307. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • Jordan


  • The President
  • Secretary of State William Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird
  • Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas H. Moorer
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense David M. Packard
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs General Alexander M. Haig
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs Joseph Sisco

Dr. Kissinger opened the meeting by reviewing the military situation as it had evolved since the morning meeting.2 He noted that we had received a note from Vorontsov which urged no intervention by outside powers but which was on balance a soft note on the issue.3

The President then asked what the latest situation was on the ground. Secretary Rogers stated that the situation had improved somewhat since the critical reports we had had late Sunday night. He stated that we had one good report that the Jordanians had effectively turned and defeated Syrian forces,4 and that there was a report of an Arab summit meeting to be held in Cairo the next morning.5

Dr. Kissinger then read the latest intelligence message which indicated that while the situation had improved somewhat on the ground that the King was nevertheless still concerned about having immediate air support.

[Page 864]

The President stated that the situation on the ground was of course important but not nearly as critical as the King’s attitude. It is obvious, from the latest reports, that the King remains very upset and psychologically shaken and what matters at this point is whether he will continue to resist, whether or not he as an individual can hang on. [2 lines not declassified]

Admiral Moorer then noted that the Jordanian forces were now moving armored units to the North where they can better meet the Syrian threat, and suggested that perhaps the Israelis were watching this very carefully before taking precipitous action on their own. The President asked whether or not the group felt that Israel might not be too keen on going in. Dr. Kissinger stated that it was obvious that the Israelis were playing the situation very cool and would not move precipitously. Secretary Laird suggested that it was actually to Israel’s advantage to move slowly. Dr. Kissinger confirmed this judgment, stating that it would be to Israel’s advantage to keep out of Jordan until the King fell. Then, both the Jordanians and the Syrians would be weaker, their move would be somewhat simplified, and they would have a freer hand in the post-hostility situation.

Secretary Rogers then stated that Assistant Secretary Sisco had talked to Ambassador Rabin about the desirability of Israeli action against Syria within Syrian territory and the Israelis had responded very unenthusiastically about action against Syria.6 According to Secretary Rogers the Israelis felt that it would be better politically to move against Syria but not militarily. Admiral Moorer stated that this puzzled him since action against Syria would be tantamount to cutting the rear of the enemy forces. Secretary Rogers stated that this may be the fact since Dayan had always regretted not doing this in the area of conflict. The President asked whether or not it might not be better to approach the Israelis separately again on this issue.

Assistant Secretary Sisco then stated that Soviet Chargé Vorontsov had left a Note Verbale with him that day which made four points: first, that the Soviet Union hoped the United States would prevent Israel from moving; second, that the Soviets for their part will continue their efforts to get the Syrians to discontinue their military action; third, that the Soviets will take the same line with the Syrians that they hoped we will take with the Israelis and will use all possible influence to quiet the situation down; fourth, that any intervention by outside powers would complicate the situation.7 Mr. Sisco stated that he interpreted the Soviet note as a positive one and one that was not especially polemic. [Page 865] The President stated this may be true but if they are true to form it could well be a lie. Assistant Secretary Sisco replied that he agreed and that he had told Vorontsov that we would be looking for results, not words, and that it was of the utmost importance that the Syrians withdraw immediately from Jordan.

The President asked Mr. Sisco whether or not he had told Vorontsov that the Israelis may move. Assistant Secretary Sisco replied, “I did not give him any assurances that they would not.” The President commented that without this fear they would have no incentive to hold the Syrians. Mr. Sisco assured the President that he had given the Soviets no satisfaction in this regard. Secretary Rogers stated that he did not believe that the Soviets were under any illusions with respect to the seriousness of the situation and the possibility of Israeli action. The U.S., he commented, has promulgated some of the strongest statements in recent history. The President’s statements in Chicago,8 the military actions taken within the framework of the WSAG, the movement of our fleet elements, the forthcoming visit to the Mediterranean all conveyed the seriousness of the situation and U.S. determination to move if necessary.

Mr. Sisco stated that the Soviets are also concerned about the press reports to the effect that Jordan has asked for help. The President commented that it was remarkable that the Jordanians had their own problems with leaks. Assistant Secretary Sisco stated that the Jordanian Ambassador had tried to deny this leak.

The President cautioned Mr. Sisco that when he interprets the Soviet reaction as positive, that he keep in mind that he is only talking to a Soviet clerk and that it is difficult to know whether they are double-crossing us on this issue or whether they are actually sincere about getting the Syrians to withdraw. In either event, past experience confirms that the Soviets will sing from the same sheet of music. It is difficult to know; we should respond in a non-polemic way, perhaps very quickly.

