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70. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Your Meetings with Brezhnev

This is your basic memorandum. It contains a review of all the major issues that are likely to arise in your discussions, and provides talking points on each.

More detailed papers on the major subjects for your background and use are also enclosed in this book.2

Additional background material is in a separate briefing book. Also in the separate books are your conversations at the last summit, and my conversations in Zavidovo.3

[Omitted here is material unrelated to the Middle East.]

Middle East

The one area where Soviet policy seems most uncertain and confused is the Middle East. The abrupt dismissal of the Soviet advisers from the UAR last summer may well have been the high water mark for the Soviet offensive in the Middle East. Their influence with Sadat has declined and they no longer conceal their rage at Quadhafi’s anti-communism.4 They have been and are shifting their focus to the Persian Gulf, partly because of oil, but also they perceive a classical power vacuum, and local conflicts that can be exploited.5

Nevertheless, in Zavidovo Brezhnev was clearly worried about another Israeli war. It would present him with a painful question: If Israel forces begin to defeat the Arabs, would the USSR help? If so, what are the risks of confrontation with the US? This latter fear inspires Brezhnev to want some tangible sign of progress toward a peace settlement. He has no ideas and his “principles” of a settlement are a stale repetition and a retrogression from last year. He has a simple concept [Page 205]that we can simply deliver the Israelis.6 In his talks in Washington he will press you for some action, on the grounds that the Arabs are so frustrated that they must now be shown that there is some hope. The alternative, he believes, is a war.7

[Omitted here is material unrelated to the Middle East.]

B. The Middle East

On the Arab-Israeli issue, we have to keep two fronts in mind:

1. Egypt. President Sadat and Hafiz Ismail are still withholding their decision on whether or not to enter the step-by-step negotiating process that we have proposed and, specifically, on whether they would begin on the basis of general principles worked out by the US and USSR. The reason for their hesitation is that we have proposed starting that process on the basis of a general statement of the principles that would govern a settlement, and they are concerned that talks would immediately deadlock because there would be no prior assurance that they will get all Egyptian territory back.8 Right now, they seem to be waiting to see whether either your meetings with Brezhnev or the UN Security Council can produce a US pressure for an Israeli commitment to total withdrawal. Sadat continues to hold out the resumption of hostilities as his only choice if there is no diplomatic movement on a basis he considers acceptable.

2. USSR. The discussions with Brezhnev could be used to persuade Sadat that he has no real choice but to proceed as we propose. There are two issues to be discussed:

Arab-Israel diplomacy. At last year’s meetings in Moscow, we reached tentative working agreement on a list of general principles, with some reservations.9 We would want to make some changes in these before giving them any status. We might even wish to try to develop the principles just enough farther to show the Egyptians that even the USSR has acquiesced in the step-by-step negotiating process [Page 206]we have proposed without prior commitment on the territorial settlement.10 When I returned to Moscow last month, Gromyko gave me a new list of principles that represented a major retrogression on all but one point.11 I told Gromyko that if there were to be any progress, we would have to go back to the principles we were working on last year. Even if it were possible to get agreement, we would still have to decide whether we could use these principles with Egypt and Israel to get talks started.

Military contingencies. The other subject worth discussing is how the US and USSR would conduct themselves if hostilities break out again in the Middle East. This could be handled publicly as a follow-on to last year’s “Basic Principles” in USUSSR Relations,12 and it could have the advantage of persuading Sadat that neither superpower would support his resuming fighting. Privately, the advantage would lie in our making clear to each other where our important interests would lie in a new round of fighting.

Brezhnev’s Position

The Soviets will presumably want to show the Arabs that they pressed the US hard to endorse the principle of total Israeli withdrawal and the start of a settlement process on that basis. They may also be reluctant to appear openly opposed to Sadat’s threats to resume fighting, although they have privately told him that he is not ready.

Your Objectives:

—To persuade the Soviets either to acquiesce in our step-by-step approach to an Arab-Israeli settlement or at least to persuade them to accept enough of our principles so that it would be clear to Sadat that the Soviets are not going to change our position.

—To engage in enough discussion on military contingencies so that (a) we will have a basis on which to conduct our relations if fighting breaks out again and (b) Sadat will get the impression that neither superpower will help him if he begins fighting again.

Your Main Points:

—The US continues to favor a step-by-step approach to an Arab-Israeli settlement. This means establishing a negotiating process without having to settle the key issues like final borders in advance. This is the only practical way we can see to begin Israeli withdrawal.

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—The objective of a negotiation between Egypt and Israel is to find a way of reconciling Egyptian sovereignty in the Sinai with security arrangements that would help lessen the danger of another war. We do not see how such arrangements, some of which might be transitional, can be worked out unless there is a situation in which the two sides can exchange compromises.

—The Egyptians seem to want someone else to make these decisions for them. No one else can. They have to make a decision to negotiate in one form or another before progress can be made. Both the US and USSR have to make this clear to Sadat.

—We recognize the danger that fighting might resume either in Lebanon or on the broader front. Both the US and USSR have an interest in maintaining the ceasefire13—because fighting would set back negotiations and because it could bring our interests into conflict. We would like to propose discussion during the visit of how we would conduct ourselves if fighting is renewed.14 It may be desirable to discuss including language in the communiqué that would affirm our respective interests in maintaining peace and our intent not to seek any special advantage if hostilities resume.

—One specific point that we would like to mention: After Israel’s raid in Beirut, there was evidence that the Soviet press and some officials in the Middle East helped to spread the charge that the US collaborated with Israel in that raid. This was totally untrue, and encouraging the Arabs to believe the charge greatly increased the danger to American lives. We do not feel this Soviet action is consistent with the relationship we are trying to build.

[Omitted here is material unrelated to the Middle East.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 75, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Meetings With Brezhnev, Memorandum From Kissinger. Secret; Sensitive. A stamped note on the first page reads: “The President has seen.”
  2. Attached, but not printed.
  3. Attached, but not printed. For Kissinger’s conversations in Zavidovo, see Documents 53 and 54.
  4. The President underlined “Quadhafi’s anti-communism.”
  5. The President underlined the second half of this sentence.
  6. The President underlined this sentence.
  7. On June 7, Nixon wrote Brezhnev that he shared the General Secretary’s concern that the situation in the Middle East was “potentially explosive” and appreciated that they were both working toward a solution that was durable and just for all parties. The President added that he would be prepared to go into this matter in more detail during their forthcoming discussions. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 940, VIP Visits, General Secretary Brezhnev Visit to USA, June 1973, Briefing Book [1 of 2])
  8. In telegram 1689 from Cairo, June 8, Greene reported that on June 7 he paid a farewell call on Ismail, who had expressed the harshest version yet of the Egyptian line and said that he saw no prospect of a change in the U.S. position on the Middle East, and thus no chance of improvement in the Middle East situation. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  9. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 284.
  10. The President underlined this sentence.
  11. See footnote 4, Document 53.
  12. “Basic Principles of Relations Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” was issued on May 29, 1972, at the conclusion of the summit. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 633–635.
  13. The President underlined the first part of this sentence.
  14. The President underlined most of this sentence.