218. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ashraf Ghorbal, Head of UAR Interests Section
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President
  • Harold H. Saunders, NSC Staff

Dr. Ghorbal explained that he is going to Paris for a meeting with Foreign Minister Riad and other Egyptian chiefs of mission to discuss and assess the present situation. He “wanted to go wiser and had come to seek wisdom.”

He said that he needed help in explaining the U.S. position. He cited his visit to the UAR last August. In a conversation with President Nasser and others, Nasser had made some nasty comments about the U.S. and then had turned to Dr. Ghorbal and said, “Forgive me.” Dr. Ghorbal said that he expected to be bombarded with questions and similar comments in Paris and wanted the clearest possible view of where the U.S. thinks the situation is going.

Dr. Kissinger said he was familiar with Dr. Ghorbal’s talk with Secretary Rogers 2 and he did not have much to add. One thing he did wish to make clear was that there are not two U.S. foreign policies. There is one policy “which we do jointly.” He said that no one had to think that there are two strands of policy, with Secretary Rogers following one and Dr. Kissinger following another. Dr. Kissinger said that he did not involve himself deeply in day-to-day tactics, and much that has been done in the Middle East has been tactical.

Dr. Kissinger said that a second point he wished to make is that it is important to be realistic. The U.S. would like an Arab-Israeli settlement. We believe that would be in everybody’s interest. The President’s foreign policy message to Congress—which after all had been [Page 795] drafted in the White House—reflects that purpose.3 On the other hand, we sometimes think that the UAR over-estimates the ability of the U.S. to force a settlement in the Middle East. For that reason, we find unhelpful the short deadlines that have been imposed recently.

Dr. Kissinger hastened to add that we recognize the UAR’s problem: the UAR does not wish the passage of time to turn the occupation of territory which has historically belonged to it into Israeli territory. The UAR has, however, already opened a debate in Israel and between Israel and the US on the nature of a final settlement. It should allow time for those debates to work themselves out.

Dr. Kissinger said that looking back, one of the sad things in his view was that, on the occasion of Dr. Fawzi’s first visit here,4 the opportunity to improve U.S.–UAR relationships was not seized then. We approach the UAR on the basis of wanting good relations with the Arab Nations. In the present situation, we need to “reconcile our problems with Egyptian necessity.”

As an interim measure Dr. Kissinger continued that we hope that something might be done in connection with President Sadat’s proposal for partial withdrawal from the Suez Canal.5 We recognize full well that this would have to be an “interim” arrangement.

Dr. Ghorbal expressed appreciation for Dr. Kissinger’s seeing him. When Dr. Ghorbal recognized that Dr. Kissinger has other momentous problems on his desk, Dr. Kissinger replied that this is one of the biggest of them.

Dr. Ghorbal said that he wanted to stress that never has so much been invested by the UAR as in the past few weeks in getting a settlement—in energy and in political risk. The UAR believes that Israel and the U.S.—particularly the U.S.—must do the same. He hoped that the U.S. would not lose this opportunity.

Dr. Kissinger said that Dr. Ghorbal could be assured that we are doing all we can. Dr. Ghorbal replied that he hoped the U.S. would grasp the situation with energy commensurate with the opportunity.

Dr. Kissinger asked what concretely Dr. Ghorbal had in mind our doing. Dr. Ghorbal replied that he is gratified to know that there are not two U.S. foreign policies. He certainly understand the tactics of “not firing all your guns at once.” But he felt that it is now time for the President to stand up and reiterate what U.S. policy is. Dr. Kissinger asked what more the President could do than he had said in his foreign policy message. Dr. Ghorbal replied that there are many who heard only the [Page 796] President’s short radio address and will not read the longer foreign policy message itself.6 Therefore, there is need for clearer and fuller exposition to the American people of what U.S. policy is.

Dr. Ghorbal said that the last time President Nixon had spoken,7 the Egyptians had been very disappointed. He spoke in the old balance of power terms. That means to Israel and to the UAR that Israel can go on relying on a continuous flow of arms and economic help regardless of what policy it adopts.

Dr. Kissinger replied that the President had said many things. On the one hand, Israel has to consider what security it may achieve by military means and by territories. On the other, if Israel returns to its pre-war frontiers, it will need security perhaps even more.

Dr. Ghorbal noted that Israel still has $300 million in the President’s budget. In other words, there is no U.S. indication that Israel’s political stand would affect U.S. support. [There followed a humorous exchange over whether the UAR would shift to U.S. equipment if we offered it.]

Dr. Ghorbal said that a new UAR proposal on debt rescheduling had been put to the U.S. He felt this to be a further sign of Egyptian good will. Also, although there were a few things in the President’s state of the world message that the UAR did not like, the UAR had reacted positively emphasizing those things which it had regarded as constructive.

