9. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Major General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

[Omitted here is discussion of the President’s schedule and Cyprus.]

[Kissinger:] On the Middle East problem—you will be seeing a number of Middle East ministers over the coming weeks. The actors: Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan are the principals. Then other Arabs. Then the Soviet Union. Then the Europeans and Japan. Our job is to find a policy which relates all those problems to each other.

[Page 19]

First, after 1967 I operated on the basis of the historical illusion that the Arabs were militarily impotent, and U.S. support was firm. Rabin told me, “We never had it so good.” That was true as long as they could defeat the Arabs and we supported them. I had a misconception of our strategy. Between 1967 and 1974, Egypt and Syria were essentially Soviet satellites. In Egypt we had a low-level Interests Section and in Syria we had nothing. Our strategy during this period was . . . we always try to have a simple strategy but complicated tactics. We like complicated tactics, not for their own sake because we want the other parties committed first so we can sell our support to keep things fluid. We try to create a need for an American role before we give it—to ensure that both parties are ready. That we changed last spring. This was good strategy except with the Soviet Union, where we have to be simple, direct, and clear. In the Mideast before the October War, we tried to create such frustrations that the Arabs would leave the Soviet Union and come to us. We didn’t want the impression that Soviet pressure produces results—that it had to be us. The Soviets could give only arms.

We didn’t expect the October War.

The President: But wasn’t it helpful?

Kissinger: We couldn’t have done better if we had set the scenario.

The President: Even the heavy Israeli losses helped, didn’t they?

Kissinger: Once the war started, we helped Israel stabilize the situation. But it was not without a cost they couldn’t sustain. Their casualties were enormous and had enormous impact. But they restored the situation and reversed some Arab cockiness—but the Arabs know Israel can’t stand attrition.

The most moderate Arabs are the Jordanians. The most consistently moderate are the Egyptians. They almost broke with the Soviet Union and will be bellwethers to future progress. The most erratic are the Syrians. For them—radicals—to sign a document with Israel was a monumental event.

The other players—Saudi Arabia. Faisal is a kook but a shrewd cookie. He is in a position where all Arabs come to him.

The President: Is it him or his advisors?

Kissinger: It is him. He used to be the Foreign Minister. He has a standard pitch on Jews. The first time I went, his speech to me was that all Jews are bad. They are cowards, who are mentioned unfavorably in the Koran. The second time I went, he pointed out he recognized the difference between Jews and Zionists. The third time, the Foreign Minister said he didn’t consider me a Jew but a human being. [Laughter] You might consider inviting him next year.

The President: Has he ever been here?

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Kissinger: The second time over.2 With Nixon. On the left, there is Libya and Iraq. Algeria is a key. We will try to use your accession to restore diplomatic relations.3

Then the Soviet Union. They lost Egypt and they are in trouble in Syria. It is becoming a movement in Iraq. Egypt was an enormous commitment of prestige and they have suffered badly.

It is not true that they started the October War—they opposed it but didn’t try to stop it. The problem was they supported the Arabs but not enough. They tried to work a line between supporting the Arabs and not antagonizing us. We can’t let Israel win the next war too heavily. Soviet intervention would be almost inevitable.

Europe is fearful of oil pressures and is eager to restore their former position in the Middle East. Right now they are in check because they are afraid if they interfere with American policy things will go bad and the embargo will be imposed again.

The Arabs’ demand is for the 1967 frontiers. Israel considers that these would be the end of Israel. The country was only 12 kilometers wide in some places. Almost all of Israel would be under SAM coverage.

The Palestinians’ rights are undefined and Jerusalem very complicated.

The basic strategy has been this: Israel can’t stand and we can’t handle dealing with all these issues at once. That is what the Soviet Union wants. That would guarantee a stalemate and a war. We must move step by step, which will make further steps possible. Israel says another Golan move is the last one. That is impossible but it is very difficult. To keep that last, we must move with Jordan or Egypt.

I have the instinct Rabin wanted to pull with Nixon what he did in 1971—produce a stalemate with abstract proposals and rely on American public opinion. They don’t mind the Arabs being with the Soviet Union as long as it is not extreme. From 1967 to 1973 the situation was ideal for Israel. The Arabs can’t make peace because they don’t know how to settle the Palestinian issue. Israel can’t either, because Jerusalem would burst their domestic structure. But they would like Sadat to formally end belligerency. Egypt can’t do it, but maybe they can take the appropriate steps without a formal statement.

The President: Such as?

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Kissinger: No blockade; Israeli cargo permitted through the Suez Canal.

The President: How is the Suez clearance going?

Kissinger: It can be completed by the end of the year. Sadat wants our advice on whether to hurry or delay. A delay is not worth it.

The Soviets want Geneva to open quickly. We don’t because the Soviet Union will try to maneuver us into being Israel’s lawyer. The last time, we opened and closed quickly, but it will be tougher the next time. So we want to set something up beforehand. But we can’t humiliate the Soviet Union. We have to open Geneva by November, but keep it in a low key.

I told Dinitz that Rabin should ask to see you. They don’t want to, because they are afraid you will pressure them to move and they don’t want to. We can’t stall till hell freezes over, like Israel wants.

[Omitted here is further discussion of the Middle East and U.S. energy policy.]

The President: I got involved in the Kudirka case.4 They wanted me to talk to Nixon.

I talked to John Dean5—someone told me to. Dean told me to write a letter to Dobrynin.

Kissinger: May I suggest the following: They will turn down a formal proposal. But when Dobrynin comes back, I will do it quietly as a personal request.

The President: That would be most helpful.

Kissinger: If it doesn’t get into their bureaucracy.

We have great opportunities with the Soviets now.

The President: Dobrynin never answered and I didn’t follow up.

Kissinger: We have a channel privately and not in writing. I think we have a good channel with the Soviet Union on everything. They are waiting for a specific proposal on SALT. I think they will want to settle in ’75.

The President: That would help the election in ’76.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 4. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. All brackets, except those inserted by the editor to indicate omitted passages, are in the original. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Ford met Kissinger from 9:07 to 10:35 a.m. Scowcroft also attended the meeting. (Ibid.) The full memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Document 95.
  2. King Faisal previously came to the United States in May 1971 for an official visit, including meetings with President Nixon at the White House on May 27.
  3. The United States re-established diplomatic relations with Algeria on November 12.
  4. On November 23, 1970, Simas Kudirka, a Lithuanian sailor aboard a Soviet fishing vessel, attempted to defect after jumping on a U.S. Coast Guard cutter operating in U.S. territorial waters off Martha’s Vineyard. Later that evening, the U.S. captain allowed Soviet naval personnel to board his ship and to use force in regaining custody of the defector.
  5. John W. Dean III, President Nixon’s White House Counsel.