293. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Anatoli F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to the USA
  • Mr. Bratchikov, Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Winston Lord, Special Assistant to Dr. Kissinger
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff Member (notetaker)


  • Basic Principles (briefly at beginning); Middle East

[This conversation was a continuation, in a more restricted group, of the meeting which had begun at 10:45 a.m.]2

Basic Principles

Foreign Minister Gromyko: [Sampling the food on the table]: Down with cheese, long live caviar!

Dr. Kissinger: We should put that into the Principles.

I received more presents from the Soviet Foreign Ministry for my birthday than from the US State Department.

Mr. Gromyko: I will say nothing on the US Foreign Office because non-interference is one of our principles.

Dr. Kissinger: Concretely, how do we proceed now on the communiqué?

Mr. Gromyko: Verification should take place. Meanwhile, I will show it to Mr. Brezhnev.

Dr. Kissinger: The Principles are essentially agreed.

Mr. Gromyko: I have some comments on your document on the Middle East. [The US draft, “Basic Provisions for a Final Settlement,” handed to Brezhnev by the President, May 26, at Tab A.]3

Dr. Kissinger: Before we get to the Middle East, there is one point I meant to make. On the first page of the Principles it says, “to make [Page 1188] every effort to remove the threat of nuclear war.” Why only nuclear war? Why not “war”? We have put nuclear war into the second Principle. I recommend we eliminate “nuclear” here.

Mr. Gromyko: The idea is different. They should correspond. It is not repetition.

Dr. Kissinger: But we want to remove the threat of war altogether.

Mr. Gromyko: You said it was a good bridge to the next part.

Dr. Kissinger: Right, that’s why we put it into the second Principle. You want to have a conventional war?

Mr. Gromyko: It seems to me it is all right as it now stands.

Dr. Kissinger: I’ll talk again to the President. He called my attention to it. If it’s a problem I will get in touch with you through your Foreign Office.

Mr. Gromyko: In the second Principle it is your suggestion; maybe remove it there.

Dr. Kissinger: Maybe. Let me check with the President.

Mr. Gromyko: You would prefer to remove it from the Preamble?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Mr. Gromyko: Let’s do it tentatively, and I will check.

Middle East 4

Mr. Gromyko: Now, may I ask some questions?

Dr. Kissinger: Sure.

Mr. Gromyko: How do you visualize the matter of the sequence of different steps relative to a settlement? We always stressed the importance to approach this in such a way that any final settlement should embrace all matters, and should be interdependent. Frankly, we don’t see the possibility of another approach. It is very unrealistic to separate out. It is not just us, but the Arabs feel this way.

[Page 1189]

The other question, the crucial one, is Israeli withdrawal. You gave a formula, a little more flexible than before, but charged with the same content as before. What do you mean by this? When we speak, we mean withdrawal from all occupied territory. But if, for example, Jordan wants to make small corrections, that is another matter.

The third question relates to the personnel of Israel, observers, presence—Sharm el-Sheikh and Gaza are the two points mentioned specifically. It creates troubles. The security of Israel is not secured by the presence of troops. I think this proposal is meant—not intentions but objectively—it would create obstacles. We think we should take a more objective position on this. In Gaza, specifically, the suggestion is that Israel should take part in the observers; Sharm el-Sheikh is the same.

Jerusalem in fact is excluded from the general settlement because it is said that it is to be negotiated bilaterally between Jordan and Israel. How long will it take? It is not only a matter of interest to Jordan but to all Arab countries. We are not interested in that from the point of view of religion.

Dr. Kissinger: That accusation has not even been made by the Israelis!

Mr. Gromyko: Demilitarized zones can be established by mutual acceptance, on both sides of the border in each case. To be specific, I would like to put a question with respect to the Golan Heights.

Observers of the UN at Sharm el-Sheikh would be all right, preferably limited to a certain period according to a decision of the UN Security Council.

International guarantees: We stand for the most effective that could be imagined.

The refugees problem must be solved. It may be hard, but if the principal questions are solved, I don’t think this will be a bottleneck.

The ceasefire is not a problem as part of the settlement, if an understanding is reached.

The process of negotiations between the sides—it seems to be meant as bilaterally—we don’t think this will work.

On the last point, the vote of the Soviet Union and the US, when I was in Washington we had a certain idea of working out a basic understanding on principles. We spoke of withdrawal from all territories; no one told me it was unacceptable. To divide all into parts, confidential and public, to take into account your internal situation, including elections—When I came back and told Mr. Brezhnev, he said it was a good idea to work out. The President here at his last meeting here in Moscow said it is OK to work out, then he made the remark that it will not work.

