318. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • Jordan and Cuba


  • 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 Packard
  • Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • General Alexander M. Haig

The President opened the meeting by stating that there would be two topics on the morning’s agenda—the first a review of the situation in Jordan and the second a sensitive discussion of the latest intelligence on the situation in Cienfuegos Bay in Cuba.

Mr. Helms initiated the first agenda item by presenting an intelligence briefing. The highlight of this briefing was the confirmation that the Syrians had withdrawn their three armored brigades from Jordan— with two having been moved to their home stations and the third serving as a covering force along Syria’s border with Jordan. He also reported that there were indications that Syrian armored forces were being replaced by Palestine Liberation army units from Syria.2

During Mr. Helms’ briefing, the President commented that the Soviets appeared to be taking a soft line at the moment with respect to Syrian intervention and that they apparently were working officially to insure the withdrawal of the Syrian forces. The President noted that domestic press reports suggested that the United States was ready to intervene militarily. The President continued by reviewing his discussion in a meeting the previous afternoon with the Democratic Congressional [Page 900] members who support the Administration on the ABM.3 The President told them:

  • —They had performed more responsibly than some of the weak Republican Congressmen.
  • —It was his view that the King must survive and that the Syrians must withdraw since there could be no peace with a Jordanian non-government.
  • —The U.S. does not want to become involved and our military moves have been conveyed in a context of the need to intervene only to evacuate U.S. citizens. However, we wished to convey in more subtle terms that military intervention was a possibility on other grounds. The U.S. had, for this reason, maintained an ambivalent position on intervention while undertaking acts which suggested that it might intervene. These signals, the President told the Congressmen, created doubts and complicated the enemy’s problems.
  • —President Eisenhower took a similar posture with respect to Quemoy and Matsu during the Chinese Straits crisis of the ‘50’s. President Eisenhower maintained at that time that the U.S. could not tell the enemy that we would not fight and that it was essential that we keep the threat real even though it was recognized in our official councils that we would not act militarily.
  • —If the Syrians do, in fact, disengage, it will be because of the strong posture taken by the U.S.

Secretary Rogers stated that the previous evening’s television had developed a real war scare as evidenced by references to the readiness of U.S. forces. Secretary Laird pointed out that the forthcoming NATO Exercise Reforger would involve some 11,000 additional U.S. forces and would further add credibility to U.S. seriousness. Secretary Rogers commented that this was an ideal time also to announce the resumption of military assistance to Greece. The President stated that he had, in fact, mentioned this to the friendly Democratic Congressmen the day before and agreed that the timing had been excellent. Secretary Rogers stated that announcing the resumption of military aid to Greece, the Spanish base agreement, and our South African aircraft sales were all moved gracefully under the mantle of the Middle Eastern crisis. The President agreed that this was an excellent tactic and suggested that in the future it might be well to hold controversial decisions of this type and to announce them during similar periods of crisis.

Secretary Rogers commented that an additional benefit of our handling of the Jordanian crisis was the fact that Syria had suffered massive casualties and that this would serve as a deterrent to their future aggressiveness. Further, the Palestinian extremists had been badly hurt [Page 901] and no matter what the ultimate outcome of the situation in Jordan, the extremist elements would be weakened. Thus, Israel, in turn, had realized benefits from the actions in Jordan. The President added that all of this constituted a further drain on Soviet resources as well.

The President then turned to discussion of the U.S. response to the Israeli Note Verbale.4 Secretary Rogers stated that the U.S. response must insure that the Israelis do not believe that they have a carte blanche to act militarily in Jordan as a result of our earlier exchanges of notes. He stated that the U.S. should make it clear to Israel that we do not think that any move on their part is called for in the light of most recent events.

The Secretary expressed special concern about the earlier U.S. response5 which he felt constituted an open-ended commitment on the part of the United States to support Israel in the event they intervened. He stated that the U.S. language, in effect, constituted a treaty with Israel and that this situation should be straightened out now. The Israelis must know precisely what we are talking about. He strongly urged a response to the latest Israeli note which would make it clear that (1) Israel should not act on its own; and (2) should Israel do so, our commitments expressed earlier were no longer binding and that they related only to the circumstances of the moment.

