176. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Member of the Politburo of the Central Committee, CPSU, & Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Anatoli F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to USA
  • Sergei Vinogradov, Soviet Delegate to Geneva Peace Conference on Middle East
  • Georgi M. Korniyenko, Member of the Collegium, Chief of USA Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Mikhail Sytenko, Member of the Collegium, Chief of the Near East Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Vasili Makarov, Aide to Gromyko
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for Foreign Affairs
  • Joseph Sisco, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, Ambassador at Large, US Chief Delegate to Geneva Peace Conference on the Middle East
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern & South Asian Affairs
  • Harold H. Saunders, NSC Senior Staff
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff


  • Jackson Amendment; Middle East

Kissinger: Mr. Foreign Minister, I am delighted we can continue our discussions, and we left the two biggest topics for today, Middle [Page 858] East and SALT. We agreed yesterday to start with the Middle East. If you agree, we could have a few private words after we finish.

Gromyko: Agreed. We always agree with all the US proposals that are correct. [Laughter]

Kissinger: I talked to the President on the phone and he chided me for not expressing his personal greetings, and he looks forward to the summit and to meeting with you.

Gromyko: I should do the same. I met with the General Secretary—we were having the Congress of Komsomol—and he asked me to convey his greetings to you and the President.

Kissinger: Should we turn to the Middle East?

Gromyko: Yes.

Kissinger: We have two positions in the United States Government—if it fails it is the Sisco position; if it succeeds it is the Kissinger position. [Laughter]

Gromyko: And the American position? [Laughter]

I find we are very comfortably arranged here and surely we can find solutions.

Kissinger: Or we like it so much we will create a deadlock so we can stay a week.

When your Ambassador is alone in Washington, he deals with the Congress behind my back. Every day three Senators call me, thinking they have a special channel with him, and ask me if they can do anything for me.

Jackson Amendment

Gromyko: A very complicated mechanism, your Congress.

Kissinger: During the Vietnam war, if you listened to congressional statements you would think we could not continue three days, but we always got the votes. On our relations, and SALT, you should not believe the impression you get from the newspapers.

Dobrynin: A silent majority.

Kissinger: I have already started a counteroffensive on SALT. You saw the Reston column.2 I think we’ll get it.

The credits we will get. It will be messy. I have consulted with many Senators who are for it, and we have decided to let it be voted with the EXIM extension rather than with the Trade Bill. So we can say it is settled when the Trade Bill comes up.

[Page 859]

Some businesses in Jackson’s state have an interest in this.

There may be some amendment, but it won’t be related to the Soviet Union or emigration. It may give the Congress 30 days to veto by resolution. In my experience Congress has never really exercised the right of negative veto.

So our strategy is to separate it.

If we can’t defeat Jackson on the Trade Bill we may kill the whole bill, so it will have to start again in January with a new Congress.

Dobrynin: You are prepared to veto?

Kissinger: If the Jackson Amendment passes in its present form, we will veto the whole bill.

Middle East

Kissinger: Regarding the situation in the Middle East, we have two problems: (1) disengagement between Syria and Israel, and (2) continuation of the process leading to a just and lasting peace. Both of them will be fundamentally affected by the relations between the US and the Soviet Union. I want to state very formally: the United States is not pursuing a policy in the Middle East to negate Soviet influence or reduce Soviet influence, or that is in any way anti-Soviet. There are only those two objectives. It is in the interest of many countries in the Middle East to encourage and exploit divisions between us. We will do nothing to encourage that.

Of course it is a complex area, with volatile people, and it is not easy always to control it, as both of us know. But I wanted to state our general approach first.

Gromyko: We have set out our position on the problem of the Middle East on so many occasions that I am sure you and the U.S. Administration have nothing unclear in your minds on what it is. We are in favor of a lasting and durable peace in the Middle East, in the continuing existence of Israel as a sovereign state in the Middle East. We stood at the source of Israel as a state, introducing the resolution in the UN. We favor cooperation with the United States, provided the United States is prepared for such cooperation.

