122. Editorial Note

On the evening of June 8, 1970, Secretary of State William Rogers invited Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to his home in the Washington suburbs for a “secret unofficial conversation.” No U.S. record of the conversation has been found, but according to a record of the conversation prepared by Dobrynin, and provided to the Department of [Page 410] State by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the conversation lasted nearly 3 hours and focused primarily on the Middle East.A portion of the record of the conversation follows:

The Near East: This question took up the main part of the conversation. Rogers began the conversation by noting that, with the direct involvement of President Nixon, they are now completing a multi-faceted analysis of the current situation in the region and the development of possible further steps for the USA in that regard. Assuring that they ‘aim for peace and a lessening of tensions in the existing dangerous Near-East conflict,’ and complaining about the ‘excessive difficulty of problems,’ with which they meet now, in developing a ‘reasonable course,’ Rogers said that in their opinion, the Soviet military presence, in part in the UAR, would have very important effect on the situation in the Near East.

Rogers asked if the Soviet Union is planning to increase its presence. This is not indifferent to us—now and in the future—especially if Soviet pilots appear in the region of the Suez Canal, the Secretary of State forcefully underlined.

“I said that such a formulation of the question is unclear to say the least. If one follows the logic suggested by the Americans, then it seems the Soviet Union is the main reason for the current dangerous and tense situation in the Near East, although the whole world knows that this is not the case. The Soviet military presence is just the consequence of an openly aggressive course taken by Israel, supported by the USA, directed at a continuation of the occupation of Arab lands, at the undermining of disagreeable governments of Arab countries—victims of Israeli aggression. The Soviet Union has given and will continue to give aid to these Arab countries, but is not a supporter of any military confrontation, does not follow any selfish goals, but aims at a just peaceful settlement. Only recently the Secretary of State had been provided additional proposals by the Soviet side [see Document 120] to which it had not received any response. In general there is an impression that the American side is not in a hurry to continue serious Soviet-American talks on peaceful settlement, but prefers instead to look at further military aspects of aid to Israel. This course can only intensify the situation, I told the Secretary of State.

Rogers started to advance a thought that in Moscow, apparently, they don’t imagine what kind of pressure the government of Golda Meir is putting on them in connection with the appearance of Soviet pilots in the UAR.The Israelis tell us, the Americans, that these are not instructors, but military pilots ready to fight. The Israeli pilots can tell immediately when Soviet pilots go into the air. This is clear by the ‘pilots signature’ as well as the decisiveness with which they intercept Israeli pilots when they cross over deep into the territory of the UAR. [Page 411] The Egyptian pilots never go directly into battle unless they have significant advantage in numbers.

“I told Rogers that it is unlikely that the point of our conversation is to discuss the Israelis’ impressions. But from what he said regarding the Israeli flights deep into Egyptian territory, it then follows who is the initiator of provocative acts. In connection with this it is strange that the USA stands as a defender of such acts.

Rogers started to justify himself. He entered into a diffuse discussion of American ‘peaceful efforts’ on settlement, starting with 1967, to show that the Nixon administration ‘always aims for peace.’ Rogers’ statements had a very unsystematic character, he jumped from one thought to another, not really saying anything new.

“Keeping in mind Rogers’ well known manner of speaking rather diffusely and not clearly enough, at the end of the discussion I put before him a question in a direct form: ‘What can I tell the Soviet government regarding the position of the USA regarding a settlement in the Near East? What does it intend to do? Can I get, in a more concrete form, an explanation of what he himself meant when he, the Secretary of State, gave a television interview on Sunday, June 7, when he said that the USA in the coming weeks will begin a new diplomatic initiative?’ (Department of State Bulletin, June 29, 1970, pages 785–792)

Rogers thought for some time. Then he once again began to diffusely set forth the US position, although in a more precise manner. However even here I had to ask him specific questions. His statements, if one were to sum them up, amount to the following:

“The Government of the USA is currently completing its assessment of the general situation in the Near East. It is worried that, speaking frankly, the current state of mind in the Israeli government where there is a new intensification of the divide between ‘hawks’ and ‘doves.’ But as part of pressure on the Soviet side, he, Rogers, can unofficially say that in Washington they are afraid lest ‘hot heads’ in Tel Aviv decide to deliver a strong blow to the Arab countries, first of all the UAR, ‘which would be a suicidal step,’ at least from the point of view of future prospects, for Israel. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that Golda Meir is completely convinced, although this is not the case, especially under President Nixon, who came to power without the Jewish vote and in fact despite it, that she can always force the government of the USA, using the Jewish influence here, to follow and support Israel regardless of what it does. Right now Golda Meir has also become convinced that the Soviet Union has decided to go on the path of a military blow to Israel, by participating directly in military activity, in part through its flights. Because of this conviction the premier of Israel is currently bombarding Nixon with calls to give Israel ‘firm assurances’ that the USA will not leave it ‘one-on-one against the [Page 412] Soviet Union.’ It is in this context that Golda Meir puts the question of selling Israel a new set of American planes.

“The Government of the USA, Rogers went on to say, is currently, in a private manner, putting serious pressure on the government of Israel, directly warning against any reckless military activity. In Washington this is based on a belief that this would cause an essential effect. But at the same time the government of the USA would like to give Israel some new assurances that it would ‘not leave it.’ Besides the public announcements already made on this score by various American officials and representatives, the Nixon administration is looking at the question—precisely in connection with this—of new deliveries of airplanes to Israel.

