235. Editorial Note

On May 27, 1971, after 3 days of secret negotiations, Egypt and the Soviet Union signed a 15-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. Under the terms of the treaty, the two sides agreed to hold regular consultations or in the event of an imminent threat to peace to “immediately contact one another in the interests of removing the threat that has developed or restoring the peace.” (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Volume XXIII, No. 21 (June 22, 1971), pages 2–4) Before Secretary of State Rogers could report to President Nixon, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco called Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger at 11:10 a.m. on May 28 to provide his preliminary analysis of the treaty:

“S: The first part’s obviously legal [omission in transcript] around arrangements which are very political and psychologically true in the area. It assures long-range support—political, economic and military over next 15 years. Undoubtedly Soviet initiated due to the internal events in Egypt and to keep them from making overtures to the U.S. I think it will cause waves in other countries in which they hope the influence without treaty will be increased.

“K: What do you mean?

“S: In countries like Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, etc. they may make overtures to the United States if they do not have a treaty with the Soviet Union.

“K: Loosen their ties.

“S: Yes. These are countries which are on our side of the fence anyway. Now where this leaves Sadat. Gives pledge that they will not be involved in the internal affairs and any ex post facto changes made by Sadat are OK with the Russians. There is a firm commitment to con[Page 863]sultation with the Egyptian Government. There is an overall packet on consultation. From Sadat’s point of view it eases his pressure on the military. The military is dependent on the Soviets and if he has an agreement with the Soviets that solves the army question. This will leave Sadat with as much or as little influence as he had before.”

After assessing the impact on Israel, Sisco commented on the implications of the treaty for Moscow: “We will see not so much change on substance—just manifest procedurally because Russians want to be in if there is any settlement. The Russians are saying to us that nothing will happen unless we get in.” The two men then briefly discussed the element of surprise in Soviet diplomacy:

“S: This thing looks like it is a Soviet draft. It has been concocted in a hurry.

“K: It seems to have been happening often lately.

“S: We had no advance warning that this was coming. It could be we have lousy intelligence or—

“K: It couldn’t be true!!

“S: Or the Russians drafted it and we knew nothing about it. There is no such treaty in existence in other places. In quick capsule form this is a political move to protect their major commitment in that area and they are putting the rest of the world on notice that they plan to be there for a good long time to come.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 10, Chronological File)

Later that day, Nixon telephoned Secretary of State Rogers to get his assessment of the treaty. Rogers explained that the Soviets were trying to “make it appear that they have not lost their position with Egypt. And this is the only way they can think of to do it.They don’t want to discontinue any support—they don’t want to threaten anything because that would really make Sadat mad as hell.So what they are doing is trying to figure out other ways to make it appear that there has been no change in their relationship.” As far as Sadat was concerned, Rogers told Nixon that “he’s trying to play both ends against the middle. And this is the way to do it. It didn’t say a hell of a lot that they didn’t have informal treaties; they’ve got several treaties now. So this is just window dressing, I’m quite convinced of that.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, White House Telephone, Conversation No. 3–166)

Rogers forwarded further analysis that afternoon in a memorandum for the President drafted by Sisco. On May 31, Kissinger summarized for Nixon the main points not only of Rogers’s memorandum but also of the treaty itself. Kissinger, however, offered an alternative analysis in his memorandum: “The Egyptian army is dependent on Soviet support. In turn, Sadat is at the moment dependent on his military [Page 864] for his base of power, having purged the party and the bureaucracy. Rather than strengthening Sadat’s flexibility with respect to negotiating the Canal settlement, the treaty could give the Soviet Union a veto over the future negotiations. Thus, whatever the outcome of the negotiations—and after all the Soviets are the chief beneficiaries of a Suez settlement—recent events may have enhanced Soviet long-term influence. Certainly the Soviets are committed to engage themselves as never before in case of resumption of hostilities.” The President noted this passage and wrote the following instructions in the margin: “K—We must not allow this to be a pretext for escalation of arms to Israel. We should act only in response to incontrovertible evidence of a Soviet military aid which we evaluate as significantly changing the balance of power.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 657, Country Files, Middle East, Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. II (2 of 3))

Egyptian President Sadat, meanwhile, sought to reassure the United States about the Soviet role in his country’s affairs. On the morning of May 29, Heikal conveyed this oral message from Sadat: “A. President Sadat still considers himself committed to the spirit and letter of what he said to Secretary Rogers during their recent meeting. B. President Sadat’s initiative for an interim arrangement remains valid. C. President Sadat continues to welcome the efforts of the United States in assisting the parties in the effort to reach agreement on an interim arrangement. D. The UAR–USSR treaty places no restrictions whatsoever on the US–UAR dialog.“Regarding the treaty between Egypt and the Soviet Union, Heikal said that he hoped the United States would not exaggerate its importance and “should not be hesitant” to ask any specific questions as to the “meaning or implications” of the treaty. (Telegram 1311 from Cairo, May 29; ibid., Box 1163, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, May 19–31, 1971)

When Bergus met with Sadat the next day, the Egyptian President was “most anxious” that the Ambassador “personally deliver” his message to Nixon and Rogers.Sadat declared that he needed “this indication that his lines to the United States remain open” and that there was “some hope” for an interim settlement as he proceeded to “reform the Arab Socialist Union and rebuild his internal position.” (Telegram 1318 from Cairo, May 30; ibid.) In a June 3 memorandum, Kissinger briefed Nixon on the main points of Sadat’s message. According to Kissinger, Sadat told Bergus that the Soviet-Egyptian treaty was “nothing new; it merely set forth the shape of the existing relationship.” Kissinger also reported that Sadat promised that Soviet military personnel would leave Egypt “as soon as the first phase agreement (presumably Canal settlement) was reached.” After reading the memorandum, Nixon approved the Department’s instructions for Bergus to deliver Sadat’s message to Rogers in Lisbon (where he was attending a NATO Ministe[Page 865]rial meeting) but to warn the Egyptians beforehand that any publicity “would be interpreted by the American public as a Soviet effort” to pressure the United States. (Ibid., Box 657, Country Files, Middle East, Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. II (2 of 3))