209. Memorandum of Conversation of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • President Nixon
  • Vice President Agnew
  • Secretary of State William P. Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird
  • Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms
  • Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer
  • Under Secretary of State John N. Irwin II
  • Assistant to the President Henry A. Kissinger
  • AmbassadorGeorge Bush, U.S. Representative to the UN
  • Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson
  • Director, U.S. Information Agency, Frank Shakespeare
  • Joseph J. Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • General Alexander M. Haig, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Harold H. Saunders, NSC Staff
  • Colonel Richard Kennedy, NSC Staff


  • National Security Council Meeting: The Middle East

[As the discussion turned from Laos to the Middle East, Mr. Sisco, Mr. Atherton and Mr. Saunders entered the room.]

The President: Perhaps the group should delay discussion of the Middle East until later, because I have to go on to a 12:00 noon appointment.

Laird: [leaning over to the President]: The problem is we have to move quickly. The next few days will be very important—if it gets into the Security Council. Perhaps the subject should at least be discussed.

The President: All right. We’ll take a few minutes on the Middle East. Joe, would you brief?

[Page 758]

Mr. Sisco: The present situation can be described as operating on three different tracks. The first two can be dismissed very quickly; the third—the Jarring talks—is the most important:

—In the Four Power talks, the supplementary guarantees are the issue. So far we have been successful in keeping this from becoming very substantive, but if there is not progress soon in the Jarring talks we will have our hands full in containing this discussion further. The pressure from the British, French, and Soviets will mount on us to proceed with a substantive discussion with a view to producing Four-Power agreement on guarantees for a settlement.

—On the proposal for partial withdrawal from the Suez cease-fire line, there is unlikely to be movement in the short term until the UAR has a good look at the Israeli reply to the current Jarring proposal. State feels that President Sadat is “somewhat desperate” to show progress toward Israeli withdrawal. State feels that Sadat made the proposal for partial withdrawal from the Suez Canal contrary to the advice of a number of his advisors. This is an ongoing issue, but for the moment it would seem to be in suspense pending clarification of the state of the dialogue through Jarring.

—Both sides want us to play a middleman role.

Secretary Rogers: At the moment—this week—we do not think we should tackle this subject. It is something for discussion a little farther down the track. We do not mean at all to rule it out. We are only saying that in this period of a few days, the Jarring exchange is center stage.

Mr. Sisco: The most important of the three tracks is the exchange through Ambassador Jarring. In the four to six weeks since the start of these exchanges in early January, the Israeli positions were serious and the UAR positions were polemical and did not lend themselves to real negotiations. In the new phase which has begun recently, the UAR has now come forward with concrete positions. It has said it would be willing to join in a peace agreement with Israel. Prime Minister Meir explicitly stated to Ambassador Barbour that if the U.S. could get a specific UAR commitment to make a peace agreement with Israel, she would face up to the difficult issues raised by the differences between the U.S. and Israeli views of what final borders should be in a peace agreement.2

It should be clearly understood what Ambassador Jarring has asked Israel to commit itself to. The Israelis are “throwing up a smoke screen” by claiming Jarring has proposed that Israel commit itself to total withdrawal. Jarring has not asked that of Israel. He has asked that the Israelis agree to withdraw to the international border with Egypt [Page 759] provided there is satisfactory agreement on demilitarized zones and on security arrangements at Sharm el-Sheikh. Gaza is not mentioned at all.

The Israeli response to Jarring will probably not answer this question directly. Israel will probably welcome the UAR move, say it is ready to negotiate, perhaps even suggest negotiation on subjects other than borders and state that it will not return to the pre-1967 borders. The Israeli cabinet is divided. It has only been able to agree on what it is against. It has not been able to agree on a specific negotiating position to advance as the next stage in the Jarring talks.

If this does turn out to be the Israeli response, Ambassador Jarring will have to say that it is not responsive to his question. If this is Jarring’s judgment, this raises concern over the future of the negotiations and the cease-fire. Even more important, a breakdown in both would give the Soviets a handle for further inroads in the area.

Secretary Rogers: We are at a critical juncture. The UAR has accepted all that Israel has said it wants. If the UAR had said in 1967 what it has now in effect said in response to Jarring’s memorandum, Israel would have been delighted. Now, however, Israel is unwilling to make a decision of any kind. Israel is going to say simply that it is ready to negotiate. That is not enough. They have to lay their cards out now. I told Ambassador Rabin Wednesday that Israel has to say what its position is.3 The negotiation is already going on. We will be in a difficult position if they do this.

The President: What do they want? We have provided the aircraft and the financial assistance. What more are they asking for?

Secretary Rogers: They won’t make up their minds. The Cabinet has discussed this subject and has been unable to decide exactly what borders Israel should ask for in a peace agreement. At the same time, the record shows that Foreign Minister Eban in June 1967 told Secretary Rusk in connection with Israel’s views toward an Egyptian-Israeli settlement that Israel would go back to the pre-war boundary if there was a security arrangement for Sharm el-Sheikh, and that Israel did not seek territory, only security. [The record which Mr. Sisco had in hand to document this comment is attached.]4 The U.S. cannot support Israel in the UN Security Council if, now that a negotiation has been launched, Israel refuses to advance a negotiating position. This is where we stand today.

The President: Let me understand what you are saying about the second track you describe. What is it you are saying about the scheme [Page 760] for opening the Suez Canal? I had thought from the briefing papers I had read that perhaps this offered an alternative for buying some time.

