204. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Senator J. W. Fulbright
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Senator Fulbright: I appreciate your giving me the time. I wouldn’t take it if I didn’t think it was important.

The President: It was a very timely trip to the Middle East. I would appreciate hearing your views, from your vast experience.

Senator Fulbright: Let me leave you this, which is by Jim Symington. [Tab A.]2

I visited seven countries. I was well received, but they think my views were a reflection of American foreign policy. I think it is imperative that you make a statement about our objectives before the election. The Arabs—except Qadhafi—are the most conciliatory they have ever been. They say that if Israel will go back to the ’67 lines, they will recognize Israel. Iraq was not as forthcoming. They didn’t indicate they would welcome a settlement, but they would not oppose it. But Iraq is just emerging from its isolation. That is breaking down now, with recent developments with Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Kurds.

In Syria, who I thought didn’t like us, the Economic Minister is a graduate of New York University. He gave me two cordial hours.

The President: Henry really likes Asad. All the countries around Israel have a different attitude than they had before.

Senator Fulbright: I used the Percy statement. I tried to explain the 76 Senators’ letter.3

The President: Those fellows who signed the letter—they may support Israel, but I bet not to the tune of $2.5 billion.

[Page 769]

Senator Fulbright: The key to my idea—and I am a politician—is the political angle. Not that you need this advice. I have talked to Laird, Kissinger and Ingersoll, etc. You are in a unique position, as a politician. You want to be reelected. Your political opponents are critical to Israel. The question is: can you win on it? I am convinced you need to make a positive statement. This is in Israel’s own interest. They are so paranoid they don’t know their interest. The Israeli Government is weak and can do it only if they can say that “the damned President forced us.” This is the only way we can be free of the burden which has plagued your presidency.

The President: In the next months or year, we have to lay out a comprehensive plan. Now I think there is an advantage to an interim agreement. The chances are against it, and if there is no interim agreement, we have to go for a comprehensive plan. You know the Jews will attack me, but if we posture it right, we can say we tried an interim and we just couldn’t get it. I will have 208 million people with me against 6 million Jews.

You may disagree with what we are trying to do on an interim. But that will put it on the back burner for six months or perhaps through the election.

Senator Fulbright: I would just like to get this burden off you. Implementation could wait until the election. But the Arabs need to know your objective. Arafat, of course, is in a more delicate position. I think he will in fact accept the West Bank and Gaza as a place for the Palestinians to call their own. What they do with it is their problem. In five years, with a settlement, Israel would have recognized borders. We just have to get by this damned war. The Jews are propagandizing and using the underdog strategy. They are sending around brochures. I will send you one.

The President: We have been sending them arms. They are better off than they were before the October war.

Senator Fulbright: They would win a war but that wouldn’t help—it would be a disaster.

The President: We have bent over backwards to help them. They do have a weak domestic situation.

Senator Fulbright: The Arabs will be terribly disappointed if nothing happens for 18 months. It doesn’t have to be action, but at least not a stalemate. I think you are going to win in ’76 and I think they will be reassured. The moderates have to be able to point to some progress—if not, they will be pushed out by the radicals. We have to help the moderates. When we didn’t help Khrushchev, he got thrown out. You remember we wouldn’t let him visit Disneyland! The same will happen to Brezhnev.

[Page 770]

The President: Does Arafat think he can control the PLO?

Senator Fulbright: If we can make some progress, so he can contain the radicals. Publicly Arafat is still for a “secular state,” but privately he would settle for the West Bank and Gaza.

The President: Not just the West Bank?

Senator Fulbright: Gaza is just a symbol.

The President: What is your impression of Prince Fahd?

Senator Fulbright: He’s a powerful fellow. Khalid is a softer fellow, but he is impressive.

The President: The story is that he is weak-minded.

Senator Fulbright: He is quiet, but not feeble-minded. But they have some good people in their 40’s. We have a great position in Saudi Arabia. They want to develop with our cooperation—it’s the same in Abu Dhahi—they are just dying to do something. The Sheikh is an interesting fellow. They have the highest per capita income in the world.

The President: What do they do with the money?

Senator Fulbright: They built roads; they have the two finest hotels I have ever seen; ports, and factories. I am trying to get him into solar energy.

The President: Did you go to Kuwait?

Senator Fulbright: No. I went there before. I visited Iraq for my first time. There is a big opportunity for American investment. They have the biggest oil reserves, next to Saudi Arabia. There are two big rivers.

The President: They are fighting with Syria over that.

Senator Fulbright: Yes, the Saudis are trying to settle that and I think they have. The key to this war . . . everyone is apprehensive. If we could get the war settled we would have great business opportunities.

Suppose you made this statement, you could go to the Saudis and say “We stuck our necks out here, so now you help us on oil.” Make a deal with them. You can’t make a deal when you don’t do what they are interested in.

The President: If we did lay out a comprehensive plan, is a guarantee essential?

Senator Fulbright: Israel says they want to rely on themselves, but I think it would help the Jews here. Israel was created by the UN. I think a resolution guaranteeing the borders, and the U.S. and the Soviet Union say “We agree with it and will support it.” I would use the UN because they created it. I was surprised the Soviet Union said publicly they would go along. Why not?

I fear that a delay would result in Israel doing something reckless.

[Page 771]

The President: They would be unwise to do it. The last war was bloodier than ever. I feel their support in the U.S. isn’t as strong as it was before. That is why the letters.

Senator Fulbright: That is puffing, not substance.

I think it is a winning issue. The American people are tired of being whipsawed on this. The Arkansas Gazette blasted the 76 Senators’ letter for preempting your reassessment.

The President: I appreciate your coming in and giving me this and this material.

We will do something within two or three weeks. And within the next year or so, we must come out with a comprehensive plan.

There is no question after the election. It’s just a question of timing.

Senator Fulbright: I think the American people will support you. Only you can do it. Think what it would do in Europe and Japan. You would be acclaimed. Conversely, if there’s another embargo and you would be blamed for being able to do something and that you didn’t.

It is a great opportunity. I know it is a difficult political problem.

I appreciate the opportunity. I know I am no longer in politics, but I have been following this since the Aswan business.

[Senator Fulbright later sent the President a written report on his trip. Tab B.]4

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 13, July 2, 1975, Ford, Kissinger, Senator J.W. Fulbright. Confidential. The meeting was held in the Oval Office at the White House. Brackets are in the original.
  2. Tab A, attached but not printed, is a Washington Post text of remarks Representative James W. Symington of Missouri entered into the Congressional Record on February 5, entitled “Toward an American Foreign Policy.” He stated that America’s national interest should be the focus in the formulation of foreign policy, “so that it might be an American foreign policy with no prefixes denoting an infusion of extra-national bias or sentiment.”
  3. See Document 175.
  4. Tab B, attached but not printed, is a memorandum from Fulbright to Ford, July 27, entitled, “The Middle East—An American Policy.” Fulbright’s memorandum covered various issues relating to the Arab-Israeli dispute. He concluded by writing: “An American guarantee of an agreed settlement, on the other hand, would clarify an ambiguous commitment, bringing it clearly within the scope of our national interest, and at the same time provide Israel with the greatest possible security under the circumstances which exist in the area.”