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


  • A Preliminary Look at the Mid-East in the Moscow Talks

Secretary Rogers has sent you the attached preliminary thoughts on the issues in discussing the Middle East at the Moscow summit.2 This analysis will be reflected in your briefing book3 as well.

The essence of the State Department analysis is that the Soviets will make clear their view that there must be progress in the Mid-East or they will be unable to keep the lid on much longer. State feels that the Soviets will be seeking some sort of understanding that the great powers will work together to impose a solution. State’s recommendation is that we should insist that the focus of negotiations must remain with the Middle Eastern parties to the dispute and not with the major powers. State says: “Our counter to any Soviet pressure to renew bilateral or Four Power talks should be to keep the focus on the need for Egypt to face up to the necessity of negotiating a settlement with Israel instead of looking to others to do the job for it.”

State acknowledges that a standoff such as this approach will produce will leave a very unpredictable situation in the post-summit period since no one can guarantee that Sadat will continue to avoid military action—no matter how foolish—in the absence of hope for diplomatic movement. The State memo offers no suggestions for softening the impact of a standoff.

The premise of the State memo is correct—that we are limited in any effort to reach specific agreements because (a) the Israelis are opposed in principle to the idea of a great-power solution and (b) the Israelis are unlikely to find palatable any specific terms on key issues that the Russians could accept. The problem remains how to avoid the worst effects of a complete stalemate.

[Page 1000]

It is true that we are unlikely to want to make any concessions in the Middle East in the aftermath of Soviet actions in South Asia last year4 and until there is evidence of a responsible attitude toward Southeast Asia. However, there are some subjects that we could seek understanding on that would serve our interests.

I would rule out getting too deeply into specifics unless an unusual opportunity was offered, and I would want to avoid the atmosphere of total inflexibility since that could lead the Soviets to step up their military program in Egypt. I would suggest exploring points like the following designed to lead toward some understanding on a general framework for future handling of the Middle East problem:

—Our ability to move Israel even in a limited way will depend on our finding a way to avoid the appearance of a US–USSR solution and to create the appearance of Arab-Israeli negotiation. We are not looking for a concession in saying this; we are looking for a solution to a practical problem. We would like to discuss with the Soviets ways in which an Egyptian-Israeli exchange could be set up outside the glare of publicity in which all possible solutions could be aired. The mere fact of the exchange would have significance in Israel, and only if we can break away from present rigid positions does there seem any chance of finding a way to move negotiations forward.

—The US and USSR should each accept the idea that the settlement process will take some time. We should each acknowledge our understanding that the process may even reach over several years. Such an understanding is not an evasion of responsibility but an effort to assure that the two of us at least are not measuring each other’s performance against an unrealistic standard.

—One way to buy time over the next few months might be to return to the idea of an interim agreement for opening the Suez Canal. If this were coupled with private Egyptian-Israeli talks, it could provide the outward appearance of movement that Sadat needs. [State recommends that we low-key this subject because the Soviets will oppose our going ahead as the exclusive go-between while the Israelis will oppose Soviet involvement. This problem might be partly met if we were to talk with the USSR as well as to Egypt and Israel.]

—There might be some agreement on discussing the ultimate limitation of US and Soviet forces on Middle Eastern soil.

We would not want to create an impression for the Egyptians that we had renounced the UN resolution of November 1967, the Jarring talks or the Rogers Plan. At the same time, we ought to try to find ways [Page 1001] with the Soviets of exploring new approaches that can break free of the old positions which are at impasse.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1167, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, May 1–31, 1972. Secret; Nodis; Cedar. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Dated May 1; attached but not printed. For excerpts from the memorandum, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 178.
  3. The briefing book for the Moscow Summit is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 476, President’s Trip Files.
  4. Reference is to Soviet support of India during its war with Pakistan in December 1971.