390. Editorial Note

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on December 13, 1973, at the Barrages, one of Sadat’s residences north of Cairo, to discuss Egypt’s attendance at the proposed Geneva conference and disengagement of Egyptian and Israeli forces. No record of Kissinger’s conversation with Sadat has been found. In his memoirs, however, Kissinger described his meeting with the Egyptian President:

Sadat began the conversation, seated on a low sofa along the far wall, and then continued at dinner when a table was wheeled in. Without referring to the perplexities of Geneva, he outlined his view of the future. He profoundly distrusted the Soviet Union, he said. On each visit to Moscow he had been humiliated by Soviet crudeness and condescension. The Soviets had only wanted to use Egypt for their own selfish designs. They had broken Nasser’s heart in the literal sense of the word; he had returned from his last visit to Moscow a few weeks before his death determined to cut loose from an embrace that threatened to suffocate. Now that he had restored Egyptian self-respect, Sadat intended to carry out this aim. He would gradually eliminate the last vestiges of the Soviet presence: the four MiG–25 Foxbat supersonic jets flying reconnaissance missions from Cairo West airport and the Soviet naval squadron in Alexandria would be sent home. He would let the Soviet-Egyptian Friendship Treaty slide into desuetude or cancel [Page 1060]it—he had not yet decided which. But he could not do any of this until the peace process was further advanced. He candidly avowed his dependence on Soviet military supplies. He would prefer to shift to American weapons, but he saw no immediate prospect. Nor could he totally abandon Soviet diplomatic support before he could point to a concrete achievement of another course. And if a negotiating deadlock developed, he would again be driven to war. But he was now looking to the United States: ‘You hold all the cards here,’ he said, using what soon became a standard slogan.”

Sadat added that I had been right four weeks earlier in stressing that peace was primarily a psychological problem [see Document 324], but the barriers were not only on the Israeli side. The Arabs were proud; they had been humiliated. They had difficulty knowing how to go from the impasse in which they found themselves to the peace that most of them wanted. He, Sadat, would try to chart a course—if necessary alone, but he hoped not so far ahead of his brothers that they would not follow ultimately. But Israel had to give him some help. I could tell Golda Meir that he genuinely wanted peace but not at the price of ‘my’ territory. He asked whether I thought Golda was strong enough to make peace—a good question, since he knew peace would not be made by an affable Israeli leader but by a strong one. I said that if strength was the prime requirement, Golda was his man.”

The conversation then turned to the draft letter of invitation to the Geneva conference. “By now I was convinced that arguing about the text of the draft letter was an assignment for a theologian, not a diplomat. We would never get an agreement by an exegesis of its clauses,” Kissinger concluded. He added:

“As for the letter of invitation, I argued, it was essential to break out of the irrelevancies by which each party was trying to use the drafting exercise to foreordain the outcome before the conference was even assembled. Peace in the Middle East would not emerge from dependent clauses. Perhaps we should scrap the long draft letter in favor of a simple one-paragraph invitation, and let the conference settle all the procedural nitpicks. If we were serious about disengagement first on the Egyptian and then on the Syrian front, the prime task was to assemble Geneva, using whatever letter was easiest, break up into subgroups as rapidly as possible (preferably without Soviet participation) and get on with the serious negotiation. Any reference to the Palestinians was bound to touch an Israeli raw nerve. It was too much to ask Israel to face the issue in this manner immediately prior to an election and after a war that overturned so many of the premises of its previous policy. A short letter could skirt the whole dilemma.

Sadat . . . reacted as he had a month earlier. Without argument he accepted the main lines of my presentation. Egypt would attend Ge[Page 1061]neva, he said, even if Syria stayed away. It could not be beyond the wit of man to draft a letter that met everyone’s needs. He would go along with a short letter of invitation, though it may delay matters because a totally new draft ran the risk of starting the whole clearance process over again. I used this opening to offer yet another compromise watering down the language on Palestinians. If we stayed with the long letter, I told Sadat, it might be best if we agreed on a neutral formulation about other participants that made no explicit reference to the Palestinians at all—such as that ‘the question of additional participants’ would be discussed during the first stage of the conference. The Arabs could say that they would urge the Palestinian participation at that point; Israel could say it would refuse—but all this would happen after the conference had opened and the issue would never be settled unless it did.” (Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, pages 767–770)

Following his meeting with Sadat, Kissinger met with Soviet Ambassador to Egypt Vladimir Vinogradov at 1:30 a.m., December 14, to brief him on the contingency plan for a very short letter of invitation. Kissinger returned to the Barrages at 10 a.m. for another meeting with Sadat. No record of this conversation has been found. According to Kissinger, the meeting focused on disengagement of Egyptian and Israeli forces. Kissinger described the meeting in his memoirs:

Sadat asked for our ‘plan’; he was loath to relinquish the idea that there just had to be some ‘Kissinger plan.’ I told him that it would be a mistake to lay down a hard-and-fast program. It was bound to leak; inability to achieve its precise terms would then be a token of failure overriding the very real accomplishment inherent in any significant Israeli withdrawal and the separation of Egyptian and Israeli forces. I suggested we review the general principles that should guide the negotiations.

