1. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

11. Summary. Under Secretary Rostow January 1 handed Israeli Chargé Argov copy of USSR peace Quote plan Unquote given Secretary by Soviet Chargé December 30 (septel).2 Rostow noted that this latest Soviet approach, while reiterating many standard Soviet positions, also contained significant innovations responsive to U.S. insistence on need for agreement among parties to conflict. This could be important development, and we believed it imperative to proceed from hypothesis that Soviets wanted movement now toward Middle East settlement. Rostow outlined for Argov our preliminary analysis of Soviet memorandum and tentative views on how we should reply, emphasizing these not yet cleared within USG. This connection, Rostow assured Argov there would be no change in fundamentals of our policy. We would stress to Soviets need for parties themselves to agree on settlement and would cast reply in terms of what US and USSR [Page 2] might jointly do to help Jarring. Rostow agreed to Argov’s request that US not repeat not reply to USSR until we had received GOI reaction to latest Soviet memorandum, which Argov thought should be available by end of week. End summary.

1. Under Secretary Rostow called in Israeli Chargé Argov January 1 to inform GOI of latest Soviet approach on Middle East made by Soviet Chargé Tcherniakov to Secretary December 30. Rostow told Argov Tcherniakov had left two papers: (A) A general statement of Soviet policy which contained nothing new, and (B) new Quote plan Unquote for Middle East settlement. Rostow gave Argov copy of latter document, noting that Tcherniakov had said Soviets did not repeat not plan publish it and that we desired it be held in confidence. Argov assured us there would be great care in handling information.

2. Tcherniakov had also made the comment, which seemed particularly significant since this Soviet approach followed Gromyko’s Cairo visit, that USSR had reason to hope the UAR would accept new Soviet Quote plan Unquote if Israel did. In this connection, Rostow noted that we had report from Cairo that UARG had Quote lost Unquote paragraph of its reply to Secretary’s seven points about Egyptian will to peace which we expected to receive shortly.3

3. Rostow said Tcherniakov had reported that similar approaches were being made to British and French. French Chargé Leprette had told Rostow yesterday that Soviet approach had been made to French Ambassador in Moscow by Semyanov, who had also made following points orally:

(A) If France considered conditions favorable for a four-power effort in Middle East, this would find favorable echo within Soviet Government. (Rostow noted in this connection that Soviets had been consistently cool to idea of four-power approach.)

(B) Soviets did not repeat not envisage imposition of solution on parties in which latter had not participated.

(C) Reopening of Suez Canal no longer linked to settlement of refugee problem.

(D) While avoiding direct reply to question of whether prior Israeli withdrawal was precondition for negotiations, Semyanov said USSR [Page 3] was seeking Quote preliminary agreement of the parties on all of the elements of a final settlement Unquote.

4. Turning to latest Soviet Quote plan Unquote, Rostow said we were preparing careful analysis and had some preliminary views which we wanted to share with GOI. While many points in Soviet memorandum were repetitions of old positions and there were number of internal contradictions, we saw following significant changes:

(A) Soviets were now speaking of need for Quote agreed Unquote plan by means of contacts through Jarring at beginning of settlement process. Rostow said we interpreted this language as Soviet response to our emphasis on concept of agreement among parties. Semyanov’s language seems to characterize Soviet conception of Quote plan Unquote as given in paper.

(B) This agreed plan, to be arrived at before any action is taken on the ground, is to cover entire Quote package Unquote of issues dealt with in November 1967 Security Council Resolution.4

(C) New Soviet memorandum contains clear implication that border rectifications are envisaged. This implication is contained in language that Quote provisions shall also be agreed upon which concern secure and recognized boundaries (with corresponding maps attached) Unquote. At same time, Rostow noted, Soviets have left themselves an out by including language from their September 4 note about withdrawal to pre-June 5 lines.5

(D) Soviets are no longer insisting that settlement process must begin with Israeli declaration of readiness to start partial withdrawal by a given date. Instead, Israel and Arab states are to issue declarations simultaneously of Quote readiness to achieve peaceful settlement Unquote.

(E) Soviets now describe purpose of agreement between parties as Quote establishment of just and lasting peace Unquote and not repeat not merely as Quote political settlement Unquote.

(F) Soviet memorandum appeared to suggest that settlement process could begin without Syrian participation. In this connection, French Chargé had reported that Soviet Ambassador in Cairo, in conversation with French Ambassador, had said that if agreement reached between UAR and Israel then Syria would be obliged to come along.

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5. Rostow said that the timing of this Soviet approach was of particular interest, coming as it did after Gromyko’s Cairo visit and after Israeli attack on Beirut airport to which Soviets, however, have made no reference.6 Question arose of why Soviets wanted to move now toward settlement without awaiting new U.S. administration. Rostow said we believed we must operate from hypothesis that Soviets wanted early movement toward settlement, perhaps because of concern about risks of military blow-up in area, and of situation they could not control. Soviets might also hope for concessions from present administration but, if so, they would be disappointed. While flexible and responsive, USG did not repeat not intend to abandon fundamental principles and did not repeat not wish to negotiate details of settlement with Soviets for parties.

