78. Editorial Note

On September 11, 1969, from 10:17 a.m. to 12:24 p.m., the National Security Council met in the Cabinet room to discuss the Middle East. The day before this meeting, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger sent Nixon a memorandum to serve as “an analysis of the major issues which may become obscured amidst all of the negotiating detail you will hear at the NSC meeting.” After summarizing the intricate web of Middle Eastern issues, Kissinger related them to the larger U.S.-Soviet agenda as follows:

“There are several possible ways to relate this with other issues on the US–USSR agenda:

  • “1. If we were going to press Israel to accept unpalatable measures, we might expect the Soviets to press Nasser to accept some equally unpalatable terms.
  • “2. If the terms are going to be harder for Israel than for the UAR to accept, then we might look to other areas for compensating Soviet pressure on their clients such as the North Vietnamese. Another possibility would be some sort of understanding about the limits of Soviet imperialistic ambitions in the Mid-East, Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean.

“Whether the Soviets will respond depends heavily on how they view their situation in the area. It is common for us to assume that time [Page 234] helps them and hurts us, but there are enough disadvantages in this situation and advantages in a settlement to give us some leverage. With a settlement, they could pursue their interests without risk of war, get their fleet into the Indian Ocean and still have enough tension points like the Persian Gulf to exploit. The balance is fine enough however that they might cooperate with us in pressing a reasonable proposal on the Arabs. They apparently judge that pressing our present proposals would cost them too much in Cairo. Given this delicate a balance and our inability to press the Israelis beyond certain limits, it may be that on this issue we are negotiating in a relatively narrow field.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–024, NSC Meetings 9/11/69)

At the beginning of the NSC meeting on September 11, Joseph Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, who had been in Moscow July 14–17, presented his impressions of the Soviet position:

“I came away from Moscow judging: Soviets want to continue dialogue with US for both Mid-East and general reasons. Question is how Soviets view the area: If area undergoing increasing radicalization, does Moscow view this as in USSR interest?

“US–USSR ageements in talks on the following:

  • “—Israel and UAR would sign same agreement.
  • “—Recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
  • “—Freedom of passage through Tiran. On Suez, USSR has qualified by reference to Constantinople Convention of 1888.
  • “—Execution of agreement would await agreement on total pack-age—UAR, Israel and possible Jordan.
  • “—We have agreed on the principle of demilitarization.

“Soviet plan:

  • “1. Israeli withdrawal 40 miles.
  • “2. Opening Canal.
  • “3. Israeli withdrawal to June 4 lines and Gaza Strip.
  • “4. Demilitarization of Negev–Sinai border. Seem willing to accept only token demilitarization on Israeli side.
  • “5. Irrevocable UN force at Sharm al-Shaikh.

“Position US has taken:

  • “1. Within context of agreement, Israeli withdrawal to ‘secure and recognized border’ to be defined by parties. We ‘do not exclude’ prewar border.
  • “2. Demilitarization of entire Sinai.
  • “3. Options for Sharm al-Shaikh. Let parties negotiate. Kept open Israeli presence.
  • “4. Ultimately, sovereignty of Gaza would have to be determined by Jordan, UAR, Israel.”

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After a brief discussion of Israeli views and British and French attitudes, President Nixon asked, “What does the USSR want?” Sisco responded as follows:

  • “1. They want to continue talks as a deterrent in the Mid-East.
  • “2. As long as they talk, this is a demonstration to Arabs that they are trying to help.
  • “3. Be responsive to Nixon ‘era of negotiations.’

Rogers: They think they have brought Arabs farther than we have brought Israelis.

“President: Don’t Soviets know Arabs will be beaten in another war. ‘If they get screwed again, they won’t have another Glassboro to bail them out?’

Helms: They really want to get down to Persian Gulf.

“President: In 1967, Soviets looked unready to help Arabs. If this happened again, Soviets don’t want to be in that position. Do they really believe—given that fact—that they consider this worth a US–USSR confrontation? Do they think this is about the best they can get now? They want talks to continue, but a settlement?

Sisco: They want settlement on own terms. Soviets want Nasser as their own tool. They haven’t wanted to press him.

“President: How is USSR doing in Mid-East? Not bad—some weak reeds but still not bad.

Sisco: We have interest in stable peace. Less clear USSR sees this as its interest.

“President: USSR can have influence while situation simmers. Does anybody think US as its friend? June war a tremendous victory for Israel and USSR. From their viewpoint why change the situation. Does Moscow think they’re going to have confrontation with US over Israel? ‘You know damn well we’re not and they know it.’ Do you think they want a deal?

Sisco: Not a deal that would cost Moscow much.

“President: We’re the honest brokers here.

Rogers: Could have a settlement that would continue exploitable tension. Meanwhile, they have isolated us from world community.

“President: ‘Israel’s puppet.’

Richardson: One aspect in which USSR might want real settlement. Present situation continued strengthens fedayeen, weakens Nasser. Soviets less able to deliver if fedayeen come out on top, Soviets less able to deliver Arab demands which would then be not just return of territory but destruction of Israel.

“President: Agree but if fedayeen prevail, they too would keep situation stirred up. Soviets have to have some reason to want to settle; what is it?

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Rogers: If war broke out again, their clients would lose. Our hope is that they want to avoid a war.

Helms: USSR wants to open Canal to get into Persian Gulf.

“Yost: On balance, USSR wants settlement but not going to jeopardize their influence. They could even shift support to fedayeen and try to ride that wave.

“What concerns me is extent to which we are in trouble with moderate Arabs. Soviets without lifting a finger are profiting.

“Formula asking Arabs at outset to come to direct negotiations is a non-starter.

“Situation is weakening moderate regimes and not increasing Israel’s security. Even Moroccans and Tunisians getting worried about US position—has not gone very far yet.

Kissinger: Soviets may have interest in Israel-UAR settlement because continued occupation of Sinai demonstrates USSR impotence. They want naval access to Persian Gulf. Plenty of tension will remain. They may see their opportunity in transitional regimens in Arabian Peninsula. I can see Soviet gains from a settlement.

“Problem of concentrating on UAR-Israel settlement is that our friend, Hussein, comes off worse than Nasser.”

Before turning to the domestic implications of the administration’s Middle East policy, President Nixon made the following remarks:

“I don’t want to save the face of the USSR; they aren’t trying to help us anywhere. I don’t see why we should help them. That doesn’t mean all their interests are different from ours. In developing our position, let’s not give them a chance to claim credit for getting everything back for the Arabs. Mistake ‘allow them to look too good.’” (Ibid.) The minutes of this meeting are in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1969–1972.