Dr. Kissinger said that he wanted to make clear his feeling—and the President feels the same way, he said—that the UAR’s approach in recent weeks has been responsible. We may differ on details of such issues as demilitarization. But the U.S. cannot develop every last formula. The Egyptian attitude has been constructive.

Dr. Ghorbal said that it was now important to translate general policies into action. Dr. Kissinger replied that he had a purely personal suggestion to make. It derived from his thought that sometimes in seeking comprehensive agreements, we create deadlocks for ourselves. He felt that it was sometimes possible to take a series of limited, partial, interim steps thus providing steady progress toward an objective but [Page 797] not creating the deadlocks that result from trying to swallow the whole problem all at once.

He said that the U.S. would continue to try to influence Israel to take positions that could lead to a negotiation. He wondered whether there were cases where the UAR could use its ingenuity in making such proposals. It had already done so to some extent in proposing partial withdrawal and opening the Canal.

Dr. Ghorbal asked whether there were any other ideas. Dr. Kissinger mused for a moment on whether there was anything in the Gulf of Aqaba and then turned to the question of why the Israelis put such store in Sharm al-Shaikh. “Are there not other ways to keep the Straits open?” he asked. Dr. Ghorbal agreed that the Israelis could defend the opening to the Gulf of Aqaba in other ways just as there were ways other than occupying Sharm al-Shaikh that the Gulf could be closed.

Dr. Ghorbal cautioned against seeking “gimmicks” such as Israeli leasing of Sharm al-Shaikh. He felt that a lot of time could be wasted in such talk and that it would end up being an “exercise in futility.” Dr. Kissinger asked, “Because you won’t have it?” Dr. Ghorbal replied, “Yes.” He felt that if the Israelis insisted on staying at Sharm al-Shaikh that would affect the whole atmosphere of negotiations. “How could the UAR trust Israel if it insists on staying at Sharm al-Shaikh?” The only way to solve this problem is to have non-Israeli and non-Egyptian forces there to enforce demilitarization. Half way measures do not solve the problem; they are just issues for talk.

Dr. Kissinger asked whether, supposing the Israelis went back to the international border with the UAR, the UAR would then insist on total Israeli withdrawal on all other fronts. Dr. Ghorbal said that they would not be “more royalist than King Hussein.” However, he felt that the U.S. should not try to achieve an agreement which left Israeli forces in Syria. That would just provide the seed for future wars.

Dr. Kissinger said he wanted to summarize by saying that we are happy here that relations between us have taken a turn for the better. He hopes that patience can be shown for some more time. He felt that it was desirable for the moment to concentrate on the subject at hand—a UAR-Israeli settlement.

Dr. Ghorbal said that of course the Egyptians did not wish the Syrians to have a veto over a settlement. If there was to be progress on the proposal for the Suez Canal, it should contribute to a positive atmosphere for a settlement. If Israel put at the end of its proposal the statement that it does not plan to withdraw further, that then would kill the whole idea. There would be no pressures left on Israel. “The mechanics of progress should not be established with a veto at the end.” They must undertake that this would be the first step toward a peace settlement.

[Page 798]

Dr. Kissinger replied that the U.S. position has always been that both sides should enter the negotiations without pre-conditions. Dr. Ghorbal replied that Ambassador Jarring’s proposals to Israel and the UAR had incorporated the U.S. position. He felt the U.S. should press those positions. If the UAR were to receive a positive answer from Israel to Jarring’s questions, that would be the testimony the UAR needs of U.S. intentions.

The conversation closed with the usual pleasantries and with Dr. Kissinger’s making a general comment that he hoped he would see Dr. Ghorbal sometime after his return.

Harold H. Saunders 8
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 656, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. I. Secret; Nodis; Cedar Plus. The conversation took place in Kissinger’s office. All brackets are in the original. This memorandum is attached to a March 26 memorandum that Saunders sent to Kissinger both for his approval and to notify him that, at his request, he sent a copy “Eyes Only” to Sisco. Kissinger initialed his approval on it and wrote: “1) What’s the sense of approving it if it has already gone to Sisco; 2) Send copy to Rogers eyes only. Never again send unedited copy out.”
  2. Ghorbal met with Rogers on March 24 for a half hour. (Telegram 49891 to Cairo, March 25; ibid., Box 1162, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, March 25–31, 1971)
  3. See footnote 6, Document 211.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 18.
  5. See Document 203.
  6. On the morning that he transmitted his message to Congress, President Nixon delivered a radio address summarizing the report. In the section on the Middle East, he stated: “The policy of the United States will continue to be to promote peace talks—not to try to impose a peace from the outside, but to support the peace efforts of the parties in the region themselves.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, p. 216)
  7. Reference is presumably to the March 4 press conference at which Nixon responded to a question on the Middle East by saying: “We, of course, will be there to see that the balance of power is maintained in the Mideast—which we will continue to do—because if that balance changes that could bring on war.” (Ibid., p. 393)
  8. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.