165. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Mr. Max Fisher
  • 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

President: I don’t think I have ever been so disappointed as when I heard Henry was coming back without a settlement. It was as low as I have been in this office. The impression I had, after my meetings with Allon twice, with Rabin, with Golda, etc., was that we had been working so closely that when the chips were down they would see how deeply this would affect the prestige of the United States. When the final decision was made, their inflexibility has created all sorts of [Page 578] problems. When Henry reported to the leadership, they without exception strongly supported our efforts and were quite critical of Israeli actions.2

The result is that we have undertaken a reassessment. That doesn’t mean we will drop Israel but we have to go on a broader basis. You know me well enough personally and officially—we just can’t get led down the primrose path and be rejected.

Kissinger: Max doesn’t know that the timing resulted from Israeli insistence.

Fisher: I don’t feel any better than you. I had lunch with Dinitz today. I have the transcript of what he said in New York. My first responsibility to you is to keep things cool. That is what I tried to do. I called the president of every community in the U.S. I didn’t want sermons coming out on Passover week and the 30th anniversary of the Holocaust.

To make a decision which in their own mind they had to know created a gulf with the U.S.—something must have happened. I just don’t know. I think we all have a desire for peace. I agree with your strategy, and I see what could happen at Geneva.

This coming on top of everything else—with a Congress wanting to act like a State Department. But the only one who can settle this is the United States. The Soviet Union can’t do it.

Kissinger: That was our policy. But Eban and Peres and a third of the Jews go around saying let’s go back to Geneva. You can’t undermine us and keep telling us to do it.

Fisher: The Jewish Community is saddened and disturbed by this, but they haven’t lost the reservoir of good will. I read Safire today.3 You have done a tremendous job for the U.S.—don’t let a small group get to you. Look at the rank and file of the people. If anything can be salvaged, you can do it.

Kissinger: But the Israelis have to help us if anything can be salvaged. When Eban and Peres say we should go to Geneva, it cuts any other way.

Fisher: I told Dinitz that, tough as it looks, we can’t let it go down the drain—and it will. I think there must be some sober realizations in both Israel and Egypt. Geneva will just be a shouting match. I think both sides want peace. How it got off the rail, I don’t know. But before we get too far off, I want to suggest . . . The reassessment raises too [Page 579] many fears. This weakens the hand of what you are doing in diplomacy. I feel that people are having second thoughts, but I can’t prove it. I think they may be facing up to it. The blame is never totally on one side. I want to keep things calm and with maximum good will. I owe that to you.

President: Henry and I have spent more time on this than on any other foreign policy issue. We put my credibility on the line and it was a hell of a disappointment. I detect an undercurrent that some in the community are spreading the word I am turning my back on Israel and they made unkind remarks about Henry. We haven’t taken one step about Israel. But when people start to attack, the impulse is to lay out the record. We haven’t done it because we want a solution, but when we have been led down the primrose path . . .

Fisher: Let me tell you about the things I hear. In my room Sunday4 I will have ten stalwart people there to tell them what I believe. I will put it on the table. I think Henry is right. You have a tremendous amount of good will. I want to find out what went wrong. I want to get an excuse for going over there to find out. Meanwhile, I will do what I can to hold things calm. Israel has no chance without the U.S. Somehow we have to find a solution. I don’t want to go over there on a delegation, as Javits wanted. I don’t want to do that.

Kissinger: I didn’t encourage him. I don’t know what could be done.

President: We see no alternative now to Geneva. We don’t like it but I see no choice. We have warned about Geneva for eight months—now the Jews are starting to worry about it.

Fisher: We have to be positive and do what we can.

President: You are a good friend, and I have to tell you on a personal basis that nothing has hit me so hard since I’ve been in this office. I see no choice but Geneva. Maybe something will turn up, but unless people will sign on the dotted line, I see no alternative.

Fisher: But if you go to Geneva, Israel has to fight on the basis of the ’67 frontier.

Kissinger: That’s what we have been saying.

Fisher: We have got to try to find a solution. It can’t be settled by the Soviet Union; the Europeans. I want to be of service on this.

President: Keep in touch with Henry and Brent. We will keep cool and calm but we must set a steady course. Unless we get a firm commitment, we can make no promises.

Fisher: How do you account for it?

[Page 580]

Kissinger: Frankly, they looked at what happened with Iran and Iraq, and they didn’t want to be dependent on Iranian oil; they looked at Southeast Asia; they looked at our domestic weakness. Peres wanted to stick it to Rabin and pick up the pieces. No one had tried to prepare the people. They were paralyzed from the second day. Rabin couldn’t carry his Cabinet, I think. He doesn’t have the strength of Golda.

President: And whoever is giving them advice on American domestic policy gave them bad advice. If this ends up in a confrontation with the Soviet Union and an oil embargo, there will be a turnaround in this country. I supported Israel because I think it is right. Some of my best friends are Jews because I admire strength and brains. I feel awful to be put in this kind of position.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 10, March 27, 1975, Ford, Kissinger, and Max Fisher. Confidential. The meeting was held in the Oval Office at the White House. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting ended at 3:50 p.m. (Ford Library, Staff Secretary’s Office Files)
  2. See Document 160.
  3. William Safire, an editorialist for the New York Times, wrote an essay entitled, “Henry’s Two Faces,” in which he criticized Kissinger for privately pressuring Israel while publicly denying it. (New York Times, March 27, 1975, p. 25)
  4. March 30.