394. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • His Majesty King Hussein
  • Crown Prince Hassan
  • Prime Minister Zaid Rifai
  • Abdul Munim Rifai
  • The Secretary
  • Assistant Secretary Joseph J. Sisco
  • Chargé d’Affaires Pierre Graham
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary Alfred L. Atherton, Jr.
  • Mr. Harold Saunders

Secretary: I regret the delay in our arrival. Our planning was not good. We had not counted on the time it would take for translation of my talk in Damascus2 and on the fact that Assad is a Syrian. He began with a two-hour speech on the whole Ba’ath Party program.

About the present negotiations, it is a procedural problem. The Israelis don’t want to mention the Palestinians in the letter to the Secretary General. I assume Your Majesty doesn’t want to either. We have now found a new formulation which will simply refer to “other participants” instead of “Palestinians and Lebanon.” Assad told me that if [Page 1086]Egypt accepts this formulation, Syria will also. We have sent it to the Egyptians. If they agree, we will then transmit it to Israel.

Assad does have one slight problem: he objects to the phrase that Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Israel have agreed to participate in the conference. Assad said he has not agreed. He wants to know the outcome of the conference in advance. Your Majesty will appreciate that this is impossible. The way it was left is that if Sadat agrees to the draft letter, we will send our Ambassador in Beirut to Syria for a further talk with Assad. I think Syria will probably go along, though I can’t imagine why I am so anxious to have Syria at the conference.

King: Is Syria the reason for delaying the conference?

Secretary: No. The delay is due to Israel’s objection to mentioning the Palestinians. I have asked that the conference be postponed until the 21st to give me an opportunity for a discussion with the Israelis.3 We may have a conference with only Jordan and Egypt. Seriously, though, I think Israel will have to go to the conference and that Syria will also go.

Zaid Rifai: What about the POW question?

Secretary: I discussed it with Assad. He said he would not deal with it before the disengagement stage. What we particularly discussed was whether Syria would turn over the list of POW’s before or after an agreement.

King: I raised the POW question when I was in Damascus. Assad said that if Israel would leave his territory, he was prepared for a POW exchange.

Secretary: Assad sounds very tough.

What are Your Majesty’s views on how to handle the Palestinian question?

King: I have always been committed to peace and I am speaking more and more about the Palestinians. We and the Palestinians have a long history of close ties. The problem is that before 1948, Jordan was the only Arab country to say that the other Arabs should not involve themselves in the problem. But the other Arabs entered the war then, and it has been a problem ever since. The other Arabs would like now to find a way out, and insist on handing over the Palestinians to the PLO. But I don’t think the PLO has any claim. The trouble is that the Palestinians sit back, protest, and leave the problem to others. The Soviets are playing a double game with the Palestinians.

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Secretary: They can’t act in good faith. In Egypt, I told the Soviets what we were doing to avoid confusion, and they used it against us.

King: I am prepared to let the Palestinians decide what they want.

Secretary: Sadat has agreed that the Palestinian question should not be discussed until after the disengagement stage.

Zaid Rifai: What does disengagement mean? Does it mean Arab-Israeli, including Jordan?

Secretary: It means mostly those who were in the last war, but should not exclude Jordan.

Zaid Rifai: Would disengagement be local?

Secretary: It means creating a buffer zone including those involved in the October war; then would come the second stage.

Zaid Rifai: Why schedule the Palestinian question at the second stage?

Secretary: The draft letter says only that it will be discussed.

Zaid Rifai: We have no problem with discussing the Palestinians so long as this is not linked to withdrawal. We should first get withdrawal and then a Palestinian settlement.

Secretary: That is a reasonable view. Our point was that we would not want to discuss the Palestinian question during the first week of the conference.

King: Can you give some impressions of your trip?

Secretary: In Cairo, Sadat was reasonable. Faisal was more moderate than before.4 I have just described the Syrians. I don’t have to describe the Israelis. I assure Your Majesty that tomorrow night, after an exhausting week, I will be accused by the Israelis of having betrayed them.

I am optimistic if we can once get negotiations started and if the Arabs maintain discipline. Candidly, the only Arabs that worry me are the Syrians. I am not certain that they are in touch with reality. What is Your Majesty’s view? Do they have any chance of winning if fighting breaks out again?

King: I doubt it. They had a surprise the last time. Israel won’t be so overconfident again. I have the impression that Egypt and Syria are talking in terms of resuming hostilities. It depends on the Soviets. We need to make progress.

Secretary: It will be hard to make progress if there is no conference.

Zaid Rifai: Did you discuss anything specific in Cairo?

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Secretary: We mainly discussed procedures. There is a need for three working parties: Israeli-Egyptian, Israeli-Jordanian, and Israeli-Syrian. I also made the point that the Palestinian issue should not be discussed in the first stage. I told Sadat that the situation is complicated enough without the Palestinians. Sadat did not contradict me.

Abdul Munim Rifai: This is agreeable to the Egyptians?

Secretary: Yes, but I am not sure about the Syrians. I am not sure how we get them involved.

Zaid Rifai: I agree with the Syrians that the negotiations should be between one Arab side and the Israeli side. I am concerned that Egypt will make its own agreement and abandon Jordan.

Abdul Munim Rifai: I raised this with Sadat, who agrees with our views.

Secretary: They are also our views.

King: It is alright to negotiate the details separately, but we need a package settlement.

Secretary: I agree, but if all parties negotiate together, there will be no settlement.

Abdul Munim Rifai: The West Bank problem is different from the problems of Egypt and Syria. We need them.

Sisco: Would it not be better if each country negotiated its own problems?

Zaid Rifai: All I meant was that the final document should be approved by all parties.

Secretary: That’s what I meant too.

Abdul Munim Rifai: Do you envisage sub-groups at the outset?

Secretary: Largely in the disengagement phase. We need results quickly. Israel’s strategy is to make a fuss about every issue so that nothing will be settled. The best thing is to get disengagement out of the way first.

Abdul Munim Rifai: Will there be a disengagement phase with Jordan?

Zaid Rifai: We would like that—a few kilometers on the West Bank would help.

Secretary: You mean for Jordan to re-occupy?

Zaid Rifai: Yes.

Secretary: I doubt that is possible. The need is to ease a few categories of control.

Zaid Rifai: What will happen in the opening stage? Just speeches? We need an agenda.

Sisco: That would complicate matters.

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Zaid Rifai: His Majesty has ordered that Jordan should go to the conference.

Secretary: Jordan should go and establish its presence. When the other Arabs look at the problem, they will want Jordan to negotiate. Israel will not give up the West Bank to Arafat.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Nodis. The original is marked “Draft.”
  2. See Document 393.
  3. In telegram Secto 112 from Riyadh to Cairo, December 14, Kissinger sent a message to Sadat through Fahmi asking for the delay. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1179, Harold H. Saunders, Middle East Negotiation Files, Mideast—1973, Peace Negotiations, December 13–17, 1973 [3 of 3])
  4. The memorandum of conversation of Kissinger’s December 14 meeting with King Faisal is ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 ARAB-ISR. A portion is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Document 267.