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180. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger1

N: Hi, Henry, how are you?

K: Okay.

N: Anything new this morning?

K: Yes, the Egyptians have launched a big offensive and it’s hard to know exactly what is going on in an early stage of an offensive.

N: Of course.

K: The Israelis have claimed that they’ve knocked out 150 tanks and that they’ve lost about 15 of their own. But that in itself would not prove anything—it depends where they get to. The last information we have that is not absolutely firm is that they may have reached close to the Mitla pass which is about 30 kilometers from the Canal, and which would be the key Israeli defensive position—it’s about a 1/3rd of the way into Sinai and it would be a rather—

N: As a matter of fact though at this point—the main thing is who wins this damn battle—it isn’t the territory you know—that is what we must remember about WW I and II—you can give up gobs of territory, the question is do you beat the enemy. Now if the Israelis let them—I think they ought to let them in there and kill them.

K: That’s right. The Israelis—there are two possibilities, one that the Israelis are trying to draw them beyond the SAM belt in order to knock out a lot of their forces and in that case, the battle could be fairly decisive—the other is that the Israelis are really in trouble and we should know that by tonight in any event—I think that makes clear why that peace move couldn’t work yesterday. I don’t think the Egyptians were ready until they launched an attack.

N: That’s right. And basically they told—the Russians might have wanted—we haven’t heard anything more from the Russians?

K: No, but that’s a little early. I’m certain we will before the end of the day.

N: What then—we have in effect told the Russians to—

K: The issue now is this, Mr. President. As of yesterday, we started out with the idea of cease-fire and a return to the pre-hostilities lines.

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Incidentally should the Israelis clobber the Egyptians that will turn out to be a pretty good position. Then we move to a simple ceasefire. The Egyptians may have been ready to accept that before the Israelis got into Syria. Now the Egyptians are demanding a return to 67 borders, now that’s absolutely out of the question, short of a huge defeat as a result of the war. That has to come as a result of the subsequent negotiations that follow the war. So now what we are trying to do is, I’ve talked to Dobrynin about that last night after you and I talked,2 is to see whether we can find a formula that links the cease-fire to the peace settlement—

N: I think we’ve got to get some way—look we’ve got to face this—that as far as the Russians are concerned, they have a pretty good beef insofar as everything we have offered on the Mid-East, you know what I mean, that meeting in San Clemente,3 we were stringing them along and they know it. We’ve got to come off with something on the diplomatic front, because if we go the cease-fire, they’ll figure that we get the cease-fire and then the Israelis will dig in and we’ll back them, as we always have. That’s putting it quite bluntly, but it’s quite true Henry, isn’t it?

K: There’s a lot in that.

N: They can’t be in that position, so we have got to be in a position to offer something.

K: Well I—

N: Because we’ve got to squeeze the Israelis when this is over and the Russians have got to know it. We’ve got to squeeze them goddamn hard. And that’s the way it is going to be done. But I don’t know how we can get across now, we told them before we’d squeeze them and we didn’t.

K: Well we were going to squeeze them, we were going to start a diplomacy in November right after the Israeli—

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N: I know we were, but

K: And we have made all the preparations for that but that’s now water over the dam, I think what we need now—if we can find a resolution that doesn’t flatly say the 67 borders, but leaves it open—something that invokes the Security Council resolution 242 that speaks of withdrawals and that’s something everybody has already agreed to once. Plus a conference or something like that. Then perhaps by tomorrow we can move it to a vote in the Security Council.

N: Yeh, yeh. Certainly a conference would be fine.

K: And I know the British are working on something like that and I’m going to be meeting with Cromer later—

N: The British then are not just standing aside—that’d be terrible.

K: There are two things, Mr. President. The British basic attitude is lousy because they are trying—I put it to Cromer yesterday,4 I said what have you got to ________ in Egypt that’s compared to what you will lose in Saudi Arabia if this thing gets worse and worse. In—on the immediately specific issue, where the British are behaving badly—they are just passively sitting there picking up the pieces, they are not shaping anything, but on the very immediate one, Sadat did take a negative attitude, but they made no attempt to persuade him nor did they want to run any risks, see we might have done what you suggested yesterday of ________ for a cease-fire, if we could have gotten Britain and, and France to go along with it. But to go into the Security Council with a resolution that has only two members supporting it, one other member possibly supporting it, is suicidal.

N: Yeh, I understand.

K: But by the end of the day, this thing will become a lot clearer because the battle now in Sinai, whatever happens in Syria and Sinai, the battles just cannot be extremely protracted because supplies from both sides have to come a fairly long distance.

