28. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Mrs. Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel
  • Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister
  • Abba Eban, Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Moshe Dayan, Minister of Defense
  • Simcha Dinitz, Ambassador to the United States
  • Lt. Gen. David Elazar, Chief of Staff
  • Mordechai Gazit, Prime Minister’s Office
  • Ephraim Evron, Deputy Director General, MFA
  • Brig. Gen. David Leor, Military Assistant to the Prime Minister
  • Eytan Ben-Zur, Private Secretary to Eban
  • Mr. Mizrachi, Aide to Eban
  • Colonel Bar-On, Aide to Dayan
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Joseph Sisco, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Kenneth Keating, Ambassador to Israel
  • Ellsworth Bunker, Ambassador-at-Large
  • Robert McCloskey, Ambassador-at-Large
  • Winston Lord, Director, Policy Planning
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, NEA
  • Harold H. Saunders, NSC Senior Staff
  • George Vest, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Press Relations
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

Mrs. Meir: Dr. Kissinger.

Dr. Kissinger: Madame Prime Minister. I spent the afternoon with Sadat yesterday2 and we reviewed the negotiations with the Syrians.

Incidentally, would it be possible to get an English translation of that newspaper account you read to me?

Mrs. Meir: Yes, surely. [Mr. Gazit goes out to get it. See Tab A.]3

Dr. Kissinger: I will find it very helpful for my meeting this evening. [To Sisco] Apparently Sadat called in the Egyptian press after we met in which he advocated a four-stage process of negotiations, including the 6-point agreement, initial contacts at Kilometer 101, Geneva Conference and Aswan, and that Syria, too, must be prepared to go through them.

So I reviewed the situation with him. I misrepresented your positions somewhat, by saying that the plan you suggested to me included only about half of the new territories, but I said maybe with great effort we could talk about the October 6 line, but I was not authorized to mention that yet. And then I told him I was not at all clear whether the Syrians are playing for a settlement or for a reason to break matters up. Also I told him that what the Syrians wanted from me was something he had never asked for, namely that the Syrian proposal has never changed from my first visit there, which is that I should give them a final line which they would negotiate with me, and only after it was agreed on would they be prepared to discuss any of the other things. Since I was in no position to discuss a final line without a negotiating process that previously had taken place between the Israelis and the Syrians, we were already in a procedural stalemate. To hold me responsible for whatever the initial Israeli position was was nonsense, and I said that if he had the willingness and courage to go into negotiations with you without a prior assurance from me, therefore it wasn’t pos[Page 128]sible to do more for the Syrians. And therefore it was a procedural question, not just a substantive problem. They had a right to ask for my assistance, participation, mediation, whatever you want to call it, once some process was going on, but to demand from me to draw a line which they did as a condition for Geneva, which they did again Wednesday morning4 as a condition for disengagement talks, that was an impossibility.

Sadat took a very positive position. He said he wanted Syrian disengagement primarily because it would prevent, for many of the reasons which independent of him I had given to you Wednesday night: He wanted a Syrian disengagement because it prevented once and for all the Syrian capacity to make mischief in the Arab world; because it would then be possible to pursue constructive policies without the interferences; because it would eliminate a risk of war started by the Syrians into which he would be organically triggered. And he said he would do his best.

I said to him also that it was premature for me to present a concrete Israeli plan in these circumstances in Damascus and maximize the risk of an immediate confrontation. I told him roughly what I had thought of suggesting to you, that I would present concepts in Damascus not tied to any particular line, and say that because of the formation of the government and because of the difficulty of the subject, Israel would send a senior official to Washington within two weeks of forming the government to present a formal proposal, after which Syria would send someone, and then there would be some talks about it.

He agreed with all of this. Then he described his own position as follows: He had no fixed views on where the line should be. He would do his best to present to the other Arab countries the October 6 line as a significant Syrian achievement—if I could get that from Israel. He personally thought that Syria had to get some kilometers beyond the October 6 line. If Israel made such a proposal, then he would be prepared to agree that he would not go to war if Syria rejected it and went to war. He could not make that commitment on the October 6 line. He didn’t pursue the subject, and I didn’t pursue the subject with him.

