309. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Richard Helms, Director of Central Intelligence
  • [name and title not declassified]
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Thomas K. Latimer

Mr. Kissinger: I appreciate your role in passing these messages to the Egyptians.2 My first question is technical—can the Egyptians keep these contacts secret or are they penetrated by the Soviets? Is it to their advantage to let the Soviets know of our contacts?

[name not declassified]: They can keep it secret.

Mr. Kissinger: But will they?

[name not declassified]: I think they will despite their past record. It is in their interest to do so.

Mr. Kissinger: You have not passed them pieces of paper? This has all been done orally has it not?

[name not declassified]: Yes, all orally. They take notes as do I when they pass us a message. It is not to Sadat’s interest to have these secret contacts known because he fears raising false hopes among his people.

Mr. Kissinger: He might use it as blackmail with the Soviets but so far, he doesn’t have anything to tell them. No substance has been exchanged.

[Page 1048]

[name not declassified]: Most Egyptians think Sadat checked with us before throwing the Soviets out. They do not think he would have been so stupid as to have taken that action without checking with us first.

Mr. Kissinger: I think he was stupid.

[name not declassified]: Sadat took that move as part of what he saw as the national interest. He thought that the Soviets could not help Egypt achieve one of the key elements in its national policy, the regaining of the Sinai.

Mr. Kissinger: Why did he not make us an offer to exchange the ouster of the Soviets in exchange for pressure on Israel on our part?

[name not declassified]: There you are running into the personality of Sadat. His pride was involved and a lot of what he felt was . . .

Mr. Kissinger: Alright. Do you know Ismail?

[name not declassified]: [less than 1 line not declassified] He has an unusually well organized mind for an Egyptian.

Mr. Kissinger: Do you mean Sadat’s mind is not well organized?

[name not declassified]: Sadat is more impetuous. [1½ lines not declassified]

Mr. Kissinger: What will he expect from me?

[name not declassified]: He will ask what the US wants in the Middle East and from Egypt specifically. They think we must want something more than they have delivered on but they think they have expelled the Russians and abided by what the Secretary of State called for. They want to know what they can do to get on the same equal footing with the US as Israel is.

Mr. Kissinger: They can emigrate five million Egyptians. What I want to get away from is both sides espousing impossible positions and then palavering endlessly about technical steps which can never be implemented.

[name not declassified]: That is just what the Egyptians want too.

Mr. Kissinger: What can Egypt accept? Israel will not go back to the 1967 borders. Can Egypt accept this as an acceptable position, that they must discuss an agreement which will only represent a slight modification of the present situation?

[name not declassified]: One thing you will encounter is Egyptian insistence that we take a specific position on elements of a settlement.

Mr. Kissinger: I will not get into a discussion of a theoretical settlement. Are they capable of a concrete discussion?

[name not declassified]: They say that the US has to take a specific stand. They want to know how far the US is prepared to go in pressing Israel.

[Page 1049]

Mr. Kissinger: That is none of their business. All we need do is tell them we will try our best to get a settlement once they agree to specific, concrete proposals.

[name not declassified]: They felt that last year we did not go far enough in pressing Israel.

Mr. Kissinger: But there never was a specific goal. I never could find out what specific points were under consideration. Nothing concrete was on the table. Now, they want to know: 1) what are we willing to do; 2) are we willing to make concrete suggestions . . .

[name not declassified]: And will we exert maximum pressure. They are convinced that Zionist plans call for gradual expansion and that only the US has enough muscle to get the Arabs a settlement.

Director Helms: Would it be useful for [less than 1 line not declassified] to put down what round one will look like?

Mr. Kissinger: I’d like to get some feel for Ismail, his cast of mind, what does he want, how will he go about getting it. Will he be alone?

[name not declassified]: He might be alone, Ghorbal might be along but Ismail will do the talking.

Mr. Kissinger: How will we get him here? Shouldn’t he come openly?

[name not declassified]: He is an anonymous type, not so well known as some Egyptians. He could be less conspicuous than some.

Mr. Kissinger: Dick, should he come openly?

Director Helms: Whatever you want. We can get him here.

Mr. Kissinger: My concern is to protect myself from all these various elements.

Director Helms: If he is to come openly, say in connection with the UN General Assembly.

Mr. Kissinger: Then you can get us a place in New York. He could talk officially with Sisco for that matter. Do they understand how our system works? Do they understand that they should ignore things that come through some channels? Will they now propose a date?

[name not declassified]: They understand that this channel is the genuine one.

Director Helms: We should think through the merits of a public versus a private trip.

Mr. Kissinger: I have to think of what happens if it blows. I’d like to be one stage removed. If he has a plausible reason for being here, I can always say he was here anyway so I saw him.

Director Helms: Let us have a day to think about it.

[name not declassified]: They were thinking of a secret trip but that is not firm.

[Page 1050]

Mr. Kissinger: I’m not an expert in arranging secret trips, you are the experts.

Director Helms: Judging from the past two years you are now.

Mr. Kissinger: In general I lean toward a theatrical arrangement which provides a plausible reason for his trip.

Director Helms: We probably should get him here publicly.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s what I think.

[name not declassified]: He is somewhat stiff in his bearing and rather haughty but he is thoroughly loyal to Sadat.

Mr. Kissinger: Well he and I should get along very well. My desire to get next to this is near zero. If it succeeds, it will buy us trouble. However, we cannot go on with highly publicized proposals which go nowhere. We must have workable, concrete proposals.

[name not declassified]: Sadat’s position is close to that.

Mr. Kissinger: I want to find out what they can really live with. Then, we will see if it can be done. Can you do a paper which 1) will restate what you have said here regarding what they want, 2) give me a little background on Ismail, 3) how to set up the meeting—we can use October to agree on something and then be in a position to move.3

[name not declassified]: [less than 1 line not declassified] understands the problem of moving before November.

Mr. Kissinger: We cannot stop sending Phantoms to Israel or everyone will ask what is up.

[name not declassified]: These exchanges have already borne fruit in terms of US-Egypt relations. This was a breath of fresh air to Sadat to learn that the United States at the highest level was interested.

Mr. Kissinger: To be saddled with Le Duc Tho and Ismail in one month is more than one deserves. Will you [name not declassified] be around and will you introduce us?

Director Helms: He will be here.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 131, Middle East. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text that remains classified. The conversation took place in Kissinger’s office.
  2. Reference is to the exchange of messages between Kissinger and [text not declassified]; see footnotes 4 and 5, Document 305. On September 7, Kissinger received a message from Sadat [text not declassified] in which the Egyptian President discussed “considerations and views” that he wanted taken into account as the United States and Egypt began a new initiative to reach a settlement with Israel. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 131, Middle East) Kissinger received another message [text not declassified] on September 13 in which the Egyptian intelligence chief commented that the United States had abetted Israel in its “dangerous escalation” of violence in the Middle East since the guerrilla attack at the Olympic games in Munich. (Ibid.) In response, a message was passed [text not declassified] on September 19 that advocated breaking the “cycle of violence” in the region, to which [text not declassified] remarked that the U.S. Government had “lost much good will in the Arab world” over the previous few days for the September 10 veto of UN Security Council draft resolution S/10784 condemning Israeli air strikes in Lebanon and for “refusing to restrain Israel from killing innocent people in Lebanon.” (Memorandum from Helms to Kissinger, September 19; ibid.)
  3. See Document 310.