399. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Mrs. Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel
- Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister
- Pinchas Sapir, Minister of Finance
- Moshe Dayan, Minister of Defense
- Abba Eban, Minister for Foreign Affairs
- Simcha Dinitz, Ambassador to the U.S.
- Mordechai Gazit, Prime Minister’s Office
- Mordechai Kidron, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Ephraim Evron, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Lt. Colonel Bar-On, Aide to Minister Dayan
- Eliahu Bentsur, Aide to Minister Eban
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
- Joseph Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State
- Kenneth Keating, Ambassador to Israel
- Alfred L. Atherton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
- Harold Saunders, NSC Senior Staff
- Peter Rodman, NSC Staff
- Nicholas Veliotes, Deputy Chief of Mission
Dr. Kissinger: Asad I thought would be difficult.2 We were reviewing the text of the draft letter to Waldheim on the convening of the Conference. I told him we wanted the date changed; he said, “Fine.” I said the Israelis had problems with the phrase about “the timing of the participation of others.” We discussed it a while, and then he agreed. I said, “Mr. President, I had been told you would be difficult to deal with. But you’re not.” Then he said there was one sentence in the letter he objected to—the sentence that said Syria agreed to come. [Laughter] I said to him, “In other words, you don’t care about the date of the Conference because it doesn’t make any difference whether you don’t show up on the 18th or you don’t show up on the 21st?” He said, “That’s right.” [Laughter]
Prime Minister Meir: On that we agree with Asad.
Dr. Kissinger: No, he will come.
Mr. Sisco: They are briefing a delegation already to come.[Page 1117]
Minister Eban: There are no Aluwites or Baath members in the delegation—so if he has to execute them, there will be no loss of party membership!
Minister Eban: It will take a week to count the votes.
Prime Minister Meir: No matter who wins, no government will be formed until the 15th.
Minister Sapir: The judge will publish the results on the 15th.
Dr. Kissinger: Every time I win something, I expect a little praise. There was no agreement on a recess at all before.
If there is some progress on disengagement, the 15th will not be a problem.
Minister Alon: Could you get them to be more moderate in their statements? It would help.
Prime Minister Meir: I heard the Moscow statement attacking the United States and Israel.3
Minister Alon: It’s détente.
Minister Dayan: You told us what the Syrians said to you about disengagement, but it was one-sided. There was nothing on the Syrian side.
Dr. Kissinger: That was my impression. What they want is that you withdraw from new territory you took, plus some symbolic step in withdrawing from the old territory. UN forces could follow.
Minister Alon: Are they ready to start negotiations on disengagement when talks begin?
Dr. Kissinger: No.
Minister Alon: Are they ready to give us a list before the first meeting?
Dr. Kissinger: My impression—if I could tell them Tuesday4 that a plausible scheme is negotiable and give some theory of it, I could maybe get the lists. If I can get the Russians involved, which I think I can.
Minister Alon: It may not be a first priority politically, but it is humanly, emotionally. After we committed the Government before the people and Parliament.
Dr. Kissinger: But whatever is just or right, the reality is that your international support is precarious. I think if you have to refuse, you should go there and refuse there.[Page 1118]
Minister Eban: The Red Cross is in Geneva; it’s a good place to give the lists.
Dr. Kissinger: They said to me, “You negotiated four years with the North Vietnamese before you gave your lists.”
Prime Minister Meir: But you bombed them too.
Minister Eban: I wonder how far the parallel goes. Will you get the Nobel Prize?
Dr. Kissinger: [laughs] He just wants something in return, to put it crudely. I believe it may be possible to get the lists in the first phase of the disengagement talks.
Minister Dayan: Unless we get the lists, I do not see how we can go to Geneva.
Dr. Kissinger: I think your Foreign Minister can give you the picture of the international consequences. I am not saying your position is wrong; it is morally right. You are in a very, very difficult position and you need maneuvering room.
Minister Alon: Whatever we choose may be wrong.
Dr. Kissinger: True.
Minister Alon: Having committed ourselves to their parents, government, people, no one can understand why they don’t give the lists. Only lists, not people. How in the civilized world?
Dr. Kissinger: They are not civilized. They are doing it because you want them.
Minister Eban: Moral strength is a tactical disadvantage.
Dr. Kissinger: As a practical matter, we have to ensure that Israel does not get blamed as the obstacle.
Minister Eban: Will there be talks like at Kilometer 101?
Dr. Kissinger: They prefer it at Geneva. He says he has a domestic problem—which, according to our reports, is probably true. He says negotiation is a liability for him.
Minister Eban: But he wants to come.
Dr. Kissinger: No, he doesn’t. There is a fifty-fifty chance.
Minister Eban: That would solve the problem.
Dr. Kissinger: Let them be the ones who stay away. If I may be tactless, if you keep quiet this week . . . What he said was all negative, but in terms that suggested the possibility of bargaining.
Minister Eban: They were once interested in allowing the return of 15,000.
Dr. Kissinger: Yes, you could use that. But it was for the return of the POW’s, not for the lists.
Minister Eban: That was true.[Page 1119]
Dr. Kissinger: It was the Deputy Foreign Minister’s proposal, which they then disavowed.
Prime Minister Meir: What did they say we had to go back to, for the lists?
Dr. Kissinger: First he said, go down from the Heights. I said, “That is impossible.” He showed me a map, and asked me to make a proposal. I said I couldn’t because I had never discussed it with you. Three or four times he said, “Make a proposal.” He says you are in a trap there in the bulge.
Minister Dayan: Maybe we should agree to keep our forces in the trap, in exchange for the lists. [Laughter]
Minister Eban: Or else we would withdraw!
Prime Minister Meir: Only you could get a concession like that! [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: Sadat says he is willing to demobilize his forces, start economic reconstruction and conduct himself in such a way as to make war harder.
Prime Minister Meir: Then why does he need forces on the East Bank?
Dr. Kissinger: What he says is that he can’t afford to withdraw from part of his territory that he reconquered.
Minister Dayan: Was there any discussion of the southern Sinai oil fields?
Dr. Kissinger: I make it a practice never to discuss next steps or final steps, and they never raised it, so I had no need to.
Prime Minister Meir: Of course.
Minister Dayan: Why should he demobilize if the rest of his territory is not recovered?
Dr. Kissinger: He said ninety percent of his problems would be solved by disengagement.
Minister Sapir: You think it is an economic burden on him?
Dr. Kissinger: It is essential to break the current link between the oil pressures, the possibility of resumption of hostilities which would create massive pressures for a return to 1967 borders, and the current Arab unity. Time is of the essence. Arab disunity leads to continuation of oil embargo. Faisal can’t do it alone without throwing away everything he has gained in terms of wrapping himself in radical legitimacy. Therefore all those who come appealing to him are all wrong. I’ve never asked him directly to lift the oil embargo.
Minister Alon: Most of the silent majority on the West Bank still favors Hussein.[Page 1120]
Dr. Kissinger: If we have any preferred solution, it is to strengthen Hussein. We’re not cooking up a deal to turn it over to the PLO. I’ve made the point in all my stops that the Palestinian issue can’t even be discussed yet at this early stage because there are so many other issues.
It won’t help to have extreme suspicions, Yigal!
Minister Alon: We are worried by the possibility that the Palestinians won’t be invited to come back to the West Bank.
Dr. Kissinger: There will be massive pressures in that direction. But it won’t be settled on the basis of legalities, but on the basis of reality.
Minister Alon: The Russian plan is to have independent Palestinian entity with the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, and part of Iraq. The question is how far the Russians should be allowed to advance. We’re not against détente, for which we give you great credit, Mr. Secretary.
Dr. Kissinger: You are in a particularly insincere mood, Yigal. You have to understand our strategy. We’re not engaged in condominium. The only reason we have them in “auspices” is that they are more dangerous outside than inside. The opponents of Brezhnev could make a case that he’s got nothing in return except words.
Minister Eban: He got a European settlement.
Dr. Kissinger: They got that from the Germans, not from us. We kept the Europeans in the reservation by our détente policy. Otherwise they would have all been screaming against the bellicose U.S. policy.
So we’ve been using détente to restrain them. My trip to Moscow was a way—the only way—to get you an additional 48 hours.
Minister Alon: Why do they do it if they get nothing?
