HAK RN 10.10.73001

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger briefs President Nixon on the Middle East Peace talks.

On October 21, 1973 Henry A. Kissinger, President Nixon’s Secretary of State arrived in Moscow to conduct secret negotiations with the Soviet Union to bring an end to the war in the Middle East. With the U.S. negotiating on behalf of the Israelis, and the Soviets negotiating for the Arabs, the two sides began the highest-level talks thus far in the war. With the full negotiating authority of President Nixon, Dr. Kissinger settled the first framework for a cease-fire within 4 hours, an astonishing accomplishment. Up to this point, the U.S. maintained its three major strategic objectives: (1) to fulfill its obligation to Israel, (2) to reduce the role of the Soviets in the Middle East (and was in a position to do so at an accelerated rate through a peace process), and (3) to maintain friendly relations with the Arab world throughout the crisis.

Kissinger arrived back in the U.S. on the night of October 23-24 to learn that the cease-fire he had implemented only hours earlier in Tel Aviv had been broken. The Israeli Army was advancing further into Egyptian territory, threatening to destroy the entire Egyptian Third Army.

The Egyptian-Israeli ceasefire situation following the advance of the Israeli Army further into Egyptian territory.

On the 24th the Soviets informed the Administration that they intended to make a major move at the UN by having a new draft resolution proposed to the Security Council that would call for both the Soviet Union and the U.S. to send in military contingents to the region to enforce a new cease-fire. The U.S. made its intentions to veto such a resolution (along with the UK and China) clear to the Soviet Union and, in addition, the U.S. would in no way tolerate outside military forces on the ground in the region. The reasoning behind the refusal to engage outside armies into the region was crystal clear; such a move threatened to escalate the crisis into a superpower conflict, potentially instigating the use of nuclear weapons. Additionally, the Administration saw it as a Soviet strategy to shore up its weakening influence with Arab states while the American President was weakened at home by internal upheaval (the resignation of Vice President Agnew and the firing of the Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox had created a media firestorm at home and resulted in the resignations of three other high ranking officials in the Justice Department).

Talks with Ambassador Malik (Soviet Union Ambassador to the United Nations) on October 26, 1973.

Nevertheless, late on the night of October 24th, Nixon received an urgent note from Secretary Brezhnev that if the U.S. refused to send peacekeeping forces, then the Soviet Union was willing to do so unilaterally.

It was now clear to the President and his administration that the Soviets would not be intimidated or incentivized to return to the negotiating table by words alone, but that the Administration had to exercise force through concrete actions to show that the U.S. was still fully invested in the conflict. Nixon stated in his memoirs that,

When Haig informed me about this message, I said that he and Kissinger should have a meeting at the White House to formulate plans for a firm reaction to what amounted to a scarcely veiled threat of unilateral Soviet intervention. Words were not making our point – we needed action, even the shock of a military alert.

In order to lure the Soviets back into talks, the Administration knew that the American reply had to be conciliatory in tone but strong in substance. On October 25th Nixon raised the military alert for all U.S. forces around the world to DefCon III, in essence, the highest stage of readiness for peacetime conditions. Along with the alert, the Administration sent out a conciliatory note to the Soviet high command requesting immediate negotiations and sent another note to Sadat to belay his request for Soviet troops to enforce the cease-fire, lest the U.S. be forced to send in forces also.

All of these actions culminated in the most desirable response possible from the American perspective. The Soviets were utterly shocked by the U.S.’s escalated, yet calculated response and Sadat did indeed rescind his request for Soviet troops. That same day, October 25th, UNSC Resolution 340 was approved, ending the war. As a result of this (finally) successful cease-fire resolution, the U.S. had managed to maintain its obligations to Israel while bettering its standing with Arab countries, Egypt in particular. Sadat’s sudden shift away from the Soviet Union to the United States was possibly the most positive outcome of the bloody and tragic war, contributing to the overall stability of the region and laying the ground work for the Camp David Accords 5 years later; still the only successful Middle East peace treaty to date.

President Nixon briefs the press on the situation in the Middle East on October 26, 1973.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Kenneth Keating reports on his meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban. The meeting confirmed the phasing out of the American airlift by October 28.