286. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

K: Mr. President, I wanted to bring you up to date on the number of things that have developed since I last spoke to you.2 First of all, Bill decided to put out the statement in his own name which was very good—it made it tougher.3

P: Um-hm. A statement—what?

K: First, we sent a note to the Russians which was very tough. I am sending the text over to you.4

P: Was that public?

K: No, that is private.

P: And what did Bill do?

K: Bill, in his own name, said we have had information that Syrian tanks have invaded Jordan; that the Jordanian Army is resisting— something to that effect.

P: Yes.

K: That the broadening of the conflict will have serious consequences—we demand immediate withdrawal of these forces and this is an intolerable act. It was a very strong statement.

P: Well, that is probably the right level for it to come from at this point.

K: Absolutely, it is premature for you.

P: It also gets State into the business, too.

K: And it is the first time he has engaged his own prestige which will affect his subsequent actions.

P: Yes. Yes. That is good. That is good.

K: The second thing is I don’t know whether I have said this to you but they have come back in. They withdrew and now they are back in with tanks. The King has appealed to us again for immediate [Page 791] help but it is night there now. He has also asked us for reconnaissance. [4 lines not declassified]

P: Okay.

K: We have put that unit in Germany on alert. It was on near alert anyway, and I just wanted to warn you that if this thing keeps up within the next 24 hours I would guess by tomorrow morning we may reach the decision point as between U.S. and Israeli action—that is if the King loses the tank battle. And there is nothing we can do now, except the things we are doing which are all pretty strong.

P: Well, what is the—well, on that contingency though, we have a choice there; we are prepared for our air action; is that right?

K: We are prepared for our air action, Mr. President. We can run two hundred sorties a day from the carriers. The land-based planes— we have had a full study made that looks pretty grim. The only fields we could use are in Turkey and the Turks almost certainly won’t give us permission. The only other fields would be in Greece or Crete and for that we would have to use air refueling and it would take us 8 days to get them ready.

P: And that won’t work.

K: But the third carrier is on the way and within 8 days that can add to it and that would increase it by …

P: What about the plan based on the carriers?

K: That is in SHAPE.

P: In SHAPE—and they could really do them in good?

K: Well, they could do a good job on them. Their handicap is that if that fails they can’t follow it up with very much unless we want to get ground forces fighting the Syrians which is a rough decision to make.

P: Which we don’t want to do, but which the Israelis would be delighted to do.

K: Right. The Israelis can fly 700 sorties a day, but we are in a position to do 200 sorties and we could do quite a job on them.

P: Well, has the King indicated that he would like the Israelis to come in?

K: The King at an earlier stage had asked the Israelis whether they would be willing to come in if he asked for it. That was a month ago. It was during the last crisis. Sisco thinks that he would if things got to that point.

P: Well, the difficulty there, Henry, though is that while that may cool the immediate situation, it certainly puts the other Arab countries (and not just Nasser) unjustly have to line up with Syria in that case, don’t they?

[Page 792]

K: That’s right. On the other hand, if we come in, there are two problems from that point of view. There are two advantages to our coming in—the one you gave and the one that the Russians are less likely to take us on than the Israelis. That is the advantage of our going in. The advantage of the Israelis going in is that they can follow it up and they can escalate it more easily than we.

P: Oh yes, there is no question that the Israelis going in is good, due to the fact that they not only have the air but they have got a helluva good ground punch, they could just put them in there and clean them out.

K: That’s right. They have more air and more ground and therefore they might deter a purely Arab response more easily than we; and, secondly, hated as they are, they are at least recognized to have a local interest in the thing while we, coming from thousands of miles away fighting the Syrians, have a serious problem and the Arabs might unite against us too. We would be the Imperialists coming in.

P: Well, they are more likely to reunite against the Israelis, than us though.

K: The hatred of the Israelis is undoubtedly greater.

P: That’s what I mean. Of course, the point is that the Israelis start with an enormous disadvantage in that respect. That is the thing I am concerned about.

K: That’s true.

P: And so—

K: But they decouple us a little bit while if we are in—it’s a strong argument on either side. The problem we have is if we don’t succeed and then the Israelis come in, that’s the worst of everything.

P: And of course the other side is if we succeed it has considerable impact—cooling the whole situation and acting forcibly in a critical area. It is such a—frankly a surprise too—and the message to the Russians is a helluva lot more than if we come in than if the Israelis—

K: If we could do it with two or three strikes or two or three days’ operations, I would favor our doing it. If it is a two-week sort of thing and if it is not decisive—

P: What is Sisco’s reaction at this moment on this point?

K: Sisco prefers the Israelis. I am slightly more on your side on this than Sisco’s.

P: What does Bill say?

K: The last time I talked to him he preferred the Israelis,5 but in the meantime you had talked to him.

