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Press Conference by US Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger

(October 12, 1973)

The Israeli penetration into Syria widened along the Kuneitra-Damascus highway and an attack by Iraqi units sent to Syria was repulsed. The Egyptian front remained stable. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Dr. Kissinger held a press conference in which he stated that the aim of the United States was to stop the war and lay the basis for a stable peace. Report of the conference:

I thought it might focus our discussion if I began by giving you a brief summary of the situation in the Middle East as we see it.

You ladies and gentlemen will understand that we are, at this moment, in a delicate phase in which our principal objective has to be to bring about a cessation of hostilities, and to lay the basis for a more permanent peace in the Middle East, and that. therefore, I will have to be somewhat guarded in some of the observations I make and in some of the answers I give to your questions. But I expect after the conclusion of this phase to have another press conference in which I will give a fuller account than may be possible today.

Now, let me talk about the situation in the Middle East in the following parts: First, the outbreak of hostilities. Secondly, the American efforts, after hostilities started, to bring about a cessation of hostilities. Third, a very brief observation on the military situation as we see it today. And, finally, where we hope to go from here.

First, with respect to what we knew prior to the outbreak of hostilities. In the week prior to the outbreak of hostilities, the U.S. was aware that there were additional concentrations of Syrian forces and also that the Egyptian forces were engaged in what was interpreted both by our intelligence as well as by Israeli intelligence as their regular fall manoeuvres.

We asked our own intelligence, as well as Israeli intelligence, on three separate occasions during the week prior to the outbreak of hostilities, to give us their assessment of what might happen. There was the unanimous view that hostilities were unlikely to the point of there being no chance of it happening. Nor was the possibility of hostilities raised in any of the discussions with either of the parties that took place at the United Nations during the last week.

In these circumstances, the U.S. had no occasion to warn any country against engaging in pre-emptive action. The U.S., therefore, in the week prior to the outbreak of hostilities, gave no advice with respect to a contingency that we had been unanimously assured was not likely to happen - in fact was certain not to happen.

The first time the U.S. Government was informed that hostilities might be imminent was at six o'clock Saturday morning, when I was awakened and immediately contacted the President. From then until the time that we were informed that hostilities had, in fact, begun - which was around nine o'clock on Saturday morning - we did make intensive efforts with the parties, as well as with the Soviet Union and the Secretary General of the U.N., to attempt to prevent the outbreak of hostilities.

Obviously, given the scale of preparation that must have been made prior to the outbreak of hostilities, these efforts were unavailing.

After hostilities broke out, the U.S. set itself two principal objectives. One, to end the hostilities as quickly as possible. Secondly, to end the hostilities in such a manner that they would contribute to the maximum extent possible to the promotion of a more permanent, more lasting solution in the Middle East.

Therefore, the U.S. has sought during this period - first in the U.N., and, secondly, through a series of bilateral contacts - to create a framework in which both of these objectives could be realized. We have explored the possibilities of crystallizing a consensus within the U.N. We have also been in touch with the parties, as well as with the permanent members of the Security Council, in order to see what bilateral efforts might bring.

We have not gratuitously sought opportunities for confrontations in public forums which might harden dividing lines, and which might make it more difficult to move towards a settlement.

When this phase is over, we will give an accounting of the efforts we have undertaken, and then a judgement can be made with respect to them. For now, our objective is to bring about an end of hostilities in such a manner that we will be in contact with all of the parties, as well as with the permanent members of the Security Council, after hostilities are ended, because we believe that, in this manner, we can make a maximum contribution to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Our assessment of the military situation, as we see it this morning, is that Israeli forces seem to have advanced some distance into Syria. Egyptian forces are holding the east side of the Suez Canal to a distance of about six to ten miles. The Egyptian front - the Suez Front - is reasonably stable, and the Syrian front is somewhat fluid.

As for the future, the U.S. will continue to make, and is now engaged in making efforts to bring about an end to hostilities in a manner that contributes to long-term peace in the area, and I may say to long-term peace in the entire world. This is the framework of our discussions.

And now, Stewart, if you would like to ask the first question.

Q. What I would like to ask is in connection with bringing about a framework of stability, and so forth.

You said Monday that the détente between the Soviet Union and the US could not withstand or could not survive irresponsibility in any area, including the Middle East. And I am wondering whether in that connection you feel that the Russian statement urging other Arab states to join Egypt and Syria in the fight against Israel constitutes the sort of irresponsibility which jeopardizes the détente and, if it does so, whether you intend to match from the American side the war supplies which are said to be coming in to the others from the Soviet side.

