63. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- Middle East—Reply to Soviet Counterproposal
The attached memo from Secretary Rogers2 seeks your approval of Joe Sisco’s going to Moscow to present our counter to the Soviet counterproposal on the draft framework for a UAR-Israel settlement.
It is our judgment that we should not break off these talks now. While the Soviet response contains less than we had hoped, it does offer some refinements to work with. We may want to give them a negative reaction for effect, but on balance it seems worth trying another round.
If you share this judgment, the attached proposal contains two principal issues for your decision:
How to handle our position on the Israel-UAR border. In our first document, we left this to be negotiated by the parties, with the proviso that the pre-war border was not excluded as a solution. The Secretary’s proposal would have us go back to the Soviets with substantially the same position, but this time with a fallback position we could use as bait to get them to be more forthcoming on direct negotiations and the substance of a peaceful relationship between Israel and the UAR.
The fallback position proposed is that Israel would agree on returning to the pre-war border “assuming agreement on the establishment of demilitarized zones and on practical arrangements for guaranteeing freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran.” This formulation is designed to leave room for an Israeli position at Sharm al-Shaikh short of permanent annexation.[Page 193]
The arguments for authorizing the fallback position are:
- Until we change our position on territories, we can not expect significant movement from the Arabs, and hence the Soviets, on direct negotiations, peace and binding commitments—the subjects most important to the Israelis. Since the situation is becoming rapidly worse (this is subject to debate), we have to do all we can to achieve a settlement.
- We are going to have to come out eventually for
the pre-war border between Israel and the UAR, at
least in principle.
- —The chances for a lasting peace are poor if the Israelis keep part of the UAR.
- —The last four US Presidents have guaranteed territorial integrity in the Near East on the basis of the 1948 lines. They may have been thinking mainly of Israel, but the guarantee applies equally to Egypt (and Jordan).
- If we do not try to bring Israel along on the territorial question, our prestige and influence in the Arab world will be hurt badly. Even if we fail in the attempt we might insulate ourselves from some of the consequences by trying.
The arguments against authorizing the fallback position now are:
- It is too early in our talks with the Russians to give away our trump card. If we judge that the pressure for a settlement is greater on them than on us, they—not we—should be making the first concessions.
- We have to be extremely careful about getting too far ahead of the Israelis. They say that they must have a position at Sharm al-Shaikh and overland access to it. Whether we accept that view or not, we have to deal with it as the position of the party holding the upper hand on the ground. Even though the proposed fallback is drafted to leave room for what we see as the Israeli position, if we are going to become Israel’s lawyer we want to be more certain than we are now that they will buy this.
- At the least, this attempt would further increase strains in our relations with Israel. They reacted strongly to our previous mention that the pre-war border was not excluded.
Conclusion. I do not believe we should play our trump card on this round. I could see telling Sisco to come back with a candid assessment of what this fallback might buy. But I would not at this stage give him authority to commit us in any way to the fallback language. That puts us too far ahead of Israel and gives away our position without any return. I think the Russians—not we—should be setting the bait. (Although I do not presume to speak for them, I gather that the fallback proposal is included largely under pressure from Charlie Yost and that Richardson and Sisco are not enthusiastic about it.)[Page 194]
Recommendation: That we not authorize State to commit us to the fallback language now but tell Sisco to put himself in a position to give us his estimate of what this would buy.
End the above sentence before “but”
Sisco may use the fallback
Whether to send Joe Sisco to Moscow. Secretary Rogers recommends a brief visit to deliver our counter-draft, to talk with Soviet officials other than Dobrynin and to brief Ambassador Beam. The Russians have asked us to resume the talks in Moscow. He would stop in London and Paris on the way.
- The principal argument, in my view, is to give us a chance to get behind Dobrynin and try to get some sense of how much give there is in the Soviet position.
- A quick trip by Sisco would meet the Russians part way without, in my view, costing us very much.
- This would provide a chance to brief our embassy in Moscow, which now has very little depth on the Mid-East.
- Even a quick trip would put the spotlight on Moscow and increase Soviet stature in the Near East. We have no reason to run to them. The Israelis are making this argument vigorously.
- The Israelis will be even less happy with talks in Moscow than in Washington. They regard the USSR as their prime enemy, and they have no representation there.
- The Soviets may not be satisfied by a quick trip.
Conclusion: The one argument that appeals to me is making a try at seeing what the Soviet position behind Dobrynin looks like. We may not learn much at all, but talking to three or four specialists might give us a more three-dimensional picture than we get from Dobrynin alone.
Recommendation: That you authorize Sisco to go to Moscow as proposed.
There are some lesser changes in our paper of which you might wish to be aware, though I do not believe they require your approval:
- In the preamble and other places we have adopted some Soviet wording where it does not alter our substantive position.
- We have agreed substantially to the Soviet concept of a timetable for withdrawal to go into effect under UN supervision after final agreement on overall terms. The difference between us and the Soviets on this point has been that they have tried to use the “timetable” idea to avoid direct negotiations. We have now accepted this part of their plan, but only in the context of negotiations.
- While not closing off options for the future of Gaza, we have mentioned UN administration as a choice. Although this is to be decided by the parties, the Israelis are likely to object to anything specific we say about a solution.
- We have included a reference to clearing the Suez Canal, as withdrawal proceeds. The Israelis could object in that this conceivably could open the canal before the other parts of the agreement became absolutely final. But we feel that once Israeli troops pull away from the Canal, the UAR will be free to do what it wants anyway.
- We have slightly altered our position on demilitarized zones. Our original position was that all of Sinai would be a DMZ and all details would be worked out by the parties. We have now left an opening for Egyptian troops along the Canal itself—this would put them only a few miles closer to Israel—and have defined more clearly our concept of administration in the DMZ’s—the return of Egyptian civil administration.
- On the refugees we have changed our position from calling for an upper limit on the total number of repatriates to calling for an annual limit. In theory this leaves the way open for the eventual repatriation of all the refugees and so will be less pleasing to the Israelis and more pleasing to the Arabs, although it will satisfy neither. Our guess is that so few refugees will want to live in Israel that a limit is unnecessary.
The document holds the line on the points we feel are vital:
- Our plan still calls for a settlement negotiated directly between the parties.
- We are still talking about peace and binding commitments.
- We are still calling for irrevocable guarantees of navigation satisfactory to the Israelis.
- We are still calling for a commitment to end terrorism, whether government or private.
- We still call for Arab recognition of Israeli sovereignty.
- We are still trying to work out a UAR-Israel settlement first, although acknowledging that we will have to have a Jordan settlement before the UAR settlement becomes effective. The Soviet paper specifically kept the door open for an overall Arab-Israeli settlement which we shy away from because it includes the Syrians who are still talking about destroying Israel and have rejected all of the peace efforts of the past two years.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 649, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Negotiations. Secret; Nodis. Sent for action. A July 2 covering memorandum from Saunders to Kissinger reads, “Here is the Sisco memo you said you would try to get the President to focus on in Florida.” On July 12, Haig sent both Saunders’ and this memorandum to Saunders with the following explanation: “As you know, this memorandum was handled over the telephone by Henry with the President and as a result, per the President’s instructions, Henry told Sisco he could proceed with the trip to Moscow to present our counter to the Soviet counterproposal with the provision that he could not modify our position beyond a few verbal changes. Specifically the fall-back position was not approved.”↩
- Attached but not printed.↩