230. Telegram From the Embassy in Italy to the Department of State1

2919. For the President from the Secretary.

1. I have completed the final phase of my Middle East trip—two days in dynamic, creative, intense, worried, suspicious, querulous Israel. After a first day’s round with Golda Meir during which she stuck to familiar themes and maintained an immovable steadfastness, we hit pay dirt in our last session in a long, detailed and point-by-point discussion of the interim settlement in which we were able to get some helpful Israeli flexibility on certain key points.2 It was an arduous process, but in the end we got enough of what we wanted, and represented sufficient clarification and elaboration that I am sending Joe Sisco to report to Sadat 3 and to explore further some of the remaining key points. I am satisfied that this trip has accomplished its principal purposes: to show American interest and leadership in the constant search for peace in the area; to maintain and conceivably even enhance the pace of the peacemaking process particularly with regard to an interim Canal agreement; and to add to the more hopeful atmosphere slowly developing in the Middle East.

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2. More concretely, the principal results of the trip seem to be these: our relations with Faisal have had a fresh input; friendly Jordanian-American relations have been reinforced; Lebanon was given a badly needed reminder to adopt a more positive posture with its people before its weakness produces its own demise;4 we added a measure of confidence in our relations with Egypt; and we reaffirmed our continuing interest in Israel’s security, while leaving them with no doubt that our direct interests in the area can be affected adversely unless they adopt a more flexible position on an overall and interim peace settlement. We have finally begun to take the play away from the Russians, and both sides—Arabs and Israelis—see the US as the key—and this is as it should be. So long as we maintain our strength to bulwark this kind of active US diplomacy, we ought to be able in time to move from neutralizing Soviet influence to reversing that trend and at least keep pace with them in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

3. Back to Israel. It is clear that this is a divided government, and decisions will come only with painful slowness. Mrs. Meir has great strength, but also great weaknesses. Doubts were expressed that she is the leader who in the end will make any fundamental settlement. She is showing understandable strain, irritation, signs of weariness, and age, but more important, she suffers psychologically from the Quote trauma of 1957 Unquote when as Foreign Minister she announced Israeli withdrawal. She strongly prefers arguing the past, has difficulty talking specifics, and has to be pushed forward rather than lead her platoon of Ministers. Allon played a mixed role; Eban was quite silent. Only Dayan came out straightforwardly. His approach to the interim settlement is similar to ours; he believes that it must be conceived as a step towards the overall settlement and based on a permanent ceasefire. He believes that once having left the Canal, Israel should assume it will not return. In a previous detailed meeting with Sisco,5 he helped break the [Page 848] ice, and this flexibility to a degree got reflected grudgingly at my marathon three hour session with Golda Meir.

4. On substance, the remaining difficult points which will over the coming weeks determine whether we get an interim agreement are these:

A. Length of ceasefire. Dayan injected the positive concept that if unlimited or extended, the area of Israeli withdrawal from the Suez can be greater.

B. Understandable hard-rock Israeli insistence that no UAR military force will move into the evacuated territories. Sadat was equally strong the other way. Israel is likely to accept a UAR civilian presence, and Dayan helped by keeping open possibility of UAR police in symbolic numbers. This point will be tough.

C. Supervision. Meir, aided by Allon, has been suggesting joint Egyptian-Israeli arrangements. This is not feasible. We made a little headway in showing how an augmented UNTSO (UN Truce Supervisory Organization—which could involve a few Americans) with a reinforced mandate deriving from the agreement might be a satisfactory arrangement. There are a number of other points of lesser significance which we believe are negotiable.

5. I have in mind also that if we are able to narrow the gap even further in the next few weeks, the time will soon come when we will wish to tie down the Russians with respect to the agreement as a whole and in particular that Quote no Russian forces will come across the Canal Unquote. I will have some other information for you on this at our Monday meeting.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 657, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus Vol. II. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Cedar.
  2. See Documents 228 and 229.
  3. Sisco met with Sadat on May 9; see Document 231.
  4. Haig attached Rogers’s reports on his visits to Jordan and Lebanon to a memorandum to the President on May 5. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1162, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, May 1–9, 1971) He did not include telegram 1052 from Cairo, May 5, in which Rogers detailed his 2½-hour meeting with King Hussein at al-Hummar Palace on May 3. (Ibid.)
  5. Sisco met with Dayan on May 7 in Tel Aviv. The minutes of their conversation are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 129, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East. Saunders summarized the “main points” that emerged from the Sisco-Dayan meeting in a memorandum to Kissinger on May 17, concluding: “This conversation would seem to reinforce Sisco’s prior assumption that peace is not likely to be made with Prime Minister Meir. Even Dayan, however, does not envision a border settlement which Sadat could, under present circumstances, accept in a final settlement.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 1163, Saunders Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, May 19–31, 1971)
  6. Rogers met with Nixon to discuss his trip on May 10 in the Oval Office from 3:30 to 4:53 p.m. For a transcript of the portions of the conversation pertaining to Rogers’s May 6 meeting with Sadat, see Document 227.