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Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Kissinger Archives on Israel

On Friday, the National Security Archive announced the publication The Kissinger Transcripts: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977, comprising more than 2,100 memoranda of conversations("memcons"), many of them near-verbatim transcripts, detailing talks between Henry A. Kissinger and United States and foreign government leaders and officials. Edited by senior analyst William Burr, and available on the Digital National Security Archive as well as in print-microfiche form, this collection includes 28,386 pages of documents. It is the most comprehensive published record of Kissinger as decision-maker, executor of policy, and negotiator during all phases of his service during the Nixon and Ford administrations: 1) as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs ("national security adviser"), 1971-1975, 2) as national security adviser and Secretary of State, 1973-1975, and 3) as Secretary of State after he was dismissed as national security adviser.

Originally found in archival sources or released through targeted declassification requests, the memcons show Kissinger meeting with the major leaders of the day in a variety of settings, from the White House Situation Room to the Kremlin and the Great Hall of the People (Beijing). Kissinger's many interlocutors included Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, James Schlesinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Denis Healey, Takeo Miki, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Anwar Sadat, Hafez al-Assad, King Hussein, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Georges Pompidou, Andrei Gromyko, Leonid Brezhnev, Anatoly Dobrynin, Aldo Moro, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Itzak Rabin, Helmut Schmidt,Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Le Duc Tho, Nguyen Van Thieu, Mobutu Sese Seko, Léopold Senghor, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, John B. Vorster, Marshall Tito, and Nicolae Ceausescu, among many others.

The documents published in The Kissinger Transcripts: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy shed light on Kissinger's role in the key international developments of the period, including, but not limited to, Israel and the Middle East. Some of the highlights of the Kissinger transcripts have already been reported in the newspapers here. But I thought it might be worth it to look at some of the documents to see what else became available this week.

The Kissinger Transcripts: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy is available on microfiche or in electronic form as part of the on-line Digital National Security Archive (subscription service managed by ProQuest). A printed index/catalog provides great detail on each of the memcons, including archival location when appropriate. The printed guide includes a 305-page catalog, a 141-page names index, and a 592-page subject index beginning with "Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)" and ending with "Zimbabwe." In addition, a glossary of names provides basic information on major participants in the "memcons." Finally, an overview essay by the editor provides perspective on the documents in this collection and on Kissinger's career in government. If anyone wants to buy me the guide and pay me to go through it, I'd be happy to do it :-) I find these fascinating.

The briefing book that was released on Friday includes a sampling of 20 documents from The Kissinger Transcripts. With regard to Israel, they cover such developments as:

During a meeting of the Washington Special Actions Group on the 1970 "Black September" crisis in Jordan, Kissinger told the group that Nixon "wants us to consider using aircraft against the Fedayeen"; if "Royal authority" in Jordan collapsed, Washington might intervene.

Document 6: Senior WSAG Meeting, "Middle East," 10 September 1970, 3:15-4:00 p.m., White House Situation Room, Top Secret

The fall of 1970 was a period of crises for the Nixon administration: the Jordanian crisis and tensions over a Soviet naval base in Cienfuegos, Cuba overlapped with unfolding covert activities to thwart the election of Chilean socialist Salvador Allende. This document recounts a WSAG meeting that occurred in the midst of the "Black September" Jordan crisis, when "Fedayeen"--Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) guerillas-were fighting the government of Jordan as well as hi-jacking passenger aircraft in an attempt to secure the release of guerillas imprisoned in Israel. (The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner was a passenger on one of these planes). To ensure that the Israeli government had more military resources in the event that it intervened in Jordan, Nixon requested a new package of military aid while the WSAG looked at contingency plans in the event that Washington decided to intervene. The problem was keeping U.S. military maneuvers quiet; as Admiral Moorer explained, "We have taken every action we can take now without signaling an increased alert." While troop support was one possibility, Kissinger told the group that Nixon "wants us to consider using aircraft against the Fedayeen."

Admiral Moorer's "first recommendation is that we should not get involved" because of the logistical problems that such an intervention would face, as well as the possibility that the Soviets would react. Nevertheless, Kissinger wanted the Group to develop plans if Nixon decided in favor of a "sustained operation in Jordan" because a "collapse of Royal authority" could lead to Israeli intervention followed by Soviet and Iraqi counter-moves. This led the group to consider possible deterrent measures such as alerting strategic bombers. While Kissinger believed that Soviet intervention was "quite possible," Jordanian armed forces were able to hold off the Fedayeen and a Syrian tank column that crossed into Jordan. Nixon and Kissinger later argued that the Soviets had encouraged the Syrians to intervene and then, in response to U.S. warnings, pull back but subsequent accounts suggest exaggeration of both the Syrian and Soviet roles.
  • Meeting with Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz, Kissinger denounced the Jackson-Vanik amendment to withhold trade concessions from the Soviets unless they liberalized their policy on emigration of Soviet Jewry: the "issue for American Jews is whether a major American foreign policy can be wrecked."
Document 13: Memorandum of Conversation, 30 March 1973, 12:00-12:40 p.m., Military Aide's Office, East Wing, White House, Top Secret/Sensitive/Excusively Eyes Only

