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409. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Nixon1

Secretary Kissinger has asked me to pass on to you the following message:2

“As we look towards the opening of the conference on the Middle East in Geneva on Friday,3 I thought you might want to have some perspectives of where we are and where we want to go. The strategy we developed in the wake of the Arab-Israeli war is unfolding largely as planned. We have built on the ceasefire and negotiating formula worked out during my October 20–22 trip to Moscow to stabilize the ceasefire on the Israeli-Egyptian front and to launch the negotiating process which will begin in Geneva. This is a historic development, the first time the Arabs and the Israelis will negotiate face to face in a quarter of a century. We have done this while enhancing our influence in the Arab world and reducing that of the USSR.

“Egypt, Jordan, and Israel will participate. Syria, historically the great spoiler of the Middle East, has decided for the time being to stay away. Waldheim will be there in a limited role, taking some of the European and non-aligned pressure off our back while satisfying Israeli concern.

“The Syrian non participation decision4 is very satisfactory for us—a blessing in disguise. We narrowly averted a situation in which all three Arab states would go to Geneva while Israel, in the midst of an election campaign, would decide not to participate because of Syrian intransigence in refusing to give prisoner lists.

“But Asad, under pressure from the Baath party, adhered rigidly to the position that there must be prior agreement on Syrian-Israeli disengagement before he attends the conference. If he had dropped this condition, Israel would not have participated unless Syria first made available the list of POWs and allowed Red Cross visits. This was unlikely. If it was Israel that was seen balking, our whole effort and hard won renewal of confidence in the Arab world would have been set [Page 1163]back; the likelihood of renewal of war increased; any chance of easing the oil embargo would have disappeared and further restrictions applied; and the possibilities for a Russian resurgence in the area enhanced.

“In present circumstances: (1) We can now concentrate on agreement between Egypt, Jordan, and Israel; (2) The fact that there is a Geneva conference will help achieve disengagement of forces in the next six weeks; (3) The Geneva conference provides some, though not a decisive deterrent to a renewal of hostilities; (4) It provides Faisal an excuse to lift the embargo, hopefully sometime in January.

“For these reasons, we should let Asad stew in his own juice for a while and let moderate Arab pressures and possibly some Soviet pressure build on him as he watchfully, with suspicion and mistrust, awaits developments at Geneva. We shall have to watch him carefully and make clear to the Soviets that they are contributing to another war in the Middle East by the substantial supplying of Syria, and that another war would have a serious effect on our relations. Intelligence indicators are beginning to point to a possible renewal of fighting on the Syrian-Israeli front, and we should make clear to the Russians they must pull out all the stops with their Syrian ally to prevent this. If it were to occur, Sadat could not stay out, and Hussein would be under even greater pressure than in the past to participate in a meaningful way, and once again the specter of a Soviet-American confrontation could face us.

“As I look ahead, I believe there is a real chance of an Egyptian- Israeli agreement on disengagement. Sadat has bought our concept of a step-by-step phased approach. He has been consistent throughout—he decided he was going to Geneva no matter what.

“The prospects between Jordan and Israel are also hopeful since they share a mutual interest in keeping out the Palestinian radicals from the West Bank. Both seem ready to explore ideas that will strengthen Hussein’s authority in the West Bank as an insulation against radical inroads.

“As to Syria, its participation later may prove possible if progress can be made behind the scenes with our help to resolve the POW issue and get agreement on the outlines of Syrian-Israeli disengagement. We thus in a way have the best of both worlds. Regardless of their non-participation, their unwillingness to talk separately to the Israelis, and their distaste for partial solutions, our relations with Syria have improved. As a result of my talk with President Asad,5 we shall soon be establishing an interests section in Damascus. This should lead to a bet[Page 1164]ter dialogue and enable us to play a more effective role between Israel and Syria.

“The Russian role will be tested anew. I do not believe they will be obstructive; neither will they be particularly helpful. We must meet the strong Arab desire that they deal with us directly; they want agreements to come largely as a result of US efforts. At the same time, we will have to keep the Russians in the picture and coordinate our efforts with them as much as possible.

“As for Israel, the reality of their situation is beginning to sink in. If Mrs. Meir’s labor party wins sufficient support, at least the door is open. Israel finds itself unable to afford another attritional war, and at the same time unable to score an overwhelmingly decisive victory. They are beginning to see this very unpleasant fact. Anguishingly, they seem to be moving towards serious negotiations. In this connection, our continuing sea pipeline of arms is absolutely essential. But a rightist victory could be seriously complicating to our peace efforts; we will know soon.”

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 43, Kissinger Trip Files, HAK Trip—Europe & Mideast, State Cables, Memos & Misc., Dec. 8–22, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Kissinger transmitted this message to Scowcroft in telegram Hakto 80 from Madrid, December 19. (Ibid., Box 42, Kissinger Trip Files, HAK Trip—Europe & Mideast, HAKTO 1–88, Dec. 8–22, 1973)
  3. December 21.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 408.
  5. See Document 393.