277. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary
  • Under Secretary Sisco
  • Deputy Under Secretary Eagleburger
  • Assistant Secretary Atherton
  • Assistant Secretary Saunders
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary Day
  • Jock Covey, Notetaker


  • Lebanon

The Secretary: I’m puzzled how Eilts could have gotten this so confused. I think we ought to rush a cable back to him saying that we have informed Asad of the Israeli position and that as far as we can tell, according to all the information we know is available to him now, it can only be interpreted as not authorizing intervention.

Could Asad have misunderstood this the way that Eilts has?

Murphy: No, I don’t think so.

The Secretary: Tell him one interpretation of why it’s being done this way is that Asad may feel he can exert more pressure on us, and [Page 987] our Ambassador is not in town, any way. I think we better get that off within the hour.

Atherton: We have a few other things to review.

Day: This is a draft cable to Beirut.

The Secretary: Have we heard anything from the Israelis?

Sisco: No.

The Secretary: Of course they have their regular cabinet meeting which meets on Sunday.

Saunders: That would be over by now.

Atherton: I most certainly hope they didn’t discuss this at a regular Cabinet meeting.

The Secretary: This really is outrageous. They get all of the cables we have been getting and they give us nothing. I cannot believe that they are not in touch with anyone in Lebanon. Their intelligence has always been very good before.

Sisco: Of course they’re in touch with people in Lebanon.

Day: Information exchange with the Israelis has always been a one way street.

The Secretary: Yeah, but just wait until the next Golan book2 comes out, and it will be us who betrayed the Israelis.

Now, if we tell Lambrakis that he should move to accommodate the Syrian position, won’t we just read about it all in the newspapers the next day?

Atherton: We’ve got to be careful how we say this.

The Secretary: Can’t we avoid the phrase “along Syrian lines.”

Sisco: Well, at this point, I think we’ve just got to be more explicit.

The Secretary: Well, we could spell it out but still avoid flagging the Syrian aspect. Does Lambrakis have the judgment to be given such a free hand?

Atherton: Yes, based on the way he’s handled things so far over the last couple of weeks.

Day: But we’ve just got to expect that as he talks—after all Beirut is a very gossipy town and you can’t hide a thing like this. But he certainly can play down the Syrian aspect.

Sisco: But do we want such broad consultations? Why can’t we just limit it a bit and authorize him to talk to one Christian and one of the Jumblatt people.

The Secretary: That sounds much better.

[Page 988]

Day: It’s pretty hard to select just one major Christian.

Sisco: Well, just for example, how about Jamail?

Day: Well, he’s only a leader of one of the factions.

Sisco: And Chamoun?

Day: Yes, and maybe Sarkis.

Sisco: Well, then maybe we can limit it to just Chamoun, Sarkis and Jamail and tell him specifically he should not go beyond that.

Murphy: Doesn’t that amount to placing our benediction on Sarkis?

Day: Yes, I think maybe we better leave Sarkis out.

The Secretary: Now don’t just mumble names. The point is I don’t want Lambrakis running all over town with his political scientists imposing their own version of the settlement on these people.

Sisco: Yes, I think we need a limited approach. We don’t want to leave them with the impression that this is our own mediation effort. We have to limit our effort to just paralleling the Syrian effort. The major problem of course is Jumblatt, and if we have any influence, moving him is what it’s all about.

The Secretary: I just don’t want to turn all those Embassy political officers loose so that we become a major bone of contention. We should be seen to be supporting the Syrian effort.

Sisco: Well, I personally think we should limit it to Chamoun and Jumblatt.

The Secretary: Let’s just have him to go to Jumblatt first and report immediately and tell him we’ll have further instructions after that.

Sisco: Jumblatt will probably tell us to go to hell. But that doesn’t matter, we will have at least done it.

The Secretary: What do you think Dick?

Murphy: I see your point.

The Secretary: I just don’t want those political officers running loose—just leaving everything up to their imagination.

Murphy: Well, you know that every leader in Lebanon has some sort of axe to grind.

Sisco: Who else do you think we ought to contact? We can go to Chamoun because he came to us.

Day: If we go to Jamail, that should help balance it a bit.

The Secretary: I think we should stick with Chamoun and Jumblatt. After we hear from them, maybe the Embassy will want to suggest others.

Sisco: Yes, they should just report back and we will tell them if there are any other people that they should see. That way they can’t get the wrong idea.

[Page 989]

Saunders: The main purpose of this was just to be able to say that we didn’t talk only to Jumblatt.

The Secretary: Okay, tell him they are authorized to contact Jumblatt and Chamoun.

Atherton: That’s just what I was drafting when I was on my way up here (hands the Secretary cable).

