272. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary, Henry A. Kissinger
  • Under Secretary Joseph Sisco
  • Assistant Secretary Alfred L. Atherton
  • Mr. Day, NEA
  • Assistant Secretary Hal Saunders
  • Ambassador Murphy, Ambassador to Syria
  • Jock Covey, Notetaker


  • Lebanon

The Secretary: Did you send that message to Egypt?2

Atherton: It should be on the way now.

The Secretary: It was taking so long—you were obviously hoping you wouldn’t have to send it.

Atherton: No, it had to be redrafted a bit.

Sisco: If you are determined to go forward with this cable, how are you going to reconcile your position with the Egyptians with what you said in the letter that’s going up to the Hill?3

[Page 971]

The Secretary: It’s not a question of what’s in the letters; it’s a question of what can be said at the hearings.4

Sisco: What’s wrong with the letters?

The Secretary: Those guys are looking for a commitment not to sell but that would just be a slap in the face for the Egyptians. It would be better for the Egyptians to say that they’re not going to ask us for anything more.

Sisco: Well, that’s certainly okay if it works. But you’ll almost certainly get hit up about it tomorrow at the hearings.

The Secretary: I don’t know why I have to do these hearings. It’s just totally self-serving for the bureau. And I certainly don’t know why I have to do it on the first day that they ask for.

Sisco: We assumed that Humphrey was a friend of yours and it would be very hard to turn down.

The Secretary: Each bureau has one project which is impossible to turn down. But I am not convinced that they will focus on the C–130’s. (referring to cable) If they raise this, I want you to stress the positive aspect but you have to clearly identify it as being just for Eilts’ information. Unless you do, he will surely raise it with them. If we could get the Egyptians to buy that I would be very tempted to put it into our letter to the Hill. They would be morally committed to go along.

Atherton: We just have to be a bit careful about not getting involved in things that will require munitions control licenses.

The Secretary: All right. (gives cable to Atherton) What I called you all together about—Defense called me to say they had learned that this armored division has left the area around Damascus.

Sisco: But this precedes the latest Khaddam response,5 doesn’t it?

The Secretary: They could be just trying to fool us.

Sisco: They may be washing their hands of the Lebanese situation.

Murphy: It could also be just a pressure tactic. Or that they can’t do anything for the moment in Lebanon and they’re just going to leave them on their own.

Atherton: Sort of a “plague on both your houses.” They may be feeling a bit bad. They’ve been taking quite a beating from the Moslems.

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The Secretary: I am wondering if we shouldn’t send a message to the Egyptians saying that we heard that a Syrian division has left Damascus. Maybe we should tell the little King too but it’s probably too late for him.

Sisco: What would be the implications for a Syrian move for the Egyptians?

The Secretary: Oh, they would launch into whatever uproar they could get started. Do you really think they would just march on into Lebanon without waiting.

Murphy: No, I think they’re waiting to hear from us.

Day: If the reports we’ve been receiving over the last few days are accurate—if they’re backing the Christians, the reports must be so distressing . . .

The Secretary phones Clements

Day: You were saying the Syrians were backing the Christians. Actually it may be sort of the other way around. The Christians are backing Syrian attempts to find a political solution.

Sisco: The Syrians really want to prevent a leftist and PLO takeover. Let’s say it gets partitioned . . .

The Secretary: The reason we’ve got to send something to Egypt is that we want to avoid giving them the impression that we are colluding. I think we have to tell them in confidence that we’ve received some reports to which we give some credibility. An armored division outside Damascus is moving, but we have no word from the Syrians to indicate any action along these lines—what info do they have about this and do they have any recommendations for us. I think it would be worth waking up Fahmy to give him this.

Sisco: Oh, yes; I think we ought to send this out tonight.6

Atherton: You will have seen the message that we brought up earlier.7

The Secretary: No, I haven’t seen it because it probably hasn’t made its way through my staff.

Sisco: It was a very short message.

Atherton: I will have someone send up a copy of it.

Murphy: I can’t believe that they would try sending a division into Lebanon at this point.

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The Secretary: Don’t we have any intercept on this? (referring to draft cable, Secretary says:) I have told you a thousand times not to say regular forces. And they should not intervene militarily because all information that we have indicates that it would immediately cause an expansion of hostilities.

Sisco: I think personally that it’s time for us to be fairly explicit.

The Secretary: Now we should add a third paragraph. We are prepared to support their efforts and can Khaddam tell you what or whom we should be contacting, and what measures we should be taking in order to help. He won’t do it, of course, but at least we’ve asked.

All right. Now that we’re in a crisis situation. Can we get this Department to perform? I need first of all to see something every day from you, Hal, giving me the situation and your assessment. Second, I need a map showing the disposition of forces in the area. And, third, can’t you get yourself into the intelligence loop so that I don’t have to get these reports from Defense? And I want you to work out something so that we can get these cables without them getting lost in the bureaucracy. There must be some way that this Department will react to a crisis.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 347, Department of State Memorandum of Conversations, Internal, December 1975–March 1976. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. The message is not further identified.
  3. Letter not further identified.
  4. Kissinger met on March 25 with Senators Javits, Case, and Humphrey about the Ford administration’s plan to sell six C–130 transport aircraft to Egypt under the Foreign Military Sales program.
  5. Apparently a reference to telegram 1787 from Damascus, March 24, which was the most recent response from Khaddam. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P850107–2576)
  6. Apparently a reference to telegram 72131 to Damascus, March 25, in which Kissinger asked for the Syrian Government’s “ideas and suggestions as to how we could best use our influence effectively to this end.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P840090–2128)
  7. Not further identified.