17. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Nixon
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Bipartisan Congressional Leadership


  • Bipartisan Leadership Meeting on the Egyptian-Israeli Disengagement Agreement

President: Welcome back to the new session. Welcome back, John Scali. There will be two meetings this week—one on the Middle East today and one on energy on Wednesday. We moved the State of the Union to the 30th because of the Women’s National Press Club.

We don’t know when the oil embargo might be lifted. Henry will cover that, plus the Egyptian agreement.

Kissinger: First, let me go over what our strategy has been. The conflict at the end of October had found us on one side, the Arabs with Soviet backing on the other side, and the oil embargo. We were a potential enemy to the Arabs; Israel was in a trauma digging in on the new lines they had taken. The debate in the UN was whether Israel should withdraw five kilometers, and Israel refused. Even had they done it, the situation would not have been substantially changed. The military situation was very unstable and the possibility of renewed war was high.

At this point, the President decided we should cooperate with the Soviet Union and set up the Geneva Conference.

Resolution 242 means different things to different parties. The problem with a general conference is that the Soviet Union would take an intransigent position which the Arabs would have to support and there would be a deadlock. Instead, we decided to move by stages within a comprehensive framework. None of this could have been done without President Sadat. He is a wise leader. He was willing to talk with Israel at Kilometer 101 and to trust us.

[Page 98]

President: Compare Nasser and Sadat. Nasser had a mystique but he was persona non grata with conservative Arabs. He had to take radical positions on Israel, and after the Aswan Dam, with the United States. We underestimated Sadat—because he didn’t have the charisma. But he didn’t have the debt to the radicals, the utter hatred of Israel, etc. Egypt is a non-oil state, yet he can lead the Arabs.

Kissinger: Nasser was a pan-Arabist; Sadat is an Egyptian nationalist, yet Sadat is better able to lead the Arabs. Nasser scared the Saudis silly. There are three levels of Arab problems: the Arab-Israeli problem itself; the internal political conditions in each country; and the relations to other Arab countries. For example, Asad described the internal problems he had moving in directions like Sadat was going—they are enormous. Without Sadat having moved, there would be no chance.

In November I told Sadat that if he wanted enforcement of Resolution 339,2 he could get it with a great deal of pain; but if he would work with us, we thought we could get a major move; with some effort, a real disengagement. To Sadat’s credit, he didn’t know whether he could pull it off—neither did I. Golda had been tough here. We had 2:00 a.m. meetings at the Blair House.3

President: Henry usually doesn’t mind that.

Kissinger: [Joke about making love to Golda and her having shingles.] We told Sadat that we wanted to get this major movement with the consent of Israel, not by raping her—and nothing could be done prior to the Israeli elections. So we needed time to convert Israel. Also we needed it to educate Egypt as to what was possible. For six weeks we engaged in academic debates with both sides. Israel said they would win another war. We said, even so, where are you? And for us, it was a dead end street. We finally convinced them to develop a plan of their own. Dayan then came over with a plan4—this was done willingly. We kept both sides fully informed.

The present Israeli political situation is bad. Her coalition must include parties opposed to each other and to withdrawal. The Geneva talks were working themselves into a deadlock. The President decided we needed to get things moving. Dayan said he had two problems: to get the plan approved by the Cabinet and to get it considered at a level in Egypt where it wouldn’t be rejected as a test of manhood.

[Page 99]

There was a big risk in my going; we didn’t know it would work. The original plan was to get a plan first and present it to Egypt and finalize it at Geneva. But Sadat said: “Why not finish it now so it won’t bog down?” He said he was willing to give more to get it done faster.

I won’t go into the details, but at some point in the negotiations they stopped being enemies and became collaborators in a common objective. One other point was that when political leaders agreed on a point, they asked me to take these points to their respective military. They exploded in each case, and were overruled by Golda and Sadat.

There was no way this agreement could have been reached bilaterally. Each could say things to us to pass that they couldn’t say directly.

[Secretary Kissinger went to the map on the easel and described the agreement.]

There is a zone of limited armaments. Each side refused to discuss its deployments with the other side. We decided that the United States would make a proposal to each, which they would sign. Neither of them had to say they had accepted limitations proposed by the other. The legal status of this is not that we are guarantors; we just generated the paper and it is attached to the agreement. It should be kept secret for the moment. The key is that the limitations remove any offensive capability—please do not reveal this—but neither can reach the other side with weapons. So, neither one can attack the other without warning, and each war in this area has started with a surprise attack.

Next, both wanted assurances they were reluctant to get directly. We have, however, made each party aware of the understandings with the other. None of these are obligations of the United States. For example: Bab el Mandeb [he described how it went]. Another was on how the UN would inspect. Each side wanted the UN forces to have liaison officers of the side being inspected. We also said we opposed any unilateral removal of UN forces. Another was: informal assurances of no howitzers which could reach Port Said. Another—please keep this secret—we told both of them we would give them reconnaissance photos of the lines. Flights will be made with the acquiescence of each.

