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


  • The Middle East—Where the Arab-Israeli Issue Stands and a Broader Strategy Toward the Area

The Middle East—General Strategy

There are two aspects of our strategy in the Middle East—(1) strategy toward the broader area from the Eastern Mediterranean through South Asia and (2) our approach to the Arab-Israeli problem. Behind both are the energy problem.

In the past four years State has used the greater part of its energies on trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli problem, largely on the theory that a solution would reduce our other problems in the area.

In the next three years, I hope the priorities will be rebalanced. Of course, we will want to press efforts for an Arab-Israeli negotiation insofar as possible. But a solution is not primarily within our control. What seems to rate more attention is an effort to strengthen our position in other parts of the area, and at least to contain whatever damage a continued Arab-Israeli impasse may do us.

This process has been well begun by the recent SRG meetings on our general strategy in this area, by your talks with the Shah, by efforts to shore up our relationships in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, and by our work with Jordan. There is an important opportunity in following through on each of these tracks, and this will be done separately.

That said, the main purpose of this book is to draw together material on where the Arab-Israeli situation stands.2

Elements in the Arab-Israeli Situation Now

These are the main considerations that will shape decisions on Arab-Israeli negotiations over the next few months:

The Israeli elections are scheduled for October 29. While quiet discussion between you and the Israelis is possible before then, the Israelis [Page 255] will not be ready for any serious negotiation until afterward. In the meantime, campaign statements by Israeli leaders, as well as new policies in the occupied areas, are likely to make it harder for Sadat to begin negotiating because they will underline Israel’s intention to keep some of the occupied land. The elections themselves may produce a ruling coalition that has even less latitude on territorial issues than the present cabinet.

Sadat has spent the last six months experimenting with a range of options for strengthening his position vis-à-vis Israel. These have included trying to build European support, going to the UN Security Council, talking about resuming hostilities, exploring the US position again, and working out a closer relationship with Saudi Arabia with the thought over time of developing leverage from Saudi oil and financial resources. The last of these is the most active at the moment, but the others are still available to be called forward in some new combination as new situations evolve.

At this point, Sadat’s main preoccupation is with broadening his base of dependable Arab support. To do this, he has to find new balance between his relationship with Libya on one side and with Saudi Arabia on the other. King Faisal has offered him major incentives to avoid or limit the Libyan merger. He has offered to replace Libyan financial support and now plans large scale investment in the stagnant Egyptian economy. He has also apparently offered to help increase support and arms supply from Europe. Finally, there is the enticement of the potential of oil as a political weapon against the US. These elements combine in support of a long-term strategy of building Arab strength with the help of large Gulf oil revenues and European technological help. Other coming events where Sadat will hope to find further international support include the non-aligned conference in Algiers and the UN General Assembly.

Jordan, alone having tried negotiation with Israel, has concluded that it is not likely to get all of its territory back unaided by outside pressure on Israel. Jerusalem remains a key obstacle. King Hussein appears to have decided instead on a long-term strategy of tacit collaboration with Israel while he strengthens his own country.3 He would be prepared to join a general negotiation at any point, but for the moment [Page 256] does not want to isolate himself further by making peace alone with Israel, especially on the unattractive terms now offered by the Israelis.

Strategy Choices Now

There are two questions to be kept in mind: (1) how to get Egypt–Israel talks started and (2) how to relate Egypt–Israel talks, if any, to the settlement process on the Jordan–Israel front.

1. The US objective remains getting talks started between Egypt and Israel and the problem remains persuading the two—especially Egypt—to begin talks on the basis of an understanding or formula that leaves most of the crucial issues for negotiation. The available formulae—the versions you have discussed with the Soviets and the one Sisco proposed in the spring4—are at the first two sub-tabs under the “Egypt–Israel” tab for your reference.

One tactical issue that will be discussed is whether we should deal first with Egypt or with Israel and whether we should seek some movement from basic positions on either side as a basis for talks.

—You will recall that the Sisco paper in the spring proposed negotiating first with the Israelis. Sisco proposed negotiations on two tracks: (1) talks on an interim settlement and (2) exploratory discussions to see whether Egypt and Israel could agree on a basis for negotiations on the terms of an overall settlement. Sisco proposed pinning this down with the Israelis first and suggested that both sides agree to this point among others: “. . . both parties take note of the fact that Resolution 242 neither explicitly precludes the line which existed on June 5, 1967, as the final, secure and recognized boundary between them.” Accepting this formulation would require an important decision for Israel.

—The alternative is to explore with both sides a formula for starting talks on the basis of present positions. This is essentially the course you have been following. This relies mainly on convincing the Egyptians that the Administration has the intention and the capability to press Israel for a reasonable solution in talks going beyond the first phase of a settlement. Exactly what next steps may be appropriate will depend on the state of your explorations toward the end of October when the Israeli elections are over.

2. The other question that must be considered is what kind of process on the Jordan–Israel front would be compatible with an Egypt–Israel settlement, if any. King Hussein seems to have concluded that letting his tacit relationship with Israel evolve is preferable to any explicit agreement he could reach now. If this is the course to be followed, then we would face two decisions:

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—If we believe that the evolutionary process between Israel and Jordan is preferable to trying to force a settlement that Hussein could live with, then we should acknowledge this to ourselves. The last time Hussein was here, he asked what our plans for negotiation were and we promised to be in touch with him.5 We had in mind then waiting until we knew how the Egyptian position would develop in the wake of Ismail’s visit. Because that has not developed quickly, we have not had much to say to Hussein. Meanwhile, he seems to have moved more toward a policy of working in complementary ways to Israel for the development of the east and west banks of the Jordan. One question is whether we should relate ourselves to that process, but more important we owe it to Hussein to tell him what our general strategy is.

—If Egypt–Israel negotiations were to begin, we would then have to decide whether to try for a compatible settlement on the Jordan front or whether to try to find a formulation for describing the Jordan–Israel process in such a way that it could be accepted by the Egyptians and permit them not to make their settlement contingent on specific achievements in the Jordan–Israel–Palestinian process.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1337, NSC Secretariat, NSC Unfiled Material, 1973, 12 of 12. Secret.
  2. Tab II, “Jordan–Israel” is attached, but not printed. Tab I, “Egypt–Israel” and Tab III, “Reference Papers” are not attached.
  3. King Hussein and Prime Minister Meir had a meeting on August 6. The main purpose of the meeting was for Hussein to give Meir a report on his July visits to Iran and the United Kingdom. The two leaders agreed that the present situation would probably prevail for some time to come, due to the absence of any progress toward negotiation. They agreed to continue their present state of relations, including Israeli plans to arrange economic aid for Jordan through third parties. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 137, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan/Rifai, January 3, 1973)
  4. See Document 72. Sisco’s paper is attached to Document 75.
  5. See Document 14.