THE MIDDLE EAST
"The Middle East is a place today where local rivalries are intense, where the vital interests of the United States and the Soviet Union are both involved. Quite obviously, the primary responsibility for achieving a peaceful settlement in the Middle East rests on the nations there themselves. But in this region in particular, it is imperative that the two major powers conduct themselves so as to strengthen the forces of peace rather than to strengthen the forces of war."
Address to the United Nations
October 23, 1970
Vietnam is our most anguishing problem. It is not, however, the most dangerous. That grim distinction must go to the situation in the Middle East with its vastly greater potential for drawing Soviet policy and our own into a collision that could prove uncontrollable.
There are three distinct and serious aspects of the Middle East problem, each by itself difficult enough to resolve. They cannot, however, be treated in isolation. They have become enmeshed, and each tends to exacerbate and make more intractable the others. The Middle East crisis must be recognized as the product of these three dimensions:
--The Arab-Israeli conflict, which for more than twenty years has festered when it has not burned. It is the core problem of the Middle East crisis, and its intensity today is undiminished.
--Intra-Arab differences, which focus primarily on whether a negotiated settlement of the Israeli conflict is acceptable or whether force is the only solution. There are also differences over how Arab nations should be governed, which have led more than once to civil conflict. And there are rivalries growing out of disagreement about the relation of Arab states to each other in the quest for unity in the Arab world.
--The conflict between the interests of the Soviet Union and the United States, each of which is now more deeply than ever engaged in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Events surrounding the hostilities in Jordan in September showed how fragile are the barriers to direct great power confrontation in the Middle East.
America's interest in the Middle East-and the world's interest---is that the global structure of peace not be allowed to break down there. But this objective has to be pursued in a situation in rapid flux:
--The relationship between Middle East countries and outside powers has changed. The system of outside control that characterized the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries is gone; the peoples of the Near East have achieved national independence. There is a continuing search for a new balance between the strong nationalisms of the area and outside forces.
--The character of the outside influences has changed. The nations of the Middle East must now come to terms on various levels with the technological, capital, political, and military presence of the United States; with a new projection of Soviet power; and with a new Europe establishing economic association through the Common Market with a number of nations in the area.
--The relationship among the outside powers has changed. With lines between the U.S. and the Soviet Union firmly drawn in Europe, their contest has spilled over to the south where no such lines exist and where local conflict and rapid change draw them into new competition. This takes place against a background of changes in their own global strategic relationship and changes in their respective national postures toward global involvement.
THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT
This protracted and bitter struggle lies at the heart of the Middle East crisis. Its harmful potential is, to be sure, enhanced by great power involvement. But the simple fact remains that the continuation of this conflict grievously damages the interests of all concerned:
--It has drawn the Soviet Union and the United States into close military association with the combatants, with all the danger that poses to world peace.
--It has caused the disruption of normal U.S. relations with a number of Arab countries. This, in turn, has increased the already excessive Arab dependence on Soviet support, and therefore their dangerous vulnerability to excessive Soviet influence.
--It has provided an issue which has been exploited and manipulated by radical elements to undercut the internal stability of the Arab nations.
--It has, for two decades, kept the 50 million people of Israel and the adjoining Arab nations in a permanent state of hostilities, and in constant fear of attack.
--It has forced both the Arab states and Israel to divert a tragically disproportionate share of their resources to the instruments and activities of war.
--It has condemned to squalor and to soul-searing hatred the lives of the Palestinian refugees, who include not only those who originally fled their homes upon the establishment of Israel, but a whole generation born and reared in the hopelessness and frustration of the refugee camps. They are the material from which history creates the tragedies of the future.
That is the outline of the situation which prevails. It is, and was when my Administration began, of deep concern to the American people.
We faced a choice. We could have elected to stand aloof from the problem, on the theory that our diplomatic intervention would serve only to complicate further an already excessively complex problem.
We rejected that course. We did so for three reasons. First, the stakes involved are too high for us to accept a passive role. Second, we could see nothing resulting from our restraint but the steady deterioration of the situation into open war. Third, it would have been intolerable to subordinate our own hopes for global peace and a more stable relationship with the Soviet Union to the local if severe-animosities of the Middle East.
Therefore--with no illusions about the difficulty or the risks--this Administration embarked upon a major and prolonged effort to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Middle East crisis. In that effort, we have encountered in full measure the difficulties we expected. We have had disappointments as well as a limited degree of success. Because this problem is so important, and because our role is central to the chances for settlement, I wish to discuss in detail our assessment of the problem, and our efforts to resolve it.
