276. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary
  • General Scowcroft
  • Assistant Secretary Atherton
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary Day
  • Ambassador Murphy
  • Jock Covey, Notetaker


  • Lebanon

The Secretary: (reading cable handed to him for clearance)2 Let’s not get to the public statement. Okay (approves cable)

Scowcroft: On the talking points, wouldn’t it be better to avoid saying “run unacceptable risks” and instead say “it would almost certainly result in . . .”

The Secretary: Yes. You see Brent, that shows you something about this building. Those Foreign Service Officers who are not missionaries are actually political science professors. Very few of them are foreign policy practioners. Do you have any problem with what we are saying to the Jordanians?

Scowcroft: No.

[Page 983]

The Secretary: We should add something to the Jordanian thing to the effect that we have exhausted all possibility of getting other Arab forces.

Day: It would certainly take too long to try to arrange that.

Scowcroft: What ever forces go in have to do it fast and be able to fight.

Day: And certainly the Kuwaitis can’t do either.

Atherton: That seems pretty certain that Asad has had a knock-down-drag-out fight with Jumblatt.

The Secretary: But he always begins his negotiating sessions by hitting the ceiling. He may just want to demonstrate that by god he was ready to go and that he even pulled in other people to see if he could do it without us.

Day: That certainly is what we thought yesterday.

The Secretary: I better call the Israelis (Places call to Dinitz).

Sisco: Has Dinitz given you any reaction at all so far?

The Secretary: He said we will have to stick to our position. I told him to get them out of bed and see what they can think of by way of international guarantees.

Atherton: If Asad is still trying to argue it out with Jumblatt, this may all be just a ploy to try to back up his position.

The Secretary: You know, this is just another example of how the Israelis have done themselves in. They didn’t want Lebanon to be part of the Syrian military system, so by stonewalling on this they will succeed in forcing the PLO to take over. And then they will still have Lebanon as part of the Syrian military system.

Well, you can’t win them all. But we haven’t lost any countries this year, have we?

Day: Only Angola. Not a real country.

The Secretary: We should add a sentence to the France message (takes call to Dinitz).

Now can you do a cable to the Egyptians—I just want him to know about the French approach and the fact that it appears that the Syrians are becoming ever more serious about moving a division into Lebanon, and that we continue to try to dissuade the Israelis from reacting. We should say that we told them that there is a very high risk of Israeli reaction if they move in. And we’ve asked for more information. If they have any ideas of what we can do to assist a solution, we would like to hear from them.

Sisco: Instead of high-risk, maybe we just should say it’s highly likely.

The Secretary: We should say almost certainly.

[Page 984]

Sisco: Oh yes, I agree.

The Secretary: Now, we should tell the Frenchmen that the Israelis simply are not to be persuaded. The only way to move them is by threats which we cannot carry out in the present climate.

You know what will happen if the Syrians move in: The Congressional outburst, the calls for cutting off Syrian aid, the raging about the Soviets. This will certainly be seen as a Soviet inspired maneuver to overcome the defenseless Lebanese people.

If the Syrians move, I will recommend to the President massive pressure against the Israelis to try to get them to stay out. The thing the Israelis just can’t seem to understand is that if Syria goes in they will have to beat up on the PLO and that they can’t stay in for very long.

Atherton: Asad’s position would just be impossible. How can he stay up at the north and be accused of shooting Arabs while the Israelis are down in the South shooting the PLO.

Sisco: I think at this point, it would be a very good idea to do a chronology of exactly what we’ve been doing so far. A list, just to show all of the diplomatic moves we’ve made so far.

The Secretary: Yes, that’s an excellent idea. Let’s get the messages together. But you know, as soon as we do that, and we show it to anybody, then we will have people on our backs screaming, but why didn’t you go to Oman? And what about Djibouti?

Do you think we ought to go to the Saudis? On second thought, it’s probably not such a good idea. If we told them what’s happening now, they’d wet their pants.

Atherton: I don’t think we should go to the Saudis.

The Secretary: And we probably should hold up on the Hawk thing.3

Atherton: We still don’t know if Hussein is going to be coming.

Sisco: I think this will all just wash that out.

The Secretary: I think we ought to hold off until we know whether we know whether he’s coming or not. If there’s going to be a war I don’t think we want to be fighting with the Saudis about financing Hawk missiles for Jordan.

Sisco: I don’t think he can possibly leave at this point. But by the same token, his Chief of Staff is still here. I just saw him on Friday.

The Secretary: This can all be one big bluff. You know he’s an artist at it. I told him when I was there the last time—he’s the only person I know who not only goes to the precipice, but actually jumps over, hoping that he’ll find a tree on the way down.

[Page 985]

As I see it right now, there are three possibilities. First, the talks with Jumblatt may have gone so badly that he needs to do this as some sort of a demonstration. To prove to Jumblatt that he really would move. Two, he may be doing it to get control of his own hotheads. They may be pressing him pretty hard so he says Okay—let’s bring some others to see if we can do it without the United States. Then after it’s all over he’ll be able to show them that if they still want to go ahead, they’ll have to fight Israel. Three, he may have actually decided to go in and may be using this as a device to set us up.

Murphy: How do you mean set us up?

The Secretary: That is, setting us thinking about how we’re going to go about restraining the Israelis.

I personally lean towards number 2. Although he may still go in. It just isn’t characteristic of Asad to go balls out this way. I am assuming that the Soviets are also trying to discourage him from this. After all, they will be accused of being responsible for everything that happens. Congress will be all over them and us saying, what about your great détente now?

Sisco: What time does it get light there?

Murphy: About 10:00 our time.

The Secretary: I wonder if the Syrians can find Lebanon. How good are they?

Murphy: Good enough to find Lebanon.

The Secretary: I never will understand how the Egyptians actually got five divisions to the Suez, at the same time, at the same place. All right, would you go ahead and draft those cables, and when you’re finished, come back up and we’ll go over them.

(meeting adjourns during drafting of cables—reconvenes at 7:25 p.m.)

The Secretary: I would not report this to Tel Aviv unless we can hold it to Toon.

Sisco: We can add a slug to that, just to say for Toon eyes only.

The Secretary: Better give Toon an account of exactly what it is we’ve told the Israelis. (to Atherton) Can you do that?

Day: (referring to cable just arrived from Amman)4 I don’t think this changes anything really.

[Page 986]

Sisco: Well, I don’t think you were quite this specific with Dinitz. You never gave him the kind of line that’s in the first sentence of the sixth paragraph.5

The Secretary: (reads cable) I don’t want to tell the Israelis this. Until now I have never said to either side exactly what the military maneuvers of the others are. If I do, and then they do move and stray 100 yards from what they said they were going to do, then the other side will be all over us saying we betrayed them.

  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. Not further identified.
  3. A reference to the U.S. Government’s proposed sale of Hawk missiles to Jordan.
  4. Apparently telegram 1634 from Amman, March 27. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Country Files, Middle East and South Asia, Box 23, Department of State Telegrams to the Secretary of State, Jordan, Folder 24)
  5. The first line of paragraph 6 reads, “Rifai says he believes Asad will focus on Beirut and establishing a Syrian corridor from border into Beirut.” (Ibid.)