23. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Rabin
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Peter Rodman

Ambassador Rabin: Sisco talked to me this morning and yesterday. I said to him as to you about the Libyan business . . .2

Mr. Kissinger: Basically, it’s a bore to me, unless you have something for me that is not previously known. It is the sort of problem that will go away in a few days.

Ambassador Rabin: I said that to Sisco. I said, “This meeting with Ismail and President is something new. Let’s at our own level distinguish between the basic issues and incidents like this.”

Mr. Kissinger: What did Sisco want?

Ambassador Rabin: Something on the airplane incident.

My people did not follow my advice. They are holding lots of press conferences, with the pilots and so forth, to defend themselves.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s a mistake. It keeps the issue alive.

Ambassador Rabin: I said they were fools. I said to them, the more detail you give the more it becomes clear that more and more people were involved, for a longer time, at a higher level. The basic issue then is a higher-level decision to open fire on a civilian airliner.

Mr. Kissinger: Right, why did they do it?

Ambassador Rabin: They are fools. I told them to pipe down.

Mr. Kissinger: What worries me is if the Arabs learn that at every crisis Sisco goes into his usual pattern, there will be more crises.

Ambassador Rabin: I said to Sisco, let’s talk about the two visits. He said the two visits will be under the shadow of the incident. I said, yes, publicly, but it should not be so on a government-to-government level. Secondly, I asked him what do you have on Ismail? Sisco said there was a report on Ismail’s talks in London3 but he had not read it. I [Page 61] said, come on, Joe. I told him I was suspicious about Ismail’s pressing to come prior to the Prime Minister’s visit.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s not fair to me.

Ambassador Rabin: I asked Sisco, how did Ismail manage to insert his own visit before Golda? He said they would like to prevent the President from committing himself to Golda to give us planes.

I said to Sisco: what he’ll bring with him in terms of political ideas I don’t know. Will he agree to an interim settlement? Will he agree to an interim if it is linked to an overall settlement? I said I thought he would try to link beginning negotiations with U.S. military assistance to Israel. This is the only reason he would have to insert his visit before Golda. Sisco said “I cannot say you are wrong, I think they will.”

Mr. Kissinger: That’s a pack of lies. We are right back where we were before. In London Ismail was so intransigent that even the British thought there was no hope for any progress.

Ambassador Rabin: He said the same things to Greene, too.

Mr. Kissinger: That does not exclude that he will give me something. But in London he refused to agree to any direct talks with Israel, he refused any discussion of the interim settlement—only a total settlement. Like in this Yugoslav paper,4 it all had to be linked. Even the British felt there was no hope at all for any negotiation.

Ambassador Rabin: Sisco refused to give us any information at all about Greene and Ismail—because of the kind of a position that Ismail took.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s right.

Ambassador Rabin: I have never heard any Egyptian talk in such a brutal uncompromising way as he talked to Greene before he went to Moscow.

Mr. Kissinger: But since he is now dealing on two tracks, it makes sense to keep tough with State and to make any concessions—if there are going to be any concessions—to me. He was totally intransigent with the British. He was even tougher than with the Yugoslav. I can assure you that our report from the British is that he was totally intransigent, and Home concluded that there was no hope whatever, and that there was nothing they could support in the way of any negotiation.

[Page 62]

The British know from the Heath visit that I am seeing Ismail alone.5 So I yesterday asked Cromer for a special report.

I am seeing Ismail Sunday and Monday6 in a suburb of New York. I will present nothing. I will present no proposal of any kind. My line will be—and this will quickly find out what his line is—that I have absolutely no contribution to make if they continue the pattern that has been going on. I will suggest that if there is nothing new they can continue to talk to State and in the United Nations.

Ambassador Rabin: I think he will stick to the same line.

Mr. Kissinger: What is the line? Let me show you the message he sent to me. [Tab A, Statement made by Ismail to Trone in Cairo on February 13]7

Ambassador Rabin: That says nothing. That says nothing.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s all I know about the subject.

Ambassador Rabin: Practically nothing, because it stresses the Egyptian leadership role. This means he has to meet Egyptian national needs as well as the overall Arab world requirements. This is a tough beginning. I am more involved than you are in studying these Arab formulations.

Mr. Kissinger: I know. I will tell him that right away.

