346. Memorandum from Secretary of State Kissinger to President Nixon1
- Summary Report on Middle East Trip
Supplementing my reports to you on individual stops during the Middle East portion of my trip, I want to summarize what I see as the principal accomplishments and what lies ahead in our search for Middle East peace.
Ceasefire and POW Exchange
When I left Washington, the immediate need was to stabilize the ceasefire on the Egyptian-Israeli front, a problem which in turn had become linked to an Egyptian-Israeli POW exchange. The groundwork had been laid in my talks in Washington with Foreign Minister Fahmi [Page 954] and Prime Minister Meir, but the positions of the two sides were still far apart.
The initial breakthrough came in Cairo, with the announcement of the resumption in principle of U.S.–Egyptian diplomatic relations and President Sadat’s agreement to a six-point proposal that represented about ninety-five percent of what Mrs. Meir had told me Israel wanted.2 Most importantly for Israel, it finessed the issue of an Israeli return to the military positions they occupied west of the Canal when the October 22 ceasefire went into effect and before they completed their encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army and the town of Suez. The agreement simply provides that this thorny question will be discussed between the two sides in the context of discussions on the disengagement and separation of forces, thus providing a means for subsuming it in the broader issues at an early peace conference. Israel also got agreement on a full Egyptian–Israeli POW exchange.
The main benefit for Sadat was the establishment of UN-supervised arrangements for the non-military resupply of the Third Army and for meeting the essential civilian supply needs of the Suez inhabitants. While Sadat was unwilling to include specific reference to lifting the undeclared Egyptian blockade of the southern entrance to the Red Sea at Bab al-Mandab, he agreed that the blockade would quietly be relaxed.
I sent Joe Sisco from Cairo to Israel the same day to explain the proposal to Mrs. Meir and her colleagues, including Sadat’s assurance about relaxing the blockade, and to obtain their approval. Both sides cooperated in expediting Sisco’s travel; the Egyptians gave him a special plane to Cyprus, where the Israelis picked him up and flew him to Tel Aviv. In Israel, Sisco concluded a confidential Memorandum of Understanding with the Israelis,3 designed primarily to meet their concern about participating in the inspection of non-military cargos destined for the Third Army once they had turned over their checkpost on the Cairo–Suez road to the UN. Having after some difficulty obtained Israeli agreement, Sisco made an unprecedented direct flight from Israel to Saudi Arabia in one of our MAC airlift planes and rejoined me in Riyadh.
Over the next three days, as I went from Saudi Arabia to Tehran, Islamabad, and on to Peking, Israeli and Egyptian military representatives met regularly in the presence of the UN commander at Km. 101 on the Cairo–Suez road to work out the detailed arrangements for supplying the Third Army and Suez town and for beginning the POW [Page 955] exchange. I was in frequent contact with both Foreign Minister Fahmi and Prime Minister Meir as various difficulties came up but held firmly to the position that these had to be ironed out in the direct negotiations between their military representatives in coordination with the UN commander.
The agreement was finally signed on November 11.4 There followed more differences over its implementation between Israel on the one hand and Egypt and the UN on the other, related largely to Israel’s desire to limit the UN presence and to maintain a more visible control and use of the segment of the Cairo–Suez road in the area they occupy than was acceptable to Egypt. On November 14, however, the Israeli position became markedly more flexible, and on the 15th the turnover of Israeli checkposts to the UN took place and the POW exchange began.
I find encouraging the progress made over the past two weeks in stabilizing the Egyptian-Israeli ceasefire. The fact that Egyptians and Israelis are talking directly and pragmatically with each other at the military level is a hopeful sign psychologically for the forthcoming political negotiations. Furthermore, both sides clearly reflected a willingness to reach accommodations on the ceasefire and POW issues in order to move to the next stage of a peace conference.
While negotiations related to the six-point ceasefire agreement were a principal preoccupation and produced the most concrete results during my Middle East trip, I also concentrated on two other matters.
Arab Oil Pressures
On the question of Arab oil pressures, I made the point in each Middle Eastern capital that the Arabs need our help if they are to get a fair settlement, and that continuation of such pressures will make effective help from us impossible. As I reported to you earlier, King Hussein was in full agreement and said he has been making the same point to other Arab leaders.5 The key country in this regard is, of course, Saudi Arabia. While Faisal made no commitment to relax the oil restrictions, he clearly feels himself in an agonizing dilemma. I gave him considerable food for thought,6 and I have reason to believe I made some headway with his key advisors and ministers. Much will depend on whether we can keep up the momentum already established.
