177. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Egypt
  • Anwar al-Sadat, President
  • Major General Mubarak, Vice President
  • Ismail Fahmi, Foreign Minister
  • United States
  • The President
  • The Secretary
  • Joseph J. Sisco, Under Secretary for Political Affairs

The President: I would like to make two points in particular. First, the importance of the letter signed by 76 Senators2 is being distorted out of proportion; half of them didn’t read it and a quarter didn’t understand the letter. Whereas the additional quarter knew very precisely what it was doing. The impact of the letter is negligible. Secondly, I want to tell you that Secretary Kissinger and I have a close personal and professional relationship. There is no more trusted person than Secretary Kissinger that I deal with. He speaks for me. We work closely together. In time my hope is that the Senate will see to it that we work as a team. I am confident that the execution of our policy will be successful.

I was very disappointed in the position taken by Israel last March; the Israelis decided to go off in a direction different than we expected. I want to tell you that as far as we are concerned, stagnation is unacceptable. As you know, we are in the process of a reassessment. It would be helpful to me for you to tell me where you believe we are and any suggestions that you may have on how we can work together in the future towards peace in the Middle East.

President Sadat: Mr. President, I want to thank you for the statement that you have just made and, in particular, what you have said that you will not tolerate stagnation; that is marvelous. These words have made a great impact on me.

As to where we are now, I must say to you that the process of peace has slackened to a certain extent due to problems in the United States. [Page 651] Dr. Kissinger made two visits this year and, as you know, we were quite ready to achieve progress and we went beyond where it might reasonably be expected that we might go. We did this for two reasons: I want to push the peace process; and, secondly, I want you to know that I have been in power since 1952. I have dealt with Secretaries of State since Dulles. The first time I met Henry Kissinger was in November of 1973, and I felt at that time that I could put full confidence in him, that he was a man of trust, and I could rely on his word. This is very essential. We have never felt the small power complex in relationship to big powers. I can recall how we together developed the six principles3 and then the first disengagement agreement. This brought about a new image of the United States in the area.

Candidly, Mr. President, I felt Nasser had treated the United States unfairly because I recall that in 1956 the United States had ordered Israel, the U.K., and France out of Egypt. The Soviet ultimatum at that time came after the United States had already achieved Israeli withdrawal. Nasser, unfairly in my judgment, attributed the Israeli withdrawal to the Russian ultimatum. The United States’ image in the area has been changing completely since the first disengagement agreement. Egypt leads the Arab world. We started promoting better relations with the United States. The United States has all the cards in its hands and Israel should heed the United States. After the failure of the Kissinger mission in March, an angry Egyptian reaction was expected. Yet I told Dr. Kissinger that we would extend the UNEF for three months. I decided that the Suez Canal should be opened.4 Israel fears peace. It is not capable of making peace, of taking the decisions. You supported Israel during the October War. It received ultra-sophisticated arms from the United States. Syria has replaced its losses by getting weapons from the USSR for the last year and a half. I remain without any replacements. Syria has been stimulating the Palestinians against Egypt in the Arab world. I went to the Arab world and got the embargo lifted after the disengagement agreement. Egypt is key in the Arab world. We have helped promote a new image of America in the Arab world.

Mr. President, this is a moment of decision. Nobody in the Arab world believes that the United States cannot put pressure on Israel. I have said that I am ready for a peace agreement with Israel. I am opening the Canal, even though it inhibits military operations. I am not intending to start military operations. I returned 39 corpses to Israel without conditions. Egypt is different from other Arabs. We have a [Page 652] background of patience, of civility and understanding. Millions greeted President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger when they came to Egypt5 saying we want to be friends with America. The failure of Kissinger’s mission has not been taken as a failure of the whole image of the United States. The question that is being asked is whether the United States is unable to achieve peace after all that it gives to Israel. We don’t want war again, but I will never submit one inch of my land to Israel. We have patience. The time may come when we will have to liberate our lands.

