171. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Middle East
- The Secretary of State
- Under Secretary Sisco
- Ambassador Keating
- Ambassador Eilts
- Ambassador Pickering
- Ambassador Murphy
- Mr. Atherton
- Mr. Saunders
- Mr. Oakley
- Mr. Bremer (Notetaker)
Secretary Kissinger: (to Keating) Your clients’ version of the talks are getting more fantastic every day.
Ambassador Keating: I’m aware of that. I just hope you haven’t seen everything. It’s pretty bad.
Secretary Kissinger: I didn’t see the Peres briefing.
Ambassador Keating: In addition, you know McGovern was going to a dinner party there by the Israelis and when he gave his press interview and talked about a separate Palestinian state, the Israeli cabinet people all cancelled the dinner.
Secretary Kissinger: Peres has now said the ’67 frontiers are not defensible. Therefore, they want to make the interim agreement for less than non-belligerency and won’t accept the ’67 frontiers. (Kissinger reads cable)2 How do the Israelis say they got nothing in return?
Ambassador Keating: We don’t agree but they will stick to it.
Secretary Kissinger: Do they really think that if passengers could fly from Cairo to Tel Aviv this would mean something?
Ambassador Keating: Yes.[Page 622]
Secretary Kissinger: How can he say it was linked to Syria when we had broken the link?
Mr. Sisco: They are simply telling outright lies. To say that we’ve gotten just one year renewal on UNEF is a lie. That’s what was in the Gwertzman article.3 Gwertzman told me he got this from Dinitz. I said in the first place, they didn’t give us a map until the talks were all over, and Roy followed up with Bernie who said that’s what Dinitz told me.
Yesterday Bernie called me to say that the Israelis have made three proposals. One, a peace agreement; two, consider the next step in a broader context; and three, resume the next stage interim agreements.
Secretary Kissinger: Well, that’s technically true.
Mr. Sisco: Of course, but the key point is that there is no substantive change in their position. I think that is now reflected in Bernie’s article this morning.
Secretary Kissinger: (reading cable) This is a bunch of lies. Everything he says they asked for—they got. Shouldn’t we see these congressmen when they get back?
Mr. Sisco: I think we should see O’Neill. He’ll raise some specific questions.
Secretary Kissinger: Say that we’ve seen the account. I shouldn’t do it. Ken, you and Joe can do it.
Mr. Sisco: We need to consider how long to keep the Ambassadors here. Maybe Roy and I can do it.
Secretary Kissinger: The thing that worries me now is that the Israelis have their second wind. They will so confuse the issues around here that no one knows what happened, and in three weeks the Egyptians will be the villains.
Mr. Sisco: We’re just not in a position to confront them now.
Secretary Kissinger: Why not?
Mr. Sisco: We need to look ahead to our reassessment. It is not worth doing if we do it fast. We have to try to correct these things in the briefings but I’m convinced that the statements they’re making are not even remotely linked to the truth.
Secretary Kissinger: I’m seeing Dinitz this afternoon, and mostly for tactical reasons since they’re saying I refuse to see them. It really is an unbelievable situation when the Secretary of State sees all these past important people—this establishment group4—and is then accused of [Page 623] seeing an anti-Semitic group. I’ve been meeting regularly with them for years. When I see the Jewish Presidents group once a month5—and I’ve seen more Jews in the last week than anything else—it really is unbelievable.
I would just as soon have Goldberg go public. I’d rather have no further discussions with him. After your briefing he’s even more outraged, since the differences are so small that he figures that only incompetence or malice could account for our failure. He also offered to mediate.
Mr. Sisco: I know.
Secretary Kissinger: I’m just telling you what his conclusion was.
Mr. Sisco: I wouldn’t be too excited about that.
Mr. Oakley: You told them in the talks that the propaganda battle would last two or three months and then would focus on the issues.
Secretary Kissinger: Well, I will have ten minutes alone with Dinitz, then Joe, you can come in for the rest of the meeting. This is not the normal Israeli-U.S. confrontation. The President, the Vice President and I are totally united. Fisher demanded to see the President alone and I want to put them on notice. (Kissinger reads ticker) Does this come from Fisher?
Mr. Sisco: No, I think he’s well meaning. There really is no free press in Israel. They’re just following the party line under instructions.
