265. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • State of Play in Mid-East Diplomacy

A new effort has been made by the State Department to get talks started with the Egyptians and Israelis to break the deadlock on an interim settlement. The purpose of this memo is to assure that you are up to date.

The New Initiative

State sounded out both Sadat and Eban on sending a negotiator to the same location—presumably New York—for intensified talks on an interim settlement.2

State’s plan would be to have Assistant Secretary Sisco work between the two to try to close the gap between their positions.

The Israelis in reply requested a US response to their aircraft requests; asked whether the points in Secretary RogersUN speech still stood since Israel regards those points as limiting Israel’s scope for negotiation; and asked for assurance that we see negotiations on an interim settlement as basically different from those on an overall settlement.3 Ambassador Barbour concluded that this was an Israeli effort to fend off the US initiative.

The State of the Negotiations

The prospects for success are not great if State continues its past practice of trying to minimize differences between the two sides and “splitting the difference” on principles that are fundamental to each.

You will recall that the original proposals for an interim settlement envisioned a quite limited mutual pullback or thinning out along the Suez Canal:

Dayan saw this as a means of (a) reducing the opportunity for Egyptian military action and (b) perhaps providing enough diplomatic [Page 945] movement without jeopardy to Israeli security to permit Sadat to continue the ceasefire.

Sadat seemed to recognize that reaching an overall settlement could take a long time and apparently felt that some Israeli withdrawal could help buy him the necessary time.

Instead of stopping to recognize that US interests lay in the most modest—and therefore most achievable—arrangement possible, State began talking to both sides in terms of a withdrawal that came to seem almost a half-step to an overall settlement.

—Whereas the essence of an interim arrangement is to avoid issues of a final settlement which cannot be resolved now, State has led Egypt to see an interim settlement as a step toward Israeli withdrawal to the pre-war border. While maintaining in Israel that an interim agreement would not commit Israel to a final border, State has in Cairo and publicly reasserted US support for Israeli withdrawal to the pre-war border. This position has been used to encourage Egypt to accept an interim step.

—Whereas the US interest lies in an indefinite extension of the ceasefire, State has acquiesced in the Egyptian idea of in effect setting a limit on its extension. While first proposing in Israel an indefinite ceasefire, State in a general way has contributed to an atmosphere of arbitrary deadline by speaking repeatedly of 1971 as the “year of decision.”4

—Whereas the success of an interim agreement lies in keeping the zone of Israeli withdrawal narrow enough to preserve Israeli military access to the canal, State adopted the Egyptian position of Israeli withdrawal to—and eventually beyond—the Sinai passes rather than trying to reduce Egyptian aspirations. Knowing that Israel would not give up the passes, State specifically authorized telling Sadat that withdrawal east of the passes would not be precluded.

—Whereas Israel insists that there be no Egyptian troops across the canal, Secretary Rogers on October 4 publicly stated that there could be “compromise” on this issue, meaning that some Egyptian troops could cross. While State initially presented its view of an interim settlement in terms of no Egyptian troops across the canal. Mr. Sisco in Jerusalem in July began talking of “750 with light arms.”

—Whereas Israel in February urged the US to refrain from discussing substance with Egypt, a US representative eventually drafted notes that became the basis for an Egyptian position paper in June, and [Page 946] Secretary Rogers publicly discussed the possibility for compromise on specific issues before the UN General Assembly in October.

The contrast between these positions is shown sharply in the attached table.5

It is also worth recalling how this situation evolved:

—After exchanges with Jarring resumed at the beginning of January, State showed little interest in an interim arrangement despite several Egyptian feelers. At that time, Sadat was still talking even about pulling his own troops back from his side of the canal. If we had moved then, modest agreement might have been achieved.

—After the Jarring talks collapsed with Israel’s negative reply on February 26,6 State became interested in an interim settlement. Then, however, in the drama of Secretary Rogers’ trip the proposal became less modest and became a substantial step toward an overall settlement.7 In addition, the dialogue on the subject has led the Israelis to conclude that US weight would be more on the Egyptian side.

Thus the Israelis were confronted with a decision on sending a negotiator to intensified talks where (1) they could expect from experience that the US would begin to advance substantive positions when a deadlock occurred and (2) they could expect that the US positions would be closer to Arab positions than to theirs. Since a deadlock would be almost certain to develop quickly, an Israeli decision to join the talks would be an Israeli decision to submit themselves to combined US and Egyptian pressures. Confronted with this prospect, it seemed unlikely even before the Israeli reply that they could accept without getting something substantial.