The President stated that our exchange with the Israelis actually began with a note from Jordan6 which we, in turn, conveyed to the Israeli Government and that Israel was merely responding to our initiative. It was therefore important, he stated, that the U.S. reply recognize that the Israeli Government has acted responsibly and that they have, in effect, been responsive to a U.S. initiative. The President directed that the WSAG carefully review the language of the U.S. response to take cognizance of these facts, noting that the situation of the moment had improved, and it may be that King Hussein does not want Israeli or U.S. air support.7 If this is true, the United States will have finessed the problem. In effect, the U.S. response should suggest that we do not want unilateral Israeli action but, at the same time, make it clear that we are grateful for Israeli cooperation. The President added that it was the United States which took the initiative with the Israelis on this issue and it is the Government of Israel that was most helpful in response to our request. Secretary Rogers expressed his agreement with the President’s analysis. The President cautioned that the situation in Jordan [Page 902] was still tense and that there could be a requirement ultimately for Israeli action. Therefore, our response should be carefully couched so as not to preclude future Israeli action if required.

Secretary Rogers asked how the President felt about a strong cautionary message against Israeli attack at this time and a strong expression that the U.S. does not want such an attack. Dr. Kissinger asked whether this would be a wise course without knowing the Jordanian position. The President stated that we should inform the Israelis that we do not want military action without further consultation with us. Then, we will have an opportunity to evaluate the situation. Secretary Rogers emphasized that our written communications and documents must reflect this view specifically. The President stated that the situation had changed and that the U.S. does not want the Israelis to move unilaterally, noting that Israeli interests differed from U.S. interests and that we did not want to be drawn into the conflict as a result of Israeli initiatives. On the other hand, the President added, if the Jordanians still want air support, then we should still withhold agreement pending Israeli consultation with the U.S. Government. At the same time, the U.S. must keep in mind that the Israelis are doing our work, that they moved in at our request, and that we have gotten the benefits from their action.

Director Helms added that on a secondary level, the Arabs would love to have an issue with which to get after the Israelis and that we therefore needed to keep a very cool stance. Secretary Rogers stated that if King Hussein can’t, at this point, save himself, what is the value of assistance by us or Israel? Dr. Kissinger then indicated that he was in agreement with the thrust of the note as outlined by the President. He stated that the outcome of the situation in Jordan was not necessarily a victorious one. If, at this point, Jordanian forces faced Palestine Liberation forces or if Syrian forces remain in Jordan, the King may indeed fall. If he reacts forcefully in the north, he will be weak in the cities; if, on the other hand, he acts forcefully in the cities, he may lose the North. Thus, the situation is far from solved. And, in either event, the Israelis may decide to move at some point. Should they do so, much will depend on how the U.S. acts. We must avoid having a record which confirms that we put them up to it and then, when it occurs, be in a position in which the Russians can split us away from the Israelis and isolate them.

The President stated that this was a strong possibility. He pointed out that he wanted the WSAG to consider carefully what U.S. reactions should be in that event. Specifically, what should the U.S. posture be if the Israelis move in the future. He commented that if the Syrians remain in Jordan, it is obvious that the King’s days are numbered; but if the only way to get the Syrians out is for Israel to take military action, then the King’s position is also jeopardized. Therefore, we are faced with an insoluble problem. If the Israelis move, the U.S. must be prepared with contingencies.

[Page 903]

Secretary Rogers stated that his concern was the fact that they believe now that we have given them a carte blanche to act. The President stated that this had to be clarified since, up till now, we have talked only in the context of Syrian armored brigades in Jordan. Secretary Sisco stated that was correct. Our exchanges were dictated by the presence of Syrian armor in Jordan. The situation has changed. For this reason, we must carefully review our response to Israel’s Note Verbale and insure that our language takes careful note of the change in the situation. Certainly, we must give Israel credit for helping to ease the situation thus far. The President commented that the Israeli questions were good ones and deserve a serious response.

[Omitted here is discussion of Cuba; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 214.]

  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. Helms’s briefing was not attached, but CIA Intelligence Information Cable TDCS DB–315/04963–70, September 23, 0800 hours, reported the information. (Ibid., Box 615, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, Vol. V)
  3. According to the President’s Daily Diary, President Nixon met on September 22 with Southern Democratic Senators in the Map Room between 5:05 and 6:25 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  4. For the Israeli note verbale, see footnote 10, Document 307.
  5. Apparently a reference to the response in Document 311.
  6. Apparently a reference to the message in Document 284.
  7. See Document 326.