6. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders and Richard T. Kennedy of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • SRG Meeting on NSSM 182—“Implications for US Policy of Probable Lines of Soviet Strategy and Policy in the Eastern Mediterranean, Near East, Arabian Peninsula, and South Asia”

The paper for discussion at this meeting is the one you asked for to focus on the issue of Soviet intentions and efforts in the arc extending from the eastern Mediterranean through South Asia. In the development of the paper, it became clear that the tendency in the bureaucracy is to dismiss the notion that there is a new and persistent Soviet thrust into this area.

The purpose of this meeting, therefore, is to accomplish two objectives:

1. To examine the thesis that there is a Soviet effort in this area by assessing the degree of Soviet activity there and discussing possible responses to it. In the next several weeks—with the visits of Bhutto and the Shah, your trip to Peking and a possible mission to Saudi Arabia—we shall hear a great deal about this thesis. A simple objective of the meeting is to put those who will be participating in those events in a position to respond with a sensible position of our own.

2. The other objective is to begin to articulate a US strategy for this area. At present, much of our policy is a collection of responses in the context of bilateral relationships. While it may be artificial to try to construct a detailed concept for an area as diverse as this, it should be possible to give greater coherence to our activities there.

The fact is that our friends who live in and near this area see a concerted Soviet effort to achieve hegemony there for the dual purpose of containing China and dominating a major center for supply of the world’s energy.

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—President Bhutto believes the Soviets are working through India and Afghanistan as well as in Baluchistan to encourage the further dissolution of Pakistan and to achieve a position on the Indian Ocean.

—The Shah sees a Soviet pincers movement, with bases in India and Iraq, aimed at Pakistan, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.

—The PRC, deeply worried about Soviet “encirclement,” must be concerned about an apparent Soviet thrust toward its southern borders. The PRC Foreign Minister’s recent endorsement in Tehran of Iranian policy in the Persian Gulf is one recent indication.

—King Faisal, while predominantly preoccupied with the consequences of the continued Arab-Israeli impasse, is also worried by the increase of Soviet military aid to Iraq and to South Yemen, which he sees as a threat to stability in the Arabian Peninsula.

—Other friends like Bourguiba and Hussein talk increasingly about the passivity of the US in the face of an “obvious” Soviet thrust into the Persian Gulf.

In developing a sensible US strategy that protects our direct interests and limits Soviet influence, our choices are not mutually exclusive but are rather a matter of emphasis. The general elements of a strategy include these possible approaches:

1. We can continue to pursue bilateral relationships throughout this area in a routine way. If we operated primarily on the basis of the judgments in the paper prepared for this meeting, this would probably be the result.

2. We could concentrate not just on strengthening our bilateral relationships but on (a) giving new emphasis to our programs in this area in order to create an impression of a reinvigorated American position and (b) actively promoting the relationships evolving among countries friendly to us in the area. There is a trend toward a set of inter-relationships there which can serve our interests. There is an evolving back-channel relationship between the Shah and Faisal and between the Shah and Hussein. Complementing this is a very close relationship between Faisal and his chief of intelligence and Sadat. Hussein is working increasingly closely with the Saudis and in Oman and the Persian Gulf, where the Shah is also heavily involved. In an unusual way, the Israelis are tied into this network through their relationship with the Shah and their unique position vís-a-vís Jordan. Lebanon and Turkey also have their relationships with some of these countries. Pakistan developed an even closer tie with Iran and has military assistance relationships with Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Jordan. Ethiopia has its tie with Israel and may become more involved with affairs of the Arabian Peninsula. A US strategy which consciously promotes these relationships and works with them would provide a broader dimension to our policy. It would also leave the US sufficient flexibility not only to develop a close relationship with these friends but also to compete for position in countries somewhat less friendly like India and Egypt. In contrast to the policy of containment, this would be a policy of diffusion—nurturing enough local resistance so that Soviet thrusts are absorbed without damage.

