173. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Kenneth B. Keating, U.S. Ambassador to Israel
  • Hermann F. Eilts, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt
  • Thomas R. Pickering, U.S. Ambassador to Jordan
  • Richard W. Murphy, U.S. Ambassador to Syria
  • 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
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs

Kissinger: Mr. President, I thought I should outline what we have been talking about and then let each of my colleagues say what his dominant impression is. Then any instructions you may have.

We have looked at various choices: One is to resurrect the interim agreement.

Sadat said the setback was a humiliation for the United States. He said they couldn’t understand how the United States, which supplies 98% of Israel’s equipment, couldn’t produce an agreement which was so close to being achieved. The consensus of these four is that if nothing happens, events will get out of control within six months. If there is any disagreement, please speak up.

President: I believe it. I would like to hear the views of each of you.

Kissinger: In a new crisis, the Europeans would back the Arabs, and the Soviet Union; Japan would move away. So, the various approaches are first, to resurrect the interim agreement. It would clearly have to include the passes and a line including the oil fields. Sisco thinks the territory could be in the neutral zone going to the oil fields.

Eilts: I disagree.

President: How long and how wide would it be?

Kissinger: Two to three kilometers—just one road. But they need a map that shows their access to their oil fields.

President: But the passes could be under the UN.

[Page 636]

Kissinger: Yes. Probably we could keep the Egyptian advance limited to the edge of the UN zone. These would be bitter pills for Israel. We have seen nothing to indicate a changed position by Israel. Eilts thinks Sadat can offer nothing more; in fact he thinks Sadat has already gone a shade too far. So unless Israel caves—and there is no indication of that—an interim agreement is dead. Also one might have to pay a price of enormous economic aid, no demands for further withdrawal for three years, and we might just sell it in Israel. But it would become public, and that is intolerable in Syria. So I think we would have to do something on the Syrian front.

President: Do you mean a good faith effort, or actually doing something?

Kissinger: Things have changed. Before, I think a good faith effort would have done it, but Sadat has now been placed in a more difficult position, and the Syrians, who would have accepted most anything in March, are now in a stronger position. Therefore our effort would have to be as great as now. A shuttle wouldn’t suffice because that has been depreciated now. Asad is under pressure at home for going too far. He told me his domestic situation will be impossible if Sadat gets something and he doesn’t. I said the Israeli settlements were so far forward that we could get only a sliver, or else something greater in the context of peace. He said that in the context of peace he could assure there would be no Syrian troops forward of the line looking into Israel. I reported this in Israel as a great achievement, but it was counterproductive because I think the last thing Israel wants is a negotiation with Syria.

Everyone now is telling us to go back to the interim agreement. We could probably do it, with the headaches noted above, but it would buy you maybe six months and further excite the Syrians.

The second idea is, Israel has floated the idea of nonbelligerency in exchange for moving half or two-thirds back in the Sinai. We studied this and tried to examine if there was a difference between nonbelligerency and peace. Sadat opposes giving nonbelligerency because if he gives up the main aspects, he has no bargaining power left to get them the rest of the way out. We could find no difference. Even the Israeli legal guy couldn’t find any.

President: Publicly you could make a difference.

Kissinger: But they talk the El Arish line. I am sure they mean west of El Arish. Sadat I think wouldn’t buy it, but this would upset Asad even further.

President: Didn’t Egypt promise not to support a Syrian attack? Would Syria then attack?

Kissinger: You can’t say that publicly. Syria calculates that if it attacked, it could drag the others in.

[Page 637]

Eilts: I don’t see how Egypt could stay out of a war more than a week. The pressures to save Syria would be overwhelming.

Kissinger: The consensus of this group is that Option Two is the worst because the negotiation would be even tougher, and it doesn’t buy any more. I don’t think we could get more from Egypt.

Eilts: I don’t see how they could offer a great deal more until the final peace discussions. They offered three things in particular that I thought were beyond what they could do: an unconditional pledge to refrain from the use of force; agreement to leave the agreement open-ended in duration; and a commitment not to aid a Syrian attack. I thought these were beyond what was politically wise for him. He can live with the first, but the other two are bad.

President: Why did he just fire his cabinet?

