95. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Major General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

[Omitted here is discussion of Ford’s speaking engagements.]

[Kissinger:] On the Middle East problem—you will be seeing a number of Middle East ministers over the coming weeks. The actors: Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan are the principals. Then other Arabs. Then the Soviet Union. Then the Europeans and Japan. Our job is to find a policy which relates all those problems to each other.

First, after 1967 I operated on the basis of the historical illusion that the Arabs were militarily impotent, and U.S. support was firm. Rabin told me, “We never had it so good.” That was true as long as they could defeat the Arabs and we supported them. I had a misconception of our strategy. Between 1967 and 1974, Egypt and Syria were essentially Soviet satellites. In Egypt we had a low-level Interests Section and in Syria we had nothing. Our strategy during this period was . . . we always try to have a simple strategy but complicated tactics. We like complicated tactics, not for their own sake because we want the other parties committed first so we can sell our support to keep things fluid. We try to create a need for an American role before we give it—to ensure that both parties are ready. That we changed last spring. This was good strategy except with the Soviet Union, where we have to be simple, direct, and clear. In the Mideast before the October War, we tried to create such frustrations that the Arabs would leave the Soviet Union and come to us. We didn’t want the impression that Soviet pressure produces results—that it had to be us. The Soviets could give only arms.

We didn’t expect the October War.

The President: But wasn’t it helpful?

Kissinger: We couldn’t have done better if we had set the scenario.

The President: Even the heavy Israeli losses helped, didn’t they?

[Page 403]

Kissinger: Once the war started, we helped Israel stabilize the situation. But it was not without a cost they couldn’t sustain. Their casualties were enormous and had enormous impact. But they restored the situation and reversed some Arab cockiness—but the Arabs know Israel can’t stand attrition.

The most moderate Arabs are the Jordanians. The most consistently moderate are the Egyptians. They almost broke with the Soviet Union and will be bellwethers to future progress. The most erratic are the Syrians. For them—radicals—to sign a document with Israel was a monumental event.

The other players—Saudi Arabia. Faisal is a kook but a shrewd cookie. He is in a position where all Arabs come to him.

The President: Is it him or his advisors?

Kissinger: It is him. He used to be the Foreign Minister. He has a standard pitch on Jews. The first time I went, his speech to me was that all Jews are bad. They are cowards, who are mentioned unfavorably in the Koran. The second time I went, he pointed out he recognized the difference between Jews and Zionists. The third time, the Foreign Minister said he didn’t consider me a Jew but a human being. [Laughter] You might consider inviting him next year.

The President: Has he ever been here?

Kissinger: The second time over. With Nixon. On the left, there is Libya and Iraq. Algeria is a key. We will try to use your accession to restore diplomatic relations.

Then the Soviet Union. They lost Egypt and they are in trouble in Syria. It is becoming a movement in Iraq. Egypt was an enormous commitment of prestige and they have suffered badly.

It is not true that they started the October War—they opposed it but didn’t try to stop it. The problem was they supported the Arabs but not enough. They tried to work a line between supporting the Arabs and not antagonizing us. We can’t let Israel win the next war too heavily. Soviet intervention would be almost inevitable.

Europe is fearful of oil pressures and is eager to restore their former position in the Middle East. Right now they are in check because they are afraid if they interfere with American policy things will go bad and the embargo will be imposed again.

The Arabs’ demand is for the 1967 frontiers. Israel considers that these would be the end of Israel. The country was only 12 kilometers wide in some places. Almost all of Israel would be under SAM coverage.

The Palestinians’ rights are undefined and Jerusalem very complicated.

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The basic strategy has been this: Israel can’t stand and we can’t handle dealing with all these issues at once. That is what the Soviet Union wants. That would guarantee a stalemate and a war. We must move step by step, which will make further steps possible. Israel says another Golan move is the last one. That is impossible but it is very difficult. To keep that last, we must move with Jordan or Egypt.

I have the instinct Rabin wanted to pull with Nixon what he did in 1971—produce a stalemate with abstract proposals and rely on American public opinion. They don’t mind the Arabs being with the Soviet Union as long as it is not extreme. From 1967 to 1973 the situation was ideal for Israel. The Arabs can’t make peace because they don’t know how to settle the Palestinian issue. Israel can’t either, because Jerusalem would burst their domestic structure. But they would like Sadat to formally end belligerency. Egypt can’t do it, but maybe they can take the appropriate steps without a formal statement.

The President: Such as?

Kissinger: No blockade; Israeli cargo permitted through the Suez Canal.

The President: How is the Suez clearance going?

Kissinger: It can be completed by the end of the year. Sadat wants our advice on whether to hurry or delay. A delay is not worth it.

The Soviets want Geneva to open quickly. We don’t because the Soviet Union will try to maneuver us into being Israel’s lawyer. The last time, we opened and closed quickly, but it will be tougher the next time. So we want to set something up beforehand. But we can’t humiliate the Soviet Union. We have to open Geneva by November, but keep it in a low key.

I told Dinitz that Rabin should ask to see you. They don’t want to, because they are afraid you will pressure them to move and they don’t want to. We can’t stall till hell freezes over, like Israel wants.

The President: What is your timetable?

Kissinger: If Sadat knows what he will get, he will wait. Your talks with Sadat will be important.

The President: Should I see Rabin before or after I see Sadat?

Kissinger: Israel wants after, but that’s tougher. We wanted to complete Jordan first, but a cable today2 showed that is not possible. The problem in Jordan is the Palestinians backed by the radical states. Israel is afraid that a Palestinian state would be radical. Yet the Israeli Government needs the Religious Party to govern and their religion says they must have all of Israel to govern. So a new election must be held if [Page 405] any territory is to be given up, and the government is afraid of the results.

