389. Backchannel Message From Secretary of State Kissinger to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1

Hakto 27. Deliver to Gen. Scowcroft no matter where he is. You are to pass the following message from me to General Haig immediately, no matter where he is, for immediate reply. I have just learned that the [Page 1057]President has recently seen Dobrynin alone to talk about the Middle East.2 This report concerns me deeply for three compelling reasons.

First, I cannot overemphasize the extremely tenuous nature of the current situation here. It is now a very close run thing whether we will [Page 1058]ever get the parties together in Geneva—much less next week. At the present moment I cannot predict with any confidence that we will have our conference, and the slightest miscalculation—the least slip—and we will be embroiled in a major foreign policy failure of the gravest sort. Every move must be planned and carried out with the greatest care.

Second, the major spoiling role the Soviets are trying to play—the mischief they are about—has become glaringly obvious since my arrival in Cairo today. Sadat, from whom I have just come, spent well over 30 minutes pleading with me to help him stand up against Soviet pressures—which he says are getting more intense by the day. During the course of the conversation Sadat quoted several messages, purportedly from Dobrynin. I recognized the occasions, but the reports themselves were such misrepresentations of fact as to be totally misleading. One can only imagine the turmoil and mischief that such a miscast description of a conversation with the President could cause.

Third, I will be seeing Gromyko in Geneva next week if the conference convenes. I will be in an intolerable position if he knows, or even suspects, that he is privy to information on the President’s thinking that I do not have. The challenge to my credibility could be disastrous.

Thus, I must insist that I be given a full report of the Dobrynin conversation with the President. I am flying blind without it, which at this point could have disastrous consequences for all we are trying to do here and at home to build a peace and restore foreign and domestic confidence in this administration.3

As to the Pilgrims speech, I have said all I intend to on the subject.4 It was given in good faith, cleared within the bureaucracy, and directed at strengthening the President’s hand in the tough months of slugging that face us in bringing Europe to its senses. It is not I but the country that is being punished by this act of pique. I shall be seeing Sadat again tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. Cairo time for a heavy negotiating session. I must insist that I be given a full report of the conversation before that time, although I must tell you that there is almost no scenario of that [Page 1059]conversation that I can imagine that will not be damaging—the question is only the degree of damage perpetrated.

I ask for your help, for the sake of the country, in two ways:

1) To get me the information quickly and,

2) To assure that this sort of thing does not happen again. Finally, I must emphasize how gravely I view this development. I urge you not to underestimate the seriousness of this cable.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 42, Kissinger Trip Files, HAK Trip—Europe & Mideast, TOHAK 1–88, Dec. 8–22, 1973. Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. After leaving Brussels on December 11, Kissinger traveled to London and Algiers before arriving in Cairo on December 13. The next day he went to Riyadh. He was in Damascus and Amman December 15, Beirut December 16, and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv December 16–17. He visited several European capitals before arriving in Geneva on December 20 to attend the peace conference.
  2. The President met with Dobrynin on December 13 from 12:41 to 1:33 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) In his memoirs, Dobrynin wrote that his “private conversation” with Nixon “was unusual both in content and form in that he was extraordinarily frank about domestic questions.” Nixon, Dobrynin recalled, said that he attached “much importance” to the “troubled Middle East” and the prospects of the forthcoming Geneva peace conference. “Surprisingly,” said Dobrynin, “Nixon then went on to criticize Israel’s policy. He argued that Israel actually did not want to end the state of war with the Arabs and indeed the Cold War in general. He said Israel and the American Jewish community were anxious to prevent any improvement in Soviet–American relations and wanted to take advantage of permanent confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nixon said he had come to these conclusions only recently, because he had not even imagined at first that Israel could have such long-term aspirations. But the result, he said was ‘Israel’s intransigence’ about the Middle East settlement, which was encouraged in every way by the politically influential Jewish lobby in America, which in turn helped shape American foreign policy.” Dobrynin added that Nixon was “clearly vexed by the hostile campaign against him over Watergate by the mass media.” Nixon told Dobrynin that the American media were run “essentially by the same Jewish circles,” which, Nixon insisted, were against him and “showed no gratitude for all he had done for Israel.” The President, according to Dobrynin, then made a “curious remark” about Kissinger. “He paid deserved tribute to his [Kissinger’s] intelligence and service and pointed out that his Jewish origin made him less vulnerable to the attacks of the American Jewish community, which would be an asset at the coming Middle East negotiations. Nixon observed that Kissinger had at times strongly indulged Israel’s nationalist sentiments, for which he had to be corrected.” Dobrynin wrote that his “overall impression” of the meeting with Nixon was that his criticism of Israel and the Jewish community “grew out of his identifying them with the mass media, whose attacks on Watergate and issues of policy he resented strongly and emotionally as the end approached.” (In Confidence, pp. 308–309)

