292. Transcript of Telephone Conversations Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

Mr. Kissinger/The President

K: Mr. President, I’m sorry to disturb you. I just had a call from Rabin.2 Their answer is as follows. They’ve made reconnaissance; they haven’t fully analyzed it yet. It confirms our information. There is a massive Syrian force there, and it is in the town of Irbid. It hasn’t apparently moved south of it yet. They believe that air alone won’t do it and that if it’s done, ground action will be necessary either at the beginning or shortly thereafter. And they wanted to know what our reaction to that would be. I didn’t want to do that even in the light of our conversation yesterday3 off the top of my head, so I told him I’d discuss it. They need the answer in two or three hours.

P: Well, the problem we have here is that the message requested only—and it’s specific as far as they were concerned—air action.4

K: Well, it is unambiguous about air action.

P: That’s smart.

K: In the message to the British,5 it was indiscriminating and in the message to us … My suggestion, Mr. President, would be that rather than ask you to make this decision at this moment that perhaps we should schedule a meeting of the principals for, say 7:30 or 8:00— say 7:30.6

P: No, no, no. We’ll make it now. The point is that they are saying that they can’t take the action unless they have … He doesn’t want to take the action unless they go in on the ground at this time now.

K: Right.

P: That’s what he’s really saying.

[Page 810]

K: That’s what it will boil down to—that’s right, Mr. President. Last night, when Sisco and I spoke to Rogers about it,7 we told him that when we were talking in general terms, the implication seemed to be that the thinking was to do what was necessary, and it didn’t bother him then, but it hadn’t reached the point of decision.

P: Yeah, well I think they have to do … The concern I have is that—and I trust they’re considering this adequately, too—ground action presents, in a maximum way, a much more difficult reaction point, you see. It’s the ground action that …

K: There’s no question …

P: … invasion and all that sort of thing. That’s the whole point. It’s that that they have to have in mind and, of course, you have the shades of [gray?] even though we don’t think they will want to stay and all that sort of thing; that they’re going in or occupying territory— that it would be rather than the air action, just from their standpoint, and ours, too—but rather than if you just hit in the air at the outset at least. That’s one thing, but of course they wouldn’t comprehend this, I suppose, but the idea of Israel invading Jordan—that’s the point, see. That’s the point I think they may be missing.

K: Right. Well, their view probably is that they want to be sure that if they move militarily at all, they better succeed and that they probably have …

P: That’s true, too.

K: They probably have only a limited time to do it, and Haig said to me last night they won’t move without ground and I said, “well, let’s see.”

P: Would it not be well to find out what the Jordanian reaction to that is? Is that something we could find out?

K: Well … to ground action?

P: We don’t know for sure, do we, on their part.

K: My own instinct is that it presents two kind of problems: (1) it presents a massive security problem because we are communicating with the Jordanians on the open radio; and (2) even if it were secure, it presents a massive problem …

P: Yeah, well, we’ll just have to guess what their reaction …

K: … of the King. The King’s position, I think it’s safe to say, for his own survival will have to be to disassociate himself from any action, but more even from the ground action, of course, than …

P: Okay, yeah. Well, that’s the point.

[Page 811]

K: But in either event he will, to some extent, disassociate himself. But it’s a decision that can hold, say, three or four hours—closer to three than to four, because it probably takes from 12 to 24 hours to get ready.

P: Well, I think it … The point is what is the decision, though? If the Israelis are putting it to us in terms where we don’t do this. You understand?

K: That’s right.

P: That’s what they’re saying.

K: No, they are saying … I asked that precise question and the precise answer was that “the possibility of a favorable response is greatly enhanced if we have your understanding.”

P: Give Sisco a call and get his reaction and call me back.

K: Right, Mr. President.

Mr. Kissinger/General Haig

K: Hello.

H: Yes, sir.

K: Al, the reaction was pretty much as you expected. The last thing he wants is a meeting of the principals.

H: Right.

K: Because he might have to face some people. And you know, he is just not eager to do. He said it will … headlines will be Israeli invasion of Jordan. It’s a better headline to say the Middle East is lost two months from now. So what he wants me to do is ask Sisco on a personal basis. But you know that son-of-a-bitch will be on the phone to the Secretary within two seconds after that.

H: That’s correct.

K: So, you don’t think if I call the Secretary myself … What do you think? Or I could call Sisco and then the Secretary. And then go back to the President.

H: Yeah, I would do that. I’d get Sisco lined up first.

K: Okay.

H: And then get the Secretary next.

K: Okay, but I better get you lined up for a conference call when I go back to the President. You should have been on that line, incidentally.

H: Okay, sir.

K: Good, hold on then.

Mr. Kissinger/The President

P: Yeah.

K: Mr. President.