[Page 793]

P: Well, I didn’t get into anything except that we didn’t want the Israelis. It is so easy to fall into that—to have them go in and they don’t need any encouragement. They’d love to go in for other reasons.

K: You are absolutely right. And the Israelis would have the advantage that it is damned hard to get them out once they are in.

P: That’s right. They would just occupy some more territory, wouldn’t they?

K: Well, whether they do it vis-à-vis Syria, I’m not so sure.

P: Well, in any event, the Syrians would fear it.

K: The Syrians would fear it. Of course, there’s a third problem that we may not have any choice about—I don’t think the Israelis would hold still for very long if the Syrians seem to be winning. They seem already to have mobilized a bit, which is a good deterrent.

P: Yeah.

K: Incidentally, we picked up an intelligence report this morning— not very reliable—but interesting that the Russians gave the Syrians a carte blanche which proves when you told me Friday night they may be playing us, your instinct about the Russians is usually remarkable.6

P: In other words, that they gave you a note that they were … well, this note that they gave us over the weekend is …7

K: Just to keep us quiet.

P: To keep us quiet and threatened us and so forth. In the meantime, they say, “Stir it up, boys; give them trouble; give them trouble. Face them down.” That’s what they are going to do. Well, we may have to come to the Israelis, but I just want to be sure that at this point— that’s why I’ve been so strong on it—we don’t leave any impression we might come to them or they’ll come in precipitately. We must not do it. It’s got to be a very calculated thing.

K: No, it was absolutely right that we don’t get anywhere near the situation where we seem to be egging on the Israelis, because they don’t need any encouragement, and it should be at the …

P: As far as we are concerned, still the justification is we still have this refugee thing, haven’t we, hanging over us.

K: Yeah, but that’s tough to work against the Syrians.

P: That’s right; that’s right.

[Page 794]

K: But that’s another that can work both ways, if we go in and then they get killed. And then I don’t know what the Congressional reaction would be if we got involved. If we did it in a two or three-day operation, I think we’ll be all right—or even a week.

P: How do we justify two or three days? Suppose we were to call the Congress in and say we are doing it for one purpose—to save Jordan?

K: To save Jordan and to prevent a general Mid-East war. But it’s tougher if we do it.

P: Yeah.

K: And curiously enough, we might get more support if the Israelis do it. My major worry is if it doesn’t work and another little country … It will work if we are determined enough, but these Syrians are the craziest of the lot.

P: Yeah, they might fight a long time. Well, when we are quite confident it will work with the Israelis …

K: Nobody has any question about that.

P: Because they are there.

K: Well, and they’ve beat them to a pulp once before and they haven’t improved that much. Of course, it may still be that the Jordanian armor can defeat the Syrians. The original estimate of CIA was that the King could handle the Syrians and the Fedayeen simultaneously.8 The situation in Amman from the health point of view is very bad; many people killed and there seems to be a cholera epidemic.

P: Yeah, pretty miserable.

K: So, it’s a miserable situation. It is night now, so nothing is going to be happening now for another 12 hours anyway. There isn’t any decision needed. I only took the liberty of calling you to alert you that this may be coming up.

P: Yeah. Well, now the point is, you see, the Rogers’ public statement—of course, the only public statement that I have made related to hostages only—his public statement relates to Syria intervening in Jordan.

K: That’s right.

P: Well, that puts it right to us. If they do it, either we have to do something—we cannot let the Syrians get away with this—or we’ve got to support the Israelis in doing something. We cannot make a public statement and not back it up.

K: Right, but the …

[Page 795]

P: Do Rogers, Sisco and all those people understand that? They have put themselves out where we now have to back this up.

K: I didn’t ask Rogers to make that statement. What we had recommended to them was just to send the note. But I have to say in their defense that the acts we undertook last week pretty much put us in that posture where it would have been hard not to do something.

P: Well, we … The position is absolutely correct.

K: Oh, I don’t think they will give you any trouble.

P: The question is—it isn’t a question of that—having taken the position, we must act one way or the other; either the Israelis or ourselves. That’s the way it looks.

K: I agree with you.

P: It’s too bad we don’t have more land bases. Our action would have to be quick and surgical.

K: Well, our action would have to be overwhelming.

P: Yes, that’s right.

K: We can’t have another even three-months’ war—trouble against these God-damned Syrians.

P: No; that’s right. Okay.

K: Right, Mr. President.

P: Good-bye.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 30, Chronological Files. No classification marking.
  2. The President’s Daily Diary indicates Kissinger last spoke with President Nixon in the Oval Office between 8:40 p.m. and 9:07 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) No other record of that conversation has been found.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 275.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 276.
  5. See Document 285.
  6. The President’s Daily Diary indicates that Nixon spoke with Kissinger by phone on Friday, September 18, between 9:34 and 9:41 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) No other record of this conversation has been found.
  7. See Document 266. A copy of the note is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–077, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Middle East 9/20/70.
  8. Not further identified.