18. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Secretary Kissinger’s Report on Egyptian-Israeli Disengagement Agreement
(Excerpt on Foreign Policy)
Kissinger: I want to underline what the President and Vice President said. When something works it looks easy, but one has to look at what other things might have happened. It would be difficult now if we had a crisis on autobahn, or something, while we were working on the Middle East. It is easy for Jackson to posture against the Soviets because we have them all quieted down.2 The fact is the President has quieted the world down. In 1970 we had four crises going on.
In the Middle East last October, the Europeans and Japanese panicked and started to compete for Arab favor. At the middle of the month it looked as if we were isolated in support of Israel and the Soviet Union could keep the turmoil going by escalating its demands. We got a ceasefire, and then it blew up. We had a momentary crisis with the Soviet Union and an alert—which even the Arabs thought was essential. The Arab moderates felt themselves trapped by the radicals, the Soviets, and the Europeans.
What we had to get across is that everyone else could posture but only we could deliver. Only the United States had the leverage on Israel.
The President, therefore, sent me to the Middle East with a message that we won’t promise what we can’t deliver, but we will deliver what we promise. Sadat’s wisdom though was indispensable. His willingness and his patience gave us time to get things turned around.
The stalemate stemmed from the tendency of the Arabs to confuse great proclamations with achievement. And the Israelis equate security with military force.[Page 103]
We had to break the international front—a coalescence of the Arabs, the Soviet Union, the Europeans, and Japanese, but do this without antagonizing the Soviet Union. So we developed the Geneva framework to keep the Soviet Union involved. Geneva brought the parties together for the first time.
The moral force of the United States in the world is overwhelming. After billions of Soviet expenditures and effort in the Middle East, it was the United States which they all turned to. Sadat couldn’t accept the Israeli proposal for force limitations but could accept the President’s proposal in the interest of peace in the world. It could only have been done with us. The negotiations were direct, but we provided the essential catalyst.
This is the first time Israel has ever moved back of her own accord. We have now disengaged the military forces of the two sides and averted a possible resumption of the war and a possible great power confrontation. The achievement of surprise is now impossible. With forces that are at all equal, victory in a desert war comes only with surprise.
One of the most encouraging developments was to see the two sides changed from looking at each other as devils to a recognition they had a common problem. Problems which had been deadlocked, after the agreement were settled almost immediately.
We still face enormous problems in the future. Our first need is to help prevent Sadat’s isolation in the Arab world. That was the reason for my visit to Syria.3 They are wacky but it was an enormous step for them to send a disengagement proposal to Israel, which they did. It was unacceptable, but we can get a negotiation going and Sadat is no longer isolated. If we can get a Syrian disengagement, we can then move with Sadat for a permanent settlement. Then we can work on the Palestinians. The Israeli problem is that there is the Religious Party4 in the Cabinet which regards the West Bank as part of Biblical Israel.
None of this could have happened without Soviet acquiescence. All they had to do was to put out proposals that were more Egyptian than Sadat put out. They are not happy, but it was crucial they did not interfere. Without détente it couldn’t have happened.
President: On embargo, you can say that without disengagement, no lifting of the embargo would take place—but don’t predict that it will. Just say we are working on it.[Page 104]
One political point—Golda has always told me that she doesn’t need our men there—that with our arms they can beat the Arabs every time. But even if that is true, it is possible only if we hold the ring against the Soviet Union. If the Soviet presence had moved into the Middle East, we would have had a serious problem. If that had happened, it wouldn’t matter how much Congress appropriated.
We are not trying to freeze out the Soviet Union. It’s just that we intend to play a role in the Middle East.
With regard to Arab moderates, it is essential they side with us because the Soviet Union could support the revolutionaries. Even the radicals, who are anti-Israel and because of that anti-U.S., are not pro-Soviet but pro-themselves. We have to play this carefully. The Soviet Union is close and we are far away. If the Soviet Union didn’t have other fish to fry with us, we would have a bigger problem in the Middle East.
Israel is totally dependent on us, the moderate Arabs partly. The radicals even need us in a way.
Without détente, the Soviet Union could have opposed our initiative and blown it sky high. Why did they play the role they did? It was in their interest—which would not have been served by confrontation with us because it would have hurt with respect to Europe, SALT, China. This is why détente is right and will continue.
Kissinger: This is why the constant Congressional pressure against the Soviet Union can destroy détente. If the Soviet Union gets nothing from it, they won’t continue this posture.
President: That is right. The military will react against SALT, the Congress against MFN. But we must do what is right for détente. We must recognize that the Soviet leadership could change. The same with the PRC. They could be a tremendous nuclear power in 15–20 years. When you hear the nitpickers remember it is not done with mirrors nor is it accidental. It is not because Brezhnev loves us—but because his alternatives are worse.
- Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 3, January 23, 1974, Cabinet Meeting. Confidential. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. A list of attendees is in President Nixon’s Daily Diary. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)↩
- A reference to Senator Jackson’s efforts to link Most-Favored-Nation status for the Soviet Union to the liberalization of Soviet emigration policies, especially regarding Jews.↩
- Kissinger met with Asad in Damascus on January 20. See Document 19.↩
- The National Religious Party, an orthodox Jewish political party that formed in 1956.↩