Secretary Kissinger: Do you agree, Ken?
Ambassador Keating: It’s hard to believe that Fisher said it. The press is generally united, but they feel a need for fine relations with the United States.
Secretary Kissinger: That’s how the negotiations started.
The deception of the Israelis started in October when, if they had said under no circumstances would they give up non-belligerency, we could have told Sadat in November and avoided the entire sequence of events. The basic fact is they permitted us to continue on a road we had said would fail and to follow a procedure which humiliated us with the Egyptians.
Ambassador Keating: Allon and Rabin in private talks probably led you to believe they were more flexible.
Secretary Kissinger: I showed the nonuse-of-force formulation to Rabin alone in February.6 He said, “Don’t show it to the Cabinet or I’ll [Page 624] have a two-week fight.” We had never heard of the line through the middle of the passes until the end. They misled us no matter what they say.
The first time in Aswan7 I got Sadat to drop conditions on the nonuse-of-force. I brought it to Israel. They never reacted.
Mr. Sisco: They are rewriting the history of the talks.
Ambassador Keating: They’ve got a lot of big guns coming over here to tell their story.
Mr. Oakley: I have the general impression that people are not that sympathetic to Israel’s cause.
Secretary Kissinger: I will tell Dinitz the way I see it developing. I warned them solemnly that we are determined to see it through and even if they win it will do so much damage to the Jewish community here that it may never recover. There can be no wedge or disagreement between me and the President.
Mr. Sisco: Well, you have to bear in mind the next campaign. You should remember that they will try to drive a wedge between you and the President.
Secretary Kissinger: Well it can’t be done. With Nixon it was possible.
Ambassador Keating: I saw Percy and Pell at dinner last night. They’re pretty solid. I think they see the error in the Israeli point of view.
Mr. Sisco: Unfortunately, they carry no weight.
Secretary Kissinger: Why have a tremendous bloodletting just to get an interim agreement? A lot of the assurances we were previously willing to give them, we simply can’t give them.
Mr. Sisco: We can’t say anything and Sadat can’t either. Therefore, these press stories are just the opposite of what we need.
Secretary Kissinger: Can we now say that nothing happens until 1978? I don’t think we can. Faisal is dead now and Fahd may not stand still for it.
Mr. Sisco: What do you think, Hermann?
Ambassador Eilts: It will depend in part on the internal situation in Saudi Arabia. Fahd is not as preoccupied as Faisal. If Fahd is assured of support, for his own internal ambitions, he’ll be more reasonable. But something has to happen.
Secretary Kissinger: That’s my point. The Israeli strategy now is to wait until 1977. They have enough equipment to survive.[Page 625]
Ambassador Keating: I think the vote on the ’76 provisions may be surprising.
Mr. Sisco: Nothing is yet proposed.
Ambassador Keating: I think the Israelis are concerned.
Mr. Sisco: I’m worried about what the traditional supporters of Israel will do. People like Humphrey.
Secretary Kissinger: If the President puts up $750 million will they go to $1½ billion?
Ambassador Keating: An effort should be made to talk to the congressional leaders about these amounts.
Mr. Sisco: We have the Mathias proposal which is to get a negotiated amount.
Secretary Kissinger: Did you brief Inouye?
Mr. Sisco: Yes, Inouye, Ribicoff, and Mathias.
Secretary Kissinger: What about Brooke?
Mr. Sisco: No.
Secretary Kissinger: Let’s go back and look at the options again. An interim agreement—there are only three ways to get it. First, the Israelis give us some new proposals. Second, Egypt puts forward a new proposal. Or third, we put forward ours.
On the Israeli proposal, there’s just no sign whatsoever.
Ambassador Keating: Right.
Secretary Kissinger: In fact, I do not think that there is any political basis in Israel for it. So that there can’t be an Israeli proposal under the present Israeli circumstances. Does anyone disagree?
Now, an Egyptian proposal. I think they would be willing to modify it if they get the passes and an unbroken line.
Ambassador Eilts: Right.
Secretary Kissinger: However, they won’t volunteer modifications in their position in the absence of knowing what they will get. Therefore, if the Israelis wanted something in return for one half of the passes, we could get, in my judgment, only a little more from the Egyptians. I don’t think we can even get what’s in your paper.8
Now a U.S. proposal. For the first time in our relations with Israel, this would be done without prior approval by the Israelis. You know, I ask myself, what nation of 2½ million has a right to say to us that we cannot put forward a proposal without their approval.