A. That's at least two questions.

With respect to the first question: the behaviour of the Soviet Union in the Middle East crisis, and the effect of the Middle East crisis on U.S.-Soviet relations. Any assessment has to recognize that both the U.S. and the Soviet Union confront, each from their own perspective, a very complex situation in the current crisis.

Indeed, the reason why we believe that a long-term settlement in the Middle East is so important is the danger that the Middle East may become in time what the Balkans were in Europe before 1914. That is to say, an area where local rivalries that have their own momentum will draw in the great nuclear Powers into a confrontation that they did not necessarily seek or even necessarily start.

It is obvious that the U.S. has a traditional friendship with Israel, which it will maintain in this crisis. It is also clear that the Soviet Union has a relationship going back some years with some of the Arab states, which it also will not rupture during this crisis. The difficulty both of us face is whether, while remaining true to our principles, we can, nevertheless, conduct the relationships in such a manner that the larger interests of peace are served.

We did not consider the Soviet statement to the President of Algeria helpful. We did not consider the airlift of military equipment helpful. We also do not consider that Soviet actions, as of now, constitute the irresponsibility that on Monday evening I pointed out would threaten détente. When that point is reached, we will in this crisis, as we have in other crises, not hesitate to take a firm stand. But at this moment we are still attempting to weigh against the actions of which we disapprove, and quite strongly, the relative restraint that has been shown in public media in the Soviet Union and in the conduct of their representatives at the Security Council.

And as of this moment, our objective is, as I stated, to end hostilities on terms that are just to all without exacerbating relations to an unbearable point.

I want to repeat: when we make the judgment that actions have reached the point of irresponsibility we will be very firm in making this clear.

Q. Mr. Secretary, do you believe, in light of the Soviet evacuation of dependents from Syria and Egypt, last Thursday and Friday, that, (1) they knew in advance of the plans for the attack? Do you feel that they should have informed the U.S. of those plans? and (2) Do you feel that the Soviet Union, to any degree, encouraged the attacks?

A. It is too early to make a final judgement on all of these matters. If the Soviet Union encouraged these attacks -which we have, as of now, no evidence of - that would have to be treated by us as a very serious matter.

Now, if the Soviet Union learned of these attacks through its own intelligence or in some other manner and did not inform us, then this is a different problem.

In an ideal world, one would expect closer consultation but, given the particular volatility of the Middle East, it would have been a heavy responsibility to make known certain advance information. Nevertheless, we would like to stress that if either side in this relationship has certain knowledge of imminent military operations in any explosive part of the world, we would consider it consistent and, indeed, required - by the principles that have been signed between the U.S. and the Soviet Union - that an opportunity be given to both sides to calm the situation.

Q. In view of the reputation of Israeli intelligence, to what do you attribute the failure of both their and our intelligence to spot what was about to take place?

A. Nobody made any mistakes about the facts. There are always two aspects to intelligence. One is a determination of the facts; the other is the interpretation of these facts. And there is the tendency of most intelligence services -and indeed of most senior officials, and indeed of some newspapermen - to fit the facts into existing preconceptions and to make them consistent with what is anticipated. And if you start from the assumption that a war is probably unlikely if you know that there have been Egyptian manoeuvres every September over the last ten years - then there is probably a tendency to make observed facts fit your preconceived theories. This is one of the gravest dangers of all intelligence assessments. And facts are much easier to come by than intentions.

Over the years that I have been in this position, the possibility of a massive Arab attack was not considered among the most likely by any of the evaluators that I've talked to.

Q. May I follow that? Mrs. Meir said that she had advised other governments - I think she used the expression "a reasonable time in advance" - so that they could attempt to prevent it.

A. Well, it depends on your definition of a reasonable time. We were informed, at six o'clock on Saturday morning, that a war might be imminent. We were informed somewhat earlier that Israel did not intend to attack herself, but that did not indicate to us necessarily that an Arab attack was imminent.

Q. Mr. Secretary, what kind of help are the Soviets giving Egypt and Syria? What kind of help are we now, or will we later, give to Israel?

A. Herb, at this time I would like to stress again that our principal problem in responding to questions like this is to keep in mind that we are in a very delicate situation which can be very easily inflamed by rash statements or by responding to very immediate pressures.

The Soviet airlift, at this moment, is moderate. It's more than light. It's a fairly substantial airlift, and it has to be addressed in relation to the possibility of influencing immediate military operations.