N: Desert battles are not protracted, we know that—that they move quickly. The other point I was going to make—what are we doing on the supply side?

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K: If I could call you in an hour,5 I have a meeting which is going to start now.

N: All right.

K: In which I can give you an accurate report. Basically what we are trying to do is stop the military planes after today and put commercial charters in.

N: Yes, yes. As I say though, it’s got to be the works. What I meant is—we are going to get blamed just as much for three planes as for 300. . . . not going to let the Russians come in there for—with a free hand. On the other hand, this is a deadly course, I know, but what I meant is, Henry, I have no patience with view that we send in a couple of planes, even though they carry 60 some—

K: Mr. President, I remember in 1970, when we went into Cambodia, you wanted to do Haiphong at the same time, and you were right.

N: At least we did all the sanctuaries, which you remember—was petrified with even doing more than Parrot’s Beak.

K: No one wanted to do that—

N: Laird, and Westmoreland, the whole bunch once didn’t want to do COSVN remember?

K: I remember very well.

N: My point is if—when we are going to make a move, it’s going to cost us, in terms of our—out there. I don’t think it’s going to cost us a damn bit more to send in more and—I have to emphasize to you that I think the way it’s been handled in terms of our things—I want in any future statements out of McCloskey—we are sending supplies, but only for the purpose of maintaining the balance so that we can create the conditions that will lead to an equitable settlement. The point is if you don’t say it that way, it looks as though we are sending in supplies to have the war go on indefinitely, and that is not a tenable position.

K: Right. Right. If it hasn’t been said before, we’ll say it certainly today.

N: The thought is basically—the purpose of supplies is not simply to fuel the war, the purpose to to maintain the balance which is quite accurate incidentally and then—because only with the balance in that area, can there be an equitable settlement that doesn’t do in one side or other. That’s really what we are talking about.

K: Right, Mr. President.

N: But now on the Russians—

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K: I expect formally to hear from the Russians. I didn’t get through talking to the Russians till 10:00 last night.6 And I gave them really a terrific—

N: We can’t have this business of defending them all over the place—

K: If they don’t do anything.

N: If they don’t do anything. Now basically that’s what they said. I think that they like the condominium business, the British have stood aside, what ought to happen is that even though the Israelis will squeal like struck pigs—we ought to tell Dobrynin—we ought to say that the Russians—that Brezhnev and Nixon will settle this damn thing. That ought to be done. You know that.

K: Exactly. Exactly right.

N: If he gets that through, I think maybe he’d like it. I’ll call you in an hour—you call me in a hour.

K: As soon as the WSAG is over. Right, Mr. President.

N: Bye. Right.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Transcripts (Telcons), Chronological File, Box 23. No classification marking. The blank underscores indicate omissions in the original. President Nixon was at Camp David; Kissinger was in Washington.
  2. Kissinger and Dobrynin spoke at 7:55 p.m. on October 13. Kissinger indicated that the United States would not accept the Egyptian position to return to the 1967 borders. “We will not under any circumstances let détente be used for unilateral advantage. [You must have] no illusions about that . . . You can tell Moscow to save itself the effort, we are not going to accept the Egyptian position. Only exacerbate the situation by proposing it to us . . . Until this afternoon I believed—had possibility of pressing for a settlement, pressing for a cease-fire. Now [that] hasn’t happened, you are . . . unable or unwilling to produce cease-fire—[U.S. and Soviets] are obviously on collision course no matter how many [protestations]—What do you think we can say to the people on Monday, had them quieted down on the weekend—so the utility of détente—to both of us [is called into doubt]. You don’t think we will accept a military setback in the Middle East. You can’t believe it.” (Ibid.) Kissinger had spoken to President Nixon, who was at Camp David, from 4:57 to 5:16 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  3. See Document 73.
  4. Kissinger and Lord Cromer spoke on the telephone at 4:35 p.m. on October 13. Kissinger stated that Nixon took the British decision not to introduce a cease-fire resolution in the Security Council “extremely ill.” He added: “When we look over the crises of the last three years we just don’t seem to be able to get together . . . We wanted to tell you we are starting an airlift into Israel. There will probably be a confrontation.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Transcripts (Telcons), Chronological File, Box 23) Printed in Kissinger, Crisis, pp. 238–239.
  5. See Document 182.
  6. Kissinger’s last conversation with Dobrynin on October 13 was at 9:50 p.m. The transcript is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Transcripts (Telcons), Chronological File, Box 23.