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21. Telegram From the Department of State to the U.S. Interests Section in Syria1

23475. Subject: Message for President Assad from Secretary. Beirut not Addee, pass Scotes in Damascus.

1. Scotes should convey following letter from Secretary to President Assad by most expeditious means possible.

2. Begin message:

Dear Mr. President:

We have been having great difficulties with the Israelis in moving matters along on the question of Syrian-Israeli disengagement. As you know, the recent Israeli Cabinet statement reaffirmed Israel’s interest in a disengagement agreement with Syria. However, the Israelis insist that before they engage in any negotiations on this matter with Syria, the POW list must be provided and Red Cross visits permitted.

I have been giving considerable thought to how in these circumstances progress can be made. I am willing to try out the following formula on the Israelis and would like to have your reaction before doing so. In conveying the following thoughts to you, I want to make clear that they have not been previously discussed with the Israelis. My thoughts are along the following lines:

1. We would convey to the Israeli Government the number of POW’s Syria holds.

2. The Syrian Government would send the list of POW’s to its Interests Section here in Washington.

3. We would insist with the Israelis that they come up with a concrete proposal on disengagement which they would make available to me, in exchange for the list of POW’s.

4. As soon as the visit of the Red Cross takes place, I would transmit Israel’s concrete disengagement proposal to you and at the same time would insist with the Israelis that they send a high-level official to Washington with a view to discussing further modifications in whatever proposal the Israelis had made available.

5. A negotiating process would then begin perhaps in the framework of the Israeli-Egyptian Military Working Group.

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I want to stress once again that none of the above has been discussed with the Israelis. I also want to point out that the difficulties we are experiencing with the Israelis presently are akin to those which we experienced in the early stages of the Egyptian-Israeli disengagement discussions. I urge, Mr. President, that you not be deflected or diverted as a result of the procedural difficulties, as important as they are, which presently exist. I remain confident that, if we can get over these procedural hurdles, with the United States playing a role similar to that which it played in the Egyptian-Israeli disengagement discussions, an agreement acceptable to both sides can be achieved. It is important, Mr. President, that you stay on the course we have discussed and not be deflected by Israeli maneuvers.

However, an even more serious difficulty has now arisen. I have just been informed by the Government of Saudi Arabia that, following your visit to Riyadh, and in response to your request, the Saudi Government has taken the position that the oil embargo against the U.S. will not be lifted unless a disengagement agreement has been reached between Syria and Israel and is being implemented.2 We are informing the Saudi Government that, unless the embargo is lifted promptly, President Nixon will not authorize further efforts by the United States Government to achieve Syrian-Israeli disengagement.3

The United States had earlier expressed understanding of the decision that was made to impose an embargo in the heat of the recent war. Since then, however, the situation has fundamentally changed. The United States undertook to engage its prestige and influence fully in the search for an overall just and durable peace between Israel and all of its neighbors. We have given evidence of our commitment to that goal and have achieved Egyptian-Israeli disengagement as a first step. This was done in spite of, and not as a result of, the embargo.

This new development places President Nixon and me in an impossible position. Congressional and public opinion in the United States will not support continuing United States efforts, which will be both difficult and time-consuming, to bring about Syrian-Israeli disengagement, to say nothing of the further steps required to achieve the final settlement the Arab countries seek, while those countries continue their discriminatory measures against the United States. Continuation of the embargo will thus work against the objectives which you and I have discussed. We would very much regret having to discontinue our efforts, which as I have indicated, are going forward intensively with Israel and which we believe hold out hope of progress over the weeks [Page 110]ahead. This will, however, be the inevitable consequence of a continuation of the embargo. As for the effects of the embargo, you are undoubtedly aware that the United States is taking measures at home which will enable us to manage economically even if the embargo continues.

I value the relationship I have established with you, Mr. President, which must continue to be based on complete frankness and honesty between us. In this spirit, I have conveyed the foregoing full statement of our position, as we are explaining it to the Saudi Government, for your confidential information. While awaiting a successful resolution of the embargo issue, I would welcome your reaction to the procedural ideas outlined at the beginning of this message with respect to the Syrian-Israeli disengagement question.

I want to make clear, however, that I will only be able to initiate with Israel such efforts to solve the immediate problem of getting Syrian-Israeli disengagement moving after the oil embargo has been lifted. At the same time, I want to reaffirm to you my strong commitment, including my personal participation, to work for a disengagement of Syrian and Israeli forces as a further initial step toward a just and durable peace in the Middle East.

With warm regards,

Henry A. Kissinger

End message.

3. For Cairo: Ambassador Eilts should see Fahmy and fill him in fully on text of foregoing letter to Assad.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1181, Harold H. Saunders Files, Middle East Peace Negotiations, February 1–8, 1974. Secret; Cherokee; Nodis; Niact Immediate. Repeated Niact Immediate to Cairo and Beirut. Drafted by v and Atherton; approved by Kissinger.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Document 298.
  3. See ibid., Document 300.