Ambassador Rabin: The most uncompromising formula was the one Sadat gave to Jarring in February 1970 [1971].8 It cleverly distinguished between an agreement between Israel and Egypt, the essence of which is total withdrawal, but without committing Egypt on the issues that are really necessary for peace. Their basic strategy is to distinguish between the two phases of the struggle—Nasser called it land and people. Eliminating the consequences of aggression is one part of it. This is the difference between Syria and Egypt. For Syria the struggle is one protracted war, and there is no distinction between Golan and the rest.

And he says it here.

Mr. Kissinger: You mean the three kinds of countries, the confrontation states and the other kinds of states?

Ambassador Rabin: That’s the way they would like to mobilize their Arab friends.

[Page 63]

You see how they lie to the Jordanians.

Mr. Kissinger: And to the Yugoslavs, too. They lied to the Yugoslavs. I have reviewed the record of our contacts. They started it in April, not we.

Ambassador Rabin: I explained that to the Prime Minister.

What I meant was, they state their intentions here [IsmailMiskovic memcon, Tab B].9 Their objectives are to weaken the link between the U.S. and Israel. They say there is no possibility of having peace unless after the solution of the armed struggle. After the Israelis withdraw from the territories, then there will be a peace conference. You see these terms “Israeli entity” and “Palestinian entity.” This is very clever use of the concepts you use in Vietnam. It’s what you are accustomed to.

Mr. Kissinger: I am accustomed to negotiations on the basis of reality.

Ambassador Rabin: Basically they have found a new formula which you used in your press conference; namely, the separation of military and political issues. The military issues will be the territories, and the political issue will be the settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Kissinger: That works in your favor.

Ambassador Rabin: If the people who are going to discuss this with Ismail are clever.

Mr. Kissinger: They are not clever.

You have a massive problem, in that there is great desire here to achieve another spectacular success.

Ambassador Rabin: I do not know why the Prime Minister allowed the raid into Lebanon.10 When I was Chief of Staff, whenever we were trying to achieve something from the United States in the political arena, I piped everything down.

Mr. Kissinger: What do you think is the reason for these moves?

Ambassador Rabin: Frankly I think the only motive is Dayan’s desire to prevent a successful visit by the Prime Minister. Because his chances are better if she retires before the election. It is a political year.

Mr. Kissinger: My strategy with Ismail will be to say next to nothing, or to speak at such a level of generality that it doesn’t mean anything. Chou En-lai was asked at a press conference about me and he [Page 64] said the only man who can talk a half hour to the press without saying anything is Henry Kissinger. I mentioned this to Chou. He said, no not a half hour, an hour and a half.

I will start this way: “I want a serious talk with you, I don’t know anything, I have not dealt with the Middle East lately. I’ve been preoccupied with Vietnam as you know. I have not had a chance to prepare myself adequately. If you think I am a miracle worker, remember that every negotiation I have been involved in took years to complete. The Vietnam negotiations took four years. The SALT negotiations took three years. So there cannot be a quick solution. Secondly, I promise nothing that I cannot deliver, therefore I can promise nothing. Thirdly, from a viewpoint of an outsider, I see no hope whatever in the normal methods—the United Nations, Resolution 242. If you think there is hope in these methods, pursue them through the State Department. If you have something new, I will listen to it.”

I will make no proposals to them, no promises. I may make philosophical statements, such as that any settlement in the Middle East will inevitably leave both sides equally unhappy, and that running back and forth trying to trick two sides into an agreement by some procedure only leads to disaster. [Laughter] But as to concrete solutions, I will have nothing to present to them.

Ambassador Rabin: So you will stress these themes: that you are a newcomer, that you are not prepared and that you are not a miracle worker.

Mr. Kissinger: Right. First of all, I do not have a plan. I will never propose a plan that I have not discussed with you and have your approval on—since any solution has to have your approval anyway.

Take my negotiations with Le Duc Tho. First, I controlled all our assets. Here, my position is not as strong as it was when dealing with Vietnam. Secondly, in any time frame, my strategy is totally different from the Sisco strategy. My strategy is to give them just enough to keep them talking but never to give them much until they make a massive move. With Le Duc Tho three years were spent in abstract discussion. This summer we discussed possible approaches to a political settlement which I knew were unacceptable—until they dropped the whole idea of a political settlement.

Nothing will come out of this meeting unless they come in with a new proposal. And if they do that, I will tell them I will study it. My guess from these papers is that they will not have a new proposal.

After this I will leave it that we will stay in touch and see if we should have another meeting.

