292. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary Kissinger
  • Ambassador Richard Helms
  • Assistant Secretary Atherton
  • Ambassador Hermann Eilts
  • Ambassador Thomas Pickering
  • Mr. Robert B. Oakley, NSC (notetaker)


  • Guidance for Ambassador Eilts and Pickering

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Lebanon.]

Secretary Kissinger: I want to make it clear that a Syrian defeat in Lebanon would be a disaster. I know Egypt does not agree but to leave Asad sandwiched between two radical states if the PLO wins in Lebanon and Syria loses would probably mean the overthrow of Asad. This would be of no benefit to Sadat. I do not know what he thinks he can get out of his policy in Lebanon.

Ambassador Eilts: Sadat has no policy in Lebanon. He has a policy toward Syria. He wants to prevent them from winning since this would give them greater weight as leaders of the Arab world and give them control of the PLO. I believe Sadat would respond if there were a genuine Syrian overture. But that communiqué with the PLO was inexcusable.2 We need to talk to Asad directly about this.

Secretary Kissinger: The Arabs are marvelous. The Syrians claim they are not attacking the Egyptians but are being restrained whereas the Egyptians are attacking them in a major propaganda campaign. Then you see something like the communiqué.

Ambassador Eilts: If we want better relations between the two we must take it out of the Khaddam-Fahmy channel and back to a dialogue between Sadat and Asad.

Secretary Kissinger: I am not that keen on Egypt and Syria getting together but I do not want Syria to lose in Lebanon. Also, I would prefer to have the PLO under Syrian control than freewheeling since we must deal with Syria anyway and the PLO would be under some [Page 1057] control. If Lebanon is dominated by the PLO it will give us fits and that includes Sadat. It will eliminate all future freedom of maneuver for him as it did for Asad after Sinai II. If at some stage we wanted to move for a Sinai III for Egypt, Sadat would not be able to do it if he had to contend with the PLO. We are not considering that idea for now but it could happen.

Ambassador Eilts: Sadat thinks about it, too. But we must understand that this would separate Egypt forever from the rest of the Arabs.

Secretary Kissinger: We do not seek this as our objective. Our approach, our strategy is to bring Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Egypt together and to go for an overall settlement. After the overall attempt, we might end up with a Sinai III but it would only be after starting for an overall and exhausting everything else. I would prefer significant territorial progress on all three fronts, Egypt, the Golan and the West Bank, with Jordan beginning to get back into the West Bank. But the 1967 boundaries are unrealizable in a first stage. This approach would keep the PLO out of negotiations where they would not be helpful, at least at the outset. We need first to get them under control and bring them in only at the end of the process.

Ambassador Eilts: I agree that this is the best approach.

Secretary Kissinger: Hermann, I really have to laugh at Fahmy. Every time you see him he talks about exposing someone yet no one seems to feel too exposed.

Ambassador Eilts: His recent accusations about Syrian meetings with the Israelis in Geneva stung Khaddam.

Secretary Kissinger: They were true.

Ambassador Eilts: It upset the Saudis as well as the Syrians and they are investigating.

Secretary Kissinger: Now that they have made direct contact with the Syrians, the Israelis have decided—against my advice—to approach the Saudis. They have asked me to set up a meeting between Dinitz and Alireza but I refused. Then they went to the Vice President but he also refused. I like this Saudi Ambassador.

Ambassador Eilts: He is a good man.

Secretary Kissinger: Do you know him? I am also impressed with that Prince who was here. I think his name was Abdullah.

Ambassador Eilts: I have known Alireza for thirty years. Did Abdullah stammer?

Secretary Kissinger: All the time with Rumsfeld but very little with me. I calmed him down. Can you imagine the Israelis getting a response from the Saudis? They are busy approaching the Chinese, also.

Ambassador Eilts: No one in the Saudi Government could officially authorize a contact. It would be rejected.

[Page 1058]

Secretary Kissinger: The first thing they would ask the Saudis for if there were a contact would be Jerusalem and this the Saudis could never give. Now, I want to be sure that Hussein supports Asad. My analysis is that had we given Syria the green light in March they would have defeated first the PLO and then the Christians and would have ended up in total control of Lebanon which would gradually have become radicalized. That would have given Syria too much control. So we encouraged or acquiesced in the strengthening of the Christians. They are now strong enough to resist possible Syrian domination. It would require too much Syrian force and Syria is no longer that strong.

