272. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Talking Points on the Middle East for Your Meeting This Afternoon2

The Soviet Position: Recent Developments

A month ago in Moscow the Soviets raised the Mideast issue repeatedly and stressed the danger of an explosion—but they did not show signs of flexibility on the concrete terms of a settlement. Encouraging signs of realism on their part seem to slip away whenever we press them for concreteness.

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Gromyko’s offer to you of September 29 (Soviet troop withdrawal, arms ban, and guarantee, as part of a settlement)3 was of course positive, but it did not address the issues at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The paper they gave us in Moscow on April 224 on the terms of a settlement simply reiterated the Egyptian position—a position which Secretary Rogers rejected in June 1970.

This Soviet/Egyptian maximum position calls for complete Israeli withdrawal and makes everything dependent on it. It pushes for restoration of the pre-1967-war status quo in Gaza and Jerusalem, a short time-limit on continuation of the ceasefire, demilitarized zones on the Israeli as well as Egyptian sides, and a global settlement embracing Syria and Jordan at the same time as Egypt.

In our view this is unrealistic:

  • —The parties themselves must negotiate the extent and timing of Israeli withdrawal, and the US and USSR should not predetermine the result.
  • —The ceasefire must continue in order to provide favorable conditions for a settlement.
  • —The more comprehensive the proposed scheme, geographically or otherwise, the harder it will be to achieve.
  • —Pressures on Israel which ignore its security needs will either be futile or will exacerbate tensions and risk a new war.

Within the past week, the Soviets indicated to us—encouragingly—that they believe that now is the time for serious bargaining and that Egypt cannot achieve its maximum positions. They are also resigned to the fact that a finalized agreement is not possible at the summit. There was even a brief hint of Soviet interest in distinguishing between security arrangements and sovereignty, as we have been suggesting since October—but Gromyko rejected this again on Monday.

Both sides are agreed that we should aim at reaching an agreement later this year. We are agreed that an initial phase—an interim agreement—should be announced and implemented as soon as an overall agreement is reached.

In short, the Soviets are still pressing hard for a bilateral agreement on the Mideast, but the divergences on the major issues are still wide. At the Summit they still hope for an accord on “general principles.” We still want to be forthcoming but without committing ourselves to anything impractical or dangerous.

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In order to be constructive, we in the past week offered a proposal of our own on Sinai security arrangements and a point-by-point analysis of their April 22 proposal for a final settlement. In addition we have with us now a counterproposal for a final settlement which you can hand to Brezhnev when you meet.5

Your Talking Points

The Soviet offer which Gromyko presented in September is constructive and positive. It is tangible evidence of the General Secretary’s sincere belief that we two superpowers have a special responsibility for peace and a special interest in our mutual relationship.
  • —You agreed with Gromyko in September that you hoped for a substantive agreement by the time of the Summit. However, in spite of good-faith efforts by both sides, the issues at the heart of the conflict proved difficult.
  • —In the last month, the Vietnam crisis intervened to make impossible an intensified effort before the Summit. This is yet another example of how the absence of a Vietnam peace has stood in the way of realizing the full potential of U.S.-Soviet cooperation.
The basic issues are extraordinarily difficult. They will not be as amenable to a solution as was the Berlin problem, because the parties do not seem ready for a settlement.
  • —We have now prepared a U.S. counterproposal on the basic issues, which we would like to hand over.
  • —Realism is needed on both sides. The whole point of our special head-to-head involvement is to cut through the posturing and to face up candidly to what is really possible. We cannot allow the settlement process itself to create new tensions, fears, and temptations in the area which could erupt in a new war.
  • —Total Israeli withdrawal without special security provisions is simply unworkable.
Both sides have now shown a serious interest in reaching a bilateral understanding. At this Summit meeting, we should agree on an intensive work program and set a firm positive direction leading to an agreement later this year.
  • —At this meeting we should define the areas of agreement, and isolate and discuss the issues of disagreement. Our new proposals are meant to start this process.
  • —We propose that Gromyko and Kissinger work now at reconciling the two sides’ proposals. Intensive follow-up talks can resume immediately afterward in the special channel.
  • —Implementation cannot realistically begin until mid-1973, although we are prepared for immediate announcement and implementation of an interim agreement.
As you wrote the General Secretary on October 19, 1971, an interim solution—e.g., a Suez Canal settlement—is the most realistic and practical approach to the overall problem.6
  • —It offers the best chance of achieving movement soon, perhaps even this year.
  • —It would establish the principle, process, and momentum of Israeli withdrawal.
We see the interim solution as linked to a final settlement, and we understand the interrelationships between the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian aspects of the problem.
  • —But again, the more ambitious we are, the longer it will take—and the longer Israeli withdrawal will be delayed.
  • —There are many ways to handle this linkage. We should be able to find a practical formula through negotiation in our special channel.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 487, President’s Trip Files, The President’s Conversations in Salzburg, Moscow, Tehran, and Warsaw, May 1972, Part 1. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Discussion of the Middle East was postponed until May 26. In his memoirs Kissinger wrote that when Brezhnev first invited Nixon to dinner with the top Soviet leadership on May 24 to take up “outstanding issues,” they were told that Brezhnev meant to discuss the Middle East. That afternoon, however, Dobrynin told him that the most likely subject on the General Secretary’s mind was Vietnam. (White House Years, pp. 1222–1223) For Nixon and Brezhnev’s discussion of the Middle East, see Document 284.
  3. Information on Gromyko’s offer is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.
  4. For a review of U.S.-Soviet pre-summit negotiations of the Middle East, see Document 231.
  5. The U.S. counterproposal, “Basic Provisions for a Final Settlement in the Middle East,” handed to Brezhnev by the President on May 26, is attached to Document 284 as Tab A, but is not printed.
  6. Document 6.