67. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Middle East Settlement Efforts

I want to review the current state of our efforts to achieve a Middle East settlement, the immediate decisions we face, and the courses of action for the future which we recommend for your approval.

Politically, the situation in the area has become more difficult for us and our friends. While the Lebanese crisis has temporarily abated, the basic aims of the Palestinian militants and of the Lebanese Government remain incompatible and the situation is therefore extremely fragile. In addition, the meeting of Arab Foreign and Defense Ministers,2 which has just ended, highlighted and gave further emphasis to the strong anti-U.S. currents in the Arab world. It also further crystallized Arab frustrations at the lack of progress toward a political settlement, reflected the increasingly fatalistic attitude that another war is inevitable and strengthened the hand of the Palestinian militants and their supporters such as Syria. The summit conference of Arab Chiefs of State now scheduled to open in Rabat December 203 will give impetus to these trends if they are not reversed, will lock the Arabs further into postures making the chances for a peaceful settlement even slimmer and could bring a formal Arab renunciation of peace efforts based on the November 22, 1967 Security Council Resolution. In this atmosphere the remaining moderate Arab governments feel increasingly beleaguered, the most dramatic example being that Hussein has put out strong feelers to the Soviets for meeting certain needs for arms.

On the Israeli side, the Government of Israel has staked out its firm opposition to the positions we have taken in the major power talks. This opposition is likely to increase in the days ahead, and criticism from the Jewish community in the U.S. is likely to grow, particularly if we go much beyond our present position. In Israel, as the maneuvering for the formation of a new Government goes forward, Prime Minister [Page 222] Meir is seeking to retain elbow room to negotiate a settlement with the Arabs if Israel’s minimum condition is met—i.e., an Arab willingness to sit down and negotiate peace with Israel.

In our bilateral talks with the Soviets, we have made a major effort to reach agreement with them on a package framework for an Israeli-UAR settlement based on the trade-off of: (a) an Israeli commitment to withdraw to the former international frontier with Egypt; and (b) a UAR commitment to peace, including control of guerrilla activity, and to negotiate detailed security arrangements and related matters with Israel according to the flexible negotiating procedures followed by the parties at Rhodes in 1949.

While recognizing that prospects were slim, our objective has been to achieve an agreed US-Soviet document along these lines that could be turned over to the Four Powers and then to Ambassador Jarring to help him renew the dialogue among the parties. It now appears that the reaction to our efforts on an Israeli-UAR document will lead to further protracted discussion. The initial UAR reaction is negative, largely on the grounds that the document we have been developing with the Soviets leaves the question of a Jordanian settlement (including particularly the territorial aspects) untouched and requires the parties themselves to work out such issues as Sharm al-Shaykh and Gaza instead of providing a complete blueprint which would exclude Israel from any say in these questions vital to its security. We expect that the Soviets will neither accept nor reject our latest effort but rather will seek to negotiate it into a document conforming more closely to what the UAR desires. The British are wobbly, and the French are likely to be unhelpful.

This will give us great difficulties which arise largely because, as the other major powers spell out the terms of a settlement, we will be pressed to take positions on which we cannot produce Israel, given its strong feeling that the settlement terms should be negotiated directly between it and the Arabs.

Against the foregoing background, we face two urgent decisions:

1. Do we return to the Four Power forum or disengage; the British, French and Soviets are pressing for an early resumption. The Soviets have probably concluded we will go no further in the bilateral context than our present proposals which are, in our judgment, balanced, fair to both sides, and defensible to public opinion at home and abroad.

2. What to do about the Jordanian aspect of a settlement, which involves not only many of the same issues as a UAR settlement but the more complicated questions of refugees, Jerusalem and the West Bank border between Israel and Jordan within the former Palestine mandate area where no recognized international boundary has ever existed.

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Four Power Talks: Do We Resume Or Do We Disengage?

The signs are clear that the French will not stand with us. They are willing to go beyond our position substantively for two principal reasons: they properly assess the chances for a settlement as slim and therefore want to be sure the positions they adopt will help to bolster and bulwark their position primarily in the Arab world; and their approach to achieving a settlement is different than ours. They lay greater store than we do on the possibility of the weight of a Four Power consensus on the parties, and more particularly its effect on Israel. A failure to convince Israel would be our failure and not theirs; therefore, they have a relatively free ride in the Four Power context. The foregoing pressures also operate on the British, and their firm support is not assured; they are inclined more than the French to avoid a break with us.

There is a case to be made for the U.S. to refuse to agree to resumed Four Power meetings as long as we and the Soviets remain unagreed on the Israeli-UAR Joint Working Document (TAB A).4 Submitting the joint US–USSR document without Soviet agreement will inevitably invite U.K. and French whittling away and lead to digging ourselves deeply into a substantive position on which there will be no real hope of producing Israel. It can also be argued that while Nasser’s reaction is unpredictable, U.S. unwillingness to engage in Four Power talks would be a clear signal that the Four Powers are unable to produce for him the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied, territories. As long as there was serious hope of a common US–USSR position, the Israeli argument that the Four Power forum provided Nasser an instrument to escape his responsibilities was open to serious doubt. There is more substance to this argument today.

On the other hand, such a move would appear to the world that the U.S. was giving up and, therefore, blocking further peace efforts; our position in the Arab world would further deteriorate even to the point where American lives and property could be put into jeopardy; the pressures on Lebanon and Saudi Arabia would continue to increase; and this would be a strong blow to King Hussein, whose continuing desire to make peace needs all the moral and political support we can muster. In these circumstances, we could expect that the December 20th Arab summit meeting would decide formally to close the door on a political solution. I reluctantly conclude therefore, with all of the difficulties that I foresee, that we should agree to renewal of the Four Power meetings beginning on November 21.