Secretary Rogers: All we are saying is that, right now, it is not “talkable.” If we were to raise this with the Egyptians as long as the Israelis had not replied constructively to Ambassador Jarring, the Egyptians would regard the proposal as an effort by the U.S. to help Israel evade answering Jarring’s questions. If, on the other hand, the Israelis give Jarring a reasonable reply, then it is quite possible for this course to be discussed.

The President: In those circumstances, then, opening the Canal would be regarded as a step in the negotiations—a step toward a final settlement?

Secretary Rogers: Yes, if Israel gives a positive answer to Jarring, we could say to the UAR that the continued negotiation of final positions on borders, refugees, and the other issues is going to take time. For the purpose of creating an appropriate atmosphere for those negotiations, a partial withdrawal from the Canal might be a valuable interim step.

The President: If the Israelis are going to take the position you predict, why do we provide arms, then? I have taken a strong position in support of Israel—perhaps as strong as any President. I have assured Mrs. Meir of my strong support for the survival of Israel.5 She knows this. I have taken a strong position with respect to the Soviet position in the Middle East.

There is no denying that there is a political campaign coming in this country in 1972. A number of politicians are already making it plain that they will make political capital out of their support for Israel. Senator Jackson is already making noises of this kind.

We will provide arms, long-range agreements with Israel, and guarantees. Also, as far as borders are concerned, I have said repeatedly that they must be “defensible borders.”

But if any Israeli leader feels that Israel by taking advantage of internal U.S. politics can have both arms and that kind of support from the U.S. and then refuse to act—even to discuss—then he is mistaken.

Secretary Rogers: I have no confidence in the Soviets or in the UAR. I have a little respect for King Hussein.6

There is just not going to be any American political pressure on this score despite the fact that there is an American political campaign. “To hell with that.”

[Page 761]

Some people talk about imposing a settlement. We are not trying to impose anything. But Israel just can’t say it won’t talk. Israel cannot count on being able to evade talking because Congress says it would support Israel and because I have said we would support Israel. They can’t say they won’t talk.

We have got everything Israel wanted. Prime Minister Meir told Ambassador Barbour that if we got the UAR commitment to make a peace agreement with Israel then Israel would face up to the tough question of borders. Foreign Minister Eban in talking with Secretary Rusk back in 1967 said that Israel would withdraw to the old international border and did not seek territory from Egypt if the UAR would commit itself to make peace with security. That understanding was the basis for the U.S. position throughout 1967, and that is why we voted for the 1967 UN Security Council resolution.

The President: What is going to happen on March 6? I read in my briefings and news summaries that the Arabs may break the cease-fire. Who will start the shooting?

Mr. Sisco: I doubt the Arabs will resume the shooting. But there would not be a formal cease-fire framework.

Secretary Rogers: Neither is likely, but you never know what will happen. Somebody might just start shooting at any time.

The President: They can do crazy things. One other way something could start is that the Arabs would “start huffing and puffing” and the Israelis would strike back forcefully.

We will go all the way with Israel in maintaining the military balance in its favor. But Israel has to know that if Israel starts a conflict where it has been responsible for the breakdown in the peace talks, it cannot count on U.S. support. I realize what the attitudes in Congress will be, but Israeli leaders just have to understand this.

Secretary Laird: We have a few more days before this issue gets into the public arena, for instance, in the UN Security Council. When this gets into the public arena, it will be much more difficult to handle.

The President: People don’t do things unless they are denied or given what they want. What is it that the Israelis want? Arms?

Mr. Sisco: Our present arms commitments will continue deliveries of aircraft through June. But you, Mr. President, have not yet made the big decision on Israeli aircraft requests for this year. I believe we should withhold this until we see how the Israeli position develops.

The President: They know I will lean as far as I can in being generous with them. But I cannot continue to say that Israel can have all it wants and have them do nothing in return. This is highly confidential information, but within this room this must be understood.

[Page 762]

Ambassador Bush: The New York Times has had several understanding editorials in recent days, suggesting that it is now time for the Israelis to be more forthcoming.

Secretary Rogers: They’re embarrassed.

The President: Henry put them up to that.

Secretary Rogers: We are not in a bad position. We do not have to be apologetic about our position.

Ambassador Bush: That is what I am saying. We might get a little less flak just because of the position that The New York Times has taken.

Secretary Rogers: We are not saying that we should decide now to withhold military equipment at the moment. We should make no threats now.

The President: That’s right, we should use no clubs now. However, there must be no assumption here that we will help Israel regardless of what Israel does. We sure as hell will not.

Secretary Laird: Bill Rogers did a good job with Ambassador Rabin the other day. He made the point perfectly clear that it is time for Israel to take a position without really making any threats.

Secretary Rogers: Rabin knows he does not have a good position to argue.

The President: The Israelis seem to think they are in a pretty good position. They assume that the U.S. will see them through regardless of what they do. This is not true. But in this period we want to be very careful about how we deal with them.

The main thing is the “dilatory tactic.” We want to get the cease-fire extended.

Secretary Rogers: That is certainly true, but we may be almost at the end of the line on what we can achieve. We have delayed and delayed. The time is now coming where we have to show some movement or it will be difficult for us to hold out any longer.

[The meeting adjourned.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–110, NSC Meeting Minutes, NSC Meetings Minutes Originals 1971 thru 6–20–74. Secret. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting lasted from 10:40 a.m. until 12:35 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) A tape recording of this meeting is ibid., White House Tapes, Cabinet Room, Conversation No. 48–4. All brackets are in the original.
  2. See footnote 7, Document 208.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 208.
  4. Attachment not found; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967, Document 314.
  5. See Document 136.
  6. An examination of the tape recording clearly indicates that the statement was made by President Nixon, not Secretary Rogers. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Cabinet Room, Conversation No. 48–4)