The interests of all concerned require a settlement. The purpose of the United States has been to help the parties work out among themselves a peace agreement that each would have a stake in maintaining. We have proceeded with a sense of compassion for their concerns.
The Israelis seek recognition as a nation by their neighbors in secure circumstances. In any settlement they will seek more than simple declarations of peace and of Israel's legitimacy. They also seek physical security. For Israel, peace must be something more than a paper peace.
The Arab governments seek the recovery of territories lost during the June war, justice for those who have lost lands and homes through more than twenty years of conflict, and a sense of dignity and security that will permit them to feel no longer vulnerable to attack. Peace for them must also be real.
If these concerns are to be reconciled, three conditions must be met:
--Judgment on each side that the other is willing to make and live up to commitments that could produce a just and lasting peace.
--Judgment on each side that the other will be able to keep its commitments.
--Judgment on each side that the world community can provide realistic supplementary guarantees of whatever agreements may be reached.
The United States Initiative. Throughout 1969, the United States sought a framework for an agreed settlement through bilateral talks with the Soviet Union and in the multilateral channel of the Four Powers talks, as well as through continuing consultation with Israel, Jordan, and the UAR. We sought to work out common guidelines which Ambassador Gunnar Jarring, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative, could use as a catalyst for talks between the parties.
By May of 1970 these efforts were stalled. And while they had proceeded, the intensity of the conflict had again reached the critical level. Fighting was taking place daily along the Suez Canal. In retaliation, Israeli air power had reached deep into Egypt. Fedayeen attacks had provoked serious incidents on the cease-fire lines between Israel and Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The Soviet Union had taken steps to alter the military balance in the UAR's favor. Forces opposed to any kind of settlement were increasingly assertive in many Arab countries.
Obviously, the situation was once again about to go out of control. A new approach in the search for a settlement was urgently required.
Our experience over the past year had convinced us that no serious movement toward peace was possible unless the parties to the conflict themselves came to grips with the issues between them.
On June 19, therefore, the United States launched an initiative to get both sides to:
--re-establish the cease-fire.
--observe a military standstill in an agreed zone on both sides of the Israel-UAR cease fire line.
--agree on a set of principles as the basic starting point for Arab-Israeli talks under the auspices of Ambassador Jarring.
The essence of this proposal was described by Secretary Rogers publicly on June 25 as a major political initiative "to encourage the parties to stop shooting and start talking." The UAR, Jordan, and Israel accepted the proposal, as did the Soviet Union. Our initiative produced significant results:
--It halted the bloodshed along the cease-fire line, and thereby helped reduce national passions to a level more conducive to sober consideration of a political settlement.
--It obtained, for the first time, agreement by Israel, Jordan, and the UAR to seek "a just and lasting peace between them based on (1) mutual acknowledgment by the United Arab Republic, Jordan and Israel of each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence, and (2) Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 conflict, both in accordance with" the UN Security Council Resolution of November 22, 1967.
However, the ultimate goal of our initiative, a serious peace negotiation, did not follow immediately. For the Soviet and Egyptian buildup of military forces along the Suez Canal continued after the cease-fire went into effect on August 7, in violation of the agreement for a military standstill. The fragile opening toward peace was further endangered in early September by the actions of Palestinian groups which attempted to force the Government of Jordan to withdraw from the effort to reach a settlement.
The situation in Jordan deteriorated into open conflict, and the subsequent intervention of armored forces from Syria created the gravest threat to world peace since this Administration came into office.
More was at stake than Jordanian policy. As always with dangers avoided, it is not easy in retrospect to demonstrate how close to greater dangers the world really came. But the prospect which threatened can be described: If Jordan had succumbed to either internal subversion or external aggression, the danger of another full-scale Middle East war would have been at hand. With the Soviet Union so deeply involved in the military operations of the UAR, and with firm U.S. support for the survival of Israel, the risk of great-power confrontation would have been real indeed.
The United States had no responsible choice but to prevent events from running away with the ability to control them. We took a firm stand against the Syrian intervention. We acted to stabilize but not to threaten, to discourage irresponsibility without accelerating the momentum of crisis.
The Syrians withdrew, the Government of Jordan reestablished order, and a fragile agreement was reached on the future role of the organized Palestinians.
