229. Editorial Note
On May 7, 1971, Secretary of State William Rogers met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Tel Aviv at 4:45 p.m. Also present from the United States were Ambassador Walworth Barbour, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco, Deputy Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Alfred L. Atherton, and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Robert McCloskey. Joining Meir on the Israeli side were Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Foreign Minister Abba Eban, Finance Minister P. Sapir, Ambassador to the United States Yitzhak Rabin, Dr. Herzog, Simcha Dinitz, and Mordechai Gazit. No U.S. record of the meeting has been found, but according to a May 12 memorandum of conversation between Rabin and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger, the Israelis provided Kissinger with “verbatim” minutes of the meeting, as well as the record of Sisco’s May 7 meeting with Dayan. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 997, Haig Chronological Files, Haig Memcons, Dec 1970–Dec 1971 (3 of 3)) The Israeli minutes are ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 129, Country Files, Middle East. The Israelis also prepared an abridged record of Rogers’s May 7 meeting with Meir in which they recorded that the “talk concentrated almost exclusively on the interim settlement.”Sisco emphasized that Sadat was “serious on interim agreement.” He said it was “a step towards that overall settlement,” but that the door was “completely open to further explanations on interim settlement.” Rogers added that he too believed Sadat wanted an interim settlement. “We lose nothing by trying,” said Rogers. “Israel is in good position to take risks now. Israel is much stronger than Egypt.” Rogers pointed out that Sadat felt an agreement on a Canal settlement would accomplish a “political coup” and allow Sadat to overcome humiliation. “This would put him [in] a frame of mind that he would not want to start war. He would have so much credit politically that he would resist a war that would ruin him.”
The conversation then turned to addressing a symbolic Egyptian military presence on the east bank of the Suez Canal. Rogers acknowledged that if Sadat insisted on moving “a lot of troops” across the Canal that would cast doubts on his intentions. “On the other hand, a symbolic military presence is another matter.” Meir replied that “military personnel cannot be considered at all.” Rogers said that it did not make all that much difference if it were small number of military personnel under U.S. supervision. “If it is just a symbolic number, that is one thing, if it is more that casts doubts on his intentions.” But Meir appeared more concerned about whether, if the Egyptians crossed the Canal, they would bring Soviet forces with them, asking Rogers what [Page 845] the U.S. reaction would be to that scenario. Rogers replied that he had told Sadat the United States would not consider Soviet presence on the east side of the Canal.Rogers did not think “it is possible to give answer about what we might do in the event if things happen, but we would take it as a matter of very grave concern. Soviet Union knows that. I do not see them playing that game,” he said. “If they do we will have to face it. But I do not think they have that in mind.” Rogers added that the United States would have a “major problem” if it looked as if the Soviets were going to move “in a big way to take countries in the region.”
Sisco then asked for an elaboration of the distance that Israel was prepared to withdraw its forces from the Canal, emphasizing that “the broader the zone the better the possibility of getting a satisfactory formulation of the cease-fire from Israel’s point of view.” Dayan said that if Egyptians did not undertake not to resume shooting, then Israeli forces would have to remain “very very close” to the line. Dayan did not rely on the United Nations keeping fortifications and certainly not being behind the passes, which is more than 35 kilometers. Israel, Dayan said, would accept a 10-kilometer withdrawal from the Suez Canal, but “the matter is related to an understanding not to resume fighting.” Dayan said he would not recommend a withdrawal at all if the Egyptians did not undertake non-resumption of fighting and non-crossing of the Canal. Sisco replied that it therefore seemed possible to try for a 10-kilometer withdrawal while the Canal is cleared and once the Canal opened to have Israel “simultaneously” withdraw to the passes.Eban interjected that he would like continued U.S. opposition to any idea of military crossing, symbolic or non-symbolic, to which Sisco replied that the Egyptians would then expect a much larger withdrawal from the Israelis, somewhere in the vicinity of 35 kilometers.
After further discussion about the withdrawal, and not relating an interim Canal agreement to Security Council Resolution 242, Prime Minister Meir stated that “we are prepared to move from the Canal, we do not want any more shooting. We do not want military personnel to cross the Canal. If we have to face the Egyptian army we would rather face them across the Canal.” Rogers replied that “this was the first time that there had been a good talk on specifics. If U.S. can rub it up so that it would look as if Sadat had been reasonably successful on the agreement, he might do it.” With that in mind, Rogers asked Meir about the possibility of having Sisco go back to Cairo to talk with Sadat to explain Israel’s position. Meir agreed but emphasized that the United States “had no authority to speak about withdrawal of one mile. Government will not decide until it sees principles are accepted and there are some arrangements. I do not care how you call it. That we are assured that no more shooting, no crossing of Egyptian military and some mechanism, [Page 846] a small civilian group to see to it that Bar Lev Line is not destroyed. And if we have U.S. assurance and Rogers had said so, that U.S. will support us that this does not commit us to anything else. Sadat must know that you accept our position that this [is] no commitment whatsoever.”
Before the meeting adjourned, Rogers asked Meir if she thought the Canal agreement was a good idea.Meir replied: “This we think is a good service of the U.S. government if they can do it.” (Main Points of Talk Prime Minister with Rogers, May 7; Israel State Archive, Previously Classified Material, 7038/9)