Secretary Rogers stated that what these conversations with the Soviets confirm is that they alone are useless and that you have to draw your conclusions based on other facts. The President stated in either event speed is important. We should give our response in a way which is designed to cool the situation. Actually the Soviets may be very worried and concerned. Assistant Secretary Sisco stated it was significant not so much in terms of what the Soviets did say but in terms of what they did not say. For example, they did not repeat the same kind of threatening [language] used by the Secretary yesterday9 and merely [Page 866] reiterated what they were doing with respect to the Syrians. Secretary Rogers stated that analysis of these conversations with the Soviet emissary are not especially helpful. It’s just impossible to judge what their true thinking really is. The President agreed that we must assume a skeptical stance and observe carefully what they do rather than what they say.

The President asked what the U.S. should do next. Would it be preferable, for example, to wait until tomorrow morning before responding? Secretary Rogers stated that we should answer the Israeli note and answer their questions.10 Dr. Kissinger drew everyone’s attention to the exchange between Rafai and Allon which suggested that the Jordanians were still anxious to obtain support from Israel.11 Secretary Rogers stated that the important thing to know now is how the U.S. would act if the Israelis move even at this late date. It is obvious that we are taking certain readiness measures, some of which are evident, some of which are not. Beyond this we should continue to sharpen up our contingency plan.

The President stated that we should tell the Israelis exactly what the problem is rather than answer their note at this point. Dr. Kissinger commented that it should not be necessary for us not to accept the Israeli memorandum of understanding, but that it should not be necessary for us to have a specific piece of paper giving specific assurances to the Israelis. Dr. Kissinger then reviewed the specific questions and specific responses raised in the Israeli Note Verbale. He noted that questions 4, 5, and 6 had already been answered and that question 7, the key issue, with respect to our actions vis-à-vis the Soviets should be responded to in a general way on the basis of mutual trust and not through the provision of a specific check list to the Israelis. Secretary Rogers stated that the fact is that the Israelis want to know precisely what we’ll do if the Soviets come in. The President asked what would be wrong with telling them what we’ll do. Secretary Rogers indicated that he agreed with Dr. Kissinger that it should not be necessary for a [Page 867] specific understanding in this regard. Dr. Kissinger stated that we would be in a sorry state of affairs if the Israelis do not now trust what we’ve done and said up ‘til now.

The President stated that if the Israelis are to move it is obvious that they must move on the ground in Jordan. Then what would be the consequences? Would we not be actually spelling the end of the King himself? What, for example, will we do if the King refuses to accept Israeli intervention? In the face of their insistence on air and ground action, what should be our position with respect to Israeli intervention which is not wanted by King Hussein?

Secretary Rogers responded that if the King does not want the Israelis to move except in the air and they actually refuse Israeli intervention, then our position is untenable; furthermore, if the King is unable to get control of Amman, he’s probably not worth saving anyway. A move by the Israelis without his permission would only be self-serving from the Israeli point of view.

Dr. Kissinger then stated that all of this discussion is somewhat academic because if the King falls it is probable that the Israelis will move with or without our agreement. Secretary Rogers commented that he agreed with that assessment.

The President noted that that was the same point made earlier today by Dr. Kissinger and asked whether or not it was the best judgement of all concerned that the Israelis would in fact move in any event. Dr. Kissinger replied, yes, if the situation continues to deteriorate it is probable that the Israelis will move and that, in either event, we have the same problem. Secretary Rogers stated then if we feel that the King is about to fall it is probably better to let the Israelis move.

The President continued by stating that the main problem here is that we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If we encourage the King and he fails, then the Israelis will probably move with or without our encouragement; and in the event they do, I am pessimistic about the survivability of the King in the face of Israeli intervention. Assistant Secretary Sisco stated that it is probable that the Israelis would move if the King falls in either event. This is what they regretted not doing during the ‘67 war. I think they would like to get some corrections along their borders.

The President then asked in view of all of this then, is it in our interests at this particular point to attempt to get the Israelis to move? Should we actually try to do this? Secretary Rogers replied, only in the event that the King specifically requests it and agrees to it. Secretary Laird then asked, well why have we not been able to find out what the King wants? The President stated let’s find out once and for all. In the meantime we can conduct a further dialogue with Ambassador Rabin. Give him the answers to the questions as outlined by Dr. Kissinger.

[Page 868]

The President then asked if the Embassy had conveyed the question again to the King. Assistant Secretary Sisco stated he believed that the message had gotten through.12

Secretary Laird then raised the problem of medical assistance, stating that the two surgical hospitals had not yet been moved into Jordan but that they were on the ground in Europe and ready to move. He added that the question now was whether or not we should unload the aircraft which would add some time for reloading in the event we have to move forward. All of the participants agreed that the aircraft should be unloaded in the event they were needed for rapid troop deployments.