3. A third possible strategy, often recommended by Israeli leaders and the Shah, is to concentrate principally on the points of strength within [Page 34] this area. The points most commonly mentioned are Iran, Israel and Ethiopia. One could also add Saudi Arabia because of its potential economic power and perhaps even Pakistan, though less for its own power than for the importance of its stability for Iran and the subcontinent. This strategy differs from the second mainly in degree. The more the US depends openly on these points of power and cooperation, less on regional, the more we risk alienating other nations in the area, especially in the Arab world, but also India. The alienation of India and Egypt is obvious if we were to concentrate on Pakistan and Israel. It is less obvious, but possible, that we would alienate Saudi Arabia by focusing on Israel and Iran.

4. A complement to any of the above would be to seek US-Soviet understandings on issues in the region, drawing on our global relationship to limit the potentially dangerous aspects of rivalry there. What you want from the meeting is to lay a foundation for acceptance of an approach between the second and third possible strategies outlined above. One objective is awareness that a regional strategy would enhance US interests and at the same time meet the concerns of our friends in the area.

In conducting the meeting, we recommend that you:

—ask the CIA to assess the pattern of Soviet activity throughout this area;

—then lead discussion through a series of questions toward some judgments on whether or not a concept for US policy is possible that would cover this whole region. A progression of such questions is in your talking points at the next tab.

The problem you will face in this discussion will be that most of the people around the table will be tempted immediately to slide into consideration of problems in one sub-region or another, for example the Arab-Israeli conflict or Persian Gulf issues. Constant effort will have to be made to keep the focus on the plane of higher strategy. One way of doing this would be to say that separate discussion of the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf problem is scheduled a little later when the NSSM 181 paper will come up for discussion.

To bring this meeting to a point, we would suggest that at the end of the session you ask that the present paper be refined in the light of the discussion and that a series of actions be drawn up that would be particularly directed at strengthening the impression of significant US attention to this area and encouraging the development of inter-relationships within the region that help us to pursue our interests.

The papers in this book include:

Talking points which could lead discussion toward articulation of a regional concept are at the next tab.

—The Analytical Summary describes what is in the State paper and then poses issues for discussion. The issues portion of the analytical summary will give you a sense of the issues that can provide the basis for discussion.

—The NSSM 182 paper prepared in the State Department. This has been discussed in an inter-agency group, but there are still changes to be made. However, it can serve as a reasonable basis for discussion.

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Paper Prepared by William B. Quandt of the National Security Council Staff

Analytical Summary and Issues Paper—NSSM 182

I. The Paper in Brief

The study prepared by the State Department in response to NSSM 182, “Implications for U.S. Policy of Probable Lines of Soviet Strategy and Policy in the Eastern Mediterranean, Near East, Arabian Peninsula, and South Asia,” is primarily a catalogue of US and Soviet interests in this broad region, plus a brief assessment of trends and their implications for the United States. Options for US policy in the Middle East, Persian Gulf, and South Asia conclude the study.

What is lacking in this paper is a convincing portrayal of the region from the eastern Mediterranean through South Asia as it must appear to Soviet leaders as they consider their global strategy. Similarly, there is little portrayal of the network of inter-relationships among friends of the US that tends to draw together diverse nations across this broad area and thereby limits Soviet influence. Nowhere does one find a description, for instance, of how Soviet designs in this area relate to the US breakthrough with China or of the strategic importance that may be attached to this area by the Soviet military. For example, the Sixth Fleet, Polaris and Poseidon, with their associated nuclear capability, are absent from the study.

Instead the emphasis is on Soviet efforts to extend influence, to exploit tensions, and to improve bilateral relations, all within a context of limited competition with the United States. This is not so much an inaccurate view as it is incomplete. Defense and CIA have not yet formally contributed to the study, and their spokesmen can be expected to stress the need for including these added dimensions. Mr. Clements will probably suggest the need to devote more attention to Soviet policy in the Persian Gulf and to Soviet interests in oil. CIA will propose that constraints on Soviet policy in this region be discussed, in particular the impact of global US-Soviet relations, China and Europe.

II. Summary of the Study

A. US Interests and Objectives

In the broad area from the Eastern Mediterranean to South Asia, the paper describes the United States as primarily concerned with the following issues:

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—Avoidance of nuclear war resulting from regional crises.

—Maintenance of US influence.