Basically, the more you analyze the Israeli proposal, the more preposterous it is. Assume the line goes through the middle of the passes [Page 626] and there is a line of limited armaments of 18 kilometers either side. This puts the Israeli line 18 kilometers back of the passes. Therefore, there is no defense line in the middle of the passes. Since it’s a zone of limited armaments how can the 8 kilometers matter? It is a pure political gimmick.
Our proposal line would have to be here. (pointing at map)9
Mr. Sisco: According to the CIA, that road next to the Red Sea is not usable.
Ambassador Eilts: Well, why don’t we build them a shore road with our AID program?
Secretary Kissinger: Where is that UNEF checkpoint and what does it do? Check that no military aid goes in?
Mr. Sisco: Yes. If you ask that the line go to the east here and limit the Egyptian zone to this place (pointing at map) . . .
Secretary Kissinger: Impossible.
Mr. Sisco: Not if they move east of the passes.
Ambassador Eilts: I thought we had agreed that there would be some Egyptian civil administration in that zone.
Secretary Kissinger: The worst possible position is to put up a proposal which neither side will accept. Sadat has said he will not do it if he has to cross Israeli territory.
Mr. Sisco: I had in my mind a road as the UN zone; then he doesn’t have to go through Israeli territory.
Secretary Kissinger: The question is when you have Egyptian administration in UN territory.
Mr. Sisco: My point is if we were able to get a little bit more east of the passes, the Egyptian administration in the enclave and the UN zone, Sadat might be able to buy it.
Ambassador Eilts: I don’t think Sadat will buy it.
Secretary Kissinger: I don’t either. He can’t justify it to the Arabs. It will be difficult to Gamasi. They’ll be far from the passes; the Israelis will be at the passes. He might be able to sell this as a demilitarized Egyptian zone with UN supervision but we can’t sell three zones. He has to show that Egypt gained something.
The Israeli tragedy is that they won’t rest until Sadat is as bad as Asad. He will become their image of Asad. What would he have gotten from all of this? The oil fields plus the east of the passes.
Mr. Sisco: We discussed it yesterday. I don’t think our proposal can ask for them to go east of the passes, as that is a fundamentally new [Page 627] proposal. A thin UN zone goes beyond what they have already talked about.
Ambassador Eilts: I share your view, Mr. Secretary. A demilitarized zone with a UNEF control and with a symbol of Egyptian civilian administration, he could buy.
Mr. Sisco: I think he could buy a UN zone as long as it was neither Israeli nor Egyptian.
Ambassador Eilts: I don’t think he would. A demilitarized zone with nominal Egyptian civilian administration and with UNEF control, he could buy.
Secretary Kissinger: Something similar to the Syrian UNDOF zone, he could buy.
If the Israelis thought about it like statesmen, what would they lose by giving him 10 kilometers of sand?
Mr. Oakley: There are tank traps here (pointing at map).
Secretary Kissinger: But if it’s in the UN zone or in the Egyptian zone, the tank traps would have to go.
Mr. Oakley: Well, they could stay if it was the UN zone.
Secretary Kissinger: It’s hard for me to see that Egypt would permit the Israeli tank traps to stay on their own territory even if it was a UN zone.
Ambassador Eilts: I agree, I don’t think they could permit it.
Secretary Kissinger: Sadat would have to publish a map which the Arabs see. He’s gaining next to nothing but Israeli withdrawal. From my talks with Gamasi, I doubt this agreement will help us much with Sadat. He might take it on the theory that he can get the Israelis in the next round.
Israel’s biggest opportunity was to turn Sadat away from the United Arab front and towards peace.
Ambassador Eilts: I think they’ve already turned them towards the United Arab front.
Mr. Sisco: I don’t agree. You know, I think we’re in the eighth inning here.
Secretary Kissinger: On the other agreements you’ve put forward I have the most serious questions.
Mr. Sisco: It is a very discouraging exercise since none of our options are good.
Secretary Kissinger: I don’t think they will permit tourists to go through the Sinai.
Ambassador Eilts: No, I agree.