The President then stated that we should have further consultations with Ambassador Rabin, and observe the intelligence situation on the ground very, very carefully. In the event we get into a hard place overnight there are additional actions that can be taken. For example, we could use U.S. air although this would probably not be to our advantage since it might not be decisive. With respect to Israeli action we are somewhat stymied until we are certain that the King wants this action. It’s essential that we find out now exactly where the King stands. If the King wants both air and ground support, it appears to me that it is an acceptable course of action. As far as I’m concerned, we have warned the Soviets and the U.S. word is the important thing at this point.

Dr. Kissinger stated, then we must get the answer to the questions, give the Jordanians the facts and let them make up their own minds. If the King feels he needs the assistance, then we should go. If not, perhaps we should consider encouraging the Israelis to hold back somewhat.

The President stated that he felt that Israeli action against Syria would give King Hussein the best break. It would be easy for the Israelis to move in and act quickly, cut off the Syrian rear, and accomplish the same thing without jeopardizing the King’s position in the Arab world as a result of his having brought Israeli forces into Jordan. For all these reasons, the President stated, I believe it would be best to have the Israelis attack Syria. If we are unsuccessful in doing that, in light of Israeli reservations, then air action alone would probably be best.

Dr. Kissinger stated that he agreed with this analysis, but that it might be difficult to get the Israelis to stick to air action alone. However, in light of the improving military situation on the ground, they might feel otherwise at this point in time.

[Page 869]

Secretary Rogers asked the President what position the U.S. should take in the UN. Should we try to prevent a condemnation of the Syrian intervention or call for a cease-fire? The President stated that he had no problem with UN action but he did not want it to be interpreted as a substitute for positive action by the U.S. It does no good to take diplomatic initiatives or to move within the United Nations; these are merely stalling tactics which could be tantamount to insuring the fall of the King. Secretary Rogers replied that it may be that the United Nations will call for an immediate cease-fire, and if that were to happen it might result in the fall of the King.

Assistant Secretary Sisco then stated that the Egyptians had indicated that they have talked to the Syrians about withdrawing and that they would support a resolution calling for the withdrawal of all sides.

The President remarked that he did not want any resolutions which called for non-intervention, that this was not what was wanted and it is contrary to U.S. interests to support such a resolution. The important thing to get was simple condemnation of the Syrian actions. Dr. Kissinger pointed out that this is also probably what the Jordanians want, since they have asked for notes to the Four Powers rather than a UN Security Council action. Secretary Rogers then suggested that we continue to work behind the scenes.

The President closed the meeting by indicating that the group should reconvene again at noon the next day.13 He stated that in the interim, we can get the answer from the King and we could give some responses to the Israeli questions, especially question two. We can also find out again whether or not the Israelis would support or be willing to undertake an attack against Syria rather than intervening in Jordan.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Meeting Minutes, NSC Minutes Originals 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Oval Office.
  2. See Document 299.
  3. Transmitted in telegram 155169 to Moscow, September 22, 0024Z. The Soviet note, a response to the September 20 U.S. note verbale, expressed a shared concern with the United States over the Jordan situation and questioned U.S. motives in the region considering the military preparations being performed, especially the concentration of the Sixth Fleet in the immediate vicinity. According to the telegram, Vorontsov told Sisco that the Soviet Union was using all its influence in contacts with Syria. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 JORDAN) For the U.S. note verbale, see footnote 2, Document 276.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 304.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 303.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 304.
  7. See footnote 3 above.
  8. See footnote 2, Document 261.
  9. See footnote 3, Document 275.
  10. The Israeli note verbale, delivered to Sisco by Ambassador Rabin the morning of September 21, explicated the Israeli military plan and posed several questions about the consequences of possible Israeli intervention in Jordan, including U.S. actions in the event of condemnation in the UN, U.S. actions to prevent Soviet participation, and a secret U.S.-Israeli memorandum of conversation. The note stated that Israel intended to act first by air attack and, if the Syrians failed to withdraw, to follow with a ground assault. Israel made it clear that the Israeli military would attack Syrian forces in Jordan and make no attacks against Syrians in Syrian territory. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–076, Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG Meeting Middle East 9/21/70) For the U.S. response to the Israeli questions, see Document 311.
  11. Rather than a direct exchange between Rafai and Allon as implied by Kissinger, this is apparently a reference to the indirect conduit of messages through the Embassies in Amman and Tel Aviv and the Department of State, allowing communication between Jordan and Israel.
  12. See footnote 3, Document 300.
  13. See Document 313.