309. Memorandum of Conversation1

  • PARTICIPANTS
    • President Nixon
    • Amb. Al Sowayel, Saudi Ambassador
    • Major General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

The President: General Scowcroft will make notes and give you a copy for yourself. I have written a note to His Majesty, which will be sent by cable, and I want to give you the original.2 I want to put it in context.

I would like you to talk to His Majesty personally so he knows from me, not just Secretary Kissinger. Tell him that I am talking to you as I would to him.

First, we have the disengagement agreement. We are working with the Syrians now, but there are prisoners and other knotty problems. We can’t do it hurriedly.

You have my personal commitment to work for a disengagement with the Syrians. It should be fair to the Syrians, just as the Egypt-Israel agreement was fair to the Egyptians. It’s the first time Israel has ever withdrawn.

This is a famous room. It’s the Map Room. President Roosevelt used to plan the war here, during World War II.

What concerns me is, I know your government wants to normalize the situation, but you feel you can’t get out in front of Algerians and the Syrians.

Sowayel: Or Kuwait.

President: Let me look at the big picture and see if there is a way to get it accomplished. Let me talk in terms of politics.

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I am the first President since Eisenhower who has no commitment to the Jewish community, and I will not be swayed.

I didn’t do enough in the first term, but I am determined now that the Middle East be settled. I know His Majesty has a concern over Jerusalem. That is a very difficult problem. Also his concern over disengagement. I have written a commitment to 242, but that is gobbledygook. What I want you to know is I have made a commitment. We will work out a permanent settlement as quickly as possible. The full prestige of my office is dedicated to that. You should know that I will catch it from some groups here.

I think “blackmail” is unfortunate.3 I don’t think His Majesty is blackmailing us. Whatever the embargo, I will continue to work for a just peace. I don’t know what Jerusalem will be—you don’t. You probably want more than I can negotiate. But I will have great difficulty negotiating under the pressure.

I will have three years. My successor may be beholden to the groups here.

In summary, I want the embargo lifted. It is very important. But I will move to get a just peace—it will be tough.

But my efforts are being hampered and will be seriously jeopardized if the embargo is the issue. The claim will be that we are moving only because of pressure from the Arabs. That is what Jackson and the others say.

There is no linkage. I will continue to work and the power of my office will be behind it. But any gesture His Majesty can make, even if he gets pressure from his Arab friends, will help me move a settlement along.

I will not drag my feet because of the embargo, but it will make it difficult for me to move it along—with Congress and the press.

Expectations were raised in the remarks I made in the State of the Union—which I made based on letters from His Majesty. I am on a limb—I have been there before—but I want us to work together for settlement. His Majesty has my personal commitment to work for 242 or a settlement and my commitment to work on Israel. You know what a problem that is in this country.

If His Majesty could help in the next few days, so it doesn’t look like the embargo is being held over our head; otherwise opinion could [Page 868]swing against the Arabs. I know that is not the case, but His Majesty should know he has a friend who will take great risks, but his movement on the embargo would be enormously helpful in helping me now.

Sowayel: Maybe I can go back personally to deliver the letter.

The President: Some have said to me that I should send a personal emissary. But we are good friends and I am doing this on my own. I am editing my letter. All this can’t be put in a letter.

General Scowcroft has heard me say these things many times. I know some Arabs have said we have promised over the years, and nothing happened. But now, as a result of the war, it can be done, and it will be done. This is what I want His Majesty to know.

I don’t know the Syrians or Sadat. But I do know His Majesty, who is so intelligent and has a sense of history.

Let me be candid. Gromyko was here.4 We are not trying to drive out the Soviet Union and establish our own hegemony, but I think it is better if the U.S. continues to play a role and not leave Israel the only force in the area to counter the Soviet Union. The key to the whole problem is progress at Geneva. I will do my best, and that is a lot, to move the Israelis.

It makes it terribly difficult to move as quickly as I want, with the embargo. I understand it, but with lines at gas stations, and so on, I don’t want our people to start blaming the Arabs.

I know His Majesty can’t deliver without a commitment, but if he waits until our performance, that could be months.

Sowayel: If the U.S. could promise that if Israel would withdraw within a specific time to the ‘67 line, that would be helpful.

The President: I won’t promise what I can’t deliver, but there will be a settlement. I can’t draw a line, but there will be a settlement. His Majesty can hold me to my commitment. I wanted you to hear it from me so His Majesty can convey it that I will use the full power of my office.

Sowayel: Secretary Kissinger’s statement was not useful.

The President: “Blackmail” is a bad word. It should not have been used. His Majesty is not a blackmailer. I won’t link the two, but the fact is it will make it much more difficult. It will give me clout to say: “We have the cooperation of King Faisal, now let’s get on with the settlement.” I would like there to be enough progress so I could visit the Middle East in the spring—Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel (if they behave).

We need to keep the momentum so the situation doesn’t freeze.

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Sowayel: I will try to go myself.

The President: This conference [the Washington Energy Conference] will not set up a confrontation with the producers. The consumers will just look at the problems to see what can be done to meet them.

Self-sufficiency is not designed against you. I want a world where we would trade with you. There are two threats in the area—the radicals and the Soviet Union. It is in both our interests for the United States to play a role in the Middle East to keep these two forces under control.

Sowayel: Yes. South Yemen and Iraq.

The President: Yes, the Shah said they are stirring things up in Iran also.

Sowayel: I have been telling the General that in 1948 all of the Arabs were friends with the United States. Since the creation of Israel, the Soviet Union is saying the U.S. always supports Israel against us. Look at Iraq. I was there during the revolution. Things were much better before than afterwards.

The President: If you could go and present it to him, fine. But it would be best if you would amplify, based on our conversation. I can’t put it all in a letter.

We can’t let it get in a position where a confrontation would develop because of the embargo. Where I would be hamstrung because of the embargo.

I didn’t do enough during my first four years, but I am personally committed now to a settlement.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1028, Presidential/HAK Memcons, Memcons, 1 Jan 74–28 Feb 74. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Map Room. All brackets are in the original. A rather more diplomatic version of this memorandum of conversation is ibid. Scowcroft sent a one-page gist of the conversation to Akins, February 8. (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dec 73–Feb 74) Scowcroft informed Kissinger that “all in all, I think the meeting went very well. This is especially so in light of possible alternatives. I found out that John Connally saw the President shortly after he had set up this meeting with the Saudis.” (Telegram WH40377/Tohak 10 to Kissinger, February 7; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, TS 35, Geopolitical Files, Saudi Arabia, Oct 1973–Dec 1974)
  2. Document 307.
  3. In his remarks before a combined meeting of the Harvard, Princeton, and Yale Clubs on February 6, Kissinger stated that to maintain an embargo in light of American efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East “must be construed as a form of blackmail, and it would be highly inappropriate, and cannot but affect the attitude with which we have to pursue our diplomacy.” (Wall Street Journal, February 7, 1974, p. 5)
  4. Nixon met with Gromyko on February 4.