278. Memorandum of Conversation1


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


  • Lebanon

The Secretary: Dinitz came to see me with both formal answers and talking points—which I seem to have left at home. The formal answer was that they could never agree to Syrian intervention. The talking points, which were strictly for me, said that they can’t understand why I am trying to maneuver them into agreeing before hand to such intervention. Their analysis runs about like this:

1. They don’t believe that Jumblatt can actually defeat the Christians.

2. They will make sure they can’t defeat the Christians by giving them arms—which I didn’t discourage but I didn’t encourage it either.

3. That basically what Asad is trying to do is restore Soviet prestige in the Middle East, which in the long run will be bad for Egypt.

4. He does not believe that the radicals can unify in Lebanon.

[Page 995]

5. If Syria goes in they will definitely tie up with the left, or, at least as soon as they have vassalized Lebanon, they will begin to move to the left to bring in the PLO and the others.

6. Once they are in they will be objectively supported by the Soviets.

Now I can’t disagree with that analysis—that is quite an intelligent approach and I told him that we would do everything we could to keep Syria out. But that if we are unable to prevent that we will also do our best to keep Israel out—just so that there were no misunderstandings.

Now I have this concern about the psychedelic way in which we go about business in this Department: does Lambrakis have the idea that he is supposed to go out and browbeat the Christians. There are just too many people who seem to have heard that we want the Christians to yield. What is your perception?

Day: We sent out a cable late last night telling him to just listen.2

The Secretary: Did you tell me you sent out a cable?

Day: It was a very straightforward cable just reiterating our previous instructions. He ran into him just by accident.

The Secretary: What I am concerned about is that he is saying that we prefer the Syrian solution. Do you think we ought to get a flash off to him to get him to say that we support the old solution? What is the new solution . . . a new President?

Day: We have been trying to avoid going into specifics in this cable.

The Secretary: Yes, but does he know what the old solution is?

Day: Yes, we have identified it for him specifically.

The Secretary: Yes, well what precisely is it?

Day: Well, basically it is a matter of the parliamentary balance shifting from about 45% to 55%, to a 50–50 balance, and the fact that the President would be selected by the Parliament. The only new thing is a proposed constitutional change concerning the resignation of the President.

The Secretary: I really think we ought to make a statement at the press briefing today saying first that developments in Lebanon have become more acute and second that we think the best basis for a settlement is the Syrian proposal of January 22.3 You can say that we believe that some of the recent proposals with respect to the recent crisis should be taken seriously by all parties. Third, that we believe that in[Page 996]tervention by any of the parties would pose a great danger. And fourth, that the U.S. is prepared to assist all the parties to find a peaceful solution. You see, I want to give the Syrians a real pat on the back.

Sisco: We only have to be certain that the pat on the back is not seen as aimed only at the Israelis.

The Secretary: Well, emphasize that military intervention from outside of Lebanon means everybody. You know, if Eilts is confused on this—and he even thinks like the Arabs—then what will the Arabs be thinking? We want to make it clear that we understand that the Syrian intervention will cause many more problems than it solves. And tell him that if it does happen, we will do as we said. You know if they do it and don’t get out fast, then they will be forced to turn more radical. Then it will be like ’67: if they wait two or three weeks, by then the Israelis will be forced to go in. You agree?

Murphy: Can’t we pick one of those points to emphasize?

The Secretary: We can say we believe progress has been made on the issue of constitutional succession.

But I don’t want Lambrakis breaking Chamoun’s will to resist.

Day: I think it would have the opposite effect if they know he has been talking to Jumblatt too.

The Secretary: Does Lambrakis have enough judgment to do this well. What do you think Larry?

Eagleburger: Yes, but with one question mark. We came into the foreign service together and he is very good but has a tendency to take off a bit.

Atherton: Yes, that is exactly how I would describe it.

The Secretary: That is what I gathered from reading his cable.4

Eagleburger: But if the reins are held tightly, he is okay.

The Secretary: I have no problem with his talking to Chamoun. If the Christians can keep it at a stalemate, that is a better solution for us than if the Syrians go in.

You know I agree with the Israeli analysis. When the Syrians take over and dominate Lebanon, it will drive it in the direction of the Moslems. They would never be able to tolerate a right-wing nut, but a left-wing nut that they can control would be okay.

Saunders: That presumes that the Christians won’t break off and partition the country.

Sisco: But wouldn’t they have to stay together just to survive?

[Page 997]

Day: I don’t think the Syrians are natural allies of the Lebanese left. The Lebanese left is much more an Iraqi element.

The Secretary: Look, if the Syrians go in I will try my best to keep the Israelis out. If even Eilts thinks that we are colluding with the Syrians, what will the other Arabs think? Should we do a cable to the Saudis to say that the risk of the Syrian intervention is increasing, that we believe that a solution can be worked out that will achieve many of the Syrian objectives, but that if the Syrians go in the risk of the thing spreading is much too great, and that our impression is that Israel is looking for an opportunity to clean up the PLO in Lebanon.

Sisco: A political solution would be in Arafat’s interest.

The Secretary: Wouldn’t Asad be pleased if we praise him?

Sisco: Well, if we give him too much of a pat on the back it would not signify enough disapproval of a military move.

The Secretary: That is why I want to strongly speak out against intervention. (takes phone call) What do you think?

Murphy: On balance, if the message is calibrated to give him both a pat on the back and a sharp jerk on the reins about intervention, I think it will work.

Sisco: When D’oud asks the inevitable question, who is it aimed at, what will we say?

The Secretary: Everybody. He can certainly indicate that although everybody is concerned, certainly the neighboring countries, Syria and Israel, are most concerned.

