201. Minutes of Cabinet Meeting1

Shultz: Brezhnev and Kosygin were genuinely puzzled about things going on in the United States.2 They seemed genuinely sincere about détente. Brezhnev asked me: “Is the problem really about Jewish emigration, or does the United States want to go back to the Cold War.” They seemed to be saying that if this is the way people think Jews will get out of the Soviet Union, they are mistaken.

President: The significant thing is that Brezhnev has staked his leadership on better relations with the United States. He needs us for European détente, for trade, and to keep the United States from tilting toward the Chinese. This puts the Middle East into perspective—what will they do. Last May—in May of ’72—they didn’t chuck us for the mining of Haiphong. Of course they must support their clients, but the question is whether they will do it at the jeopardy to all the other fish they have to fry. Henry, you expand.

Kissinger: In 1969, the President announced the concept that came to be known as linkage—the idea that there was a connection between their behavior in Vietnam, Berlin, the Caribbean and general policy. We were violently attacked for this idea. We were told that trade was beneficial in itself and shouldn’t be linked to the political sphere. We were accused of an outmoded Cold War policy. It took us two years to get the Soviet Union to look at things this way. Then we had simultaneous crises in 1970 on the autobahn, in the Caribbean, and in Jordan. Since then the Soviet Union has delivered on every political condition and on lend-lease and we have done nothing. The wheat deal had nothing to [Page 589] do with détente—we thought that was a good deal. They have given assurances on the Jews and we keep raising the ante. It must be looked on by them as a deliberate attempt to scuttle détente. One of the riskiest things is to try to play around with the domestic structure of a revolutionary government.

[Omitted here is material unrelated to the Middle East.]

President: Henry will brief you now on the Middle East. This is for guidance, not quotation.

Kissinger: First, let me talk about the situation before the war, then the military situation, then our negotiating strategy. There is a story going around that we held Israel back from a preemptive attack. All our intelligence said there would be no attack. Why did Israel not figure there would be an attack? Because we for four years had been telling them they had to make diplomatic moves. Therefore they developed the posture that there was no need to move, there was no threat, the Arabs are too weak, so they interpreted the intelligence this way. We did the same, but we figured that because they were so good, the Arabs wouldn’t dare to attack.

The war showed that Israeli tactics are out of date. The fact is that Israel can no longer score victories like they did in 1967. Their strategy has been to fight on one front at a time. This time they couldn’t do it, so we are in a war of attrition. That is very serious for Israel.

President: Before this war Israel felt it had no incentive to negotiate; now they have to make an agonizing reappraisal of that position. They can’t take another war.

Kissinger: Now Israel has to consider how they can enhance their position by diplomacy, not just by military means.

We are in a position now where if we can keep the war from escalating and from turning into a confrontation with the Arabs, we have the best chance for settlement.

At the President’s very first Cabinet meeting, he said that the greatest danger in the Middle East would be that local powers would draw the super powers in, as happened in World War I. We have resisted letting the local clients dictate the pace of events. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union have friends to support. The test is whether we can support them and still retain our balance with each other.

We could have grandstanded. A Security Council resolution would just have lined people up and brought acrimony. We are trying to get a consensus before we move. When you ask whether the Soviet Union is snookering us, you have to ask what we haven’t done which we would otherwise have done. In practice we have been extremely tough—in massing a great airlift, with no bases except for the Azores from the Portuguese—whom we have kicked around.

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President: No more.

Kissinger: We have told the Soviet Union this is a test of détente, but we have not thrown down the gantlet. We have our communication lines out to the Arabs. The President met with them yesterday. We are trying to use diplomacy as a bridge to a decent settlement.3 We will make our case to the public after the diplomacy has concluded.

What you should know is we are trying to conclude in a way to lead to a settlement; we responded to the challenge of the Soviet airlift. Soviet behavior is ambiguous. We are not trying to confront them; we believe they will be working something out.

President: The Soviet Union has a problem with the Arabs. They have done well and don’t want to negotiate except on terms Israel can never buy. We are working on a cease fire with a connection to 242.

Kissinger: 242 is not a new proposal. It is very dangerous to speculate about any particular formula. The major problem now is to get the parties into a negotiation with a formula so vague that each party can save face.

Clements: The military services have performed magnificently. It is a complex, beautiful operation.

President: The key point is to try to keep the Soviet Union from sending in their own personnel. Do we want to push the Soviet Union—this is what I hear from the “new hawks”—so far that they do this and confront us with a terrible choice?

Kissinger: We are taking tough action but speaking softly. We should not escalate until we see how the diplomacy can work out. We are being very quiet and we have put in massive material, with only a modest reaction from the Arabs.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, Box 2. Secret. The meeting was held at 3:09 p.m. in the Cabinet Room. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Quandt provided talking points for the President for this meeting. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 664, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East War, Memos and Misc., Oct 6–17, 1973)
  2. Shultz had just returned from Moscow.
  3. See Document 195.