119. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

    • Review of USUSSR Positions on Mid-East


This memo makes the following points:

  • —The documents that were the focus of the 1969–70 USUSSR talks2 have been overtaken by the start of the Jarring talks. Some of the issues remain, but they will be discussed now in a different context.
  • —If bilateral talks with the Soviets were resumed as long as the Jarring talks were moving ahead, it should logically be either on the subject of the US and Soviet relationship in the Mid-East after a [Page 346] settlement or on some specific point necessary to break a deadlock. The former includes not only the obvious questions of possible US and Soviet guarantees or participation in peacekeeping forces but the even more difficult question of how to reduce the Soviet combat presence in Egypt.
  • —The next subject for the SRG agenda, after the meeting on strategy toward Israel, should be strategy for involving the USSR in the settlement process (if any).

The Issues

The US peace initiative last June3 changed the character of the US-Soviet relationship on the Mid-East in the following ways:

  • —The US dropped the multilateral effort to launch negotiations and made a unilateral effort.
  • —Increasingly since, the focus of efforts to achieve a settlement has been on the Jarring talks with the US as a not too veiled prime mover behind them. The USSR (except for the standstill violations) has been left in the wings.
  • —The documents which had been the focus for the earlier USUSSR talks have been overtaken by the US initiative because they were documents to get Jarring started. Parts of them will go on living because Jarring has incorporated them in his document;4 other parts may reappear if negotiations proceed. It seems likely now that if the US and USSR were to re-start negotiation on the terms of a settlement, they would start from a new base.
  • —The Soviets have sought to re-enter the negotiating picture by proposing discussion of guarantees.

The issues raised are the extent to which the USSR can safely be left out of the negotiating process and what kind of USUSSR relationship will exist if and when it is over:

  • —Is it safe, on the one hand, to assume that the USSR will acquiesce in any agreement Jarring (with U.S. support) can work out?
  • —Is it safe, on the other, to assume that there is no contribution that could be made by further U.S.-Soviet understanding to the process of achieving agreement?
  • —Finally, how can we assure that the USSR will not end up with a substantial combat military presence in the UAR?

Where the USUSSR Talks Stand

You are aware of where these talks stand tactically. The question you have asked is where they stand in terms of substance—points of agreement and points of remaining disagreement. Previous memos to you have described the evolution of the respective positions, and I shall be glad to send you another copy if you wish. What follows is a snapshot of where they stand now on the main issues.

The following can be described as points of general agreement, although there may still be remaining disagreement on details:

Obligations of peace. The Soviet formulation of June 2, 1970, on Arab obligation to limit fedayeen activity was the last major hurdle to general agreement on this point.5 By itself, it was satisfactory to us, and the UAR has now explicitly accepted this point in its response to Jarring’s memo. There are remaining details—e.g. end of boycott and trade discrimination—which Israel would like pinned down, but we have not tried to go into that much detail with the Soviets.
Nature of agreement. Both sides accept the idea of a contractual agreement between the parties.
Waterways. Both sides agree that Israel must have freedom of passage through the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran. Some qualification on the Soviet and Arab position remains, however, in that both relate passage through the Canal to the Constantinople Convention of 1888.6 That permits governments sovereign over canals to close them to states with whom they are at war.

The following can be described as points of remaining disagreement in rough order of importance:

Negotiating process. In one sense a compromise has been reached in the start of the Jarring talks, but the USSR continues to see these talks in a different light. In short, the USSR seeks to minimize actual negotiation while the U.S. seeks to maximize it. We no longer are arguing over the “Rhodes formula”7 because Israel agreed last August [Page 348] to accept indirect talks at the outset. But the fact remains that the USSR continues to press for agreement on as much detail as possible in the Four Power talks while the U.S. resists any tendency to substitute agreement there for agreement between the parties. The Israelis seem almost certain to reactivate this issue at some point by insisting on face-to-face talks.
Boundaries. Formally, the USSR continues to insist on “total” Israeli withdrawal to pre-war lines. They opened the door a crack in informal Four-Power deputies’ drafting sessions to the possibility of small rectifications in the lines, but that is not their formal position. In any case, the Soviet position expressed so far does not seem to allow for the kinds of solutions that will probably be necessary in Jerusalem and on the Golan Heights.
Refugees. The US has accepted the principle of free choice for the refugees between repatriation to Israel and resettlement with compensation. But the US has balanced this with progressively more specific provisions—e.g. annual quotas—to give Israel control over the individuals and total number of refugees allowed repatriation. The USSR simply calls on Israel to implement past UN resolutions on this subject—a procedure which would give the refugees free choice without giving Israel any controls.
Timing of withdrawal and peace. This issue grew out of the effort to define in the draft documents of 1968 exactly when the peace agreement would become effective. The U.S. (because of Israel’s position) insisted that all commitments and obligations to peace should be in effect before the first Israeli soldier moved back. The Soviets started by trying to date de jure peace from the completion of Israeli withdrawal. In their June 2, 1970, document, they have compromised by saying that, juridically, cessation of the state of war and establishment of the state of peace would begin when the first stage of Israeli withdrawal is completed.
Demilitarized zones. The U.S. position is simply that the parties should negotiate the size and means of enforcing demilitarized zones, but we work in the knowledge that Israel is adamant against any demilitarization on its side of the border. The USSR (and UAR in its reply to Jarring) says DMZs should lie on both sides of the borders.

