25. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- Summary of Secretary Rogers’s Memo and the Issues It Raises for Decision
As you consider Secretary Rogers’s recommendation that we now put forward specific proposals on a UAR-Israel settlement,2 you will want to think about the possible pitfalls in this course:
—One argument underlying this proposal is that we will be charged with undercutting the four-power talks if we do not advance specific proposals now. But we may just as likely end up blocking four-power accord later over specifics as we are to stymie progress now by refusing to discuss specifics.
—Another assumption is that we will improve our position by advancing a specific proposal. But any fair proposal will be equally unpalatable to both the Arabs and Israelis, and we are likely to get most of the blame from both sides. Even if we are able to maneuver the USSR into sharing the blame, we have to assume that our influence with the Arabs will improve only after a settlement and not through a settlement.[Page 82]
—A third assumption is that the best chance of winning Israeli cooperation and generating movement toward a settlement is advancing a draft UAR-Israel agreement that would have Israel accept less than its current minimum position at the outset. But it is more likely that the Israelis will reject our proposal outright and that we will be left with a choice between (a) negotiating the terms of a settlement with the USSR, France and UK knowing Israel will not consider them and (b) being isolated from the other three because we hold out for Israel’s maximum terms.
I do not advance these necessarily as arguments against proceeding. However, they do highlight the dangers which you will wish to explore in the NSC discussion. The following analysis discusses these points in greater detail.
I. Summary of Secretary Rogers’s Recommendation—The Options
The Secretary’s memo judges that our efforts to help move the Near East closer to an Arab-Israeli settlement have reached a point where we must either become more specific about the substantive elements of a settlement or accept an early impasse.
It poses a choice among three courses:
A. We can go on avoiding entirely putting forward specific substantive positions because we do not believe we can persuade Israelis to reveal their positions except to the Arabs in face-to-face negotiations. [This would bring the US–USSR and four-power talks to an early impasse with us taking the blame for failure and being further isolated with Israel. Almost no one seems to argue following this course, but given the dangers in putting forward a specific proposal, we ought to think twice before abandoning this position.]
B. We can try to reach big-power agreement on the substance of a settlement without limiting ourselves to what Israel will accept on the theory that this would at least improve our position vis-à-vis the Arabs. [This would cause a major blow-up with the Israelis without bringing a settlement closer. But it can be argued that, if our chances of winning Israeli-Arab agreement to specific proposals are slim, this is the cheapest way of building a more defensible U.S. position to stand on in the prolonged absence of a settlement.]
C. We can put forward specific proposals designed if possible to engage Israeli and Arab Governments in negotiations but at a minimum to put us in an improved and more defensible posture even if we fail. [This would still cause a confrontation with the Israelis, though our position in its effort to be fair would be equally unpalatable to both sides. If we took positions that could be defended on their merits, we would stand some chance of pressing the USSR to support fair terms of bringing the Israelis along and of at least stepping out of our role as Is[Page 83]rael’s sole champion. But there are the dangers outlined above and below.]
The memo recommends the third of these courses on grounds that we will never know whether a settlement is possible until we can probe Soviet, Egyptian and Israeli positions by putting to each a specific and realistic proposition to accept, reject or bargain over. It appends a proposal for a UAR-Israel agreement, saying that we may wish to follow soon with a proposal for a Jordan-Israel agreement.
II. The First Issue—Whether to Put Forward Specific U.S. Proposals
The first issue is whether we should put forward a provisional agreement between the UAR and Israel that has enough in it to encourage Israeli cooperation. We have until now taken refuge behind our (Israel’s) demand that the Arabs renounce their objective of destroying Israel and commit themselves to sign an agreement directly with Israel before anyone will discuss the specifics of a settlement. But now that the USSR is getting increasingly specific and closer to meeting our (and Israel’s) requirements, it is becoming more difficult to stand credibly on our very general position.
The principal dangers in surfacing our own proposal are:
—We could end up isolated in the four-power talks supporting Israeli demands (direct negotiations as one evidence of a firm commitment to live at peace) which no one else considers attainable, or even reasonable. We could end up breaking up the peace negotiations over “direct negotiations” and commitment to a vaguely defined “peace” which everyone else regards as utopian. The Russians may very well be maneuvering us cynically into just that position.
—We could end up, instead of improving our position in the Near East, being blamed by both sides for undercutting peace efforts. The Israelis will say we have undercut their negotiating position by doing the Arabs’ negotiating for them. The Arabs will say the concessions we ask of them just prove we support Israel’s unjust demands.
—The Israelis and their friends will accuse us of playing the Russian’s game and saving Nasser from the consequences of his own folly. They will say we have panicked and are acting to save our worst enemy in the Mid-East who will just turn around and resume his vigorously anti-U.S. policy.
