267. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Lebanese Developments: Message to President Asad


  • The Secretary
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary, NEA
  • Harold Saunders, Director, INR
  • Arthur R. Day, Deputy Assistant Secretary, NEA
  • Morris Draper, Country Director, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq (NEA/ARN)

The Secretary: What is the problem?

Mr. Atherton: Lebanon. The situation in that country has fallen apart since the January ceasefire.2 There have been a number of reasons for this. Jumblatt resisted the mediation effort conducted by the Syrians and mobilized a lot of opposition to the political solution among his leftist allies. The hard-line Christian leaders conducted their own form of obstructionism, although the terms of the political solution were basically favorable to the Christian side. Meanwhile, the dissident army groups under Lieutenant Khatib picked up support and contributed to the melting away of the army. The result has been a slippage to the forces of the left, to Muslimization, and to military intervention in the form of the “corrective movement.”

Mr. Atherton: Fortunately, our most pressing concern of yesterday—Syrian intervention with their own troops—appears less likely for the moment. Did you see Murphy’s report of his talk with Asad?3

The Secretary: No. I will need to get control . . .

Mr. Atherton: Here it is.

The Secretary: (Reading the message) I have an uneasy feeling about the Israelis. I talked to Dinitz.4 Were you told what he said to me?

[Page 947]

Mr. Atherton: Yes.

The Secretary: Can we get in touch with the factions in Lebanon and use our influence?

Mr. Atherton: Not effectively. Not at this time. The only really effective channel of influence with the Lebanese is Syria, or through Syria.

Mr. Atherton: I should have said before that Khatib’s Lebanese Arab Army has been moving up from the south and may be aiming at a confrontation with the President in his Palace. But the PLA—and it may be under instructions from Syria—may try to prevent Khatib from moving on the Palace. This suggests that the Syrians want a peaceful resolution of the presidential question.

The Secretary: Dinitz told me that Syrian regulars were already going into Lebanon.

Mr. Saunders: We have no confirmation of this. The reports that Syrian regulars under the guise of PLA soldiers have entered Lebanon came from two sources: the Phalange clandestine radio station and Reuters. Reuters may have gotten its report from the “rejectionists” and it is of course in their interests to pass on this kind of story. But we do not have any confirmation.

The Secretary: (turning to Mr. Atherton). You should get in touch with Dinitz and tell him that we have no confirmation that Syrian regulars have entered Lebanon. Tell him that I have instructed you to say that, if Israeli military actions are taken as a result, it would raise the most serious problems with us . . . or words to that effect.5 We have to be informed in advance.

Mr. Atherton: The Syrians may feel they have to do something if the situation gets worse. The most immediate question is whether you should send a further signal to Asad.

The Secretary: There is no way—no way—in which the Israelis will sit still while the Syrians send in their troops. I am sure of that.

Mr. Atherton: Maybe the Israelis could put up with limited moves. Toon had a long talk with Allon back in October about this6 and Allon indicated circumstances under which . . .

The Secretary: Allon is a fool. A sweet fool, but a fool all the same. No, I’m afraid that we could never exert enough influence to stop Israel.

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Mr. Atherton: There are risks in letting things rush on the way they are.

The Secretary: Why not let things rush on?

Mr. Atherton: There may be a clash building up between the military forces supporting the President in his palace and Khatib’s forces and others. This could bring down Frangie.

The Secretary: Why not let Frangie go that way?

Mr. Atherton: It would have a long-term negative effect. It would be harder to develop a political solution. There are other things. The drift is towards partition.

Mr. Day: Asad’s prestige—and his position in the Arab world—have been enhanced by his initial success in bringing about a Lebanese solution. He has committed so much that he can hardly afford to let the situation unravel. He has a lot to lose. He gave up his trip to Paris because of the problem in Lebanon.

The Secretary: The introduction of Syrian forces would shift the balance further against the Christians.

Mr. Atherton: That’s true. And the Christians have lost some of what had been preserved for them through the Syrian mediation.

The Secretary: We have to go back to Asad. Tell Murphy to get in touch with him. Ask him what he is up to and, if we agree with him, we will do our best to help him. But warn him what he does must be done without the use of Syrian regular forces. In that event, we will guarantee that the Israelis do not interfere. Have him tell us what he thinks will be the outcome of what he is doing, and what he wants as the outcome. Tell him I am optimistic we will be able to guarantee that there will be no Israeli action as long as outside forces are not introduced into Lebanon—not in just those words, but in accord with this view.7 What do you think?

Mr. Saunders: I agree with you that we can not hold out any expectations to the Syrians that the Israelis will not move if Syrian forces come in.

Mr. Day: There may be a chance that the Israelis would not go in.

The Secretary: No, not at this time. Particularly at this time when Rabin is so weak. He would rather have a confrontation with us than face his opposition. He would move ahead and deal with us when we try to stop him, before he would go back and take on his opponents.

The Secretary: Have Murphy tell Asad separately that I was very pleased about the warmth of his reception to Simon.8 Tell Asad that, as [Page 949] was discussed between him and Simon, we will do our best . . . we will proceed along the lines of strengthening our economic relations in all possible ways.

The Secretary: Also have him give Asad my best personal regards.

Mr. Atherton: You may want to think about when to bring Murphy back. I assume you would want him out of town by the time Hussein arrives.

The Secretary: Yes, that’s true. I want him to get back and talk to Asad by about the 28th, or when Hussein is here.9 Perhaps he should come here by mid-week of next week, the 25th or 26th. That would work.

Mr. Atherton: That’s fine.

The Secretary: Roy, I would like you to stay behind for a minute.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 16, Nodis Memcons, March 1976, Folder 2. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Draper on March 16. The meeting took place at the Department of State.
  2. Between January 20 and January 22, Syria introduced “a controlled and strictly limited movement into Lebanon [of] Syrian-controlled PLA and Sa’iqa units” in an effort to broker a cease-fire, which was agreed to by the major combatants on January 22. (Chronology of Events, April 1976; Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Country Files, Middle East and South Asia, Box 24, Lebanon, Folder 4)
  3. Murphy reported Asad’s concern about military coups in Lebanon, but noted that Asad gave no indication of plans to send Syrian regular troops into Lebanon. (Telegram 1483 from Damascus, March 15; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  4. No memorandum of conversation has been found.
  5. Atherton met with Dinitz the evening of March 15 to tell him that there were no reports of Syrian troops moving into Lebanon. (Telegram 63758 to Tel Aviv, March 16; ibid.)
  6. Reported in telegram 6750 from Tel Aviv, October 24, 1975. (Ibid.)
  7. The instructions were sent in telegram 63334 to Damascus, March 16. (Ibid.)
  8. Secretary of the Treasury William Simon visited Damascus March 13.
  9. King Hussein arrived in Washington on March 29 for a State visit.