105. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford1

Secretary Kissinger has asked that I pass to you the following report of his conversation with President Asad:

“I have just completed almost five hours of conversation with President Asad2 whom I found, not unexpectedly—firm in his determination against separate deals between the Arabs and the Israelis; doubtful that the road to peace can be achieved by political means, yet willing to continue the diplomatic track for the time being, at least. In Asad’s words, ‛We deeply desire that the United States not undertake any separate efforts. U.S. efforts must proceed on all fronts.’ I quote this literally to emphasize several points: Asad’s insistence that he will make this view against partial steps prevail at the Arab summit; as a reflection of Syria’s deep concern that it does not wish to be isolated and left out; as his conviction that through a united Arab front there is strength; and that the goal must be total Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 borders, and the rights of the Palestinians restored through the PLO. All of the above illustrates cogently and dramatically the tough job that Sadat will have on his hands when he goes to the Arab summit to get support for his efforts to move ahead in a second stage Egyptian-Israeli negotiation, or at least to neutralize the opposition.

“This strong statement of Asad’s came after I had carefully explained our ‛step at a time’ approach as the only feasible way to proceed. I stressed on your behalf, your firm intention to support further negotiations on the Syrian-Israeli front ‛at the right time’ in the future; I indicated that progress on the Egyptian and Jordanian fronts was probably more feasible in the immediate future, and I maintained that progress on any one front was in the interest of all the Arabs. As is evident from Asad’s thrust, he has not accepted this view as of now, though he was careful not to say that he was giving up on diplomacy and going to war.

“Reflecting deep Syrian suspicion of the Egyptians, Asad probed to find out whether Sadat had indicated a willingness to go ahead with [Page 432] the Israelis on his own. I responded carefully that our discussions in Cairo had been general, that Sadat wants to first listen to what I bring back to him on Monday3 from Israel, and that the matter will come up for discussion at the Arab summit.

“I then asked whether or not we should press for Jordanian-Israeli negotiations regarding the West Bank. His response was, whether or not there was such a negotiation, the net result would have to be determined by what the Palestinians think or want; he said he had no problem with a Jordanian-Israeli negotiation, provided ‛the West Bank is relinquished to the PLO via Jordan.’ He threw cold water on the procedures which Hussein has in mind: a negotiation between him and Israel with the ultimate fate of the West Bank to be determined by some act of self-determination.

“I concluded by underscoring that we are prepared to be helpful to the parties if this is their desire, and that it was up to the Arabs themselves to decide in which direction they might move. In response to his statement that separate efforts by the United States will be interpreted in the Arab world as a U.S. attempt to put splinters between the Arab parties, particularly between Egypt and Syria, I responded that our aim is not separatism, and that we believe that progress should be made wherever possible, in the interest of both sides, including all of the Arabs. It was left that, in addition to returning to Cairo on Monday after talks with the Jordanians and the Israelis, I would also return to Damascus for a few hours. I did this to gain some time and avoid a blow-up now. Asad also thought it was a good idea that I return to the area about November 3 or 4 after the Arab summit, at which time we would know the results of the summit meeting and be able to determine whether negotiations on one or more fronts can proceed.

“Asad expressed himself passionately, while being as personable as ever. He reiterated a serious desire to maintain and strengthen good relations with the U.S. He made no direct threats about going to war, tempering his doubts about a political solution with reiteration of his serious willingness to pursue peaceful negotiating efforts towards a settlement. He obviously does not want a situation created in which at some point he will be left negotiating alone with the Israelis on the question of the Golan Heights. In many respects, the Arabs face fateful decisions at the upcoming summit since a prescription to move on all negotiating fronts is a prescription for impasse and stalemate.

“For the Israelis too, there are hard and important decisions: it is in their interest to adopt the kind of flexible posture which can help bring about the successful Egyptian-Israeli negotiation if not one with Jordan [Page 433] as well. Otherwise, they face an impasse which is likely to lead to a more united Arab alignment, spearheaded by the radicals, and leading away from the path of diplomacy towards eventual resumption of hostilities.

“This is being written enroute to Amman, having spent part of the morning in Cairo and most of the afternoon and early evening in Damascus. I expect to have a brief talk with Hussein tonight and a much fuller one Saturday morning.”4

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Trip Briefing Books of Henry Kissinger, Box 1, October 8–13, 1974, Middle East, HAK Messages for President, October 11, 1974. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Ford initialed the memorandum.
  2. According to the memorandum of conversation of the meeting between Asad and Kissinger, the meeting took place on October 11 from 6:30 to 9:15 p.m. at the Presidential Palace in Damascus. They also discussed Cyprus. (National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 21, Classified External Memcons, November 1974, Folder 5)
  3. October 14.
  4. October 12.