294. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Current State Department Line on the Middle East

Reports of recent conversations that Sisco has held with diplomats here in Washington move me to raise a basic question about the posture we should take toward the Arab-Israeli impasse over the next few months. This question is sharpened by Egyptian rejection this week of Secretary Rogers’ February proposal for proximity talks on an interim agreement.2

The question is: Do we want to continue prodding the Egyptians gently to respond positively to our proposal for proximity talks on an interim agreement, or do we want to lie low until after the election? It seems obvious to me that the answer is to lie low, and State may be more inclined to do that following the Egyptian reply. But that was not the line Sisco was following before their reply.

The basic line that Sisco is taking comes through in the two attached reports of recent conversations with Ambassador Ortona and with Ashraf Ghorbal.3 The composite line that emerges from these conversations goes like this:

—We see no immediate hope for Ambassador Jarring’s mission to achieve a new breakthrough but continue to hope that an interim agreement might be achieved. We have never had a reply from Egypt and are still awaiting one. [This, of course, was overtaken by the Egyptian reply last weekend.]

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—In Moscow we stuck with the Rogers Plan, namely that we thought that both the US and the USSR should encourage negotiations and the best way to do this was to press for an interim agreement.

—The “next step” after the summit would be for the US to talk with the Egyptians.

Sadat has three options: renewed hostilities, accepting “our proposals” or continued drift. [This ignores that there could be other ideas for conducting negotiations.]

—If the USG and the Egyptian Government could conduct an objective exchange on the respective positions of Egypt and Israel on an interim agreement, it might come as a surprise to Cairo to see that the gap between them is not as great as has been supposed. [The Egyptian reply over the weekend said the gap would remain wide as long as we rejected a specific link between an interim settlement and total Israeli withdrawal.]

Sisco would like an opportunity some day to review these exchanges with Foreign Minister Ghaleb, whom he had not met.

The obvious problem consists of the following elements:

—The Egyptians feel strong bitterness over what they consider Sisco’s having deceived them last year by misleading them about the breadth of the gap between the Egyptian and Israeli positions.

—The Egyptian and Israeli positions remain far apart, not close as Sisco maintains.

Ghorbal, at least, reports the Soviet impression following the US–USSR summit that the Administration is placing its emphasis more on the issue of an overall settlement than on the interim settlement. When Sisco talks up the interim settlement, he creates confusion about the real Administration positions and raises questions in Egyptian minds about what the real US position is.

—Each time Sisco has one of these conversations and disseminates it by cable, his line becomes the line picked up around the area. Thus the impression is created that the gap is narrow and that the US continues to press actively for negotiations on an interim settlement.

The operational point is whether someone should suggest either to Secretary Rogers or to Sisco that they should lie low between now and November. This would not necessarily mean that we would have to take a completely negative line. We could say that we have put a variety of proposals on the table and that no one is precluded in the present situation from pursuing one of these. To maintain the reverse—that we are actively seeking to begin negotiations at this time—simply turns the Egyptians off and puts us in the position of appearing to pursue something that the Egyptians have written off, at least in present context.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 647, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East (General) Vol. IX. Secret. Sent for information. At the top of the page, Kissinger wrote: “Let’s get him stopped, HK.” Another note by Haig reads: “Eliot informed.” All brackets are in the original.
  2. For Rogers’s proposal, see Document 276. Egypt’s rejection of his proposal was conveyed to Greene by Ismail on June 17. Ismail told Greene that Egypt considered the United States “responsible for the failure of the talks in 1971” and considered Rogers’s proposal of February 1972, “unacceptable.” (Telegram 1787 from Cairo, June 18; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 658, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. V)
  3. Attached but not printed are telegrams 105507 to Amman, June 14, and 106539 to Cairo, June 15. These telegrams reported Sisco’s meeting with the Italian Ambassador and his meeting with Ghorbal.