417. Paper Prepared in the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs1

Talking Points for the President on the Middle East

Our basic strategy remains on the track and on schedule.

—Opening plenary session of Geneva Conference at Foreign Minister level went off with no serious hitches.

—We got two Arab states—Egypt and Jordan—and Israel around the same table. All three made speeches for their domestic audiences, but all carefully avoided posing pre-conditions or taking positions that would close the door to further negotiations. No one walked out.

—Although Syrians decided at last minute not to go, their place at the table was kept, and they have preserved option of joining Conference later. If progress is made in this first phase, Syrians will probably come along.

—We kept Soviets engaged procedurally without their assuming significant substantive role.

—No one raised any of the fundamental issues which would lead to an immediate deadlock—borders, Palestinians or Jerusalem.

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Waldheim was involved and UN facilities were used, with no loss of control to them and with major benefits in terms of reducing the pressures for meddling by the non-aligned and other permanent members of the Security Council.

—In brief, all present have agreed to give a chance to our concept of a step-by-step, pragmatic approach to the negotiation process. An institutionalized Conference framework has been established, which with careful nurturing will keep the principal parties and the Soviets engaged, will keep the UN happy and will help preserve the ceasefire.

The specific state of play is as follows:

—The Conference agreed to a consensus, publicly announced by Waldheim, that it remains in session at Ambassadorial level, and that a military working group on Egyptian-Israeli disengagement will begin work next week.2

—After Christmas, Ambassador Bunker will return to Geneva to maintain continuing consultations with the Soviet, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli delegations.

—Israel will send military representatives to discuss disengagement with their Egyptian counterparts, with UN military officers present. This gives the form of continuity, which Egypt wants and the Soviets pressed for, but all concerned recognize that no real progress can be made until after the Israeli elections.

—Meanwhile, Israel will send representatives to Washington next week to discuss with us a detailed disengagement proposal which we will seek to help work out between them and Egypt.

—Somewhat later, a parallel working group will be established to discuss Jordanian-Israeli disengagement.

—A further plenary session of the Conference will be held—hopefully in late January—to announce agreement on Israeli-Egyptian disengagement.

What lies ahead?

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—The prospects are reasonably good for maintaining the ceasefire and for getting an Israeli-Egyptian disengagement agreement in January or February.

—The Syrians are the most unpredictable factor. Their internal situation is complex; they can always initiate irrational military action, and their deplorable handling of the Israeli POW issue is a major obstacle to getting meaningful disengagement negotiations started with Israel.3

—Once we get through the disengagement phase, there will be pressure from the Arabs and Soviets to move to basic issues, which will face Israel with some fundamental decisions. This will be a difficult time for Israel and for us—but it will come after Israel has had time to absorb more fully the lessons of the last war and after it has put behind it the paralysis and trauma of the present election period.

—On the oil problem, we are not yet out of the woods, but the prospects are more hopeful. You will have seen the encouraging report of Faisal’s latest thinking.4

  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. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Atherton. A handwritten notation on the first page reads: “Report to President, Dec. 22, 1973.”
  2. Telegram Secto 234/6746 from Geneva, December 22, contains Waldheim’s statement. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files) In Secto 237 from Geneva, December 22, Kissinger reported that in a very brief closed session that day, the conference had agreed that it would continue its work through setting up a military working group to discuss disengagement of forces, while the participants would maintain their delegations at the Ambassadorial level and reconvene at the Foreign Ministers’ level “as needed in light of developments.” The Secretary added that the meeting had proceeded in a brisk and businesslike fashion since the main points had been agreed to beforehand in bilateral discussions. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1180, Harold H. Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—1973 Peace Negotiations, December 18, 1973 thru Dec. 22, 1973 [1 of 3])
  3. Following the second session of the conference on December 22, Sisco met with the Minister Counselor of the Syrian UN Mission in Geneva, Mowaffak Allaf. He told Allaf he would like to fill him in on U.S. impressions of the conference and hoped he would convey these to Damascus. He emphasized that the important thing was the conference had decided to set up an Egyptian-Israeli military working group, which would focus on the question of military disengagement on that front, possibly as soon as the following week. Sisco said that the U.S. Government was determined to play a helpful role in these deliberations. He added that the United States wanted Assad to know that once he felt able to join the conference, it would work closely with Syria to help achieve a disengagement agreement on the Syrian-Israeli front. (Memorandum of conversation, December 22; ibid.)
  4. The report indicated that King Faisal would consider ending the oil embargo after the opening of the conference. (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Nov–Dec 1973) Printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Document 268.