Up to now we have not seen a genuine readiness on part of the United States to join in a genuinely cooperative solution to the Middle East problem.

You just said you are not in favor of an anti-Soviet policy. Those are good words, but we hope for deeds too.

What do you mean by Soviet influence in the Middle East? Are you building military bases there? No. You have admitted that the Soviet Union more than once cooled passions there and created conditions [Page 860] conducive to a settlement of the Middle East problem. This should be borne in mind.

Kissinger: Let me make one quick observation: First, I agree the influence we are talking about is political influence, and the natural concerns of the Soviet Union with the evolution of an area so close to its borders. I want to make clear this is understood, recognized and not contested by the United States.

Second, we have now the experience in the Middle East where the United States had assumed an exaggerated degree of day-to-day control over some countries in the Middle East; and there are still in the US some who accuse the Soviet Union of controlling events. We want you to know we know that some of your disagreements with some countries in the area are due to your exercise of a restraining influence. We may be in the same position. Some actions there you should not assume are approved, encouraged, or not discouraged by the United States.

Gromyko: You are right that there are forces in the Middle East who would like nothing better than to see us in dispute, collision, and we should not allow this.

Our entire leadership and Government, and personally General Secretary Brezhnev, with whom you have had personal negotiations, are strongly in favor of cooperating to settle the Middle East problem. But such cooperation should be manifested in words, not deeds.

That is what I wanted to say as an introduction. Now before us we have one concrete question, disengagement between Israel and Syria. We would like to see the United States take a broadminded approach to this, not to give support to groundless claims of Israel but to act so as to promote the interests of all states, in the interest of a peaceful settlement.

That is what I wanted to say as an introductory statement, even if you had not made your opening remarks.

Now on the immediate agenda we have the question of Syrian-Israeli disengagement. We shall probably pass on to detailed exchange of views on that, but first let me make some general remarks. We by no means belittle the significance of that, and we are in favor of its being resolved in a positive way. But even if we take both the Syrian and the Egyptian sector, the problem of the Middle East cannot be reduced to merely this disengagement. The problem remains of the cardinal problem of Israeli withdrawal; until that cardinal problem is resolved, the danger remains of an explosion. If that cardinal problem is resolved, it will put more a solid foundation under our relations as well.

Kissinger: I agree with you, Mr. Foreign Minister. Even disengagement on both fronts should not be the final result of our efforts. Indeed, it will be seen as an initial, maybe a small initial step in the Middle East. [Page 861] We agree the objective should be a settlement between Israel and the Arab countries. We agree we should work with you for this peace. Disengagement is the beginning of the process; we’ve attached great importance to the beginning of a process because of the practical situation, because of the domestic aspects of the issues, and because of the Israeli context. The Egyptian disengagement I said had two aspects; its intrinsic aspect, and that it would start a psychological process in Israel. This is even more true with Syria. The current turmoil in Israel is not unrelated to the process that has started. We believe even if there are short-term difficulties, in the long term the emergence of a new generation, which was not born in Europe and to whom the territory does not have this significance, will be helpful. A new generation which does not have such a doctrinaire view of you. So it should be viewed in terms not of the territory which has been given up but of the thought processes it will start. The United States has gone about it precisely to trigger this long-term process, not to set dividing lines between steps. We have learned that artificial dividing lines are certain to produce another explosion.

Gromyko: I would take those last remarks of yours, regarding artificial dividing lines fraught with new dangers. What do you mean by artificial dividing lines? In our view any lines that don’t reach as far as the 1967 frontiers are artificial. And until the lines of troop separation reach those lines which in the long run coincide with the lines of the borders of 1967, seeds of conflict will remain in the area. So we shouldn’t delude ourselves by thinking it possible to establish a line without coinciding with the lines of the border to resolve the conflict effectively. Every line short of the border is artificial.

Kissinger: To quote a Foreign Minister, this is not excluded.

Gromyko: That is too cautious.

Even if an Arab leader accepted such a line—and I doubt it—the Arab people themselves will never accept that line. It is hard to object to what you say in that respect.

