WASHINGTON (Feb. 4)
Speculation was rife today over the content and intent of Soviet Premier Alexei N. Kosygin’s letter to President Richard M. Nixon on the Middle East crisis. The White House announced that the two-page letter was received on Saturday and was studied by the President and his special assistant on national security affairs, Henry A. Kissinger. Its text was transmitted to Secretary of State William P. Rogers. State Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey said yesterday that a reply to Mr. Kosygin would be made “in due time,” presumably by President Nixon. Notes of similar content were handed to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, of Britain and President Georges Pompidou, of France by the Soviet Ambassadors in London and Paris on Monday.
Diplomats here and abroad said the sudden surge of Soviet activity on the Middle East crisis indicated a renewed sense of urgency brought about by the escalation of Israel air and ground assaults on Egypt. White House sources described the contents of the Kosygin letter as “low key.” But diplomats and other officials familiar with it, said the letter contained strong hints that Moscow would supply additional planes and other weapons to Egypt unless the Middle East fighting cooled quickly. Premier Kosygin was said to have urged Mr. Nixon to prevail upon Israel to curtail its attacks and to halt shipments of additional American aircraft and other weapons to Israel.
The question being mulled by diplomatic and other observers here is whether the Soviet note reflected genuine concern over a deteriorating situation that could lead to a highly undesired U.S.-Soviet confrontation in the Mideast; whether it was simply a polemical gesture intended to impress Moscow’s Arab clients and bolster their drooping morale, or whether it was a naked power play designed to pressure the U.S. into further concessions toward the Arabs. Sources familiar with the Kosygin letter and the subsequent notes to London and Paris emphatically denied that they contained threats of direct Soviet intervention should the Arabs face defeat in another war with Israel. The source said there was no sign of a Soviet call for an ultimatum to Israel. But the view was expressed in some quarters that the Kosygin letter might be followed by accelerated deliveries of Soviet weapons to Egypt.
MOSCOW’S LATEST INITIATIVE SEEN AS EVIDENCE OF STERILITY OF BIG POWER TALKS
Washington Post correspondent Alfred Friendly reported from London today that Moscow’s latest initiative could be viewed as “increasing evidence of sterility in the Four Power talks” on the Mideast. Other sources said the Russians appear satisfied with the “extended pause” in their bilateral talks with the U.S. on the Middle East and may prefer to carry the negotiations back to the Four Power forum at the United Nations.
(The New York Times said in an editorial today that “The implied Soviet threat to send additional arms to Egypt is an ominous response to a humiliating situation that is largely of Moscow’s own making.” According to the paper, the Soviets and Arabs have “an honorable alternative” to a new arms race by responding “positively to the President’s reasonable proposals as outlined by Secretary of State Rogers last December.”)
(The London Times said today that Premier Kosygin’s message intended to demonstrate support for the Arabs in face of growing disillusionment and insistent demands for arms.” The Daily Mail of London said “the likelihood is that Nixon will refuse Israel a fresh consignment of Phantoms and instead may try to get the Russians to urge Nasser towards peace talks. The Daily Telegraph of London said the Arabs hope to gain the military initiative by support of Russian “volunteers” as aircraft pilots or in other combat capacities. “The West must make it clear to Russia that direct involvement of this kind will not go unanswered,” the paper said.)