With that in view, I also explored—particularly in Cairo and Amman—the question of how to get a peace conference launched. In [Page 956] Cairo, Foreign Minister Fahmi and I came to a tentative understanding7 on the following largely procedural points:
1. During the week of November 19, 1973, the United States and the Soviet Union will inform the United Nations Secretary General and others about the modalities of the conference.
2. The United States and the Soviet Union will arrange for a meeting of the Security Council, and the United States will declare that according to its understanding Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Syria have agreed to attend the first stage of negotiations dealing with disengagement and other related matters for a peace agreement.
3. Furthermore the parties agreed that this conference will be convened under the auspices of the United Nations with the participation of the Secretary General in the opening phase of the negotiations.
4. They furthermore agreed that the conference will be under the co-chairmanship of the United States and the Soviet Union.
5. The conference will be convened on December 8 or 9, 1973 in Geneva. The opening session will be at the Foreign Minister level.
6. The question of the participation of the Palestinians and Lebanon will be discussed during the first stage of the conference.
Assuming I receive Fahmi’s confirmation, which I requested from Tokyo,8 that the foregoing still represents the way Egypt wants to proceed, I shall begin this next week to seek the views of others concerned including the Soviets. The objective is to get the parties engaged in a negotiating process that will relieve pressures both for a new recourse to the Security Council and for a resumption of the fighting. Once a conference is underway, our aim will be to get it to focus on the question of disengagement of Egyptian and Israeli forces as a first step, and to avoid seeking to come to grips at the outset with the fundamental issues of territory and the Palestinians, which would lead to an immediate deadlock.
Realistically, there can be no progress in any peace conference until after Israel’s December 31 elections, but the appearance of negotiations even without the substance will be helpful on the Arab side. Once substantive negotiations begin, moreover, we must expect a series of impasses which will require us to work behind the scenes with Egypt and Israel, and probably with Jordan and Israel as well, to try to overcome them. As we get into the substantive negotiating phase early next year, we can anticipate some difficult times with the Israelis. For this, we will need capital in the bank with them. The fact that we achieved a ceasefire agreement for them with Egypt largely on Israeli [Page 957] terms, that we earlier had achieved Soviet and Egyptian agreement to negotiations which Israel has sought for twenty-five years, and that we are continuing our military and economic support will all help in this respect.
While my efforts to date have focussed largely on the Egyptians, Jordanians, and Israelis, I am seeking to establish an ongoing dialogue as well with the Syrians. They have come a long way but still promise to be the most difficult factor in any negotiation. And, unlike the Egyptian-Israeli front, no agreement has been reached or is in prospect between Syria and Israel to stabilize the ceasefire and exchange POWs.
Finally, we have filled in the Europeans on the results of my Middle East trip and in a general way on our thinking about the future. I intend to keep them reasonably briefed as we go along, in order to minimize to the extent possible their inclination to take unhelpful initiatives which can have a negative impact on our own efforts.
In assessing future prospects we can, I think, be cautiously optimistic about getting peace negotiations started. Sadat has apparently decided to take a chance on us and to be accommodating with respect to the ceasefire agreement in order to enlist our help once negotiations are underway. The Israelis are reasonably reassured of our basic commitment to their security, but with a bit of underlying nervousness that we may seek to press them to modify their negotiating positions at the peace conference. The Jordanians are ready for negotiations, although worried that Egyptian and Palestinian interests may be accommodated at their expense. The Palestinians, in fact, are in some confusion, with sentiment growing for them to abandon their opposition to dealing with Israel and join the negotiations in order not to be left with nothing in the end. The Lebanese also want in at an early date.
Finally, the Soviets are playing an ambivalent role. On the one hand they want to work with us in arranging joint U.S.–Soviet auspices, and we are being careful to consult generally with them while pursuing our more substantive efforts bilaterally with the parties. At the same time, they have adopted a harder line than the Egyptians on restoration of the October 22 ceasefire positions and seem to be encouraging the Palestinians to play a more active role, which could greatly complicate the job of getting meaningful negotiations started.
As we move into the complex situation that lies ahead, the next month or so promises to be one of the most important periods in the search for peace in the Middle East since the Six-Day War of 1967.
November 18–December 13, 1973