182. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President,

I consider it necessary to write to you on the question of the situation in the Middle East. In the past I set forth more than once my considerations on this matter. What makes me return once again to this question is the situation emerging now in connection with the steps taken by the United States to push forward a separate agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Our principled attitude to attempts to solve the Middle East problem on the road of separate deals is known to you. We have expressed this assessment of ours both through diplomatic channels and publicly, in particular in connection with the US-Israeli-Egyptian meeting in Camp David last year.

So far we do not know yet all the details of the agreement being prepared, and the fact that they are kept secret is symptomatic in itself. But whatever these specific details might be, the main thing is already clear.

This agreement is not designed for and cannot lead to a just and thus a lasting peace in the Middle East. No matter what statements are made, what explanations are given we are deeply convinced that the prepared separate deal is advantageous only to Israel. Not only does it fail to resolve fundamental issues underlying the Arab-Israeli conflict but it does not even bring us closer to their solution.

I will tell you with all frankness, Mr. President: what is said in your oral message of March 14,2 has by no means shaken that conviction of ours, rather on the contrary.

Let us face the truth. All what is happening now means an actual departure from a solution of the Palestinian problem. It was simply drowned in various political manoeuvres which may appear subtle to someone but in fact are not in any way tied—neither from political nor from humane viewpoints—to the legitimate demands of the Arab people of Palestine. What kind of peace is that if more than three million people who have the inalienable right to have a roof over their [Page 534] heads, to have their own even a small state, are deprived of that right. This fact alone shows how shaky is the ground on which the separate agreement between Israel and Egypt being imposed by the United States is built.

They want to convince us that since the achievement of an overall settlement in the Middle East would not come out now, one should start, they say, with an agreement between Israel and Egypt and only afterwards to try and seek a comprehensive settlement.

We are of a different opinion. What is being done now may suit the Israeli and Egyptian leadership but it by no means suits the Arab peoples. We think that Syria, Jordan and other Arab countries as well as the Palestinians have equal rights and are equally interested in these rights being ensured. Indeed, the present agreement itself has been achieved entirely at the expense of the Egyptian side. But let the Egyptian leadership answer itself for this before its own people, before the other Arab peoples. It is clear, however, that in connection with a possible conclusion of the separate deal the number of acute issues will not diminish but will increase.

Besides, there is a desire, behind all this, which one even hardly attempts to conceal, to solve questions on the sly, bypassing the Soviet Union. In this connection one cannot help wondering what is more here, naivety or deliberate disregard of the legitimate rights of the Soviet Union particularly in view of the closeness of that region to our borders.

But the position of the USSR in the world cannot be changed at someone’s wish. And we do not need at all someone’s authorization to take interest in the development of the situation in the Middle East. No one can shake our interest in establishing a lasting and just peace in the Middle East.

Strange, to say the least, is an approach when despite earlier agreements the US evades joint efforts with the USSR to ensure a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East and then we are even asked to support separate deals.

And indeed, the fact is that provisions of principle regarding future course of action in the Middle East were agreed between the USSR and the US already when you, Mr. President, were in office. A Joint Soviet-US statement on this score was worked out and published on October 1, 1977.3 Shortly after that, however, it was nonchalantly dropped by the US side. This not only dealt a blow at the efforts aimed at achieving a Middle East settlement but in general was indicative of how Washington sometimes treats achieved agreements.

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In the light of the present US position a situation emerges where we follow completely different roads in the Middle East and it would be more than unjustified to count on our support of what is schemed with regard to that region. Now we do not see how the positions of the USSR and the US can be bridged. We tried to do it more than once but each time the US side destroyed those bridges. Such are the facts.

In this connection I wish also to tell you beforehand that we shall strongly object to having now the UN Security Council or the General Assembly—which, by the way, is not competent at all to decide such questions—involved in all that business in order to sanctify, so to say, the separate deal between Israel and Egypt by the authority of these international bodies.

Finally, I wish to draw your attention, Mr. President, to one more question fraught with very serious consequences. According to the incoming information, attributed also to US officials, efforts are now made to establish a new system of military relationship in the Middle East under the US auspices, to introduce in fact permanent military presence of the United States there. I must say that if the question really were of the presence of the US armed forces in the Middle East region it would only further complicate the situation. And in general the increase of the US military presence in that and adjacent areas would seriously destabilize the international situation on the whole.

I express these considerations in all candor, Mr. President, being guided by both the interests of ensuring really lasting and just peace in the Middle East and the interests of the Soviet-US relations in a broad sense. I had more than one occasion to give my views on the questions of Soviet-US relations. Now I would like only to note that there is a number of issues the solution of which requires our joint efforts. On our part we are ready—and we prove it in practice—to seek mutually acceptable solutions to these problems.

One of these problems is a Middle East settlement. In our deep conviction the policy of the Soviet Union on this issue meets the interests of not only the Arab but also of other states including the US if, of course, one is to proceed from the real interests of peace and not from some considerations of momentary nature.

In conclusion I wish to stress the following. Whatever direction the course of events in the Middle East may take the Soviet Union’s resolute position was and is that there should be no war there, that a lasting and just peace be established, that the possibility be really ensured for all the Arab peoples, including Palestinians, as well as for the people of Israel to exist and develop as sovereign states. This is our unswerving policy and we intend to follow it in future.

At the same time we would like to count on the restoration—and on our part we are ready for that—of active cooperation between the [Page 536] USSR and the US in the matters of the Middle East settlement, obviously, on a principled basis which requires taking into account the legitimate rights and interests of all sides and their full and equal participation in such a settlement.


L. Brezhnev4
  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, President’s Personal Foreign Affairs File, Box 4, USSR (Brezhnev Drafts/Letters), 4/77–9/80. No classification marking. Printed from an unofficial translation. Carter’s first initial is written in the upper right-hand corner of the letter with the request “Susan [Clough] file.”
  2. The text for Carter’s March 14 statement about the Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations is in Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book I, p. 432.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 52.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.