—Although we say we are simply trying to get a UAR-Israel negotiation started, we will end up negotiating most of the details ourselves. The best we are likely to get for Israel, if that, is an Arab agreement to sign the final agreement in the presence of Israeli representatives. That does not meet Israel’s desire to bargain its territorial conquests into the best deal it can get because we would end up taking away most of its leverage.[Page 84]
The major arguments for advancing a specific proposal are:
—Neither the US–USSR nor the four-power talks will go much farther unless we do. If we let them founder now, we shall take full blame for the failure.
—We may have a better chance of moving the others toward our positions by talking in terms of specifics than in terms of general principles as we are now.
—We may even be able to maneuver the USSR into sharing some of the blame for unpalatable proposals by putting them in the position of having to deliver Egyptian concessions.
—We can improve our position provided we demonstrate that we are for a fair settlement and maneuver ourselves into standing on defensible positions.
—Just because we get specific does not mean we are compromising Israel’s position or ours. The point is that we will not know Israel’s real position—or Nasser’s—until we put a specific proposition to them. And until we strip away their bargaining positions and their covers for stalling, we risk basing our own position on bogus—and therefore indefensible—issues.
Recommendation: That you approve our putting forward a specific proposal on the terms of a settlement.
III. The Second Issue—Whether to Consult Israel First
The second issue is whether we should try our proposal out on the Israelis first or whether we should see how much Soviet consent we can get before we take it to the Israelis.
The argument for going to the USSR first is mainly that we stand a better chance of selling our proposal to Israel if we can say the USSR will deliver Arab consent.
The arguments for going to Israel first are:
—Our talks with Dobrynin give us a pretty good feel for the Soviet position now.
—If the Israelis thought we were bargaining away their future with the USSR, an already strained U.S.-Israeli relationship could reach the point where constructive discussion would no longer be possible.
—We must know before we take any proposal to the Russians what positions are crucial to Israel and where we can negotiate.
—Consulting with Israel need not give Israel a veto.
—Consulting may force the Israeli Cabinet to take a precise position for the first time.
—Unless we bring Israel along, we are not advancing the settlement process.[Page 85]
Recommendation: That we consult with Israel first but agree now that we will present our proposal to the Russians regardless of Israel’s reaction (though we would ask State to give you an analysis of Israel’s reaction before it proceeds further).
IV. The Third Issue—Whether a Jordan or a UAR Settlement First
The third issue is whether—if we decide that the time has come to put forward a specific proposal—the best chance of success lies in trying specific proposals first on a UAR-Israel settlement, first on a Jordan-Israel agreement or on both fronts simultaneously. [The Secretary’s memo recommends UAR-Israel first but says it will be appropriate to try something with Jordan and Israel soon.]
The arguments for the UAR-Israel approach first are:
—Territorially it is the easier.
—It is easier for Hussein to follow Nasser than to precede.
—Hussein is ready for peace and the Israelis know it, so the real bottleneck to break is Nasser.
—We can involve the Russians in urging Arab concessions on this front. We do not want to involve them on the Jordanian front. It is overloading the circuit to try both approaches on Israel at once.
The arguments for the Jordan-Israel approach first are:
—Hussein is ready for peace and we have little clear evidence that Nasser is, so let’s try for a breakthrough where it seems possible.
—:s100/96 The Palestine problem is a Jordan-Israel not a UAR-Israel problem.
—Any breakthrough might bring Nasser along. If it struck at the heart of the refugee problem, it could change the complexion of the whole Palestine issue, encourage the oil-rich moderates to back Hussein and press Nasser (whom they are subsidizing) to reach agreement.
—We have influence in both Jordan and Israel but little on Nasser.
—We have an interest in Hussein’s survival but little in Nasser’s.
The arguments for at least preparing both simultaneously are:
—Nasser is committed before the other Arabs to not making peace ahead of Hussein. The two must go hand-in-hand.
—Both Nasser and the Russians will quickly ask us whether the principle of full Israeli withdrawal applies to the West Bank as well as to the Sinai.
—The Israelis might be less reluctant to accept full withdrawal in the Sinai if they knew we did not intend to hold them to the same principle on the West Bank.
—While it is important to bring Nasser along in order to win broad acceptance in the Arab world, the support of the moderate Arabs for a [Page 86] settlement depends on what happens to Jerusalem and the refugees. The moderates are our friends.
Recommendation: That you request a specific proposal for a Jordan-Israel settlement with recommendations on phasing the two approaches. They will be handled on quite different tracks, and State will argue for going ahead with the UAR proposal since it is ready. But I believe you should see where you are going on the Jordan front before we get too far down the track with the UAR. This need not lose us much time.
V. The Fourth Issue—Whether the Terms Proposed Are Defensible
The final set of issues is whether the terms of a settlement outlined in Secretary Rogers’ memo will stand on their merits so that, simply by advancing them, we will put ourselves in a more defensible position.