One could almost feel the change in attitude between the sides as the talks went on. For example, Kabrit, and the Israeli dead. Five days were set aside for technical discussions—they were all settled yesterday. This mood is very significant.

The next moves relate to Syria and Jordan. The Syrians were beside themselves that Egypt would make a separate agreement, and appealed to other Arabs. They said this would freeze the situation. Sadat asked to let him go to Syria before me. There was an enormous differ[Page 100]ence between my first and second visits. It was a painful meeting,5 but they did produce a plan—it was unacceptable, but at least it was a plan. We also worked out a face-saving way they could start talks with Israel. Asad asked me to stop in Israel to give them the plan. It is a start. I believe if we can get disengagement schemes worked out, the sides can’t get at each other, and we will have changed the psychological climate. After this is done, we will go to Egypt to move toward a final settlement and let them be the pacesetters. We must be careful not to push out the Soviet Union—we will use Geneva to get their involvement and we have kept them partially informed.

An overall settlement will be a painful process—with much emotion, but this is a start. Both the Israeli and Egyptian press have been positive.

Now on energy—we should say nothing publicly. That would prevent movement. The problem now is that Arab disunity makes it hard to get an agreement among them to lift the embargo. But Sadat is on a trip now to get the lifting. We hope he will succeed but we don’t know when. We are optimistic but we must not predict it. It can’t be lifted as a favor to the U.S. but for their own motives.

President: Without the disengagement, there is no chance of lifting of the embargo. With it, there is a chance, but we can make no prediction as to when and how. The Arabs must make the decision—and not as the result of an American pressure ploy. The embargo has been on our minds in these negotiations. The disengagement is more important in the long term, but I know the concerns of your constituents. We have removed the major impediment, and we are in contact with all of them, but we have no predictions.

Albert: Is the problem an objection because we provided arms to Israel?

Kissinger: That is now overcome.

President: The fact that we brought about the disengagement tends to wash out the arms thing. The radical Arabs could say there can be no lifting of the embargo before a final settlement is reached, or at least until further movement. That was a major point.

Kissinger: That is no longer a major point. The President’s position was that we wanted to move in the Middle East but not in a way to give in to Arab blackmail. The difference between the U.S. and others, is that they can only give arms and only we can deliver.

Fulbright: It’s a remarkable job.

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President: I want to leave you with no illusions about anything. This is a big step. I knew the fact that three months ago that Syria would receive Kissinger was unthinkable—only Iraq is more radical.

Kissinger: Asad jokes about pursuing an anti-Soviet policy.

President: On energy, we hope we have made constructive progress, but there is nothing to predict. On the long-term settlement—it will involve Jerusalem, the question of the ’67 lines, etc. The U.S. will use its constructive influence toward a long-term settlement. We will continue to use our influence with all the states in the area.

Kissinger: I would not use the word “interim agreement.” “Separation of forces,” okay, “preliminary”—just not “interim,” because it has special connotation.

President: Another point regards the Soviet Union. It is not useful to brag about the Soviet Union being cut out. Had the Soviet Union moved to prevent this agreement, we would have had a problem. The line is the Soviet Union has been kept informed. We think their interest as well as ours is served by this.

One other point—not only will peace take time but the American presence, and capability, are of great substance. Lots of people have ideas for a settlement, but only we can do it—so our strength and diplomacy is very important.

Peace doesn’t come because men of goodwill want it, but only when both sides have more to gain by moving peacefully than by war. We have demonstrated that another war would be dangerous to world peace—both sides know they suffered badly. We also demonstrated that the U.S. wants nothing in the way of territory and domination over any one. We are respected and we amount to something. That is why we got what we now have. I look forward to good relations with every Arab state. The Middle East is the Balkans for the 1970s and very dangerous. We need a constructive relationship with all of the parties. But we don’t want to irritate the Soviet Union; we just want to play a constructive role.

Kissinger: If the Soviet Union wants peace, peace in the Middle East is not directed against the Soviet Union—only if they want turmoil in the Middle East.

President: We have had long talks with the Soviet Union on the Middle East. Both of us know it is important to each, but neither side wants a confrontation there.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 3, January 21, 1974, Nixon, Bipartisan Leadership. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Brackets are in the original. A list of attendees is in President Nixon’s Daily Diary. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Dispute and War, 1973, Document 324. UN Security Resolution 339, adopted on October 23 after the fighting in the Middle East continued, reiterated the terms of Resolution 338, calling again for a cease-fire (see footnote 6, Document 7). For the text of Resolution 339, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1973, p. 213.
  3. Kissinger is referring to the November 1973 meetings in Washington with Meir; see footnote 3, Document 1.
  4. See Document 7.
  5. Kissinger met with Asad in Damascus on January 20. See Document 19.