He agreed we had to prevent a blowup. He agreed with me that the immediate problem was to keep this negotiating process going and not face an ultimate line. For this purpose, he sent Gamasy to Damascus today to explain. I told him it was my impression in any event, wherever the line was in the new territories, that you were prepared as part of that settlement to permit civilians to return to the territories. And he said he was sending Gamasy to stress some of their experiences [Page 129]in the negotiations, first of all. And he is doing it in the capacity of Chief of Staff of the Joint Command—and you remember he stressed that when he was on television with me. Secondly, he would also send letters to Faisal, to Kuwait and other Arabs, all of whom received letters from Assad that I had brought nothing—saying that the process was well-launched and the Syrians would be unwise to break it up. And he has sent an emissary to these countries. He is sending a Foreign Office emissary to Assad this afternoon. He is prepared either for concurrent talks in Washington or also in the Egyptian military commission with Syrian officers in Geneva. He said he would offer it immediately to the Syrians so they would be in the wrong if they turn down either venue. And that is essentially the substance of my talk with him on the Syrian disengagement.

I gained the impression that he is sincere about what he is saying. He certainly put himself, on TV when I was there, very much on record by saying—someone asked him: would you recommend patience to the Syrians? And he said: Yes, to be patient. They asked him: Is progress being made? And he said: Yes, as much progress as could be expected is being made.

So if the Syrians blow it up tonight—which I don’t exclude—they will certainly do it in opposition to his public statement, and to the emissaries he is sending around.

Mr. Eban: How would they blow it up—by refusing to have a further procedural stage?

Dr. Kissinger: Well, Assad has said to me—and that is basically a position he has never deviated from in any of my meetings—that if I bring a position that is confined to the new territories, he will not talk further. I won’t bring him such a position; I won’t bring him any position that is tied to any line, so he can’t blow it up on that ground. I will draw from the presentation that the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff made, concepts that can be applied in any place.

Mr. Eban: And procedural proposals.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. But you see, your questions are more rational than the discussion is going to be. Since the only procedure he has ever been willing to discuss with me is a procedure that follows an agreement, not a procedure to get an agreement, since he believes that he is paying a heavy price to talk to Israel at all in any form. He feels that he must have an assurance of something worthwhile before he talks. This was essentially his position on the Geneva talks. And when all is said and done, when all the verbiage is stripped away from what he said to me on Wednesday, that is what he was saying to me on Wednesday.

The reason he and I always talk for four hours is because we always talk past each other. I talk procedure and he is perfectly rational about the procedure, and I keep forgetting that he never budged from [Page 130]what he said three months ago. So if I don’t immediately ask him: now when does this procedure start?, we are in a never-never land in which we have a perfectly rational discussion about procedure but in his mind it starts afterward, after the agreement, and in our mind of course it is a way of getting an agreement. And basically we have never really broken the logjam. I thought on Tuesday night when I saw him for four hours5 that we were operating from the premise that there would be a negotiation parallel to the Egyptian-Israeli style, and it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that I understood this wasn’t so. Therefore the public statement of Sadat yesterday really puts him squarely on your side, and ours, that the procedure had to precede the negotiations.

Mrs. Meir: [to Mr. Dayan] You see, in the four stages Sadat spoke of, there was the 6-point agreement, the Kilometer 101, Geneva, then it was Aswan. So he took us through the four stages.

Dr. Kissinger: Now you see why we all treasure Joe Sisco so much. He just turned to me and said: You are going to have a tough time tonight! Now, I won’t go, you go. [laughter].

So Sadat is backing our procedure one hundred per cent. He is backing it moreover with Faisal, and wherever else he is sending his emissaries. And he is putting himself on record with the Syrians, and for that matter he is also putting himself on public record that what I have achieved this week is satisfactory.

Secondly, he showed me a map that the Syrians have given him of their minimum line, which I will not share with you, for your emotional stability. You know it anyway.

Mr. Dinitz: Is it the same map?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, the same map I brought [on January 20].6 What is interesting to me is he doesn’t know it. And he asked his generals, and General Ismail, the War Minister, to come and show us what they knew, and they had the two Syrian lines, and he agreed that that was out of the question, that he would not support that.

But, we have two problems now. The first is the procedure, the second is substantive. I frankly don’t want a substantive position right now. It is not to anybody’s advantage to have to take a substantive position. I want to maintain a position that I don’t have a substantive position. I want to go to Damascus and discuss procedures, concepts, like thinning out, return of civilians, . . .

Mr. Dayan: And release of prisoners.

[Page 131]

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, release of prisoners.

[Mr. Allon arrives and joins the group].

I’ve never seen Yigal and the Defense Minister both wearing neckties.

Mrs. Meir: You see the American influence, as our opposition says.

Dr. Kissinger: They say Israel is a satellite of the United States. [laughter]

So tonight I will keep it confused on substance and precise on procedure, with an Israeli commitment that a senior official will come to Washington in two weeks, and let’s play it from there.

