174. Minutes of National Security Council Meeting1
- Middle East
- The President
- The Vice President
- Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger
- Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger
- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. George S. Brown
- Director of Central Intelligence William Colby
- OTHER ATTENDEES
- Deputy Secretary Robert Ingersoll
- Ellsworth Bunker, Ambassador at Large
- Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements
- Donald Rumsfeld
- Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
- Robert B. Oakley
President: This group is familiar with the reasons that I ordered the reassessment of the Middle East on March 28,2 following the suspension of negotiations and the decision to treat Israel as a friend, correctly but like our other friends and no more. I have no apprehension about the vigor of our commitment to their security but there must be a suspension of certain deliveries and contacts in the interim. I trust my orders on this subject are being carried out.
In the meantime, I have met with a number of people and Henry has met with a number of others. We have told all of them, whether they were Israeli or pro-Israeli or Arab or pro-Arab or independent, the same thing, that we will not tolerate stagnation or stalemate in the Middle East. Momentum is the key word. I plan to meet Sadat and [Page 643] Rabin and at some time subsequent to that we will make a decision on United States policy in the Middle East.
Henry, would you please give us a rundown on the diplomatic options open to us.
But before Henry begins, let us recognize the fact that the professional members of the American Jewish Community have undertaken a certain nationwide campaign to paint the picture that the reassessment is a change of heart toward Israel. First, they are wrong. I reiterate my dedication to the survival of Israel, period. That is the word we use, survival. Second, anyone who knows me, and those who do not shall soon know that inequitable, unfair pressures are exactly the wrong way of trying to change my views. Inequitable, unfair public pressure tactics are the wrong way to convince me. I will tell certain people directly if this continues.
Now, Henry, tell us where we stand diplomatically.
Kissinger: We have made no attempt to move our policy examination to a conclusion. However, all concerned are convinced that within a year of what the Arabs perceive as a stalemate, there will be a war. We are also all convinced that the economic and military consequences would be unacceptable for the U.S. That is why we are trying so hard to get negotiations started again. The fact of our reassessment has bought us some time with the Arabs since they are less frustrated than they would have been had nothing been happening at all. But when it comes time for the next renewal of the UN forces in late July if nothing is going, or at least the clear prospect of progress seen, the situation will be out of control. After that events will move rapidly.
In our reassessment we have identified the several options. First, would be to restart the interim negotiations between Egypt and Israel. In some ways this is the easiest approach but there are two problems. One is that each side is now so dug in publicly as to their positions on the details of this negotiation that it will be extremely difficult for them to make concessions that might have been possible for them before. The other is that there is a different atmosphere now in the Arab world. Feisal had been convinced on the step-by-step approach, a separate negotiation for Egypt, and Asad had no choice but to go along. But now Fahd has taken over and he does not think exactly the same way, he is less liable to support a separate Egyptian negotiation. Moreover, the Egyptians and Syrians are now much closer to each other, with Saudi support. So if we decide to go for another interim agreement for Egypt we will also have to go for another one with Syria or we will create a situation where Syria could easily go to war and ruin everything we have accomplished.
The second option is for Israel to give up a bigger piece of territory for a bigger political concession from Egypt. But this would raise the [Page 644] Syrian question in an even more acute way, even more dangerous. Also, it could never work because Israel would demand non-belligerency and this is impossible for Egypt except in the context of total or almost total withdrawal.
The third option is a comprehensive proposal at Geneva, either by the U.S. or put forward by someone else. This will happen at Geneva whether we like it or not and we will be forced to take a position on the key elements, anyway. We can go for a comprehensive settlement alone or with the Soviets or start alone and then bring in the Soviets, or try to work it out together with the Israelis. There are many possible variations of the comprehensive approach. But they will all be very difficult for Israel.
The fourth option is to go to Geneva and let a stalemate develop and then try to move back to a U.S. interim agreement. The Soviets may fear this is what we have in mind and that we already have worked at an agreement with Sadat. But a stalemate at Geneva without prior progress outside of Geneva is very dangerous and could lead to war as easily as to an interim agreement. This would be especially true if we were seen to be the obstacle causing the stalemate at Geneva.
