Great Power ContestFor 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 focused 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 U.S.S.R. 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.