159. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President 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

Kissinger: To sacrifice peace for half of the passes—you told Allon the passes were now essential. At Vladivostok2 you could have sold Geneva for a good price. If they had said this wouldn’t work earlier, we could have made other arrangements.

President: We told them that all along.

Kissinger: Sadat is willing to say in several different ways there will be no use of force. He agreed to renewal of the UN force.

President: I am afraid if this gets out, Sadat would be in trouble.

Kissinger: All of my party is outraged at the Israelis. They have decided that to trade territory for assurance, is disastrous.

President: I think the letter shows strength and initiative. I’m not afraid of the letter at all.3

Kissinger: I think you should tell the leaders about the letter. Don’t release a text, but explain it. The Israelis think they can use it against you.

[Dr. Kissinger then showed the President the chronology of how many times we had said that non-belligerency was impossible and the passes were essential.]4

President: Your cables indicated that Rabin and Allon are okay.

Kissinger: I am no longer sure. Look at the record—Allon was here in July. Rabin was here in September and you told him progress was es[Page 565]sential. Our fatal mistake was all the equipment we gave them. We did it to strengthen Rabin’s position and as a gesture of support and good will.

Allon came over twice and you told him. All this time Sadat has stuck with us. Faisal said he didn’t agree with separate settlements. They argue they couldn’t get non-belligerency. Sadat said he couldn’t do non-belligerency with 180 kilometers of his territory still in Israeli hands. But he gave all the military components of non-belligerency: Cargoes through the Canal, relaxation on the boycott. They got 90% of what they asked. Israel made no serious effort. They kept haggling over details but they showed no serious purposes.

They never showed us a map so we never knew what they meant by the middle of the passes.

[More discussion.]

On oil, Israel agreed first to leave it an Egyptian enclave surrounded by Israel. Sadat said no because it would force his people to go through Israeli control.

The effect on our policy in the Middle East is devastating. The radicals are vindicated; Sadat is jeopardized. He will either go radical or be left. Either way, Israel will say “we told you so.”

President: What should we do? I haven’t thought it through.

Kissinger: They are sure they can outbest you militarily. But we should say: The F–15 team can’t come. Peres shouldn’t come. Every Department should put Israeli activities at the bottom of the list. [1 line not declassified] I would instruct Schlesinger to slow the LGB and Lance.

President: How about an NSC meeting so I can tell everyone?

Kissinger: I am Jewish. How can I want this? I have never seen such cold-blooded playing with the American national interest. Every Arab was looking to us; we had moved the Soviet Union out of the Middle East; even Iraq was being moved. What they have done is destroy this.

President: What do they think they have gained?

Kissinger: It could be Rabin wanted to do this and couldn’t get it through, but the treatment of this letter makes me wonder. They are leaking it so they want a confrontation. Why? Because they see this as a never-ending process—Syria coming next—so they would rather throw down the gauntlet now. They will play the Jackson game with the Soviet threat. If you don’t give arms, you weaken an ally; if you give them arms, they get total freedom.

They think they can get from Congress what they want and by-pass you.

But I wouldn’t take them on at the meeting. Everything gets right back to them. I could give a rundown without assessing the blame. If [Page 566] we put out facts, we are ahead. At the end, you should say the Middle East is heading towards an explosion and a risk of war and a confrontation, and you have under these circumstances to reassess our policy.

President: And I can mention the letter in this context.

Brent and I talked every day while you were there, and I have no hesitancy to bite the bullet.

Kissinger: This is terribly painful to me. First of all we have to go to Geneva. Second, we have to put forward a global plan, which will inevitably mean close to the ’67 borders. Callaghan offered to make a joint effort on his own. Sadat will renew the UNEF only for three months. Asad will renew not at all or only in such a way that both of them expire at once. Sadat will open the Canal but will say it is too dangerous to transit. He will ask for resumption of Geneva. There we will face an immediate and massive problem. The PLO will be the first issue raised and Israel will try to tie us up for months. The Soviet Union will put forth the ’67 borders. We can put out ideas about special zones, and so on, but there is no need to do that immediately.

President: We must do that?

Kissinger: We are stopped on the step-by-step. I think there is a high chance of a war before 1976. Israel would rather have a war before 1977.