We are trying to get Israel to negotiate with Jordan and give back some of the West Bank. Then we can say the issue is between Jordan and the PLO. Then we can stay out of the triangle—Jordan, Israel and Arafat.

I made progress with Allon on a scheme which might work. If Egypt will wait, we are in grand shape. If Egypt has to go first, we are okay, if Egypt will keep the Palestinians quiet. If they want simultaneous negotiations, we are in trouble.

If there is a blow-up, Europe and Japan would support the Arabs. There should be no illusions about that.

If you could go with Jordan first, the negotiations would give us a 3–4 months breather.

On Syria, Israel can’t give up all the Golan, but it can be more flexible. The problem is the settlements they have right up to the line. We use your newness to delay.

This is the context of Israeli supply. Defense can’t use the Israel-Arab process to put the monkey on your and my back.

The President: It is better if the problem is logistics rather than political.

Kissinger: Yes. You can control the taps.

The President: Allon told me about their shortage of military equipment. Is that true?

Kissinger: Yes. But we have tanks in storage in Europe. Supply is our big card now.

They have a $5 billion authorization they would like you to put in all at once to draw on over the next three years.

The President: I think we should hold them off until we see their attitude. That is a hole card we control. I’m not sure Congress would jump at something like this with the current inflation.

Kissinger: There would be an explosion in the Arab world with the $5 billion they proposed. It should be done in the context of ongoing negotiations and getting back Arab territory. We got the FMS to go through that way.

The critical issue is Egyptian military equipment. The Soviet Union is turning them off. If that continues, the military will have to turn out Sadat or go back to the Soviet Union. We are trying to get others to give parts to Egypt, but sooner or later we have to face up to it. We have had talks on equipping them through Saudi Arabia. The first step would be to send it to Saudi Arabia and let Egyptian troops train in it. The legal problem would come up if equipment filtered to Egypt.

[Page 406]

Saudi Arabia is willing to use 200 million for Egypt and DOD has broken out a package which makes sense.

The President: What are they talking about?

Scowcroft: F–4s, TOWs. I will bring a list tomorrow.

Kissinger: The thing we have going with the Arabs is that we deliver and we treat them gentler than the Soviet Union.

With Fahmy you can avoid getting into this or talk. If you talk, I recommend a sympathetic approach, but point out that it presents bureaucratic problems and you need to get control first. At present, DOD would leak.

The President: I agree. What would be the DOD position?

Kissinger: Clements would agree. Schlesinger would agree on the surface but his actual position would depend on his political assessment. Brown is okay. Ellsworth I can’t assess.

The President: Ellsworth is a team player—first class.

Kissinger: There is no philosophical objection by Schlesinger but he would try to shift responsibility out of DOD.

If you could indicate sympathy, but say we have a big problem with the bureaucracy and Congress.

First, the sales to Saudi Arabia are no problem. But before they give it to Egypt you would have to tell Congress.

Even Israel should be willing to go along, because we could control resupply.

The President: I would think it would be better for us than the Soviet Union to control their resupply.

Kissinger: Yes, but it will be traumatic for them and all hell will break loose here.

To cut Egypt off will certainly force Egypt back to the Soviet Union.

The President: Domestically, it will depend on Egypt’s willingness to make a reasonable settlement with Israel.

Kissinger: Sadat is wise. He has to make tough statements because he has his own constituency. We have a fine relationship with him. Israel has had exercises to scare them. The Egyptian Chief of Staff got intemperate with me and Sadat calmed him down. He is relaxed about it now.

The President: Is he a good leader?

Kissinger: Egyptians aren’t great soldiers like the Israeli soldiers. But he is a decent, competent military leader.

The Middle East is the worst problem we face. The oil situation is the worst we face. We talk again. But we can’t afford another embargo. If we are faced with that, we may have to take some oil fields.

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The President: Like the Gulf and Iran.

Kissinger: Not Iran. I oppose Simon because Iran wouldn’t join an embargo.

The President: How do we do it without contingency plans?

Kissinger: DOD is doing that along with other contingency plans. It would be helpful if you said to Fahmy that an oil embargo would face you with a difficult situation.

The President: Let’s talk Wednesday morning about Fahmy’s strategy.

Kissinger: Great, and I’ll talk oil strategy then.

Our energy actions are going well. The key elements of our proposal—even oil sharing—are being accepted. I’ll brief on this Wednesday also.

In October we should get the key producers together to talk next steps—not military action. One thing would be to get Europe not to buy beyond a certain price and have a sharing program to help out in case of any selective boycott. The key element is Project Independence.3

The President: It seems to have languished.

Kissinger: Sawhill doesn’t have the power to push it. The best way to get a handle on all this is through Project Independence. You are in a great position to get allied cooperation which is unprecedented since the 40’s.

The President: I want an updating on Project Independence. Part of the problem is Congress.

Kissinger: There is too much bureaucracy involved.

The President: Also Scoop and ERDA and getting all the agencies working together. We are playing a funny game.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Arab-Israeli dispute.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 4, August 12, 1974, Ford, Kissinger. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Oval Office at the White House. President Nixon resigned as President of the United States on August 9, and Gerald Ford was sworn in as President that same day at 12:03 p.m.
  2. Cable is not further identified.
  3. Project Independence was President Nixon’s domestic response to the energy crisis brought on by the Arab oil embargo.