On your side, and voices are heard elsewhere, too much attention is devoted to analyzing moods or shades of moods of individual figures in Israel. Whether there are nuances, we don’t attach even that much importance [makes narrow gap between thumb and forefinger] to it, whether the Prime Minister, or the Defense Minister has such and such a view. Our press doesn’t devote any attention to it. We should rise higher than that.

Those who believe the problem should be resolved through withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied Arab territory, those forces in our view are for an effective solution. With guarantees for the existence of Israel, of course.

[Page 862]

Let us endeavor to consider all these matters by thinking big, and using big categories of thinking, and not by analyzing shades of thinking of Israeli statesmen. I am not accusing you of harboring such views. We should pay no attention to the statements of statesman X or Y if both favor the annexation of Arab territory.

Let us examine this in terms of our relations too—not just for the duration of one administration, but as you say yourself, to build a relationship between our two countries for a long period of time. Let us look at our discussions on the Middle East in this context as well.

What ideas do you have at present on achieving disengagement on the Syria-Israeli sector? You say you are willing to cooperate on this matter; and we will reply to your ideas.

Kissinger: First, let me make an observation about the general observations that the Foreign Minister made. I agree we should not get bogged down in details or about the domestic situation in particular countries. On the other hand, it is important that we not devote so much attention to final solutions that we neglect the steps that can get us there. Second, regarding the Israeli domestic situation, as for the difference between Minister Sapir and Mrs. Meir, it is of the order the Foreign Minister mentioned, that is, a tactical difference within the same general tendency. Between Mrs. Meir and Rabin, there may be a qualitative difference—maybe not. I mean that the new generation may be able to look at their Arab neighbors—and the Soviet Union—with less prejudice than their predecessors. I say “may be able.”

The objective is to get a fundamental solution. The second objective is to bring about a turn in which a fundamental solution can be even considered. Before the war, no one in Israel thought of security except in terms of military preponderance. Since the war, and if I may say so, especially as a result of our efforts, they have had to consider seeking security through diplomacy.

The Foreign Minister correctly speaks of guarantees. We agree; they are an essential part of the settlement, they are an essential part of Israeli withdrawal. But until there is some confidence in those guarantees, we cannot get to those steps.

What are our ideas on the present phase? You have learned from your friends in Syria that we have not presented a detailed plan.

There are before us two versions: the Syrian version, which is too ambitious, and second, the Israeli version, which is not ambitious enough. The key question is whether Israel is prepared to withdraw beyond the October 6 line—whether the disengagement is to the west of the October 6 line.

[The Secretary confessed to some confusion about which direction was west and which was east. He and Foreign Minister Gromyko then [Page 863] agreed that they could get by with saying the “right side” and the “wrong side.”]

So this is the fundamental issue. For Israel to withdraw any distance towards the ’67 lines, especially on Golan, is a traumatic experience for Israel, which, when it is done, will have important implications.

If you read the Israeli press, they are after me already. They have offered only short of the October 6 line, only part of the territory which they occupied in the last war. I tell you now—just to show you there is no identity of views—the United States does not accept that view, and this explains many of our domestic manifestations in the last weeks.

When I go to Israel I will see if I can break the sound barrier, so to speak, on this. I have no plan, because to establish principles is more important at this stage.

In all candor, this is the exact state of the negotiations now.

I would add: I believe the line cannot be on the “wrong” side of Kuneitra.

Gromyko: In principle, one cannot discuss the matter without reference to concrete figures and concrete lines.

You say you have no detailed plan. You are familiar with the Syrian position, I trust?

Kissinger: I am familiar with the Syrian position.

Gromyko: How do you see the Syrian position? You can say something on this, and I can tell you our view.

Kissinger: I believe it goes beyond what is attainable in a separation of forces agreement.

Gromyko: As we see the Syrian position, they want to have Israeli forces withdraw from about half of the territory occupied since 1967. This will, in short, in specific terms, include about 60% of the area of the Golan Heights. If that is carried out, they would not be opposed to having UN Observers posted in a strip two kilometers wide between Syrian and Israeli forces. You and Israel are familiar with that. Why can’t Israel accept it?

