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Richard Nixon Administration: Report to the Congress on United States Foreign Policy

(February 9, 1972)


"What I am saying to you today is not that I predict a Mideastern settlement. I do say that it is in the interests of both major powers, the Soviet Union and the United States, not to allow that very explosive part of the world to drive them into a confrontation that neither of them wants, although our interests are very diametrically opposed in that part of the world--except our common interest in not becoming involved in a war."

Media Briefing
Rochester, New York
June 18, 1971

Soon after taking office, I pledged that we would "pursue every possible avenue to peace in the Mideast that we can."

An end to the perpetual state of crisis in the Middle East would be a major contribution to the stability of global peace. It would free energies and resources for the building of a better life for the people of the area. It would reduce the danger of a new clash and spreading war. It would remove a major obstacle to the fuller development of productive ties between the countries of the region and the outside world.

I also pledged that the United States would now assume the initiative. Inaction was unlikely to promote peace; it was more likely to allow the situation to deteriorate once again into war as it did in 1967. It was our responsibility to engage actively in the search for a settlement, in full awareness of the difficulties we would face.

In 1971, the danger of war was contained, although the risk remained high. New approaches to a settlement were explored, although up to now without result.

--The cease-fire between Israel and its neighbors, brought about by our initiative the previous year, endured through 1971. It has now lasted 18 months. It was in the interest of each side to maintain it, and to make it possible for the other side to do so.
--Efforts to achieve an overall Arab-Israeli settlement lost momentum. Egypt and Israel, with our help, then explored the possibility of an interim agreement--a set of concrete steps toward peace which did not require addressing all the issues of a comprehensive settlement at the outset.

--Despite our restraint in our military supply policy, substantial new Soviet pledges and shipments of arms to Egypt continued the arms race. At the end of the year I felt obliged to reiterate that the United States would not allow the military balance to be upset.
--The USSR continued to build up its own military facilities in Egypt and to station increasingly sophisticated weaponry there.

In the Middle East, as elsewhere in Asia and Africa, the essential problem of peace in the 20th century has been to shape new patterns of order. The postwar period--the first generation of independence in most of the Middle East--has seen continual turmoil. If this is to give way to a new era of stability, new relationships must be shaped--accommodating national aspirations, fulfilling hopes for social progress and providing a structure of security.

The obstacles today are many.

Local tensions in the Middle East periodically threaten to break into open conflict. The Arab-Israeli conflict is foremost among these. But there are others. In the Persian Gulf, the special treaty relationships between Britain and some of the sheikhdoms ended in 1971; the stability of new political entities and structures remains to be consolidated. On Cyprus, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have still not found a durable formula of reconciliation. Rivalries--personal, religious, ethnic, economic, ideological, and otherwise--divide the Islamic world. The Palestinian people, dispersed throughout the Arab world, continue to press their struggle for a homeland on the conscience and policies of Arab governments, exacerbating tensions within and among Arab countries and with Israel. Stable and moderate governments are threatened by subversive movements, some aided and supported from outside.

The competitive interests of the great powers are a further source of tension, adding to local instabilities and posing the risk of wider and more dangerous conflict. As I wrote in February 1970: "One of the lessons of 1967 was that local events and forces have a momentum of their own, and that conscious and serious effort is required for the major powers to resist being caught up in them." There must be understandings on the part of the great powers, tacit or explicit, on the limits of acceptable behavior.

In the Middle East, new relationships with the world outside are developing. There are temptations for some great powers to exploit these relationships, to increase their military involvement or to obstruct peacemaking efforts in the quest for unilateral political advantage in the region. This only fuels local tensions, with consequences transcending the issues in the local dispute. But there are also opportunities for the great powers to contribute cooperatively to the search for Middle East peace, and thereby to further the constructive trends in their own global relations.

A secure peace in the Middle East requires stable relations on both levels-accommodation within the region and a balance among the powers outside.


The greatest threat to peace and stability in the Middle East remains the Arab-Israeli conflict. Last year saw a new approach to beginning negotiations. This negotiating process has not yet produced results. But the United States undertook its major diplomatic effort of the past three years with no illusions about the obstacles in the way of a settlement.

It is one of the ironies of history that the 20th century has thrown together into bitter conflict these two peoples who had lived and worked peacefully side by side in the Middle East for centuries. In the last fifty years, and particularly since independence, they have been locked in incessant struggle. The Arabs saw the new State of Israel as an unwanted intruder in an Arab world and the plight of the Palestinian refugees as an historic injustice; to the Israelis, refugees of a holocaust, survival was more than a cliche of political rhetoric. To negotiate a peace between these two peoples requires overcoming an extraordinary legacy of mutual fear and mistrust.