[Page 65]

Contrary to Rogers and Sisco, I believe I should sell my involvement only in return for something from them. At this meeting I have to let them feel we are taking them seriously; otherwise there would not be enough to fill two hours, let alone two days.

I do not know what’s going to happen. I will be seeing you Wednesday11 morning.

Ambassador Rabin: Can I see you before then?

Mr. Kissinger: Sure. Maybe Tuesday or Monday afternoon.

Ambassador Rabin: Because I would like to get something from you before Wednesday morning, so the Prime Minister and I can consider it.

Mr. Kissinger: I will do it no later than Tuesday. Where will you be, in New York?

Ambassador Rabin: Here in Washington.

Mr. Kissinger: If I get back Monday afternoon, I will talk to you Monday afternoon. If I get back Monday night, I will see you Tuesday.

Ambassador Rabin: She will want to discuss with you after thinking over the meaning of what happened with Ismail.

Mr. Kissinger: On Vietnam, I knew what I wanted. Here I would not know how to speed up the process even if I wanted to. I do not want to speed it up, so you need not worry about something coming out of this meeting.

Ambassador Rabin: There will also be meetings with Rogers and Richardson. With Richardson there are three items: self-sufficiency in production, the Phantoms, and reciprocity.

Mr. Kissinger: What is reciprocity?

Ambassador Rabin: Waiving the Buy American Act.

Mr. Kissinger: What do you want to take up with the President?

Ambassador Rabin: The political issue, and planes and numbers, to get a commitment after 1973 of on-going supplies of planes to Israel. Let us stick to the present policies, maintenance of the balance, until and unless there is a change in the policy of the other side.

I hope the production question will get a positive response from Richardson.

Mr. Kissinger: Let me know.

Ambassador Rabin: On production I will let Richardson be the good guy. For the President, then there would remain only discussion of the political issue and the question of the principle of maintaining the balance.

[Page 66]

Mr. Kissinger: My advice is do not give him a lecture that nothing can be done. Mention the interim settlement, mention the principles you gave to me last January, those five principles.

Ambassador Rabin: Yes.

Rush wanted to cut our credit. It is so stupid. What Israel gets from the United States Government is $300 million in credits in the Military Sales Act, out of the total of $400 million. We are a cover for the U.S. Government; because of us they get these credits from Congress. It effectively releases $150 million for the United States Government for credits for other countries, mainly Southeast Asia. I tell Rush, do you want us to tell the Congress the deal we worked out?

Mr. Kissinger: At the meeting there will be Dinitz, you and the Prime Minister?

Ambassador Rabin: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: On our side it will be me and Rodman. One other thing. In China for the first time there was a discussion on the Middle East. Their only interest is keeping the Russians out of the Middle East and their whole strategy is for that. They said they are not meddling. I said, “Yes, but we have one difference, you are against the existence of Israel.” He said, “No, we just raise the moral issue of the Palestinians.” After a long discussion, Chou said that if Israel goes to the 1967 borders, they are prepared to recognize it. “We are against imperialism, not against Israel. In any case, we will do nothing to disturb the situation.”12

Ambassador Rabin: That’s very interesting.

Mr. Kissinger: It’s a beginning.

[From 4:15 to 4:30 Dr. Kissinger and the Ambassador conferred privately.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 135, Country Files, Middle East, Rabin/Dinitz Sensitive Memcons, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the Military Aide’s office at the White House. Brackets are in the original.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 22.
  3. In telegram 2084 from London, February 22, the Embassy reported that in February 20 discussions with British Foreign Secretary Douglas-Home, Ismail had taken a “very hard line” against an interim agreement or direct negotiations with Israel under U.S. auspices. He seemed uninterested in significant negotiations until the U.S. Government attitude had been brought around from being a 100 percent pro-Israel stance to being disengaged. Ismail said that as long as the United States remained identified with Israel, Egyptian interests would clash with U.S. interests. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 666, Country Files, Middle East, USG-Egyptian relations, 1973)
  4. Not identified.
  5. Nixon met with British Prime Minister Edward Heath February 2, 10:35 a.m.–12:15 p.m. and 4:08 p.m.–6:05 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  6. February 25 and 26.
  7. See Document 19.
  8. See footnote 3, Document 10.
  9. Not attached and not found.
  10. On February 21, Israeli troops entered Lebanon to raid what the Israeli Government said were two Arab guerrilla bases.
  11. February 28. They met on February 27; see Document 31.
  12. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVIII, China, 1973–1976, Document 13.