Eilts: His economic problems are enormous. They have 37 million unemployed; the whole infrastructure is in disrepair. Hegazi has no political base. The cabinet hasn’t been effective in the economy. Because so little has happened, the new cabinet was designed to assuage the people.

Kissinger: Sadat wanted an agreement to build his prestige and ease the pressure from the domestic side.

Three, probably the best is to come up with a comprehensive plan. It would give us something to stand on with the Arabs. We would be taking on the Israelis, but for something more significant than the line through the passes. It would make the interim stages easier under an overall umbrella. I had better stop here.

Keating: If something isn’t done within six months or less . . . If the Syrians are smart they will end the UN forces at the same time as Egypt. If they extend again, it would be short. I think it is best to go for an overall agreement. Politically, Rabin jumped from 46% to 92% in popularity for “standing up to the Arabs and the United States.” The same poll that by 68% thought that Henry should come back. But this is heady stuff for Rabin. I think he wants an agreement, and do the other negotiation.

President: Do they know I think they were inflexible?

Keating: They do. Economically, they are in serious trouble. Forty percent of their budget goes to defense. Inflation is running 30–40%. They are tightening their belt and actually getting unemployment. They are stronger militarily than in ’73. They are on alert and they are well led. They will not be surprised again, but I don’t think they plan a preemptive strike. They have made so much at home about giving up only half the passes, that it will be very difficult to give up all the passes.

[Page 638]

Kissinger: So much has been put out on the interim agreement, it is difficult to move. Except that Israel has lied so much about the Egyptian position that the real truth would appear a significant concession. They would need three to four years of guaranteed aid, and three to five years of no movement. We can’t afford that in the Arab world.

President: We can’t come out with $2.6 billion for an interim agreement. Tip O’Neill pointed that out.

Keating: Humphrey and McGovern were good. I don’t want to pretend we can sell a comprehensive plan to Israel. But Allon’s departure statement leaves the door open. Eban said the same.

Kissinger: These are platitudes all depending on their definition of peace and security. If we don’t support the ’67 borders, with perhaps minor modifications, we will get no Arab support. Israel wants half the Golan, a third of the Sinai, and a third to a half of the West Bank. If we came up with the ’67 frontier, demilitarized zones, limited armaments zones, we still have problems with the Arabs who would demand that they thin out on both sides. We can’t keep the Arabs for less than the ’67 borders. Jerusalem we should stay away from for now. If we do this, what trouble are we in with Israel?

[General Scowcroft leaves briefly to get a map of the Middle East and then returns.]

Kissinger: Israel, by border rectifications, means the El Arish line back to Sharm el Sheikh. When it gets to military limitations, they will want to keep Egyptian forces off the plain. In the Golan, I would be surprised if they would give up over half the Golan.

Keating: Perhaps some security agreement could be worked out.

Kissinger: The Arabs won’t buy a security agreement with Israeli troops inside.

On the West Bank, they would permit a narrow corridor to the Arab population. If you declare you are for the ’67 borders with some rational rectification, the Arabs will be back immediately to ask what. You have to decide before going public whether you will support essentially the ’67 frontiers. That is the big issue. Dick?

Murphy: This is the bitterest relationship in the area. Asad has opened his country some to the other Arabs. He has turned the country around so they could talk of peace. His price for peace is precisely the ’67 frontiers. He has indicated willingness to permit UN control of the areas from which Israel withdraws.

Kissinger: If it would happen when we still control events, we could probably sell half the Golan.

Murphy: He feels the Palestinian issue deeply. He is pleased at Secretary Kissinger’s failure in the last shuttle because he feared we [Page 639] were taking Egypt out of the war and he was losing his leverage. He said the United States should stay engaged.

President: Does he want Geneva?

Murphy: Recently there have been the first hesitations. He wants quick agreement on an overall outline.

Kissinger: The dream of Israel is stalemate. Sadat is a bigger problem for Israel than Asad, because he is willing to move to peace. They want peace but aren’t willing to pay the price. Tom?

Pickering: Hussein is our best friend. He knows he is knocked out and he has not much chance to go back in unless he’s asked. He would insist on self-determination for the West Bank. He thinks he is a lamb among wolves. I can’t go back there without something for him on air defense. There are other bilateral issues he will want to discuss with you when he comes.2 He thinks progress is possible only in steps, but he would buy a compromise now to get things going.