Conclusion: These disagreements on substance persist, but the documents of 1969 may no longer be the vehicle for USUSSR negotiations. The above are drawn from the 1969–70 negotiating history; it is possible that a new negotiating context would at least alter the emphasis in our disagreements.

The New Focus on Guarantees

The start of the Jarring talks technically renders the USUSSR documents of 1969 overtaken by events. Those documents were to be guidelines to be turned over to Jarring to launch negotiations. They can now be drawn on, but the focus has shifted.

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Since acceptance last summer of the U.S. formula for getting talks started, the Soviets (and the UAR) have turned the focus to USUSSR and Four Power talk about guarantees.

The idea of turning USUSSR and Four Power talks to the subject of guarantees was broached informally by Malik in early November.8 Intelligence suggests that this was actually an Egyptian proposal to the USSR, and the Egyptians also say this is the case. There seemed to be these elements behind the Soviet move:

  • —They may have viewed it as a means of rebuilding some of their credibility following the standstill violations.
  • —Aware that there was no hope of moving the US by frontal pressure to new positions on boundaries, the USSR may have sought discussion of guarantees as a means of re-opening the dialogue so they could renew pressure indirectly on borders. At the February 12 Four Power discussion of guarantees, for example, the Soviet representative said he thought the Four should discuss peace and withdrawal as well but was willing to concentrate on guarantees for the moment.
  • —There is no evidence of this, but it is not illogical to assume that the time may have come when the Soviets are thinking of consolidating their diplomatic role and military presence in the Middle East. A Soviet contingent in a peacekeeping force would formalize Soviet parity in the Mid-East. A Soviet commitment to guarantee the peace might be used in some way to justify a Soviet military presence in the UAR.
  • —Behind the USSR, the UAR wants the maximum international support for Israeli withdrawal and against future Israeli military movement.

Another New Focus—Partial Withdrawal

Since last fall, proposals for partial withdrawal from the Suez cease-fire line have captured increasing attention. Sadat’s speech dramatized the idea,9 and there is at least an open Israel–UAR channel for discussing it.

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The point that, has been commonly overlooked in all this is that the Soviet document of June 17, 1969,10 centered on a proposal for Israeli withdrawal from the Canal in two stages: (1) the Israelis would pull back 30–40 kilometers and Egyptian troops would move in to begin clearing the Canal; (2) Israelis would pull back to pre-war lines. Actually, this Soviet proposal harked back to an even earlier UAR plan.

The importance of Sadat’s proposal is that he might be desperate enough to be willing to portray any partial Israeli withdrawal as the “first phase” of a settlement, even if at that stage the Israelis were not ready to commit themselves to a timetable for further withdrawal. It seems likely that Sadat would want a general commitment to total withdrawal even if the timetable were left open. But it is barely conceivable, if he is desperate, that he might fuzz that issue.

Embassy Moscow notes the similarity between Sadat’s proposal and the earlier Soviet document. The embassy speculates that Moscow may have urged this on Sadat “in hopes of producing an Israeli response dealing in some fashion with withdrawal and offering some degree of progress to continue peaceful momentum beyond March 7.” The Embassy also notes that the proposal probably also reflects Soviet interest in having the Canal re-opened. It notes that the Soviet press is now treating the Sadat proposal as offering opportunity for progress toward a settlement and has avoided characterizing Mrs. Meir’s public statements as rejection.

The Embassy concludes by noting that one of the most interesting features of Sadat’s proposal has been picked up in the Soviet press—the avoidance of linking partial Israeli withdrawal to prior determination of the timetable for complete withdrawal. The New Times, for instance, makes the points that even a partial withdrawal would help create a favorable atmosphere for continuation of the Jarring mission and that opening the Canal would mean liquidation of the most serious consequences of Israeli aggression.

Where We Stand Tactically

There are three active issues:

