241. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to President Nixon1


  • New Suez Canal Initiative

Secretary Rogers has sent you a memo [attached]2 recommending that we undertake a “new effort” to reconcile the serious differences which exist between Egypt and Israel on an interim Suez Canal settlement.

The Secretary proposes a scenario in which we would seek to move first the Israelis and then the Egyptians towards a middle ground position. This would require a number of difficult concessions on each side since, as the Secretary points out, there has been a further hardening of both Egyptian and Israeli positions since his trip to the area. For the Israelis, it would at a minimum mean:

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—Agreeing to a much greater withdrawal from the Canal than they now envisage and giving up control of the key strategic passes, probably to a U.N. force.

—Allowing at least a limited Egyptian force to cross the Canal.

—Accepting a formula that would in effect limit the cease-fire to a year if there was no progress towards a final settlement.

For the Egyptians, it would at a minimum mean:

—Giving up the idea of linking the interim settlement to a final settlement, with an Israeli commitment to total withdrawal.

—Agreeing to allow Israeli ships to pass through the Suez Canal after an interim settlement.

—Giving up their hope for an explicit six-month cease-fire deadline.

—Agreeing to strict limitations on their future military presence in the Sinai.

In terms of mechanics, Assistant Secretary Sisco would go to Israel around July 12 (he has already informed the Israelis he would like to come for about a week for “free-wheeling” discussions) and orally probe the Israeli position. He would then report back to you and Secretary Rogers and a decision would be made on whether he should continue on to Cairo. Meanwhile, we would conduct a holding operation with President Sadat in Cairo and make sure he is still interested.

The Secretary’s plan amounts to a fairly bold new initiative. But, by his own admission, he does “not believe a complete bridging of the two sides is now possible.” His real hope is that the gap can be “narrowed” some and that, “at a minimum, we buy time,” and improve the chances for something important coming out of the discussions he will be having with the Egyptian and Israeli foreign ministers at the General Assembly in the fall.

I think, and feel sure that Dr. Kissinger would agree, that we all need to give Secretary Rogers’ proposed “new effort” considerable thought. It raises many questions, most of which boil down to whether or not we would be paying too high a price for too small a chance of achieving anything substantial. The Secretary is right when he says that the heart of the present impasse is Israel’s unwillingness to be more forthcoming on the territorial aspect and that there is “no possibility” of Israeli movement in this regard in the near future. Yet this is the very heart of the problem, even of an interim settlement. There is also, of course, the problem of raising expectations without any real chance of being able to produce substantial movement. We already have a serious credibility problem with the Israelis and especially the Egyptians. If it increases much more, our whole diplomatic posture in the Middle East could be seriously undermined without anything to show for it.

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Another question that needs to be very carefully explored is where this new effort might lead us if we do go through with it. One likely result is that we will move further from our “honest broker” role to become a more active initiator of ideas and consequently with a much more exposed and vulnerable position. This has important implications that need to be thought out. Finally, I believe we should, above all, consider our future initiatives with respect to the Middle East in the light of the events which will occur during and just after Dr. Kissinger’s trip3 when our longer term prospects with respect to the Soviets and Asia will come into sharper focus.

Recommendation: That you authorize me to inform Secretary Rogers that you wish to hold up temporarily on this new initiative until we can consider it in greater depth at a restricted NSC meeting at San Clemente.4 There is no apparent need for acting in great haste and it seems only prudent to approach this important decision in an orderly manner.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 657, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. III. Secret; Nodis; Cedar. Sent for action; outside system. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Dated July 1; attached but not printed.
  3. Kissinger left Washington on July 1 for his first, secret trip to Beijing. He returned to the United States on July 13 and spent 2 days in San Clemente reporting to President Nixon.
  4. See Document 243.
  5. Nixon initialed his approval. After a “long session” with Rogers, Helms, and Haig on the Middle East during a July 6 flight to San Clemente, Nixon told Haldeman privately that “Rogers is basically right on some of the points that he makes, particularly that we should appear to be doing something rather than just letting the thing sit.” (Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, July 6, 1971)