275. Memorandum of Conversation1
- The Secretary
- Assistant Secretary Atherton
- Deputy Assistant Secretary Day
- Ambassador Murphy
- General Scowcroft
- Jock Covey, Notetaker
(Secretary reads cable Amman 1633)2
Covey: Sir, we just received word from the Lebanon Country Officer—who had taken the call that Ambassador Murphy placed to Damascus a few minutes ago—that Pelletreau has not been called in yet, and has in fact received no communications from the Foreign Ministry at all.
The Secretary: They could be bluffing us.
Atherton: They could be bluffing us about the matter of hours but I doubt that they are, overall.
Murphy: The pressures against Asad may be getting worse.
Day: But our intelligence throughout the afternoon has showed a rather static situation.
The Secretary: To bring you up to date (to Scowcroft) we’ve received a report from the French that says that the Syrians called them in to say that the situation has deteriorated. The Jumblatt talks have failed and that they feel they must move soon. They have received an urgent plea from Franghi and the Christians to intervene and they’ve asked the French to urge us to withdraw our objections.
Murphy: In fact, there’s nothing new in the pleas from Franghi. They’ve been saying that all along.
The Secretary: What is new is that they want to move now. The French want to talk about international guarantees.
I guess I had better read this cable to Dinitz (places call to Dinitz).
Scowcroft: What sort of international guarantees?
Atherton: No indication.
The Secretary: I’m wondering if we shouldn’t call in the French Chargé and say that Israel would move under the following conditions . . . (interrupted by call to Dinitz)
Murphy: The only other item that Draper got out of Pelletreau was that as of two hours ago, Jumblatt was still in Damascus. There must be some element of bluff in all of this.
The Secretary: Look, we really mustn’t panic about this. Anything that would take Woodward and Bernstein off the front page can’t be all bad. (laughter)
Basically, Asad is right. If we were not a second-rate government we would have been telling them to get in there fast and get the job done. But this place is full of mattress mice. How would you like to go into an NSC with Rumsfeld and the others.[Page 981]
Scowcroft: Well, politically it certainly wouldn’t hurt anyone to have another Mayaguez incident3 on our hands.
The Secretary: But to make this come off, we need to go to war with American Jews. That certainly would be no Mayaguez.
As for right now, if they are bluffing, then we don’t need to worry about them moving. If they are not bluffing, then they are going to move in the morning.
Murphy: And that would be about 4 hours from now.
The Secretary: It’s just possible that he may be just trying to show his hotheads that there just is no way to move the U.S. But one thing is clear, we cannot allow the Lebanese situation to go on teetering on the brink. We must take a more active role in this. The first thing we should do is to tell the French that on the basis of our present information, first, any intervention by the Syrians would lead almost inevitably to an Israeli action. Second, that our information is based on very firm information . . . and then give them some idea of the parameters. Third, it’s possible that the question of international guarantees can add a new dimension. At the moment we are urgently exploring the possibility of developing international guarantees of a kind that would limit the stay of the intervening force to just a few weeks, and would define the forces and the nature of international controls that would avoid a widening of international hostilities.
Atherton: We should add that we are in touch with the Israelis.
The Secretary: Yes, and that it will take 18–24 hours to get a response. Then we should also do a message to Hussein.
Day: We should probably tell him exactly the same thing.
The Secretary: Yes, the first thing is we should tell him that we appreciate his concerns.
I don’t think he’ll be coming on Monday,4 do you?
Scowcroft: I don’t see how he can come now.
The Secretary: He should tell Asad for us that we have great sympathy for his position and are in agreement with his solution and thirdly, on the basis of our present information, we can only repeat what we have said previously, but we have approached the Israelis to see what can be worked out with respect to the size of the force and the modalities and length of stay that would limit the likelihood of Israeli intervention. He will of course understand that it will take 18–24 hours to get an answer back. In the meantime, could he please explore with[Page 982]
Asad the need for filling us in on the details of his plans. Syria has never answered our queries about what we could do to help.
Murphy: Just one question on international guarantees. Do they really need to be international?
The Secretary: Just say guarantees, and for the French leave it so that the guarantees are their idea. That is, if international guarantees can be devised, what can the French work out . . .