The Soviets don’t lose time to exploit the situation. Israel is undermining the policy of the step-by-step approach which is attacked by the Soviet Union and defended by me. The Egyptian people cannot understand. My people have faith in me and I tell them I have confidence in President Ford and Henry Kissinger. Everyone in Egypt is waiting for the next step. The Soviet Union has stimulated the Syrians and Palestinians against me and against United States’ policy. They have given me no military replacements since the October 1973 ceasefire. I have not received over 10 planes from them since last June. The Soviets are sending no ammunition and 44 airplanes is the maximum, including 20 MIG–23’s (not Foxbats). They did this when I started attacking them after the failure of negotiations.

Our people want to see a real peace but they will not give up one inch of Arab land.

The prestige of the United States is in balance. I say Israel, not the United States, is responsible for the failure of negotiations. The Soviets can connect U.S. and Israeli policies. The Soviets are trying to undermine me and the entire world. The lastest development is in Libya where there is 2,000 kilometers of sea (?) line, where they have sent a large arsenal of arms; $12 billion worth for 12½ million people. There are no frontiers in Libya. The Soviets are trying to outflank me from Libya. It is against your interest and against the global balance in the Middle East. The Soviets can build anything they want there and no Libyan will see it because there are large areas of empty land. Also the Soviet economic squeeze on me is continuing. They refuse to give me any grace period on loans or sale of arms. Economic cooperation has stopped. They want to paralyze me. The latest act is in Libya. I shall fight it in Libya.

Secretary Kissinger: We will support Egypt in international forums if the Russians do something in Libya.

President Sadat: My people have not lost confidence in Doctor Kissinger. I have been looking forward to this meeting. I want you to [Page 653] look at me as a friend. If the United States cannot do something, I will not be able to defend the United States again because Israel gets everything it needs from the United States. I want good relations with the United States. I will be very disappointed if nothing can be achieved. Mr. President, we have gone beyond where any Arab has gone in the past. My people will be very disappointed if nothing can be achieved. I want us to make progress; to make a complete peace. And I want the United States only to achieve it, not the Soviet Union, not through a Geneva Conference, where the USSR is sitting. The United States can achieve anything without the Soviet Union.

If a meeting can be achieved, then we have to go to Geneva, even though there are no bright prospects there. I won’t be able to defend you at Geneva because you are defending Israel. We will reach stagnation if we try to broaden the participation in Geneva. Israel can blame everything on the PLO issue since I will have to insist upon its participation. Israel wants to gain time until your next election. Israel wants to get rid of Henry Kissinger. Israel wants to cause difficulties with the Congress. They want to wait until your election when Israel can monopolize the situation. I face a confrontation with the Soviet Union this summer. The situation in our relations with them will get worse. All of my arms have come from the USSR and there was no other way for me. The USSR is suspicious. It is clumsy in diplomacy. There is no leadership there. This is the situation there.

The President: I want you to know that the reassessment which I have announced is more than words. It is a bona fide analysis of how we can proceed best as a nation towards peace on a fair and equitable basis. However, we can make a contribution. Our Israeli friends don’t believe it. The initial shock and disbelief has sunk in. Israel has reacted in the wrong way. Instead of saying whether they made a mistake, they have reacted to try to convince people that they are right. There has been typical pressure in the Congress. I don’t intend to capitulate to this kind of pressure. It could lead to difficulties within our society and a struggle. The Israelis have misjudged American public opinion and me. I want you to know that I have heard nothing but good about you. You are a powerful leader with a broad approach. It is a pleasure to deal with you. I want to work with you to try to help achieve continued progress.

