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


  • My Talks with Hafiz Ismail—Summary

This memorandum describes (1) Ismail’s position on each of the main issues as it evolved over two days of talks and (2) the process he envisages over the coming months. In short, he did not change Egypt’s position on any basic issue, but he seemed quite open-minded in considering fresh approaches.

Ismail’s Position

A. Urgency of An Overall Settlement

Ismail began on the first day emphasizing the importance of a settlement in 1973. However, on the second day he outlined procedures which if followed through to their logical conclusion could take well beyond the end of 1973 to complete, although he would want agreement on fundamental principles of an agreement by this September (see description of procedures below).

He absolutely rejected an “interim settlement” and insisted that the fundamental issues of an overall settlement be addressed. But he readily agreed that the ideas represented in the idea of a partial withdrawal from the canal could be used as the opening phase of a broader process.

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B. Long-term Objective

He spoke from the outset in terms of wanting to see develop a Middle East of strong, healthy, cooperative, independent states. He implied Israel could be among them if Israel recognized itself as a Middle Eastern state. A peace settlement could be a basis for normalization of relations, but that would take a long time. Normalization of relations would depend on, among other things, a refugee settlement.

C. Recognition of Israel

He said an Egypt–Israel agreement would establish a state of peace. This would end the state of war but would not be “full peace.”

—This agreement would provide a situation different from the Egypt-Israel relationship before 1967 in that it would: allow Israel free passage through the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal; end the boycott on third-party goods; commit Egypt to prevent guerrilla operations from Egyptian soil and elsewhere to the extent possible; end Egypt’s practice of adding a reservation clause when it signs multilateral agreements, saying that they do not apply to Israel; commit each side to non-intervention in each other’s internal affairs, e.g. by radio.

—This agreement would not include exchanging ambassadors, trade agreement, borders open for routine travel. Those steps would be characteristics of later normalization.

By the second day he volunteered that in the transitional period between the ending of the state of war and the achievement of full peace there could begin some practical normal contacts between Egyptians and Israelis developing out of day-to-day situations.

He was uncertain about the timing of recognition, whether it should be tied to signing of the Syrian and Jordanian agreements. He rather thought so, but this is one of the aspects he is giving further thought to.

D. Main Aspects of a Settlement

He began by saying very generally that there were two main aspects of a settlement:

—The question of restoring Egyptian sovereignty over Egyptian territory. This required Israeli withdrawal to pre-war borders.

—The issue of Palestinian rights. This problem should be reduced to the size of Arab and Jewish communities within the area of mandated Palestine deciding how to divide that territory and live together.

In response to my questions on the first day, he developed these points the second day along the following lines:

—He spoke of the sovereignty problem in terms of reconciling Egypt’s sovereignty with legitimate Israeli security concerns.

—Egypt was prepared to let Hussein negotiate his own agreement with Israel, including border changes (even a security corridor down [Page 82] the Jordan River) but probably not major concessions in Jerusalem. Egypt would consider whatever Hussein worked out with the West Bank Palestinians as an internal Jordanian matter, not an Arab-Israeli matter.

—Gaza’s self-determination should be worked out under UN auspices. An Egypt–Israel agreement should contain these principles: (1) Israel should agree to withdraw in principle so that (2) Gazans could freely exercise their right of self-determination (3) under UN auspices. This would also have to be related to a Jordan settlement. Gaza could become part of Jordan if the Gazans wished.

—A refugee settlement would have to be in accordance with UN resolutions (unlimited opportunity to return to Israel). This agreement might be worked out by the UN.

—The question of a Syria–Israel settlement was more serious to Egypt than a Jordan–Israel settlement because Syria was a member of the Egypt–Syria–Libya confederation. A Syrian settlement had to be based on the same principles as Egypt’s.

E. Meeting Israel’s Security Concerns

Ismail began talking about meeting Israel’s “legitimate” security concerns in conventional ways, including international guarantees and Egyptian peace commitments (spelled out in C above):

Demilitarized zones could vary in size on the two sides of the border. The Israeli zone could be symbolic. International observers would inspect these zones.

—An international force could be stationed in areas of special importance like Sharm al-Shaikh.

—There could be big-power guarantees.

On the second day, he indicated that he had not really considered what might be done if the issue of sovereignty and borders were dealt with separately from security arrangements. He said he thought there might be interim security arrangements at some points during a transitional period, but he would have to give more thought to this. For instance, he would consider whether there might be transitional security arrangement during the period between the end of the state of war and the advent of full peace. As he began to understand this proposition he said: “If the issues of territory and sovereignty could be put aside, we could be open-minded.” This, of course, could be quite significant.