The Israelis seek concrete security. To them this means more than an Arab offer of formal peace; it means Arab willingness to let Israel exist on terms which do not leave it vulnerable to future reversals of Arab policy. To Israel, security will require changes in its pre-1967 borders, as well as such additional protection as demilitarization and international guarantees might provide. Israel points out--and cites the recent war in South Asia as an example--that a formal state of peace does not by itself assure security, and that international guarantees are no substitute for the physical conditions and means for security. In the absence of a settlement negotiated by the parties without preconditions, Israel continues to hold the territories captured in the 1967 war.

The Arabs, on the other hand, want advance assurance that all the captured territories will be returned. They also seek a just settlement of the grievances of the Palestinians. Some Arab governments have said that they are prepared to accept Israel as it was between 1949 and 1967, but that any enlargement of Israel beyond that is intolerable and implies Israeli expansionist designs. Thus they resist any changes in the pre-war borders. In the meantime, the Arabs feel they cannot allow the situation to become frozen; they stress their determination to struggle as long as Israel holds Arab lands.

This seemingly vicious circle is the objective difficulty which has stood in the way of a settlement. Two approaches to break this impasse have been tried.

--One way has been to attempt to gain all the major mutual assurances required-peace for Israel, the territories for the Arabs--as the first stage in a negotiation. This approach has characterized most of the peace efforts since 1967. Some outside party or group-Ambassador Jarring, the special representative of the UN Secretary General; the Four Powers; or the U.S. and USSR--has tried to develop formulae containing sufficient commitments by each side to give the other hope of achieving what it wants in a negotiation.
--A second route, tried for the first time in 1971, is to begin a process of negotiation without pre-arranged commitments on the fundamental issues. The hope would be that an interim agreement, or the momentum of the bargaining process itself, would create conditions facilitating the more basic settlement.

The Search for a Comprehensive Solution. From 1969 to early 1971, the quest for peace in the Middle East was a search for a formula for a comprehensive political solution. The agreed and accepted framework was, and remains, UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967. The effort went through two distinct phases.

In 1969 the United States first undertook to engage other powers in the negotiating effort. We did not feel that the U.S. alone should assume exclusive responsibility for making and keeping peace in the Middle East. First responsibility, of course, lay with the parties to the conflict. But it was also true that the Soviet Union and other powers with interests in the region would have to accept some responsibility, or else no structure of peace would last. We therefore conducted talks bilaterally with the USSR, and at the UN together with the USSR, Britain, and France, searching for a formula which all sides could accept as a starting point for negotiation. The Soviets turned that effort aside at the end of 1969. Tensions in the area increased sharply in the spring of 1970, with frequent and serious military clashes between Israel and Egypt and stepped-up activity by Palestinian guerrillas.

In the second phase, in response to that renewed tension and to the Soviet Union's apparent loss of interest in further cooperative effort, the U.S. decided by June 1970 that it had no responsible choice but to try on its own to break the spiral of violence. We could not stand by and watch the situation deteriorate into war. We therefore took a major initiative. We invited Israel and the Arabs to "stop shooting and start talking." We proposed a cease-fire and military standstill, to pave the way for a renewed effort at negotiation. The parties accepted our proposal in August. The autumn of 1970, however, was absorbed in dealing with new conflicts--the Soviet-Egyptian violations of the standstill agreement, and the breakdown of domestic order in Jordan and the invasion of Jordan by Syrian forces in September.

In January 1971, Ambassador Jarring finally began discussions with both Israel and Egypt on launching negotiations. He sought assurance from Egypt and Israel that negotiations could proceed on the basis of (a) an Israeli "commitment to withdraw its forces from occupied United Arab Republic territory to the former international boundary between Egypt and the British mandate of Palestine," and (b) an Egyptian "commitment to enter into a peace agreement with Israel." Egypt gave a qualified commitment to this effect. Israel was willing to enter talks looking toward agreement on secure and recognized borders but not to agree in advance to withdraw to the former international border. Ambassador Jarring's effort lost momentum at the end of February.

The Search for an Interim Agreement. Attention then turned to another approach-an interim step toward peace in the form of an agreement for reopening the Suez Canal and a partial withdrawal of Israeli troops. This idea, which had been suggested publicly by both Israeli and Egyptian officials, was explored by the Secretary of State in May 1971 during his trip to the area and through subsequent diplomatic contacts. By autumn we had identified six principal issues in this negotiation:

--The relationship between an interim agreement and an overall settlement;
--Duration of the cease-fire to preserve a tolerable climate for ongoing talks;
--The extent of withdrawal of military forces from the Canal;
--The nature of supervisory, arrangements;
--The nature of the Egyptian presence east of the Canal; and
--The use of the Canal by Israel during the period of an interim agreement. These were not technical questions. To the parties, they went to the heart of the basic issues of security and peace. An interim agreement, for example, is acceptable to Egypt only to the extent that it implies or is linked to final recovery of all the occupied territories. But to Israel an interim agreement is acceptable only if it does not confirm that territories will be restored without negotiation on secure borders. The interim approach, however, offers hope only if it can make progress on concrete steps. But it can make such progress only if it can somehow put aside temporarily the two sides' fundamental differences regarding the final settlement. The more ambitious the proposed formula for an interim agreement, the more it risks foundering over those very differences.