    Kissinger wrote in his memoirs that both he and Scowcroft believed that the President’s meeting with Dobrynin was a response to the speech Kissinger had delivered in London on December 12 to the Society of Pilgrims regarding U.S. relations with Europe and the energy crisis (see footnote 4 below). According to Kissinger, Nixon was “inflamed” by the extensive media coverage the speech received, especially as it concerned energy, where Nixon “harbored the hope of being able to emerge with some spectacular breakthrough.” Scowcroft wrote in a cable to Kissinger that while the meeting was an “upsetting development” it could have been worse. Kissinger, however, disagreed: “I did not view the meeting quite so objectively—especially since the press was given the grand explanation that it had been a ‘general review’ of the ‘overall relationships between the United States and the USSR.’ It was no laughing matter to have the White House announce what could only be construed as a Presidential move to strengthen our Soviet ties on the same day that Sadat had informed me that he planned to end the Soviet–Egyptian Friendship Treaty.” Neither Scowcroft nor Haig was able to elicit precisely what had been discussed, Kissinger recalled, but he believed that was precisely Nixon’s point; “after all,” Kissinger wrote, Nixon “was to demonstrate that he was in charge.” (Years of Upheaval, pp. 771–772) In telegram Hakto 28, December 14, 0122Z, Kissinger told Scowcroft: “I hope in the future if you are given any other hare-brained orders similar to the instructions to get Dobrynin in you will first check them with Haig to see if he can get them reversed. As I indicated in my note to Haig, nothing could have gone on at that meeting that could do us any good at all.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 42, Kissinger Trip Files, HAK Trip—Europe & Mideast, HAKTO 1–88, Dec. 8–22, 1973)

  3. In telegram Hakto 30, December 14, 0756Z, Kissinger asked Scowcroft to pass a message to Haig stating that the general statement that the President had wide-ranging discussions of U.S.–Soviet relations was not adequate for his needs. Noting that Sadat told him that he intended to abrogate the Egyptian-Soviet Friendship Treaty, Kissinger warned that something that smacked of a U.S.–Soviet condominium would create a new situation. He also warned of the danger from those that would see it as worthwhile to break up his relationship with the President, thus knocking out one of the administration’s remaining props. The Secretary asked Scowcroft, on his behalf, to make a formal request to the President for a report on his meeting with Dobrynin. (Ibid.)
  4. In a speech before the Pilgrims Society in London on December 12, Kissinger spoke mostly about U.S. relations with Europe and the energy crisis brought on by the oil embargo. The text of his address is printed in The New York Times, December 13, 1973.
  5. In telegram Tohak 79/WH37588, December 14, 1606Z, Haig responded to Kissinger, saying that he had just left Nixon and had made a formal request for more details on his meeting with Dobrynin. He reported that the President said that regarding the Middle East, he had merely urged continued U.S.–Soviet cooperation in achieving a settlement and had asked the Ambassador to use Soviet influence on Syria regarding the POW issue. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 42, Kissinger Trip Files, HAK Trip—Europe & Mideast, TOHAK 76–133, Dec. 8–22, 1973)