210. Editorial Note
On February 27, 1971, President Richard Nixon held a meeting with President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger from 9:47 to 11:57 a.m. in the Oval Office. At 10:06 a.m., they were joined by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and [Page 763] South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco, and President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Alexander Haig. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Although not listed in the Daily Diary, Secretary of State William Rogers is on a tape recording of the conversation. One topic of discussion was how the United States would approach Israel’s imminent response to UN Special Representative Gunnar Jarring’s most recent efforts to restart talks between the parties. Referring to Israel in the private conversation before the meeting began, Kissinger told the President: “At some point, there has to be, there has to be some pressure on them. There’s, there’s no doubt about that. But, it has to be done, it seems to me, as part of a, of a scheme which avoids, on the one hand, giving them a veto over our action and letting them drag us into, into their concerns. On the other, avoid a situation where the Russians and Arabs think they can, think they can get a big shot at them.” After Nixon said “Um-hmm,” Kissinger continued: “And that’s—those are the two extremes between which we have to navigate this crisis.” Turning to Sisco’s activities, Kissinger said, “I happen to like Sisco very much,” but added: “He’s got to be reined in a little bit, because he’s so impetuous, and he’s got such a tendency for tactics that he—that almost everybody—I don’t know about the Arabs—but I know both Dobrynin and the Israelis have no confidence in him. And—the Arabs I have no judgment on. But the major thing is to get some game plan and then, and then carry it out.”
After the others arrived, the question of how to handle Israel continued to dominate the discussion. Nixon asked if the United States had any “stroke” with the Israelis and later described a hypothetical conversation with Israeli officials in which the United States offered a long-term military commitment if they would demonstrate flexibility in negotiations. Rogers countered, “I don’t want to do it now. I don’t think we’re at that stage,” adding that Israel should first respond positively to Jarring’s overtures, to which Nixon remarked: “You have to give them some reason to do it, Bill.” Much later in the conversation, Kissinger reaffirmed Rogers’s point, reiterating what he told Nixon privately: “I think, Mr. President, the Israelis cannot simply ask for a blank check.” Nixon agreed, and Kissinger added: “We have to be in a position to say when they’re unreasonable.”
The group discussed using the Four Powers to pressure Israel if it did not present something substantive to Jarring. Rogers explained that such a prospect would be “very troublesome for Israel” because the United States would “have to vote with the others” who would demand that Israel respond to Jarring. “That is exactly what Israel does not want,” he added. Laird commented that Israel “ought to know that, that we’re going to have to go the Four-Power route fairly soon.” Sisco [Page 764] weighed the advantages and disadvantages of going to either the Four Powers or the UN Security Council, neither of which he considered good options. Regarding the Four Powers, the Assistant Secretary presumed that France and the Soviet Union would “press” Israel to “go well beyond the simple proposition” of reconsidering its original response to Jarring. On the other hand, he said, the Four Powers could “work out some communiqué with less public debate.” As for the Security Council, he argued that it offered little more than “an open debate with everybody shouting at one another.” But he also believed that such a scenario would prove more amenable to Israel because a stalemate in the Security Council would be less troublesome than any kind of Four-Power action, given that the latter was “the meat and potato group,” steeped in the fundamental issues. Kissinger agreed, arguing that Israel would “under all circumstances refuse whatever” the Four Powers proposed.
On three separate occasions during the conversation, Nixon commented on territorial issues. Referring to Israel he said, “Hell, they can have a strip down there if they can work it out. They can have the West Bank; and they can have Jerusalem; they can have the Golan Heights. I don’t know. I don’t know. Whatever is that’s worked out. They just can’t take the position that we’re just going to continue to wait and wait, delay and delay, just assuming that American political forces will develop in their favor. That’s the thing that I’m concerned about. I—you see, I don’t give—I don’t go for the idea that you could just say, ‘Well, they agreed in ’67 to do this and that. They’re gonna do what they did in pre-’67.’ That will not happen. The word ‘secure’ has got to be expanded. That definitely must happen now because of the Soviet presence.” Later he said, “From a military standpoint, I concede the West Bank. I concede Jerusalem for other reasons, and the rest.” And, finally, once again referring to the Golan Heights, he said, “forget it,” Israel’s “got that,” adding that “everybody thinks they ought to have the Golan Heights, anyway,” and that “the Syrians won’t need anything.” The meeting produced no major conclusions, but Rogers ended it with this remark regarding Israel: “Could I say, Henry? Listen, we have told them this time and time again. They know exactly.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 459–2) The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume.