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7. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

SUBJECT

  • Middle East Policy—Getting a Hold on Decision-Making

The attached cable2 brings to attention the practical question of how you want to proceed toward decisions on next steps on the Arab-Israeli issue. I am sending you separately a memo on the substance of the decisions ahead.3 The problem today is the procedural one of how to assure fundamental decisions on real alternatives in the weeks ahead.

The cable that State has just sent to Cairo without clearance here represents their view of how to proceed. Our minister in Cairo is instructed to explain to the Egyptians on an informal basis the following views:

—Washington is not satisfied with the present situation in the Middle East and believes we must continue efforts to make progress toward a peace settlement.

There is a general consensus in the USG that an interim Canal settlement is the best way to proceed. This is the “only proposition in sight that offers prospects of real progress at the present time.”

—While the terms of a final peace settlement cannot be predetermined now, we do not think that our concept of an interim agreement is in its essentials at variance with President Sadat’s. The USG views an interim agreement as an integral part of a negotiating process for the full and complete implementation of Resolution 242.

While these instructions break no new ground, the mere reiteration now of the point that pursuit of an interim agreement is the only hope of movement will be read in Cairo as reflecting a decision that has not yet been made. Sadat is expecting a new US initiative and, since Greene has just been in Washington, the Egyptians are quite likely to conclude that this is the beginning of it.

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We do not yet have a formal recommendation from Secretary Rogers, but one can deduce from the things that have been said over recent weeks and from past style that his recommendation will contain the following elements:

—a new formula for getting proximity talks started and

—a formal approach to the Israelis, probably backed by a letter from the President putting this formula to the Prime Minister for discussion.

We do not know how or when the Secretary will present his proposal—whether he will send a memo to the President or bring it to him personally.

State’s probable proposal represents one option, but since our next step will set the tone and approach for some time it should be considered carefully against other alternatives before we move. For one thing, we must consider that Sadat himself seems now to have concluded that the interim idea, which he himself raised, is a non-starter. We increasingly hear that he feels he made a serious mistake in offering a partial Canal agreement in early 1971. For another, we must be very careful in approaching the Israelis now so that we can keep them with us over the four-year course ahead. Repeating the style of past State Department initiatives may not be the best way to do this.

There is an alternative to the probable State approach which deserves a serious hearing. This alternative approach would differ in two main respects from the State approach:

1. Style: State will probably propose going to the Israelis with a fully worked out formula and then ask to discuss it. The alternative would be to go to the Israelis with a proposal to work out a formula, stating in general terms the main elements we feel would have to be included. We would then work with them to reduce the general proposition to writing in ways that meet Israeli concerns as much as possible. We would begin with quiet private talks, either with the Prime Minister or her representative, and would avoid publicizing a new US initiative. The objective of this style of approach to the Israelis would be to avoid confrontation by not presenting a finished formula while still engaging in substantive discussion at the outset. This is principally a difference in style, but how we deal with Israel will be of great importance in determining whether we can contribute anything to a negotiating process. The argument for State’s approach is that Israel has responded in the past only when confronted by a hard US position backed by the President. The argument for the alternative is that the hard approach has tended to produce confrontation (as in December–January 1969–70 and August 1970) and that perhaps a lower key approach would enhance the spirit of consultation and lessen the appearance of our trying to force something of our making on Israel.

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2. Substance: The State approach is to try to get talks going on an interim agreement while avoiding the hard issue of territory which will have to be addressed in a final agreement. They will probably propose some formula for beginning talks on an interim agreement by which both sides would agree that no outcome is precluded in advance of negotiations. There is a strong argument for simply getting the process of negotiation started, and in any course that is followed some such formula will probably have to be used publicly because neither side will be able to handle hard final decisions politically at the outset. However, it is also true that Sadat may not be willing to enter talks unless he knows generally where he might hope to come out, and the Israelis will be very suspicious that we will push the Rogers Plan.4 There is an argument for saying simply that we feel that many elements of the Rogers Plan will warrant consideration in negotiations but that we cannot and will not impose them. But that approach may not satisfy either side.

There is an alternative which should be seriously considered because it at least may suggest some elaboration of the State approach. This alternative approach would face the issue of territory at the outset in private talks with the Israelis, and eventually with the Egyptians. This could be done in the form of the same kinds of general principles that we discussed before the Moscow summit last May. Essentially, we might strive for an Israeli agreement not to preclude the restoration of Egyptian sovereignty in Sinai, provided that concrete security arrangements could be worked out. These could include the agreed stationing of Israeli troops at key positions for extended periods, as we discussed last spring. The advantage of concentrating on “restoration of sovereignty” would be to shift the focus from “withdrawal”, thus opening the way for return of Egyptian civil authority while preserving an Israeli security presence. The argument against this, of course, is that it would force the Israeli government to face up to a difficult decision on the eve of a national election. It should be possible, though, to handle this in a number of ways. For instance, the President and Mrs. Meir—or their representatives—might agree on a position to be taken publicly only after the Israeli election, which could permit us to take some measures now in the confidence that they would not be at odds with Israeli policy.

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The problem today is not to choose between these possible courses but to assure that there is thoughtful discussion of them before a choice is made. Cables such as the attached do not set a course irrevocably, but they do tend to point a direction and set style. Once again, a strong case can be made for not taking any steps until decisions are made. We are sending you separately a more substantive and less procedural memo on these decisions, but we wanted you to be aware of the procedural problem quickly.

Recommendations:

1. That you speak with Secretary Rogers and/or the President in an effort to reach understanding on how best to discuss these decisions and an understanding that no further actions be taken until those decisions are made.

2. That you ask Dick Campbell to set aside a few minutes in the next week to discuss with me how you would like to move both in terms of procedures and in terms of substance.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 638, Country Files, Middle East, Arab Republic of Egypt, Vol. IX, January–October 73. Secret; Nodis. Sent for action.
  2. Telegram 12943 to Cairo, January 23; attached, but not printed.
  3. Document 8.
  4. The Rogers Plan was proposed by Secretary Rogers in a December 9, 1969, speech in which he called for an almost complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 within the framework of a binding peace treaty ending Israel’s state of war with Jordan and Egypt. The plan also called for establishment of secure borders and demilitarized zones, maritime passage through the Suez Canal, and a just settlement of the refugee problem. For the complete text of Rogers’s speech, see The New York Times, December 10, 1969.
  5. Neither the “Approve” nor the “Not Now” option is initialed. A handwritten notation at the bottom of the page reads: “HAK read this and asked Scowcroft to call State. HHS.”