President: Rabin wasn’t as forthcoming?

Kissinger: They weren’t forthcoming at all. They couldn’t have been under any illusion as to what was needed. If they couldn’t give it, they could have said so in October and we could have sold Geneva. If I could have told Sadat in November we couldn’t do it because of Rabat, he wouldn’t have been happy but he wouldn’t have been made a fool.

President: Tomorrow I will open the meeting, turn it to you, then end up with this assessment.5

Kissinger: I am truly sorry we couldn’t spare you this. But the letter will help you with the Arabs. Fahmy broke down when he announced it.

President: How about your press?

Kissinger: They are in shock. 80% of them are Jewish and they are practically in tears. Marvin Kalb said, “Maybe Israel knows something we don’t, but if they don’t, it’s awful.” They have brought the Soviets back in, and could have given the American people a shot in the arm which would have helped them.

[Page 567]

Rabin, when I talked to him alone, said it was a Greek tragedy. I said his proposals were not unreasonable, but they were disastrous.

You have been very kind to the Israelis; what I have done is beyond description. And they do this to us at a moment when we need this. It is a disaster for the United States. We had it won—the Soviet Union was out of the Middle East. They are bringing the world to the edge of war for three kilometers in the Giddi and 8 kilometers in the Mitla. Sadat even would have given them six to eight months to move.

It is a really sad occasion. All of the people in my party are furious.

President: We won’t let the Israelis through their usual apparatus get us into a confrontation with the Soviet Union, the Arabs and the Europeans.

Kissinger: I agree—that is why we need a program near the ’67 frontiers.

President: At the NSC we will put the emphasis on the reassessment and planning.

Kissinger: I would say you have ordered a reassessment and a cooling of relations with Israel—which should be friendly, but correct. Each agency should, as if it were on its own, hold back—[less than 1 line not declassified].

Brent, have I exaggerated?

Scowcroft: You have bent over backward.

President: Did you ever get the feeling they wanted to settle?

Kissinger: I told Brent it didn’t feel right. They just somehow didn’t act like they wanted a deal.

President: The papers are talking about an American failure. I want to insure that the leadership has a correct impression.

Kissinger: I can say we went there in good faith and the two sides just couldn’t bridge the gap. But that is not fair to Sadat. Sadat tried—Eilts said he had given so much that it was dangerous.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Arab-Israeli dispute.]

[Kissinger:] What the Israelis have done to us . . . First on the trade acts, now on the Middle East. They knew exactly what was needed.

We should say all this is happening as a result of Congress. Asad said you have let Cambodia go, Vietnam, Portugal, Turkey—you will let Israel go also.

President: We went through another with the sub, but this turned out okay.

You have had your problems, but we have too.

Kissinger: You have behaved magnificently. The tragedy is that we had a good foreign policy. This is no reflection on you, but Israel doesn’t think they have to be afraid of you.

[Page 568]

President: They will find out.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Arab-Israeli dispute.]

[Kissinger:] The people will look back at the crisis created by eight lousy kilometers in a pass that nobody knows.

President: We made a massive effort I know of, on the invitation of the parties. I spoke to Allon, to Rabin, to Fisher, and to Golda. The sequence and timing was at the request of Israel. At the end, I will lay out the consequences. I should have a copy of the letter.

Kissinger: Step-by-step is dead. We have to consider whether we and the Soviet Union shouldn’t make a global approach.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 281, Presidential File, March 1975. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Oval Office at the White House. All brackets, with the exception of ones describing omitted material, are in the original. The original incorrectly indicates the time of the meeting as from 9:21 to 9:54 a.m., but clearly the discussion took place prior to the meeting with the congressional leadership (see Document 160). According to the President’s Daily Diary, President Ford and Kissinger met at 7:58 a.m. in the Oval Office before proceeding to the Cabinet Room. (Ford Library, Staff Secretary’s Office Files)
  2. See footnote 4, Document 123.
  3. Document 156. The contents of the letter were leaked in Jerusalem. (New York Times, March 24, 1975, p. 14)
  4. The chronology has not been found.
  5. Possibly a reference to the Cabinet meeting held March 26. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 10, March 26, 1975, Cabinet Meeting)