313. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Jordan

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • Secretary of State William P. Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird
  • Director of Central Intelligence, Richard Helms
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense David M. Packard
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs Joseph J. Sisco
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • General Alexander M. Haig

The President opened the meeting by describing the kind of press guidance he wanted followed in dealing with the Jordanian crisis. He stated that he wanted it understood that these meetings of a select group of principals were to be conveyed as regular meetings of the President’s chief security advisors and were in effect National Security Council meetings. He wanted it pointed out that Congressional leaders had been given information on the situation and that a number of problems associated with the crisis in Jordan had been discussed by the National Security Council. He added that he wanted it stated that the U.S. Government had taken certain steps to protect its interests. The U.S. posture throughout was to be one of cool, deliberate actions. He stated that he did not believe bombastic or flamboyant public statements were the solution to the situation. Rather, he preferred to let U.S. actions speak for themselves. He wanted to convey an impression of confidence and cool determination on the part of the United States. It was important that the country be aware that the President and his top security advisors were completely on top of the situation.

The President then asked Director Helms to give the group a report on the latest intelligence information. Director Helms stated that despite the fact that another cease-fire had been called, the situation in Amman was still uncertain and fighting was continuing. He mentioned specifically that there had been firing in the area just southeast of our Embassy. Director Helms also stated that Arafat had claimed there had [Page 883]been over 7,000 casualties in the Fedayeen camp within Amman and that the situation was most serious. In the North, Director Helms stated, the Syrians had already lost in the neighborhood of 120 tanks, between 60 and 90 due to Jordanian military action and the balance due to maintenance breakdown. The Jordanians, on the other hand, had reinforced their units in the North so that the overall balance now was something like 170 Jordanian tanks against 300 Syrian tanks. Additional Jordanian tanks enroute to the North would bring the balance to 200 versus 300. The Jordanians had successfully turned back each Syrian attack, and it was apparent that the Jordanian attitude was somewhat more optimistic about the outcome than it had been up to now. The Jordanian military action has been professional and constituted well-coordinated tank, artillery and air operations.

The President then asked what kind of planes the Jordanians were using. Admiral Moorer replied that they flew a British Hunter aircraft, which was a conventional prop plane perhaps better designed for a close support role than a more sophisticated version would be.

The President asked if there were anything that the U.S. could do to help the King by way of supplies, munitions or equipment. Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard stated that the Defense Department had ready emergency shipments of ammunition and was prepared to move, but the Jordanians had not specifically asked for any assistance yet.

Secretary Rogers then asked how many tanks the Syrians had actually lost. Assistant Secretary Sisco responded that the latest message he had read suggested they had already lost some 50 in combat. Admiral Moorer stated that all told 120 Syrian tanks were now inoperative due to both battle losses and maintenance breakdowns. The President asked which side had better tanks. In response, Admiral Moorer stated that he felt the Syrian tanks might be technically somewhat better and that their gun was of a slightly higher caliber, but that their training was far inferior to that of the Jordanian tank forces.

Assistant Secretary Sisco then stated that Ambassador Rabin had informed him that morning that in view of the Syrian losses it would be necessary for Syria to reinforce if they were to continue in Jordan. Israeli intelligence had noted a large convoy in Syria last night heading south towards Jordan. He also stated that the Israeli cabinet had met and was preparing to give the United States an answer with respect to Israeli intervention. The President noted that we had sent out a response to the Israeli questions and an assessment of the issue of the Syrian option.2 He asked whether or not we had had a response [Page 884]from Hussein. Secretary Rogers stated that we had not, but that we had received a message from Ambassador Brown.3

Director Helms then remarked that the Israelis were now in a high state of alert and that they had moved many forces north to the Golan Heights. The Fedayeen had already claimed they had come under Israeli artillery fire from Israeli positions on the Heights. Helms stated that the broadcasts coming from Damascus suggested that indeed the Syrians were very concerned about Israeli intervention. Assistant Secretary Sisco stated that all of the actions had been taken within tight security without a huge public outcry and that it, in effect, constituted a cool, controlled U.S. response to events.

The President stated that he had talked to the Leadership earlier that morning and had pointed out the following:

(1)
The U.S. fleet was in position to act but that we were not taking a provocative stance.
(2)
The Israeli Government has a great interest in the outcome of events in Jordan but the U.S. could not speak for them.

Assistant Secretary Sisco stated concerning a possible Israeli offensive action that they appeared to be in no hurry, although there seemed to be no doubt that they would move if they had to. He also suggested that the Israelis might want a further compensation in the event that they did decide to move.