F. Settlement by Stages and Sectors

He felt a settlement could be reached by stages and sectors, but they had to be linked so as to lead to an overall settlement. There had to be a full settlement; Egypt could not accept a partial withdrawal “left hanging.” Asked whether a Jordanian settlement could come before an Egyptian one, his view was that agreement first on the principles of an [Page 83] Egypt–Israel settlement would help to “start the motors in other places.” He saw the Syrian and Jordanian negotiations running one step behind the Egyptian negotiations. Egypt could sign a separate agreement with Israel provided Syrian and Jordanian negotiations were then in train.

The Procedures Ismail Suggests

Two possible approaches were posed on the first day:

1. The U.S. and Egypt could work out the principles of an agreement and then present them to Israel. This procedure failed in the past, Ismail felt, because understandings between the U.S. and Egypt came apart when Israel objected.

2. The U.S. could listen to both Egypt and Israel and try to develop a position that would meet the reasonable interests of both sides.

On the second day, Ismail opened by saying that the latter approach above seemed better to him. Once the U.S. has developed a sound position and reached an understanding with Egypt, the U.S. had to stand by it and influence Israel to accept it.

He elaborated this process with some precision on the second day:

1. (A) The objective in the first stage would be to develop what he called the “heads of an agreement,” that is, the fundamental principles of an agreement, which would then be worked out in further U.S.-Egyptian talks. He left it to the U.S. to recommend when Israel would be brought into the process. He began talking about completing this stage by the end of May, but later he seemed to be discussing this plus a partial withdrawal (next paragraph) by September 1.

1. (B) In the course of this first stage, it might be possible concurrently in a separate channel to work out a first stage of an Israeli withdrawal from the Suez Canal along the lines of the State Department’s idea for an interim agreement. Also, a prisoner exchange might be possible.

2. The second stage in the negotiating process would begin after Israel had accepted the “heads of agreement.” The objective in this stage would be to develop the “final provisions” of an agreement. These would detail the obligations of both sides and the phasing of carrying out the provisions of the agreement. This stage would involve the Israelis “more actively, less indirectly.” He did not set a limit to the amount of time it would take to work through this stage.

3. The third stage would be implementation, and this too could take place in phases.

As Egypt and Israel move through the above stages, Syria and Jordan would be roughly one stage behind.

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What was new in Ismail’s presentation?

In its essential points this was the familiar Egyptian position unchanged. However, there seemed to be several new points of emphasis which might lend thmselves to development.

—One of the two most interesting points was the prospect of a process that might stretch over some period. He seemed to be acknowledging, perhaps without having thought it through, that if there were a serious process, Egypt would not feel the need to set deadlines.

—If Egypt were “open-minded” on special security arrangements through a transitional period before full peace is reached, that could be quite significant. He promised to consider this.

—An interim agreement might be useful if it paralleled progress toward an overall agreement.

Normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel. Although Ismail said this would take a long time, he spoke of normalization as being at the end of the road. If this could be developed concretely and related to steps in the settlement process, it could be useful in persuading Israel that Egypt would be willing to have a normal relationship.

—Egypt has not publicly endorsed Hussein’s plan for a United Arab Kingdom. Ismail seemed to say Egypt would pose no objection to Hussein’s getting the West Bank back and granting self-determination to the Palestinians, thereby making the Palestinian problem apart from a refugee settlement an internal Jordanian matter.

—Egypt has indicated before that it does not want Gaza but that it must remain Arab. More was said than previously about the mechanics (UN auspices with Egypt handling its negotiation) of achieving self-determination.

This, it seems to me, opens the possibility of letting State develop an interim agreement under our guidance while an overall agreement is discussed in this channel.2

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 131, Country Files, Middle East, Egypt/Ismail, Vol. IV, February 24–May 19, 1973. Secret. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the first page reads: “The President has seen.” The President circled Kissinger’s name and wrote the comment: “Excellent Job.” This memorandum, which is dated March 6, summarizes the conversations between Kissinger and Ismail that took place in Armonk, New York, from 1:50 until 6:30 p.m. on February 25 and from 10:25 a.m. until 3:35 p.m. on February 26. (Memoranda of conversation; ibid., Vol. III, Feb. 23–26, 1973)
  2. In his memoirs, Kissinger commented that Ismail “had come less to discuss mediation—and therefore compromise—than to put forward a polite ultimatum for terms beyond our capacity to fulfill. Spelling out what he had told Nixon, Ismail now argued that a settlement had to take place during 1973; at a minimum he hoped he could achieve by September an agreement on fundamental principles (‘heads of agreement’). He never clearly explained what he understood by that or what would happen if such an agreement was not reached by the deadline. . . . Above all, Israel had to agree, before anything else happened, that it would return to its 1967 borders with all neighbors, with some margin for adjustment, perhaps, on the West Bank. Only on that basis would Egypt join the negotiating process, and then only to discuss security arrangements.” (Years of Upheaval, p. 215)