—Access to Persian Gulf oil for ourselves and our allies, and associated commercial and monetary interests.

—Use of facilities and transportation routes in the region.

—Independence and security of US friends (Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia).

These interests suggest the desirability of cooperation with the Soviet Union where possible, but it is judged that détente will not be translated into less competitive relations in this area. The immediate objectives of the United States, in order of priority, are identified as:

—Settlement or containment of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

—Regional cooperation in the Persian Gulf.

—Détente and development in South Asia.

—A special relationship with Saudi Arabia to encourage increased oil production to meet world needs.

B. Soviet Interests and Objectives

The Soviets are seen as having the following interests in this area:

—Extension of Soviet influence.

—Avoidance of nuclear war.

—Competition with the Chinese within the area.

—Support for friends (Syria, Iraq, Egypt, India, PDRY).

—Access to ports and airfields.

These interests suggest that the Soviets are satisfied with a no-war, no peace situation in the Middle East, and will consequently not help (or hinder) US peacemaking efforts; influence will be extended by exploiting regional disputes; and in order to offset recent setbacks in Egypt, the Soviets will try to build up their presence in Syria, Iraq and South Yemen.

C. Regional Trends

Israel, Iran and India will remain the primary power centers, with Saudi Arabia progressively playing an important economic role because of oil and increasing financial reserves. Nationalism will remain a basic force constraining the efforts of outside powers to influence events in the region. In the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli dispute and oil will be the two major factors shaping events, and increasingly they will be linked. In South Asia, the Soviets want peace and stability, not the dismemberment of Pakistan or a renewal of conflict. [Comment: Egypt’s continuing importance as a power center within the Arab world is not considered. The British certainly continue to base their Middle East policy on the assumption that Egypt is the key to relations with the Arab world, and many in our own government would agree.]

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In the region as a whole, the prospects for US-Soviet cooperation are not good, except in limiting the consequences of another Arab-Israeli war. The Soviets have no grand design for this area, but it is of high priority for them and they will seek to extend their influence through aggressive competition with the US.

D. Policy Guidelines for the US

The study does not suggest any broad approach to the area as a whole, but rather deals with three sub regions, suggesting that they are better dealt with separately because the priorities and problems are so different.

In the Middle East, an Arab-Israeli settlement is of highest priority. The study avoids considering this issue directly, but does suggest some bilateral measures that might improve US-Egyptian relations (e.g., helping to finance the SUMED pipeline).

—In the Persian Gulf, the choice lies between continuation of our low-profile policy of encouraging Iran and Saudi Arabia to take the lead in insuring the security of the area, or of playing a more prominent role, especially in areas of conflict such as Oman and Yemen.

—Finally, in South Asia the options are described as actively countering Soviet influence, trying to cooperate with the Soviets, or standing back from the politics of the region.

Each of these broad choices implies a number of specific actions in the political, economic and military spheres. As the paper is now drafted, however, these options are not closely tied to the Soviet dimension of our concern with this region. In the next section, a more general approach to dealing with the Soviets will be discussed.

In the Middle East, apart from promoting peace negotiations, the study discusses the following steps that the US might take:

—Maintain dialogue with USSR on dangers of Arab-Israeli conflict. The objective would be to obtain Soviet non-involvement in future hostilities.

—Make public statements dissociating ourselves from some Israeli policies, such as territorial acquisition, settlements in occupied areas, Jerusalem. Reduce financial assistance to Israel.

—Talk with Saudis to encourage them to moderate Egyptian behavior.

—Promote private US economic cooperation with Egypt (e.g., SUMED), including support from EXIM Bank.

—Continue private diplomatic dialogue with Egypt.

—Urge Israel not to overreact against Lebanon; seek Soviet help in restraining Syrians from intervening in Lebanon; enhance Lebanese military capabilities.

In the Persian Gulf, these measures could be adopted:

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Low Profile Policy

—Encourage regional cooperation, especially in providing military and economic aid to Yemen and Oman; keep US programs in Yemen and Oman at modest levels.

—Continue to develop military relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but limit advisory presence to essential minimum.

—Emphasize manpower training in Saudi Arabia.