Assistant Secretary Atherton: I agree. Also, the Syrians want a balance in Lebanon. They do not want to eliminate the Christians.

Secretary Kissinger: There is no longer a threat of Syrian domination but the danger now is of a Syrian collapse. A more radical Syria after Asad would take the same line on Sinai II and do something about it rather than just talk. What do you think about the analysis of Kamal Adham?3

Ambassador Eilts: It is a good analysis but he never said it to Sadat.

Secretary Kissinger: (laughter) These Arabs are impossible and you are in a somber mood, Hermann.

Ambassador Eilts: I am sorry. But he never did say it. All he talked about was the Libyans supposedly having put the denunciation of Sinai II in the communiqué.

Secretary Kissinger: That is easy. Everyone uses Libya as a whipping boy. But how do you know?

Ambassador Eilts: Fahmy told me.

Secretary Kissinger: He would not lie to you?

Ambassador Eilts: That is possible but in this instance I believe not.

Secretary Kissinger: Can’t someone make the analysis to Sadat even if he did not?

Assistant Secretary Atherton: It would be better if it comes through the Saudis.

Ambassador Pickering: If it does it will be veiled and weak.

Ambassador Eilts: The Egyptians think we are in a conspiracy with Syria and Israel to crush the PLO. They put all sorts of little signs together to reach this conclusion.

Secretary Kissinger: Egypt wants to be able to show they can deliver U.S. recognition of the PLO as what they got for Sinai II. This would be good for their position in the Arab world. But it would get us nowhere and create a terrible mess domestically in the U.S. We cannot [Page 1059] deliver the minimum demands of the PLO so why talk to them. They are a Soviet trojan horse because they would give the Soviets leverage over the negotiations if they got into them prematurely. We can bring them in at the end of the process after the others have been satisfied and the PLO has been weakened. We could talk to them as a cover for the Syrians accepting something for themselves but we have nothing at all to give the Syrians. So why should we get the PLO off Arab backs by recognition and create trouble for ourselves both at home and in the negotiating process? The State Department bureaucracy is marvelous. Only they could transform no contacts with the PLO into something sinister. A simple security contact was blown up into a major political issue because of the way it was handled. How did this happen?

Ambassador Eilts: Why didn’t we answer the question and admit at the beginning that we were having security contacts?

Secretary Kissinger: I was out of town when this occurred. The best thing to do is to tell the truth.

Assistant Secretary Atherton: We had guidance admitting the contact but you were not there and no one wanted to take the responsibility for approving it.

Secretary Kissinger: You could have sent the guidance to me for clearance.

Assistant Secretary Atherton: It was badly handled. There is no question about that.

Secretary Kissinger: Anyway, it illustrates the problem we have at home. The Israelis used to lobby for their own interests. Now they are lobbying to change the entire course of our policy to coincide with their own policy rather than our interests. Look at the parallelogram of forces and you can see. Even on Iran, 50 percent of our trouble is the Israeli lobby. They want a carom shot off of Iran onto arms sales for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Since we are doing so much for Israel and it is so strong, it is hard to kill arms sales to the Saudis who are much weaker. So the best approach is to attack through Iran and kill the idea of all arms sales to the Gulf, thus blocking the Saudis and Kuwaitis. This is despite the close relationship between Iran and Israel. Look at Commentary Magazine and you can tell what is happening. There is a Joe McCarthy-like cold war line so that if we tried to get Israel to give up two kilometers on the Golan it would be made to appear that we were selling out to the Soviets as part of a vast worldwide plot against Israel and the free world. At a time when the power of the Executive Branch is as weak as it will ever be, we cannot afford to make official contact with the PLO. Personally, I buy the Kamal Adham thesis. If the PLO is decimated and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Jordan are back together, then Jordan can get back onto the West Bank and at the end we [Page 1060] can take the PLO as an appendage to one or all of them. But at the start, they will make impossible demands.

Ambassador Pickering: The PLO will remain an Arab cause no matter what.

Secretary Kissinger: I agree. We must deal with the PLO but keep them two steps behind the Arab Governments. We will talk to the governments about the return of territory when we first contact the PLO. Recognition will come at the very end after the Arab Governments have been satisfied. Sadat wants us to say that we are champions of the Palestinian cause so he can get Arafat off his back. He wants to set up a post office box for the PLO so he will not need to be in the middle.