Given these options, what we will recommend to the President will depend upon the degree of flexibility the President discovers in his meetings with Sadat and Rabin3 and what I find about the Soviet position when I see Gromyko.4 When I meet Gromyko the guidance is not to be specific. This is really an exploration to get their views before meeting Sadat and Rabin. We can probably keep this round of consultations going into the first part of July but not beyond that or the Arabs will conclude we will do nothing. It is also possible that the Israeli strategy is just to sit tight, wait until elections come next year and do nothing.
Schlesinger: It is clear to me that is precisely their strategy, don’t you agree?
Kissinger: Yes, I think this is their strategy. Since I left Israel in March there has not been a single substantive message from the Israeli Government capable of enabling progress to be made. Either they repeat their earlier positions and call them new when they are the same, or they are so vague as to be worthless. That is why we must be firm with them and impress upon them the need to come up with some new substantive proposals.
Clements: I want to assure you, Henry, and the President that the Saudis have great confidence in you and the President wanting a just [Page 645] peace in the Middle East. When I was there with George (General Brown), they made this very clear. And they said it is also true of Egypt. They are optimistic that you and the President will pull something out of the hat to keep it going.
Kissinger: They are optimistic because they think we will do it but at this point we have nothing at all to work with.
Schlesinger: Could I say something about using the word survival instead of security? It is a codeword of significance. After October 1973 we took a position on maintaining the security of Israel and working for a just and equitable solution to the Middle East situation. That formula is reassuring to Israel. It means their undiminished survival. This is a sensitive period and it is not advisable to get drawn into semantic disputes.
President: I have used survival and security interchangeably, synonymously. But they have now chosen to make a distinction, not I.5 I will therefore use survival and I do not want anyone else to paraphrase or explain away what I say. The record of my commitment to Israel is clear. I have before me the major items furnished to Israel by the U.S. since October 1973 and since I became President, up until April of this year.6 The facts are that Israel is far better off today militarily than prior to October 1973. I am delighted they are in that position since it makes our position very strong in holding off on certain items. If this criticism continues, we may release this information.
Now, we are dedicated to Israel’s survival and to the avoidance of stagnation and stalemate. All Departments and Agencies should maintain a correct attitude toward the Israelis. All the parties should be treated with the same correctness. Our position is right and has to be maintained that way. In the meantime, we will make a bona fide reassessment of our policy and announce a final decision after the meeting with Rabin in June. We made a maximum effort in March. We are disappointed it did not succeed. But that is not the reason for our reassessment. We have some critical issues to solve. In the meantime our attitude is one of correct behavior.
Vice President: What about using “survival of Israel as a free and independent state?” That is what I have always used.
President: We want to stick to survival.[Page 646]
Kissinger: They have said they need the word security because it means expanded frontiers. They want us to endorse that position so they have made it an issue.
Schlesinger: Have they said so?
Kissinger: They have said it in the press and have accused us publicly of trying to get away from supporting their territorial claims.
Schlesinger: In the past we have used the word security.
President: But they have made it an issue and we will not back down.
Vice President: I have used “survival as a free and independent state” for 26 years. I have attended the kick-off dinner of the United Jewish Appeal every year and have a lot of experience in finding just the right words. I have had to be careful. This will avoid the territorial issue which is linked to security.
President: That is okay. Survival or survival as a free and independent state.
[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Arab-Israeli dispute.]
- Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Box 1, NSC Meetings File, NSC Meeting, May 15, 1975. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room at the White House. The original is marked “Part III of III.” Parts I and II concern the seizure of the ship Mayaguez and the Panama Canal negotiations. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting ended at 6:09 p.m. (Ford Library, Staff Secretary’s Office Files)↩
- See Document 166.↩
- See Documents 177, 178, and 183.↩
- Kissinger and Gromyko met in Vienna May 19–20. See footnote 2, Document 178.↩
- According to Kissinger’s memoirs, Ford made an “off-the-cuff” statement in May that he had always supported Israel’s survival and would continue his support. The Israeli Government protested the statement because it objected to the term “survival” instead of the term “security,” which had been the standard term used by U.S. officials previously. (Years of Renewal, pp. 426–427)↩
- Not attached.↩