—Expand diplomatic and commercial presence in Gulf Emirates.

—Seek understanding with USSR on avoiding naval competition in Indian Ocean.

—Be alert to possibilities of building Western influence in Iraq.

More Direct Involvement

—Establish small military advisory presence in Oman and Yemen; set up MAP training program and increase technical assistance and development programs to both countries.

—Actively encourage Iranian-Saudi discussions on security issues.

—Offer to mediate dispute between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia over the Buraymi Oasis.

—Provide military advisory presence in Kuwait.

—Encourage more active Jordanian and Pakistani role in Gulf, underwritten by US, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

—Arrange for US naval visits to countries of region.

In South Asia, the following actions are suggested:

Counter Soviet Influence

—Reinforce ties with Pakistan and coordinate efforts with China.

—Ease restrictions on military supply in favor of Pakistan.

—Encourage the military relationship between Pakistan and Iran.

—Seek improved relations with India and encourage China to do the same.

—Try to strengthen CENTO.

—Press India and Bangladesh to settle with Pakistan along lines of Simla agreement.

[Comment: While designed to counter Soviet influence, some of these actions could obviously increase Soviet opportunities in India.]

Regional Stability Through Cooperation with USSR

—Reduce military aspects of CENTO.

—Talk with Soviets on avoiding naval competition in the Indian Ocean.

—Seek US-Soviet agreement to remain non-involved in regional disputes.

—Improve relations with India and encourage Chinese to do likewise.

—Remain on sidelines of Simla process; limit arms to both Pakistan and India.

Leave Regional Stability to Responsibility of Local Parties

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—Encourage Simla process.

—Seek good relations with both India and Pakistan.

—Remain uninvolved in regional disputes.

—Maintain a restrained arms supply policy.

III. Issues for Discussion

Some of the principal questions raised by Soviet policies in this region are not adequately covered in the paper or are not focused sufficiently. Of particular importance are the following:

A. Soviet Global Priorities: What is the intent of Soviet activity in the area? Is there a strategic perception of the area’s role in Soviet global policy which gives some coherence to this activity? Or, as the State paper says, is it accurate to conclude that “the pattern of their actions does not suggest the existence of some kind of grand design for the area as a whole?” The basic issue—mentioned in the paper but not discussed in depth—is where this area stands on the scale of Soviet global priorities. Where does it fit in the interplay of Soviet relationships with the US and the PRC, and, consequently what is likely to be the intensity of the USSR’s pursuit of its interests there? Is it more accurate to say that the USSR is making a routine effort in the region commensurate with present opportunities or to say that the Soviet Union has gradually changed its view of the area in the wake of the opening of a US–PRC relationship, the South Asian war of 1971, the British retrenchment in the Persian Gulf, the growing importance of Persian Gulf oil, and the change in the relationships with Europe and the US? The answers to these questions will to some degree affect the level of our own effort.

B. Strategic Issues: A corollary question is how this area fits into Soviet military strategy. This is another of the issues now omitted from the paper. The Soviets face an actual or potential threat from US nuclear forces operating from the Eastern Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. How does the Soviet leadership view these forces, especially the Sixth Fleet, and how important is it for them to counter this threat? What facilities are needed in the Middle East-South Asia to support Soviet forces with the mission of targetting the Sixth Fleet and US Polaris and Poseidon submarines? With these questions in mind, the possible strategic significance in Soviet doctrine of the following military assets should be addressed:

—the Soviet Squadron in the Mediterranean (anti-Sixth Fleet and ASW missions);

—port and airfield facilities in Egypt and Syria;

—the Suez Canal;

—the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr;

—Soviet submarines in the Eastern Mediterranean and Indian Ocean

C. Persian Gulf Oil: From the Soviet point of view, how might the “energy crisis” and the effect it could have on US-European-Japanese relations work [Page 40] to Soviet advantage? What could they do to bring about such a result? How will these considerations affect their behavior in the Gulf? Even if the Soviets are unlikely to need large quantities of Persian Gulf oil for their own consumption, are they likely to seek a marketing role for Gulf oil because of the hard currency earnings this would produce?

