238. Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Diplomatic Posts1

149954. 1. British Ambassador Freeman called on Secretary at urgent personal request British FonSec to make following points:

There was an apparent difference of opinion developing between London and Washington on need to press Israel for indication it ready to make contribution to overall settlement.
London was alarmed at the postion of the FRG and feared it would move to separate deal.
The FonSec felt there would be no progress towards solution unless the Israelis could be brought to give a private assurance as to their readiness to accept principle of exchange.

2. Ambassador Freeman said that the following specific instructions had been sent to the British representative in Bern:

The objective is release of all passengers through five-power action.
It is imperative now to get alternate negotiator if ICRC not willing to continue negotiations.
Possible alternates might be Swiss Ambassador Dubois, Thalmann, or US Chargé Amman.
Colleagues in Bern must be urged as to need for Israeli agreement to principle of return of Palestinian prisoners.

3. As a personal suggestion Freeman said if Israelis reluctant to accept principle of exchange they might be willing to go along with notification through ICRC that it empowered to discuss release terms for hostages with PFLP or to acquiesce through silence. In this way, powers could get clear idea of what PFLP demands on Israelis would be.

4. The Secretary indicated we would have no difficulty in having this point raised.

5. The Secretary said he wanted to review his thinking in order to give the Ambassador the flavor of the U.S. position. The Secretary recalled that in the early hours when the hijacking occurred we had a situation where literally hundreds of people in aircraft wired to be blown up and we did not know which PFLP leaders were controlling the operation. It was then that we felt a sense of tremendous urgency. This was further intensified by a deadline for action. At that time the Swiss and German Governments made unilateral announcements of their readiness to release the Palestinian prisoners.

6. Let us recall, said the Secretary, what happened since those early hours. The five powers have established a basis of unity and engaged the ICRC as negotiator in Amman. Since the Bern group was organized, approximately 375 passengers have been released, thanks to the ICRC negotiators; unity of the four powers has been maintained and no concessions have been made to the Palestinians. On the other side, there has been a split among the fedayeen which created confusion on the ground over movement of passengers not to mention all kinds of alleged proposals. Clearly there was no one in charge on the fedayeen side.

7. In the past two days the passengers were first moved to Amman and then moved out of Jordan. Approximately 50 remain. All of this has resulted from our successful policy and has cost no concessions. Presently Al-Fatah has said no one would be harmed. The Secretary found it difficult to understand why we should be forced to make quick decisions today.

8. We do not know who has the hostages or who can speak about their release. We do not know what demands those people will make. The Secretary feels there is no new development which creates the urgency reflected in the British position.

9. With regard to the Israelis, the Secretary stated that it would be useless to ask them to accept in principle the need to release prisoners. We know they are prepared to release two Algerians under certain [Page 674] circumstances and in the past have released other prisoners but it is not reasonable to expect them to make a promise in principle to release prisoners when we have no facts and no valid interlocutor on the Palestinian side.

10. Finally, the Secretary expressed his failure to understand why the ICRC which had been so successful thus far in negotiations wished to withdraw. The Secretary indicated that the ICRC had done a tremendous job and still had a serious humanitarian obligation to the innocent passengers who remained.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, AV 12 US. Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Davies and Beaudry, and approved by Davies. It was sent to Amman, Bern, Bonn, Beirut, London, Tel Aviv, and Geneva.