414. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Abba Eban, Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Ephraim Evron, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Eliahu Bentsur, Aide to Eban
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, Ambassador-at-Large
  • Joseph Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State
  • Harold Saunders, Senior Staff Member, NSC
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

Secretary Kissinger: How is the seating settled?

Assistant Secretary Sisco: It is not settled yet.

Secretary Kissinger: I made a proposal yesterday that they should leave three seats open and let the Arabs and Israelis make a race for them. [Laughter]

What is the problem?

Minister Eban: As long as they are in the same room!

Assistant Secretary Sisco: This is where it stands: Egypt, the Secretary General, the USSR, Syria, Israel, Jordan, the U.S. This is a compromise. It puts it out of alphabetical order. But it looks like opposite camps.

Mr. Evron: How about this? Israel is to the right of the Soviet Union; next to us is Jordan. The Secretary-General, Soviet Union, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and the United States.

Assistant Secretary Sisco: That is all right.

Secretary Kissinger: That is all right.

Minister Eban: The advantage is it is impossible to derive any possible significance from it.

Assistant Secretary Sisco: Should I try it out on the Secretary-General?

Secretary Kissinger: Yes. [Sisco goes out.]

Minister Eban: Eppie [Evron] can get a five percent share of the Nobel Prize.

[Page 1182]

Secretary Kissinger: We’ll share it in an institution. If your press will quit for a day, the conference may start.

Minister Eban: There is no press on the Sabbath. The Syrian matter was still in doubt when you left?

Secretary Kissinger: You are not heartbroken, are you?

Minister Eban: It spares us the need to go through the scenario.

Secretary Kissinger: We would have urged you to go to the opening session and make your statement there.

Minister Eban: Your suggestion was rational and therefore impractical in parliamentary terms.

Secretary Kissinger: I have the impression the perception of reality there is lacking. This is incredible. I had the feeling you were one of the few who knew what reality is. To talk about 50 versus 100 tanks is irrelevant, given what you are facing.

Minister Eban: There is great reverence for what the Generals say.

They were convinced Egypt could never cross the Canal.

What about the procedures?

Secretary Kissinger: Today the Secretary-General and the co-chairmen speak and tomorrow the parties.

Minister Eban: The advantage is if you say something momentous, you get the press for yourself.

Secretary Kissinger: If it is momentous, it won’t be because it is specific.

Minister Eban: Fahmi wants—this is bad for us—to start the disengagement talks right away. We have no proposal.

Secretary Kissinger: We had it arranged with Sadat that it wouldn’t happen right away. Vinogradov and Fahmi were on the plane together. It got him steamed up. We should have let Eilts go on the plane.

Gromyko was unpleasant last night.2 It is unusual in our relationship. He was worrisome.

[Page 1183]

Minister Eban: The absence of Syria has a psychological effect on Egypt.

Secretary Kissinger: It is kind of humiliating for him [Gromyko] to be sitting there and say the Egyptians told me something and I say he is wrong.

Minister Eban: They are worried by the sheer intensity of American diplomatic effort.

There is a tradition for the parties to call on the co-chairmen of a conference. I wonder if I should do it with Gromyko. We have an old relationship. But a rebuff would be bad.

Secretary Kissinger: I will ask him.

There is another procedural problem. Gromyko suggested that after the Foreign Ministers should go, Ambassadors will stay. This has advantages and disadvantages—it keeps the conference going, but it avoids the need to set a date for resumption. I gave no view. What is yours?

Minister Eban: It would be a problem for us because of the commitment that there would be a break. On that assurance we got authorization.

Secretary Kissinger: There could be a compromise that the Ambassadors stay—but Bunker would go home for Christmas and New Years. So nothing could happen.

Minister Eban: It would be better for us if we play it close to the book, given the sensitivities in Israel this week.

Assistant Secretary Sisco: Could there be a working group here? That is a possible compromise.