Throughout all these negotiations, each side has sought to influence the other's negotiating position by increasing its own military strength. I have stated on several occasions in the past year that an arms balance is essential to stability but that military equilibrium alone cannot produce peace. The U.S. has demonstrated its commitment to maintaining a military, balance that can serve as a foundation for negotiation, but we have also made intensive efforts to start peace negotiations. We have no other choice. A settlement is in the basic interest of both sides, of the United States, and of world peace.


The Arab-Israeli conflict is not in the first instance a U.S.-Soviet dispute, nor can it be settled by the global powers. But it is clear that the posture of the major powers can facilitate or inhibit agreement. Their arms can fuel the conflict; their diplomatic positions can make it more intractable; their exploitation of tension for unilateral gain can foment new crises. Hopes for peace will be undermined if either the U.S. or the USSR feels that the other is either using a negotiation or delaying a settlement to improve its political position at the expense of the other.

In this regard, the Soviet Union's effort to use the Arab-Israeli conflict to perpetuate and expand its own military position in Egypt has been a matter of concern to the United States. The USSR has taken advantage of Egypt's increasing dependence on Soviet military supply to gain the use of naval and air facilities in Egypt. This has serious implications for the stability of the balance of power locally, regionally in the Eastern Mediterranean, and globally. The Atlantic Alliance cannot ignore the possible implications of this move for the stability of the East-West relationship.

This is but one example of the consequences of the failure of the U.S. and USSR to reach some general understanding on the basic conditions of stability in the Middle East. Fundamental interests of the major powers are involved and some measure of disagreement is inevitable. Neither great power would succeed in helping the parties reach a settlement if its efforts ran counter to the interests of the other, or if the other refused to cooperate.

This was the rationale of our dialogue with the USSR on the Middle East in 1969. Those talks unfortunately foundered because of two developments.

--The Soviet Union tried to draw a final political and territorial blueprint, including final boundaries, instead of helping launch a process of negotiation. We envisioned that boundaries could be drawn in the course of such a process to make them more secure, though it was our view that changes would not be substantial. In the fall of 1969, we reached an understanding with the USSR on a possible procedure for indirect Arab-Israeli talks. In December 1969, the Soviet Union changed its mind on this understanding.

--The Soviet Union applied its energies in early 1970 to a major military buildup in Egypt, which further delayed negotiation. Egypt's "war of attrition" along the Suez Canal had grown in intensity and Israel had responded with air raids deep into Egypt. The Soviets thereupon deployed in Egypt some 80 surface-to-air missile installations, several squadrons of combat aircraft with Soviet pilots, 5,000 missile crew members and technicians, and about 11,000 other advisers. This buildup continued through the summer of 1970, and Soviet personnel were directly involved in violations of the standstill agreement of August 7. Israel refused to negotiate until the violations were rectified. The U.S. provided Israel with means to cope with this situation. The Soviets since that time have introduced into Egypt SA-6 mobile surface-to-air missiles and the FOXBAT and other advanced MIG aircraft. Most recently they have reintroduced TU-16 bombers equipped with long-range air-to-surface missiles. Much of this equipment was operated and defended exclusively by Soviets.

The Soviet Union has an interest in avoiding major conflict in the Middle East. We hope the Soviet Union understands that it can serve this interest best by restraint in arms supply, refraining from the use of this dispute to enhance its own military position, and encouraging the negotiation of a peace.


The urgent necessity, of course, is to find a way to an Arab-Israeli settlement.

--At a minimum, the cease-fire must be maintained if the climate for negotiations is to be preserved. Progress in negotiations, in turn, would provide valuable additional incentive for choosing political instead of military solutions.
--The military balance must not be allowed to tempt one side to seek an easy victory or panic the other side into a move of desperation. An end to the arms race, of course, would be the best hope for a stable balance over the longer term.

--Maintaining the military balance, however, is not by itself a policy which can bring peace. The search for an overall Arab-Israeli settlement will continue under Ambassador Jarring's auspices. Our efforts to help the parties achieve an interim agreement will also continue, as long as the parties wish. The interim approach, if it is to succeed, must find a way to make progress on practical and partial aspects of the situation without raising all the contentious issues that obstruct a comprehensive solution.
--The U.S. and the USSR can contribute to the process of settlement by encouraging Arabs and Israelis to begin serious negotiation The great powers also have a responsibility to enhance, not undermine, the basic conditions of stability in the area. Injecting the global strategic rivalry into the region is incompatible with Middle East peace and with detente in U.S.-Soviet relations.

Peace would free the energies and resources of the Middle East for the more fruitful enterprises of economic and social development. The United States looks hopefully toward a new era of constructive and mutually beneficial relations with all the nations and people of the area. The realization of these hopes--theirs and ours--depends on the achievement of peace.

Sources: Public Papers of the President