[Page 812]

P: The way we would do this is—before you tell me what it is—to call him back in these precise terms. Tell him these are the principles that I believe—no, that I consider imperative. (1) First, the operation must succeed; (2) success diplomatically as well as militarily must be considered; (3) if it is militarily feasible, they must lean in the direction of accomplishing a true air action alone in the first instance, having in mind the fact that that might have a psychological impact which is needed; (4) if, however, that proves to be militarily and overall inadequate, again what is necessary to achieve success would have our support; (5) the ground for the action on the ground as distinguished from the air must strictly be limited to Jordan. Invasion of Syria would be very difficult. Bombing in Syria is not difficult. How does that sound to you?

K: That sounds very good to me. Let me sum it up to make sure I … You still want me to check Sisco first.

P: No, that’s all right. Go ahead. This is all right. He won’t have anything else to add.

K: Right. As I understand it, you say that …

P: These are five principles which should guide them.

K: These five principles should guide them. The first I didn’t quite get down.

P: The operation must succeed.

K: The operation must succeed. (2)…

P: … must succeed from a military and diplomatic and political point of view.

K: That if they go, they should lean in the first instance toward air. That if air is insufficient, (that’s principle 4) then ground action would have our support. (5) That ground action, however, to be effective … that ground action must be strictly limited to Jordan. It cannot expand to Syria or, even less, into other countries. However, air action in Syria would be understood.

P: Yeah, they have our support. You missed one—the second there, where I said that the … State the first principle; then, the second one is …

K: The first principle is it must succeed. The second principle is it must succeed not only militarily but also politically and diplomatically.

P: That’s right.

K: And then, the third is air action is preferred.

P: Air action alone is preferred from all standpoints, if it will work militarily.

K: Right; if that is not sufficient, ground action would be supported; and the fifth principle is that it should be …

P: … that ground action should be confined to Jordan alone.

K: Exactly.

[Page 813]

P: See, this is the problem that I had with Joe Sisco’s principle of where they just go up that road and cut off the bastards. See, that road involves an invasion of Syria, so …

K: Mr. President, I couldn’t agree more.

P: You see, it puts Israel in the same position. Let me say, I just assume … these things I raised for you myself … they’d go to Damascus. For Christ’s sake, if they start doing that, the Russians then have a real cause. They want this deserter to be Jordan to help …

K: … then resisting the invading army in Jordan.

P: Yeah, yeah. Now, I don’t mean that we have a Yalu River concept or anything of that sort. And I understand the other, but in other words, this puts it all in the terms of what it is; the first principle—so give him that and five principles. I’ve decided it. Don’t ask anybody else. Tell him “go.”

K: Right. Mr. President, I think for you own protection it ought to be mentioned as your decision to give them a chance to protest to the others.

P: All right, all right. Call them.

K: I’ll call them and then I’ll call Rabin.

P: Yeah. Don’t call me back thought if you don’t want to.

K: I won’t call you back unless there is a protest.

P: In other words, I’ve … First, there may be a protest, but a protest … If they protest this [omission in the original], what the hell example do you have?

K: I’ll tell them that they have to get in touch with you.

P: I won’t be in the office until 8:30 or 8:45.

K: Right, Mr. President.

P: All right, but I think this is the right decision.

K: There’s no question.

P: Frankly, I don’t think there’s anything … I don’t think they’ll mainline us. We don’t have much part in the position, and second, who knows, they are there. They have to do it. Now, of course, the reason … Another reason I suggest this is that the Israelis have mixed motives, and also they have their military bureaucracy which they now have to have the luxury and the burden of. Their mixed motives are that they’d like to go in there, you know, and fuck a little of the ground. And second …

K: They want to really tear up the Syrians for once, whom they’ve never had a crack at.

P: I hope to Christ they do! But the other thing is their military bureaucracy, you know—these ground guys say, “God, we’ve got to go in and do this, too.” The only thing is I have just a hunch—an intuition—that if they go in with massive air … I’d even put it to air action should be … It should be limited air action for the first 24 hours.

[Page 814]

K: I don’t think they’ll do that.

P: You can see my point. They could have air action. It could have a psychological effect and could turn this thing right around. The alternate ground action … I would say if air action went to ground action prepared as a threat to them. You see my point?

K: Absolutely.

P: I know just from their standpoint that they’re going to have a hell of a lot bigger problem.

K: They probably figure they only have 24 hours.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 30, Chronological Files. No classification marking. The time is handwritten.
  2. Apparently a reference to their 11:30 p.m. conversation on September 20, see Document 289.
  3. See Document 286.
  4. Reference is to Hussein’s message; see Document 284.
  5. See Document 279.
  6. See Document 299.
  7. See Document 285.