262. Editorial Note

On November 4, 1971, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger met in the Map Room of the White House with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin from 1:10 to 3 p.m. to discuss a Middle East peace agreement. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) It was the third conversation between Kissinger and Dobrynin focused on the Middle East since Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko had presented to President Nixon a proposal for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement (see Document 251). At their first meeting on October 9, Kissinger informed Dobrynin that recent statements by Secretary of State Rogers at the United Nations and calls for “secret talks” between Egyptians and Israelis under the aegis of Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco should not be considered as a U.S. reply to Gromyko’s proposal. Dobrynin said he was very grateful because it would almost certainly have been misunderstood in Moscow and would have had very “unfortunate consequences.” (Memorandum of conversation, October 9; Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971, Document 351) On October 15, Dobrynin emphasized the need to focus on Gromyko’s proposal, insisting that it was “the most generous offer the Soviet Union would ever make. They were offering withdrawing their forces, limiting arms shipments into the Middle East, and guaranteeing the settlement. What more could Israel possibly want?” Except for the frontier, which the Soviets believed had to be the international frontier, Dobrynin said that the Soviet Union would be “extremely flexible” in the settlement. (Memorandum of conversation, October 15; ibid., volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 4)

At the November 4 meeting, Kissinger outlined to Dobrynin two possible procedures for how to proceed: “One was for the United States to tell the Israelis and for the Soviets to tell the Egyptians that we were proceeding along this track.” The other was to bring the Israelis in on an interim settlement but to keep vague its relationship to an overall settlement until 1973. Kissinger observed that the first procedure was the “more honorable course”; the second might be the “more effective course.” Dobrynin said he would check in Moscow as to their preference and then turned the discussion to Gromyko’s proposal:

“The Ambassador then said that the Soviet Union had made major concessions. They were prepared to withdraw their forces, to have an embargo on arms into the Middle East, and to join a Soviet-American force for guarantees. In other words, they would be very flexible about anything that was within the Soviet discretion. Matters that required Egyptian approval were more complex. He therefore hoped that Dr. [Page 934] Kissinger would be able to concentrate in their discussions on those three items.

“Dr. Kissinger told Dobrynin that the guarantees issue was really quite simple and that it would probably be settled fairly easily. If their talks were to have any chance of success, Dr. Kissinger would have to be able to demonstrate to the Israelis that they were getting something as a result of these talks that they were not getting as a result of the Rogers/Sisco approach. Ambassador Dobrynin responded by noting that the Israelis were getting the withdrawal of Soviet forces and a Soviet arms embargo.

“Dr. Kissinger then said it would also help if the terms of the interim settlement were better than those now being negotiated. Ambassador Dobrynin asked what Dr. Kissinger meant. For example, did he mean that the line should be at the western end of the pass and not on the eastern end, that is on the Suez Canal side of the passes not on the Israeli side of the passes.

“Ambassador Dobrynin also asked whether under those conditions it was conceivable that some Egyptian troops could cross the canal. Dr. Kissinger replied that it was conceivable but that he had no really clear idea, and that issue would have to wait.

“Ambassador Dobrynin then asked for Dr. Kissinger’s concept of the final settlement. Dr. Kissinger replied that he did not really believe in shooting blanks and therefore would be very careful. It seemed to him that the demilitarized zones were an essential element. Ambassador Dobrynin commented that it was very tough to get a demilitarized zone that did not include some territory on the other side of the Israeli frontier. Dr. Kissinger stated that in such a case all of Israel would be demilitarized if the zones were equal. He then proposed jokingly that the zones start equi distance [sic] from the capitals. Dobrynin reiterated that it would be very hard not to have a demilitarized zone on the Israeli side. Dr. Kissinger remarked that if Ambassador Dobrynin could, however, get agreement on it this would be a tremendous step forward.