“Although it has in principle been decided beforehand that, towards the goals outlined above, Israel will be given a promise to satisfy its request, it has however not been decided to this day on what scale it should be done and how such a decision should be made public.

“The main [issue] here—is the unwillingness of the administration to further worsen its relations with the Arab world. This is the second main direction, which the government of the USA is now strenuously thinking.

“The third course being discussed in Washington is the question of how to more quickly make the ‘Jarring mechanism’ start working so that both sides could, finally, renew contacts.

“Here, in connection with what was said by Rogers on the last question, one situation calls for attention. Judging by his initial comments one gets the impression that in the administration there is currently a discussion regarding possible further actions within the framework of Soviet-American contacts, and the following possibility: concentrate all efforts of American diplomacy first of all on bringing the Arab world and Israel under Jarring’s aegis, possibly bypassing bilateral talks for the time being or a further development of the questions of settlement in the framework of talks—‘this could be continued parallel to the resumption of the Jarring mission,’ the Secretary of State said. At the same time one cannot exclude the possibility that the Americans are hoping right now to convince Israel, in exchange for a deal on planes, to take a more flexible position on questions of a peaceful settlement, specifically: to more precisely announce about the readiness to accept the Security Council resolution (Golda Meir has already started making gestures in this direction) and to agree for direct talks with the Arabs through Jarring.

“In connection with this Rogers’ comment that the overall situation in the Near East is such that it is necessary to immediately resume Jarring’s mission ‘even before the General Assembly session approaches’ is notable. In response to a question regarding what sort of [Page 413] contacts, in the Secretary’s opinion, would exist between the Arabs and Israel, Rogers immediately said ‘Not direct ones, of course, but indirect, through Jarring—in one city, or maybe in one building—otherwise the Arabs won’t go.’

“It is not impossible that the Americans are counting on convincing Nasser to agree to a renewal of the Jarring mission (it is possible that this is implied by the ‘new American initiative’).

Rogers also noted the possibility that the ‘important question’ of a ceasefire could have a more serious decision during Jarring’s mission, even as a temporary measure for the time being, for the period of talks, as a good-will gesture by both sides, which would have an ‘enormous psychological effect’ on the whole territory of the Near East.

“To repeat—Rogers himself did not divulge in any detail or precision the intentions of the American side noted above. He also completely avoided specifying, what exactly is meant when he speaks of an American initiative being proposed. However his individual statements give a known basis for considering such a course by the Americans possible.

“In connection with this it should be noted that when I asked him what he thinks about the situation with our bilateral talks he did not give an immediate clear answer. At first he said that the most important thing is ‘launching the Jarring mission,’ and the USSR and USA could at the same time ‘continue parallel discussions, helping Jarring and the sides themselves.’ Then, in connection with my question, he corrected himself, saying that it seems that our two sides need to speed up the development of recommendations to Jarring which, however, do not necessarily have to have a very specific character, but it is necessary to fix the primary principles on the more important points of settlement. When I reminded him our strong point of view on this score (in part, in our response to the previous American plan ‘with neutral formulations’ on points of contention) he did not enter into a discussion saying that ‘you and Sisco know the details better’ and all of this can be discussed in greater detail when our discussions with Sisco resume, which, apparently, will be in the near future. In connection with this Rogers avoided a detailed discussion of the points regarding peaceful settlement, although we did exchange opinions on the main points (the Secretary of State did not say anything new, pointed out that they did not finish looking at all of the related questions, including our latest position).

The overall impression of the conversation with Rogers regarding the Near East amounts, in short, to the following. The Nixon government, for the first time in many months, has started a serious review of its policy in the region in light of events currently taking place there. It seems that the most serious impulse for this was our military pres [Page 414] ence in the UAR, in the first place of Soviet pilots and missiles. They are particularly worried about the lack of clarity, for Washington, regarding our further intentions, whether we will significantly increase our military presence in the UAR and whether Soviet pilots and missiles will cover the Suez Canal zone where the likelihood of our collision with Israelis would increase. The Americans would clearly like to achieve some mutual understanding with us regarding whether we will move right up to Suez. At the same time they have to resign themselves quietly to our military presence and air defense of population centers in the UAR deep in its territory.

“In a political sense the Nixon administration, worried about developments in the general situation in the Near East, which are unfavorable to the USA, judging by a host of signs, would like to convince the Israeli government to take a more flexible line. If the Americans are successful at this (the question of supplying aircraft to Israel plays the role of a sort of exchange coin here), then they have two paths open before them to a quick resumption of the Jarring mission.

“One, within the framework of the current Soviet-American talks. The second (attractive for Washington and, apparently, also being discussed in the administration) is to try to ‘sell’ possible Israeli concessions, if they are offered, directly to the Arabs, Nasser first and foremost, as a purely American achievement. If the‘direct bridge’ with the Arabs (Nasser) does not work, then the center of gravity will again be shifted to our bilateral discussions.

“It seems that related discussions in the White House (and talks with Israel) are not yet finished. Therefore the Americans are currently maintaining a known tactic of delaying concrete discussions, wishing at the same time to keep open for itself a path to talks with us.

“I conducted the discussions with Rogers on Near Eastern affairs in a calm but firm manner so that the Nixon administration would not have any doubts that while we are not aiming for any military confrontation, at the same time we will decisively defend the interests of the Arab countries which are victims of aggression, and our interests in the Near East in the framework of an overall peaceful settlement which will be the only possible path to solving the current acute and dangerous conflict situation in the region.” (Archive of Foreign Policy, Russian Federation, f. 0129, op. 54, p. 405, d. 5, 1. 230–240)