131. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
- Comments on the Soviet Middle East Statements
The Soviets are obviously worried that the current diplomatic impasse will lead to a resumption of fighting. This seems to be the main message in their two statements, a public one on February 28 and the private letter from Kosygin.2 Their concern that developments could take a dangerous turn is probably sharpened by their own efforts to persuade the UAR to make its concession. This probably involved some argumentation that the US and Israel would have to make counter concessions. Thus, the nature of Israel’s response may have weakened the Soviet position in Cairo and these semi-propagandistic statements are attempts to repair this position.
Beyond this underlying concern the Soviets obviously seem to be scrambling to develop something before the cease fire runs out. Thus, they are extremely anxious that the four powers meet and make some move on guarantee, which they could represent as justifying continuation of the cease fire.
At the same time, they are probably working in Cairo to prevent reactions there from getting out of hand. Thus, their public statement3 says:
“The Soviet government believes that vigorous actions by all states interested in peace are now especially necessary in a direction to prevent Israel and its patrons from frustrating the cause of a political settlement. If the peace loving states unite their efforts in the struggle for such a settlement in the Middle East, it will be possible to achieve this task.”
While the immediate Soviet aim is to guarantee that fighting does not resume, the longer term political aim in the negotiating context is well illustrated. To some extent the Soviets are achieving their tactical aims: (1) by creating the impression that Israel is the only obstacle to [Page 388] a settlement at this point; (2) by creating the further impression that the US could, if it wished, bring Israel around. Thus, the Soviets are, in part at least, making a record should the effort to achieve a political settlement fail.
In this situation their tactical line will be to increase pressures on the US. Thus, the veiled threat in the Kosygin letter, which is too obscure to mean much but is sufficiently ominous to worry us.
Meanwhile the whole issue of Soviet presence in Egypt remains excluded from the negotiations or the concept of a settlement, even though in our description of the situation (e.g. the Annual Review)4 we emphasize this aspect. While this may be too delicate a juncture to introduce this issue, as things are now drifting, we are taking all the blame for Israel, while the Soviets claim credit here and there for pushing their own clients, a move they made, incidentally, after Sadat went on record as guaranteeing that the Soviets would retain their bases in Egypt regardless of a settlement.