272. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • The Situation in Jordan

After two days of fighting, the Jordanian army is still far from securing Amman. Although the army continues to have the upper hand, King Hussein apparently has been reluctant to apply the maximum force available to him for fear of causing numerous civilian casualties and reducing the city to a shambles. Some of his military strength is also being drawn off to cope with the stiff fedayeen resistance in the cities to the north. Hussein’s problem now is that the longer the fighting drags on the greater will be the pressure from the other Arab states to accept a compromise solution.

Our Embassy in Amman comments that this is not a win-or-lose situation for Hussein.2 The question is what kind of compromise Hussein will settle for. He appears to view his objective as restoring his authority in urban centers while not putting himself completely at odds with the Palestinians who form a large part of his population. Put another way, he seems to be seeking a solution which will still leave him with the support of the “silent majority” of moderate Palestinians. This objective and the pressures of other Arabs may cause him to stop short of completely suppressing the guerrillas, but our Embassy last night felt that unless the pace of his movement increased today he would not be in a strong position to force compromise on his terms.

The Military Situation

After another day of heavy fighting in Amman in which the army continued to make gradual progress in rooting out the fedayeen, the fighting slacked off again last night. The army opened up again, however, at dawn and may be pressing its attack more intensively then in the past two days. The embassy was repeatedly attacked last night by a small group of fedayeen who were finally driven off by the Beduin guard with the help of a tank. All embassy personnel are reported safe.

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There are indications that the army is making some progress in the north, although it seems to be meeting fairly stiff resistance. Yesterday army troops were encircling Ramtha (see attached map), just south of the Syrian border. Ramtha is a key town, since Jordanian control there would cut off movement of fedayeen reinforcements and supplies coming in from Syria. According to the Israelis, the army is on the outskirts of Irbid, Jordan’s second largest city and a fedayeen stronghold. The government, at least for now, seems to be in control of Zarka, just north of Amman. There are reports of fighting this morning in parts of the “liberated area.”

The Syrians appear to have become at least marginally involved in the fighting near their border with Jordan. The Israelis yesterday spotted unidentified tanks moving in the area of the Syrian border in the direction of Ramtha and, according to the Jordanians, some Syrian tanks actually crossed the frontier near Dar’a and shelled Jordanian positions. The Jordanians say that, unopposed by Iraqi troops in the area, they have interposed a tank force to block further Syrian movement. It is by no means clear that the tanks in question belong to the regular Syrian army; they could well belong to a fedayeen organization, Saiqah.

The Iraqis from all indications continue to stand aside from the fighting. According to the Israelis, the Iraqi forces in Jordan continue to concentrate around Mafraq and the headquarters of the Iraqi First Division in Zarka is withdrawing to Iraq.

Arab Mediation

King Hussein met for three hours yesterday with Egyptian Chief of Staff Sadiq, the special envoy of the three Arab presidents—Numayri of Sudan, Qaddafi of Libya, and Nasser of Egypt—sent to discuss the situation. Sadiq, [1 line not declassified] expressed sympathy for Hussein’s position but urged that “the time had come to stop the bloodshed.” Hussein replied by stating the strict conditions he insists that the fedayeen must operate under in the future. Sadiq was unable to [apparent omission] Yasir Arafat.

The Hostages

A spokesman for the PFLP said yesterday that the 54 hostages from the hijacked aircraft are “in good condition.” A senior PFLP official in Beirut, told our Embassy there that despite its previous statement, the PFLP is now prepared to negotiate the release of the hostages through the Red Cross.3 They insist, however, that these negotiations be held in [Page 760] Beirut and quickly, today if possible. The spokesman claimed that this proposal was made not from weakness but for humanitarian reasons. He said that as of yesterday afternoon a number of the hostages required medical attention—not because they had been injured in the fighting, but because of their general health. He added that the hostages were housed in areas where there had been no fighting, but that there were no doctors available to treat them.

According to a CIA report,4 the hostages have been split into at least eight groups. Five of these are being held in Zarka near the refugee camp there; the others are reportedly in the Wahdat refugee camp in Amman and in other camps outside the city. The Wahdat camp has been and probably will continue to be the scene of some of the heaviest fighting between the army and fedayeen.

Reaction to U.S. Actions

The Soviets are apparently increasingly concerned at the possibility of U.S., British or Israeli intervention in Jordan. Soviet chargé Vorontsov yesterday called “urgently” on Deputy Assistant Secretary Davies to ask that Secretary Rogers be informed of the following:

  • —The Soviets are concerned about the situation in Jordan which “complicates” the entire situation in the Middle East and may “adversely affect” attempts to achieve a peace settlement.
  • —The Soviets “hope” that the U.S. agrees that it is necessary for “all states, including those not belonging to this region,” to “exercise prudence” in their steps concerning the Middle East situation. They draw “special attention” to Israel and “hope” that the U.S. will use its influence to preclude the possibility of Israel’s exploiting the situation. The Soviets, for their part, have already urged the leaders of Jordan, Iraq, Syria and the UAR to take measures to put an end to the fighting in Jordan.
  • —The Soviet Government “as before, stands for a settlement of the Middle East crisis based on the November 1967 U.N. Security Council resolution.”5

Ambassador Beam also reports that he met last evening with Deputy Foreign Minister Kuznetsov at a diplomatic reception who said that he hoped the U.S. had no intention of intervening in Jordan.6 Such an action, Kuznetsov said, would make a bad situation worse, would risk widening hostilities, and would create serious difficulties for all nations with interests in Jordan.

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Soviet propaganda is also reflecting the apparent concern over possible outside intervention in Jordan. Tass, for instance, yesterday warned that any attempt at intervention in Jordan would “entail a new worsening of the conflict” which could “overstep the borders of that country.”

The Egyptians are also alarmed and apparently are trying to discourage U.S. intervention. An official UAR spokesman this morning issued a statement which makes the following points:

  • —The movement of U.S. forces and fleet in the eastern Mediterranean and statements from the White House and State Department not ruling out intervention “constitute a grave dimension … that would escalate and expand the conflict to engulf the whole area.”
  • —These movements “harm the whole Arab nation” because they exploit the situation in Jordan to create an opportunity for foreign intervention and for Israeli aggression.
  • —Any “implicit or explicit U.S. pressure is a threat to the security and peace of the Middle East,” results in further military ventures and encourages Israeli aggression. “The UAR warns against the consequences of such movements and holds the U.S. responsible for the serious consequences that would result from them.”

The Soviet and Egyptian diplomatic efforts seem directed at achieving a cease-fire in Jordan. This would work to the fedayeen advantage if it took place before Hussein is in a strong position to enforce his terms.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–077, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Middle East 9/19/70. Secret; Sensitive. An attached map is not printed.
  2. In telegram 4918 from Amman, September 18, 2000Z. (Ibid., Box 615, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, Vol. V)
  3. As reported in telegram 7913 from Beirut, September 18, 2125Z. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, PS 7–6, JORDAN)
  4. Not further identified.
  5. See Document 266.
  6. Telegram 5445 from Moscow, September 19, 0747Z. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–077, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Middle East 9/19/70)