15. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

42154. Begin summary: Assistant Secretary Sisco met with Ambassador Dobrynin today to resume US-Soviet Middle East talks.2 The Soviets have brought a Middle East expert here from Moscow and clearly intend to pursue this dialogue in a serious manner. Mr. Sisco suggested that as immediate steps the Soviets parallel our efforts (a) to encourage scrupulous observance by the parties of the ceasefire and (b) to urge the parties to be responsive to Jarring’s latest questions. He also stressed our belief that a UAR commitment to work for an agreed and lasting peace is necessary to get a meaningful negotiating process started. Dobrynin said the USSR concurred in our view that the terms of a settlement must be agreed to by the parties, must constitute a package and should be worked out through Jarring. He argued, however, that clarification of the Israeli position on boundaries would help elicit a clear expression of the Arab position on peace. He also made the point that, while there is no question of QUOTE imposing UNQUOTE a settlement, agreed positions by the US and USSR could constitute pressure on the parties.

Sisco told Dobrynin we hoped to present some ideas on the substance of a settlement shortly in New York. Once that decision was taken, we would make these ideas available to Dobrynin and hoped to get into further specifics in our next meeting with him.3 Dobrynin and Sisco agreed that their meetings should continue at fairly frequent intervals on a quiet and informal but businesslike basis. If the press learns of these talks, we will confirm they are taking place but decline to discuss their substance. End summary

1. Asst. Secretary Sisco, NEA, (accompanied by Atherton) met with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin at Soviet Embassy March 18 to resume US-Soviet dialogue on Middle East. Also present on Soviet side were [Page 54] V.V. Mikhailov, Counselor of Embassy, and A. Semiochkin, Chief of Near East Dept. who had arrived from Moscow previous evening.

2. In brief opening statement Dobrynin noted he had already had opportunity to convey Soviet concern re Middle East situation to President4 and expressed hope that current talks would be constructive and productive. Dobrynin noted that Soviet December 30 plan provided both that Israel’s existence as independent state should be guaranteed and that Arab territories occupied by Israel should be liberated.5 Soviets wished to take US views into account to extent possible and had no objection to detailed discussion of all issues although Soviet interest focused primarily on Israeli withdrawal. Soviet plan did not contain answers to all questions and details should be worked out with parties concerned. He hoped, however, that US and USSR could agree on number of specifics. Dobrynin emphasized that Soviet plan calls for strong and lasting peace, not merely return to armistice situation, and envisages utilization of Jarring Mission. He would welcome US comments on Soviet plan and hoped to hear US ideas as well.

3. Sisco replied that we welcome opportunity to resume discussions, noting that he and Dobrynin had previously agreed these talks were of utmost importance and should be held quietly and in businesslike atmosphere. Sisco suggested and Dobrynin agreed that, if press learned of talks, both sides would confirm they had taken place but would make no comment on substance.

4. Sisco continued that we viewed these discussions with Soviets and consultations in New York among four powers as effort help Jarring narrow gap between parties within framework of SC Resolution. We hoped to get down to specifics, and did not preclude possibility that we might together produce informal QTE pieces of paper UNQTE on ad referendum basis if we reach point where common ideas emerge.

5. Sisco then suggested two immediate steps for Soviet consideration: (a) that, in view recent cease-fire violations in area, we counsel parties to scrupulously respect cease fire resolutions in effort develop better climate for negotiations; and (b) that Soviets encourage parties, as we have already done with Israeli and Arab friends, to respond positively to Jarring’s latest questions.6 This connection Sisco said we were concerned about press reports that UAR Foreign Minister Riad had recently expressed doubts about possibility of political settlement and had indicated that military solution needed.

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6. Sisco continued that he wanted to stress following: goal of our efforts is just and lasting peace and we welcome Soviet views that peace must replace armistice agreements. In our view objective is a commitment to peace from all parties and agreement between parties on the components of peace. We emphasize need for agreement in belief that any lasting settlement must record parties obligations to each other in contractual form—i.e., as obligations to each other. Stated another way, we believe settlement must be reciprocally binding. We also believe settlement must be QUOTE package UNQUOTE in which there is agreement on all elements before any can be implemented. We understand this is also Soviet view.