The Secretary: That means you’ll have to rewrite paragraph five.

Day: Well, the main point of it is the talking points.

Sisco: I don’t think it would be a good idea for us to have our people contact the British and the French Ambassadors in Beirut. That word would just spread like wild fire.

The Secretary: I agree.

Should it say in paragraph two that it is a conflict drawing in outside power . . . how about if outside powers intervene . . . I would say “none of the surrounding countries would accept the partitioned Lebanon.”

Sisco: Partition would bring about the same undesirable result. (The Secretary leaves room to take phone call)

The Secretary: We should say that we have been in contact with other countries and we see no possibility of the UN intervening.

Sisco: There’s not a ghost of a chance.

The Secretary: That is we should say to the Christians that there’s no possibility of U.S. intervention—but don’t say that to Jumblatt—and if there’s any intervention, it must come from other countries in the area.

I think we should say to the Egyptians that on Monday3 in the press briefing we will again issue a strong warning against unilateral intervention. Tell them we can’t do it on Sunday without creating a major crisis.

Sisco: That’s the thing I find so interesting. The newspapers have been very calm about this.

The Secretary: Yes. That way we get no credit for doing anything. But it goes wrong, we get all the blame.

Atherton: We should say that as soon as he’s accomplished that, we will tell him what to do about the others. He should tell each of the factions that the Syrian approach is the most feasible.

Atherton: I think it would be a good idea to send a report to Hussein in Madrid.

[Page 990]

The Secretary: I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to go through Pelletreau. After all, they’re not using him. I don’t mind him being informed, but I don’t think he should go seek out Asad. Particularly since there’s nothing in that channel. What sort of fellow is he?

Murphy: Great.

Sisco: You remember two days ago you asked the same question and Murphy said that he had picked him himself.

Murphy: He’s a tight-lipped fellow. Very discreet.

The Secretary: I just hate to have all of this cable traffic going back and forth about getting guarantees from Israel. Pretty soon they’ll be able to claim that we were colluding. It makes me especially uneasy because there’s no word from the Israelis. I think we just have to say that we are in contact with each of the parties to indicate an interest in a solution along Syrian lines. I don’t think we have to say anything to Khaddam. I think Asad did it this way so that he could be in contact with us directly.

Atherton: You may be right. After all, Hussein just inserted himself in the middle of this.

(Secretary places call to Dinitz).

The Secretary: You know these Israelis really are shits. But I don’t think we ought to tell them that Egypt has now said they won’t do anything if Syria intervenes.

Sisco: You know the thing they don’t understand is even a week from now, they could still intervene.

The Secretary: If the Syrians do go in, I think it’s up to us to spend several days trying to pin them down on a precise time of withdrawal. Only then should the Israelis go in.

Saunders: An Israeli mop up operation would automatically bring a Syrian reaction.

(The Secretary speaks to Dinitz on the telephone)

The Secretary: He just reiterated the same position without any explanation at all. That, Golda would never have done.

Sisco: Did he just reiterate it or did he say that they are still reviewing the situation?

The Secretary: They just don’t want to be in a position to have authorized a Syrian move into Lebanon which is the same position we’re in. So as I see it, we just have to wait until they move and then face a new reality. Then it’s up to us to keep the Israelis out and take the rap. Then it will be us that stopped them from going in. I’m just afraid that if we tell all that to the Syrians now, that they will just go ahead and move.

But if the Israelis could only just say what I just said. But instead they just reiterate their position. You know I have read them every cable that we have gotten and they have given us nothing.

[Page 991]

Sisco: I can just see them there sitting around that green colored table.

The Secretary: What green colored table. As I remember it it’s wooden. Was it green, Hal?

Saunders: No, as I remember it it was just a plain wooden table.

Atherton: Well, a reiteration may have been the only possible way to answer us. After all, if they had a Cabinet meeting, they would have been split 16 ways. I don’t think they would have had a whole Cabinet meeting on this.

Atherton: However many people they had there, the opinion would have been split that many ways.

The Secretary: I wonder if we should send some explanation to the Syrians now just so they can see something going on. Tell them we’re talking to Jumblatt and to Chamoun . . .

Atherton: Well, we probably should send a report to Hussein too.

The Secretary: Can we get a report to him?

Atherton: Yes, he’s already asked Pickering to get in touch with us by phone today and right now, he’s at Torrejon where he will overnight.

The Secretary: Hussein will overnight at Torrejon?

Day: Actually, it’s Pickering who overnights at Torrejon. Hussein will be somewhere else nearby.

The Secretary: Tell him we need some answers . . . but I don’t think he should be telling all of this to Asad over the phone.