[Page 1190]

Dr. Kissinger: To answer the last question first: If we are to proceed on this basis, we have to be scrupulously honest with each other or else it is a complete mess.

I have always told your Ambassador of our contacts with the Israelis. I spoke with the Israelis on the general ideas of a settlement, not about specifics. I did it this way: I said, we are going to the Summit. Each side is free to state whatever problems it wishes. It is probable that the Middle East will be raised. In order to prepare the President, I needed their views. I did not tell them of any specific proposals or negotiations. I just said, if Brezhnev or Gromyko raised a proposal, we would want to know the Israeli attitude. They do not know this proposal, and it would be an enormous embarrassment, to put it mildly, if they found out. I want to make some very special precautions.

The second purpose I have is to elicit from them some specific propositions. The President has to know what they really want in Sinai—this doesn’t mean we will support them—it probably would be less than they now have. That is, if they say they want half of Sinai, we don’t have to start at the Canal. The Israelis have confidence in me, but this does not have Israel’s approval.

What is our general conception? This is more important than Israeli approval. You have my complete assurance we won’t discuss it with the Israelis unless it is with your advance approval. We may discuss general ideas, with respect to Rogers, etc., but nothing concrete. If they find we are talking concretely with you, they will start a tremendous publicity campaign.

Let me give you our analysis. Candidly, the previous negotiations between you and Rogers and Sisco failed because they dealt with theories, not with what concretely could happen. We expended all our capital debating theory with Israel. Therefore it is better to be as concrete as possible, and relate to events that could in fact occur. In addition to their theoretical nature, the difficulty with previous proposals was that they involved propositions we know Israel would never accept.

Our paper [at Tab A] represents our judgment of what it is possible to impel Israel to accept—with pressure, but without war. Your paper Israel could be made to accept only with war. The Arabs cannot defeat Israel. Maybe you could. (The Israelis don’t accept that.) Therefore we are trying to find a position which—it would be very difficult—but which could be possibly made by a cutoff of military aid and other pressures. We will not give Israel a veto over our actions, but we will keep in mind those things that would make them so desperate that they would accept only with a war.

My judgment is they only want to keep about half of Sinai, a good part of the West Bank, and all—most of the Golan Heights. So this paper, difficult as it may be for you, is very difficult for Israel.

[Page 1191]

[More caviar was served.]

Mr. Gromyko: My questions are, how to understand.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me continue my analysis for a moment. I understand that it practically will not be possible to separate the problem into parts, but it is intellectually possible to look at it in different ways. I have the impression—it may turn out to be wrong—that perhaps the Jordan-Israel part could be settled, even directly. We have not exploited all the possibilities we think we have to promote it, because of our discussions. I have the impression from our discussions that you prefer the Jordan-Israel part to come second or concurrently.

Mr. Gromyko: Very preferable.

Dr. Kissinger: So I put that aside.

The problem of Egypt is more difficult, because of the very strong Israeli security interest. Probably Golan Heights is the most difficult of the three.

Egypt. As I understand the real Israeli position, not the formal one, Israel probably wants about two-fifths of the peninsula and in the form of annexation. This has been made pretty clear to me now. They believe they must have the military possibilities this gives them for their defense. We don’t agree to the principle of annexation at all—except for some minor things, if to make negotiation easier. To them, the position of Sharm el-Sheikh and other territory is quite central. After five months, they finally showed me a map. It was not unambitious.

Our general strategy is to find a possibility perhaps of avoiding the formal territorial issue by dividing the problem into several components: first [dividing] the principle of where Egyptian sovereignty should be legally from where it is exercised, and using some ideas we have, for example the interim settlement as a first step, to be followed by other steps over a long period of time, therefore the idea of security zones.

I recognize the obstacle of this somewhat unilateral definition of security. But once sovereignty is defined, the evolution will be set, and one can visualize the retreat of the Israeli presence across Sinai—whereas today one sees Israel permanently on the Suez Canal. I see no possibility now of Egypt, even with your equipment, driving Israel back. Should we not therefore try to promote a gradual withdrawal across Sinai?

Mr. Gromyko: Gradually, as provided in a possible eventual settlement.

Dr. Kissinger: Exactly. With provisions with respect to security zones that would last longer than other provisions.

In regard to the Golan Heights, we must be honest. Perhaps we can use ideas from the Egyptian-Israeli settlement, but I know the Israelis won’t allow Syria to come up without war.