As far as we are concerned, you all know that we do have an ongoing military relationship with Israel, which we are continuing. And we are having discussions with Israel about the special situation created by recent events, but I don't think any useful purpose would be served by going into detail.

Q. In that connection, Mr. Secretary, some Arab countries are threatening to cut off Western oil supplies, if the U.S. continues this ongoing relationship, and resupplies Israel. How heavily do those threats weigh in the determination of the policy?

A. We have made a very serious effort, in this crisis, to take seriously into account Arab concerns and Arab views. On the other hand, we have to pursue what we consider to be the right course; we will take the consequences in pursuing what we consider to be the right course.

Q. Can you give us any idea, Dr. Kissinger, of the kinds of obstacles that you're running into now in this quest for ending hostilities?

A. Well, I have seen a fair amount of discussion about the desirability of some U.N. action. Now, the difficulty has been that our almost daily canvass of the consensus in New York is that the opinions are so divided and the willingness to take a. position on the part of the major - or on the part of all - the members of the Security Council is so low in our judgement that to force a formal vote on any proposition that we might put forward would only harden the dividing lines and would serve to underline the inability to achieve a consensus.

We have, therefore, placed more stress on attempting to crystallize a consensus than we have in going through a battle of resolutions and counter-resolutions.

Beyond this I cannot go, except to make clear that we are in touch with the parties and with the major - with the permanent members of the Security Council - as well as, on a daily basis, with the Secretary-General of the U.N.

Q. Would you give us, sir, your overall assessment of the state of attitude by the super-Powers - by the three major Powers: the U.S., the Soviet Union, and China - in respect to the danger of any spread of these hostilities?

Secondly, if I may, as presidential national security adviser, how do you evaluate the handling of this crisis by the State Department?

A. Well, first with respect to the second question, we are very impressed, in the White House, by the leadership that the State Department has received.

But, on a serious level, I think that - for crisis situations, certainly - the combination of these two positions enables a more coherent policy. And with the cooperation of my associates in the State Department, the conduct has been outstanding and has contributed to keeping the crisis, so far, contained within its present framework.

Now, with respect to the first question, the danger of escalation as it is evaluated by, may I say, the permanent members of the Security Council, so that I am not making distinctions here. I think everybody is aware that a war of this nature has a possibility of escalating. I think that up to now both sides, the two countries that are most capable of producing a confrontation, that is the U.S. and the Soviet Union, have attempted to behave within limits that would prevent an escalation into such a war. If you compare their conduct in this crisis to their conduct in 1967, one has to say that Soviet behaviour has been less provocative, less incendiary and less geared to military threats than in the previous crisis.

It is, of course, an extremely volatile situation which has potentialities for getting out of hand. And I can only emphasize once again the great importance for restraint by all of those countries that have it in their capacity to bring about an escalation and an expansion of hostilities, and the expectation of the U.S. that all countries that have a capacity to influence them on the side of restraint and moderation, as we are attempting to do.

Q. Mr. Secretary, in this connection, have you tried to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union on suspending the deliveries of arms to the parties?

A. I don't think I should go into any of - into the details of any exchanges with the Soviet Union at this time.

Q. Mr. Secretary, when you talk of firmness if the thing should get that far, are you thinking of the kind of firmness that the United States demonstrated in 1970, at the time of the Syrian crisis?

A. Situations are never comparable, but the basic principles that governed our policies throughout this administration remain constant, and I don't think I should speculate on the particular methods we would use. But we would be guided by the same principles.

But let me repeat - we do not want this to happen, we don't expect it to happen, and we think that with restraint by all sides there is no need whatever for it to happen.

Q. Dr. Kissinger, could you assess the super-Powers or the large Powers - could you assess what you consider the Arab strategy in launching these attacks? I mean you have talks with the Arab foreign ministers at the United Nations. There has been some talk that they had a limited psychological-political objective - in view of the talk about the so-called peace initiative that you were about to launch.

A. The Arab objective, of course, has not been fully shared with us. And so we are here in the realm of speculation. And the Arab objective will also become clearer as the days go on.

If the Arab objective was, as is sometimes stated, to emphasize the fact that the Middle East is - that permanent stability cannot be assumed in the Middle East, and that there is an urgency in achieving a negotiated settlement, or that it is important to achieve a negotiated settlement, then it would be our judgment that that point has been made. The U.S. stands ready now, as it stood ready before the beginning of hostilities, to help the parties if they want to pursue a negotiated solution. We believe that it would be useful and we would be prepared, as I pointed out to both sides in New York, to be helpful in that.

