67. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

3463. For President and Secretary from Sisco.

Capping a two and one half hour July 14 meeting in which assessments of present developments in the Middle East and current positions on specific elements of settlement were reviewed systematically, Gromyko asked that a message be sent to President Nixon that “Soviet intentions to make progress are very serious. We hope that we are not mistaken in believing our intentions are the same as the USG and of President Nixon personally. We trust that you will convey not only the words of our position but the sense of our policy. The Soviet government seeks common language” with the U.S. This was preceded by a general statement that if we could make progress or resolve the Middle Eastern question it would have a positive effect on other issues (unnamed) and on U.S.–USSR relations. This was the only time in the conversation that Gromyko went in any way beyond the Middle East.
I have been in a number of meetings with Gromyko over the last decade. There are two Gromykos: the dour and the affable. Today we saw the affable Gromyko in action. He was warm, he was relaxed, he smiled, he joked, and at no time made even a faintly threatening sound. At same time he was serious and chose his words carefully. He inquired several times regarding our specific reaction to the Soviet proposal of June 17,2 and whether I had brought with me a counterproposal. He underscored that USSR is ready to try “to narrow the gap” in further discussions between now and mid-September when GA opens.
Meeting was held across the table, with four representatives present on each side. (U.S.—Sisco, Amb. Beam, Atherton, Smith; USSRGromyko, Vinogradov, Yakushin, Korniyenko.) Gromyko listened for most part but in opening statement, frequent responses to my presentation and concluding statement noted above, he struck three themes: (A) USSR serious about wanting settlement, and U.S. and Soviets together have opportunity bring peace to Middle East; (B) Generalities are fine as far as they go, but we need get down to specifics, [Page 204] leaving as little unfinished business as possible for parties to deal with; and (C) USG hides too much behind Israeli “stubborness.”
Gromyko made point of appearing flexible, several times correcting interpreter to soften formulation of a particular point. In addition, during discussion of Suez Canal and refugee aspect of settlement, while maintaining basic Soviet position, he hinted that differences could be resolved. On two fundamental issues which I stressed, however, namely need for Arab commitment to direct negotiations at some stage and to specific Arab obligations flowing from establishment of state of peace, he revealed no discernible give, but seemed more than anything else to be seeking to avoid coming to grips with issues themselves.
On specific points, following emerged from Gromyko:
He gave no explicit clue as to how serious they view violence in Middle East and risks involved; this might have been deliberate or inadvertent;
He adhered to Soviet notion which tends to equate end of belligerency with peace;
He would not be drawn out on mood and views he found in Cairo during recent trip;
He did not make any pitch for total withdrawal of Israeli forces from all territories;
Re arms limitations, he said in a seemingly apologetic tone that “unfortunately” a U.S.–USSR exchange of views on the subject is “excluded” as long as Israeli forces occupy Arab territory.
He defended reference in Soviet proposal to Constantinople Convention of 1888 by saying that under convention UAR would have no basis for stopping Israeli ships in absence of state of belligerency, and there would be specific agreement in package settlement ending belligerency; he also insisted there would be no threat of Israeli ships being denied passage;
He dodged, without closing any doors, our view on refugees that a nation of two and one half million cannot be expected to take back over million refugees. He volunteered comment that the UN resolution did not require every refugee to go to Israel and added the whole matter, including modalities, required further discussion between us.
On direct negotiations, he is obviously looking for a way to finesse it. He made no real defense of Arab position on this point and said somewhat lamely there are a number of different ways for the parties to negotiate.
I made comprehensive presentation of U.S. approach to a settlement, taking as basic theme President’s statement of February 17 to [Page 205] Dobrynin3 that it would be the height of folly to let parties directly involved in the ME conflict bring about a confrontation between Moscow and Washington. Noting Gromyko’s call in his July 10 speech to Supreme Soviet for USG to be more realistic,4 I described realities of situation as we see them along following lines. I said USG neither could nor would seek Israeli relinquishment of occupied territories to conditions of insecurity. If Israel appeared stubborn, it was result of suspicion based on historical memories and experience; Arabs for 20 years had said they wanted to destroy Israel.
Alternatives today were limited to three: (A) status quo, which we did not like but could live with if we had to, could continue;5 or(C) there would be negotiated settlement. We strongly favor the latter. While USG agreed that acquisition of territory by war was an anachronism and unrealistic in today’s world, it was also unrealistic for UAR not to face up to need for coexistence with Israel. Israel is in occupation with Arab territory as result of military success involving what to Israelis was major national sacrifice. Israel would not give away, or permit others to give away, its victory for nothing. We disagreed with those in Israel who sought territory as price of victory; our aim was to convince Israel to settle for peace and security. If Israel was to be convinced, however, peace and security must be firm, specific, and credible.
Finally, I drove home that if USSR could not produce UAR on specific obligations to peace and to direct negotiations at some stage under Jarring’s auspices, we could not hope to produce Tel Aviv on withdrawal. I made clear that we recognize our responsibility vis-à-vis Israel on withdrawal but said our capacity in this respect would be decisively influenced by Soviet ability to get UAR undertakings on peace and negotiations.
Tomorrow we meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Vinogradov. We intend: (A) to make a detailed and specific review of Soviet proposal, pointing out the advances and deficiencies; (B) present our written counterproposal with a full explanation of it; and (C) stress points [Page 206] which we consider fundamental. I see no reason at this point to consider fall-back language on withdrawal in absence specific movement by Soviets on peace and negotiations. Our counterproposal remains within confines of our proposal of last May. I will hint and only hint at some possible more specific formulation on withdrawal if Soviets can provide us with quid pro quo we are asking for on peace and negotiations.
Gromyko said he would be available for another meeting if we thought it desirable after detailed talks with Vinogradov. We have left this open for time being; a short windup session with him on Wednesday might be worthwhile. Soviets will need a good deal of time to analyze our counterproposal, and they will want to discuss it with the UAR at some stage. This could take two or three weeks; or they might wait to discuss our counterproposal with Nasser when he is in Moscow in August.
On basis present tentative plans, I will leave here Thursday,6 fly to Stockholm to brief Jarring on Moscow talks, and be home Friday evening.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 710, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. III. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. On July 15, Saunders sent Kissinger this telegram under a covering memorandum that briefly summarized the meeting between Sisco and Gromyko. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 58.
  3. See Document 14.
  4. Gromyko made the following statements about the Middle East in his July 10 speech to the Sixth Session of the Supreme Soviet: “The situation in the Middle East greatly affects the world situation as a whole. It would be a short-sighted policy to repose hopes, as they do in Israel, in military superiority. The surest way would be to solve the problem on the basis of withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied areas and simultaneous recognition of the right of all Middle Eastern states, including Israel, to independent national existence, and the establishment of a lasting peace in this important area. The Soviet Union considers that all opportunities should be used for adjusting the situation in the Middle East. Any delay is dangerous and does harm to all.” (The Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. 21, August 6, 1969, pp. 5–6)
  5. A handwritten “B?” appears in the margin.
  6. July 17.