The President then asked Dr. Kissinger what the state of play was within the WSAG framework. Dr. Kissinger replied that the group had met earlier that morning, that there was nothing new on the status of the hijacking hostages, and that the group had completed most of the contingency planning necessary for U.S. intervention to evacuate U.S. personnel if required.4 The President next asked about the status of the surgical hospitals. Admiral Moorer answered by reporting that we still needed security assurances before we could move them into Jordan, and that we were awaiting specific word from the Jordanians. He added that the aircraft had been unloaded for fear that they would be immobilized in the event they were needed for the movement of troops.

Secretary Rogers stated that Mr. Yost had informed him there would be no Security Council meeting for a few days. He stated further [Page 885]that Alex Scheel was coming to Washington the next day and that the situation could be discussed with him then.5

Dr. Kissinger then summarized the state of preparations by reporting that essentially all planning had been completed, contingency plans were ready, public statements were ready, notes were ready, Congressional consultation had been initiated and that the U.S. Government was prepared for whatever direction in which the President decided to move. The President stated that being ready was the best possible posture we could be in and that beyond that we should wait and see. He was very pleased with the statements that had been written.

Dr. Kissinger remarked that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had completed a full scenario for all contingencies. The President then asked whether or not we could do anything at this point to further shore the King’s morale. Should we, for example, give him a note advising him that we will replace his losses. His psychology, the President emphasized, is the key point. While we may not now be in a position to opt for military support, he will certainly benefit from our assurances. Secretary Rogers stated that we could prepare such a message that day. The President indicated that the message should pursue the following line: that it is being sent on a personal basis from him, and that he wants to assure the King of U.S. support for all of his military needs. The President continued by stating that he wanted to assure the King that we will make up his losses and to express the President’s personal admiration for the King’s staunch action in this period of crisis. Finally, the President wanted to assure him of full U.S. political support against international outlaws who have been trying to destroy his government.6

Dr. Kissinger stated that the situation that morning looked quite good, but that it was important to watch the actions of the Iraqi forces who are moving in an ambivalent fashion along the Jordanian flank. It was also important that we keep a constant eye on the Egyptians who may be driven to extreme action in light of the most recent turn of events. The President confirmed that this was an essential requirement. The President asked whether or not Secretary Rogers’ warning had been specific only with respect to Syria.7 Assistant Secretary Sisco [Page 886]replied that indeed it was and that the Iraqi issue was treated in a very fuzzy fashion. The President stated that we must continue to be ready for any turn in events and that we would have to watch especially Israeli [Iraqi?] action. In the interim we should exchange views via telephone and cancel the afternoon’s 6:00 p.m. meeting of the Security Council unless events dictated otherwise.

The President then turned to the need to maintain a strong U.S. presence, remarking that these events confirmed the importance of maintaining a strong U.S. presence in the Mediterranean and that we should investigate with Greece and Turkey the possibility of putting some new U.S. installation or weaponry in the Mediterranean. He remarked that perhaps what was needed was an additional facility in both countries, not for the purpose of waging war but to underline our determination to maintain a U.S. presence and to strengthen our credibility with respect to the Soviets, especially in light of Soviet actions in Cuba. The President asked what facilities we had in Greece at the present time, and Admiral Moorer responded that we used Suda Bay and the regular Greek harbor. The President then asked about U.S. facilities on Cyprus, and Admiral Moorer stated that the British are the only ones with facilities on Cyprus. Finally, the President suggested that it might be advantageous to attempt to get something there, perhaps something which would permit our aircraft to utilize Cyprus.

Dr. Kissinger stated that with the loss of Wheelus, Cyprus and Turkey became important assets. The President commented that at this critical juncture when it looked like the Soviets were again moving aggressively worldwide we needed something more in the Mediterranean. The withdrawal of our Jupiters from Italy and Turkey during the Cuban missile crisis indicated the advantage of having additional assets with the situation developing as it is in Cuba. The President stated that he did not want this considered in a negative way, but to look at it positively and to see what could be done.

The meeting was adjourned.

[Page 887]
  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 White House Cabinet Room.
  2. See Document 311.
  3. In telegram 5049 from Amman, September 22, 1452Z, Brown offered a seven-point critical assessment of an Israeli intervention in Jordan. He noted the various risks involved with an Israeli ground assault against the Syrians and stressed numerous concerns regarding Israeli intentions. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 615, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, Vol. V)
  4. See Document 312.
  5. Alex Scheel is not further identified.
  6. The message was sent in telegram 156092 to Amman, September 23, 0251Z. In it, Brown was instructed to inform King Hussein verbally that the President wanted to give him “this personal word saying how much I admire what you are doing to preserve Jordan’s integrity in the face of both internal and external threats. Your courageous stand has impressed the entire free world. I am confident that you will not waver in your determined effort to restore peace and stability to your kingdom.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 615, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, Vol. V)
  7. See footnote 3, Document 275.