I would like to have any key points from you as to specifics for when I talk to Rabin. When I talk to the Prime Minister, I will lay it on the line. Of course, we have created an impression of going to Geneva with a broad comprehensive approach. The Israelis would not like us to take such a broad approach. You know that at Geneva the prospects for progress are negligible. Yet we might have to do it as the only option we see if there is no progress on the interim agreement. I have im[Page 654]pressed Israel on the need to cooperate. The options you know. If Israel takes the same attitude as it took in February and March, I see no hope. They have to hear this from me. They know the pitfalls of Geneva. I can’t imagine that they want the Soviet Union involved. It is beyond my comprehension as to why they have taken this view. Israel knows it will be isolated if they stay with their position and if we shift our attitude. Israeli-U.S. relations are good but difficult. I want to assure you that we will exercise as much leadership as we can. Some alternatives are worse than others for Israel. I appreciate your suggestion that there has to be a framework for negotiation soon or we have to go to Geneva. Israel ought to be shrewd enough to see this.

President Sadat: If we can keep complete understanding between the United States and Egypt regarding the efforts that are made before Geneva or at Geneva, if they know that the United States won’t be behind them 100 percent at Geneva, all of this would help. I am furious that after all that the United States has done for Israel they could not agree to a second step. I want us to agree on a strategy of our own of course. We can achieve together a lot and we can save the Arab world from Soviet infiltration.

The President: Is there a strong reservation by Qadhafi regarding the Soviets in Libya?

President Sadat: Can you imagine $12 billion? Qadhafi is insane. Therefore, there has been no Arab comment. We got this information from those who actually signed the contract. I put it out publicly myself because I didn’t want you to have to get charged by the Soviets that you had done so. The Soviets know that their days are numbered in Egypt. Every ship that leaves Egypt never comes back. Take, for example, the 4 Foxbat planes in Egypt. Last week I received something very queer. I was told by the Soviets that they wanted to replace the 4 Foxbats with 4 others sent in a large transport plane. I refused this. I ordered the 4 planes to be grounded. I said either you deliver 4 planes to us, train us, or get them out. This is a popular issue in the Arab world.

I need help from you in trying to convince those idiots in Israel to come to their senses. I have 270,000 Egyptians in Libya and I can send more. I have all of the training people in Libya. I don’t need help in Libya. I can take care of that by my effort. This front has to be kept quiet.

The President: Let me assure you our policies will coincide with your thoughts. It may have repercussions with Israel. If we can talk about specifics, I think it would be helpful to me. To Rabin it is this interim agreement or Geneva. They have to recognize that at Geneva it will not be to their liking. We want the friendship between the United States and Egypt to grow. I don’t like pressure. We can work together; we will work together.

[Page 655]

Secretary Kissinger: We have spoken frankly. We have outlined the concrete possibilities. The Israeli strategy is to divide our Administration, if not to gain time to drag it into our elections. In the meantime, even President Sadat cannot keep the situation quiet. By that time the Arabs will be anti-American. Israel has said to us resume the interim negotiations. They have also talked in terms of a broader interim agreement. Our approach to this latter proposal is that you can explore it if you want but, in our judgment, it is a trap. And Geneva is the third alternative. What we need is a result this year. President Ford is prepared to go the overall route if necessary. While it would be prolonged and difficult, we are not rejecting it. The other alternative is the resumption of the interim negotiations. We will be accused domestically of trying to impose this—that we will be trying to impose a U.S.-Egyptian solution. If we could find some modification in the Egyptian position on an interim agreement—we know your range is limited for I have told the President that you have gone well beyond anything that was thought possible—if, for example, Egypt could make a move, we could then make an American proposal. If the Israelis then turn down an American proposal, they would be considered wrong by American public opinion. What I am talking about are Egyptian modifications in their position on an interim agreement which would be used as an excuse to put forward an American proposal on an interim agreement. If Israel did refuse, we would be in a better tactical position for moving to a comprehensive plan. You would have to help us in 1976, since we could take a position on an overall settlement at Geneva even though we could not implement it during 1976.

The President: If something could be done in 1975, our overall approach would keep U.S. domestic problems from festering. They can’t attack us on peace and war issues.

