21. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting of CENTO Ministers with the President


  • The President
  • The Secretary of State, William Rogers
  • Assistant to the President, Henry A. Kissinger
  • Assistant Secretary of State, Joseph J. Sisco
  • NSC Staff Member, Harold H. Saunders
  • Multilateral Organization Advisor, William Helseth
  • Foreign Minister Michael Stewart (UK)
  • Ambassador (to Washington) John Freeman (UK)
  • Foreign Minister Ihsan Sabri Caglayangil (Turkey)
  • Ambassador (to Washington) Melhi Esenbel (Turkey)
  • Foreign Minister Ardeshir Zahedi (Iran)
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Ambassador (to Washington) Aslan Afshar (Iran)

Ambassador (to Washington) Agha Hilaly (Pakistan)

Ambassador (to Turkey) Iftikar Ali (Pakistan)

Secretary-General, CENTO, Turgut Menemencioglu

After a brief picture taking session, Secretary Rogers told the President that the group had dealt in its morning session with CENTO organizational issues. He was happy to report that there are no major problems. Bilateral discussions among members of the group would begin after the meeting with the President, and the group would review the general international situation in its formal session the following morning as well as continuing bilateral meetings later in the day.

The President spoke briefly on three issues—the Middle East, Vietnam and U.S.-Soviet relations.

On the Middle East, he noted that the Soviets are now there in a deeper and more potentially dangerous role. They have their own interests to pursue, and the U.S. is watching them with some concern. The U.S. continues its dedication to trying to help the nations on the ground find the way to peace. As he had said on previous occasions, the U.S. is “neither pro-Arab nor pro-Israel but pro-peace.” Unfortunately, he could not report his hope for an early breakthrough.

In Southeast Asia, the U.S. is attempting to find a stability for the situation there. In some senses, the U.S. purpose there is the same as it is in the area of the CENTO nations—stabilizing a dangerous situation so that all the nations of that region can find security and an opportunity to move ahead with their own development.

On U.S.-Soviet relations, the President began by commenting that the U.S. is “very far” from the Soviet Union on Vietnam. The U.S. can understand the reasons for the Soviet position since the USSR must, in the context of the world communist movement, compete with the Communist Chinese. We understand, though we do not welcome, the Soviet position. In the Middle East, the Soviet Union has its own interests to pursue. There is a tendency among many people to see the entire Middle East situation as a confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The President said he hoped that this was a belief that would never become widely held. However, he could unhappily see no change soon in the Soviet position there. He turned then to what he said he regarded as perhaps the overriding issue between the U.S. and the USSR—the strategic arms limitation talks in Vienna. He said that while he could be described as pessimistic about the situations in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, he could be described as optimistic—for somewhat negative and pessimistic reasons—about the negotiations in Vienna. Whereas on the first two issues the U.S. and USSR have their very different interests to pursue, on the strategic arms question both sides have their own very strong reasons for wanting an [Page 67] agreement. Each has enough weapons to blow up each other and a good bit of the world besides, and the weapons are a major financial drain.

The President said, however, that he did want to assure his friends as he had our NATO allies that the U.S. does not intend to take a position that would weaken it vis-à-vis the USSR. This is not just a question of national prestige or the United States wanting to be the first power in the world. He thought it crucial that the leading power who wants nothing more than to defend its friends and its own interests should not be in a weak position in relation to that leading world power which for reasons of its own ideology has as its objective the expansion of its own influence.

The President said that he was aware that a lot of critics feel that this U.S. Administration has over-used the word “consultation.” But he takes “consultation” very seriously. What he means by it is that there will be no effort by the U.S. to achieve a “cynical condominium” whereby the U.S. and the Soviet Union attempt to reach accords for their own sakes without reference to the interests of their friends. The President, in completing his comments on the Vienna talks, noted as evidence of the Soviet interest in an agreement the fact that Chairman Kosygin had in denouncing U.S. action in Cambodia not broken off the Vienna talks. We expected that the Soviet Union would criticize us for Cambodia just as the U.S. had criticized the USSR for its action in Czechoslovakia.

The President concluded by saying that he would like to hear the views of his visitors.

Secretary Rogers said in passing that there were of course differences between the situation in Czechoslovakia and in Cambodia. The U.S. in Southeast Asia would welcome the attention of an international body to go and see what is going on there, whereas the Soviet Union had rejected that sort of effort in Czechoslovakia. The Secretary then asked the Secretary General if he had a few comments to make.

Ambassador Menemencioglu noted that CENTO is very “loose” in its status, not like NATO. The association is based on a series of separate agreements and some bilateral arrangements which the U.S. has with each of its members. The strength of the organization has not been in its legal framework but has rather been in the common interests which the members share.

The Ambassador concluded his remarks by saying that he appreciated the recognition by the President of the importance of the Middle East. The Soviet fleet has become just the latest evidence of a strong Soviet play for influence in this area.

The President interjected to agree that the real contest is not over Israel but for Soviet influence in the Mediterranean, in Africa and in the seas beyond the Suez Canal.