Secretary Kissinger: (reading paper) Will they permit direct charter flights?[Page 628]
Ambassador Eilts: No.
Mr. Oakley: I’m not so sure. There are cruise ships that go from Beirut to Israel.
Ambassador Keating: This would be very helpful from an Israeli point of view.
Secretary Kissinger: I think there’s a big difference. In this case, the Israelis would trumpet it all over the papers. They’ll play it as a great victory. And they’ll put Israelis on the cruise ships or make the passengers 80 percent Jewish.
Why put forward a U.S. proposal which will be rejected by the Israelis, and have Sadat throw up his hands saying, “The worst mistake of my life was to deal with the Americans.”?
Point five, I think we can get.
Point six is ok, and the rest possible.
I don’t think Sadat can sign such a letter here, though. Also, it would not be acceptable to the Israelis.
Ambassador Keating: I seriously doubt it.
Secretary Kissinger: The Israelis will say that Egypt will find that Israel has violated the understandings with Syria.
Ambassador Eilts: I think Egypt will agree to the principle of consultations.
Secretary Kissinger: That won’t be good enough for the Israelis. To sum up, the Israelis will not change their position. Is that correct?
Ambassador Keating: I don’t think you can totally discount the possibility of some modifications.
Secretary Kissinger: But not enough to get out of the passes or to permit uninterrupted access to the oil fields.
Ambassador Keating: They will consider these great concessions and that they will require Egyptian concessions in return.
Secretary Kissinger: On the eight points, the only place Joe and I disagree is on the cruise ships. If it were possible to get that, is that going to change the Israelis’ position?
Ambassador Keating: Probably not.
Secretary Kissinger: Exactly, especially since there are a lot of things Egypt can do but not say. If Sadat is moving to peace, he can do things de facto. But not if they trumpet them before the Knesset as a great victory. Therefore, comparing this with the cruise ships’ visits to Lebanon is essentially irrelevant.
The basic point is, do we make a U.S. proposal, since in Ken’s judgment no Israeli proposal is coming which frees the passes and gives them access to oil.[Page 629]
Ambassador Keating: Unless a change of attitude has occurred that has not been communicated to us.
Mr. Sisco: I am not in favor of that course of action. I think if we put a proposal together we could call it a working paper and ask for the Israelis’ views on it.
Secretary Kissinger: You’re beginning to slide back to the Rogers approach for dealing with the Israelis. I want to treat Israel like a friendly country, but they blew up 18 months of U.S. diplomacy and this cannot be free.
Mr. Sisco: It is too dangerous for us to put forward a U.S. proposal without knowing where we stand. That’s the reason I don’t favor it.
Secretary Kissinger: That means if we go this route, Hermann has to talk to the Egyptians and we have to talk to the Israelis. It gets very tricky. I distrust the Israelis. We could put forward a proposal to the Israelis, and then they could make us take it to the Egyptians, who will turn it down.
Look at the last 24 hours. They had flatly rejected the Egyptian proposal. They asked for another 24 hours and what did they do with it? Nothing, except ask me to send a message to Sadat asking if he’d move. He would have been nuts to have done anything at that point. Therefore, I am really worried about tactics. My instinct is that it is better to start with Egypt and not with Israel.
Mr. Oakley: Egyptians have been more honorable by and large.
Mr. Sisco: Yes, that’s true. The danger is if you go to Egypt the Israelis will say that we’re colluding with Egypt.
Secretary Kissinger: We’d say we were trying to get Egypt to put forward further ideas and if they bought it we’d have some new concessions.
But, assuming Sadat and Israel agree, we’ll have the problem of Syria, we’ll have to agree not to use Geneva, the oil supply problem, total unity facing us in Geneva, and total support for the Arabs in the international organizations. Is it really worth it?
I’ve looked at the transitional agreement and see nothing in it.
Mr. Sisco: We all agree. When we looked at the transitional agreement we injected some ideas from there into the interim one and we tried to find an augmented nonuse-of-force formula.
Secretary Kissinger: I thought the old one was better. No, seriously, the less said the better. If you add to it it gives more escape clauses.
The Israeli negotiating tactic is really unbelievable. Golda, who was a pluperfect pain, would never have thrown away a nonuse-of-force agreement.[Page 630]
Did Rabin want an agreement?