Ambassador Eilts: I have two points to make about your analysis.

Secretary Kissinger: Your points are that it is wrong.

Ambassador Eilts: That is included in my points. First, you are placing too much hope in Asad. He is not that moderate. He screwed up the peace process after Sinai II and he is screwing things up now.

Secretary Kissinger: Right after Sinai II, Asad was not moralizing as he is now. He asked me how many kilometers I could get for him and whether the line would be straight or crooked. I told him I could not promise him anything at all but that next March we might begin to talk about something vague. I could offer him nothing. Were you there Roy? Didn’t you think he was interested in an agreement if we could have delivered?

Assistant Secretary Atherton: Yes, I was there. He did not want to go through a negotiation like Sadat did for just a little territory but he was realistic and would have accepted something if we had been able to produce it.

Secretary Kissinger: But I could not tell him he would get anything at all. I told Sadat before Sinai II that he could get the oilfields and the passes. Asad wanted that kind of promise. I could not even tell him the U.S. would support him all the way.

Ambassador Eilts: Sadat did not get the east side of the passes and he did not even have the entire west side until we made the Israelis redraw the line. Israel played games with him.

Secretary Kissinger: Still, we could give Sadat advance assurance but there was nothing for Asad. He wanted a concrete offer. But let’s not pursue this. Let’s go back to the subject.

Ambassador Eilts: Okay. Still, your plan will not bring the PLO under control. Egypt and Libya and Iraq are in an unholy alliance to supply the PLO with arms and other support. The PLO will be a factor in the peace process. Sadat agrees with you about no early PLO participation at Geneva but he insists that the principle of later participation be agreed upon at the start.

[Page 1061]

Secretary Kissinger: You say Sadat does not want them in?

Ambassador Eilts: Not at the beginning but he wants the decision in principle at the beginning.

Secretary Kissinger: We don’t want the PLO under Syrian control. That is why I resisted Syrian plans for a quick takeover in March.

Assistant Secretary Atherton: Adham’s thesis is that the Arabs must be brought together and only then can they get the PLO under control.

Ambassador Pickering: As long as the PLO can play one Arab off against another, it cannot be controlled.

Secretary Kissinger: I could not get Asad to negotiate as Sadat did without promising him something specific. Who remembers Article III of the Sinai agreement.4 Sadat is not restricted by it today.

Ambassador Eilts: He is inhibited politically by the non-use of force but basically you are right. Why can’t we support the Egyptian thesis of a stand-off in Lebanon. Everyone would be badly mauled and a compromise government would emerge.

Secretary Kissinger: I take it for granted that there will be no victor. The Syrians should have gone all the way once they started.

Ambassador Pickering: They were afraid of the Israelis and the PLO were tougher than they thought. The Syrians got hit hard in Sidon.5

Secretary Kissinger: Israel would not have gone in in June but it is true we did not give the Syrians a new signal. However, the Israelis never gave us a changed signal so we were not bluffing the Syrians. They should have seen the situation themselves.

Ambassador Pickering: They also had the Iraqis massing along the border. What were they supposed to do about that?

Secretary Kissinger: Take it from me as a veteran of Vietnam, there are no awards for losing moderately. They should have thrown in two divisions in June and gone balls out to win. But now it is too late and I am worried about the collapse of Asad.

Assistant Secretary Atherton: I am worried about the deterioration of our relations with Syria and Egypt, both of whom suspect us. For now Asad seems to be okay.

Ambassador Eilts: The Egyptian situation is manageable except that they are no longer frank with us about Lebanon. We need to get Egypt and Syria back into détente. Maybe we should go to Asad not [Page 1062] Khaddam, and say stop the propaganda. If you do this, we can get Egypt to stop. This would need to be done very delicately. It would still leave the situation on the ground unchanged but they could then begin to talk to one another.

Secretary Kissinger: I have no problem with the Egyptian idea of a balance in Lebanon but I want to prevent a PLO victory.

Ambassador Helms: The Lebanese Ambassador here, Khalil, is from a leading Shia family in South Lebanon. He is talking of bringing the Lebanese back together against the Palestinians. Some kind of a Lebanese coalition.

Assistant Secretary Atherton: We have seen reports that the Syrians are trying to organize something like this.