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Foreign Minister Zahedi noted that the situation in the Middle East had become worse over the past year. He particularly noted the deterioration of the situation in Jordan where the extremist elements had become more powerful. He felt that the members of CENTO could help nations like Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia if they themselves were strong. The Foreign Minister then noted the dangerous situation in the Persian Gulf where the Soviets backed the Iraqis and were potentially a source of trouble. He said that the CENTO members wanted to do what they could themselves to preserve the stability of this area. He noted the importance of the oil which transits this area not only for the economic progress of the nations on the Gulf but also for the financial position of the UK and the oil supply of Western Europe. In this connection, he noted that the Iranian Government had just reached a satisfactory agreement with the oil consortium.

There was a brief jocular exchange alluding to the fact that Iranian bargainers are never satisfied, and then the Secretary of State asked the Turkish Foreign Minister whether he had any general comments to make.

Foreign Minister Caglayangil said he agreed with the general point of view expressed by Foreign Minister Zahedi. He felt that the central question as far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned is whether there will simply be a solution to the war of 1967 or whether there will be a solution to the Palestine problem. He felt that international organs— the Four Power talks or the UN Security Council—were not likely to find a solution. Meanwhile, the conflict is turning into a war of national liberation and therefore becoming much more difficult to solve. He felt that the situation in a country like Jordan could not go on much longer as it is, and that a drastic change in the balance of forces within Jordan could not help but have an effect in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the area. He felt that it was important at this time to come to the assistance of such countries as Jordan.

In the Persian Gulf, he continued, perhaps the best forum for dealing with those problems there is CENTO.

The President interjected to ask whether he was referring to a military agreement among the CENTO partners for this purpose, and the Foreign Minister of Turkey replied that he would think in terms of consultation.

The President asked how such a consultative group would deal with revolutionary forces and a revolutionary situation in the Gulf. Foreign Minister Zahedi, picking up the tenor of his earlier remarks, said that the advantage of having the nations on the ground strong enough to deal with the situation was that they could move quickly and deal with the situation before outside powers such as the Soviet Union became involved and the problem was escalated to the Great Power level. In response to a direct question from the President, Zahedi said Iran [Page 69] could and would “gladly” act in this manner if it possessed the requisite military strength.

In respect to the President’s request for his comments, Ambassador Hilaly said that he shared the concern of his colleagues about the Middle East. On the one hand, military power rests on one side, but on the other hand 100 million Arabs will not forever stand aside for that power. Israel’s present policy will not be in its best interest because Israel can only survive by reaching an accommodation with its neighbors. For the moment, however, he felt that the situation could only worsen.

Ambassador Hilaly continued that the nations of the area—each of them in its own way—must be helped to be strong. Pakistan, which has its own problem with the arms balance being upset in India’s favor in the subcontinent, cannot do its share in the Alliance because it is weak and badly in need of arms supply. For the sake of stability, Pakistan should not feel weak. All Pakistan asks is that its Allies help it with military aid so that Pakistan can be a loyal and strong ally in return.

The President interjected that the arms question has been a terribly difficult one for us. We recall the days—“they were good days”— when the U.S. had a close relationship with Pakistan in the 1950s, and “we are trying to work our way back to a similarly close relationship. We have been looking very closely at the arms situation.”

The President continued by saying that he wanted the group to know that the U.S. had also been considering very carefully what it can do to help Jordan. The question is whether or not Jordan can survive. Foreign Minister Zahedi said he thought it could.

The President said that he had asked about how to deal with the problem of revolutionary forces in the Persian Gulf but he wondered about revolutionary forces in each of the countries. For instance, he asked Foreign Minister Caglayangil what he could say about revolutionary forces in Turkey. “Are they ready to blow?”

Foreign Minister Caglayangil said that of course leftist forces in Turkey have freedom of expression in the press and politically. They therefore appear to be stronger than they are. He felt, however, that the leftist forces had reached a high point and would now decline in influence. In any case, Turkey was prepared to cope with them.

Foreign Minister Zahedi said that Iran felt that the only answer was to stay one step ahead of the revolutionary forces in thinking of the things they were pressing for before they themselves started pressing. He noted smilingly that the situation in Iran was not like that in the United States; people there did not yet have everything they needed.

In closing, the President asked Ambassador Hilaly how things were in East Pakistan. The Ambassador replied that they had become a little better. The President thanked him for the good reception that our astronauts had had in Dacca.

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The meeting closed with the President jokingly saying that he did not have any very formal gifts for the group such as he had often received on his travels abroad. He did recall, however, that there had been a bill signing in the Cabinet Room that morning and that it was his custom at such occasions to hand out pens with his signature on them. He gave each of the visitors one of these pens saying that it was “a little something that they could take home to their children.”

Harold H. Saunders2
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, CENTO 3 US (WA). Secret. The meeting occurred in the White House Cabinet Room. Background information on the meeting, biographical information, lists of attendees, and Talking Points are in a May 13 memorandum from Rogers to Nixon (ibid.), and in a May 14 memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 212, Agency Files, CENTO)
  2. Printed from a copy with this typed signature.