Minister Eban: No, it is the same problem.

Secretary Kissinger: I really implore you to come up with something on disengagement which can work. This is the way I kept it from a frontier discussion.

I had a conversation with Bouteflika.3 He says the Syrians are interested in disengagement but worried about their domestic situation. They have a domestic problem regarding the prisoners. I asked Bouteflika, could you do it through me? He proposed that you give me a list of theirs, and I would give it to them. I added one bit to it and said, “If we give it to you, would you add your request to it?” He said he would.

Mr. Evron: We already gave the list to the Red Cross. But it is a mere formality.

[Page 1184]

Secretary Kissinger: That is a pity!

Mr. Evron: Immediately after your return from Moscow.

Secretary Kissinger: By the way, Joe Kraft is saying you accepted the ceasefire on the basis of what I told you about Brezhnev. But you had already accepted the ceasefire before I came.

Minister Eban: Of course. The opposition is saying we accepted an American diktat.

Secretary Kissinger: Bouteflika says Asad himself isn’t so bad by Syrian standards, but has a murderous domestic situation. This is consistent with my impression. I told you he told me your prisoners are alive and well treated. That is what he said I could tell you. Bouteflika said that what bothers the Syrians is that these prisoners are elite pilots, not ordinary soldiers.

Minister Eban: They said the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply because there is a distinction about aerial bombing.

Secretary Kissinger: If you want to get me that list, I’ll give it to Bouteflika.

Minister Eban: Yes, we will.

Secretary Kissinger: Bouteflika thought it would work a little later when the disengagement talks with Egypt were further along, and made some progress.

Minister Eban: Their absence helps us with the opening.

Secretary Kissinger: What they really want is for me to conduct disengagement talks. Bouteflika said they might be willing to talk if we—me or Bunker—conducted the disengagement negotiations. We can’t possibly conduct the negotiations, but the only thing we can consider is possibly a Rhodes-type operation.

Minister Eban: Before bringing it to the conference itself?

Secretary Kissinger: Yes. I am not recommending it, just reporting it.

Bouteflika says their major concern is domestic. I saw a radio report today from Damascus that was more moderate; said they would join honorable peace negotiations, and accepted 338.

Minister Eban: We understand there would be a break and then resumption.

Secretary Kissinger: Fahmi made a passionate pitch for Ambassadors to stay. It is conceivable we could have the Ambassadors return in early January for a working group.

Mr. Evron: It is possible.

Minister Eban: We thought the soldiers, the disengagement negotiations, would come back.

[Page 1185]

Secretary Kissinger: It is not much difference if the Ambassadors are here too.

Mr. Evron: The danger is that they would stir up trouble.

Secretary Kissinger: That is clearly their intention. But I’ve kept Egypt under control by saying, “If you make trouble, there will be no progress.”

Minister Eban: It would be difficult if there were, if there were an agreement in the beginning of January.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, but there really has to be an agreement in January.

The Russians are clearly trying to back the Arabs and be their lawyer, to put us in the position of being yours.

Minister Eban: They are doing it quite insidiously.

I’ll say something in my speech about the need to have it fast.

What will be the rules of procedure?

Assistant Secretary Sisco: The speaking order is alphabetical.

Secretary Kissinger: But we thought we would avoid rules of procedure altogether.

Assistant Secretary Sisco: We will operate by consensus. The official languages will be English, Russian and French.

Secretary Kissinger: On substance, and my speech. The first third is abstruse philosophizing. Then there are four general principles: Scrupulous adherence to the ceasefire, and then disengagement proposals. Those will be the first steps towards a final settlement. Then I had to mention withdrawal, recognized frontiers, security arrangements, international guarantees; the interests of the Palestinians, and recognition that Jerusalem contains the holy places of three great religions. That way, if Faisal runs amok, I can say I mentioned it.

Minister Eban: A state of peace.

