300. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Nixon: What’s your analysis of the Sadat thing?2 I read the—

Kissinger: I wanted to talk to you about it. Of course, I—

Nixon: I don’t what the hell it was.

Kissinger: It’s not concrete. Well first, I’ll give you my analysis and then I have a concrete operational proposal I want to give you.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: First of all, I think the guy is highly unstable.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: You cannot talk of a coherent long-range strategy.

Nixon: Right. Right.

Kissinger: There could be three basic motivations. One is, it’s a blackmail move against the Russians, that he’s kicking out some of them—

[Page 1026]

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: Keeping another batch of them there in order to blackmail them into giving him a long-range offensive weapons and needed supplies. Incidentally, one of the better negotiations we’ve conducted is the one between this building and the Russians for the last eight months, maneuvering them into a restraint position on the Middle East.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Because that is what’s adding the fire. The one that started with your talk with Gromyko.3

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Because that’s what Sadat is screaming about. He made a speech yesterday saying the Russians were too cautious.4

Nixon: I saw that, yeah, blackmail the Russians.

Kissinger: The second possibility is that he wants to make a move towards us.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Being dissatisfied with the Russians. And if you remember when we talked about it two years ago when you went on television with I think it was Howard K. Smith—5

Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Kissinger: From Los Angeles. We were saying that if the Egyptians get dissatisfied enough with the inability of the Russians to produce something they will be forced to move to us. And that that is the time to brutalize the Israelis. We never said that publicly. The third possibility—and the most worrisome one—is that he is getting rid of the Russians—so that he can jump the Israelis and force the Russians into supporting him.

Nixon: That’s what worries me.

Kissinger: That’s the one that worries me most. Now—

Nixon: [unclear] need to do something, and then—

Kissinger: The Israelis probably figure we have elections. They might well come to terms with clobbering the bejeezus out of the Egyptians. Now operationally—

Nixon: What’s arguing with him about all that?

[Page 1027]

Kissinger: He stops all three of them really. He’s trying to get offensive weapons. He has [3 seconds not declassified] approached Dick Helms6 and asked us to make a specific proposal. And thirdly he’s started harassing Israeli airplanes with SAM batteries from his side. Now, what I would like to do, and I wanted to talk to you about it today—in fact, I was talking to Helms this morning about these messages.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: First, I’m going to call in Rabin and tell him we’ve kept them afloat, we’ve been the best friend they’ve ever had, we’ve saved them from being brutalized.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: But they sunk the Egyptians during this campaign.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: [unclear]

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And they must have no illusions.

Nixon: Let me say, I would say that, even though it might jeopardize the elections, I’m not going to fool around.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: He’s got to know that.

Kissinger: And I will tell Mr. Rabin this week. Two, I think we should return the following answer to the Egyptians. We should say, “Look, you’ve had three years of proposals. You want to deal with the White House, we don’t operate that way. The way we like to operate is to have an understanding in principle first of what they are trying to accomplish, to lay out a game plan, and then we can then come up with some proposal. Therefore if you want to talk to us send somebody over late September/early October.” Say honestly we can do nothing before the elections. Because we can’t, Mr. President. If we made a big proposal on the Middle East, the Jewish community will go up in—

Nixon: Oh, the hell with them. I’m not going to touch the Middle East.

Kissinger: In fact, if we made the proposal now the Russians would consider it an anti-Russian move too.

Nixon: That’s correct.

Kissinger: So what I think we should do is to have the—is to propose to the Egyptians that they send my counterpart over here at the [Page 1028] end of September/early October, and then work out a game plan with them—maybe at Camp David or someplace quiet.

Nixon: Good. Good.

Kissinger: That keeps them happy [and] keeps the Russians quiet.

Nixon: Yeah. All right, you’ll talk to Rabin and have them send that over. And the other thing is you naturally have got to talk to Dobrynin cold turkey on this too, for him. I don’t know what the hell Dobrynin

Kissinger: Well, I have given Dobrynin an assurance that we would not take advantage of the situation. That we would not move unilaterally.7

Nixon: What’s he think of it? Or does he—

Kissinger: Well, he hasn’t told me. Well, we got sort of a stupid letter from Brezhnev in which Brezhnev points out that they thought up this idea of their own withdrawal8

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —of having confidence in you. It’s a dumb statement and now you owe them something.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: Now that’s sort of a stupid thing for them to say because it’s so transparent. But what I think we should do is to answer that letter to Brezhnev in a very warm way.

Nixon: Good. Good. Do that.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 752–6 (2). No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portion of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. Brackets indicate portions of the original recording that remain classified, were omitted by the editors, or were unclear.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 298.
  3. See Document 252.
  4. For Sadat’s July 24 speech, see: Henry Tanner, “Egyptian Asserts Moscow Caution Caused Ousters,” New York Times, July 25, p. 1, and “Excerpts From President Sadat’s Speech in Cairo Criticizing Policies of the U.S.,” ibid., p. 10.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 134.
  6. See Document 299.
  7. During a meeting with Dobrynin the afternoon of July 20, Kissinger told the Soviet Ambassador: “We were not aware of these events beforehand. We had not yet fully understood their significance. Nor did we know the extent of Soviet withdrawal. In any event, I wanted Dobrynin to know that the President had issued the strictest orders that there would be no U.S. initiatives toward Cairo and that we would not try to gain unilateral advantages.” The memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974, Document 16.
  8. Dobrynin gave Kissinger the letter at their July 20 meeting. Brezhnev wrote: “As a result of the exchange of views between the Egyptian leadership and ourselves it was decided to withdraw part of our military personnel from Egypt. In determining our position in this question we proceeded, on the one hand, from the fact that the contingent now being withdrawn by us, has in the main, fulfilled its functions. On the other hand, I will tell you frankly, we acted with account of the exchange of views which took place between us while discussing the entire range of problems of the Middle East settlement. It seems to me that this will help dispel doubts which may have been there as to how we intend to solve the question of our military personnel in Egypt in case of settlement of the Middle East problem. We believe that you will find the opportunity to use this step for bringing your appropriate influence on the leaders of Israel.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 130, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East—Sensitive (RN), 1971–1974)