7. Re Sisco’s suggestions for immediate steps, Dobrynin said Soviets doing their best to help Jarring Mission and believe parties must work through Jarring. Re need to defuse situation in area, Dobrynin said he generally agreed but had no authority to make specific undertaking on this question which beyond scope of present talks. Fedayeen were fact of life, opposed to many things which were happening in occupied territories and inspired by desire to liberate those territories; and activities would continue until settlement reached.

8. Dobrynin agreed that settlement must be QUOTE binding UNQUOTE. Precise form (e.g., through Security Council or a four powers) was up to parties and we could discuss this aspect at a later stage. Soviets prepared discuss informally several ways in which settlement could be recorded.

9. Dobrynin said Soviets agreed on QUOTE package UNQUOTE concept; Soviet plan called for parties to deposit their declarations on same day troop withdrawal begins. In principle, therefore, he saw no difference between us on this point.

10. Turning to four-power discussions, Sisco said we expect Ambassador Yost will resume discussions on bilateral basis this week, we have some concrete ideas to submit in New York and, once we have decided to do so, these ideas will be passed to Dobrynin here probably later this week. Meanwhile we will examine points Dobrynin has made and hope to be able raise number of specifics at next meeting, perhaps sometime this week.

11. Dobrynin then asked why Israeli Foreign Minister Eban was opposed to four-power talks. Sisco replied by saying he wanted to give Dobrynin some sense of what Eban had said.7 In brief, Eban had stressed four points: (a) Israel will withdraw only in context of peace, (b) peace must be in form of binding contractual agreement, (c) settlement must be a package and (d) secure and recognized borders must be [Page 56] different from Armistice Lines. Atherton added that, in clarifications to us, Eban had cited three factors which must govern determination of borders: (a) they must be agreed between parties which as practical matter ruled out present cease fire lines; (b) they must be based on Israel’s security needs and not on historical or emotional consideration; and (c) they must preserve Jewish character of state which rules out incorporation into Israel of Arab population.

12. Sisco said he wanted to give Dobrynin some idea of what we mean by peace. We do not expect Arabs and Israelis suddenly to love each other. To us peace does mean, however, liquidation of Arab-Israeli conflict; transition from armistice situation to formal state of peace as provided for in Armistice Agreements; and end of belligerent claims, blockades and boycotts. In addition we do not accept views that Arab governments have no responsibility for fedayeen. There could not be peace if governments accept a settlement but fedayeen reject it.

13. Dobrynin replied that it necessary to distinguish between two situations; (a) in absence of settlement, he did not see how Arabs could be asked to give up efforts to liberate occupied territories. (b) Once settlement agreed and territorial dispute settled, there would be no basis for fedayeen to continue.

14. Re Dobrynin’s question about Israeli attitude toward four-power talks, Sisco said GOI has reservations since it believes parties themselves must make the peace. For our part we see discussions with Soviets and in four-power context as assisting Jarring not as mechanism for dictating or imposing settlement.

15. Dobrynin agreed, asking whether Israelis really think four-power talks represent effort to impose settlement. Such talks might constitute pressure, but question of imposing settlement does not arise. Soviet plan speaks of agreed settlement, which means settlement agreed to by Israel and Arabs. Sisco said US-Soviet recommendations would certainly carry weight. Despite Israeli objections, we had told Israelis we intend to continue consultations with other powers which we see as being in overall US interest. For US and USSR, Sisco added, such interests go beyond Middle East. Dobrynin agreed and said Middle East appeared most promising area for US-Soviet agreement.

16. Sisco observed that we could proceed in two ways: (a) we could seek common ground while disregarding the parties and accomplish nothing; or (b) we could seek to bring the parties along. We assume both sides will attempt to follow latter course. Dobrynin commented that he assumed that we would both want to brief QTE our friends UNQTE on our talks but hoped certain delicate questions which might arise would be held by the two of us.