D. Instruments for Extending Political Influence. In trying to build our own influence in this region one question to consider is what instruments the USSR is most likely to use to counter our efforts. Will they rely primarily on extending military and economic aid? What importance will they attach to local communist parties, and what problems is this likely to cause in state-to-state relations? Are the Soviets likely to encourage accommodations among their friends in the region in order to avoid having to choose sides in various conflicts? Will they promote subversion in the weak states of the Arabian Peninsula? The following issues deserve special attention:

—Are the Soviets likely to be limited in building their influence in Iraq by their position on the Kurdish issue or on the constitution of a national front government including communists? How reliable are recent reports that Iraqi-Soviet ties are strained?

—Can we expect the Soviets to press for Iraqi-Syrian rapprochement; or Iraqi-Iranian détente? With what chances of success and what consequences?

—If the Egyptians openly break with the Soviets on the Indonesian pattern, what effect would this have on their presence elsewhere in the region?

In short, the issue for the United States is to adjust its efforts to gain political influence and to pursue its interests on the basis of our best judgment of Soviet tactics. Will military assistance, counter insurgency training, economic development aid, or broad political support be most relevant in offsetting Soviet efforts in the region?

E. The Shah’s View: In the light of our own thinking, what is our view of the Shah’s analysis? Iranian officials are concerned with the danger of growing Soviet influence in the Persian Gulf. The Shah apparently feels that the best way to keep the Gulf stable and secure is for both superpowers to keep their military forces out of the area. Consequently, the Shah would like the US to remove MIDEASTFOR, the small US naval unit stationed at Bahrain. In his view, our presence there insures that the Soviets will eventually establish comparable forces operating out of Umm Qasr. Since the Shah is likely to raise this issue during his visit, it should be discussed at a high level in order to develop a consistent US position. It is important for us to reach a judgment on whether the Shah’s approach would help to enhance the stability of the Gulf or whether it would lead to Iranian dominance and intervention on the Arab side of the Gulf, with attendant dangers for US interests in Saudi Arabia.

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F. Bhutto’s Perception of a Soviet Threat: In the light of our own thinking, what is our view of Bhutto’s analysis? The Pakistani government holds that the Soviets, perhaps in collusion with the Indians, have sought in recent years to weaken Pakistan by encouraging and aiding separatist groups in Pakistan’s western frontier provinces. We have no good evidence of our own that would confirm this. The intelligence estimate is that the Soviets believe their own best interests would not be served by the dismemberment of Pakistan or by the renewal of conflict and instability in Pakistan or elsewhere on the subcontinent. What needs to be analyzed more closely is just what kind of situation—peace and stability, controlled or limited tension, or instability—the Soviets view as serving their best interests on the subcontinent. In this context, it may be worth considering what the Soviets have in mind when they press for an Asian collective security system.

IV. Broad Choices for the United States

Several alternative perspectives exist on how the United States should best pursue its own interests and restrict Soviet opportunities in this region. Briefly stated they are as follows:

A. Strengthen bilateral ties with friends. Most of our friends in this region—Israel, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia—are worried about threats from the Soviet Union or its clients. Their strong preference is for us to provide increased military, economic and political support to permit them to resist “radical” pressures. We can draw on their concerns to strengthen our position in the area through fairly routine measures.

In this approach, the United States would seek to maximize the number of its friends in the area by providing aid and support when opportunities to do so arise. Little effort would be spent on trying to compete for the favors of Soviet clients or on encouraging the development of relations among the countries of the area.

B. Encourage the Development of a Regional Framework. While this approach does not preclude strengthening US bilateral relations with friends, it emphasizes the development of relations of friendly states within the region as the primary means of limiting Soviet influence. At the same time, it may suggest a less direct form of US involvement and a conscious decision to place some limits on certain bilateral relations in order to enhance our interests in other countries.

One set of regional ties that we would want to encourage is the relationship between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, with further linkages to Pakistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt and even Israel. For these relations to take on substance, the United States cannot be too intimately involved in their creation. Instead, we have to relate indirectly to the process, lending aid where needed, but relying primarily on the self-[Page 42]interest of the regional actors to develop an informal security and development network within their own area.

