214. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1


The present situation2 is well known to you. There is no point in describing it.

For the purpose of focusing discussion on central issues, the two main issues are:

—what approach to make to Israel in the light of its response to Jarring and

—how to posture ourselves toward the USSR, not only in response to Kosygin’s letter3 but more fundamentally toward Soviet involvement in the peacemaking process and the Soviet combat presence in the UAR.

These issues are related in two ways:

—The Israelis will regard the Soviet strength that remains after any settlement as the most serious threat to Israeli security.

—If the US is to get the Soviet combat presence removed from the UAR, Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai is its principal bargaining card.

Below are discussed the principal options in dealing with each of these issues and the arguments for and against them.

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Possible Approaches to Israel

1. Comprehensive approach. In Rogers-Rabin and Barbour-Eban (or Meir) talks, this US position would be taken:

—The US position since 1967 has been based on the assumption that Israel’s main objective has been security, not territory per se. The US has held out for a loophole in Resolution 242 language—on withdrawal—to “secure and recognized borders”—primarily because of Jerusalem, Golan Heights and the need for some modifications in the Israel-Jordan lines. But apart from special security arrangements in Gaza and at Sharm al-Shaikh, the US never envisioned major territorial acquisition, and this view was based on US-Israeli exchanges in June 1967.4

—For a peace agreement built on that kind of map, the US would be prepared to offer the following: assurance of long-term military supply and financial support; US troops as part of a peacekeeping force at Sharm al-Shaikh (as a substitute for Israeli forces); formal provision for bilateral consultation on defense of Israel.

—The US asks Israel to take a position that will permit this kind of settlement. The US recognizes that this will require a fundamental change in Israeli government policy—a return to its policy of June 1967. But in the interests of peace, the US asks Israel to make that change. Once the change is made, the US is willing to work closely on a diplomatic strategy for getting the best possible agreement in return.

—The implication would be delicately left that if Israel did not make that change in policy, the nature of continuing US support would be left in doubt.

The arguments for this approach are:

—If we try to deal with the situation tactically, we will always come back to the major obstacle that Israel is really negotiating for territory.

—US policy since 1967 has been based on the assumption that, in return for the right peace and security commitments, Israel would go back to something approximating pre-war borders. If that is an erroneous assumption, this should be clarified. A direct approach is the only way to get this out into the open.

—A precise description of what the US is prepared to offer in the long run could help increase the flexibility of the Israeli position, especially if tacitly juxtaposed to the possibility that US support might be minimized.

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—The US has never believed that peace would be possible if Israel sought territory. Allowing major border changes, even if they were possible, would just sow the seeds of the next war.

—While a heart-to-heart talk of this kind could produce a major Israeli confrontation, this may be the last good chance for peace in some time.

The arguments against this approach are:

—This is too much for the Israelis to swallow all at once. We should do everything possible to help the Israelis deal with this problem a step at a time.

—If we lose this confrontation with the Israelis where are we? Can we really afford to give the UAR and USSR the satisfaction of seeing Israel divided from its main source of support?

—Since the Israelis are unlikely to move all the way at once and are likely to counter with some tactical move at best, we should start on a tactical track and avoid a confrontation.

2. Tactical approach. The US could stop short of asking Israel now to give up its aspiration to major border changes and urge Israel to make some tactical move to advance negotiations another step.

—Israel might tell Jarring that it is prepared to take a specific position on borders and security arrangements in the Sinai and will send Foreign Minister Eban to New York for this purpose. The US might promise only that it would urge the UAR to respond by attempting to narrow any gap on security arrangements. The US would reserve its present position on borders but accept an Israeli strategy, for a time, of taking a hard stand on borders to elicit the best possible UAR position on security arrangements.

—It might also be possible in this connection to try to activate the scheme for the partial withdrawal from the Suez Canal, although the Arabs might reject that as diversionary.

—It might be possible to stretch out phasing of the implementation of a settlement so that the Israelis would have some evidence of Arab performance before they had to withdraw to borders that would be difficult for them to agree on.

The arguments for this approach are:

—We must find a way to turn this into a step-by-step process for Israel. If there is any chance at all of Israeli withdrawal, it is in a gradual process over time in which the Arabs have a chance to persuade the Israelis of their good faith.

—The Israelis themselves, even apart from their efforts to negotiate border changes, must be working with some sort of strategy in mind for getting the UAR to stop imposing short cease-fire deadlines [Page 778] and for trying to get the best possible trade for what territory they give up. Rather than have a confrontation, we ought to tune ourselves to Israeli tactics insofar as possible.

