216. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- State Department Game Plan on the Middle East
Here is the State Department’s game plan which we requested for trying to break the Arab-Israeli impasse.2
The details of the proposal are in the attached summary. The essence of the proposal is an approach to the Israelis asking them to make a fundamental change in their policy to accept the 1969 US position on boundaries in return for substantial and concrete assurances of continuing US support.
The procedure for approaching the Israelis would be for Secretary Rogers first to call in Ambassador Rabin and for Ambassador Barbour then to follow up with a parallel presentation to Foreign Minister Eban. Neither you nor Prime Minister Meir would be directly involved at this first stage.
The advantages of this paper are:
—It is a game plan for one possible course of action which has often been advocated. It enables you to see what an all-out effort to move Israel would look like and to assess its chances of success.
—The proposed approach would let the Israelis know what the US is for, not just what we are against. The Israelis seem unlikely to make piecemeal concessions in the absence of understanding what Israel can count on from the US in return. Getting all the cards on the table could help them develop a total position that could be presented in Israel as a package to assure Israel’s security and US support.
—It contains a substantial carrot in the form of security assurances the US would offer Israel in a settlement. There is the implication of the stick in the probability that we would not provide them if Israel failed [Page 784] to change its policy as we requested. However, the carrot is more prominent.
The disadvantages of this plan are:
—This procedure would result in a major approach to the Israelis that they have almost no choice but to reject. It would ask them to accept US positions which they have already rejected. You will recall the violent Israeli reaction of January 1970 against the US positions of the previous October and December.3
—The US-Israeli confrontation that would result would make achieving a settlement even more difficult than it already is. It might provoke such a negative Israeli reaction and stalemate in the Jarring talks that the ceasefire would be jeopardized in a short time. If Israel remained adamant in resisting the US approach, the US choice would be to back down or to show the USSR/UAR that we were separating ourselves from Israel. Chances of reducing the Soviet presence would be reduced.
—The implications of this approach are that the changes in the West Bank border and in the Golan Heights border would be minimal.
An alternative to this approach would be to press the partial withdrawal from the Suez Canal in order to buy time. This might permit the Israelis to establish direct contact with the UAR, which they want. This would give them a chance to test UAR intentions. Meanwhile, it would give us a way of avoiding confrontation, restoring Israeli confidence in us and then exploring with them quietly positions that might be negotiable on some of the other issues.
I personally feel that a confrontation with Israel now would virtually end chances of any negotiated Arab-Israeli arrangement for the next year or so.4 I share the view expressed in the State Department paper that we do not want to lose the opportunity of the present mo[Page 785]ment. I fear the approach to Israel described in the game plan would produce the result no one here wants.5
Whether or not this alternative could succeed would depend on whether it is correct to judge that Sadat can work with anything less than an Israeli commitment now to total withdrawal. Given uncertainty on that point, the only way to find out is to test his position by having a specific Israeli proposal put to him. Given the certainty of Israeli reaction to a major effort to change Israel’s position, such an approach to the UAR would seem a worthwhile risk.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 129, Country Files, Middle East. Secret; Nodis; Cedar. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.↩
- According to Haldeman, Kissinger and Haig called him on March 6 and 7, respectively, “worried about the developing situation vis-à-vis Rogers again.” He wrote in his diary: “Apparently, he’s [Rogers] moving to take some unilateral action on the Middle East that Henry feels would be disastrous, and that the P[resident] has ordered covered by a senior review group which Rogers is going to bypass, apparently. Haig suggested we try to outfox Rogers’ maneuver by putting a special meeting on this right at the tail end of the NSC tomorrow, which I told him to go ahead and try to set up.” (Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, March 7, 1971)↩
- See Documents 58 and 78. For the Israeli reaction, see footnote 6, Document 84.↩
- At 5 p.m. on March 9, Rogers held a meeting in his office with Laird, Sisco, Kissinger, Helms, and Moorer to discuss this issue. Moorer drafted a memorandum of the conversation, but because he arrived a half hour late his record is incomplete. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 647, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East (General)) In a memorandum to the President, March 10, Kissinger wrote: “The meeting went just about as expected. Secretary Rogers, supported by Secretary Laird, pushed hard for its approval, with the full realization that the scheme means a total confrontation with Israel. This outcome was understood by all of the attendees.” (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 129, Country Files, Middle East) On March 8, Kissinger had told Haldeman that he did not want to attend the meeting “because if he ends up in agreement with Rogers’ position, then he and Rogers will confront the P[resident] with a lack of options, and he’ll [Kissinger] have to go along even if he has a different view.” Kissinger further explained that “if he disagrees with Rogers, he’ll then be in a position of having to force the P[resident], or try to, to his position.” (Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, March 8, 1971)↩
- In a conversation with the President in the Oval Office that afternoon, Kissinger told Nixon: “My view is that I just can’t go on under these conditions. You will just lose control. And the next issue is going to be as hard as this one, so I might as well draw the line now.” He continued: “But the really basic point, Mr. President, is that I feel that if a Presidential assistant, for whatever reason, becomes himself such a controversial figure, and if the bureaucracy continually challenges him even if he’s totally right, I think then one should seriously consider leaving. This has nothing to do with right or wrong, but I think the necessity of Presidential assistants is that they have to speak for the President without challenge.” Later he added: “And that doesn’t mean it’s anybody’s fault. I understand Rogers’s view, and I know he’s got proud people at State, and I have as much ego as anybody else, but I really believe that it might be in the interest of everybody if we began to think of a terminal date for my stay here.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 464–17)↩