Ambassador Keating: Yes, I think he did.
Mr. Atherton: There was that enormous public opinion swing between your two trips.
Mr. Oakley: I think also he was tricked by Begin into a public position when he went on ABC trying to sell giving up the passes and the oil fields.
Secretary Kissinger: I treated him much too honorably saying that we would use only the negotiating team and not the cabinet. On the interim agreement, I don’t think we can get any support for this strategy. It will look like Kissinger trying to save his ass by getting some kind of an agreement and after we get it we are still nowhere. If it had happened, with the Arabs thinking America did it all again, that would have been fine. But that’s now gone.
If we put forth the right proposals, it’s not even certain the Arabs will buy it. But something involving the ’67 borders, demilitarized zone, and the end of the economic boycott—and doing all of this over a five-year period.
Now we’re starting to get letters from all of our critics like Brzezinski and Hoffman and those guys. I think we could get to the academics and establish some support now. And if it stalemates, you can still do these other agreements.
Mr. Sisco: The obverse is that there is a greater risk of war because there is a feasible way to constitute practical progress in the next 18 months. We will also confront the Israelis. We will be shot at by both sides and will have many other questions to face.
Secretary Kissinger: If we don’t have a position on which to stand, if we can’t get an interim agreement it will blow next spring anyway with nothing for us to stand on.
Ambassador Keating: It has the merit of nobody being able to say that we haven’t gone all out.
Secretary Kissinger: If we keep on our present line, in three weeks the debate in the U.S. will be whether we support Israel. Then, whatever we do on the F–16 and the Lance will be confused with a misrepresentation of the agreement. It will suddenly be that the Egyptians asked for Tel Aviv in the agreement and the Israelis agreed as long as they were allowed a monitoring station in Haifa.
When the UNEF expires at the end of July, what do you think Sadat will do?
Ambassador Eilts: He’ll ask for another three months.
Secretary Kissinger: Ok, so you get three more months but at some point won’t he drop it?[Page 631]
Ambassador Eilts: Yes, if nothing happens.
Secretary Kissinger: Well, we have Geneva, we can probably play that for three months. But what do we say there without a program of our own? The parties will put forward incompatible positions, the Soviets will put forward pro-Arab positions. It will be very similar to where we were in 1971, in a much more volatile atmosphere.
Ambassador Keating: Jacobi is supposed to have said that we’ll go to the ’67 borders for non-belligerency.
Secretary Kissinger: He’s a student of mine and with all due respect a horse’s ass.
My strategy was to go from this to Syria. The most disquieting thing we told the Israelis was that Asad was going to have private talks with them.
Joe, you and I thought that we could finally see the beginning of a settlement in that last meeting with Asad.
Now, what is the method to get a new interim agreement. We can ask the Israelis conceptually whether they can move out of the passes and the oil fields, then we can go to the Egyptians with something like this proposal, and then go with it as a U.S. proposal to the Israelis. Assuming they accept it. Think of the price we will pay, it will be total U.S. immobility in the Middle East. Is it worth it?
Supposing the President, in mid-May, makes a speech. He says: Our reassessment is complete and we back Israel completely. Now, let’s stop the argument about what does Israel really need now. We will analyze the situation. On the other hand, the U.S. has interest in the Arab world, Europe, the Soviet Union, etc. The survival of Israel must be linked to peace. Therefore, before we go to Geneva, we will sketch out something like this. We know it is difficult and may lead to a stalemate but we’re willing to support interim steps towards it.
It will give sensible Israelis something to hold on to. We will get some heat, but these people will be at us like flies until we give them complete assurances. Do you know that two Jews went to McNamara, an arch liberal, a Kennedy appointee who attended the meeting with me, and said, “We will penalize you for attending the meeting.” I tell you we will be cut to pieces if we don’t have a platform on which to stand.
Now can we negotiate it? Absolutely not. It is unobtainable until after the U.S. election. But, will it produce war? This I question. We could say that having presented our program, we could warn both parties. Now if we get an interim step, what next?
Mr. Sisco: The Israelis have said they are willing to negotiate with Asad.[Page 632]
Secretary Kissinger: If we say to Asad, we’ll support the ’67 lines but you must keep the Syrians back behind the UN, there are two chances out of three that he’d accept. But there is one chance in 10 million that the Israelis would accept.