Dr. Kissinger: Brezhnev isn’t that bright. He also thought he could get economic growth—and a combination of your supporters, intellectuals and the right wing is on a suicidal course of depriving us of the weapon we can use to restrain them. For five years we kept them in line by talking about credits. If this goes on, we run the risk they will ask that question.
I can see a legitimate concern that we may anticipate the Soviets too much in trying to preempt the Arabs. But I have told them they can’t expect everything.
Minister Alon: You have led them to expect a great deal.
Dr. Kissinger: What counts is not what they expect but what is reality. What will hurt you is the combination of pressures—the oil, the Europeans, the Arabs.
Minister Eban: The European coalition is now creaking.
Dr. Kissinger: Only because they think what we’re doing will succeed.[Page 1121]
Minister Dayan: Perhaps Jordan won’t be able to agree on something final because of the Palestinians, but maybe we could reach some agreed policy—not call it an interim agreement—to let the Jordanians acquire more authority there. We could admit some issues—settling down the refugees, and allowing a few ’67 refugees to go back, to strengthen the authority of the King and the Government of Jordan in the West Bank, and not weaken our military position in settlements.
Otherwise what I’m afraid of is the mood of “Palestine for the Palestinians”, and in a time when the King is not too popular. Sometimes he is, but not now.
Minister Eban: Not since the war.
Dr. Kissinger: I think that’s a good idea. But it’s a tactical question, which I can’t answer in abstract terms. My instinct is to make a visible and dramatic move which establishes a reality, rather than do it grudgingly and slowly. Whatever strengthens the Government of Jordan is in our interests. But it should not look like it was bled out of you.
If Egypt agrees to disengagement, you could do this as the equivalent of a disengagement agreement—a particular arrangement to deal with particular conditions. Don’t call it an “interim agreement.” If there is also some movement of your forces to reduce their visibility—I have no idea whether it is visible . . .
Minister Eban: They’re not.
Dr. Kissinger: It would be under the rubric of disengagement, and would be the most effective answer to the Palestinians.
Minister Dayan: We would prefer a final settlement with all of them. But suppose we can’t—and Jordan can’t settle alone—the danger is that in the interim the King will lose his authority. I would ask him what we, Israel, can do to help him maintain and even increase his authority or influence.
We’re now allowing towns like Nablus to take loans in Jordan; if he can choose the administrators, etc.
Dr. Kissinger: We’re not in a position to make specific proposals.
Minister Eban: Dayan is saying this comes when we’ve tried a final settlement and not gotten anything.
Minister Dayan: The best one to ask is Hussein, not me but Hussein.
Dr. Kissinger: Your problem on all these things is to get ahead of the curve, and not behind it. You must always look as if you’re guiding it, not at the last minute to throw it to the wolves under pressure—because this only increases the pressures.
Prime Minister Meir: Hussein thought he could wait. Now he has to fight for . . .[Page 1122]
Dr. Kissinger: Legitimacy.
Prime Minister Meir: . . . his people.
Minister Eban: For the allegiance of his former people.
Prime Minister Meir: He’s losing time; he is losing the people. We can say very honestly that everything we’ve done on the West Bank is not against him and not for the Palestinians. He knows we have no interest in the population. Now he realizes he is not safe.
Minister Alon: Particularly after Algiers.5
Prime Minister Meir: Maybe a proposition to him now that gives him entree to the people would help.
Mr. Sisco: You both want the same thing.
Dr. Kissinger: We really have no interest in whether you make it or not. But I think if you are going to make it, you should make it in the disengagement discussion phase, before the Palestinian issue can be raised. Then you are safe. It will help him.
Minister Dayan: I heard recently that Hussein, after long refusing, has agreed to give the Gazans Jordanian passports. They never had any Arab passport. The Egyptians never gave them. We don’t (only laissez passers). But now he authorized the mayors to give them.
Minister Alon: And now they refused, because they are afraid of the terrorists.
Dr. Kissinger: You have to think first of what it is you are trying to accomplish, not details. Make it look as natural as possible—not a sudden new development or an “interim agreement”—as a natural counterpart of disengagement.
The mere fact of making him the effective spokesman of the West Bank.
Prime Minister Meir: We’ve agreed to discuss the question of disengagement at 9:00 tomorrow.6 Dr. Kissinger wants tonight an agreement on the letter . . . The Government had three points: UN auspices; inclusion of the Palestinians; and the question of the decision not to participate in any form, including the opening, if Syrians are there, unless the Syrians beforehand hand over lists of our POW’s and allow the Red Cross to visit them, if the report is they are decently cared for.
The Secretary brought a rewrite of the letter.
Dr. Kissinger: The letter read “question of”, not “timing of” and it was only to be discussed. Nevertheless, because of your strong objections, we went back to the Egyptians, Syrians, and Russians and got an [Page 1123]agreement on “the question of other participants from the Middle East area.”
Minister Eban: Fine.
Dr. Kissinger: And “first stage” means disengagement phase, not first two days.
Prime Minister Meir: We wanted a clearer sentence on unanimous consent. But at any rate, the Palestinians are out, and the first phase is the whole disengagement phase.
Minister Alon: How does this affect the memorandum of understanding?7
Dr. Kissinger: It doesn’t affect it.
Prime Minister Meir: But we would like to drop the phrase in paragraph 7 of the memorandum, last sentence.
Minister Eban: We checked, and it is established international practice.
Ambassador Dinitz: [reads] We want to delete “who have the right to decline to participate.”
Prime Minister Meir: And the President in his letter to me says he’s consented to this.8
Dr. Kissinger: Not to the deletion.
Prime Minister Meir: No, to the sentence.
Dr. Kissinger: I wanted to make sure you were not negotiating with the President behind my back.
Prime Minister Meir: I’d like to.
Dr. Kissinger: Madame Prime Minister, you would not. I’ll be glad to give you the opportunity.
Prime Minister Meir: We absolutely can’t have Arafat present at the conference.
Dr. Kissinger: Let’s be realistic.
Minister Alon: It’s our nightmare.
Dr. Kissinger: I know you have nightmares. We do too; but we can’t solve them by memoranda of understanding. But we agree to drop that clause.
I give you our judgment that it is not desirable for Arafat to be negotiating at the Conference for a Palestinian state to emerge from the Conference. Our considered opinion is worth more than memoranda of understanding. It is in no way in our interest.[Page 1124]
And point three: You prefer “the US will show full understanding” instead of “the US will not press.” We accept your suggestion.
On UN auspices, let me explain. The intention here, though unhappily phrased, is to have the UN as convening it, not more. This intent is made clear in the later part, where we ask the Secretary-General to appear as the convenor.
Our situation is: If the Conference fails to come off because of Israel’s refusal to agree to the letter, you are in a serious situation.
We have to go back to Sadat because of what will look like an Israeli nitpick. If he refuses, we’re in trouble. If he accepts, we’re in good shape, but we have to go back to the Egyptians and Syrians and Russians with the letter. The Syrians are tottering on the brink. If anything complicated comes back, the Conference slips and this brings a terrible reaction in America.
We want to send it tonight to the Russians, and add the reminder of Brezhnev’s word of honor and that we think the Israelis are right. If you are hesitant, they can use this as an excuse. The Soviet Ambassador in Cairo today said the letter makes no difference because Syria won’t come anyway.
We can meet uncertainty by, first, sending Waldheim a draft invitation to you. Second, you can make clear your understanding in your reply to the invitation. Third, our reaction will be, “That is right; that is our understanding too.” If he doesn’t raise it in his invitation, you should just accept it, and you can give your interpretation afterwards. If he refers to this letter in his invitation, you should raise your interpretation.
We wouldn’t volunteer it but if asked we will not oppose it.
If he doesn’t mention it, after you reply you can plant a question at a press conference 48 hours later and make it clear.
Prime Minister Meir: We have a problem. You know we don’t like UN auspices. When the Cabinet accepts that, we immediately have to go to the Foreign Affairs Committee—they’ll hold it against us for not going to them first. But that is our problem.
I don’t mind if opposition raises something, unless I think they are right.
Maybe we would go to the Knesset on our initiative; then we’ll have to say—it may not be before Tuesday—that even though it says “the parties have agreed.” We’ll try to follow Dr. Kissinger’s method that the Soviet Union and the United States have now been informed . . . period. And the second sentence is not “agreed.” We tried to play around with moving the sentence. If we can’t find something, we’ll have to say what our reading is of this letter. To the first sentence, we have agreed; to the second sentence, our interpretation of “UN aus[Page 1125]pices” is the Secretary General acting as convenor and presider at the opening phase.
Secretary Kissinger: And you can point to the final paragraph which spells out his functions.
Minister Alon: Can you change the position of the paragraph?
Secretary Kissinger: I thought of moving that sentence back. But my nightmare is that Vinogradov will go to Sadat and say these sons of bitches have made a cute maneuver, and they have done it in Jerusalem. I just don’t think it is worth it. It would be the third time in three days that the American Ambassador has gone in there. Then we have to trigger the Syrians from Lisbon. We run up against a tight deadline, and will look silly.
Prime Minister Meir: There is that resolution that Waldheim has to report.
Secretary Kissinger: But that exists already. In practice the UN will play the same role whatever the letter says, because the British and French will attempt to break in. They’ll do it not by appealing to that sentence, but to 338 or to “international peace and security.” They’ll say the UN is seized of it anyway.
Minister Eban: They’ll do it anyway, but this sentence adds a little more handle to it.
Secretary Kissinger: A little more handle to it. But you can say it in the Knesset.
Minister Alon: If anyone tries in the UN Security Council to misinterpret it, can we count on your support?
Secretary Kissinger: Unless you are exceptionally provocative.
Minister Alon: That is not our nature.
Secretary Kissinger: There is no possibility that there will be a Security Council interpretation of a letter drafted by two of its members.
Ambassador Dinitz: In paragraph twelve of the memorandum, add “U.S. will do utmost to prevent and oppose . . .”
Secretary Kissinger: I don’t think we can guarantee to oppose a Security Council resolution on any issue.
Minister Alon: What is the meaning of “utmost?” In my view, if worse comes to worst, the veto will be used.
Secretary Kissinger: We can veto the substance of the discussion, not the discussion itself, and we can’t commit ourselves in advance to oppose whatever comes out of the Security Council.
Our basic policy will be as it has been—and successfully—to prevent any Security Council resolution. But to commit ourselves now on any resolution would be irresponsible.[Page 1126]
Prime Minister Meir: It is inconceivable that while we are still discussing, the Security Council would pass a resolution on substance.
Secretary Kissinger: That would be our policy. But letter or no letter, I can see circumstances in which it might happen.
Prime Minister Meir: The United States and Soviet Union should say “wait a minute, we can’t run this on two parallel lines.”
Secretary Kissinger: That would almost certainly be our attitude. Your best protection against this is the mood of the international climate. I told your Prime Minister, your protection is not this memorandum but the degree of understanding between us. I don’t want to delude you.
When Kilometer 101 broke down, they threatened to go to the Security Council. I said, “You go to the Security Council and we’ll never lift another finger on negotiations.”
If it breaks down, we’ll try to prevent a Security Council resolution. But whether we veto or not, frankly depends on the degree of our understanding at the time.
Our policy is to prevent it. Of that I can assure you. On disengagement we can stop it.
I keep telling them, “if you want resolutions, go to the UN. But do you want resolutions or disengagement?”
On disengagement I can’t foresee circumstances—although it depends on our discussion tomorrow.
Even the Syrians, they are within negotiating range of the Egyptian proposal.
Ambassador Dinitz: One other point, Dayan’s. In trying to prevent debate, you say we’ll do our “utmost.” But in trying to prevent measures, can we at least have the guarantee that we won’t be faced with the situation in which the Security Council will be taking measures or actions and the United States will abstain.
Secretary Kissinger: When did we ever vote for “measures?”
Ambassador Dinitz: Once you abstained on a resolution which contained the word “measures.” The idea is, we would be safeguarded against the application of measures, beyond just the general prevention of resolutions.
Secretary Kissinger: I’m trying to bring a sense of reality to this discussion. The mood in America is such that if Israel is increasingly seen as the obstacle to the negotiations and the cause of the oil pressure, you’ll have tremendous difficulty. Memorandum or no memorandum. I can put anything in this memorandum that I want.
Prime Minister Meir: I know that.