6. Rostow said that our preliminary and as yet uncleared ideas about how to reply to latest Soviet approach were as follows: We would state that we were always prepared to discuss with others how we might help Jarring Mission. We do not want to take over negotiations from parties and would seek to cast our reply in terms of advice that USG and USSR could give to Jarring. We might, for example, revert to Jarring’s March 10 formula,7 seeking to persuade Soviets to join us in advising Jarring to call a meeting of the parties with revised Quote plan Unquote as agenda. While Soviets have never replied to Rostow’s questions to Dobrynin on this point, they have never rejected the idea.8 Our purpose was to encourage movement on Jarring’s part, Rostow said, and we continued to believe that Israel should take initiatives with Jarring in order to preempt initiatives by others. Noting that Soviets appeared to be negotiating for Nasser, Rostow said we would prefer to make clear in our reply that we are not speaking for Israel, although we would handle that point in the light of our consultation with GOI. In response to question from Argov, Rostow said we were proceeding from hypothesis that what Soviets told us was binding on Cairo.

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7. Rostow concluded by saying that we believed latest Soviet approach could represent important development, and we were desirous of consulting with GOI in this matter.

8. Noting that Israeli Cabinet and Ambassador Rabin were now reviewing entire situation with respect to Middle East settlement, Argov said that while he realized we wished to reply soonest to Soviets, he asked that USG delay replying until we had received Israeli reaction to latest Soviet approach. Rostow agreed if delay was no more than a few days. While reserving further comment, Argov observed that on quick perusal memorandum appeared to contain many old and unacceptable positions; e.g., with respect to nature of final peace settlement. If further study revealed that there had been movement on Soviet side, this demonstrated again that basic rule of world politics was that when U.S. was firm, Soviets always yielded in the end.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Middle East, Country File, Box 142, Israel, Cables and Memos, Vol. XI, 12/68–1/69. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Atherton and approved by Rostow. Repeated to London, Paris, Moscow, Amman, Cairo, and USUN.
  2. A memorandum of conversation of Rusk’s December 30 meeting with Soviet Chargé Uri Tcherniakov is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–12 ARAB–ISR. For an unofficial translation of the Soviet “peace ‘plan’,” see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1967–1968, Document 374. The same day, Tcherniakov also gave Robert Ellsworth, an assistant to President-elect Nixon, two notes outlining a Soviet plan for a political settlement in the Middle East. The notes given to Ellsworth were almost identical to those Tcherniakov handed to Secretary of State Dean Rusk. The memorandum of conversation between Ellsworth and Tcherniakov and the Soviet notes given Ellsworth are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 1, HAK Administrative and Staff Files—Transition, Robert Ellsworth.
  3. On November 2, 1968, Secretary Rusk presented to Egyptian Foreign Minister Riad an eight-point peace proposal. Seven points were written: 1) Israeli withdrawal from territory of UAR; 2) a formal termination of the state of war; 3) Suez Canal open to all flagships; 4) Palestinian refugees would have a choice of resettlement in 15 countries, including Israel; 5) international presence at Sharm el-Sheikh; 6) a general understanding about level of arms in area; 7) both UAR and Israel would be signatory to document. The eighth point was provided orally: Egypt would not have to accept the proposal until an agreement was worked out for the other Arab states. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1967–1968, Document 301.
  4. UN Security Council Resolution 242, adopted unanimously on November 22, 1967, was passed in the wake of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. The resolution established a “land-for-peace” framework to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute. For the text of the resolution, see ibid., volume XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967, Document 542.
  5. Dobrynin delivered the note in a meeting with Rusk and Deputy Under Secretary Bohlen. For a record of the meeting and a translation of the note, see ibid., volume XX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1967–1968, Document 245. “Pre-June 5 lines” refers to the borders between Israel and its neighbors that existed before the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.
  6. Israeli commandos attacked the Beirut International Airport on December 28, 1968, in reprisal for an attack by Palestinian guerrillas on an Israeli commercial aircraft in the airport at Athens. See ibid., Document 367. Gromyko visited Cairo in late December 1968.
  7. Swedish Ambassador Gunnar V. Jarring was the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to the United Nation’s Middle East Mission, a position established by Security Council Resolution 242. Jarring’s formula stipulated that the Governments of the United Arab Republic and Israel accept that Resolution 242 provided the basis for settling their differences and that they would send representatives to negotiations on peace on that basis.
  8. Presumably a reference to a luncheon meeting between Rostow and Dobrynin on November 8, 1968, at which they discussed prospects for the Jarring Mission. (Telegram 269827 to Tel Aviv, November 9, 1968; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR)