266. Minutes of the Secretary of State’s Staff Meeting1
- The Secretary of State—Henry A. Kissinger
- D—Mr. Ingersoll
- P—Mr. Sisco
- E—Mr. Robinson
- T—Mr. Maw
- M—Mr. Eagleburger
- AF—Ambassador Davis
- ARA—Mr. Rogers
- EA—Mr. Miller, Acting
- EUR—Mr. Hartman
- NEA—Mr. Atherton
- INR—Mr. Hyland
- S/P—Mr. Lord
- EB—Mr. Enders
- S/PRS—Ambassador Anderson
- PM—Mr. Vest
- IO—Ambassador Buffum
- H—Ambassador McCloskey
- L—Mr. Leigh
- S/S—Mr. Springsteen
- S—Mr. Bremer
Secretary Kissinger: Bob.
Mr. Ingersoll: Things in Beirut are getting rougher. But Godley thinks that they are not turning on any foreigners yet. A sealift is 72 hours away, but the fleet is in Sicily and could be stepped up if we wanted to.
Secretary Kissinger: Why can’t they go out by airlift?
Mr. Ingersoll: They are so far. But if things should really get rough, the airport would probably be closed down. And if it got that bad, you are not sure you could even take off with helicopters. Godley doesn’t think it is that bad—although we have a skeleton force in the embassy. They are fighting around there. Roy is watching this very closely. We have a task force. We are trying to separate the kidnap task force from the Lebanese area.[Page 944]
Secretary Kissinger: What is the situation on the kidnapping?2
Mr. Atherton: The latest report [2 lines not declassified] is that they are looking for a way to quietly release them, and they appreciate it very much that we have kept it low-key.
Secretary Kissinger: Who in fact has them?
Mr. Atherton: It’s the PFLP itself, or a group under the control of the PFLP.
Secretary Kissinger: What is the PFLP?
Mr. Atherton: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It is one of the rejectionist Marxist groups of the PLO, one of the splinter groups of the PLO. But we are actually getting quite a lot of help from Arafat’s side of the PLO, to rather quietly get them released without any fuss.
Secretary Kissinger: What is the reason for the latest blow-up in Beirut?
Mr. Atherton: It is just more of the same, Mr. Secretary. The Christian Phalange and the Moslem leftist groups are trying to control as much of the territory of the city as they can. What happened is that the Christian groups have now moved into the area, and there is fighting around the embassy and the hotels where the foreigners stay and are trying to in effect establish bases there from which they can direct fire on the areas held by the Moslems.
Secretary Kissinger: Are the Israelis behind this?
Mr. Atherton: I have no evidence of it. This is just a little civil war between the Moslems and the Christians at this point.
Secretary Kissinger: Then how is it going to end?
Mr. Atherton: I think when they both become exhausted. A lot more blood has been shed. The government speaks every day of the hope of an imminent cease-fire, and nothing happens. There is just no central authority.
Mr. Ingersoll: Arms are still coming in on both sides.
Mr. Atherton: Arms are coming to the Moslems from Syria, even though the Syrians are politically trying to calm things, and the Christians have no problem getting arms from whatever commercial sources, and I presume also probably directly or indirectly from the Israelis. At least there is some evidence that has been the case.[Page 945]
Secretary Kissinger: Under those conditions they can’t get exhausted, if they both get arms. They are not suffering enough casualties to exhaust them.
Mr. Atherton: I don’t see an early denouement. I think it is going to go along in a state of total disorder and deterioration. The foreign community is leaving. Our people are carrying out in effect an evacuation phase, having it low-key publicly. But the embassy is accelerating the departure of the various regional organizations, the Foreign Service Institute and others that have been based in Beirut. The private American community is leaving in large numbers every day. Planes are still coming in and out.
If I could just add one other point. I think the important thing is up to now neither side has been directing itself against the foreign community. There have been foreigners caught in the middle in a few situations. There is no concerted effort to jeopardize or to attack the foreign community.
Secretary Kissinger: I know. But even if there were a cease-fire, the foreigners would not come back right away, would they?
Mr. Atherton: I doubt it.
Mr. Ingersoll: The Chicago Tribune claims they deliberately fired on their correspondent. He filed a story, walked down the street, and they shot at him.
Mr. Atherton: I think you are going to get thugs in this. But there is no policy decision on the part of either side.
Secretary Kissinger: But still the nature of Lebanon will now be fundamentally changed, if all the foreigners leave.
Mr. Atherton: I think that is true.
Mr. Sisco: And there has to be a political adjustment between the Moslem and Christian community. That is the one thing that I think has to occur, if stability or at least reasonable quiet is going to be achieved. And that has got to be reflected in the constitutional setup and in the election coming next year.
Mr. Atherton: I think that is true.
Mr. Robinson: Financial activities in Lebanon are very likely to move to Cairo. And I can see this as a fundamental and important change.
Secretary Kissinger: But there isn’t anything we can do.
Mr. Sisco: Unfortunately, we just don’t know how to influence this situation. You have taken the lead diplomatically. We just cannot seem to influence the situation. I don’t think we have the capacity.
[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Lebanon.]
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Henry Kissinger Staff Meetings, Box 9. Secret.↩
- On October 22, Charles Gallagher and William Dykes, two employees of USIS, were kidnapped from their car while driving in Beirut, purportedly by members of the PFLP. Both Gallagher and Dykes were released unharmed on February 25, 1976. This marked the second time an American had been kidnapped in Lebanon during the previous four months. In July 1975, members of the PFLP purportedly kidnapped Colonel Ernest P. Morgan. He was released unharmed 13 days later. (New York Times, October 23, 1975, p. 5)↩