Minister Alon: Once we let the Arabs know of the power of the oil weapon, they’ll never stop making demands.[Page 1127]
Secretary Kissinger: That is why we’ve never discussed specifics with the Arabs in return for the oil pressures. If we get it lifted, we can control it. If we can’t get it lifted, they’ll say “Kissinger is too complicated; let’s just do what the others are doing.”
Ambassador Keating: The mail from America is saying just that. It’s turning, for the first time.
Secretary Kissinger: Next time they impose an oil embargo, we’ll use the same tactics.
I believe we can get it lifted if there is a disengagement agreement. That is my firm conviction—if no one talks about it.
Prime Minister Meir: I hope so.
Secretary Kissinger: A year ago the idea that we would do something against Israel would have been an inconceivable question. What I’m trying to do is ensure that the conditions remain that it’s not conceivable.
Prime Minister Meir: You are saying, if a war breaks out, or the oil is not lifted, we face being sanctioned, one way or another—either by the UN or by the absence of an airlift. Not that the US is doing something against us, but by what it is not doing. Whether it is just or not, moral or not moral, you say any time the talks break down because we haven’t accepted Egyptian or Syrian demands, or the oil isn’t lifted, or the Egyptians and Syrians begin to shoot—is there any point at which the US will say Israel is right?
Secretary Kissinger: Rightly or wrongly, the present perception is that Israel was excessively obstinate for six years and contributed to the October war—the starting of the war again would have disastrous consequences.
Prime Minister Meir: Even if the Egyptians start it.
Secretary Kissinger: It makes no difference in the present mixture of forces.
If I were Sadat, I wouldn’t want disengagement.
If there is disengagement, and there is a UN force there, it is technically harder to start it—and it would be in violation of a UN resolution, which affects the American mentality. And winter will be over. This enables us to keep the conditions in which America can stand firmly with you. And you can point to concessions you had offered.
So far we’ve kept this going by, forgive me, my charismatics. It may sound conceited but it is true. That’s why I’m so eager to get this Conference going.
Secretary Sisco: I testified in an executive session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the $2.2 billion, and I was amazed by the questions there.[Page 1128]
Secretary Kissinger: And we got it by making a series of negative arguments—that we’d already paid the price of the oil and we might as well get it out of the way now rather than in bits and pieces now and over six months. Senator McClure,9 who I never heard of, went around the Middle East.
If we can bring it off without having given in, having semi-confronted the Arabs, we can use these tactics again.
Ambassador Dinitz: I think you are absolutely right in your conclusion but I wouldn’t go along with the severity of your analysis of Congressional and public reaction. Every poll, Gallup, Harris—
Ambassador Keating: Wait until the gas goes.
Ambassador Dinitz: That’s a projection, for the future. I agree it is a possibility in the future.
Prime Minister Meir: We must go back to the Syrian problem.
Secretary Kissinger: We have three choices, if the Egyptians and Syrians both come: negotiations with them without reservation, be at the plenary session with them but say you won’t discuss any issue bearing on the Syrians without lists, or refuse to come at all. If it is the latter, there are two ways: refusing to go there, or go there to receive the list and refuse to enter the hall, if you don’t get it.
My view is, if you can refuse to go, your Foreign Minister should go there and on the steps of the hall say you won’t enter because of the bestial quality of the Syrians. My view is that you should go to the plenary session.
But let me send this letter to the Soviets tonight with one more strong letter to the Soviets saying it is their responsibility. You don’t have to decide this tonight. We should discuss disengagement tomorrow and then we can see whether I can move the Syrians.
Call Larry’s office tonight. We will have the cables written now and pre-position them.
[The dinner meeting ended at 12:42 a.m.]
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–1977, Box 2, NODIS Action Memos 1973–1976. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Drafted by Rodman. The meeting took place at the Foreign Minister’s residence. Brackets are in the original.↩
- See Document 393.↩
- On December 13, official Soviet news agency TASS declared that responsibility for the oil embargo rested with Israel’s supporters in the West rather than the Arab nations imposing the embargo.↩
- December 18.↩
- See footnote 19, Document 398.↩
- See Document 401.↩
- Document 410.↩
- Document 391.↩
- Senator James A. McClure (R–Idaho).↩