In addition to encouraging these relations, the United States, under this approach, would deal with regional disputes in a generally “even handed” manner in an effort to retain access to both sides of any conflict. In South Asia, this would suggest a restrained arms policy and efforts to cultivate both Pakistan and India. In the Persian Gulf, the main danger to be avoided is an exacerbation of Iranian-Saudi Arabian relations, which may require that we cut back somewhat in our generous arms policy toward Iran or enhance the quality of our relations with Saudi Arabia.

In the Middle East, the object of a balanced US policy would be to gain influence in Egypt, which, as the most important Arab country, continues to have a significant ability to affect US interests throughout the Arab world.

One practical test of this policy approach could be presented in the near future if President Sadat further downgrades his relationship with the Soviet Union and replaces its support with Saudi financing of European arms purchases. The Saudis have indicated that Sadat is considering this possibility and have queried as to whether we would have any objections. Encouraging the Saudi-Egyptian relationship, and perhaps following it up with efforts to engage Egypt in serious peace negotiations, would be consistent with this general approach.

C. Concentrate on points of strength. This approach differs from the others primarily by emphasizing the importance of our relations with a few key countries in the area—Israel, Iran and Ethiopia at a minimum, and perhaps Saudi Arabia because of its oil wealth. These few key countries would receive generous military support (and economic if needed) and in turn would be encouraged to help defend US interests in other parts of the region. Israel would play a special role in protecting the regimes in Lebanon and Jordan and in limiting Egypt’s ability to attack US interests in the Arab world. Iran would be expected to perform a comparable task in the Persian Gulf. Ethiopia might have a special place in securing transit through the Red Sea and in countering radical trends on the periphery of the Arabian Peninsula.

The Israelis enthusiastically support this view, arguing that as the strongest military power in the region, Israel can play a significant role in limiting Soviet influence. In addition to providing direct protection to pro-Western regimes in Jordan and Lebanon, Israel, by maintaining clear military superiority over Egypt and Syria, shows up the ineffectiveness of Soviet support and discredits the pro-Soviet policies of these countries. Sadat’s expulsion of Soviet advisers was one positive result of this policy.

The main drawback of this strategy is that it reduces the ability of the United States to develop its own base of influence in countries such [Page 43] as Egypt, Syria, Iraq and India, and could limit our effectiveness in dealing with Saudi Arabia if we continue support of Israel and Iran at present levels. This approach has the elements of polarizing the area between pro-US and pro-Soviet forces, and while protecting US interests and limiting Soviet influence in a large part of the region, it does little to enhance US opportunities in the Arab world and inhibits the development of a potentially more stable regional balance of power system.

D. Seek US-Soviet Understandings on Regional Issues. The thrust of this approach would be to draw on the substance of the global US-Soviet relationship to limit the competitive and potentially dangerous aspects of US-Soviet rivalry in this region. At a minimum we might seek to clarify how we could behave in future conflict situations (e.g., Arab-Israeli, Lebanon, Pakistan-India); on the disposition of our military forces in the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean; and on the quality and quantity of arms provided to states in the area. More ambitiously, we might seek Soviet agreement on principles of an Arab-Israeli settlement and enlist their support in gaining Egyptian and Syrian cooperation. In the Persian Gulf area, we might agree to complement Soviet efforts to moderate Iraqi behavior by encouraging the Shah to pursue a more relaxed policy toward Iraq by resuming private contacts. Finally, in the field of energy, we could seek Soviet agreements on the importance of the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf and might even propose a joint US-Soviet venture with the Iraqis to expand production from their vast reserves.

  1. Summary: Saunders and Kennedy briefed Kissinger on the upcoming SRG meeting to discuss NSSM 182, and provided him with an analytical summary of the response.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–068, Meeting Files, 1969–74, Senior Review Group Meeting, Soviet Strategy in Near East/South Asia, NSSM 182, 7/13/73. Top Secret. Sent for information. Brackets are in the original. Quandt drafted the attached analytical summary on July 12. Attached but not published are the undated talking points and the Department’s draft response to NSSM 182, which is published as Document 3.