15. Memorandum From the Assistant Director, North Africa, Near East, and South Asia, United States Information Agency (Nalle) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Atherton)1


  • USIA Support for Current U.S. Diplomatic Initiatives in Middle East

I would like to provide a USIA reaction to your observations that Secretary Vance’s just-completed Near East visits2 are the beginning of what is likely to be an extremely active period of diplomacy for the U.S. in the Middle East, and that the parties to the Arab-Israeli dispute desire the U.S. to remain in its middle-man role. We wish USIA to be as active and useful as possible in supporting U.S.-Middle East initiatives, and have devoted a great deal of effort and thought toward accomplishing this.

We now are in the final phases of significantly strengthening our programming capabilities at all the Middle Eastern posts. We are providing Wireless File3 reception equipment to all U.S. diplomatic establishments in the area, and installing an Arabic-language Wireless File reception network in these same diplomatic establishments to enable us to get Arabic-language versions of texts and other key Wireless File materials rapidly into the hands of Middle Eastern leaders. We are re-issuing our Arabic-language magazine from Tunis, after the shutdown of our printing plant in Beirut, and in the process are revising the format and treatment to provide more policy-oriented material to audiences at the policy-making level. We are similarly upgrading the capability of our libraries in the Middle East to bring policy-related materials to governmental, media and academic leaders; reorganizing our entire post audience record systems; planning some increases in U.S. and local personnel at newly-opened or re-opened posts in Arab countries [Page 42] (as proposed in my memo of February 244 to NEA); and sending knowledgeable U.S. speakers from outside government to meet with Arab and Israeli audiences (recent successful examples have been William Quandt, Malcolm Kerr, William Griffith and J.C. Hurewitz).

We will continue our concentration on these activities, making available to leaders on both sides of the Arab-Israeli confrontation lines the ideas and opinions of responsible American governmental and non-governmental leaders. We would even suggest an increase in this activity, perhaps through regular preparation of video-taped interviews or question-and-answer sessions with State Department officials on subjects of intense area interest such as Secretary Vance’s recent trip and for use with Arab or Israeli government, media and academic leaders rather than with the general public. (See also my memo of February 225 proposing your involvement in a VTR dialogue.)

But at the same time we wish to consider ways to take these activities one step further, making available to the Israeli leadership and public opinion the viewpoints of moderate Arabs, and to the Arab leaders the opinions of moderate Israelis.

The first 30 years of the Arab-Israeli dispute have been characterized by extremist rhetoric emanating from both sides, and amplified by both indigenous and foreign media. Now, with moderates playing significant public roles on both sides of the lines, we would like to assist in amplifying their efforts. For example, a video-tape of an address by an Israeli moderate to an American audience, and his handling of the questions asked by Americans, might encourage moderates among Arab viewers, and conversely.6 We already are in the business of showing interviews prepared for American TV by Prime Minister Rabin or President Sadat to audiences across the lines. We propose taking the process one step further, showing similar interviews by moderate, non-governmental personalities.

To a very limited extent we have already done this, exposing selected Arab and Israeli leaders, usually in the living room of an American diplomat rather than in a USIS Center, to video-taped expressions of private individuals from the other side. Examples are the televised series entitled “The Arabs and the Israelis” in which Israelis heard the widow of an Egyptian fighter pilot say she bore no ill-will toward Israel but only longed for peace, and in which Arab audiences listened to the father of a dead Israeli infantry officer describe his vision of a peaceful Middle East in which Israelis and Arabs could prosper [Page 43] together. Another U.S.-made television series shown to selected audiences on both sides of the lines was the dialogue between Israeli author Amos Elon and Samia Hassan, daughter of an Egyptian diplomat, who discussed the entire spectrum of Arab-Israeli differences.

What we are proposing now is not only to continue taking advantage of such materials as they become available from other sources, but also to adopt a more positive role in stimulating their making, attempting to direct them toward instead of away from the hard political questions, and seeing that they are circulated where they can make a wider impression in both Israel and the Arab states.7

For example, we would like to obtain video tapes or transcripts of talks and question-and-answer sessions of Israeli “doves” visiting the U.S. These could range from fringe figures such as Matti Peled to politically significant moderates such as former General Yigael Yadin or former Foreign Minister Abba Eban. Similarly, moderate figures from the Arab world, particularly the new breed of polished, American-educated lobbyists, lecturers and academics could be video-taped addressing the questions of American audiences, which presumably would reflect the misgivings or insecurities of subsequent Israeli viewers.

We are considering another approach in conjunction with USIA-sponsored American speakers on the Middle East problem. Whether in Israel or the Arab countries, such speakers normally field a series of concerned and suspicious questions which reflect the deep distrust of the ultimate intentions of the other side. We would like to have a speaker such as Malcolm Kerr, for example, meet and talk with a group of Israeli leaders and then, after a time, show them a video-tape of the questions asked him during an earlier, similar session in Syria, Jordan or Egypt.8 Conversely, we would show Arab audiences a tape of Israelis questioning Dr. Kerr. We think the questions, illustrating feelings of insecurity rather than desires for expansion, might be mutually enlightening.

Looking back over the U.S.-Middle Eastern role of the past four years, we see that the first stage in our information effort was to explain the U.S. “honest broker” role, dictated by the fact that U.S. interest in a permanent settlement is as great as the interests of the direct parties to the dispute. This stage apparently has been successfully completed in view of the manifest desire of both Arabs and Israelis that the U.S. continue its middle-man role.

[Page 44]

The second and ongoing stage of the information effort has been to focus the attention of all parties to the dispute on initiatives to clear away procedural impediments to negotiation and on examining and defining the major problems to be solved.

What we now are proposing is a cautious forward step into encouraging both private Americans and area moderates to define the compromises necessary to reach solutions.

Such indirect dialogues between Arabs and Israelis, conducted via American intermediaries or partisans, will not by themselves remove the accumulations of distrust and suspicion that make political compromise so difficult. However, they may speed the day when delegations of Israelis and Arabs are willing to begin direct dialogues on neutral territory, or even to venture across the lines to enter into the kind of direct communications that must accompany final stages of a peace settlement. For this reason we see such efforts, sensitively produced by USIA and sensitively presented at our posts, as a positive means of supporting the intensive U.S. diplomatic efforts concomitant to 1977 peace negotiations. We will welcome your comments, cautions, and guidance in this regard.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Office of the Director, Executive Secretariat, Secretariat Staff, Correspondence Files, 1973–1980, Entry P–104, Box 113, 7700540–7700549. Limited Official Use. Copies were sent to Quandt and Day. Blind copied to Reinhardt, Kopp, Bastian, and Scott. Reinhardt’s handwritten notations on the memorandum are illegible.
  2. See footnote 6, Document 12.
  3. Reference is to the news file transmitted from Washington to post, via shortwave wireless transmitters, which included official statements of U.S. policy, in addition to news articles, and press summaries prepared by the Department of State. The Wireless File also sent five regional transmissions of policy statements and news background materials to post 5 days a week.
  4. Not found.
  5. Not found.
  6. Reinhardt placed a vertical line in the left-hand margin next to this sentence.
  7. Reinhardt placed a vertical line in the left-hand margin next to this paragraph.
  8. Reinhardt placed a vertical line in the left-hand margin next to this sentence.