Saunders: We have already been pretty tough with Syria.

The Secretary: But not overtly, not publicly. You have your talking points?

Murphy: Yes. (hands over talking points).

The Secretary: What do you want to say on this subject to Asad?

Sisco: This is not the first subject you think you should raise with Asad, is it?

The Secretary: I think you have too much on Lebanon here, he will interpret it as saying he can move.

Sisco: He has got to come out clearly and say, you cannot move—you just simply cannot do it.

The Secretary: Yes, say that this is our judgment.

Murphy: If we are making the statement today, would that be too much?

The Secretary: Tell him that maybe it is possible to move people in covertly, but overtly would risk great danger. He must also know that we are making great efforts. The basic issue is how we can help him work towards a solution.

[Page 998]

Sisco: I don’t think we ought to get so specific.

The Secretary: We can say Hussein is here and will be talking to the President and that we will discuss any fine tuning with Hussein. (to Murphy) This is better for you, otherwise they come to you every six hours saying is this enough, is this enough.

Sisco: Yes, they would try all the pressure tactics.

The Secretary: Better to cut it right off.

Murphy: Do you think our statement might be too hard, too insistent?

Saunders: It is a bit cold.

Murphy: I wonder if we shouldn’t just hold it up one day so that I can give Asad the substance of the statement before you give it to the press.

Sisco: The other thing is, how will it play to Hussein who will be here two hours after it is delivered.

The Secretary: I would still rather give the statement.5 We can send a note to Atherton giving him the basic line and saying Murphy will explain the details.

Atherton: We ought to send a copy of it to Damascus so that Pelletreau can give it to him now.

The Secretary: The primary effort is to influence the political process in Lebanon.

Sisco: We can do the cables up right away while you are with the President.

The Secretary: Joe, perhaps when you write your book you can explain why it takes us here at the highest levels of the State Department, an hour and a half to do something that any ordinary desk officer can do in five minutes.

Sisco: Well, you are much more deeply involved than any normal desk officer. Things of policy interest have to be cleared through you, and it all takes time. And besides, I won’t have the time to write my book.

The Secretary: In a year you will be back here on your knees.

Sisco: Well, the important thing is, when I am back here on my knees, just take me back.

The Secretary: I guess this is just something you have to get out of your system. The nice thing about working at American University Joe, is that no matter what you do it is going to be an improvement. [Page 999] Whether you improve it 25% or 500%, the effort is all the same. You can go out there and really put your heart into it. Lay it out on the line, you can say that Washington needs a high prestige university and . . .

Sisco: How would you like to be the Vice-President in charge of fund raising.

The Secretary: No, I won’t take any part in fund raising, but I am willing to do what I can to help.

Sisco: The President said the other day that if he makes a foreign policy speech—and he has already decided not to—that he wanted to use American University.

The Secretary: But that is only because he is anti-Catholic. (laughter)

Sisco: I even offered him an honorary degree, but he decided not to make the speech anyway.

The Secretary: This is a good set of talking points. You should tell Asad that we really have a high degree of admiration for him here, and we are willing to work hard to move towards his objectives . . . You should tell him that if this thing works within two years he would have a substantial part of the Golan and the settlements . . . once you go beyond four kilometers, what settlements can they keep . . . even if they partition the Golan, he would get almost all of the settlements . . . at least he would get ⅔rds to ¾ths of the settlements for an end to the state of war.

Saunders: Except for the cluster of settlements in the south. So I guess that figure of ⅔rds is about right.

The Secretary: We can work out something about a delegation on which both the Syrians and the PLO would sit . . . but if he goes the procedural route, then it will take forever . . . just tell him we are trying to work with him . . . but it is no good if he goes in . . . two weeks later the Israelis would go in anyway . . . then we would have the worst of everything.

Sisco: Do you think he might take umbrage at our pointing out what his longterm interests are?

The Secretary: No, we can tell him where his interests are.

Atherton: Joe has a good point. We can say that we are concerned that if he makes a move . . .

The Secretary: You are right. He will say just let me worry about my own interests.

Murphy: We can just say . . . but not so international.

The Secretary: Why try to discuss both at the same time. The first time just discuss Lebanon.

Sisco: Then later go back to discuss the second half.

[Page 1000]

The Secretary: I wouldn’t refer to Rifai. You know he called me yesterday.

Sisco: From Spain?

The Secretary: And don’t get in to UNDOF. He will just get into a great “state-of-war” debate.

And point out to him what the problem really is—that he really doesn’t want to have a debate with six candidates running for the Presidency here, all of whom would have to get involved in this issue . . . what we are talking about is how to prepare American public opinion for the final crunch.

Do you want to go tonight? I think you ought to come over with me to the White House now and I will take you in for five minutes with the President.

Murphy: That’s fine. Do you think I ought to do this in two sessions?

The Secretary: Maybe three sessions. Lebanon first. But I leave it to your judgment. Maybe you can do more of it at one time, unless he goes into orbit.6 It makes me think of that picture in his office, picturing himself as the permanent protector of the remnants of the crusaders. Well, I have to go now or I will be late.

  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. Apparently a reference to telegram 74955 to Beirut, March 28. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P840090–2168)
  3. The January 22 Syrian proposal led to the cease-fire, which held in Lebanon until March. See footnote 2, Document 267.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. The Department of State statement, issued on March 29, warned that military intervention in Lebanon “contains great dangers and must be avoided” and offered U.S. help toward a political solution. (New York Times, March 30, 1976, p. 65)
  6. Telegram 1985 from Damascus, April 1, reported Murphy’s meeting with Asad. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P850107–2530)