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The question will immediately arise: what should the Four Powers focus on? The Soviets will probably press for an across-the-board approach dealing with the entire problem in all its aspects and especially with the question of total Israeli withdrawal everywhere including Syria and Jerusalem as well as Sinai and the West Bank. We cannot support such a position because we could not produce Israel. From our viewpoint, one possible counter to so unproductive an approach would be to table the paper we have developed for an Israel-UAR settlement. We may want to table it in the Four Power forum at some point, but I would not want to do this unless the French and the British are first firmly tied down. We have in mind the possibility of personal messages from you to Wilson and Pompidou at an appropriate stage. In the unlikely event the Soviets accept the bulk of the joint US–USSR document, or if necessary to pin down the UK and French, there are only two additional changes in the paper on an Israel-UAR settlement which we should be prepared to make: (a) a cosmetic change in the paragraph dealing with the Israeli-UAR border (Point 3) which would improve its presentational form from the Arab point of view; and (b) an addition to Point 4 to clarify that neither Israel nor the UAR would lay claim to Gaza.

These two changes will add to Israel’s concern over the proposed document on an Israel-UAR settlement. They are, however, consistent with the basic principles guiding our approach to a settlement and fully protect Israel’s interests by providing for Israeli participation in negotiating security arrangements on the ground. I do not believe we should go any further than this in modifying our position on an Israel-UAR settlement as reflected in the current U.S.–USSR Working Paper. Furthermore, I believe we must make clear to the British and French that we will not discuss that paper in the Four, and will reconsider the whole question of our continued participation in that forum, unless they commit themselves not to seek to whittle away our position, particularly as it relates to the concept of neutral formulations for the parties to negotiate: (a) practical security arrangements for Sharm al-Shaykh and Gaza; and (b) areas to be demilitarized. If the Four Powers pronounce themselves on these, what chance we have of producing Israel will be doomed. Israel will say, with some validity, what is there left to negotiate on the UAR-Israeli aspect? We will be pressed by the other three to “impose” this on Israel; it is naive for Foreign Minister Stewart to say that no nation can long refuse a solution agreed upon by the Four Powers and backed by the weight of world opinion. No nation other than Israel, that is. I doubt we can defend such a line here at home without jeopardizing support from certain elements of public opinion of our stance on Vietnam.

If we do not begin with a UAR-Israel settlement in the Four Power forum, the alternative—and the one I recommend—is that we agree [Page 225] that the Four Powers resume and propose that they consider the Israeli-Jordanian aspect of a settlement. The British and French are anxious for us to join them in calling an early meeting of the Four Powers, and we propose to use the leverage this gives us to seek to line up as much of their support as possible in advance for steering the Four Power talks in this direction.

Jordanian Part of Settlement

Neither the Soviets nor the Egyptians are likely to make final commitments on the UAR-Israeli part of the settlement until they know more about the shape of the Jordanian settlement. Hussein himself is very anxious for the U.S. to become more directly involved on the Jordanian part. He does not want, nor do we want, a Soviet broker. We believe, therefore, that in the days ahead we should concentrate on this part of the settlement in two ways: (a) Ambassador Yost would engage in discussions on this aspect in the Four Power context; (b) we will raise with Israel and Jordan at an early date whether they would agree to the U.S. playing a singular middle man role between them while the Four Power talks are going on to see whether there is some common ground that can be developed between them.

We have given considerable thought to both the tactics and the substance of the U.S. position on the Jordanian aspect in the Four Power forum. We have concluded that tactically there is merit in letting the British and French take the lead on the Jordanian aspect and for us to try to assume a lower silhouette in the Four Power forum. Substantively we believe Ambassador Yost should stay within the confines of the document setting forth the framework for an Israeli-Jordanian settlement which I sent you on October 10. I now recommend that Ambassador Yost be authorized to use this document (TAB B)5 as guidance for the position he would take in reacting to proposals by others in the Four Power discussions; he would not table this paper and would ask for further instructions on any proposals that go beyond it.

Policy Statement

While the foregoing moves are in train, we also want to take steps to get the elements of our position on an overall Arab-Israeli settlement on the public record in an effort to make clear that it is basically a balanced position and not simply a carbon copy of Israeli views. Israel is already criticizing our position publicly, and such an effort on our part is not likely to come as a surprise to them even though they would clearly prefer that we not make this effort. Such an effort will not satisfy [Page 226] the Arab extremists, but it will be difficult for either side or world opinion to criticize objectively and will be of some help to our beleaguered friends in the Arab world. I will be sending you shortly for your review the text of a speech I propose to make very soon outlining the elements of our Middle East policy.

William P. Rogers 6
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 650, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Negotiations. Secret; Nodis.
  2. The Arab League’s Joint Defense Council met in Cairo November 8–10.
  3. The Arab League summit was held in Rabat December 21–23. Sisco summarized the results of the summit in an information memorandum to Rogers, January 6, 1970, printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970, Document 18.
  4. Attached at Tab A is the “U.S.–USSR Joint Working Paper on Israel-UAR Settlement.” It is printed as Document 58.
  5. Attached but not printed at Tab B is the paper “Fundamental Principles for Israel-Jordan Settlement.”
  6. Rogers initialed “WPR” above his typed signature.