210. Briefing Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lord) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

The Soviets and the Middle East

My staff, with informal cooperation from several bureaus, recently undertook a study of the Soviet role in the Middle East (and Persian Gulf), focussing primarily on the kinds of problems that will arise ei[Page 839]ther after or aside from the settlement process. The following are the main conclusions and observations; I am attaching a copy of the paper2 but do not believe you need read through it, since you are more than familiar with most of the issues that are raised.

The Soviet Role and the Settlement

Although we focus on issues transcending the settlement process, these issues are inextricably intertwined with the question of the Soviets and the settlement.

—The Soviets see their vital interests engaged in the Middle East and will almost inevitably play a significant continuing role there. While the Arab-Israel dispute has been their main vehicle thus far, they have several other attractive alternative entrees to the region.

—The scope of the Soviet role will in the first instance be determined by the regional states. We, however, have a strong interest in circumscribing Soviet involvement and our policies will have a major impact on the desire and ability of the regional states to limit the Soviets.

—Our leverage in the short term is particularly great because of our dominant role in the settlement process. We need to determine, therefore, which short-term tactic is more promising: excluding the Soviets as much as possible or seeking to institutionalize their role in the region.

—Seeking to exclude the Soviets from the settlement process and the Middle East in general would increase the likelihood that they will look for opportunities to foment and exploit other tensions. However, including them in the process cannot ensure their good behavior, especially as regards issues not directly related to the settlement.

—Should we appear to be giving the Soviets a free ride by assigning them an unearned role in the settlement process, our Middle East and détente policies would both come in for domestic criticism.

—In such a fairly well balanced situation, consideration of détente and global US-Soviet competition play a significant role.

—Given that the Soviets (a) are finding the Arab-Israel dispute increasingly unprofitable for their policy, and (b) do have other attractive options in the Middle East, their propensity to oppose a settlement is fairly low, especially if they could associate themselves with it in a prestigious manner.

—One post-settlement area in which the Soviets will have to be involved is limitation on arms transfers. This gives them strong leverage on the situation, especially since we will face serious problems in [Page 840] squaring restraints in the Arab-Israel context with our arms supply programs in the Gulf.

Other Areas of Opportunity

Aside from the Arab-Israel conflict, there are several ways that the Soviets could profitably engage themselves in the Middle East (page references are to the attached study):

—The Palestinians will offer a prime opportunity, both because their hopes will remain unfulfilled and because they offer fertile ground for radicalism. (pp. 6–7)

Intra-Arab rivalries will almost inevitably flourish either on traditional grounds (Baghdad vs. Damascus vs. Cairo) or along radical/conservative lines. These will be a standing invitation to meddling by outside forces including the Soviets. (pp. 10–12)

—The Soviets will undoubtedly seek to develop their role in the Persian Gulf. For some time at least, this will probably involve expanding ties with Iran and seeking diplomatic openings on the Arab side of the Gulf. Promotion or exploitation of radicalism in the Gulf region would cause problems for the Soviets but they probably hope to profit from a long-term trend in this direction. (pp. 13–14)

—Soviet ability to manipulate the oil situation is small. The best opportunity (although it has pitfalls) would be to appear as the backer of the producers against Western threats. (pp. 15–16)

—Soviet attempts to profit from ties to Israel and to local Communists show little prospect for near-term advantage.

Principal Implications

—Our long-term interests are probably best served by a policy that seeks to circumscribe Soviet involvement by: building them into the settlement, accepting the permanency of some Soviet role, and defining our policy as one of working primarily with the regional states rather than conceptualizing the area as an area of US-Soviet competition. This broad approach, backed by a continuing active US policy in the region, should not only give us the best chance of “domesticating” the Soviets in Middle East affairs but also maximizes the chances for achieving our regional interests and can be used as an incentive in the overall context of US-Soviet relations.

—Our present policy of keeping lines of communication open to a broad range of Arab nations as well as Israel is a vital policy element, second only to the pursuit of peace.

—The relatively novel danger that emerges concerns the Soviets becoming the protectors of the oil producers. Although this is no imminent prospect, we need to guard against it by (a) avoiding statements or actions that would scare the producers into the Soviet embrace, and (b) [Page 841] ensuring that the Soviets realize that we see our vital interests at stake in the region and do not miscalculate our tolerance.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 77D112, Policy Planning Staff (S/P), Box 353, Director’s Files (Winston Lord), 1969–77, Oct. 16–31, 1975. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Thornton.
  2. Attached but not printed.