134. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Middle East Problem

Having observed press speculation2 over the two weeks since your television interview3 and my San Clemente press backgrounders, you [Page 467] can best judge for yourself the manner in which the bureaucracy is treating this issue. However, the attached cable from Chargé Bergus in Cairo4 suggests to what an absurd degree the lack of discipline has reached.

In summary Bergus states:

—The U.S. may become a prisoner of a small power (Israel).

—The U.S. is unwittingly being buffeted toward a new confrontation with the Soviet Union over a line which is to be established west of Cairo.

—He is unconvinced that the Soviets are creeping west and infers that we are being influenced by Israeli estimates.

—No major Ally will support us in the event of a confrontation with the Soviets on this issue.

—We have placed the issue of confrontation in the hands of the Israelis rather than controlling it ourselves.

The facts are:

(1) That the line to which Mr. Bergus refers is a line actually established by his own Secretary of State during his June 2 meeting with Ambassador Dobrynin when he said: “The USSR has indicated that Soviet military activities in the UAR will remain defensive. We want to make clear that we would not view the introduction of Soviet personnel, by air or on the ground, in the Canal combat zone as defensive since such action could only be in support of the announced UAR policy of violating the ceasefire resolutions of the Security Council. We believe that introduction of Soviet military personnel into the delicate Suez Canal combat zone could lead to serious escalation with unpredictable consequences to which we could not remain indifferent. In this connection, we believe, and I am sure you do, it is neither in the interest of the Soviet Union nor the United States for the Middle East to become an area of confrontation between us.”5

(2) The reference by the Secretary to a “combat zone” was further defined by the Secretary when at the same meeting he handed Ambas[Page 468]sador Dobrynin a summary of Israeli press reports quoting Dayan’s May 26 statement that Israel was currently limiting itself to bombing up to 30 km inside Egypt.

(3) Subsequently, the Israelis registered concern that the Secretary’s statement and his use of the Dayan statements might mislead the Soviets into thinking they could place installations right up to the 30 km line to take advantage of expected Israeli forebearance. This the Soviets have apparently done.

(4) Neither you nor I have made any public reference to the Soviets moving forward.

(5) Mr. Bergus’ use of the word “confrontation” is a direct challenge to you and your choice of phrases at the West Coast press conference. It is inconceivable that a Chargé would send such a message unless he felt he had at least tacit sympathy at the highest levels within the Department of State.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 646, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East—General, Vol. V. Secret. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed this memorandum at the top right-hand corner and wrote, “OBE.” Beneath the note the date July 17, 1970, is stamped.
  2. In the week before the date of this memorandum, the press speculated about a division between the Department of State and the White House on Middle East issues. On July 9, Kissinger sent a message to Rogers, while the Secretary was in Japan, that begins: “In your absence, a mischievous press campaign has developed which suggests a sharp policy disagreement between the White House and the Department of State on the Middle East initiative. I wanted you to know that from the White House perspective, these allegations are completely without basis in fact.” He also wrote: “I wish to assure you that the President and I are completely behind the Middle East initiative which, as you know, was the result of thoroughly coordinated State-White House action.” (Telegram 109223 to Tokyo; ibid., Box 1155, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files)
  3. In a July 1 televised interview, Nixon addressed the Middle East situation: “Now what should U.S. policy be? I’ll summarize it in a word. One, our interest is peace and the integrity of every country in the area. Two, we recognize that Israel is not desirous of driving any of the other countries into the sea. The other countries do want to drive Israel into the sea. Three, then, once the balance of power shifts where Israel is weaker than its neighbors, there will be a war. Therefore, it is in U.S. interests to maintain the balance of power, and we will maintain that balance of power. That is why as the Soviet Union moves in to support the U.A.R., it makes it necessary for the United States to evaluate what the Soviet Union does, and once that balance of power is upset, we will do what is necessary to maintain Israel’s strength vis-à-vis its neighbors, not because we want Israel to be in a position to wage war—that is not it—but because that is what will deter its neighbors from attacking it.” The complete transcript of the interview is printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 543–559.
  4. Telegram 1539 from Cairo, July 14, is attached but not printed.
  5. See Document 120.