Mr. Dayan: From what you know—and perhaps Sadat said something about Assad’s position in Damascus—is it something like Sadat in Egypt, that is to say, that he is the only one that can make decisions and concessions or changes in something, or perhaps he doesn’t hold the same position that Sadat enjoys in Egypt?

Dr. Kissinger: Well, I have the impression . . . How these two ever got together is now beyond my understanding, how these Arabs ever agreed on the same time, I mean. Forgetting now about Sadat and AssadFahmi and Saqqaf, the two who were in Washington. Never do I see Fahmi that he doesn’t warn me against Saqqaf. Sadat has said to me previously that he has two problems—actually, three slightly contradictory problems: In Damascus everyone is bought by someone in the Baath Central Committee: some belong to the Iraqis, some to the Soviets, some belong to local groups, but everyone is bought by someone, according to him. So it is a precarious situation. Secondly, especially today, he spoke extremely ill of Assad personally. He said, “You have to remember, these are traders, merchants.” He spoke much more ill of the Syrians than of Israel yesterday. And thirdly, he says that still Assad is the best one to deal with. He said that again yesterday. He is making an effort now to bring Assad to his knees, and that is why he wants to present the October 6 line as reasonable although not enough—I mean reasonable enough to get talks started but not sufficient.

But I am not going to give them a line. So that is an assessment. That is why he is saying it. He of course would also like Assad to be split off from Boumedienne. But he feels that at this stage the Syrians are totally unreasonable. He spoke worse of the Syrians than of you.

And I have said to him—since I take the position that you haven’t agreed to the October 6 line—I of course had to take the position that no line beyond the October 6 line had ever entered our conversation, and that I was certain of one thing—that no Israeli settlement would ever be given up as part of the agreement. You know that puts an automatic limit. He said he agreed with that.

[Page 132]

This is the full extent of what I know of Sadat in terms of a final settlement with Israel. He never raised it at all. And I felt I’d better not have the record show that I was in the Middle East talking to him and—so after we had been on TV, where he had already said the time was not appropriate to discuss it, I took him aside and said, “I just want you to know, Mr. President, I am prepared to discuss it, now or at some other time, and I don’t want you to think that I avoid the subject.” But the cars were already lined up, and he said: “I don’t want to talk about it now, this is not the right time to discuss it, it requires careful thought.” So we never discussed anything about the ultimate settlement at all.

[General Elazar arrives]

Mr. Eban: Have you changed your views about what the effect would be if we were not to get a settlement?

Dr. Kissinger: I have the impression that he believes that if you get no settlement because of the refusal to give up any of the old territory that he would probably be forced into a war even if he thinks the Syrians are unreasonable. That is what I derived from it. My conclusions are essentially the ones of the other night: in fact they are reinforced. I had no sense before yesterday of how much there was any limit beyond which he could fail to support Syria. At least we have some sense now of that. He has given me flat assurance that beyond a certain point he would not go to war if Syria went to war.

That, for God’s sake, must remain absolutely confidential.

Again, I committed nothing to anybody. And he agrees; moreover he said tactically it would be a mistake to offer them now any line, even if it were beyond the October 6 line, because they’d just pocket it and ask for more. So on the immediate procedure, he is in total agreement with us. In fact, in my presence he specifically instructed Gamasy not to raise any line in Damascus and not to discuss any line. Our Ambassador, who understands Arabic, said that while he was instructing Gamasy he was giving a summary of what in fact I said here.

Madame Prime Minister, I am in for one hell of an evening, because the last thing he wants is to discuss the procedure. He thinks it is irrelevant.

My basic objective has to be to get out of Damascus without this thing being blown up. His basic objective may be quite the opposite—to show that he did everything that his brothers asked and that he was deceived and got nothing for it. His basic analysis—which is correct—is that the basic fact of talking to Israel in any shape creates an illusion of some kind of compromise which is in itself a liability for him, and unless he knows what is the outcome he has paid too high a price just for the talks.

My own judgment is that he would not accept a line even across the October 6 line which did not at least go half way or some distance [Page 133]towards what he calls his minimum line. I am just giving you my assessment. I have never heard him say anything that would indicate that he would be content with 3 to 5 kilometers. He certainly wouldn’t accept if I offered it to him without any process.

So that is not our issue today at all. Our issue today is whether I can give him enough substance drawn from what the Defense Minister said the other day, as amended by the Chief of Staff, in which I will be very flexible about deployment patterns as long as they are reciprocal.

