209. Editorial Note

On October 6, 1973, war began in the Middle East when Egypt and Syria launched a concerted surprise attack on Israel, coinciding with the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday. The war ended October 26 when the U.S.-Soviet sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 338 calling for a cease-fire was accepted by all parties. U.S. policy toward the Yom Kippur war and in the immediate postwar period is documented in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973. Documentation on continuing American diplomatic efforts in the postwar period, and the Arab-Israeli crisis is ibid., volume XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976.

Once the war began, the Washington Special Actions Group (WSAG) held a series of meetings on war-related issues, including the potential for an Arab oil embargo. Records of these WSAG meetings are ibid., volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973.

At the first of these WSAG meetings, held at 9 a.m. on October 6, without Secretary of State and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger present, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger asked about the possibility of an oil embargo. Alfred Atherton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, thought it “very high.” There was consensus that Saudi Arabia was “the key to the oil problem,” and that relations with the Europeans could become difficult in the event of an embargo. Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Rush mentioned that the United States had no plans in the event of an embargo, and should there be an embargo the United States would be “in a helluva fix,” as would the Europeans and the Japanese. The WSAG requested the Central Intelligence Agency to prepare a paper estimating the possibility and impact of an oil embargo. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–117, Washington Special Action Group, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 10/2/73–7/22/74) This paper was discussed at the October 15 WSAG meeting; see Document 215.

Secretary of State Kissinger chaired a second WSAG meeting the evening of October 6, at 7:22 p.m., during which information from the morning meeting was reviewed and the group discussed the possibility that the United States might have to ration energy supplies. The WSAG asked the Departments of State and Treasury and the National Security Council to develop a contingency study on the impact of an oil cut-off. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 129, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East, [Page 575] 1971–74) This paper, “Oil Contingency Paper,” October 7, is Tab B of the papers discussed at the October 7 WSAG meeting.

The October 7 WSAG meeting, at 6:06 p.m., focused on rationing and the need for a Presidential announcement. Secretary Kissinger told WSAG members that the United States did not want a European “panic,” and needed an emergency program to deal with a potential oil cutoff. He noted that the Arabs “have to learn what the limits are or they will nibble us to death. But this is a helluva time to teach them the limits.” The meeting concluded with the decision that the Department of the Treasury would prepare a contingency plan for U.S. action in the event of a cutoff, and that Secretary Kissinger would handle any attendant bureaucratic issues with Governor John A. Love, the President’s Assistant for Energy. (Ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–117, Washington Special Action Group, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 10-2-73–7-22-74) The requested contingency plan was discussed at the October 14 WSAG meeting; see Document 214.