17. Dobrynin asked whether we had a clear idea of Israel’s position on recognized borders, noting that Jarring had told Soviets in Moscow [Page 57] they were not clear to him. Sisco said that, if UAR would make clear commitment to seek agreement on just and lasting peace, we had impression this would unlock the door and make it possible to get at all specific issues covered by Security Council Resolution, including withdrawal. Israeli willingness to be specific on borders is linked to Arab willingness make binding commitment to peace.

18. Dobrynin asked if this was not a two-sided process. Sisco agreed it was and suggested that, if UAR has difficulty indicating its position on peace through Jarring, it might help if UAR gave such indication to USSR. Dobrynin thought this would be difficult at present though not ultimately. Problem was that Israel would only speak of QUOTE secure and recognized borders UNQUOTE. Dobrynin noted that former Secretary Rusk and Under Secretary Rostow had said Israel seeks only demilitarization but no territory from UAR and Syria and wants only some corrections in border with Jordan. Without committing USG, Soviets have explained these views in discussing their plan with Arabs, but Israeli statements on territorial question continue to raise questions. It would unlock door for Arabs if Israel would clarify its position on territories. In such a case, Soviets could make recommendations to Arabs about stating their position on peace. Sisco agreed these were the two fundamental questions; Israel is convinced that Arabs do not want peace, and Arabs are convinced that Israel does not wish to return territories. These positions reflect suspicions rooted in history of problem but it should be possible with ingenuity to find way out of this vicious circle.

19. Dobrynin asked if Israelis had told USG what boundaries they wanted, noting that he was not asking what they had told us but only whether they had told us. Sisco said Israelis have not indicated to us precisely what they have in mind; they have shown us no maps. We believe Israel will not give precise indication until convinced that Arabs are ready to work out agreement on peace. Meanwhile their position is that boundaries should be final and different from Armistice Lines. Dobrynin asked if we could indicate whether Israeli position on boundaries is reasonable or unreasonable. Sisco said we have impression that, if it were possible to get Arab commitment to peace, GOI territorial decisions would be reasonable; this is only an impression Sisco repeated. We doubt that GOI has so far reached specific territorial decisions, given reluctance of all governments to avoid QUOTE iffy UNQUOTE decisions. Dobrynin said situation was also QUOTE iffy UNQUOTE on Arab side since Arabs were being asked to make decision on peace without knowing Israel’s territorial demands. Problem would appear easier for Israel since it must have idea of what it will want when Arabs say they want peace.

20. Sisco replied that two situations were not equal. Israel would need to take concrete act of withdrawal in return for Arab commitment [Page 58] on paper. Latter was also concrete act but not in same category. Feeling is deep in Israel that Arab agreement on peace represents act of recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, which both we and Soviets accept. It can be argued that Arab signature on piece of paper is less important than substance, but for psychological and other reasons Israel attaches importance to formality of recognition.

21. Dobrynin commented that central point of Soviet proposal is that it is responsive to wishes of both sides. Withdrawal would not begin until parties had deposited documents recording agreement on all issues. In response to Sisco’s comment that this raised prior question of what would be in those documents, Dobrynin said this would first have to be clarified among the parties.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 653, Country Files, Middle East, Sisco Middle East Talks. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Atherton, cleared in EUR, and approved by Sisco. Repeated to Amman, Cairo, Tel Aviv, London, Paris, and USUN.
  2. This was the first of nine meetings between Sisco and Dobrynin, the last of which occurred on April 22. Brief summaries of most of the conversations are in an April 18 memorandum from Saunders to Kissinger, which is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 38.
  3. At the next meeting on March 24, Sisco gave Dobrynin the U.S. working paper that Yost presented in the Four-Power forum the same day (see Document 17). (Telegram 46143 to Moscow, March 25; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 653, Country Files, Middle East, Sisco Middle East Talks)
  4. Dobrynin met with Nixon on February 17. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 14.
  5. See Document 1.
  6. See Document 12.
  7. See Documents 13 and 14.