In general, the main measure of defensibility is that we not get stuck holding out for a nebulous concept of “peace” or for direct negotiations, except in exchange for a concrete Israeli commitment to withdrawal. It is inherent in the situation that the Israelis will be asked to do something concrete—withdraw their troops—in return for paper commitments. But in attempting to elicit a straight-forward Arab commitment to live at peace—with willingness to talk directly with Israel as a sign of good faith—we must have an equally straight-forward Israeli position on where its “secure and recognized borders” will be. If we cannot get that Israeli commitment, then we may wish to reconsider our holding out for direct talks, which no one else accepts as necessary.
The proposal outlined in the Secretary’s memo would permit us to say: The UAR will get Israel’s promise to withdraw from the Sinai provided it agrees to meet under Ambassador Jarring’s auspices to work out an accord with Israel that would spell out the detailed forms and conditions of peace. In other words, the UAR can have its territory back if it will signify its readiness for peace by meeting with Israeli representatives. That seems a defensible position provided the Israelis assure us they will take a reasonable position in those talks by agreeing to withdraw to what the Arabs will regard as reasonable boundaries.
To take each of the specific issues in turn:
A. Is it reasonable in this initial proposal to try to commit the Israelis in advance of negotiations to full withdrawal from the Sinai as a quid pro quo for drawing the UAR into direct talks under Jarring? Or should the proposal contain a vaguer formulation of the commitment to withdraw?
The arguments for seeking commitment to full withdrawal are:
—The UAR will not consider anything less worth making concessions for, and it will regard us as simply playing Israel’s game if we try to extract concessions for less.[Page 87]
—We are on solid ground saying that we do not believe Israel needs territory in the Sinai and that its security there can be protected in other ways.
The arguments for a vaguer commitment are:
—The Israelis will probably refuse a firm commitment in advance because (we believe) they want to bargain their withdrawal directly with the UAR for a position at Sharm al-Shaykh and a corridor to it. They may even be holding out for direct talks because they believe the UAR will refuse and leave them on the Suez Canal.
—The Israelis are most adamant on this point, and it is the issue on which they are most likely to part company with us.
Recommendation: That we hold out for an Israeli commitment to full withdrawal from the Sinai but that you request State to come up with a reasonable plan for policing demilitarized zones and guaranteeing free navigation through the Straits of Tiran and Suez Canal.
B. Is it sensible for us to hold out for a UAR commitment to a direct meeting with Israeli representatives under Jarring’s auspices? Or by wedding ourselves to this point are we putting ourselves in the potentially untenable position of arguing that direct negotiations are a sine qua non of peace?
The arguments for doing this are:
—A direct meeting is a small price for retrieving the Sinai.
—It is not all that unreasonable to expect adversaries to sit down after a war and work out peace terms.
—The Israelis, whether sensibly or not, seem to have made direct talks a quid pro quo for revealing their terms for a settlement, though they may also be using this as a cover for their failure to make governmental decisions on the terms they will accept.
The arguments against are:
—Russians, French and probably the British will say that terms could be worked out through third parties and ask whether it is reasonable to let the whole peace effort founder over lack of a direct meeting.
—The Arabs are adamant in refusing talks. To them, such talks are a sign of surrender, though there are some indications that they would be less adamant if Israel were committed in advance to withdraw.
Recommendation: That we tell the Israelis we are prepared to hold out for direct talks if they assure us by committing themselves to withdraw that they will make the Egyptians a reasonable offer in such a meeting.
C. Should we start out asking for the demilitarization of the entire Sinai? Or should we start bargaining with the Israelis for a smaller area such as the Russians propose?[Page 88]
The arguments for trying for full demilitarization are:
—We should leave ourselves some bargaining room with the Russians.
—If we are going to ask the Israelis to pull all the way back to the pre-war border, we must offer them maximum demilitarization in return.
The argument against is that the Russians (and Egyptians) seem to be firmly resisting large demilitarized zones, and we should begin bargaining, with Israel at least, from a smaller base.
Recommendation: That we go to the Israelis with a proposal for demilitarization of the entire Sinai but that we make clear we regard this position as negotiable, if adequate alternative security arrangements are proposed.
Conclusions: After working through this analysis, I conclude that we should state explicitly for our own internal guidance the following minimum objectives in this exercise:
A. To conduct our discussions with the Israelis so as to determine what are genuine Israeli requirements—as contrasted to bargaining positions and positions taken to cover unwillingness to take precise positions—so that we may be certain we are taking our stand on meaningful issues.
B. To conduct our negotiations with the USSR so as to engage them in extracting concessions from the UAR and to put them in a position of sharing the blame for the unpalatable elements in any proposed settlement.
C. To seek to develop a position in the four-power talks that will be defensible enough that the governments who reject it and not we will be blamed for any impasse that develops.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 634, Country Files, Middle East, UAR, Vol. I. Secret; Exdis. Printed from an uninitialed copy. All brackets are in the original.↩
- Rogers sent the memorandum with his recommendation to Nixon on April 23. (Ibid., Box 644, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East—General, Vol. I)↩