State has, by withholding aircraft, created a situation where it may have to agree to provide additional aircraft simply to persuade the Israelis to come to talks which are bound to deadlock soon. Given the way State has developed the issues since April, it would take a major [Page 947] confrontation to achieve agreement and yet we will already have used much of our leverage just to get talks started.

In addition, pursuing an overall settlement via State’s strategy keeps the Soviets out of the process. State seems to feel that Sadat will push the Soviets out. The Soviets cannot want this, and they can always undercut any agreement that would lead in that direction. Unless the Soviets are involved, a settlement seems unlikely. It would seem easier for us to gain their agreement to withdraw than for the Egyptians to push them out.

In short, what started as a modest and possibly achievable objective to buy some time has become an exercise almost as costly to the US as an overall settlement. If the Israelis resist the pressure without reacting, the Soviet position in Egypt will remain as it is. If the Israelis resist but at some point become desperate enough to exploit an incident to mount an attack, the Soviets will find it difficult not to react.

The Issue on Strategy

The real issue here is whether State’s strategy for trying to produce an Arab-Israeli accommodation has any chance of success.

—The 1967 UN resolution premised that all the major issues in a final settlement could be worked out as part of one big package. It assumed that agreement could be achieved in the near term.

—The Israelis do not believe Arab attitudes can change enough in a short period to assure Israel of their peaceful intent. Also, they know the Arabs will not accept border changes now and prefer to try to wear them down. So the Israelis will oppose any settlement terms the Arabs are likely to accept in the near term.

—The Arabs have said they will not be worn down on the border issue but they are prepared to make peace with Israel now within pre-1967 borders. They see allowing time to pass as playing along with Israeli strategy. Sadat, however, seems to recognize that some time is needed.

—The strategy behind an interim settlement, therefore, should be (a) to recognize the longer time frame Israel talks about as more realistic but also (b) to recognize the Arab need to get on with the process, even if it be prolonged.

State’s strategy has been confusing to both sides. State has pursued an interim settlement as phase one of a quick package settlement. Thus, what even Sadat conceived as a tactic for surviving through a longer peace-making process has been portrayed by State as a larger step toward a package settlement in a nearer future. Because of State’s past position, the Israelis see in the new US diplomatic effort no US sensitivity to what the Israelis thought was the main purpose of an interim [Page 948] settlement—buying time for a more gradual peace-making settlement, they thought this was the US purpose too.

An alternative to State’s strategy would be to acknowledge first to ourselves that we are working in a longer time frame and that we need to re-involve the USSR. If we could then persuade the Soviets that this is the only realistic course for both of us and reach some understanding on the ultimate objective, then we might have a chance of allaying Israeli fears that, as soon as an interim agreement was signed, we would hustle them on to a broader settlement on terms that today could only be Egyptian.

As it now stands, the Israelis see us following an Arab/Soviet strategy, and yet we have none of the possible advantages of Soviet involvement. Until we can persuade them that we are at least partially willing to accommodate their strategy, we can only be in confrontation with them. I see no possibility of avoiding that confrontation—or of getting anything significant from it—as long as the State Department’s strategy is followed.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 658, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. IV. Secret; Nodis; Cedar. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 255 and the text of Document 261.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 263.
  4. In a speech on June 22 to Egyptian naval officers, Sadat said that 1971 was a “year of decision” for the conflict with Israel.
  5. Dated November 9; attached but not printed. The table, “US Positions on an Interim Settlement as Stated to Israel and the UAR,” has two columns—under the headings “What We Told Israel” and “What We Told Egypt”—in which the U.S. positions, the officials who expressed them, to whom the officials expressed them, and when they did so, are detailed. An introduction to the table reads: “The following illustrate three points: (1) The Israelis have reason from the record to expect that the US will not remain simply a go-between in negotiations. We started by simply passing positions back and forth. We have since put forward substantive proposals. (2) As the US has become more active, it has become apparent that the US weight will be more on the Egyptian than on the Israeli side of the scale within the limited context of negotiations on an interim arrangement. (3) One position has been taken with Israel and another with Egypt. A negotiation would bring this out.”
  6. See Document 211.
  7. Rogers was in Egypt and Israel May 6–7. See Documents 227, 228, 229, and 230.