Mr. Eban: There was a statement from Damascus that you gave assurances of the final line.

Mrs. Meir: In the Cabinet someone asked me would I today ask you whether this statement that came out was made by you. I said I wouldn’t even ask it; it’s just inconceivable. But the statement that came out said that Dr. Kissinger promised Assad that he would get us off the Golan Heights.

Dr. Kissinger: I think the answer you should give is the one I have always given, which is that in Egypt I told the Egyptians I would discuss nothing but disengagement, and since I have promised Syria to do exactly for them what I did for Egypt, I am discussing only disengagement and no final lines. As it turns out, I have never expressed any view about the final line. He has, of course, expressed vehement views on the final line; I didn’t. I am taking rigidly the line I took with the Egyptians, with whom I have never had a substantive talk of even the most superficial kind about a final solution. That didn’t even come up. He expressed himself vehemently. I didn’t even reply in a noncommittal way; I didn’t reply at all, but just treated it as a non-subject. Moreover, Sadat showed me the message Assad sent him, which was that Kissinger brought nothing. That would certainly not be nothing. So you can flatly deny and I will flatly deny; it is inconsistent with my whole concept of how these disengagement talks should be handled. But do it not on the ground of what the position on the ground is but that it is not part of the disengagement talks.

Mrs. Meir: I understand that concretely, if he agrees, it boils down to this: that in about two weeks after we have a government, we will send someone to Washington and discuss things with you. Subsequently the Syrians will send someone to you.

Dr. Kissinger: I can’t stop them from having someone there concurrently if they wish, so that within a day of hearing your idea I can give it to them. But ideally I’d like to stage it so that your representative comes and then I will summon the Syrian representative. Only if those two get within range of each other do we start the negotiations.

[Page 134]

Mr. Dinitz: How are we supposed to proceed now with the Mizrachi affair,7 through the committee in the area?

Dr. Kissinger: Sadat gave orders in my presence to release Mizrachi immediately, so I did not ask for the time. But I have the impression that it would be today or at the latest tomorrow. And I told him you would release all of the 73 that you could still find except the Russian.8

Mr. Allon: Was it difficult to persuade him to leave the Russian with us?

Dr. Kissinger: [laughs] Since he created such happy auspices for Gromyko’s visit9 by staging a flag raising ceremony at the American Embassy this morning.

Mr. Allon: Did you raise with him the possibility of keeping this joint tent or staff together even after the disengagement is implemented?

Dr. Kissinger: I mentioned it but he laughed. He didn’t say yes or no. We didn’t discuss it.

Mr. Dayan: About Syria, if the question of return of civilians comes up, there is a point about it: If this is done within the general agreement, then of course the area will be handed over to the UN. But if for some reason they say, “All right, let’s start with the return of the civilians,” so it is still under our positions there, which I am almost sure the Syrians wouldn’t accept—he wouldn’t want their civilians to go and be under Israeli occupation. So, on the one hand at least I am for starting with something—of course with the idea that our prisoners of war will be handed back—but besides that, on the other hand, I would have liked to see some movement, let’s say the beginning of return of civilians, and anyway, why keep them in refugee camps? On the other hand, I realize that there is a problem because if we are there they won’t like it. And I am sure we won’t feel like withdrawing some of our positions unless it will be reached within a general agreement. So that is another problem that I just wanted to mention.

Dr. Kissinger: If we could ever get them into a negotiation on the return of the civilians separated from the final line, we’d already be in good shape.

Mrs. Meir: When I read the statement by Sadat,10 I saw hope in it. Because he really went out of his way.

[Page 135]

Dr. Kissinger: He is trying to keep the procedure going.

Mrs. Meir: He went out of his way to say: “Look, we didn’t get it in one step; we went through various steps before we reached this stage where we are.” And I thought maybe this would have some influence on Assad if he wants something.

Dr. Kissinger: Madame Prime Minister, you are absolutely right. Sadat’s strategy is to isolate Assad. I mean after all, he could have made my position hellish by just saying, “This is between Syria and Israel and we wish you well, but we won’t get involved in the nuances of this.” It would have made it hell. Instead, his joint appearance with me—and what I didn’t know until I got here, his separate statement afterwards—is in effect putting the onus on the Syrians if it breaks up at this point. And he is also sending a message to Faisal, Kuwait and others. Moreover, his demands, which may be politically unbearable here, are not wild, and he is willing to back them up with some very specific assurance, all of which I think will be a constructive attitude. But that is the last problem we have to face now, even though it is a problem.