Sisco: Our report really should be pretty minimal.

The Secretary: What can we say? That we’ve had an Israeli response.

Atherton: I think we have to say that we are still in consultation with the others.

Sisco: I think we have to be more precise. We have to tell Hussein that we can’t say there’s been any progress but we’re still consulting. If we say only that we are still consulting, it comes off much too positive.

The Secretary: I think you’re right. We should also say we haven’t heard from the French but consultations continue.

Sisco: That’s it. That’s it exactly.

The Secretary: And we have to get that cable off to Eilts right away.4 This is how I see the situation developing. At this point we are sympathetic to the Syrian move but we have to be sure that we have in [Page 992] no way authorized it and we have to find some way to keep the Israelis out.

Atherton: Do you think Asad would move without getting an answer from us? I think he’s pretty scared of the Israelis.

Murphy: I think he’ll wait to hear from us. We still don’t know how that meeting with Arafat went.

Day: The other danger is that he may lose his shirt at home and afterward blame us.

The Secretary: Which is exactly what the Egyptians want.

Day: And the Israelis . . .

The Secretary: The Israeli problem is that they just don’t want to make any decisions on this.

Day: Well, if I had that government, I wouldn’t want to make any decisions either.

The Secretary: Let me tell you a secret, we have that government (laughter).

Murphy: Do you think it would be possible to get a guarantee of precise timing of withdrawal—say three weeks.

Sisco: You mean afterwards?

Murphy: No, before.

The Secretary: There’s no way. Even if they said three days, the Israelis could never accept it. We must think about you having a private talk with Asad and telling him that we cannot guarantee anything. And therefore, we urge him not to do it. But if he absolutely must, then he’s got to give us some idea of where he wants to go and how many people it would take, and so on. Even so, we can’t guarantee him the whole moon.

Murphy: Well, he’s already told us that he doesn’t think he’ll need very many troops but he doesn’t know precisely where they will have to go or exactly how long it will take to do it.

The Secretary: That only shows that he’s a responsible man. The Israelis will of course say that any intervention will lead to the Syrianization of Lebanon. The irony of it is that even if they stay out, it will lead to Syrianization of Lebanon.

Sisco: They will be able to reduce their forces only when they find a political solution.

The Secretary: Under present circumstances, their going in will make the solution easier. Just by going in they will weaken someone. And even after they come out, there will be the memory of the intervention and the possibility that they will go back. It will certainly create a new sense of reality in Lebanon.

[Page 993]

Murphy: Asad is certainly counting on the shock value of the Syrian uniforms to bring back some of the strays who have gone over to Jumblatt.

Murphy: If I leave tomorrow night, I could be in Damascus Tuesday night.5 I could probably be called in as soon as I get back. That would be Tuesday afternoon your time.

The Secretary: Then we’ve got to think about what you would say. I think the best thing we can do is be absolutely realistic and no one can blame us afterwards for not coming clean. I think we should say the preferred solution would come about with his assistance, but without his forces. But if he moves his forces, I simply cannot get a clear answer from the Israelis. But no Israeli government could ever give that kind of assurance in advance. And I think you have to tell him that given the domestic situation in this country, the only possible solution must involve very concrete guarantees of a fixed time, a line below which they would not move, and so on. That could be tied to international guarantees. But do you speak Arabic well enough to get that across?

Murphy: I can do it. But if they move, then you’ll know I used the wrong verb. (laughter)

The Secretary: No, but can you do it?

Murphy: I’ll work it out in advance on this message.

The Secretary: The only way to navigate through this situation is with perfect honesty.

Sisco: Well, let’s just jot that all down and we’ll have a fresh look at it in the morning.

The Secretary: I still don’t understand what it is you want me to do on these Hawk Missiles with the Saudis. What exactly do we want to get from the Saudis?

Atherton: We want to get them to take another look at the 300 million ceiling.

The Secretary: Do we want to get them up to 400?

Sisco: You just have to be able to say to Hussein that you are raising this with the Saudis.

The Secretary: I don’t understand how the 300 million was screwed up so badly.

Atherton: The Jordanians just waited too long. They waited until it was too late to tell the Saudis how much it was going to cost. The hardware alone was 300 million. But when you count in the spares and the training . . .

The Secretary: And even 700 million would not be enough?

[Page 994]

Atherton: No, 700 would be fine. And maybe we can even pare it down to 500.

Day: If it’s all spread over a matter of years, then 700 million would not be enough because of inflation.

Atherton: But if we can sign now, it’s a different story.

The Secretary: Okay.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 275, Chronological File, March 1976, Folder 2. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. See footnote 9, Document 202.
  3. March 29.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. April 1.