This sobering experience should demonstrate to all the parties involved the extreme volatility of the present state of affairs. The entire world has seen how precarious is the balance and how great the danger in the Middle East.
The Shape of Peace in the Middle East. It is not for the United States to attempt to set the precise terms of a Middle East peace settlement. That can be done only by the parties directly in conflict, and only by a process of negotiation with each other.
However, some of the principles and elements that must be included if a settlement is to be reached are clear and evident:
--The Arab Governments will not accept a settlement which does not provide for recovery of territories lost in the 1967 War. Without such acceptance, no settlement can have the essential quality of assured permanence.
--Israel will not agree to withdraw from occupied Arab territories, which she sees as enhancing her physical security, unless she has confidence in the permanence of the peace settlement. She also believes that the final borders to which she will withdraw must be negotiated and agreed in a binding peace settlement. She must, therefore, have confidence that no attack is forthcoming, and confidence in her acceptance by her neighbors and in other assurances.
--The lack of mutual confidence between Israel and the Arab countries is so deep that supplementary major power guarantees could add an element of assurance. Such guarantees, coupled in time with a reduction of the armed strength of both sides, can give the agreement permanence.
--No lasting settlement can be achieved in the Middle East without addressing the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. For over two decades they have been the victims of conditions that command sympathy. Peace requires fruitful lives for them and their children, and a just settlement of their claims.
The immediate task is to help the belligerents construct an agreement that will achieve a workable balance between the security and recognition that Israel seeks and a just resolution, which the Arab states seek, of the territorial and Palestinian issues. Only in such a balance can peace be found.
GREAT POWER CONTEST
For over a century the Middle East has been an area of great concern to the major powers. To NATO and Europe its independence is vital, militarily and economically. Similarly the Soviet Union has important interests which we recognize.
Despite the depth of these interests-perhaps to some extent because of them-the major powers have not established a pattern of relationships with the Middle East which accommodates the interests of all. The concern caused by that fact is magnified by the instability and volatility of the region.
Any effort by any major power to secure a dominant position could exacerbate local disputes, affect Europe's security, and increase the danger to world peace. We seek no such position; we cannot allow others to establish one.
We believe that the stability of the Middle East requires establishing a balance in the activities of the various outside powers involved there. Each must be free to pursue its own legitimate interests, but within the limits imposed by respect for the legitimate interests of others and the sovereignty of the nations of the area.
On this basis, the United States sought in 1969 and 1970 to enter into discussions with the Soviet Union on the Middle East question which would have global significance for us and them, and would also contribute to making constructive peace negotiations between the Arabs and Israelis possible.
We repeatedly made clear to the Soviet leaders our desire to limit the arms race in the Middle East on a reciprocal basis:
--On February 4, 1970, I proposed to Chairman Kosygin that the United States and the Soviet Union discuss the question of limiting the arms which our two countries provide to the Middle East. The Soviets rejected this proposal as they had done similar proposals in the past.
--On March 23, Secretary Rogers announced that we would hold in abeyance a decision on Israel's request for additional aircraft, pointing out that: "Restraint will be required on the part of other major suppliers to the Middle East. No nation can pursue a policy of seeking unilateral advantage in the area if peace is to be achieved."
The Soviet Union responded by stepping up the shipment of air-defense missiles and aircraft, manned by Soviet combat crews to Egypt--the first time that Soviet combat crews have been moved to a nation outside the Communist orbit.
While indicating that the U.S. preferred restraint in the shipment of arms, I have also repeatedly stated that the military balance between the Arab states and Israel must be maintained:
--In my February 4 letter to Chairman Kosygin, I made clear that the United States would not hesitate to provide arms to Israel if they were required in order to maintain that balance.
--On July 31, I said publicly: "It is an integral part of our cease-fire proposal that neither side is to use the cease-fire period to improve its military position in the area of the cease-fire lines. All would have to refrain from . . . undertaking a military buildup of any kind in such an area."
The Soviet Union's disregard for this essential foundation for peace talks raised serious doubts about its readiness to cooperate in the effort to achieve peace. Against this background, the United States had no choice but to take further steps to help maintain the military balance.
Throughout most of 1969 we had attempted to engage the Soviet Union in developing a basis for Arab-Israeli negotiations. Our talks with the Soviets focussed particularly on three points:
--The need for an Arab commitment to accept specific obligations in a peace agreement with Israel.
--The need for an Israeli commitment to withdraw from occupied territories as part of a binding peace which establishes recognized and secure boundaries.
--The need for both sides to enter a genuine negotiating process to work out the detailed terms of a peace settlement between them.
The Soviets have persistently called for an Israeli commitment to total withdrawal from all occupied territories. The Soviets have also called for a refugee settlement which inadequately reflects the practical human and security problems involved on both sides. The United States has recognized that any changes in prewar borders should be insubstantial, but we insist that any agreement to fix final borders must be directly linked in a peace agreement to mutually agreed practical arrangements that would make these secure. These are matters for negotiation between the parties. The Soviets have insisted, however, that the major powers make these judgments and, in effect, impose them on the parties.
In June 1970, the USSR offered further formulations on some of the obligations that all parties would undertake for preventing hostile acts from their soil and on the precise time when peace would come into effect in relation to the withdrawal of troops to final borders. But these formulations, which were modifications of earlier Soviet proposals, came belatedly and still failed to take into account the need for a negotiating process engaging the parties themselves.
The U.S. continues to welcome Soviet suggestions for a settlement. But to be serious, they must meet the legitimate concerns of not one but both sides.
NATIONALISM IN THE AREA
Apart from the Arab-Israeli conflict, a strong Arab nationalism has grown in reaction to an era of outside political control which has now ended. It is nurtured by a persistent yearning for unity among Arab nations. But traditional and ideological rivalries make it difficult for Arabs to agree on the form their unity should take. The attempts to fashion unity, therefore, sharpen tensions.
At the heart of these disputes is a fundamental ideological disagreement on how Arab society should respond to pressures for rapid modernization. As a consequence, some of the more militant forces exploit issues of anti-imperialism and Arab nationalism, even where these are not the real issues. For their own nationalist or ideological reasons, they seek to reduce the U.S. position. The ironic result of their action if they succeeded--would be to make the area once again more vulnerable to outside domination.
Thus some political currents in the area make it more difficult for the U.S. to maintain, as we would wish to do, productive relations with nations on both sides of inter-Arab disputes. We will continue to maintain friendly relations with all the countries of the area which welcome our friendship. We can make a significant contribution, as we have in the past, to the development of the Arab world in the fields of education and technical training, business management, and investment. The value of the contribution we can make, and wish to make, creates a common interest in the maintenance of decent relationships which may offset pressures to disrupt them.
ISSUES FOR THE FUTURE
The search for peace---especially an Arab-Israeli settlement--and the quest for a stable U.S.-Soviet relationship that will help preserve the independence and integrity of each nation in this area will remain our top priorities. Our aim is to see an epoch begin in which strong independent nations in this area in association with each other as they choose-relate freely and constructively with the world outside. The U.S. is prepared to consider new and fresh ways to assist in the development of the region to the benefit of both Arabs and Israelis once a real peace agreement is achieved.
In pursuing those goals, the United States will face these principal issues in the months ahead:
First, if the United States is to play a major role--as we have promised to do-in helping to bring about an Arab-Israeli settlement and provide supplementary guarantees, what should be the nature and extent of our diplomatic involvement? As I pointed out at the United Nations last October, the primary responsibility for peace rests on the nations of the Middle East. What is the proper relation between the efforts of the international community to encourage a settlement and the responsibility of the negotiating parties themselves?
Second, our bilateral relations with Arab nations are in flux. With some, formal diplomatic relations have been suspended. In others, attitudes toward the U.S. and the West are undergoing reassessment. The changing relationships in the Persian Gulf necessarily raise new issues for American policy. How do we best encourage and assist the constructive forces in the area to build a regional system of stable relationships?
Finally, there is a range of broader worldwide issues that form the background to Middle East politics. Limiting the external supply of arms to the area is one such issue. The U.S.-Soviet military relationship in the Mediterranean area is another. Beyond this, what is our policy toward the broadening commercial association which the European Common Market is establishing with nations in the area? How can we help assure the access of Western Europe and Japan to the supply of oil, and also help assure that the producing states receive fair revenues for their oil?
On some of these issues, our work is already well advanced. With others we are coming to grips for the first time. Our purpose is to resolve them in a way that helps us and every nation involved in the Middle East, including above all the states of the area, to build and strengthen the relationships--at every level--that will hold together the structure of peace.
Sources: Public Papers of the President