155. Telegram From the Department of State to the White House1

142479. White House pass San Clemente for Secretary Rogers and Assistant Secretary Sisco. For Secretary Rogers from Cline. Subject: INR [Page 520] Briefing Note: “Middle East: Soviets Seek Negotiating Advantage from Military Moves.”

1. Following is text of INR Intelligence Brief analyzing current Soviet tactics in their missile build-up in the Suez Canal ceasefire zone and considering possible political implications. Sisco carried an earlier version of this paper to San Clemente today.

Begin text: Moscow’s objection to U–2 reconnaissance of the cease-fire is a significant development, not because an aircraft might be shot down, but because of what the Soviet statement of August 28 adds to a picture of deepening Soviet commitment to pressure tactics in the peace negotiations.2

Not interdiction but intimidation. In our view the oral statement to Embassy Moscow signals no effort by the Soviets or the Egyptians to try to shoot down a U–2. Moscow would appear to have nothing to gain from such an action, which would seriously strain its relations with the US. The Soviets could not expect to keep the US from finding out what was happening in the UAR, even if a U–2 were shot down. (The only purpose to be served by delaying American information would be in the event that a sudden tactical move such as a cross Canal attack were contemplated, and there is nothing to indicate that any such move is in prospect. Indeed, there are good reasons against it at this time.)

The purpose of the Soviet statement appears, rather, to be an effort to discourage the US from making an issue of ceasefire violations. Warnings of “possible consequences” and “special surprises” which U–2s might elicit, coupled with the argument that U–2 flights are not “national means” and thus violate the American terms for its own ceasefire, seem designed to persuade the US that all it can get by raising the matter of ceasefire violations is acrimony from Moscow.

Timing may be significant. The timing of the belated protest against the flights which Moscow had previously tolerated may be interpreted as no more than a gesture of solidarity with the UAR, which objected to the U–2s shortly after they were told that the U–2s had collected evidence of violation of the standstill. There is some ground, however, to support a hypothesis of a more immediate tactical purpose in the protest.

Just before the Soviet oral statement, there were American press reports of new techniques to be employed in the American reconnais [Page 521] sance effort. Even if Moscow was able to sort out the technical inaccuracies in these stories, it would still have been likely to see them as officially inspired. Moreover, on the morning of the day before the oral statement, the Soviets would have known of the flight, for the first time, of a double U–2 mission. Moscow may have calculated that the US was preparing new disclosures about continuing violations and made its statement in an effort to discourage them.

Negotiations—having one’s cake. The oral statement made no reference to the peace negotiations, for which Brezhnev’s speech of the same day expressed continued support.3 Moscow evidently hopes to enjoy both the prospect of success in the negotiations and the tactical military advantages of having vitiated the standstill provision of the ceasefire.

In accepting the peace initiative, the Soviets understood the purpose and importance of the standstill provision. Whatever room for arguments over details there may be, American diplomatic conversations even before the peace initiative was launched, the terms of the initiative, and the record of Israeli bombing in the Canal zone made it quite clear what the overall purpose of the standstill idea was. Moscow evidently concluded that it would be possible both to launch peace talks and to complete earlier plans to strengthen air defenses in the Canal area.

Risks involved. Soviet behavior with regard to the ceasefire has been something out of the ordinary in Moscow’s dealings with the US. The Soviets have as a rule avoided putting themselves in a position where they could be taxed with breaking their word. In deciding to concert with the Egyptians to move the missiles forward, the Soviets evidently decided that two kinds of risks were manageable. First was the possible damage to relations with the US not only with respect to the Middle East but also in terms of wider implications for other issues such as SALT and other disarmament topics. Second was the chance that the Israelis—even in the face of American opposition—might take matters into their own hands and attack the new deployments.

Decision reflects attitude toward talks. That Moscow opted as it did shows an extremely confident attitude about the strength of its position in the peace talks. The Soviets evidently were prepared to jeopardize the talks rather than forgo improvement of the Soviet-UAR military position, but they must have thought the risk to be small. Presumably they believe Washington to be bereft of satisfactory alter [Page 522] natives to the pursuit of its peace efforts as long as Moscow continues to favor negotiations. The Soviets evidently hoped that, if their maneuver worked, they might be able to bring about a situation in which Israel, in a weakened psychological position, would be obliged to continue the talks under increasingly unfavorable circumstances.

If the August 28 oral statement was a reflection of Soviet concern that the US was about to turn increased attention, unwanted by the USSR, to ceasefire violations, then its thrust must have been an effort to deflect the US from that course and to return the focus to the negotiations. The Soviets must also have hoped that the experience would put political pressure on both Americans [and] Israelis, by reminding the Americans that they must now press Israel on to a settlement agreeable to Moscow and Cairo, and by reminding the Israelis that they must cease their resistance to such an outcome, since resuming the cross-Canal raids would be increasingly costly to the Israeli air forces. End text.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1156, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, June Initiative Vol. IV, August 28–November 15, 1970. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Robert Baraz (INR/RSE) and cleared and approved by David Mark (INR/DRR). All brackets are in the original except “[and]”, added for clarity.
  2. On August 28, Vinogradov called Beam to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and read an oral statement in response to Beam’s August 8 approach regarding the U.S. reconnaissance flights near the UAR-Israeli cease-fire line. In the statement, the Soviet Union said that it expected the United States to discontinue the reconnaissance flights and to take “full responsibility for possible consequences of such flights” if they did continue. (Telegram 4950 from Moscow, August 28; ibid.)
  3. In a nationally-televised address on August 28, Brezhnev asked for “an honest observance” of the cease-fire agreement, declaring: “It is our profound conviction that an end to the conflict in the Middle East would meet the vital interests of both the Arab countries and of Israel.” (New York Times, August 29, 1970, p. 1)