3. National Security Study Memorandum 21


  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • The Director of Central Intelligence
  • The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff


  • Middle East Policy

The President has directed the preparation of two papers on Arab-Israel problems for consideration by the NSC. One paper should consider alternative US policy approaches aimed at securing a Middle East settlement, including (1) direct Arab-Israeli negotiations (2) U.S.-Soviet negotiations and (3) Four Power negotiations.2 The paper should also consider the possibility that no early settlement will be reached, and US interests and policies in such a situation. The second paper should consider alternative views of basic US interests in the area and should include consideration of the issues listed in the attachment.3

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The President has directed that the NSC Interdepartmental Group for the Near East perform this study.

The first paper should be forwarded to the NSC Review Group by January 25, 1969. The second paper should be forwarded to the NSC Review Group by February 24, 1969.


1. What is the role of the Middle East today in U.S. global strategy? What are the real U.S. interests there and how important are they?

2. What is the nature of the Soviet threat to the Middle East? How likely is Soviet dominance or predominance? What forces will tend to limit Soviet influence?

3. What is the precise nature of the Soviet threat to NATO via the Middle East?

4. What is the present state of the U.S. position in the Middle East? Is it eroding drastically? Or is there a level of common interests shared with some nations in the area which will prevent it from deteriorating beyond a certain point? Is an early Arab-Israel settlement essential to preserving the U.S. position?

5. In the light of answers to these questions, what is the most appropriate U.S. posture toward the Middle East? What level and kinds of involvement are appropriate in view of our interests and U.S. and Soviet capabilities?

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–126, National Security Study Memoranda, Secret.
  2. The February 1 paper, “The Arab-Israeli Dispute: Principal US Options,” considered six policy scenarios: 1) “Let forces in the area play themselves out, leaving it mainly to the parties to work out a settlement if they can”; 2) “More active US diplomatic support for a renewed effort by Jarring”; 3) “US–USSR negotiations to help Jarring promote a settlement”; 4) “Four-Power approach”; 5) “A unilateral US effort to bring about a settlement”; and 6) “Settlement imposed by the major powers.” (Ibid., Box H–020, National Security Council Meetings, NSC Meeting Briefing by Joint Staff: SIOP (Middle East Papers) 2/4/69)
  3. The January 24 paper, “Basic US Interests in the Middle East,” examined the interests and assumptions that underlay U.S. policy formulation in the Middle East on the basis of six questions: “(1) How important are our interests in that area? (2) How grave is the Soviet threat to these interests? (3) To what extent does the expansion of Soviet influence in the Middle East threaten NATO? (4) What posture should the United States ideally adopt vis-à-vis the conflicting states and groupings of states in the area? (5) What is the present US position in the area? (6) How important is an early Arab-Israel settlement to the preservation of our interests?” (Ibid., Box H–126, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 2) According to an undated summary prepared by Saunders, the January 24 paper was “highlighted by two differing viewpoints”: 1) “A broad Arab-Israeli settlement is very important and there is enough possibility of achieving it to make its continued pursuit worthwhile”; and 2) “A broad settlement, although desirable, is not possible in the near future.” (Ibid., Box H–020, National Security Council Meetings, NSC Meeting Briefing by Joint Staff: SIOP (Middle East Papers) 2/4/69) Saunders sent the undated summary under cover of a January 28 memorandum to Kissinger. (Ibid., Box H–034, Senior Review Group Meetings, Review Group Middle East 1/28/69)