268. Editorial Note

On December 2, 1971, in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir met with senior American officials to discuss the delivery of Phantom jets to Israel—shipments of which had not occurred since July—beginning with Secretary of State William Rogers at noon. She warned the Secretary that even though Sadat “might be afraid to go to war” and that the Soviet leadership “might not want war,” Israel “had to be ready” nonetheless since Sadat could become a “slave to his own words” and get himself into the kind of trouble that might draw the Soviet Union further into the region. Rogers agreed, and, thus, he argued that the United States and Israel “had to leave way out for Sadat,” foremost by “achieving progress toward peace” by “getting negotiations going” after the UN General Assembly convened. He continued by saying that “fundamental U.S. support of Israel had not changed and will not change,” but that the timing of such support “was of course important” because the United States “did not want anything to make beginning of negotiating process difficult.” Regarding future negotiations, Meir reviewed the differences between the U.S. and Israeli positions and remarked that the U.S. stand on “the territorial aspects of peace” was “harmful” to Israel. She also said that the United States seemed to be “punishing” Israel by withholding Phantoms. After addressing these issues, Rogers ended their session with a discussion of common U.S.-Israeli objectives. (Telegram 219343 to Tel Aviv, December 4; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 658, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. IV) His talking points had been coordinated with President [Page 954] Richard Nixon and President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger at a meeting on the previous day, of which there is a tape recording. (Ibid., [Page 955] White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 627–4)

After her conversation with Rogers, Meir met with the President in the Oval Office from 3:05 to 4:52 p.m., with Kissinger and Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin present. Nixon assured her of his commitment to sending Phantoms to Israel and said that Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco would finalize the details of their delivery in meetings with Rabin scheduled for the end of the month. The President also emphasized that his promise of future Phantom shipments did not depend on a political settlement in the Middle East, foremost because of his dedication to maintaining a military balance in the region. While Meir was pleased that the two issues were not “linked,” she and Rabin both expressed their concern over precisely when the aircraft deliveries would re-start. Nixon and Kissinger avoided addressing the issue directly and said only that Sisco and Rabin would negotiate a schedule. The President added: “Let me say this. I do not want the delivery or non-delivery of the planes to be a block to the frank discussions which we should have on the political side. Now, I think that’s what we’ve really come down to.”

The subject then turned to the Soviet Union, with Nixon confiding in Meir the offer that Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko had privately made to him that the Soviet Union would stop sending arms to Egypt—in addition to removing its forces from the country—in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory (see Document 251). The President explained that Gromyko “didn’t say this in front of the others” and that “this has not gone to the bureaucracy,” and, thus, she should not discuss the subject with her Cabinet. As a result of the Soviet offer, Nixon advised Meir: “You have the real negotiations—that’s the other end of the spectrum [from proximity talks] and that may be involving the Russians, because let’s face it, your Egyptian friends can’t do a damn thing unless the Russians back them. You know that, and I know that. Now having said that, we then move to the ‘appearance’ of negotiations [under the Department of State’s auspices]. That’s why I use the term appearance. If you were to give us in this an interim period—don’t—just the appearance of talking to us—it’s the appearance—I can assure you there won’t be any pressure. No pressure. Because we will know that this is not—it doesn’t mean—I think that if you give the appearance that too will cool. This whole business of the Soviets.” Kissinger added: “I think what we have to avoid is a Soviet misunderstanding.” In his concluding remarks, Nixon reassured her: “We’re not talking about the two of us getting together and pressuring you.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 628–16; the editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume) There is a tape recording of a meeting between Nixon and Kissinger earlier that day, during which they set the parameters for this discussion. (Ibid., Conversation No. 628–2)