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

Secretary Kissinger asked that the following message be passed to you regarding his meeting with President Asad:

“In a spirited three-hour session with President Asad,2 in which I reported generally on my conversations in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, I made clear that we are ready to continue to assist the Arabs and the Israelis to agree on the next step in the negotiating process, and that I will be returning to the area in early November for this purpose. At the same time, however, I made clear that the U.S. would not inject itself into the consultations that will soon take place between Arabs at the summit, and that the choice between support of the PLO and a resultant impasse or opting for a realistic piecemeal step-by-step process is one for the Arabs to make.

“President Asad knows we feel that simultaneous negotiations on all fronts is unfeasible; that pressing for an early Geneva Conference in which all aspects of the overall settlement will be aired will result in lofty rhetoric but no practical results; and that it is up to the Arabs, either individually or collectively, to decide how and whether they will proceed to the next state. I had adopted this strategy in my talk with him because I had concluded that to put ourselves in the position of appearing to press for separate negotiations on the Egyptian and Jordanian fronts to the exclusion of Syria would only strengthen President Asad’s resolve to resist the step-by-step approach at the summit and make both President Sadat’s and King Hussein’s job at the meeting more difficult. It would also run the risk of all Arabs combining against us.

“The situation is this: If President Sadat at the summit remains firmly committed in face of opposition to the Egyptian/Israeli negotiation, we will be able to achieve the breakthrough we seek in early November—a serious start in the negotiating process with a fair chance of a reasonable outcome. For King Hussein too, the summit will be a watershed. If the summit, in effect, tells King Hussein to go ahead with ne[Page 440]gotiations—it will be possible to pursue the Jordanian track as well. If the summit supports the PLO, he will keep his negotiating posture in deep freeze and continue to cooperate informally with the Israelis to maintain quiet on the West Bank.

“President Asad’s strategy at the summit is clear. He will press for a decision calling for an early convening of the Geneva Conference in which all aspects of the overall settlement—Egypt, Jordan and Syria—will be discussed and in which the PLO would be participants. It is this proposal that President Sadat, King Hussein and King Faisal will have to deflect or finesse—a difficult talk in view of the fact that Syria will make an all out effort and will get the firm support of Algeria, Iraq, and Libya. Weak states, like Lebanon, may very well go along out of fear of repercussions from the Palestinians, as well as Kuwait, which has a large size Palestinian minority. Sudan and the small sheikdoms will follow the Saudi lead. The best result we can hope for from the summit is that there will be no consensus, and that this will free Egypt and Jordan to pursue the course they believe most desirable.

“President Asad today was personable, reasonably relaxed, a spirited promulgator of the PLO view and listening intently for any hint that one of his Arab brothers was bent on a separate negotiation which would leave him out. I believe I took him aback when I said that we are ready to help, but we will remain inactive unless the Arabs want us to help. I had the distinct impression that this veiled hint that we would opt out has given him reason to pause.

“I gave as my judgment that it is very desirable, and it ought to be possible, for there to be a move in early November opening negotiations. I assured him there would be no move on our part between now and then. He took our negative vote on the PLO issue,3 I thought, with understanding, though he clearly forewarned that the PLO reaction would be strong. What came out clearly also was his view that oil and the Middle Eastern settlement were inextricably linked.

“I am sure that he will ponder for some time as the summit approaches, one of my concluding statements: ‛If we can’t be helpful, then we are prepared to let events take their course. There is no historic law that says that the United States can solve every problem in the world.’ The last thing that President Asad wants is for the United States to move from its role of activist to benign bystander.”

  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 14, 1974. Secret; Sensitive. Ford initialed the memorandum.
  2. The memorandum of conversation of the meeting between Asad and Kissinger, which took place on October 14 from 2 until 4:45 p.m. at the Presidential Palace in Damascus, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 21, Classified External Memcons, November 1974, Folder 5.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 104.