Secretary Kissinger: It is not in that list but it is in a separate paragraph. Fourthly, I say that the weight of the negotiations should be borne by the parties. You have no problem with this?

Minister Eban: There shouldn’t be. There are no geographic references?

Secretary Kissinger: No, it just says “withdrawals”.

Assistant Secretary Sisco: There is less specificity on withdrawals than in early statements.

Secretary Kissinger: Even Begin agrees to some withdrawal.

Minister Eban: Begin and Jackson think the U.S. can’t let the Suez Canal be open.

Secretary Kissinger: Jackson believes it. The strategic argument is nonsense. If they can move their Mediterranean Fleet to the Indian Ocean, so can we. And we can get the 7th Fleet in too.

[Page 1186]

Minister Eban: The Soviets were marginal users before. Liberia was the main user.

How do we justify adjournment?

Secretary Kissinger: For informal consultation. We should meet tomorrow morning—for breakfast at 8:30.

Minister Eban: We’ll give you the prisoner list as soon as the meeting is over.

Secretary Kissinger: I think Bouteflika may have overstated it.

Minister Eban: But one should always take them up on it.

Secretary Kissinger: Is there something now you could give me? Bouteflika apparently thought you hadn’t given a list.

If you could have been more specific on disengagement than your generals were willing to be, I think that would have made a big difference.

Mr. Evron: If we unilaterally let 15,000 citizens back—

Secretary Kissinger: No, not unilaterally.

Minister Eban: It is a significant concession letting them take two posts back.

Assistant Secretary Sisco: Put them in the package.

Secretary Kissinger: It is new to Bouteflika but not to the Syrians.

Minister Eban: The Prime Minister put that together in a speech to the Knesset yesterday.

The Egyptians are playing it very formal here.

Assistant Secretary Sisco: The Secretary-General wanted an informal meeting, a reception, without pictures. Fahmi said no.

Secretary Kissinger: I think the absence of the Syrians is a problem. It sharpens everything.

We got a message from Hussein that the Syrians told him Egypt was the sponsor of the PLO, not them.

I think Gromyko will make a detailed speech.

Mr. Evron: A 40–45 minute speech.

Secretary Kissinger: Mine, if I read slowly, is 15 minutes.

Minister Eban: Waldheim will speak for ten minutes.

Mr. Evron: I read that Congress, both houses, has now approved the $2.2 billion.4

[Secretary Kissinger and Minister Eban talked alone from 8:55 to 9:00.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL ISR–US. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s suite at the Hotel Intercontinental. Brackets are in the original. Kissinger arrived in Geneva on December 20, as did Ambassador at Large Ellsworth Bunker who was the alternate head of the U.S. delegation.
  2. Kissinger described in his memoirs that during his dinner meeting with Gromyko on December 20, Gromyko had been upset that the Soviets were taking a secondary role to the United States in the peace process. According to Kissinger, “Gromyko had forgotten that he had assigned the task [of assembling the peace conference] to me in order to saddle me with the onus for failure or at least for exacting changes in the letter from reluctant Arab participants. Throughout, the behavior of the Soviet diplomats had been either incompetent or duplicitous—probably a combination of both. . . . When Gromyko grumbled that the Soviet Union would not let itself be excluded from the peace process, his frustration must have been all the greater because he must have known that the Soviets’ dilemmas were both self-inflicted and insoluble. So long as the Soviet Union had no ties with Israel, we were the only superpower conducting a dialogue with both sides. . . . Gromyko sought to combine the advantage of close association with our peace effort with unconditional backing of every Arab demand. We refused to play this game.” (Years of Upheaval, p. 794)
  3. A memorandum of conversation recording Kissinger’s December 20 meeting with Bouteflika in Paris is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1027, Presidential/HAK Memcons, Memcons, HAK & Presidential, December 1973 [1 of 2].
  4. On December 20, Congress passed a compromise foreign aid appropriations bill, which included $2.2 billion in emergency military aid for Israel.