[Page 1192]

We would be prepared to work with you to go through these two papers point by point to see what we could agree on, to see if it is possible to work out a process of getting something started and to give it concrete definition.

Mr. Gromyko: Something started in the sense of an agreement, or physical action?

Dr. Kissinger: Both.

Mr. Gromyko: Agreement should take place first.

Dr. Kissinger: Agreement between all parties, or between us?

Mr. Gromyko: Between us, then to convince the parties.

Dr. Kissinger: Total Israeli withdrawal in the sense of an ultimate objective is one thing, but it is not a practical thing without war in the immediate future, in my judgment. This has been my position consistently with your Ambassador since the beginning. We are looking for a way for the Arabs to get in the interim period three-quarters of what they want, and leave one-quarter for later.

Of these points here, many are soluble. Withdrawal and security are tough ones. Refugees, the Canal, demilitarized zones, end to the state of belligerency—all these are soluble.

Mr. Gromyko: If the Golan Heights are left aside, I don’t see how …

Dr. Kissinger: Perhaps the principle of security zones could be adapted to the Golan Heights, in the sense of dividing the issue of sovereignty from some form of military reassurance to Israel.

Mr. Gromyko: Demilitarized zones?

Dr. Kissinger: The Israelis have three or four nahals, they call them, semi-military settlements.

Amb. Dobrynin: How do you visualize this paper? The Minister was in Washington; we would like to work out an agreement with you. But this is more detailed than we talked. Now you split in two parts—first, you begin to recognize the principle of total withdrawal, and second, you try to divide sovereignty from presence. The second part does or does not imply total withdrawal? Will our agreement be an overall settlement, or an interim settlement that does not include the principle of overall withdrawal? If the latter, it will not be acceptable, you understand. Do you have an idea of the timing? Three to four years? Just to give us some idea.

Dr. Kissinger: I want a stupid Russian Ambassador—and Minister too. Those are very good questions, Anatol. As for the time frame, I would like to think about it a little more. I can see you cannot go to the Arabs without extraordinary difficulty and say, “You can only get three-quarters.” Therefore we have thought of the possible solution of separating sovereignty from security in special areas—with the expectation [Page 1193] that continuation of the discussion of security is almost inherent in the definition of sovereignty.

It is easier to accept the principle of total withdrawal if it is coupled with the security concept in some of the more disputed areas. What the Arabs would get in the immediate future is a very favorable change in the existing situation.

Ambassador Dobrynin: You have no timetable in your own mind?

Dr. Kissinger: I was thinking of withdrawal over the next year or two in the security zones, then in the next years …

Amb. Dobrynin: Security zones is a completely new issue.

Dr. Kissinger: I recognize that.

Mr. Gromyko: Let’s approach the matter as follows: we think the separation of one question—Syria, Jordan—will not work. The Arabs will not agree; the Soviet Union will not agree. We think it won’t work. Second, we think it is difficult and impossible to separate the question of sovereignty from security. It is impossible to agree to the presence of Israeli personnel on any Arab territory. International personnel is a different matter. In your paper, there are two places, Sharm el-Sheikh and Gaza.

On withdrawal, now you use language that is more flexible.

We don’t think presence is really a matter of security for Israel. They want a prize. The Arabs and we share this view. A principle is involved.

We are not just a distant observer. We—and you—have an interest in principles; that is why we had an agreement on Principles. So it is not just a matter of acceptability or unacceptability to the Arabs. It is intolerable to us to accept the principle of territorial aggrandizement, annexation.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me ask you this. Suppose we do not agree. What do you imagine will happen.

Mr. Gromyko: I don’t know, but to a great extent, without its being under control from a distant influence, by the US and USSR, our leaders will go to bed not knowing what the next day will bring. All good things produced from the President’s visit will be weakened to a great extent by the course of events, and our relations may be thrown back if war results. I informed Mr. Brezhnev of my conversations in Washington; he said it would be extremely good if we could agree.

Dr. Kissinger: That is our position.

Mr. Gromyko: The President said, “If we two agree, there will be an agreement.”

Dr. Kissinger: Of course, I don’t believe the President ever agreed to any specific solution. That is why we want to find a solution that can be implemented.

[Page 1194]

Mr. Gromyko: He said very strongly that, if the United States and the Soviet Union agree, then we will solve it.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but that didn’t mean he was going to agree to total withdrawal as the only possible solution.

But what I am wondering is if it isn’t possible for us to start a process that continues. Why is it desirable to the Arabs to have Israel stay everywhere until an agreement is reached for total withdrawal? Why is it not better to start?

