292. Editorial Note

At the end of January 1974, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon received assurances from both President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia that the embargo was to be lifted. It was eventually determined that Nixon would announce the end of the embargo in the State of the Union address scheduled for January 30.

On January 19, Kissinger, in Jordan, informed Brent Scowcroft, the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs, that Sadat had given him assurance that the embargo would be lifted “no later than” January 28, and that Sadat would himself make the announcement based on a message prepared by Kissinger. Kissinger wanted Scowcroft to emphasize to Nixon that “our best hope is Sadat, and that we must keep our oil men out of this affair, their interests are parochial and they clearly do not have the ear” of King Faisal. (Telegram Hakto 56; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 43, HAK Trip Files, HAK Trip—Europe & Mid East HAKTO 1–65, January 10–20, 1974) Nixon immediately wanted to announce the embargo’s end in the State of the Union address, but Kissinger noted that it was “impossible.” Kissinger wrote to Scowcroft:

“We have gotten where we have in this exercise by dealing from (or appearing to deal from) a position of strength. Should the President now indicate to the Arabs the vital importance to the U.S. and to him of ending the oil embargo—and ending it with an announcement from Washington—we will give strength to the Arabs in their determination to deal with us harshly. We may get the oil embargo removed for the moment, but you can be sure it will be reimposed the first time [Page 819]we take a position inimical to Arab interests. We will then be driven from concession to concession.” (Telegrams Tohak 119, January 19, and Hakto 60, January 20; ibid., HAK Trip—Europe & Mid East TOHAK 71–124, January 10–20, 1974 and ibid., HAK Trip—Europe & Mid East HAKTO 1–65, January 10–20, 1974)

By the end of January, however, President Nixon had determined to make the announcement himself. On January 27, Sadat wrote Nixon that he had dispatched a special envoy to King Faisal and other Arab countries and “I am glad to inform you that, as a result of this visit, King Faisal has agreed to lift the embargo.” Sadat thought Nixon could “declare in your message to Congress on January 30 that this discrimination against your country is lifted.” He wrote that Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar agreed with this decision, and that Kuwait hoped Nixon would state in this message that the United States was committed to the full implementation of UN Resolution 242. Sadat added that his envoy was on his way to Algeria to discuss the embargo with President Houari Boumedienne, but did not expect any difficulty. (Telegram 422 from Cairo, January 27; ibid., Box 133, Country Files, Middle East, Egypt, Vol. 9)

On January 28, King Faisal wrote Nixon that “in keeping with our promise to Your Excellency that when a withdrawal of the Israeli forces begins, we shall undertake to contact the Arab states to obtain a lifting of the boycott against America. I should like to inform Your Excellency we have begun to do just this. We hope that we will soon achieve positive results toward the realization of this goal.” Faisal did not want to be quoted in the State of the Union address by name or as urging this action, but thought Nixon could say that “he was in direct contact with an important Arab leader (or leaders) who had called for an urgent meeting of the Arabs to arrange the lifting of the oil boycott and that he (the President) had every reason to believe that this action would be taken very soon.” (Telegram 440 from Jidda, January 28; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Geopolitical Files, Box CL–207, Saudi Arabia, 4 Jan–6 Feb 74)

Kissinger relayed this information to Nixon, suggesting that Nixon “jazz it up a little bit more.” Nixon suggested the statement be brief. (Telephone conversation, January 28, 11:23 a.m.; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 24, Chronological Files) Later that afternoon, Saudi Royal Adviser and Minister of Intelligence Kamal Adham and his deputy, Prince Turki, informed Kissinger that in order to appease the Kuwaitis, who doubted Nixon’s personal commitment, Nixon should insert the following “key sentence” into the State of the Union address:

“The first fruits of that commitment are reflected in the agreement on disengagement of forces signed last Friday, under which Israeli [Page 820]forces will withdraw into Sinai as a first step toward a final peace settlement in accordance with Security Council Resolutions 338 and 242.”

Adham and Prince Turki stated that the words “first step” would satisfy Kuwait and Syria. (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dec 73–Feb 74) Sadat wrote Nixon again on January 28 that he had assurances from Faisal that the embargo would be lifted in time for Nixon to announce it during his State of the Union address. (Telegram 18387 to Jidda, January 28; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 207, Geopolitical Files, Saudi Arabia, 4 Jan–6 Feb 74)

In their discussions on these proposed insertions, Kissinger told Nixon: “The text we have given you has been cleared, in fact suggested by Saudi Arabia and has been approved by Sadat. It would be a hell of a risk for them if they disavowed you.” (Telephone conversation, January 29, 1:25 p.m.; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 24, Chronological Files) Both Prince Turki and Adham re-affirmed that Faisal wanted the terms “first steps” inserted as a “sign” of reassurance “that the United States is not afraid to characterize disengagement as only the beginning of a process which will continue until Security Council Resolutions 338 and 242 are implemented in full.” Both also “voiced their conviction” that if Nixon did not insert those key words, then Faisal would “feel isolated and may well feel resentment towards both the United States and Egypt for asking more of him than they were willing to give in return.” (Message from Adham and Prince Turki to Kissinger, January 29; ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dec 73–Feb 74) Kissinger informed Sadat that the United States “was pursuing the matter with King Faisal directly so that President Nixon can make a positive statement on this matter in the State of the Union message on January 30.” (Telegram 18486 to Cairo, January 29; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 127, Geopolitical Files, Egypt Chron File 1–31 Jan 1974)

Kissinger told Scowcroft that he was unsure of putting any kind of assurances in the speech because it might make Nixon “look silly.” Kissinger stated it was a “revolting performance,” adding: “If I was the President I would tell the Arabs to shove their oil and tell the Congress we will have rationing rather than submit and you would get the embargo lifted in three days but I am not President until this GD constitutional amendment.” (Telephone conversation, January 30, 9:35 a.m.; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 24, Chronological Files) Kissinger then told Nixon that the draft was “a great and courageous speech.” Nixon said he had “coppered down that Arab part. The coercion bit bothers me, but Al [Haig] said you thought it was important. It’s a shot across the bow. We gotta let them know we don’t have to [Page 821]have them.” Kissinger: “You’ll get more credit for having said it.” (Telephone conversation, January 30, 10:03 a.m.; ibid.)

Both Saqqaf and Adham read the draft of the speech. They specifically suggested that the penultimate sentence be “calling an urgent meeting to ‘discuss’ (vice ‘arrange’) lifting the embargo on oil shipments” and the last sentence be “I have been assured that as a result of the meeting, the chances of lifting the oil embargo very shortly are excellent.” Akins, who thought Saudi Arabia would do its best to end the embargo and increase production, urged that the Saudi wishes be accommodated if at all possible. (Telegram 479 from Jidda, January 30; ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dec 73–Feb 74)

In his State of the Union address, delivered January 30, Nixon inserted the phrase “first step” but refrained from using the sentences suggested by Saqqaf and Adham. Nixon went on to report a “new development:”

“As you know, we have committed ourselves to an active role in helping to achieve a just and durable peace in the Middle East, on the basis of full implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The first step in the process is the disengagement of Egyptian and Israeli forces which is now taking place.

“Because of this hopeful development, I can announce tonight that I have been assured, through my personal contacts with friendly leaders in the Middle East area, that an urgent meeting will be called in the immediate future to discuss the lifting of the oil embargo.

“This is an encouraging sign. However, it should be clearly understood by our friends in the Middle East that the United States will not be coerced on this issue.”

The address on the State of the Union, delivered before a joint session of Congress, is printed in full in Public Papers: Nixon, 1974, pages 47–55.