“Dr. Kissinger finally said that it seemed to him that the matters which could represent enormous progress would be: if the Egyptian settlement could be separated from the others, if the demilitarized zones could be kept entirely on the Egyptian side, if the interim settlement could be on terms more favorable to Israel than the present one, and a determination of concessions Sadat ought to be prepared to make if he knew an overall settlement was coming. Dobrynin noted that he would consult Moscow but would like Dr. Kissinger to make a specific proposal at the next meeting.” (Ibid., Document 10)

Dobrynin prepared his own record of the November 4 conversation in which he added that President Nixon and Kissinger were reluc[Page 935]tant to present a U.S.-Soviet proposal to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir until after the U.S. elections the following year. “More precisely,” Dobrynin wrote, “they will not inform her during this period about the agreement with us on the second stage (final settlement and complete withdrawal of Israeli forces) but only about the first stage—an interim settlement in connection with the opening of the Suez Canal.” The reasoning in the White House in this regard, Dobrynin explained, was that “the Israelis definitely have no interest in returning to their old borders and giving back territory. Therefore, if the White House were to inform Golda Meir of the agreement between the USSR and the U.S. that might possibly be reached, then she, having no interest in the main thing—withdrawal from the presently occupied territories—would almost certainly make this agreement public and, taking advantage of the U.S. election campaign, would try to torpedo it.” At the end of his report, Dobrynin offered his assessment, based on his recent meetings with Kissinger, as to where matters stood:

“From the three conversations I have had with Kissinger on a Middle East settlement since A.A. Gromyko’s departure from Washington, it is my general impression that the White House—evidently taking into account that the summit meeting is still half a year away—is not really prepared at this time for urgent, detailed discussion of an agreement on all the specific issues of a Middle East settlement. They appear to be exploring and weighing various options, and also trying to take into account possible near-term developments in the region.

“They are apparently not averse to waiting a little to see whether the Egyptians might in the meantime make some concessions. It is obvious they also do not want to stir up the Israelis prematurely. And apparently the fact that they are busy preparing for the first summit meeting—with the Chinese—is also playing a part.

“On the whole—and this needs to be emphasized—the White House is seriously interested in continuing the dialogue with us with a view to reaching a possible agreement. In all probability, however, the White House will begin actively preparing issues for consideration at the Moscow meeting about two or three months before the meeting.

“In this connection, we think it advisable to proceed as follows in discussing a Middle East settlement with the White House in the future: a) Continue in meetings with Kissinger to probe and clarify the U.S. position, even if only its general outlines, thus forcing the White House to approach the various aspects with increasing specificity and nudging them in the direction we need. b) At the same time, start to work on preparing our document on the Middle East, having in mind primarily the summit meeting (for example, in the form of basic principles, provisions, and so forth), a document that would lay out our specific approach to the main issues of an interim and final settlement.

[Page 936]

“At some point such a document could be given to Kissinger for transmittal to the President, and further work here on a Middle East settlement, through the confidential channel, could be conducted using this specific document as a starting point. After this preliminary discussion, it could then be adopted as the basis for consideration of the Middle East problem at the summit meeting.

“Our ‘Basic Provisions’ for a Middle East settlement of June 17, 1969 [see Document 34], could serve as the point of departure for such a document of ours, but after they have been revised to take into account those provisions that have been essentially agreed with the Americans in the course of our almost year-long exchange of views with the State Department. Moreover, it would be desirable, for tactical purposes, not to present this document as a repetition of the “Provisions” that we have already set forth, but rather as a new document reflecting the current state of affairs (taking into account the various contacts and exchanges of views that have occurred, including with the White House).

“In terms of format this document could be presented to Kissinger as a possible draft decision at the summit meeting, on the understanding that the process of reaching preliminary agreement on it would be initiated in advance through the confidential channel. In our first draft we might want to avoid mentioning the issues concerning our military presence that were discussed here by the Minister and the U.S. President. For the time being we might limit ourselves to an oral reaffirmation of this, stating that we will fulfill our part of the agreement if the White House accepts the prologue for an overall Middle East settlement as set out in the document.

“The suggestion that we prepare such a document and present it to Kissinger after a certain period of time is premised on the need to induce the White House to discuss the concrete issues related to a settlement, as well as on the assumption that the White House itself, seeking to protect the confidentiality of our exchanges of views from the State Department and other government agencies, is unlikely to prepare its own detailed document on a Middle East settlement for discussion with us anytime soon (which could require bringing in additional people on their side, something they are clearly avoiding for the moment). Our initiative in this matter is thus all the more appropriate.

