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


  • US–USSR Middle East Negotiations in New York

Secretary Rogers and Gromyko failed to make progress toward coming up with a common document during their final meeting in New York. The Soviet strategy now appears to be to get a commitment to total Israeli withdrawal from Sinai and Gaza to the pre-war lines in return for their agreeing to Rhodes type negotiations (interpreted the [Page 185] Arab way)2 and peace after Israeli withdrawal has been completed and without an explicit commitment to control the fedayeen. Secretary Rogers does not believe that this is a satisfactory deal and has therefore held basically to our present position and did not put our fallback position on the table. The talks will now shift back to Washington with Joe Sisco and Dobrynin picking them up again next week.3

Summarized below is where we stand with the Soviets on the major points after the negotiations in New York:

1. The Soviets will accept the Rhodes formula if we will be more specific on the UAR border. Secretary Rogers avoided being more specific on the borders because of disagreement on a number of other points in the package. On the Rhodes formula, the Secretary made clear that we are not insisting on a joint meeting of the parties at the outset and that it was advantageous not to be too precise on the details so that both parties can justify it. Gromyko had a different set of facts than ours on the Rhodes formula. While he started out by insisting that there should be an understanding between us on what it means, he seemed to be pressing this less after Secretary Rogers had explained the advantages of ambiguity.

2. We and the Soviets agree on the principle of cessation of war and the establishment of a state of peace. The Soviets, however, continue to insist that a juridical state of peace can come only after all Israeli withdrawals are completed. This is consistent with the longstanding Arab view. The Israelis, on the other hand, refuse to withdraw an inch until peace is established and all elements of the package in force.

3. The Soviets are still also insisting on a reference to the Constantinople Convention with the language concerning freedom of passage through the Suez Canal.

4. On Gaza, the Soviets want a clear-cut statement of Arab sovereignty, total withdrawal of Israeli forces, the establishment of a UN force, and reinstitution of the UAR administration that existed before the war. We stuck to our position that all options on the ultimate status of Gaza must be kept open, leaving the concerned parties to work out a solution.

5. A preliminary understanding has been reached by Joe Sisco and Dobrynin to drop any reference to refugees. The Soviets can not agree [Page 186] that the principle of choice to refugees should be balanced by an annual quota.

6. The Soviets still hold the view that the UN force should be established in Sharm el-Sheikh. Secretary Rogers maintained that practical security arrangements in Sharm el-Sheikh, the establishment of demilitarized zones, and the final disposition of Gaza must be negotiated with the parties on the basis of the Rhodes formula.

7. We and the Soviets have been agreed for some time on Arab recognition of Israel’s right to live in peace.

Conclusion: The long and short of this is that we may move toward a much shorter document containing only the key elements. That would leave the tough issues for negotiation, which would suit Israel. Our work would be cut out for us, but we would at least be working in a negotiating context.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 650, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Negotiations, July 1–October 1969. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the first page reads: “HAK has seen.” Attached but not printed are telegrams 3324 from USUN, October 1, which reported Rogers’s meeting with Gromyko that day, and telegram 3322 from USUN, October 1, which reported Sisco’s meeting with Dobrynin on September 29.
  2. See Document 52 and footnote 3 thereto. A difference of opinion arose between Egyptian and Israeli officials as to the meaning of the “Rhodes formula,” with the former interpreting it as indirect talks between the parties while the latter believed it suggested preliminary indirect talks that eventually led to direct ones.
  3. Sisco and Dobrynin did not meet until October 28. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 98.