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90. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Ambassador William B. Buffum
  • Richard Campbell

Ambassador Buffum: Congratulations. It’s nice that the confirmation2 is coming right before the UN.

Mr. Kissinger: But that doesn’t mean that I have a speech.

Ambassador Buffum: The last time I saw you, Mr. Secretary, was with U Thant.

Mr. Kissinger: That must have been in 1968. U Thant was not one of my great idols. [Mr. Kissinger takes phone call from Eagleburger on the UN speech.]3 Most of these speeches are banal and this one will be banal also.

Ambassador Buffum: On the Mid-East, at least, I hope it is.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m no dummy on this.

Ambassador Buffum: The President attracted so much attention.4 Verbiage is very important, especially to the Arabs.

Mr. Kissinger: What could I conceivably say that wouldn’t cause more harm than good?

Ambassador Buffum: You could say something traditional using a basis on 242 and that they are all sovereign states and possibly about the withdrawal from occupied territory.

Mr. Kissinger: What can we do in the Middle East?

Ambassador Buffum: There is no panacea.

Mr. Kissinger: I know.

Ambassador Buffum: All we can do is to keep prodding. The President’s press conference was a good prod. It showed we were getting impatient. That was important. The Arabs are a little leery of us with our voting in the UN and our military assistance to Israel. With the Is[Page 271]raeli elections coming up, we should walk carefully. Everyone knows there will be no dramatic breakthroughs. We were very close in agreement in the Four Power talks.5 It was on the refinement of 242. Of course, it’s probably been overtaken by events as the Israelis have solidified their position.

Mr. Kissinger: I’ve never agreed that the Israelis would accept that position.

Ambassador Buffum: In the recent Chief of Missions Conference, Ambassador Helms told us of the expensive installations being installed in the Sinai. The new plank in the Labor Party platform is not leaving. We find ourselves in a shaky position. Additional assistance looks like it’s for defense of conquered territory rather than the protection of the homeland. When the Russians were there, we had a good excuse for our military assistance program. I assume you see no settlement in the Middle East, Mr. Secretary. We should show we have made every effort to get one. Some say we should push harder.

Mr. Kissinger: My experience is you don’t get a settlement. Why should the Israelis give up anything?

Ambassador Buffum: Some have given thought to the danger of going down the present path. The Arabs will have finances if Faisal gives the aid it looks like he will. The Commandos will have additional recourse to acts of desperation.

Mr. Kissinger: Against the Arabs or the Israelis?

Ambassador Buffum: Both. The Israelis’ security is so tight that it can do it only with great losses as they have shown they are willing to do. They feel the Arabs think they’re selling them out. Beirut on the other hand, has had to clamp down.

Mr. Kissinger: My problem is I don’t know how you get from here to there.

Ambassador Buffum: Mr. Secretary, George Ball had a piece in Foreign Affairs three or four years ago where he discussed how you get an imposed solution.6 You have to use a carrot and stick approach. We should not undertake anything unless we plan to carry through. Before we succeed, we must be prepared to take a lot of heat.

Mr. Kissinger: We might come up with terms that neither side would accept. Unless we get one side lined up before, it’s a hell of a position between the two.

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Ambassador Buffum: We can get a UN force into the Sinai probably with U.S. participation.

Mr. Kissinger: All of the Sinai?

Ambassador Buffum: No, just the Gulf of Aqaba and the Straits.

Mr. Kissinger: Oh, yes, that they’d accept.

Ambassador Buffum: I think the answer is using international force for a limited time.

Mr. Kissinger: But I don’t think the Israelis will accept that without murderous pressure being applied to them. The worst outcome can be if we make an effort and not succeed. The Arabs will never believe that we have done all we could do. And then there are significant risks. There is the risk of war and the risk of Soviet intervention. You’ve sure made a difference in Lebanon.

Ambassador Buffum: It’s not over. There is no obvious outcome at present. The rivalries between the Palestinians might force moves by the government to break down their cohesion. They are talking about a Black October and November openly now in Beirut. They may talk themselves into something. There is no reason why.

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

Mr. Kissinger: Getting back to the Middle East, based on my experience in Vietnam, I know it is unworkable unless we have an agreement with one side. Whenever I formulated my positions, both sides sniped at me. How do we agree with the Arab side? They think that if they give us a concession it will be banked for the next round.

Ambassador Buffum: That’s right.

Mr. Kissinger: Is there a way out?

Ambassador Buffum: The Israelis have to find some security without holding territory. Perhaps make Gaza a sovereign state. The Arabs never wanted Gaza and there must be a Palestinian nationality.

Mr. Kissinger: Won’t that split off Jordan?

Ambassador Buffum: Not necessarily.

Mr. Kissinger: I think the solution is with Jordan.

Ambassador Buffum: If anything is to succeed, there is no way to do it without total secrecy and I’m not sure either will do that. We must persist and we must use pressure. It would be a significant political decision to take it on. I doubt the President is willing to incur that risk.

Mr. Kissinger: Worse would be if he was willing to take the risk until he gets . . . there and realizes what’s happening.

Ambassador Buffum: Yes, you can really cause an uproar with any move.

Mr. Kissinger: Our problem would be controlling the media and financial pressure. If we don’t get our ducks in a row before we start, I [Page 273]don’t think it will work. In my successes I have always dealt in total secrecy and have moved very fast. That was what was wrong in 1970. Every place we . . . hostages everywhere. Was that generally helpful?

Ambassador Buffum: It did no great harm, in Lebanon at least.

Mr. Kissinger: How long will you be here?

Ambassador Buffum: My plans are open.

Mr. Kissinger: Stay a few more days. I may want to talk to you again. I haven’t worked on the speech. Maybe tomorrow, maybe Saturday.7

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

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1027, Presidential/HAK Memcons, Memcons, April–Nov. 1973, HAK & Presidential [3 of 5]. No classification marking. The meeting took place at the White House. All brackets except those that indicate omitted material are in the original.
  2. The Senate confirmed Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State on September 22.
  3. Kissinger addressed the United Nations on September 24.
  4. Presumably Buffum is referring to the President’s September 5 press conference; see Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 732–743.
  5. Documentation on the Four-Power talks held in 1969 is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1969–1972.
  6. The article, entitled “Slogans and Realities,” appeared in the July 1969 issue of Foreign Affairs.
  7. September 22.