Secretary Kissinger: If you have time, we can go to the overall approach. If you want something very fast, it would have to be the interim approach. They have said if you change, they will change. We do not intend to communicate anything of substance to Rabin regarding our meeting here. It would be possible for a quick shuttle to be undertaken by Mid-July. The Soviets are very anxious to go to the European Security Conference and they would be terribly disturbed if the President didn’t go to Helsinki in July and if there were no conference. You will recall that the Israelis have also talked about a wider interim agreement but they would expect a declaration of non-belligerency. We could try that but I am very uneasy about it. I know that you are insisting on the Israelis getting out of the passes and the oil fields. We noticed that the Israelis now have shifted from non-belligerency to an emphasis on the duration point which they say is the point which most concerns them. There is also a focus on the warning stations and other elements re[Page 656]garding the boycott. I have not discussed these with the President. What we need from you is not anything fundamental but anything which would permit us to say there has been a shift in the Egyptian position and would give us a chance to make an American proposal. A proposal where the line would be drawn east of the passes and you would be given land access to the oil fields. There would be a chance to do it in a month. We have been scaring the Israelis with plans regarding the Geneva Conference. And this has been leaked back to the Israelis. I want to stress, however, if we first go to the interim agreement and then to Geneva, then you will have to be patient. If there was no war and no embargo, we could win and even if it doesn’t work in July, we could prove to our public that we have done everything possible. If you can tell us tomorrow what specifically you might be able to do.

President Sadat: In what direction?

Secretary Kissinger: First, the renewal of UNEF for more than a year and afterwards for annual periods. And the question of a warning station perhaps under UN control. You could get a similar one. You might also see whether there is something you can do on the boycott. Maybe you could add some additional firms.

President Sadat: Don’t ask this of me. The boycott will raise havoc for me.

Secretary Kissinger: You have agreed selectively to remove some American firms. The boycott could be done bilaterally.

President Sadat: What if they refuse the interim agreement?

The President: We can go to the overall settlement.

President Sadat: In such circumstances you must be with me at Geneva. I have no objections to the United States having good relations with Israel. As far as I am concerned, it can have the full protection of the United States. If we go to Geneva, I shall anticipate we will be working towards an overall solution with the United States taking the initiative.

Secretary Kissinger: We probably can put forward something on borders.

President Sadat: Borders with minor rectifications; demilitarized zones on both sides of the border.

Secretary Kissinger: It is important that the Arabs not start a holy war against us if our overall settlement proposal is not all that you want. If what America puts forward at Geneva is rebuffed by both Arabs and Israelis it would be bad.

President Sadat: I shall be raising hell at Geneva but really agreeing with you.

Secretary Kissinger: Suppose we succeed on an interim agreement in July. Can Syria be managed?

[Page 657]

President Sadat: There must be a Syrian disengagement. This must be discussed before Geneva.

The President: If we talk in terms of the 1967 borders isn’t that enough to keep the Syrians quiet?

President Sadat: No, there is jealousy. The Soviets will find the basis to cause further difficulties. In any interim agreement there has to be a change of a kilometer or two. And they settle for that. (Conversation had to be terminated at that point because of schedule. It was agreed that the talk would be continued at the next session.)

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 11, Nodis Memcons, June 1975, Folder 2. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Sisco on June 7. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting took place from 5:05 until 6:46 p.m. (Ford Library, Staff Secretary’s Office Files) Ford traveled to Salzburg, Austria, from June 1 to June 3 to meet with Austrian Chancellor Kreisky and President Sadat. He then visited Rome and Vatican City on June 3 to meet with Italian President Leone, Italian Prime Minister Moro, and Pope Paul VI.
  2. See Document 175.
  3. See footnote 8, Document 5.
  4. The Suez Canal was reopened on June 5 after it had been closed in June 1967 due to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
  5. See Document 92.