Mr. Gromyko: But what will be the end? It is one thing to start from concrete things; it is a different thing to start from the idea that the start should be part of the whole. It may be hard, physically, to take all the steps at the same time. It is quite possible to take one step first, for instance the Canal settlement.

Dr. Kissinger: Over what period?

Mr. Gromyko: That is the subject of the agreement. The question of the duration of the interim settlement is another matter to discuss. The Suez Canal could be one of the first matters to be taken up physically, in practice. But each step should have its place in a worked-out schedule.

Dr. Kissinger: You have any approximate idea?

Mr. Gromyko: It depends on when we can start. Anyway it should be limited to a number of months. Not days, of course, maybe not weeks. We cannot understand Israel one iota. If they say security, security lies through understanding, a political decision. That is security.

Dr. Kissinger: It depends on both.

Amb. Dobrynin: What is our timetable? When the Minister was in Washington, the timetable was the beginning of next year. Then it was the first half of next year.

Dr. Kissinger: If we reach an understanding that we believe can be sold to the Israelis with great pressure—then it doesn’t make a great difference. We would have to allow a certain number of months; it is a question of months, not a matter of principle. But if one concludes that there are some issues that can’t be resolved immediately but have to be left for later, then it will take a more extended period.

Amb. Dobrynin: With the President, we had an understanding with respect to the first approach, not two approaches.

Dr. Kissinger: I discussed with the Minister only hypothetically how an agreement would be implemented. I did not agree to his proposal so that then the only thing left was implementation. In fact, we then had a long discussion of whether the problem was soluble. I understand what the Minister has in mind—early 1973. If it is not possible on that basis, we could reach a substantial accomplishment in 1973 but leave some part for a longer period.

[Page 1195]

Foreign Minister Gromyko: You mean on the basis of an agreement? The last half of 1973?

Dr. Kissinger: I mean to answer Anatol’s question about how long would the security zones exist. I gave one possible answer.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: How would you summarize, trying to be as specific as possible?

Dr. Kissinger: There is some disagreement on the subject of withdrawal, partly on the issue of principle but largely on the issue of practicality. One way to proceed would be to go through these two papers provision-by-provision over the next weeks and months, and when that is completed, to see what is left. Another approach is to recognize that there are differences on that point. Do we then have to decide that nothing can be done? But a substantial part of the withdrawal issue we are agreed upon. We could get that done. To change the legal basis of what remains would be a major change in the situation.

That is the way it looks to me at this moment.

I do not think war is the solution. It will just exacerbate the situation and leave it unresolved.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Tension too is undesirable.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, it is undesirable, also because it will hurt our relations. Though the Israelis will probably not attack, because they have what they want.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Can you exclude war?

Dr. Kissinger: No. War is possible in the Middle East. I agree with you.

We believe that on the great majority of the issues we and you agree. We do not care where the Israeli border is; frankly, Soviet security isn’t affected by where the Egyptian border is. But we can go up to a certain point in the pressures we could put. I can assure you this paper would create an explosion in Jerusalem.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: If submitted in Israel?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. When we are thinking of a security zone in Sinai, we are thinking only of two bases; they are thinking of a line.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: On what can we agree here?

Dr. Kissinger: May I recommend this? That we work together on both these papers and see how much we can make joint. I think four or five can be. On what remains, we can make a great effort. Maybe our leaders can be in contact, or when I come in September, or when you come at the end of September or both, we can make this the principal item on the agenda.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: It looks like we cannot sign here a limited number of principles on which we agree?

[Page 1196]

Dr. Kissinger: For example?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Withdrawal from all occupied territories.

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t think in the time remaining. It is unlikely.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: That each part of the settlement is considered part of the whole.

Dr. Kissinger: That we could possibly agree to. It is not excluded.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Third, we don’t exclude the possibility of UN personnel at Sharm el-Sheikh and demilitarized zones. Could we say withdrawal from all occupied territories between Jordan and Israel according to mutual agreement?

Dr. Kissinger: In what form do you mean agreement here? In the communiqué?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Maybe in the communiqué, maybe outside, two, three, four—five is better—principles which would facilitate further discussion, including the possible September meeting you mentioned.

Dr. Kissinger: We have no trouble about many of these things. The interrelationships between these, it depends on how you interpret them. If Jordan and Israel came to a separate agreement, how would you interpret the application of this principle?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: We think it is difficult for Jordan. You are right that [it can be] either at the same time or otherwise, but as part of the whole. The agreement should include parts but as parts of a whole. The order of carrying them out is another matter. Jordan should be a part.

About withdrawal, suppose it was a principle on which we agreed? Even in general. Annexation, as you said. As grounds for further discussion.

Dr. Kissinger: We have stated our position in here [in the paper].

What form do you envision? A paper to be signed?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: It could be formal, informal. It would be the best kind of paper to sign.

Dr. Kissinger: That is impossible.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: As some basis for further conversation. Something that could be squeezed from our paper and your paper.

Amb. Dobrynin: For example, that both sides agree no annexation.

Dr. Kissinger: I know. But it depends on what annexation means. It is agreed that annexation would not be acceptable. We have said we are in favor of withdrawal and that boundary changes should be by mutual agreement.

[Page 1197]

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Would you say minor changes, and mention the inadmissibility of annexation? Or the principle of parts of a whole?

Dr. Kissinger: The only thing is, we, again, have done nothing to promote a settlement between Israel and Jordan, even though we had possibilities. What if they agreed? Would it be precluded by our understanding? I want to understand what you mean by these principles.

If it is a work program, saying what we will work on, that is one thing. But if we are to undertake an obligation, it is another. We have not promoted an Israeli-Jordanian settlement, but it is something else to oblige us to prevent it.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Say an agreement, to be signed.

Dr. Kissinger: I can assure you it won’t be signed.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: An understanding that the two sides agree on the inadmissibility of annexation.

Dr. Kissinger: What if they [Israel and Jordan] agree?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: The second principle, if the two sides want to make minor adjustments…. We may have Jordan in mind, but may not mention particular parties.

Third, settlements among the parties—Israel and Egypt, Israel and Jordan, Israel and Syria—should be considered in context, and a settlement between any two should be considered part of a whole. At the same time, concrete actions to carry out the agreement could take place according to a specially-worked-out schedule. This should be worked out in a settlement.

Duration: If we agree on this, it’s still better. We do not mention the time now. It should be filled out. The subjects are of course linked. I think this is better for the American side. All the parts need not be implemented at the same time, on the first day. First a Suez Canal opening, then some security arrangement, demilitarized zones, UN personnel, to be decided on a mutually acceptable basis, on an equal basis.

Dr. Kissinger: If you have 100 kilometers on each side, all of Israel will be demilitarized!

Foreign Minister Gromyko: It will be subject to future specification.

Dr. Kissinger: What would be the status of such principles? Something we have agreed to work with, you and us, or something we are obliged to work with on the parties?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Something for us to work with. Then, the Soviet-American team would work. From your side, one brilliant person; from our side, we will have what we have!

Dr. Kissinger: You don’t commit yourself to producing a brilliant person!

[Page 1198]

Foreign Minister Gromyko: We are modest people.

Dr. Kissinger: I would like to think about this. Can we meet after dinner, 8:30, 9:00?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: 8:30 better.

Dr. Kissinger: I should listen to the President’s speech. The speech is at 8:30. We will meet at 9:15. Here?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Here.

Dr. Kissinger: All right.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: St. Catherine’s is too big.

Dr. Kissinger: I like the architecture. I’m going to rebuild the Situation Room.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: If anyone in Moscow now tried to build something like that [St. Catherine’s], he would be severely reprimanded by our Central Committee!

Dr. Kissinger: I brought Anatol to the Situation Room. Our security people had a heart attack.

At 9:15 here, we can finish up the communiqué and see where we stand on this. It gives me a chance to talk to the President.

[The meeting then adjourned.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 73, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Mr. Kissinger’s Conversations in Moscow, May 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Conference Room of the Foreign Minister’s Office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  2. All brackets in the source text. See Document 292.
  3. Tab A is attached but not printed.
  4. In his memoirs Kissinger stated that after SALT was settled, no serious effort was made to resolve any outstanding international problem. He wrote: “Significantly, the only discussion on the Middle East between Nixon and the Soviet troika took place during the afternoon that preceded the signing of the SALT treaty, guaranteeing that the Soviets would not rock the boat and that we would stick to our strategy of keeping the Middle East on ice until the Soviets were willing to talk compromise.” After noting that the Soviets were in a more difficult position than the United States realized with Egypt becoming restive at Moscow’s failure to deliver any progress towards a settlement, Kissinger wrote: “But the Kremlin’s pedantic negotiating style and rigid adherence to extreme positions prevented it from formulating proposals that we could have any incentive to support…. So long as they endorsed the radical Arab program we could have no reason for joint action with them…. So far as we were concerned, our objectives were served if the status quo was maintained until either the Soviets modified their stand or moderate Arab states turned to us for a solution based on progress through attainable stages.” (White House Years, pp. 1246–1247)