160. Memorandum for the Files1
- President’s Meeting with the Secretary and Congressional Leadership—Monday, March 24, 8:00 a.m.
The President: We are not assessing blame. We want to tell you factually and forthrightly the new sequence of events. Everything that we have done with respect to the Middle East we have done with the consultation of the parties and has been primarily at their request. I had two full meetings with Rabin—another meeting with Allon and Mrs. Meir, as well as a number of Foreign Ministers from the Arab World. Secretary Kissinger went to the Middle East with the full cooperation of the parties. A further agreement did not materialize. We are disappointed and I think we are going to see a situation where tension will develop instead of steady progress towards peace. It is likely that the Geneva Conference will be reconvened with all of its potential dangers. What happened will give the Russians an opportunity to reassert themselves, tend to unify the Arabs, the Europeans are unified, and Geneva is hardly going to be a very happy place to conduct diplomacy. And on top of all of this there is the PLO question.[Page 569]
Secretary Kissinger: First, let me tell you a little bit about the history. (The Secretary then gave a rundown of how the October war led to the step-by-step strategy which was designed both to help and protect Israel and that it was undertaken with their full knowledge and cooperation and that Israel was the principal beneficiary of that policy.) An approach was designed to reduce Soviet influence and protect the Israelis from having to take final decisions on Jerusalem, borders, the West Bank and Gaza and to give them an opportunity to take decisions on a piece-by-piece basis. For these reasons we always in the past have been very leery of the Geneva Conference.
What is it that we have attempted to do on this trip? We tried Jordan out in August and the Israelis turned it down. They turned it down for their own reasons and then we delayed all the way until the end of the year, even though Egypt wanted another agreement most sooner. The President had to refuse at Vladivostok2 a Soviet move to Geneva because basically we were pursuing a strategy to the benefit of Israel; that was the whole theme. (The Secretary then outlined the issues during the negotiations.) Basically we couldn’t bridge the gap between the two sides.
However, the real reason was that the parties were limited in what they could do politically. The Israeli domestic situation is difficult in that regard and Sadat has a confined political position in the Arab world. The dilemma we faced was that the political situations in which each government had room to maneuver were limited. We went into this mission on the basis of a genuine expectation of the possibilities for peace. There were at least 24 occasions—the records indicated—when we told the Israelis that non-belligerency could not be achieved. Israel had made such a public commitment to the achievement of non-belligerency that they could not take the final step short of that. We had brought Syria and Faisal around on this trip but the fact that the parties could not be brought to the final crunch was inexplicable in terms of the immediate issues that were at hand. Hussein advised us very strongly not to suspend the effort and that what was really needed primarily was the process. This process was much more important than the terms of the negotiation because it made the difference between our managing things and not being able to manage them. A few months from now, a few kilometers are going to appear to be miniscule as compared with the kind of pressure Israel is going to face on the substantive issue of an overall settlement. (The Secretary then described what we face vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and a united Europe.)
The immediate problems are the renewal of UNEF and UNDOF and the increased dangers of war. We are not assessing blame and what [Page 570] is required is a reassessment of the whole situation in the aftermath of the trip. This policy had the singular support of the Congress; it was bipartisan and it is very important that this continues.
Speaker Albert: Could you be more specific as to what you mean that an overall assessment has to be undertaken?
Secretary Kissinger: Nothing can be ruled out; it would be a broad across-the-board reassessment.
Senator Mansfield: We have no choice but to reassess our policy. (The Senator was highly critical of what he termed the extreme rigidity of the Israeli stance.) It is beginning to look as if they have a death wish.
Speaker Albert: I can speak for the Democratic leadership in Congress. The Secretary of State has outdone himself in this and has their support.
Congressman Mahon: Why can’t we reconsider this whole situation in two weeks and go back to the area if the gap is not that large?
Secretary Kissinger: If both sides want us to do this, obviously we would. We are open-minded about it. The Knesset supports Rabin’s position; the ministers are meeting today and tomorrow will announce a willingness to move to Geneva. It was probably irretrievable but if both sides want us to do it, we will do it.
Senator Sparkman: Do you see any signs that the Israelis were reluctant to do anything because Israel feels that it has the absolute support of the U.S. no matter what?
Secretary Kissinger: There were a lot of reasons for the positions taken by the Israelis—one was their internal situation. Secondly, it might be related to our domestic situation as well, figuring that they could see it through the next Presidential election.
(The President then described his meeting with the Jewish leaders,3 how this was done with their full knowledge and cooperation.)
The Vice President: I wonder whether the Israeli position was strictly to buy time and that maybe they were not very serious about getting this thing done. In other words, was this merely a deliberate policy of buying time? (Both the President and the Secretary said the Israelis went into the negotiations in good faith.)
Senator Scott: This is a policy that has had bipartisan support and it is important to continue to have it. We should make statements on it to this effect.
Senator Stennis: The trouble is that the Israelis just assume we will be supporting them no matter what. If the leadership could get the [Page 571] message across that this was not the case, if we made it very clear as to where we stood—it’s not only the President and Henry—that we are with the Administration no matter what.
Senator Mansfield: We need united support. Perhaps the Israeli Ambassador should be called in immediately to reflect what we feel is the sense of this entire matter. We here are united. (The Senator’s implication was to let the Israelis know that they had not really done everything they needed to do.)
Congressman Rhodes: We have to be careful not to overreact. We don’t want to worsen the situation.
(The meeting concluded with the President ordering a reassessment of our overall Mid-East policy. He said that he has no objection to announcing the reassessment publicly provided that the onus is not directed at any one state.)
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 281, Presidential File, March 1975. Secret; Nodis. Brackets are in the original. According to the President’s Daily Diary, which includes a list of attendees, the meeting took place in the Cabinet Room and began at 8:03 and ended at 9:20 a.m. (Ford Library, Staff Secretary’s Office Files)↩
- See footnote 4, Document 123.↩
- Possibly a reference to the February 25 meeting; see Document 138.↩