Ambassador Pickering: Can we bring Syria and Egypt back together by pushing or do we let Egypt continue to resupply the PLO?

Secretary Kissinger: Can we keep Egypt from supplying the PLO? I do not think they would stop if we asked them to. They would only tell the PLO we had asked and keep on doing it to show the PLO what good friends they are.

Ambassador Eilts: Probably so.

Secretary Kissinger: (to Eilts) Avoid attacking the PLO since this would be counterproductive. We do not want Syria to lose in Lebanon and we want the PLO weakened. Our strategy is to bring the PLO into negotiations at the end, keeping them a step behind Egypt, Syria and Jordan so that they will be manageable. Otherwise, the PLO will disrupt the negotiations by demanding more than the Arab Governments want or can meet. They will have the support of the Soviets. The Israelis will reject the demand and the negotiations will collapse. We have no illusion about Asad but we want to keep Syria split from Libya and Iraq and the USSR. If a radical crescent involving Iraq, Syria, a PLO-controlled Lebanon and Libya comes into being—following the overthrow of Asad—it will be very bad for Egypt. You (Eilts) should see Sadat alone—can you see him alone? (Eilts—yes, particularly since Fahmy will be away when I get back.)—and give him my analysis of the situation. As an old and trusted friend I would like him to know what I think and I would like him to tell me where it is wrong. Egypt is still the key element in our policy but I want his comments on my analysis.

Ambassador Eilts: Fahmy has a strategy of building a new strategic belt. It would include Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

Secretary Kissinger: We could support that.

Ambassador Pickering: Let us not encourage a belt that would force Asad and Hussein into the arms of the Iraqis and Libyans. They will end up in the radical camp like this.

[Page 1063]

Secretary Kissinger: (to Pickering) Tell Hussein we have asked Asad to authenticate his messages through Hussein. We have told Asad that we do not hesitate to talk to him through Hussein but we do want to hear from him directly from time to time. And above all we want to hear that Hussein actually speaks for Asad.

Ambassador Helms: Here are the agreed minutes of the Joint Commission meeting.

Secretary Kissinger: What is in them? I will not have time to read them since the meeting is about to begin.

Ambassador Helms: They were just completed this instant.

Ambassador Pickering: Can I give Hussein the elements of our strategy, except tell him that we don’t want Syria to be defeated rather than we do not want them to win?

Ambassador Eilts: You can’t tell Hussein that. It would get back. I am going to say that we do not want them to win. We should have the same line.

Secretary Kissinger: Tell Sadat we are not working for a Syrian victory but I do not want Syria to fail. You should also tell him of the consequences I foresee of a Syrian defeat. We do not want a radical bloc in the north. We want an eventual reconciliation of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan so the peace process can be resumed. My fear is that Syria will have to pull out of Lebanon like it did from Jordan in 1970 and this will lead to the overthrow of Asad and the creation of a radical bloc. If Syria had overwhelmed the PLO in March or had gone all the way in June, it might have gained a decisive victory in Lebanon but that is no longer possible.

Ambassador Pickering: What do we mean by saying we do not want Syria to win.

Ambassador Eilts: It means no Syrian dominance. Sadat fears Syria will sew it all up. He wants instead a settlement among the parties and a Syrian pull-out.

Secretary Kissinger: (to Pickering) You need to find words to strengthen Asad’s morale. There is a great danger of a Syrian collapse since Asad’s policy is unnatural.

Ambassador Helms: The PLO will get the support of Iraq, the Soviets, Libya, etc.

Secretary Kissinger: (to Pickering) You need to find words for Hussein which will strengthen Asad’s morale. There is a great danger of Syrian collapse since Asad’s policy of opposing the PLO and the left is unnatural. All the pressures are on Asad and he gets no encouragement. The PLO cannot collapse since they have no place to go. They will fight to the end. There is no hope of an all-out Syrian victory. We want to avoid the creation of a radical bloc. Syria can’t win. If Asad [Page 1064] should ever succeed in knocking off the PLO—and I think it may be too late for that since it would be so expensive and bloody—there would still be the Christians. Last March they were weak and could have been defeated. Now they are strong enough so that Syria could not defeat them, especially after paying the cost of a victory over the PLO. And if they tried, the Israelis would move in. So a Syrian victory over all of Lebanon is not possible. Tell Sadat this and tell him my great fear is that Asad will be overthrown. We do not want to see a glorious victory and Syrian preeminence. In fact, we have worked against this, starting in March, and it is now not possible. My fear is the collapse of Asad.