The Syrians would regard this naturally as nothing more than the first step towards achieving a fundamental solution and we certainly support them in that view: If anyone in Israel—Rabin or anyone else—thinks this line could be the final settlement, it would be a very crude mistake on the part of those who determine Israel’s policy, and with all the ensuing consequences. Why can’t we do this in the first step?

Kissinger: As I told you, we will work in the direction of Israeli withdrawal from the October 6 line. I don’t think it is helpful for you and us to engage in competition as to who can recommend the widest withdrawal, because that will lead to a situation in which there is no [Page 864] withdrawal. We will seek the widest possible withdrawal. I don’t know Rabin’s views or anyone else’s; I haven’t talked with him. I was speaking of what is possible in a long period of time, not what is possible in one week.

Gromyko: What is your assessment of the position the new Israeli Government will take? Will it take a more soberminded position on the question of disengagement?

Kissinger: I am very sorry I have interfered with your Ambassador’s luncheon plans today, because I think you need some additional experience. [to Dobrynin] You interfered, actually, to change the location of our meeting.

First, I do not think Rabin can form a new government in any timeframe relevant to the negotiation. Three-to-six weeks is the normal time it takes. If he can make it at all. If he cannot, there will be elections. Elections will be no earlier than the middle of October, and probably in my judgment, the end of October because of the Jewish holidays. These are the facts.

Gromyko: And until then?

Kissinger: Until then, the existing government continues. And in Israel there is the anomaly that the stablest government is a caretaker government, because no one can resign. My judgment is the new government, on an overall settlement—on Jerusalem, on the lines—particularly if we move quickly, will be more creative. If there is movement on the north and the south, there can be considerable progress. This is our interest in bringing about this movement now. I repeat, when one talks in Israel now about Egypt, it is in a different frame of mind than regarding Syria—and it can be done with Syria too. On the other hand, if we see a reemergence of their Masada Complex, it will be with all the consequences as after 1967.

I don’t think Rabin now can be decisive. For them to move back from the October 6 line is an enormous decision—you think it is trivial but for them it is enormous. To confuse this with arguing about 5 kilometers here or there would totally confuse the debate.

Gromyko: As we see it, the difference between the positions of Syria and Israel is a very big one, and we see the situation at present as very complex. If Israel will continue to take such a position, it is hard to see any forward movement. Maybe you have information warranting optimism, but we have no information warranting such hopes. The key is the influence you can bring on Israel.

You will be in Israel May 3. How many capitals are you visiting?

Kissinger: Algiers tonight—at the request of President Boumediene—and Cairo and Damascus. Those are the capitals I am visiting in connection with this. And Amman.

[Page 865]

Dobrynin: You didn’t mention Israel!

Kissinger: I once offered that we trade our relative influence in Jerusalem and Damascus, Mr. Foreign Minister. A night with their Cabinet is an experience.

After the conclusion of an agreement, I may also visit Kuwait and Riyadh, but that has nothing to do with this negotiation.

Gromyko: Algiers, Cairo, Damascus, Amman, Jerusalem, Kuwait, Riyadh. Seven. You like this number.

Kissinger: Riyadh I like for the night life. [Laughter]

Gromyko: It is more than exotic. [Laughter]

Kissinger: I must say, Mr. Foreign Minister, when you visit Riyadh, in the course of the historical evolution, you will discover true facts that you had not known. The King of Saudi Arabia knows—even though you have kept it well hidden—not that the Soviet Union controls the policy of Israel, but that Israel controls the policy of Moscow. [Laughter]. This is the secret you have kept hidden, which is now penetrated by Saudi Arabian intelligence.

When I was in Riyadh, in the Royal Palace, I saw a picture on the far wall. I forgot that Moslems do not use pictures for decoration. I asked him if it was a picture of the Arabian Desert. The King said no, it was the Holy Oasis, and fell into a morose silence for the rest of the evening. [Laughter]

If you want to know why the oil embargo lasted two months longer than we thought, it was not your radio broadcasts but my conversation with the King. [Laughter]

Gromyko: After the October revolution, Saudi Arabia was one of the first to recognize the Soviet Union.

