137. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Gerald Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Congressional Leadership

The President: I am happy to have you here.

[He introduced new people.]

I thought the leaders would like to have Secretary Kissinger’s observations of his trip to the Middle East. We talked for two hours last night.2 We face the problem of sorting out the difficulties of a most difficult area of the world. I want to thank you, Henry. The country is very lucky to have you. Would you make some observations?

Kissinger: Let me talk in several categories: (1) The trip; (2) The Soviet Union, (3) The Europeans and energy.

What are we trying to do? Many say that Geneva is an alternative to the step-by-step approach and also that we should cooperate with the Soviet Union. We don’t consider either accurate.

Our problem is how to go to Geneva so that it doesn’t lead to confrontation and how to cooperate with the Soviet Union in a way that the Soviet Union does not act as the lawyer for radical Arabs.

We know we must go to Geneva soon, but it makes an enormous difference under what conditions we go. If we go under circumstances where the chief moderate—Sadat—has achieved something, it will be known that moderation pays and that only the U.S. can achieve progress. Then we will have some control. But if we go there with Egypt having failed, with pressure from the Soviet Union and the radicals, and the Europeans would be nervous. So it is not a trivial matter how we get to Geneva. And we have to prove to the Soviet Union that if it wants to get into the game it must be on our rules. So the issue is, will Geneva be the prelude to a confrontation or a negotiation?

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We are talking now about a withdrawal which is not just token—so it is painful for Israel. So they want reciprocal measures that are hard for Egypt to make publicly. It is even difficult for Egypt to make a separate move at all. So we have to get a quid pro quo in a way that doesn’t serve to overthrow Sadat. We are making progress.

Israel’s domestic situation is difficult. Also, compared to Israel, American standards of secrecy are extraordinary.

We have a long way to go, but you can see where with luck and perseverance we might make progress on an agreement. The next problem is Syria. Earlier Syria said she wouldn’t participate in another partial move. She now wants to, but Israeli settlements are placed so close to the line that any withdrawal is impossible without moving them. So how we manage this is the problem. Egypt wanted us to do this negotiation in one trip because she wanted it done quickly. I wanted two because the Israelis said they needed time. Faisal is now supporting Asad but we don’t know how seriously.

The next issue is the Soviet Union. They are like a football team with only one play, which they keep running.

However, they want in but they don’t want to contribute. Israel and Egypt don’t want them in, nor would Syria if they could get three kilometers withdrawal. We don’t want to antagonize them; they could create massive problems—with the radical Arabs and thus with the Europeans and Japanese. Maybe even an embargo.

So we will attempt another stage, then Geneva. I will go back in March and it will be hairy. The Soviets will oppose, but not actively, so long as they think it may succeed. We should keep this quiet because much is riding on this. If we go to Geneva and the Soviet Union puts forward a proposal, we will have to do so. It will be a constant crisis where the Soviet Union, the Europeans, the Japanese beat on us constantly with threats of economic disaster and an embargo.

I think the leaders of Israel understand but they have a massive domestic problem.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Soviet Union and Europe and Cyprus.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 9, February 20, 1975, Ford, Kissinger, Congressional Leadership. Secret; Nodis. The breakfast meeting was held in the First Floor Private Dining Room at the White House. All brackets, with the exception of ones describing omitted material, are in the original. A list of attendees is in the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid., Staff Secretary’s Office Files)
  2. See Document 136.