Asad would accept provided the Israelis accept the principle of the ’67 borders. It is barely possible the Egyptians will cede territory to the Israelis, but it is inconceivable that the Syrians will.
Ambassador Eilts: I think we should go for the larger agreement.
Secretary Kissinger: My tendency is to tell the Israelis we’ll support a limited agreement but focus on the overall plan.
The Ambassadors here must meet with the President before they go back. Ken, you have the hardest job. We’ll give you more business to do and cut back on Dinitz here.
Ambassador Keating: I’ll take care of it.
Secretary Kissinger: They are dealing with a very friendly government, but no longer with a brother. They must pay a price.
Ambassador Murphy: I think we should go for the larger one. I’d like to hear more about the war prospects, though.
Secretary Kissinger: The argument is that the Arabs may think they can jump Israel, but we could also argue that the U.S. having put forward its proposal, would make it unmistakably clear that we wouldn’t tolerate a war.
When there was magic in the step-by-step approach, it was great. When I left, I suffered and the U.S. suffered a great loss of prestige.
Ambassador Eilts: Well, speaking for Egypt, it may be that the United States government has lost some confidence or prestige, but certainly not you.
Secretary Kissinger: Well, I don’t care. The magic is gone. Asad was pleading with me to come back, but I am, if anything now, a negative factor in Israel. The mood has changed. The Israelis on the whole are trying to stonewall to January 1977. There is no basis for support in this country for any interim agreement. It will be a hell of a battle with Israel or the Jews here or we will pay an enormous price.
If Dinitz says we’ll give up the passes, we’ll take it. He wants to give the impression of normalcy without any price, though, I think.
The overall program may lead to a series of interim agreements. The overall idea will get into an immediate stall but it gives us a chance to hold off the Europeans and the Soviets.
Mr. Saunders: How do you cope with the Israeli argument that you preempt Israel by stating what the U.S. would support?
Secretary Kissinger: Well, that would be true if we weren’t supporting Israel with $2.5 billion which itself may prejudice the Arab positions.[Page 633]
Mr. Atherton: The Arabs may hold their fire to see the Israeli reaction.
Secretary Kissinger: What is our alternative? We will be beaten back to total support for Israel. When I told the President about sum plus the inflation factor, he said it’s too high. You know Congress will put up $1.2 billion. He can’t veto it. If we put $1.2 billion into Israel with no interim or overall program, the Arabs will pressure us through the Europeans and will turn to the Soviets.
Mr. Atherton: Would we put $1.2 billion into Israel if it rejected an overall proposal?
Secretary Kissinger: Probably not. We’d have to say, there’s an overall idea and we’ll support anything in between.
Mr. Sisco: I’m going to equivocate. I think we should keep our options open over the next few days. Let us put together some ideas.
Secretary Kissinger: I don’t want an overall paper going to the Defense Department. For the next meeting, we need to know how to do the interim one. The basic paper is ok. What we don’t know is the diplomacy for the overall solution. If I take it, all of the Ambassadors here favor the overall plan. Even you (to Keating).
Ambassador Keating: Especially me.
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 346, State Department Memorandum of Conversations, Internal, April–May 1975. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Bremer.The meeting took place in the Secretary’s office at the Department of State.↩
- Telegram 2051 from Tel Aviv, April 7, reported on Israeli Defense Minister Peres’s meeting with a congressional delegation led by Representative O’Neill. Peres expressed Israel’s concerns about security and provided Israel’s version of the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)↩
- Bernard Gwertzman’s article, “Failure of Kissinger’s Mideast Mission Traced to Major Miscalculations,” revealed several supposed details that led to the collapse of Egyptian-Israeli negotiations. (New York Times, April 7, 1975, p. 12)↩
- See Document 169.↩
- The Presidents Group was a group of American Jews who met with President Ford and Secretary Kissinger on issues relating to Israel. See, for example, Documents 36 and 261.↩
- Kissinger met with Rabin and the Israeli negotiating team on February 11 and February 13. See Documents 131 and 134. No memorandum of conversation has been found for a private meeting between Rabin and Kissinger.↩
- See Document 132.↩
- Not further identified. Presumably it was a first draft of the response to NSSM 220 (Document 163).↩
- Map is not attached.↩