproved any of the options.
  6. Attached but not printed.