420. Minutes of the Secretary of State’s Staff Meeting1


Secretary Kissinger: I see a lot of new faces.

I thought we would have a brief meeting to bring you up to date on what has happened on the trip and what our general strategy has been.

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There were two essential parts to the trip. One was the relation with the Europeans. The second was the relationships in the Middle East, leading to the Geneva peace conference.

[Omitted here is material unrelated to the Middle East.]

Now, with respect to the Middle East, we had the problem first of getting the conference organized; secondly, developing a strategy for the conference.

Getting the conference organized involved the very mundane problem of developing a letter signed by the Soviet Union and us that each of the parties would accept.2 And that turned into a rather harrowing exercise. We finally had everybody except the Syrians. And there were two points in the letter that we wanted to change. One—the date of the conference; and the second, we wanted to drop the word “Palestinians” from the letter. So when I saw Assad—Joe [Sisco] and I saw President Assad, in that bizzare place.3 We asked, “Can we change the date from December 18th to the 21st?” He said, “Sure.” I said, “Can we drop the word ‘Palestinians’?” He said, “Certainly.” I said, “Why does everyone say it is impossible to deal with you. It took us an hour-and-a-half to do this with the Egyptians and here we did it in ten minutes with you.” I said, “Is there anything else in that letter that bothers you, since this is our last chance?” He said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, there is one sentence in the letter that bothers us.” I said, “What is it?” He said, “That the parties have agreed to go to the conference. (Laughter) We haven’t agreed to go to the conference.” This to my knowledge was the first time that anybody heard that the Syrians were dubious about going to the conference. It certainly came as a surprise—unless they are consummate actors—to both the Egyptians and the Soviets.

And to this day I don’t understand the strategy. Because if he had wanted to blow up the conference, he could easily have refused to change the word “Palestinians” in which case the Israelis wouldn’t have come. In fact, he could have accepted the letter with the changes and gone to the conference, in which case again the Israelis wouldn’t have come.

So why he accepted the letter and permitted the conference to go on is not easy for me to understand.

But Dean4 is the expert on the Arab mentality and perhaps can explain it.

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So actually, from our point of view the decision of the Syrians not to come was a rather favorable development—all the more so as they have not really made a systematic effort to blow up the conference.

And I must tell you, Joe, right afterwards, regrettably, they are now showing signs of wanting to go to the conference, (Laughter) giving us a totally new nightmare.

From our point of view, the best thing would have been if they had not come while the first stage of the conference was gaining momentum.

Now, as for the strategy that we pursued, our problem was as follows.

We had to prevent, in the first phase of the conference, that the coalition of the West Europeans, Japan, the Soviet Union and Arab producers focus on some issue in which Israel would be totally isolated and we would be isolated with them, either because we agreed with Israel or because we disagreed with Israel and couldn’t produce her. Either case would have been disastrous for us.

Therefore, in the last six weeks we have been looking around for some issue that could be settled in the first stage of the conference as a result of our activity and that nevertheless was not so complex either to produce a showdown between us and Israel or to produce a demonstration of our impotence vis-à-vis Israel.

Now, I think there is now a good possibility that the issue of the disengagement of forces can provide such a vehicle. And what this would mean is a moving apart of the Egyptian and Israeli forces with perhaps some UN forces in between, which would have the double advantage that the conference would have started with some success brought about by the United States, and secondly, that starting the war again would become much more difficult, or could be achieved only by actions which would prevent the element of surprise from being as operative as it was on October 6, and therefore would produce an added deterrent to military operations.

We had extremely good talks with the Israelis in which for the first time a glimmer of the strategic reality of their position seemed to us to exist.5 And while this doesn’t mean that their precise positions will be in accord with what we think may be necessary, at least it permits us to talk from a common conceptual base, which is more than existed before.

Finally, we have wanted to reduce the dominant influence of the Soviet Union in the Arab countries by inducing the Arab countries to [Page 1202] deal with us and to recognize that others might have a better rhetoric but only we could deliver on a responsible settlement.

Now, this essentially was achieved.

At the conference, the histrionics were kept to an absolute minimum and a mode of operation was adopted which gives the maximum possibility for progress in the sense that the issues to be discussed first will be military issues to be discussed by military men in the absence of Soviet and U.S. participants, with a member from the UN Emergency Force in the chair—in other words, transferring the Kilometer 101 talks to Geneva. And given the fact that at Kilometer 101 there were already some signs of progress, the first phase of the conference, unless the Syrians suddenly show up, is likely—well, I agree with Dayan, that it has a slightly better than 50-50 chance of working.

What happens afterwards will depend on the nature of the disengagement agreement, to see whether one can have a second phase.

If the Arabs and Soviets can be induced to stage their proposals so that we never face an all-or-nothing situation, then I think we could gradually approach a settlement through a series of steps that could bring about a de facto situation, that would be much safer and much more sustainable. And if we can keep up the position where the Soviet Union does not actively disturb the negotiations, but also does not get into the central position of where its proposals dominate the conference, then I think we will come out of this reasonably well. And I think we are well on the way to doing that, certainly in the first phase of the conference.

Joe, do you want to add anything?

Mr. Sisco: Do you want to say a word about oil? I think there will be a good deal of interest here in the group.

[Omitted here is material relating to the Arab oil embargo. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Document 270.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Transcripts of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meetings, 1973–1977: Lot 78 D 443, Box 1, Secretary’s Analytical Staff Meetings. Secret.
  2. Document 356.
  3. See Document 393.
  4. Kissinger is likely referring to L. Dean Brown, Ambassador to Jordan September 8, 1970–November 29, 1973, who was appointed Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management on December 19.
  5. See Documents 398, 399, and 401.