Meeting with Simcha Dinitz, Israel's then-new ambassador, Kissinger was briefed on the secret talks on a Middle Eastern settlement between Israeli diplomats and Yevgeny Primakov, one of the top Soviet Middle East experts. According to Dinitz's account, the Soviets minimized the importance of Egypt's expulsion of Soviet military advisers in the summer of 1972: "It is not so important; we [the Soviets] are still there, with friends and arms." Kissinger did not object to the Israel-Soviet discussion, which generally paralleled the U.S. approach on the Middle East: "We are pushing nothing [with the Soviets]; we are wasting time." Referring to secret talks with Sadat's national security adviser, Kissinger said, "We are using the Egyptians to kill off talks with the Russians." Apparently Kissinger wanted to continue "wasting time," until the Egyptians had something new to offer. Nevertheless, Kissinger and Dinitz agreed that the situation could "explode" and Kissinger recommended that the Israelis "think about eventual negotiations."

On the question of the exit tax on Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate to Israel, Kissinger warned against the Jackson-Vanik amendment which sought to deny Most-Favored Nation trade status to Moscow unless the President determined that determined that it complied with freedom of emigration requirements. Declaring that the "issue for American Jews is whether a major American foreign policy can be wrecked"-the détente trade deals with Moscow-Kissinger hoped that he could negotiate away the exit tax problem.
  • During and after the October 1973 Middle East war, Kissinger began to squeeze the Soviets out of the Middle East; the Soviets understood this and told Kissinger that he had gone back on his promise to include Moscow in the negotiations. When Kissinger declared that the "United States has no intention to exclude the Soviet Union," Leonid Brezhnev suggested that he was not persuaded and spoke of the need for "good faith, not playing games."
Document 14: Memorandum of Conversation, "CSCE: Middle East," 26 March 1974, 10:35 a.m.-1:53 p.m., The Kremlin, Secret/Nodis

The Middle East situation "exploded" in October 1973, and in the wake of the Yom Kippur War Nixon and Kissinger launched an intensive effort to secure the disengagement of, on the one hand, Israeli and Egyptian forces from the Sinai and, on the other hand, Israeli and Syrian forces from border areas. Please note that unlike the current day 'disengagements' these were made pursuant to agreements with states. Israel has a cold peace treaty with Egypt today, while the Syrian border has been mostly quiet for more than thirty years. While Kissinger had worked with the Soviets in brokering a cease-fire and Moscow took it for granted that it would play a central role in negotiating a peace settlement, that was far from Kissinger's mind. After the near-crisis triggered by Brezhnev's 24 October 1973 letter, an ambiguous letter that Kissinger read as threatening unilateral Soviet action eighteen days after the Yom Kippur War started, Kissinger became determined to squeeze the Soviets out of any peace talks. Well before the first Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement had been completed in mid-January 1974, it was evident that Kissinger and his interlocutors in Cairo and Damascus were leaving the Soviets on the sidelines. When Kissinger traveled to Moscow in late March 1974, mainly for reasons not connected with the Middle East, he found out how much "shuttle diplomacy" had angered Brezhnev and the Soviet leadership. While Brezhnev believed that he and Kissinger had reached an understanding in October that peace settlement diplomacy would be under joint, U.S.-Soviet auspices, he was uneasy with the U.S.'s independent, or "separate," diplomatic activity in the Middle East since the cease-fire. A critical moment came after Kissinger warned against criticizing "what has been achieved"; Brezhnev responded that he was "criticizing the past from a position of principle, because it was done in circumvention of our understanding with you." That, Kissinger claimed, "is a phrase I cannot accept." While Kissinger later declared that the "United States has no intention to exclude the Soviet Union from the negotiation," Brezhnev suggested that he was not persuaded, by speaking of the need for "good faith, not playing games."
  • Three days later Kissinger told Israeli officials: "we are squeezing [Moscow]" but he worried about détente's future because "we are facing these brutal bastards with nothing to offer them."
Document 15: Memorandum of Conversation with General Moshe Dayan and Ambassador Simcha Dinitz, 29 March 1974, 12:05-2:45 p.m., Secret/Nodis

With the Israeli-Syrian disengagement talks under way, Israel's Defense Minister, General Moshe Dayan, came to Washington for talks on the negotiations and on military aid issues. Having just returned from Moscow, Kissinger briefed the Israelis on his Middle East discussions with Brezhnev, "the roughest conversation I have ever had with the Soviets on any subject." "It was a very brutal talk." What Kissinger would not acknowledge to Brezhnev, he was perfectly comfortable telling Dayan and Ambassador Simcha Dinitz: "we are squeezing [the Soviets] on the Middle East." Indeed, Kissinger worried about the future of détente because the United States had so little to give the Soviets: "we are facing these brutal bastards with nothing to offer them." Much of the conversation related to the proposed disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces from a "buffer zone" and the levels of forces that both sides would keep in the area. Kissinger believed that a successful negotiation was essential to achieve a "temporary neutralization of the most radical [Arab] elements" but also to thwart the Soviets, who wanted the talks to "fail to bring about a disintegration of our role in the Middle East." Kissinger, however, was critical of the lines that the Israelis drew; arguing that "some slice of the Golan Heights … will have to be part of this arrangement", otherwise the Israelis "will produce a war." The disengagement talks posed complex problems that were not resolved until the end of May 1974, when the two parties reached a final agreement.


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