212. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

K: State wants to send out a cable2 which I believe will be the first step in a confrontation with Israel.

P: Did you discuss it with Sisco?

K: Yes it has been discussed. We gave him some word changes designed to soften it to the degree possible and they have accepted them, [Page 769] but the basic problem remains one of strategy.3 I am afraid that time will force us to let them go but if we had known it was developing this way earlier we could have perhaps worked bilaterally with the Soviets and gotten a great deal more for what we are going to have to do to Israel—perhaps even the Summit. Now it appears we will have to go with the cable but we should try to slow State down.

P: How can we do that?

K: First, to soften the cable. Secondly, to avoid launching into the four-power forum. Explore the issue with the Egyptians, thus buying some time. And perhaps agree to go to the four-power in return for an extension of the ceasefire by the Egyptians.

P: Stay on top of this Henry. Determine where we are going and check with the Soviets. See what we can get from them.

K: At this point I think we are bound to get a brutal public confrontation with Israel. If they cave we will pay a price for nothing. I only wish we had moved with the Soviets and gotten something for it.

P: Is this still possible?

K: In my private discussions they have certainly offered.4

P: Should we let the cable go?

K: I am afraid our only alternative is to do that. But someone else should be put in charge. It’s moving too fast this weekend. Laird and Rogers are locked together. Therefore, I think for now it is best to let the cable go with the changes I have suggested to State plus a bid to get something from the Egyptians. The important thing is to slow the process down for now.

[Page 770]

P: All right Henry. Clear the cable but tell Sisco I don’t wish this to move to a blow-up with Israel. Tell him to delay and filibuster to the extent possible. We must be in a position to see what we can get. We should not be polemic or abrasive. It cannot be helpful at this time to put pressure on Israel. Can you talk to Sisco in this way?5

K: We have no personal problem, just one of temperament.

P: What about the Soviets?

K: I think we should watch the four-power process.

P: Then go to the Israelis, let them know my position on the Golan Heights and assure them I will support them.6

K: That is where yesterday’s meeting7 was not exactly candid. State has told the Jordanians the territorial changes will be very minor. We will have to reverse this.

P: Obviously we will have to handle the Jordanians in order to get a settlement.

K: The four-power process must be slowed down.

P: How?

K: I will talk to Sisco.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Middle East.]

[Page 771]

P: Going back to the Middle East, be sure and sit on this problem. Tell Sisco to go slow and talk to Dobrynin at the right moment. Tell Sisco to buy time. He should reassure the Israelis on the Heights and we will have to push the King right to the brink. With the Egyptians we will have to put in our weight against the Soviets. Get everyone talking this way. I am convinced that State knows they are at a deadend. You tell Rabin I am watching. That I will not hurt Israel. I am their friend. I will be the buffer for them. Tell them about the Heights. Do not allow State to do anything precipitous.

K: Mutual confidence is the issue.

P: I will get them the arms but only if they are reasonable.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 4, Chronological File. No classification marking. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text omitted by the editors.
  2. Document 213.
  3. On February 27 at 5:05 p.m., Kissinger telephoned Sisco about the cable, which the Assistant Secretary had sent to the White House for clearance earlier that day. Although he had not yet seen the telegram, Kissinger remarked that the Israelis “will not change their position.” Sisco replied: “In this cable I have laid down a little scenario and I think we should go to both Tel Aviv and Cairo and get their views over the weekend.” Kissinger answered: “I can give you what Cairo will say. I could write the response. Look, I have no overwhelming desire to get stuck with it,” and then later explained, “What I am trying to get for the President is what comes afterwards—where will we go. You know that the next tactical move may lead next to six moves.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 4, Chronological File)
  4. During two meetings with Kissinger near the end of January, Dobrynin stated that the Soviet Union was prepared to make a “realistic agreement” on the Middle East. Dobrynin asked whether the President was prepared to resume bilateral talks on the Middle East, insisting that the current Arab-Israeli negotiations “aren’t going to go anywhere. They are at a deadlock. I hope you do not think you can settle this without us or, even less, that you can settle it against us.” (Memoranda of conversation, January 23 and 28; Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971, Documents 103 and 105)
  5. Kissinger called Sisco at noon on February 28 and told him that he had just spoken with the President. He reported to him that Nixon was willing to approve the cable, but that he did not want “an all out confrontation” with Israel, and that he wanted the Department of State to “cool the tone a little bit.” Sisco replied: “That is just what we are trying to do.” Kissinger eventually made further suggestions regarding changes in the telegram’s language—which Sisco did not accept—prompting Kissinger to remark: “This is a head on confrontation. Joe could you explain one thing to me? You know this will lead to imposed settlement. Let’s not kid ourselves.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 4, Chronological File) When they spoke again on the telephone at 3:26 that afternoon, Kissinger asked: “Why do we have to put out this cable?” Sisco responded: “We want to preempt the Soviets, control reactions and reassure Egyptians. I have sent the cable. I can tell you that. I think it is the right move.” (Ibid.)
  6. Kissinger telephoned Rabin at 3:20 p.m. on February 28 and told him that the President had asked him to tell him that: “he [Nixon] is doing what he can to ameliorate the excesses of some of the things that are being proposed to you. It is very difficult for him but any reaction you should keep in mind this fact. I am not saying you will particularly like the reaction.” Rabin replied: “I know. Jarring is going to talk this afternoon to Sadat. I do not know in what way Jarring will present our position to Sadat. I see no need for you to take a position before you know what the Egyptians are going to do. I may be completely off base but Egypt is looking for a way out and we have given them a way to get out of it—I am not convinced that they will turn this down. But the United States should not make a statement before they do know what Egypt’s reaction will be.” (Ibid.)
  7. See Document 210.