Kissinger: Really? Who was King then? Saud?3 I’ve seen the King three times, Mr. Foreign Minister. Four times, including in the United States. And I have heard the same speech about Jews and Communists each time.

Gromyko: I met him, by the way. It was at the first or second session of the General Assembly.

Kissinger: He was Foreign Minister then. He is actually very shrewd.

Gromyko: I almost said he appeared like a European-educated man. But he certainly gives the impression of being polished, cultured.

Kissinger: In the present phase, he exaggerates his Bedouin origins. He pretends he does not speak English.

[Page 866]

May I ask, do you have any travel plans, Mr. Foreign Minister?

Gromyko: I do not completely exclude the possibility of my having to go to visit that part of the world. And I have notably the idea expressed to you in passing, but I have no definite plans regarding the dates yet. If I were to have told you I had no plans at all, that would give you grounds to say, “Here I am alone and doing all the work and you are not active enough in cooperating to get a solution.”

Kissinger: That is exactly what I would say. [Laughter]

Gromyko: So we believe there should be a joint action. I like your casual remark.

Kissinger: I think we are in any case reaching that point in our relationship where if we don’t see each other for two weeks, it creates a void at least in my life. But I do believe—seriously—that working together towards the same objective is important.

Gromyko: We feel that to work in close proximity and compare views and work in close contact is more effective than to try to settle whatever differences that exist at a distance. I am gratified that you see it the same way.

But you seem to cling to Dante’s figure of seven all the time. Although, of course, the figure seven is something that originated in the general area of Palestine, as a cabalistic figure.

Kissinger: The Foreign Minister seems concerned with Dante. This is the second successive meeting he has mentioned it. It is not the obvious choice of reading for a Soviet Foreign Minister.

We would be prepared, first of all, to keep you closely informed at all stages of our negotiation, and if we knew your plans, that would help us stay in touch.

As for the process, I would be prepared to consider another meeting before the process is concluded, so it is clear that it was not concluded by unilateral action. But I would like to reserve the location for later exchanges.

Gromyko: How in your view could the Geneva Peace Conference be reactivated? Are we necessarily supposed to wait for the elaboration and complete implementation of a Syrian disengagement agreement? Or can we do it to discuss other aspects of the Middle East while disengagement is going on?

Kissinger: We believe the most effective time for reactivation of Geneva is after the completion of Syrian disengagement, which we believe, with goodwill on all sides, could be done in the next month. We could exchange ideas in addition in the interim, but we believe the best time is after Syrian disengagement. Also, we would be prepared to have Ambassador Bunker meet here with Ambassador Vinogradov. Painful as it is, Ellsworth. If we can pry Bunker away from Panama. He [Page 867] has an island there where he goes for weeks at a time and comes back rejuvenated.

Gromyko: I would like to know about that island. [Laughter]

I think the present situation is becoming a bit strange. We all know there are many unresolved issues, including the fundamental issues of the settlement, and our representatives are here but in substance they have no contact. We are meeting; why can’t they meet and discuss the same issues?

Kissinger: I agree. We can start in a week. Of course, Ambassador Bunker is with me now. I think they could have a more extensive series of meetings a week after I return to Washington. I will return to Washington on the 10th at the latest. So starting around the 15th.

Gromyko: Please don’t think we simply cannot live without these regular contacts with our American counterparts. If yours goes back to Washington all the time, we couldn’t help but draw the necessary conclusions.

Kissinger: I agree. I need Ellsworth on this trip. It will be helpful because he will then have a full foundation of knowledge. Then he will have a regular series of consultations here, as near as possible to the 15th as we can make it. Is this agreeable then? Around the 15th? We will propose a firm date within the next few days, as soon as we know what is ahead of us. Between those two, and between us. I would say by Saturday4 . . .

Gromyko: We would prefer that they meet immediately but we will take your view into consideration.