The arguments against this approach are:

—The Arabs would have great difficulty accepting either the idea of negotiating with Eban for their territory or of drawing out withdrawal over too long a period.

—The US would still be in a position of trying to build a settlement on an unreal assumption (that Israel is prepared to pull back to pre-war lines).

3. Compromising with Israeli strategy. It would be possible to tell the Israelis that we want to work closely with them but to do so we will have to know what their real objectives are. This approach could lead in one or both of two directions:

—It could produce an essentially US-Israeli negotiation on the terms of a settlement.

—It could lead to a change in the US position on the terms of a settlement the US would support.

This is already being discussed in our own councils in the following way: If we were to tell the Israelis that we will not hold them to near-total withdrawal from the West Bank provided they accept the international border with Egypt, that would amount to a fundamental change in previously stated US policy.

The argument for this approach is that it may be the only realistic way to move toward a settlement. It is possible that, if we knew the full Israeli position, there are elements in the US position that might reasonably be changed.

The argument against this approach is that the weight of public positions taken—including the US position in voting for Resolution 242—and the weight of what seems necessary for peace make it very difficult to change the US position on the territorial settlement.

Possible Stances Toward the USSR

1. Comprehensive approach. In responding to Chairman Kosygin’s letter and in a Rogers-Dobrynin conversation, the US would make clear that the introduction of Soviet combat forces into the UAR has created a major obstacle to Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai and that assurance on the withdrawal of those combat forces is essential to a settlement. [The objective would be to add whatever we were able to get to the list of inducements offered to Israel.]

The general argument for some such approach is that the USSR is taking a free propaganda ride at the moment and should not be allowed to get completely off the defensive. The fact remains that the So [Page 779] viet combat presence in the area is still the issue of paramount concern to us.

The argument for this specific approach now is that a strong US position on this subject will be necessary providing Israel with maximum inducement to cooperate with us.

The argument against such an approach is that it implies that Israel might be persuaded to withdraw from all of the Sinai if the Soviets made such a commitment. It is a toss-up which side is less likely to take such a step, but it would be dangerous for the US to put itself in a position of implying Israeli withdrawal before we know whether it is possible.

2. Approach for the record. If it is going too far at this stage to press for Soviet assurance on reduction of combat forces, then a minimal approach—if this subject is to be dealt with at all—would be to reply to Kosygin noting the responsibility of the USSR for complicating negotiations between the parties by introducing Soviet combat forces.

The argument for this approach is that we should at least begin building a record on this subject. It is important to us. Several Presidential statements have mentioned it. It is time to introduce it into the negotiations.

The argument against is that it will be difficult enough to negotiate an Arab-Israeli settlement without introducing this US-Soviet issue. It would be better to concentrate on a settlement and let this follow.

3. Leave the issue aside. A third approach would be to concentrate on an Egyptian-Israeli settlement in the conviction that the Egyptians themselves will ease the Soviet combat forces out as soon as possible after a settlement.

The argument for this approach is that an Arab-Israeli settlement would permit the UAR to ease the Soviets out over time. The Egyptians themselves are prepared to do this, but they need an Israeli settlement first. That should be our overriding concern.

The argument against is that the Egyptians have some gratitude for Soviet support and are unlikely to deprive the USSR of anything it really wants, e.g., an air squadron for surveillance of the Sixth Fleet.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1161, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Jarring Talks Edited and Indexed, March 1–4, 1971. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Saunders. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Reference is to the general dismay, especially within the Department of State and the United Nations and in the Middle East, to Israel’s response to Jarring that it would not withdraw to pre-June 5, 1967, borders.
  3. In his February 26 letter to Nixon, Kosygin wrote that over the previous few weeks “one was getting the impression that in the matter of political settlement in the Middle East a certain breakthrough was about to emerge towards solution of that problem.” He further commented that the breakthrough “was the result of a constructive position of the United Arab Republic whose government had displayed high responsibility” by taking a position conducive to reaching an agreement. The Soviet Premier then expressed disappointment over Israel’s “defiant statement declaring its refusal to withdraw troops from the occupied territory of the UAR,” given previous assurances from U.S. officials that the United States “stood for the withdrawal of Israeli troops.” Thus, because of the U.S. Government’s “more than adequate means of influence” over Israeli policy, he concluded that it was “impossible even to imagine that Israel could take such an obstructionist, bluntly expansionist position if that were in contradiction to the true aims of American policy.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger Vol. 4) For Kissinger’s summary and analysis of the letter, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971, Document 130.
  4. For example, see ibid., 1964–1968, volume XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967, Documents 227, 263, and 290.