Dobrynin asks whether we are going to respond to their formulations of June 2, 1970, and continue the bilateral talks. The following points are relevant:
  • —The documents of 1969 were technically overtaken by the start of the Jarring talks.
  • Jarring wrote the Soviets’ June 2 points on the fedayeen (really an earlier U.S. point which the USSR accepted on June 2) into his document, [Page 351] and the UAR has now accepted it. That issue is settled. The other—the timing of peace—will be thrashed out in the Jarring negotiations if they go on.
  • —We may want the USSR to weigh in with the UAR on some issues like refugees or Israeli participation in peacekeeping forces, but it would seem more efficient to deal with these on their merits now rather than in the context of old documents.
  • —The subject of guarantees which the USSR is now pressing is beyond the scope of the old documents.
  • —In short, going back to the old documents now would seem to turn the clock back and to revive arguments, some of which are settled. It would seem more logical now to talk about guarantees or partial withdrawal unencumbered by whole documents from the past.
The Soviets are pressing us to talk about guarantees, and we have agreed. The following points are relevant:
  • —The Soviets started out by trying to use discussion of guarantees to elicit discussion of the border issue. For the moment, they seem to be content to concentrate on guarantees leaving withdrawal and peace to Jarring.
  • —The Soviets began discussing this subject after they had completed the major military buildup in the UAR, including introduction of combat pilots. They may well have been partly trying to restore some of their credibility after the standstill violations.
  • —The Soviets seem to be concentrating on peacekeeping forces with the idea that they would participate. The US is talking about a range of possible options, leaving big-power participation up in the air for the moment. It is possible that the Soviets are trying to lay a foundation for their own military participation.
The partial withdrawal scheme is now in a UARUS–Israel channel, but this is a subject the USSR seems to have an interest in. Ironically, there might even be advantage for Israel in picking up the Soviet idea of a two-phase withdrawal. This offers an important alternative to Israel for keeping talks going while it digests the decision on withdrawal or tries to negotiate border changes.

It seems logical, therefore, that if the USUSSR dialogue is to be renewed, it will be in the context of the discussion of guarantees or partial withdrawal. If there is a return to some of the other issues, it seems likely that this would be in an effort to break a deadlock in the talks. This would be in contrast to picking up the dialogue of 1969–70 and trying to marry two documents which are now somewhat overtaken by events.

Issues for the Future

The issue now being overlooked is not so much the state of the USUSSR dialogue on the details of an Arab-Israeli settlement but what, if there is a settlement, will be the US-Soviet relationship in the Mid-East. Another way of putting this is to consider how the Soviet [Page 352] military presence in the UAR might be cut back. Several specific points are raised:

In discussing guarantees, should the US resist the idea of USUSSR participation in peacekeeping forces?
If negotiations reach a point where an Israeli decision to withdraw is at stake, should the US make withdrawal of Soviet combat forces from the UAR a condition of US support for Israeli withdrawal? Should the US discuss this soon with Dobrynin or Sadat?
Or should the US concentrate on an Arab-Israeli settlement and let Soviet activity seek its own level?

In short, a major need now—perhaps from the next SRG—is a strategy vis-à-vis the USSR.11

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 647, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East (General), Vol. 8, 1971 [2 of 3]. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. A note on the memorandum indicates that Kissinger saw it. In a separate memorandum to Kissinger on February 19, Saunders commented that this memorandum was “in response to your question for a review of where we stand. I assume that what you are concerned about principally is whether we are too much leaving the Soviets out of the current peacemaking effort and will regret this later. This memorandum is written with that specific question in mind and is designed to give you a chance to review our present posture from that angle. It suggests requesting a memo on strategy toward the USSR at the next SRG.” (Ibid.)
  2. For additional background on some of the issues discussed in this memorandum, see Document 9.
  3. Reference is presumably to the Rogers Plan. See footnote 4, Document 31.
  4. After receiving separate proposals from Tel Aviv and Cairo, Jarring drafted a memorandum on “parallel and simultaneous commitments,” which he presented separately to Israeli and Egyptian representatives in New York on February 8. In its reply one week later, Egypt accepted these commitments but added several additional conditions. Israel replied on February 26, offering to negotiate without prior conditions but refusing to consider withdrawal from the occupied territories. For the corrected texts of the Jarring memorandum and the Egyptian reply, see the New York Times, March 11, 1971, p. 8. For the text of the Israeli reply, see ibid., March 8, 1971, p. 2.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 23.
  6. The Constantinople Convention prohibited any interference—including in time of war—with free navigation of the Suez Maritime Canal. Great Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, and Turkey signed the convention in Constantinople on October 29, 1888. For the text, see Department of State Bulletin, October 22, 1956, pp. 617–619.
  7. Reference is to the General Armistice Agreement between Egypt and Israel, negotiated by Ralph Bunche, then acting U.N. mediator on Palestine, and signed on the Greek island of Rhodes, February 24, 1949. For the text, see American Foreign Policy, 1950–1955: Basic Documents, Vol. 1, pp. 698–707.
  8. Malik floated the proposal during a meeting with Christopher H. Phillips, Deputy Representative of the United States to the U.N. Security Council, in New York on November 11. Saunders forwarded the reporting telegram (telegram 3114 from USUN, November 12) and summarized the discussion in a November 13 memorandum to Kissinger. “We should not reject this out of hand,” Saunders concluded, “but we should not leap at it.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 713, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. I)
  9. In an address before the Egyptian National Assembly on February 4, Sadat announced his agreement to extend the cease-fire by one month, thereby postponing the previous deadline for a more permanent settlement until March 7.
  10. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 58.
  11. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger chaired the next meeting of the Senior Review Group on the Middle East on February 25 from 2:33 to 3:55 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) A “strategy vis-à-vis the USSR” was not discussed at the meeting; the minutes are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1969–1972.