He, himself, says no discussion should go beyond the October 6 line right now. And I wouldn’t even go that far. I think it would be a grave mistake for me to take the risk that Assad didn’t mean what he said the other day—since every time we found him to mean what he says. Therefore I can’t run the risk. It is definitely in his interest to blow this thing up while I am out here, if he is going to blow it up at all. For the very reason that I want it to blow up, if it does, at the subordinate level, he wants to blow it up on a high level.

Mr. Eban: Is there any information on the prisoners we think are alive?

Dr. Kissinger: No, he has no information.

Mr. Eban: Do you have any impression of what the Soviets and Syrians might have talked about?

Dr. Kissinger: We have no information whatsoever and the Egyptians have been given no information whatsoever, nor have the Egyptians asked Assad what the Soviets are saying to him.

Incidentally, he says they replenished not one airplane of his since the war.

Mrs. Meir: Really?

Dr. Kissinger: Sadat says they have given some tanks but no airplanes. But you will know that better than I do.

[Page 136]

Mrs. Meir: We will see what we have on that.

Dr. Kissinger: He claims they have not replenished planes. He says they got tanks.

Mrs. Meir: And missiles?

Dr. Kissinger: I didn’t go into the details. He said they got about two-thirds of the tanks replaced, but with better tanks, so he is not complaining about the tanks.

Mr. Allon: Did he mention the Scuds?

Dr. Kissinger: No, not at this meeting. At a previous meeting he did, but he said he wants to assure me that every missile on Egyptian territory is operated by Egyptians.

Mr. Eban: His air losses were less heavy than his tank losses though.

Mr. Keating: But the Israeli papers said he has been supplied.

Mr. Dayan: The Egyptians owe a lot of money to the Russians. Do they pester them to pay it back? And could it be due to their financial difficulties?

Dr. Kissinger: When I was there, McNamara from the World Bank was also in Egypt. He gave me a breakdown of their financial situation, which you probably have too. He hasn’t mentioned that to me. But his behavior to the Soviets is provocative beyond a point that is conceivable according to that double-track theory we heard the other day. He is putting himself in a position where it will be very difficult for him to cross tracks simultaneously. Switching back to the Soviets would require him to pay a very heavy price politically, and vice-versa. I think his behavior to the Soviets has been really gratuitous. They showed me the schedule they have for Gromyko. It was really very minimum, very little protocol.

Mr. Sisco: I don’t see how he could go back to the Russian alternative and stay top man in the country. You would really have to think in terms of an alternative for Sadat with that kind of reversal.

Dr. Kissinger: He is imploring us to let him know what we are telling the Soviets so he doesn’t get embarrassed. It is either a game of unbelievable deviousness, which I don’t see the benefit in, or he must be paying the price. I don’t know what the Russians have done for him.

I have no idea what I will face tonight in Damascus. I think there is a fifty-fifty chance that I will face there what I faced before. There is nothing you can do to change it, so I am not even asking.

It could well be that the Syrian domestic situation is such that the only final line they can accept is the line they gave you, and in their [Page 137]mind it is already such a huge concession. In that case we will have this negotiation blow up no matter what line you will talk about.

Mrs. Meir: Shall we go to lunch?

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 7, Nodis Memcons, March 1974, Folder 7. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The meeting was held at the Guest House in Herzliyya near Tel Aviv. Brackets are in the original. Kissinger met with Meir prior to this meeting from noon to 1 p.m. and also after this meeting from 2 to 3:15 p.m. The memoranda of conversation are ibid.
  2. See Document 27.
  3. Tab A has not been found.
  4. February 27. See Document 26.
  5. Presumably the meeting in the early morning hours of February 27. See Document 25.
  6. The map has not been found. Presumably Asad gave it to Kissinger on January 20. See footnote 5, Document 19.
  7. See footnote 8, Document 4.
  8. The Russian POW is not further identified.
  9. Gromyko visited Damascus and Cairo February 28–March 1.
  10. Apparent reference to a statement made by Sadat at the flag-raising ceremony in Cairo to mark the reopening of the U.S. Embassy. Sadat mentioned the four stages of the Israeli-Egyptian disengagement and said it should be a model for Syrian-Israeli disengagement. (Summarized in the memorandum of conversation between Meir and Kissinger, March 1, noon–1 p.m. National Archives, RG 59, Records ofHenry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 7, Nodis Memcons, March 1974, folder 7) See also the New York Times, March 1, 1974, p. 1.