Ambassador Eilts: Sadat sees us as supplying the Christians and trying to knock off the PLO. He does not trust us. He fears Syrian control over the PLO and the Maronites.

Secretary Kissinger: You accept my analysis, don’t you?

Ambassador Eilts: Yes, but what do we tell Hussein so that we have the same line.

Ambassador Pickering: We have never told Hussein or Asad that we favor Syrian preeminence. We can put the emphasis on that.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay. Let’s say to Sadat that we are not working for a Syrian victory. We will tell Hussein that we do not want Syria to lose. Hermann, I may inflict Nancy and my son, David, upon you. Do you think Sadat would send a plane to Amman for them? That way they could go to Israel and cross the bridge. It would be in late August but I will let you know.

Ambassador Eilts: I will be delighted. Just tell me when.

Secretary Kissinger: I now know where the skeletons are buried in the State Department. Give me another two years and I will clean the place up. I want to offer Fahmy a dinner during the General Assembly but I find that the bureaucrats have filled my schedule with every Foreign Minister in the world without any reference to the national interest or any priorities. One of the country directors told Win Lord at dinner the other night that I was the most heartless, insensitive man he had ever met. Win asked if he had ever met me and the FSO said no. His complaint was that I would not take time to see officials from his country, which amounts to nothing. That is the way it goes.

Ambassador Eilts: I am glad you will see Fahmy. He needs badly to talk to you at length. He has a lot to get off his chest and a long talk will be good for him.

Secretary Kissinger: I will get him to Washington to see the President as well as having a dinner in New York, or do you think he would prefer to do it all in Washington? I want him given the full treatment and met in New York at the airport by a senior substantive officer.

Assistant Secretary Atherton: I will go up myself to meet him.

[Page 1065]

Secretary Kissinger: Also, he will be our guest and get him a good hotel suite in Washington.

Assistant Secretary Atherton: He liked the Watergate even if the suite may also have been one where Khaddam stayed.

Secretary Kissinger: Hermann, you can also tell him that on September 27 the Israeli Philharmonic is giving a concert and he may wish to attend. You know that Admiral Zikry6 was seated right across from the Israeli Navy Commander for the Bicentennial, and was invited to visit the Israeli ship. He declined. The Pentagon is incredible and the Secretary of the Navy must be the dumbest one alive. For the review of ships on the Bicentennial he decided that the Navy had lost too many helicopters in Vietnam so the diplomatic corps would have to use barges to get to the Forrestal for the review. He calculated the traffic would make the trip from La Guardia to the pier in two hours so everyone had to catch the 0600 shuttle from Washington. Naturally it only took fifteen minutes so the diplomats were on the deck of the Forrestal by 0745 with nothing to do and not even any coffee until the review began at 1100. At 2:30 the President left, followed by the Admirals but there was no priority for diplomats so, with 5,000 people on board, they did not all get off until late. Then one group was on the bus but it would not leave until the second group arrived from the carrier so it waited for 1½ hours until the diplomats raised so much hell the bus finally went to the airport. Then when they got to Washington, there was a huge traffic jam because of the fireworks. It was after midnight when they finally got home. They were infuriated at such treatment.

Ambassador Helms: If it had happened here everyone would have said this is an underdeveloped country.

Secretary Kissinger: It could not have happened here. They are too civilized.

Assistant Secretary Atherton: Certainly there would have been coffee and tea to drink had it happened here.

Ambassador Helms: We must leave for the Joint Commission meeting.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P–860122–0281. Secret. The meeting was held at Ambassador Helms’s residence.
  2. A reference to a July 29 agreement between Syria and the PLO to commit to a cease-fire, but without any withdrawal of Syrian troops, which numbered approximately 15,000 at that time. (New York Times, July 30, 1976, p. 1)
  3. Adviser to the King of Saudi Arabia and chief of the Saudi intelligence secretariat.
  4. See Document 226.
  5. A reference to a failed Syrian military attempt in June to extricate Palestinian and leftist forces in the Lebanese city of Sidon that led to numerous casualties on both sides.
  6. Egyptian Vice Admiral Fuad Abu Zikry.