“When we did so, the Kilometer 101 negotiations proved to have been helpful after all—especially some of the Israeli ideas that Yariv had tried out with Gamasy. Building on the Yariv–Gamasy conversations, I put forward the concept that a thinned-out Egyptian force would remain east of the Canal, Israel would pull back to the area of the Mitla Pass about twenty miles from the Canal, and a UNforce would be placed in between. Sadat and I made no effort to draw lines or to define the limitations of arms applicable to each zone. That was to be left for a later trip and for what we still expected would be the subsequent negotiations in Geneva.” (Ibid., pages 772–773)

In his memoirs, Sadat provided amuch different account of his December meetings with Kissinger. He wrote that he told Kissinger that he could not accept this way of conducting negotiations. “I am going to liquidate the Israeli Deversoir pocket. What will be the American attitude?” Kissinger replied:

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“I know you’re ready for it; I knew it before I came to see you . . . I asked the Pentagon for a few aerial photographs of the battlefield and received a full report. Your wall of rockets consists of so many batteries . . . you have 800 tanks surrounding the Israeli Deversoir pocket . . . and you can actually wipe out the pocket. You must know however, that if you do this the Pentagon will strike at you. . . . The Pentagon will strike at you for one reason: Soviet weapons have once before defeated U.S. weapons and, in accordance with our global strategy, we can’t allow it to happen again. . . . Do you know, when you created an international crisis, when you asked the two superpowers to come in and get the forces back to the cease-fire lines of October 22, otherwise, you threatened, you’d do it yourself provided the Pentagon didn’t stand against you—do you know what sort of plan the Pentagon laid down at the time? We planned to land in your country, in Sinai, if the Russians landed west of the canal, to finish you off. Our aim was to show you that the Russians were unreliable, and so we’d have dealt you a blow that actually hit the Russians! We’re in the same situation today. If you attempt to liquidate the Israeli pocket, the Pentagon will strike at you because this is U.S. established policy. Besides, the Pentagon wants to avenge the defeat of its weapons in October. But do you insist on amilitary liquidation of the infiltrating forces?”

Sadat responded to Kissinger’s question by saying, “Not at all . . . You know I am a man of peace. If you had accepted my 1971 Initiative, no war would have broken out at all. I care very much for human life, and am loath to losing one soldier, not to mention an officer. But you didn’t take me seriously—and this was the outcome.” Sadat then told Kissinger that “Just as we embarked on a Peace Process, let us have a forces disengagement which would peacefully put an end to this counterattacking.” (Sadat, In Search of Identity, pages 268–269)

Kissinger transmitted a report of his conversations with Sadat to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Brent Scowcroft in telegram Hakto 34, December 14. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 42, Kissinger Trip Files, HAK Trip—Europe & Mideast, HAKTO 1–88, Dec. 8–22, 1973) Scowcroft sent President Nixon a memorandum, December 14, relaying Kissinger’s report of his “private meetings” with Sadat:

“I have just completed two long meetings in private with President Sadat. He sends you his best regards and wants you to know he remains fully committed to go to Geneva and negotiate seriously. As evidence of this, he was both flexible and pragmatic in adjusting his position to get around the last minute obstacles the Israelis have raised to launching the conference on the basis we succeed with great difficulty getting the Arabs and Soviets to agree to. He has also agreed to weigh in with Syria on the Israeli POW issue. In my talks with Sadat, we [Page 1063]reached agreement on a number of points that will help get the conference started and keep it moving on a practical, realistic basis.

“First, we agreed that the opening session in Geneva beginning December 18 would last four or five days and be devoted to ceremonial and procedural matters, then adjourn until about January 15 to get us past the Israeli elections.

“Secondly, we agreed that this first phase would concentrate on the question of disengagement of forces, discussion of which would be completed at the January session.

“Third, I obtained Sadat’s acceptance of the elements of a disengagement plan in Sinai which goes very far toward a proposal the Israelis floated earlier during the military representative talks. In brief, it would (a) leave the thinned out Egyptian military force, with certain limitations on type and number of weapons, in their present positions east of the Canal, (b) involve an Israeli pullback to the eastern end of the strategic Mitla Pass, and (c) place a UN force between the Egyptian and Israeli lines. Once this is accomplished, Sadat said he would return Egyptian refugees to the Suez Canal cities and begin to clear the Canal, which would then be open to Israeli cargoes.

“Fourth, Sadat agreed that the question of Palestinian representation at the conference, which gives Israel serious problems, will not be raised during the disengagement phase—in effect, not through January.

“Fifth, while we and the Soviets will be participants at the conference, Sadat agreed that we need not be present at meetings of subgroups of the parties, which is where the real work of the conference should take place. This in effect creates the kind of direct, bilateral negotiating situation the Israelis have long sought.

“I have sent amessage to Mrs. Meir informing her of the foregoing with the exception of the disengagement proposal. My present intention is to talk to the Israelis about disengagement along these lines when I get to Jerusalem. Before doing so, however, I want to wait and see what the situation is when I get there, including in particular the result of our efforts to get Israeli agreement to go to Geneva.” (Ibid, Box 43, Kissinger Trip Files, HAK Trip—Europe & Mideast, HAKTO 1–88, Dec. 8–22, 1973)