281. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President (at beginning)
  • Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
[Page 988]

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Middle East.]

The Middle East

He [Dobrynin] then asked, “What about the major items? Let’s talk about the Middle East. You told me you would have some proposition to make.” I said that the first question that I wanted to raise was: could they give me some expression of how they propose to inform the Egyptians if some agreement were reached between the President and Brezhnev?2 It seemed to me extremely dangerous to inform the Egyptians at all since they were bound to be penetrated by the Israelis. For us it was a matter of the gravest importance. Dobrynin grew somewhat restless. He said delivering the Egyptians was their problem and they could not be accountable on that. I said that was not the issue; the issue was whether the process of notification would create substantive difficulties that would affect our situation and the possibility of carrying through with any understanding that might be reached. For example, I said, the interim agreement we were discussing was worse than what Bergus had offered them in the bilateral discussions.3 If they were going to be asked by the Soviets to accept a worse interim agreement, there had to be some argument that would make this plausible. Dobrynin again said that I seem to be producing one red herring after another to avoid facing concrete issues. I said this was not the case, and I insisted that they produce some expression from Moscow of how they would deal with the implementation of any agreement.

Turning to the substance of the settlement, Dobrynin asked whether I had formulated any ideas. I told him that it seemed to me that the irreducible Israeli position was for the airfield just east of Eilat, control over Sharm el Sheikh, and a land connection with Sharm el Sheikh. This perhaps could be wrapped up in some riparian arrangement of the states along the Gulf of Aqaba, which perhaps might pro [Page 989] vide a fig leaf for Israeli presence in Sharm el Sheikh. (Attached at Tab B4 is a memorandum explaining this.)

Dobrynin asked my view of demilitarization. I said in my view demilitarization would have to take place at least to the western edge of the passes. Dobrynin said that in effect I was giving him the Israeli position. I said that if he talked to the Israeli Ambassador, he would not get that idea; this would be next to impossible to sell to the Israelis. What I was trying to do was to get a position which the Israelis might accept with some considerable pressure but short of actions that would lead them to conclude that they were better off going to war. Dobrynin said that in effect we were returning to the old position in which all the sacrifices had to be made by Egypt. I said that the pity was that Dobrynin could never seem to understand that these were negotiating arguments that we had already heard in New York and Washington. If he was talking to me, he should face the substance of the problem, and the substance was that we were prepared to use our good offices with the Israelis but only within a framework that we thought would not drive them to acts of total desperation.

Dobrynin asked why the demilitarized zone had to be entirely on the Egyptian side. I said it was because equivalent demilitarized zones would drive the Israelis back to Jerusalem. Dobrynin asked whether we would consider proportional demilitarized zones. I said it seemed to me extremely improbable, but if he wanted to make a proposal this was of course open to him.

Dobrynin indicated that he did not think we were making much progress. He said the difficulty was that we did not take the Soviet proposals sufficiently seriously. The Soviet Union had offered to withdraw all its forces from Egypt, except a number roughly equivalent to what we had in Iran, not to establish bases elsewhere, and to accept limitations on its arms shipments.5 This responded exactly to what we had said publicly in July 1969 we wanted. Now we were haggling about a few miles of territory.

I responded that Dobrynin always had the great ability to present his position in the form of enormous concessions, without ever looking at what we were doing on our side. For example, the Soviet proposal was a way for the Soviets of extricating themselves from a difficult situation. Their client could not win a war with the Israelis. Therefore, a continuation of the situation would lead to one of two situations: either a conviction on the part of the Arabs that their alliance with the Soviet Union was not adequate to produce a settlement, or a war by the Egyp [Page 990] tians which would face the Soviet Union with a decision of military support and a risk out of proportion to anything that could be achieved.

Dobrynin answered that this was partially true, but there was a third possibility that the Soviet Union had to consider. The Soviet Union was now at a watershed; its next move would be a considerable increase of its military presence in Egypt and other Arab states. He could assure me they were deluged with offers, for example, to provide air protection to other Arab countries. The Soviet Union had requests for a massive influx of arms which then could be given with the argument that the Soviet Union would stay there until the local people were in a position to defeat the Israelis militarily. [Note: This seems confirmed by Israeli intelligence.] Also the Soviet Union was well aware of the fact that its proposal really opened up the field for us to compete with them much more effectively in the Arab world than is now the case. In short, it was a major policy act by the Soviet Union, and if we did not pick it up, the consequences might be quite serious. However, he would transmit my suggestions to Moscow and he would give me their reaction.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Middle East.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 10. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text omitted by the editors and “[Dobrynin]”, added for clarity. The meeting took place in the White House Map Room. The President left the meeting before the discussion of the Middle East. For the full text of the memorandum of conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 62.
  2. Kissinger and Dobrynin were considering items for discussion at the upcoming Nixon-Brezhnev summit and the possible agreements that might be reached. On January 17, Brezhnev wrote Nixon a letter regarding U.S.-Soviet relations in which he addressed the Middle East: “The situation in the Middle East, Mr. President, causes serious concern. The tension there is not diminishing. Rather, to the contrary. Many elements in Israel’s behaviour cause apprehension. But it should be clear that attempts to carry out its known designs toward the Arab territories would lead to far-reaching consequences. In conversation with you in Washington our Minister for Foreign Affairs set forth in detail considerations concerning the questions of Middle East settlement. We are prepared, as before, to work in real earnest to find concrete solutions on the basis of the principles set forth in that conversation, and to bring what has been started to successful conclusion. And here it is desirable to act without delay.” (Ibid., Document 39) For Gromyko’s proposals, see Documents 251 and 252.
  3. See Documents 255, 258, and 263.
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. See Document 251.