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Richard Nixon Administration: "A Conversation With the President"

(January 4, 1971)


MR. SEVAREID. Mr. President, we have no formal alliance with the State of Israel. But isn't it really a fact that we are now so deeply committed morally to the Israelis that if they were in unmistakable danger of defeat wouldn't we have to intervene?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Sevareid, to speculate on that question would not really be in the interests of peace in that area, as I see them at this point. Let's look how far we have come. We have had a cease-fire for 5 months, no killing, and for 3 or 4 years before that there were killings every day in that part of the world.

Second, as you know, the Israelis have gone back to the Jarring talks, and also the other side will be there. That doesn't mean that the prospect for an early agreement is very great. It does mean, however, that there is some chance that there will be discussion.

And, third, it seems to me that we must take into account the fact that the people in that part of the world, the people of Israel, the people in the countries that are Israel's neighbors, that they are overwhelmingly on the side of peace--they want peace. Their leaders are going to have to reflect it.

I think that we are at a critical time in the Mideast, a critical time over the next few months when we may get these talks off dead center, make some progress toward a live-and-let-live attitude. Not progress that is going to bring a situation where the Israelis and their neighbors are going to like each other. That isn't ever going to happen, perhaps. But where they will live with each other, where they won't be fighting each other.

Now, to speculate about what is going to happen in the event that Israel is going to go down the tube would only tend to inflame the situation with Israel's neighbors. And I won't do it.

MR. SEVAREID. Would it, Mr. President, calm the situation and help the prospects for peace if we did have some formal alliance with the State of Israel?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't believe so, because I think that what we are doing for Israel is so well known to them, and also incidentally it is quite well known to their neighbors, that it provides the balance that is needed.

We just provided a $500 million aid program for Israel. I say "aid"--they are going to be able to purchase weapons to that extent. We have made it clear time and again that we would help to maintain the balance of power in the area so that Israel would not be in a position that its neighbors could overwhelm them with their superior manpower or with the forces that they got from the Soviet Union. But I do not believe that a formal alliance would be--is either necessary or would be in the interest of peace in the area.

MR. SMITH. The kind of thing that bothers me is the tendency towards adventurism in that part of the world by the Russians. They are manning the SAM sites, and last summer it wasn't widely publicized, but eight Israeli jets were on patrol, they ran into eight Egyptian MIG's, there was a fight and over the radio they heard they weren't Egyptians, they were Russian-piloted MIG's. The score was four Russians shot down.

But how frightfully dangerous that is. If the Russians had been tempted to retaliate, then it could have become terribly complicated.

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Smith, you will remember in the last 5 minutes of our conversation a year ago--we didn't get to the Mideast till the last 5 minutes--but I mentioned this very point, that the key to peace in the Mideast is held by several people: first, the parties involved, the Israelis and their neighbors, primarily the U.A.R. and Jordan; but second, the key to peace is in 'the hands of the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain, France--the four major powers.

If the Soviet Union does not play a conciliatory peacemaking role, there is no chance for peace in the Mideast. Because if the Soviet Union continues to fuel the war arsenals of Israel's neighbors, Israel will have no choice but to come to the United States for us to maintain the balance to which Mr. Sevareid referred. And we will maintain that balance.

That is why it is important at this time that the Soviet Union and the United States as well as Britain and France all join together in a process of not having additional arms and additional activities go into that area, because that will only mean that it produces the possibility of a future confrontation.

This is the time to talk. Let me say one other thing with regard to the talk. I would hesitate to give advice to other nations as they enter such delicate talks, but I am sure of this: These talks will have no chance for success if they are done in a public forum. It is very important that it be done quietly, because every time an offer is made or a suggestion is made, it is talked about in the parliaments of one country or another, on the radio--you can forget it. So if these talks can be quietly conducted, there is a chance for success, and in the end we want to remember that the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France must all be, and I think will be, in a position to guarantee whatever settlement is made through the United Nations.

Sources: Public Papers of the President