The Soviet Union was secretly urging Arab leaders to use the oil weapon against the West more than six years before the 1973 embargo and subsequent price explosion, according to a document published in an Arabic magazine here.
Meeting in Moscow on July 17, 1967, Premier Alexed Kosygin told the chiefs of Algeria and Iraq that Arab oil could "split the ranks of the imperialists" and "create great political problems" for the United States and its allies. He urged them to set up an oil subcommittee of foreign ministers to study this tactic.
Neither Prime Minister Houari Boumediene of Algeria nor President Abdul Aref of Iran then appeared much interested. They had gone to Moscow, representing the Arab states, to seek Soviet support for a continued war against a freshly triumphant Israel in the Six Day War. But the seeds Kosygin planted bore fruit after the next round in the Middle East in 1973 and the West is still struggling with the consequences.
An account of the Soviet strategy appears today in Ad Dastour, an Arabic language weekly printed in London. The magazine obtained unofficial but near verbatim minutes of meeting from Abdul Majid Farid, a former aide of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and is now a key aide to Boumbedience in Algiers.
Farid said in an interview that the account was recorded by an Arab minister who had been present. It was then given to Nasser as a report of the conversations.
Farid has also been publishing in Ad Destour the official and previously secret minutes of other 1967 meetings between Nasser and the Russians following the Six Day War.
That conflict shattered Egypt's army and cost it most of its Soviet arms. Throughout June and July, Nasser met endlessly with fellow Arab leaders and his Russian armorers.
From Moscow he wanted not only huge quantities of weapons but also direct Soviet participation in Egypt's air defense. The minutes of the meeting show that Russians were ready to promise arms but steadily resisted any proposal to put Soviet fighting forces on Egyptian soil.
Boumediene and Aref volunteered to put Nasser's case and flew off in mid-July to meet Kosygin and Leonld Brezhnev, the Communist Party chief. The Russians barely hid their irritation with Arab "emotionalism" and pressed the visitors to play for time.
Kosygin told them: "I think that your big mistake is believing that if we send you 50 pilots or 1,000 soliders you will achieve victory. This is not thinking clearly. . .
"If we send you troops, then America and Britain will also send their troops to Israeli . . . I do not mean to say that we are afraid, but we should think seriously about the results before they become critical. . .
"We hear that some Arabs are saying that the Russians are afraid. In fact we do consider these matters very carefully and we approach them with a cool head . . ."
The Kosygin added:
"I have recently learned that an Arab foreign ministers' conference will soon be held. I wish this conference would set up a subcommittee on oil. Try to split the ranks of the imperialists on the oil question by supporting one country against another, and follow the same policy on economic concessions" - presumably, concessions to exploit oil - "for America and the West in Arab countries.
"You can create great political problems for them, and you should make great use of these problems. It's unfortunate that your current thinking is restricted to one topic: Will bthe war go on or stop . . ."
Aref replied first and ignored Kosygin's suggestion. Instead, the Israqi repeated his opposition to a Soviet proposal for a U.N. resolution that would end the state of war in return for Israeli withdrawal from the territories it had just taken. Boumediene was equally dismissive.
The pair met with Brezhnev and Kosygin the next day, July 13, and if anything, tempers were more strained.
In what reads like a sarcastic gibe, Brezhnev said, "Comrade Boumediene, you in Algeria are far from the battlefield and perhaps you have a clearer picture of the situation."
Marshal Andrel Grechko, the Soviet Defense Minister, listed the relative Israeli and Arab strengths to show that the Arabs could not continue the war.
Brezhnev them said bluntly, "You Middle Easterners are very emotional. But reason and logic is called for here."
Throughout the two days, Brezhnev was scathing about the Egyptian misuse of arms the Russians had sent before the June war.
At the start of the talks, Brezhnev complained:
"It hurts us to think that our reputation has been damaged, our latest planes and rockets ending up in the hands of the Americans, and our most modern tanks in West Germany. And it hurst us all the more when we learn that Israeli army officers described our tanks and planes, which you abandoned, as the best of weapons."
"He told his guests the Egyptians needed "two years of continuous work," before they could fight again.
In principle, however, the Russians did agree to provide fresh arms. But they repeatedly balked at the provision of troops, other than advisers.
The other set of minutes published by Ad Dastour of meetings in Cairo on June 22 and 23 between Nasser and Nikolai Podgoray, Chairman of the Soviet Presidium, offer at least one moment of unintended light relief.
Nasser complained that enemy security was better because "Israelis are generally pretty tight-lipped while Arabs cannot stay silent."
Podgorny advised, "Try to work quietly until you are completely ready, and watch out for reporters and journalists, for they can spoil everything for you in their competition for scoops."