Kissinger: Between us, I will have a specific proposal by Saturday. By then I will have been in Damascus and Jerusalem. I will communicate with you by Saturday. Having in mind that it will not be purely pro forma. The most efficient way is through Washington.

Dobrynin: General Scowcroft?

Kissinger: General Scowcroft.

Gromyko: Do you have any schedule?

Kissinger: Genuinely I have no definite schedule. I will be in Amman Saturday because of the holiday in Israel—they can’t work.

Gromyko: You go from Damascus to Amman?

Kissinger: My tentative plan is to go to Amman from Damascus. The advantage is that I will have some idea then. I will communicate to you.

On the 4th, the Israeli Cabinet doesn’t work. Therefore, the earliest I can go back to Israel to do anything is late evening, the 4th. My [Page 868] present plan is to go on the 5th. This is assuming no stalemate in Israel, which is not excluded. Read the Israel press: Our vote in the UN is not unanimously approved in Israel.

Gromyko: You will take a second trip to Damascus?

Kissinger: It is not excluded, but really I have not made a plan. I can tell you precisely on the 4th. I assure you now we will do nothing to surprise you or present you a fait accompli. You will know almost as soon as we do.

Dobrynin: When do you expect a meeting?

Kissinger: Maybe the middle of next week. It will take many Cabinet meetings in Israel. The best time for us to meet is when Israeli thinking has crystallized but not settled. Then we have something concrete.

Dobrynin: The 10th?

Kissinger: Some time between the 8th and the 10th. I will communicate with you on the 4th without fail.

Could I take a five-minute break?

Gromyko: Surely.

[There was a short break, from 12:14–12:27 p.m.]

Kissinger: I propose we continue on the Middle East until lunch.

Gromyko: Yes.

Kissinger: Then we should discuss SALT after lunch. I have until 4:00, 4:30.

Gromyko: Good.

Where do you prefer to continue after lunch? Here? Or at our place?

Kissinger: Here, or we can go to your place.

Gromyko: Lunch is at what time?

Kissinger: About 1:00.

Dobrynin: To save time, we should continue here.

Kissinger: We would be delighted to have it here.

Can we speed it up?

[Mr. Sisco goes out to have the lunch arrangements speeded up.]

You know, Sisco was a bartender and he won’t let anyone else do the luncheon arrangements.

Atherton: He will not delegate!

Kissinger: We would do it at your place if it had some symbolic significance.

The ladies are meeting at your place, anyway. Maybe they will settle it.

[Page 869]

Dobrynin: Something will be cooked up, literally!

Kissinger: Maybe with a great effort something will come out of our meetings. It will cost us 100 MIRVed missiles. [Laughter]

Maybe we should exchange observers—so you could attend our National Security Council meetings and we could attend your Politburo meetings. You would be amazed.

Gromyko: They urged you to accept it.

Kissinger: I am negotiating between your General Staff and our General Staff.

Vinogradov: Disengagement.

Gromyko: I heard a joke. An Army man wanted a job on the General Staff. A friend said, “You’re crazy.” He said, “Is that a necessary qualification to be on the General Staff?” [Laughter]

Kissinger: Our General Staff accuses you of betraying the country if you agree to ban things they didn’t plan to do anyway.

As I understand it, on Saturday I will inform you first on the state of discussions, and second, I will propose what the next step might be. Bearing in mind that proximity improves our cooperation. And we then decide what next steps we might take. This is my understanding of where we stand.

The Israeli press is already starting a campaign.

[The meeting then broke up. Secretary Kissinger, Minister Gromyko and Ambassador Dobrynin went to the Secretary’s suite for a private discussion.]5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 71, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Gromyko, 1973. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s suite in the Intercontinental Hotel. Brackets are in the original.
  2. James Reston, a columnist who worked for The New York Times for many years. Kissinger is probably referring to Reston’s article entitled “The Tyranny of History” published in The New York Times, April 28, 1974.
  3. Ibn Saud, King of Saudi Arabia from 1932 to 1953.
  4. May 4.
  5. Kissinger sent a report of his meeting to Nixon through Scowcroft on April 29. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 69, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 22 (January–April 1974))