273. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Additional Comments on the Soviet Position on Jordan

The approach made by Vorontsov to Davies bears out the main point in my earlier memo on Soviet reactions;2 namely, that the Soviets vastly prefer to insulate the Jordanian crisis, even if the fedayeen are defeated, but are especially worried over Israeli intervention. Indeed, if Vorontsov’s statement can be accepted at face value the Soviets are at least using some of their political capital to restrain Syria and Iraq and the UAR, and in effect are virtually appealing to us for restraint.


As to the prospect of our involvement, the Soviet approach in Washington as well as the remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Kuznetsov to Beam in Moscow and public output also tend to bear out what we said in yesterday’s memo; that is, that the Soviets would not intervene militarily but would not stand by without raising a major campaign against us. As Beam pointed out the Soviets probably feel that Kuznetsov has passed a warning to reinforce the more formal diplomatic demands of Vorontsov, who really did not touch directly on our possible intervention.

Again, there are two aspects that deeply concern the Soviets as Kuznetsov mentioned. First, outside intervention risks “widening hostilities.” Second, it creates difficulties for all nations which have “interests in the area.” The Soviet interests are plain. They want to forestall situations which could force them into the unpalatable decision of going to the defense of the Arab states with their own personnel. This means primarily to avoid Israeli involvement, and a resumption of fighting along the canal (at least until they are ready for it). Second, they want to demonstrate to us, to the Arabs, and to the world at large that the Middle East is a Soviet preserve where the US can no longer [Page 763] act with impunity. But the situation in Jordan and our possible intervention might force the Russians to choose between protecting their clients at considerable new risks to themselves and accepting the fact that they cannot yet dictate American policy in the area.

I understand that at the WSAG the consensus was if any intervention is necessary, it should be done by Israel rather than the US.3 While not arguing the relative effectiveness of Israeli vs. US intervention, I want to stress that from the Soviet viewpoint American intervention is more tolerable than Israeli. American intervention could be dealt with in the Great Power context, and, from the Soviet viewpoint, somehow managed. But Israeli intervention raises new questions and above all, the risks that the whole area will lapse into unrestrained warfare, bringing into play Soviet commitments and the probable involvement of Soviet personnel in the UAR.

One further aspect of this crisis is that it may be bringing home to the Soviets the risks they have run lately in upsetting the ceasefire standstill. As I noted in my memo of a few days ago,4 there was some sign of Soviet apprehension in the Vinogradov–Beam talk,5 and a hint of willingness to talk about rectification. The latest démarche on Jordan suggests that the Soviets may believe that some gesture on the UAR-Israeli front may be necessary to limit the chances of our or Israeli intervention in Jordan.

In Sum: the type of intervention that might be most dramatic but least effective in terms of controlling the situation on the ground in Jordan may be least likely to produce direct Soviet intervention; whereas the intervention most likely in the short run, at least, to be effective in controlling the situation on the ground (Israeli) may be most likely to produce Soviet intervention because it is most likely to reopen general Arab-Israeli hostilities and hence involve Soviet commitments and personnel.

The Soviets clearly prefer neither form of intervention even though, on balance, they would probably prefer to see the King remain in power.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 615, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, Vol. V. Secret; Sensitive; Outside System. Urgent; Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the top of the first page.
  2. See Documents 265 and 266.
  3. See Document 267.
  4. Apparently a reference to Sonnenfeldt’s September 16 memorandum; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 205.
  5. Beam reported on his meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Vinogradov on September 3 to discuss violation of the UAR-Israeli cease-fire in telegram 5076 from Moscow, September 3, 2000Z. See ibid., Document 201.