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25. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Background for Your Meeting with Egyptian Emissary Hafiz Ismail

Setting. Ismail is coming to see whether Egypt can anticipate renewed US—particularly Presidential—help in achieving a settlement with Israel. His trip here follows visits to Moscow and London, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Zayyat is travelling to Moscow and Peking. It is difficult to know whether this is just another show of diplomatic activity or whether the Egyptians have indeed done some fresh thinking about their position and are prepared to enter the real give-and-take of negotiation.

Sadat feels that Egypt has made two major concessions to Israel and that Egypt has been let down both times. Egypt has stated publicly that it is prepared to make peace with Israel, and Sadat went out on a limb in 1971 against the counsel of his advisers to propose the idea of an interim agreement providing for partial withdrawal from the Suez Canal. He feels that Israel turned aside both of these initiatives and that, when Israel objected, the US backed down.

Sadat accepted the fact that the US could not involve itself in a major Mid-Eastern diplomatic initiative last year. His probing now is an effort to find out whether the US will now resume a more active role and—hopefully, from Egypt’s viewpoint—be prepared to press Israel for concessions.

The Egyptian position now consists of two main points:

1. Sadat is prepared to accept Israel within its pre-war borders provided Israel will respect Egypt’s territorial integrity within the same borders. He speaks of not surrendering Egyptian “sovereignty” over any Arab soil, but he seems prepared to bargain over the terms of demilitarizing the Sinai and over different possible modes of international guarantees for a settlement. How much flexibility there is in this position and whether it could lead to the basis for negotiations with Israel remains to be tested.

2. Sadat says he is no longer interested in an “interim” settlement. This does not necessarily mean that an arrangement for a short Israeli [Page 70]withdrawal from the Canal might not be the first phase in a general settlement. It means that Sadat seems no longer willing to reach any agreement with Israel without assurance that he will regain sovereignty over all his territory. The implication of this for the US is that, since Sadat will insist on linking any partial agreement to the key elements of an overall agreement, any effort to achieve an interim agreement may again founder on the key issue of final boundaries.

There are three basic choices for the US in deciding what, if any, new effort should be made toward breaking the Arab-Israeli impasse:

1. We could stand back and let the two sides reflect further on their position.2 This might be especially attractive in this Israeli election year. Mrs. Meir will argue vigorously for this course, so as not to encourage Sadat to think the US will relieve him of responsibility to make the hard decisions that will be required if Egypt is to come to terms with Israel. It is difficult to argue that another few months’ delay in moving toward a negotiation would be disastrous for US interests.3 The principal concern is that the passage of time seems gradually to increase the threat that the Arabs would try to use such US interests as our oil interests as leverage to press us toward greater effort on a4 settlement. There is also the danger that hostilities would be renewed at some point.

2. We could renew the efforts to achieve an interim settlement that lost momentum in 1971. The State Department’s view is that this is our only choice, given Israeli insistence on permanent changes in the boundary between Egypt and Israel. State sees no alternative to working toward an interim agreement and leaving the question of final boundaries up in the air for a later negotiation. State is therefore concentrating on trying to find a formula which would (a) commit both sides to negotiate on terms of an overall settlement after an interim agreement is reached and (b) provide that any such negotiation would begin with no possible solutions precluded at the outset.

3. We could try to work privately5 toward an understanding on the framework for an overall settlement. This effort could take place on a separate track from the effort to reach an agreement on an initial withdrawal from the Suez Canal. It would stand or fall on whether Israel [Page 71]can be persuaded to think in terms of restoring Egyptian sovereignty over most of the Sinai while retaining control at strategic points—rather than insisting on a permanent change in boundaries.

The basic question now is whether either the Israelis or Egyptians are prepared to negotiate seriously. Specifically, is either one prepared to move back from present negotiating positions in response to significant concessions from the other side?

This question applies equally to both sides. But it is of particular importance for us not to let Egypt believe that we might deliver more than we could persuade Israel to accept. The concept of restoring Egyptian sovereignty in the Sinai while providing for Israeli military control of key points for some period is viable only if Israel is willing to give up its aspirations for a permanent change in the Sinai border. On the other hand, it would be pointless to pursue this idea with the Israelis unless we had some feeling that the Egyptians were prepared to think pragmatically about such a settlement.

Thus, our principal objective in talks with Ismail will be to discern whether Egypt would be prepared to discuss all possible overall solutions if Israel would do the same—that is, whether Egypt would be prepared to negotiate without preconditions on either side. Whatever we sense of Ismail’s position could be conveyed to Mrs. Meir next week.

The talking points in the briefing memo at Tab A6 indicate that we have no preconceived ideas about the outlines of a solution.

There is no harm in discussion of how progress might be made toward an interim agreement, but my recommendation is to avoid creating the impression that this is the only course that we are prepared to follow. It seems to me that the main point to be put across to Sadat through Ismail is that the US will be prepared to help pursue either an interim or an overall agreement—or both simultaneously—provided both Egyptians and Israelis are prepared to negotiate realistically. We will be talking to Prime Minister Meir next week and our purpose while Ismail is in the United States will be to discern whether Egypt is prepared to discuss all possible solutions realistically and without preconditions.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 131, Country Files, Middle East, Egypt/Ismail, Vol. II, January 1–February 23, 1973. Secret; Nodis; Cedar Double Plus. Sent for action. A stamped notation on the first page reads: “The President has seen.”
  2. The President underlined most of this sentence and wrote in the margin: “K Absolutely not. Rabin must be told this categorically before I see her. I have delayed through two elections & this year I am determined to move off dead center.”
  3. The President underlined this sentence and wrote in the margin: “I totally disagree. This thing is getting ready to blow.”
  4. The President underlined the words beginning with “US interests” and wrote in the margin: “This is the danger.”
  5. The President circled “work privately” and wrote in the margin: “The preferred track for action. At same time keep the public track going for external appearances—but keep it from interfering with the private track.”
  6. Dated February 22; attached, but not printed.
  7. The President wrote at the bottom of the page: “K—You know my position of standing firmly with Israel has been based on broader issues than just Israel’s survival. Those issues now strongly argue for movement toward a settlement. We are now Israel’s only major friend in the world. I have yet to see one iota of give on their part—conceding that Jordan & Egypt have not given enough on their side. This is the time to get moving—& they must be told that firmly.” According to Kissinger, Nixon added, “[T]he time has come to quit pandering to Israel’s intransigent position. Our actions over the past have led them to think we will stand with them regardless of how unreasonable they are.” (Years of Upheaval, p. 212)