“As for the questions Kissinger raised today, he will undoubtedly expect some response from Moscow so that he can brief the President on the progress of the negotiations.

“As noted above, during the conversation we answered two of the questions that were of greatest interest to him—on demilitarized zones and on the need to implement a Middle East settlement as a ‘package.’

“Bearing in mind the main objective of further clarifying their position and pushing them towards the solution that we need, it seems to [Page 937] us that at our next meeting with Kissinger we might refrain from re-opening a major discussion of these issues. After briefly reaffirming our position, we could propose continuing the discussion of other issues, including guarantees, within the framework of the understanding that was discussed during A.A. Gromyko’s visit to Washington.

“There is one further matter. Not being aware of Egypt’s exact position, we have thus far made no comment here on the ideas voiced by Kissinger regarding an interim (Suez) solution as it pertains to the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the crossing of Egyptian forces to the eastern bank of the canal. If our side can (and should) provide our own ideas in response, we would request appropriate guidance.” (Soviet-American Relations, 1969–1972, Document 220)

Despite telling Dobrynin that he would not bring the proposal to the Israelis, the following day, November 5, Kissinger held a secret meeting with Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin to inform him of the proposal Gromyko had presented to Nixon on September 29 and to gauge the Israeli reaction. No U.S. record of their meeting has been found. Rabin, however, later described the meeting in his memoirs:

Kissinger invited me to the White House under ‘cloak-and-dagger’ conditions. He asked me to come alone, said that he too would be alone, and had me admitted through a side entrance in the West Wing, so that by the time we were face to face my curiosity (not to mention my tension) was at a peak.

“‘What I am about to say is on behalf of the president, and you must promise that you will report it to no one other than Prime Minister Meir,’ he began in a conspiratorial manner, ‘and even to her privately and personally.’ An alarm bell went off in my mind because when Kissinger asked me to go to Israel and deliver a message to the prime minister personally, there was usually reason to believe that a crisis was in the offing.

“What he now told me was of a secret proposal from Leonid Brezhnev relayed to President Nixon by Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin. Brezhnev was suggesting a deal between the two powers for an overall solution in the Middle East. The settlement was to be effected in two stages: first a limited agreement for reopening the canal; then, after the 1972 American presidential elections (Brezhnev was not insensitive to Nixon’s domestic vulnerabilities in an election year), an overall agreement based on the Jarring document. Brezhnev also offered that if the two powers could reach an agreement on the character of an overall solution, he would be willing to make concessions on everything having to do with the partial agreement. Moreover, once the overall agreement was reached, the Soviet Union would be prepared to eliminate its operational military presence in Egypt, leaving no more than a small [Page 938] number of advisers, and join the United States both in an embargo on weapons shipments to the region and in measures to safeguard the agreement in whatever form the United States found necessary . . .

“‘I do not intend to negotiate with the Soviet Union, not even at the top level, without close coordination with Israel. I don’t think that the United States should negotiate on a matter of fateful importance to Israel without taking into our confidence at all stages of the negotiations. This is why I want an answer from Prime Minister Meir: Does Israel agree to the United States’ entering into such negotiations—on the assumption that the future borders will not basically be different from the June 4, 1967 lines and that the boundary between Egypt and Israel must be the international border? . . . I understand your difficulties, and if Israel replies to the Soviet proposal in the negative, I won’t blame her. I would seek ways of preventing American-Soviet negotiations on Brezhnev’s proposals.’”(Rabin, The Rabin Memoirs, pages 203-205)

Although Rabin agreed to present the Soviet proposal directly to Prime Minister Meir in Israel, he had his doubts about the proposal. “[Kissinger] depicted the initiative as coming from Brezhnev,” he later wrote, “and I in no way doubted his sincerity on this point. But I could not shake free of the vision of Kissinger and Dobrynin closeted away cooking up deals, with Kissinger subsequently announcing the results to us as a fait accompli—much as Sisco had during his earlier talks with the Soviet ambassador.” (Ibid., page 205)