President: If war broke out, why would he be more involved this time?

Pickering: The last time he got in just a little. He doesn’t think it would be over quickly this time and he thinks Israel next time would make a pincer through Jordan and Lebanon.

Kissinger: I think Israel would do something surprising next time.

Keating: I think they would go through Lebanon.

President: What is the significance of the disputes in Lebanon?

Kissinger: I think the Lebanese are trying to assert some control over Fatahland. Lebanon has been helpless in the fighting between Israel and the PLO. Lebanon wants a settlement to get rid of the Palestinians. They would be most aggressive if they went to Geneva, because of the Palestinians.

One other problem is that Iraq, freed of the problem of the Kurds, will now exert radical pressure on Syria and Jordan.

President: If we went to Geneva, would we have to have a comprehensive plan?

Kissinger: There are three possibilities: we could do nothing but be an honest broker; we could support the Israeli position; we could put forward a plan of our own. If we support Israel, the Arabs will decide the only way to move is to put enough pressure on what we are brokering. If we put out a plan, Israel will violently oppose. The Arabs may not accept it, but we can rest on it for several months. The Arabs, I think, gradually would come around to our mind.

[Page 640]

Eilts: They would originally look askance at it. But if they see the final outline, they can more easily buy interim steps. That has been the problem with interim steps up to now.

President: Should that be at Geneva?

Eilts: Inside or outside Geneva. I would prepare to do it first before Geneva.

Kissinger: Hermann thinks it would be nice to have an interim agreement before Geneva but it is essential to have a plan.

Pickering: Jordan thinks Geneva would get out of hand if the U.S. goes in without a position.

Eilts: The same with Egypt. He would prefer an interim agreement before, but at least he would hope for some plan.

President: How would Israel react to a comprehensive plan and what could they try to do in the United States?

Keating: We are in trouble with the American Jews whatever we do. If we pursue interim measures I think we will get the same eventual flak as we would with the ’67 borders modified.

President: You mean the Jews here would feel as strong about a pressured interim agreement as a comprehensive plan?

Kissinger: The Israelis have been specialists in stating something, which was unattainable, for which they would do something special. First they wanted a signature on a piece of paper. They said it would get us into the same room with the Arabs. We did both and they backed off right away. Now they say they want peace. But by coming out for ’67 borders, the Jews will complain we have given away their leverage in advance. Roy, what do you think?

Atherton: I have come grudgingly to a comprehensive move because we can demand more from the Arabs. But Israel has sold the idea for eight years that the ’67 borders are insecure.

President: My impression of the public reaction in the U.S. is it would be like the reaction in the leadership meeting when Henry came back.3 All the focus was on Israel’s lack of realization of a different attitude in the United States.

Keating: But Dinitz tells them there is no different attitude. Hamilton will stand with you, but he is doubtful we can hold the line when the pressures come.

Kissinger: If you go the interim route, you can either say you would ask no aid unless there is an agreement. If they do, then you are up the creek with Syria; if not, Congress may pass the aid anyway. If there is a comprehensive plan, you can give aid in that context. Now, [Page 641] they want peace, they don’t want to pay a price, and they think they can get the $2.6 billion anyway.

President: I have a reputation as being pro-Israel. The situation in Congress is totally different now. Until we get progress there will be no request for Israeli aid. If Congress tries to force it, I will veto it.

Keating: They couldn’t override a veto.

President: We have to decide which approach to pursue. This has been very helpful.

Kissinger: We think we need a letter to Sadat. Hermann is drafting it. I have told Ken that we would do more business through him and he should deal with as a foreign government—friendly but foreign.

President: That is the way I have told the bureaucracy to behave.

Eilts: It is important that Sadat be kept on a moderate route. The suspension has been a bitter pill. He desperately wants peace with honor. He made courageous moves during the negotiation. He is adrift right now. He will welcome American leadership—he wants to work with us. I must get back before Fahmy leaves for the Soviet Union. We must use him to keep the Arabs from making asses of themselves. He wants to work with us.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 10, April 14, 1975, Ford, U.S. Ambassadors Keating (Israel), Eilts (Egypt), Pickering (Jordan), and Murphy (Syria). Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Oval Office at the White House. Brackets are in the original.
  2. King Hussein visited Washington April 29–31.
  3. See Document 160.