281. Memorandum of Conversation1


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


  • Lebanon

The Secretary: Okay, where do we stand?

Atherton: The ceasefire went into effect about 4 hours ago and there will be a parliamentary meeting on Monday.2 I think we can expect a standstill for about 10 days.

The Secretary: And if they have a new President, will that extend it?

Atherton: My concern is that Jumblatt will continue to press for more than the Syrian formula. And if he doesn’t get it, then he’ll break off the ceasefire.

The Secretary: Dinitz called me this morning to say that the Syrians are moving a commando battalion into the Tripoli area.

Saunders: We don’t have any word of that but it certainly is possible. They’re observing radio silence in the area right now.

Atherton: That’s interesting. That’s the first piece of shared information we’ve had from the Israelis.

Sisco: Was he nervous about it?

The Secretary: He was asking us to do something.

Now have we heard anything from the British or the French or any of the others? You know the way the Israelis are playing this, they’ve designed it so they can say they asked us for our help but that we would do nothing.

These talking points on Lebanon (for the SFRC appearance today)3 are outstanding. Who prepared them?

Day: It was a community project.

The Secretary: No, they really are outstanding. They’re definitely too complex for the Committee but I will probably send them across to the President when he gets back.

All right. What are our next steps?

Day: We have one procedural problem and you may want Dean Brown’s assessment—especially of Asad’s position.

The Secretary: (reading news ticker) Here it is again: “U.S. warns Syria three times against intervention.” Someone of you should call [Page 1006] Dinitz and warn him again not to play politics with this. They shouldn’t think that they have an open drawing account.

All right, I guess we should do a summary for Asad, but we should not indicate that the Christians favor having the Syrians in.4

Atherton: This sort of summary would also be useful for our people.

Day: You may want to send it to Toon.

Sisco: Both Toon and Murphy.

The Secretary: You should also repeat it to Sadat. I think the Egyptians are reasonably well satisfied with this.

Day: I strongly suspect that the question of Syrian intervention will still be a lively one.

The Secretary: I still think that the probable outcome will be Syrian intervention.

Day: There will be no strong power center even after there is a new President, and both sides have some pretty heavy weapons.

Saunders: It would virtually mean they would have to take over because no one else has any power.

The Secretary: But it’s important that we make it clear that that is absolutely a last resort, and we cannot be seen to be extracting guarantees from Israel at the same time we have been telling the Syrians that we would not work out any guarantees. I think within a week or two it will blow up again. How long do you think it will hold?

Day: There’s a lot of new pressure. I think the negotiations will break down because Jumblatt wants them to.

Sisco: When are you going to Africa?

The Secretary: In the third week of April. Do you think it will break down by then?

Atherton: Sooner than that.

The Secretary: The next time it breaks down, Syria will probably go in.

Day: Yes. If it breaks down this time, then they will not be seeing anything ahead.

Atherton: The alternative is for them to try to shift to the left.

The Secretary: The Israelis will say that from their knowledge of the Christians, they can hold out indefinitely.

Saunders: That is not really the issue.

[Page 1007]

The Secretary: That is the only issue to the Israelis. A divided Lebanon would be the best for them.

Saunders: Not if they look further ahead.

Day: We should do some thinking now—if we have eventual Syrian intervention—on what basis will you want to present our position to the public.

The Secretary: First of all, I think we should keep all of these congressional briefings to a minimum. Otherwise every Congressman will be running to us with his own personal plan.

I just hope the President will not crow too much about the ceasefire in his campaign in Wisconsin.

Sisco: The temptation will be very great.

The Secretary: Do you really think it will blow up.

(conversation interrupted by Larry Eagleburger who reports that two shots were fired into the Soviet Mission in New York. Eagleburger recommends, and the Secretary approves, a very strong statement of outrage and apology.)

These Jewish groups are insane. What are they trying to accomplish?

Sisco: These are just the Jewish Defense League5 tactics, and they’ve been the wrong tactics since the beginning. They probably feel they have more legitimacy now that there is some harassment going on in Moscow—even though that harassment in Moscow is due in great part, to what they’ve been doing in New York.

The Secretary: Right. I think we need cables for Eilts, Toon, and Porter. Can we get a cable from Brown? He should be telling us on what basis the U.S. should be doing whatever is necessary—keeping in mind, of course, that Syrian intervention is absolutely a last resort.

Atherton: On these congressional activities—I think we’re better off briefing than not briefing.

The Secretary: We just have to be very careful that we don’t seem to be inviting intervention.

Atherton: In my talks with Congressional types, I’ve always talked in terms of the expected chain reaction.

The Secretary: But by the same token we should not be unreasonable in terms of the real Syrian interests. (interrupted by phone call)

(in reference to shooting incident) Can the Governor do anything?

[Page 1008]

Sisco: It’s really a city problem, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to call the Governor.

The Secretary: Who should be called first?

Sisco: The Mayor. Just tell him it’s intolerable.

The Secretary: We should tell Toon that in our judgment, another flash point is approaching within a week or so—that we appreciate this analysis and he should keep in mind that this is the direction we will want to go if our efforts fail.6 But that we should not get involved too early in the debate with the Israelis. But tell him I don’t want to read all about it in the Israeli papers. Maybe we should meet again by the end of the day.

Sisco: Henry, I really think you should call the Governor, too. After all, you already told the Soviets you would.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 275, Chronological File, April 1976, Folder 1. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. April 7. A 10-day cease-fire began in Lebanon on April 2.
  3. Kissinger’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee mostly concerned the sale of C–130 aircraft to Egypt. See the New York Times, April 3, 1976, p. 2.
  4. The message to Asad was sent in telegram 80365 to Damascus, April 3, 0309Z. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  5. The Jewish Defense League, founded in 1968 by Rabbi Meir Kahane, violently protested the Soviet Union’s restrictions on Jewish emigration and conducted terrorist activities aimed at forcing the Soviet Government into loosening its emigration restrictions.
  6. Telegram 80366 to Tel Aviv, April 3, 0312Z. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)