If that is the Arab strategy, then we are at a point where perhaps we can turn, after the end of hostilities, to that search for peace, which the U.S. would support.

Q. Mr. Secretary, sir, obviously you can't ask the Russians not to send any more arms to these people if you are sending arms to Israel. Why don't you tell the Soviets that we will stop sending arms to Israel if they will stop sending them to the Arabs?

A. As I said, this is not the time to discuss what exchanges are going on between the Soviet Union and the U.S., except to emphasize again that our primary objective is to bring about restraint and to bring about as rapid a solution as is possible.

Q. Dr. Kissinger, you stressed in your speech on Monday night at the Pacem in Terris conference the need to move from preventive diplomacy to more creative diplomacy. Does this crisis present an opportunity, do you believe, for the U.S., particularly in cooperation with the Soviet Union, to stress a new urgency to move to direct or indirect Arab-Israeli negotiations?

A. We would hope that after the completion - after the conclusion of hostilities, that all - that first the parties directly involved and secondly the countries indirectly involved would recognize the fragility of the situation that erupts so periodically into conflict. And if that conclusion should be reached, as we believe it should be reached, the U.S. stands ready to help the parties in reaching a just settlement. And we have also urged, and I want to use this occasion to urge, all the parties in the conduct of their diplomacy now to keep in mind that whatever momentary advantages might be achieved in this or that forum, our principal objective should be to maintain relationships that can move both the area and the world towards a more lasting peace. We will conduct our foreign policy and our diplomacy in that manner, and we hope all other countries will also conduct themselves in that manner.

Q. Mr. Secretary, there is an Arab view that it would be easier to reach a permanent settlement if the Egyptians maintain a certain foothold on the Sinai Peninsula. What kind of map at the end of hostilities do you think would contribute most to a settlement - a permanent settlement?

A. This is not an American determination to make. We stated some general propositions at the Security Council on Monday, and we will be prepared to participate in any other exchange and discussion. But I don't think any useful purpose would be served now...

Q. Mr. Secretary, you are planning a trip to China at the end of this month. Has that trip been jeopardized in any way by these developments? And would you expect Chinese cooperation in the restraints that you are advocating?

A. Our call for restraint is addressed to all nations with a capacity to influence events. Of course, the Chinese capacity to influence events, given the geographic distance, is not as great as that of other countries, and that must be weighed. But our appeal for restraint is addressed to all countries.

I do not foresee that my trip to China will be jeopardized by the situation as it now exists. But of course this depends on how long it will go on.

Q. Mr. Secretary, in pursuit of an end to hostilities, would we be willing to support a cease-fire in place now in the Mid-East, or do we want withdrawal to the '67 line?

A. At this moment, this is not the occasion to discuss any specific formula that may be advanced, because the attitude to a specific formula will depend on conditions which exist when it is advanced. And there are so many approaches that have been canvassed that it would serve no purpose to review them now.

Q. Mr. Secretary, in the light of what was apparently a failure to gauge intentions on the facts prior to the outbreak of hostilities, what steps do you think this country can take to improve its capability to gauge intentions in a situation like this?

A. The judgement of the intentions of other countries is always an extremely difficult matter. And it isn't something that can be solved by improving any particular capabilities.

Surprise would never be possible if there were no misjudgements of intentions. And obviously the people most concerned, with the reputation of the best intelligence service in that area, were also surprised, and they have the principal problem of answering the question which you put to me.

To the degree that one can improve one's understanding of the mentality of other countries, to the degree that one understands their decision-making process, to that degree one can reduce the dangers of being taken by surprise. But the element of surprise can never be totally eliminated.

Q. Dr. Kissinger, before, in assessing possible Arab objectives, you gave us one possibility, which broadly translated means making a political point. What other possible Arab objectives are there beyond that, and if there are, what could be the expected U.S. response?

A. I can't speculate on what conceivable objectives there might be which could range from the one I gave to a total military victory, which could be from a short campaign to a war of attrition. The U.S. would believe that a prolonged war of attrition in the Middle East would have such a high possibility of Great Power involvement - at least Great Power involvement in the sense of increasing the tensions to a point which would affect the entire international atmosphere and raise issues of supplies to both sides in such a manner - that we believe it is in the interest of all countries, including also, and above all, the participants, to bring the war to a reasonable and honourable conclusion as soon as that can be accomplished.

Q. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for spending this hour with us. We hope to see you again soon.

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs