52. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary Rogers
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Assistant Secretary Sisco
  • Ambassador Walworth Barbour
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr.
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin
  • Yaacov Herzog
  • Moshe Bitan
  • Simcha Dinitz
  • Shlomo Argov

While the President and Prime Minister Meir were talking in the President’s office,2 their advisers held the following discussion in the Cabinet Room.

[Page 179]

Mr. Sisco initiated the substantive part of the conversation by asking the Israeli party to describe the procedures followed during the 1948–49 Arab-Israeli Armistice discussions on Rhodes.3 Ambassador Rabin described them as follows:

1. Both sides declared the purpose of the negotiations. In that case, the purpose was to negotiate an armistice agreement.

2. There was an opening meeting with both delegations present. Ralph Bunche was elected as the Chairman.

3. A series of meetings of three different kinds followed:

a. The mediator went from one group to the other. The UAR and Israeli delegations were quartered in different rooms in the same hotel.

b. There were informal meetings between the heads of the UAR and the Israeli delegations which took place with the mediator present and sometimes without.

c. There were formal meetings of both delegations together under the Chairmanship of the mediator. Normally, these were to formalize agreement where it had been reached.

Ambassador Rabin said he could recall two or three of these meetings before the signing, although he noted that he had had to leave Rhodes before the signing and therefore might not recall any that took place in the final stage.

Secretary Rogers asked whether that same procedure would meet Israel’s requirements. Ambassador Rabin replied that it would.

Secretary Rogers said that UAR Foreign Minister Riad had told him in New York the previous day that the procedures followed at Rhodes would be acceptable. Ambassador Rabin noted that Riad had said, according to press reports, that he could agree to talks along the Rhodes procedures after Israeli withdrawal. Secretary Rogers noted that Riad had said there should be some Israeli renunciation of expansionism. The Secretary then went on to explain that Riad had reaffirmed to the Secretary in the evening that he had indeed told the press that the Rhodes procedures would be acceptable and that he had not denied this later, even though he had said that he was not talking about “direct negotiations.”

Mr. Sisco noted that, in the light of Riad’s obvious difficulty in describing the Rhodes talks as “direct negotiations,” there would be some advantage in avoiding public comment about precisely what the formula at Rhodes was.

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Ambassador Rabin stressed that we should not think of the Rhodes formula just in terms of the procedures followed to organize meetings. We should remember that the negotiations began with a declaration of the purpose of the negotiations. That declaration is all-important because the Arabs so far have not declared it to be their purpose to make peace with Israel.

Dr. Kissinger asked why the UN Security Council Resolution of November 1967 would not give Israel an adequate statement of the purpose of the negotiations. Ambassador Rabin replied that there are different interpretations of the resolution.

Mr. Sisco noted that the document he has been discussing with Ambassador Dobrynin4 has a far clearer statement of the purpose of the exercise than was made before the Rhodes meetings. Secretary Rogers noted that another possibility was the brief declaration which followed the meeting of the Ambassadors of the Four Powers the previous Saturday night.5

Ambassador Rabin noted that even the word “peace” is subject to different definitions. The Russians define it simply as an end to the state of war. The essence of the Israeli requirement is that the Arabs say they are ready to make peace with Israel.

Secretary Rogers said it was his impression from the talks he had held in New York during the previous days that all of the Arabs were ready to say that. The Israelis may suspect that the Arabs do not mean it but the purpose of a negotiation would be to determine how serious they are and what specific arrangements they are ready to agree to.

Ambassador Rabin said he had no evidence that, when the Arabs say they want peace, they mean they want peace with Israel. They always talk about “peace in the Middle East” and that is very different from “peace with Israel.” Secretary Rogers asked who else the Arabs would be making peace with “in the Middle East” and then said, referring to Rabin’s comment that the phrase “with Israel” is essential, “we can get them to say that.”

Secretary Rogers then asked whether it would be sufficient for Israel’s needs if the US could persuade the Arabs to say it is ready to make “peace with Israel.” Ambassador Rabin said “fine.”

Mr. Sisco said that we could not be absolutely sure what Foreign Minister Riad had meant by his willingness to use the same procedures that had been used at Rhodes. We will have to clarify this point and we cannot be certain until we have just exactly what the Arabs have in mind.

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[GAP: Note-taker called out]

Secretary Rogers assured Ambassador Rabin that there is no doubt in Gromyko’s mind that any settlement will have to provide for execution of agreements on all the issues involved. It is absolutely clear from their conversations, that Gromyko understands what the word “pack-age” means.

Ambassador Rabin cautioned that we should not become too deeply involved simply in the mechanics of a possible meeting and that we must keep in mind the fact that a declaration of purpose was part of the Rhodes formula. The Secretary said he hesitated to overstress this point. The Security Council Resolution of November 1967 seemed to him a reasonable starting point. If we start debating the purpose again, we will have to go back through the whole argument over what the Security Council Resolution means. He suggested that we not reopen that issue again but that we get on with the business of figuring out what the parties need now. Apparently Riad would like some sort of renunciation of “Israeli expansionism” and undoubtedly he reads that as complete Israeli withdrawal. That is just one example of the kind of issue we now have to face, but that is the reason for having a negotiation—because there are such areas of disagreement. Debating the purpose of the exercise will not necessarily bring the discussion to the key substantive points, so it would be more desirable to get on with the negotiation as soon as possible.

Dr. Herzog commented that if indeed the Secretary is right and the Arabs do now seem more willing to make peace with Israel, this means that time has not worked against peace. He recalled the lengthy debates between us and the Israelis a year ago over whose side time worked on and simply noted that, if what the Secretary says is true, this is a commentary on that earlier debate over strategy.

Secretary Rogers said that he would not conclude that another two and one half years would improve the situation further. He asked Dr. Herzog whether that was the conclusion he was suggesting. Dr. Herzog replied that he was not. He was simply noting that time had softened the UAR.

Secretary Rogers acknowledged that he did not intend to be over optimistic. There is no question that the Egyptians see negotiations their way.

Dr. Herzog noted that the latest spanner Nasser seemed to have thrown into the works was the notion that Egypt could not speak for the Palestinians. Secretary Rogers noted that Riad had again thrown out the idea of Israel’s need to expand. Ambassador Rabin said he could not believe that the Egyptians really believed that point. All they have to do is to look at the land area of Israel to see that Israel has plenty of land now to expand into. The growth of the Israeli state is not [Page 182] a matter of increasing land areas but rather a question of developing industry and water resources.

Mr. Sisco noted that he does not believe the Arabs now have any quarrel with the notion of their recognizing Israel. Ambassador Rabin questioned Mr. Sisco’s use of the word “recognition.” He noted that the word had not been used in the Security Council Resolution.

Secretary Rogers said that when he had gone to New York he had had doubts about the intentions of the Soviet Union and the Arabs. After talking with both there,6 he said, “I think I’ve changed my mind.” While the USSR and the UAR may not be ready to make peace entirely on Israel’s terms, he believed that they do seriously want a solution. Gromyko had even indicated that the Arabs have no other choice.

Mr. Sisco underscored the last point by emphasizing that the one theme that comes through in all of the conversations in New York is that there is no real alternative to make a political agreement with Israel.

Secretary Rogers noted that Gromyko, while fully appreciating the hard Egyptian position, seemed to indicate some flexibility in the Soviet position. He cited an exchange with Gromyko in which Gromyko had asked whether Secretary Rogers felt a solution was possible with complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. When Secretary Rogers had replied that he did not, Gromyko had said only that he was disappointed. He felt that any such solution would violate international law. Any solution not involving complete Israeli withdrawal would be hard for the Egyptians to face. Secretary Rogers had recalled that the US and USSR had been allies in World War II, and the political agreements ending that war had involved territorial changes and that had not bothered Moscow. Gromyko had replied only that “parallels don’t help.” Secretary Rogers concluded by noting that Gromyko was not arguing the substance of the point—only the political implications.

Dr. Kissinger noted that he had seen Gromyko for only five minutes at the President’s reception in New York and Gromyko had [Page 183] singled out the Middle East as an area where the Soviets want to make progress. He had only complained that “Joe Sisco was too tough.”

Dr. Herzog commented that the ups and downs in Cairo have always perplexed Israel. Mr. Sisco noted that we are very cautious about our interpretation of what goes on in Cairo. Ambassador Rabin said that there is no doubt that the Egyptians are pressed and that the Russians are under increasing pressure to show that they can get back Egypt’s conquered territories. Mr. Bitan noted that there is internal trouble in the UAR. He felt that one of the most important objectives for the USSR is to keep Nasser alive.

Secretary Rogers cautioned that he did not want to leave the impression with the Israelis that Foreign Minister Riad had said anything to suggest weakness in Egypt’s negotiating stance. At the same time, he had very much taken the line that Egypt has no other choice than to press for a political settlement. Secretary Rogers noted that it is always true in a negotiation that both sides are trying to get the best deal they can but he did not feel that should deter negotiations. Surely, the Israelis are smart enough to hold their own in a negotiation.

Mr. Sisco turned attention to Jordan, asking what sense the Israelis have of what is going on there.

Dr. Herzog replied that the King’s position is not as endangered as some people think. By any normal measurement, the King should be in a terrible position with a substantial portion of his territory occupied and with Iraqi, Syrian and Saudi troops on his soil as well as Egyptian installations. Despite this, there seems to be no desire by the fedayeen to overthrow the regime. Moreover, the Israelis believe that Nasser has no desire to overthrow Hussein because he wants to keep alive an Arab link to the US. The major elements of the army seem loyal to the monarchy. Orders do not always get carried out but basically loyalty seems to remain.

Dr. Herzog continued that he did not feel Hussein had ever received a complete go-ahead from Nasser to negotiate. The substantive limitations on Nasser’s go-ahead had been such as to be a practical red light. Given the pressures on Hussein over the last few months, Hussein seems to have felt that he had to move more on the Cairo axis. For this reason, any separate settlement between Israel and Jordan seems remote—“for all Hussein’s desire for peace.”

Dr. Herzog summarized by saying that the desire for peace remains, Hussein’s survival is not immediately endangered and the attraction of a close relationship with Cairo is deeper than ever. There is no evidence that Hussein is balancing the US against the USSR. He is basically pro-Western and does not seem to be turning to Moscow, despite occasional tactical threats to us to do so.

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Mr. Sisco noted that it was interesting in Foreign Minister Riad’s speech that he spoke first about Jordan and Jerusalem. Ambassador Rabin read this as a clear warning from Nasser to Jordan not to do anything to move toward a separate settlement with Israel.

Dr. Herzog noted that Hussein probably felt he had made a historic slip to let the fatah get as deeply entrenched in Jordan as they are, though there was little Hussein could do about it now.

The conversation then drifted off to a number of specific items—the current state of US efforts to arrange for delivery of the Phantoms by other than USAF pilots; the latest US efforts to persuade the Syrians to release the Israeli TWA passengers in Damascus; and then general personal recollections of the US landings in Lebanon in 1958.

Harold H. Saunders7
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1237, Saunders Files, Chronological Files, Israel. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Saunders on September 30. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. All brackets are in the original. “Draft” is written at the top of the first page.
  2. Nixon and Meir met from 10:47 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. but no record of the meeting has been found. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) In her memoirs, Meir recalled that she presented Nixon with a “shopping list” of military hardware, including a “specific request” of 25 Phantoms and 80 Skyhawk jets. She also asked Nixon for an annual $200 million low interest loan for five years to help pay for the planes Israel intended to buy. (Meir, My Life, pp. 387–391) In a telephone conversation with Kissinger at 5:20 p.m. on September 27, Meir asked for—and received—confirmation that the President put no conditions on his consideration of the Israeli request for aircraft. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 2, Chronological File) Kissinger recounted that the President provided Meir with a formula that he would trade “hardware for software.” According to Kissinger, “this meant that [Nixon] would be responsive to Israeli requests for armaments if Israel gave us some latitude in negotiations, which he strongly implied he would ensure would not amount to much. It would be too much to claim that Mrs. Meir agreed; more accurate to say she acquiesced in a formulation whose meaning only the future would reveal.” (Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 370–371)

    Nixon and Meir also discussed Israel’s nuclear program and the channel of communication between their two governments. In a November 6 memorandum to the President, Kissinger wrote that “As confirmed in your talk with Golda Meir . . . the NPT will be held in abeyance until after the forthcoming elections, that the ‘introduction’ issues remain somewhat ambiguous and that there will be no operational deployment of nuclear capable missiles for at least three years.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 605, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. III). With regard to the channel of communication between the United States and Israel, Rabin recalled that in his talk with Meir, Nixon proposed that “the two of them set up a line for direct communication, and at a further meeting between them the exact channel was marked out: Kissinger, acting on behalf of the President, would approach me, and I would transmit his message directly to Golda’s personal assistant, Simcha Dinitz, in Jerusalem. The prime minister would do the same in reverse. At the president’s request, Golda approved the suggestion.” (Rabin, The Rabin Memoirs, p. 154)

  3. The Rhodes procedure was used by UN Acting Mediator Ralph Bunche to negotiate the Armistice Agreements signed on the island of Rhodes that ended the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948–1949. The negotiations involved separate meetings by Bunche with each delegation on substantive terms until discussions reached an advanced stage, at which point joint informal meetings were held.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 39.
  5. See footnote 5, Document 50.
  6. A summary of the Rogers-Gromyko talks in New York is printed as Document 53. Rogers also met with Meir on September 25 in New York and explained to her that the United States shared Israel’s doubts about the Soviet-UAR desire for peace. Furthermore, he assured her that the United States was “not seeking to develop peace terms for imposition on parties but only to reach agreement on as many points as possible” so that the parties “could negotiate remaining differences.” But he urged Israel to “drop insistence on face-to-face negotiations at outset and enter negotiations on Rhodes model” of indirect talks under Jarring that would lead to direct talks, if the Arab states said publicly that they would make peace with Israel. Meir responded that Israel would consider such a suggestion “if and when [the Arab states] made simple statement that they were prepared to sign peace agreement with Israel.” (Telegram 163837 to Tel Aviv, September 26; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 604, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. II)
  7. Printed from a copy that bears his typed signature.