30. Backchannel Message From the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (Walters) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
To: The White House for Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, eyes only. From: Lt. Gen. Vernon A. Walters.
On March 7 I saw PLO representatives at King Hassan’s guest house in Fes in real Arabian nights environment. Present as at previous meeting in November2 were Khalid el Hassan and Mujid Abu Sharawa. Also present this time was Abu Marwan, PLO representative in Rabat, but as he spoke no English he might as well not have been there.
I opened by saying that we realized that Palestinians were a factor in any Middle East settlement but that for us it was essential that disengagement begin on the Syrian front before we could go any further. Khalid who did all of the talking for them seemed a little disappointed that I had not come with an invitation, a date for a meeting, and an agenda. As we talked, his understanding of our position grew. Finally he said that for them too disengagement on the Syrian front was vital. He did hope that after this occurred I could talk to them more precisely. He felt that in about four or six weeks this could be appropriate. If such a meeting took place in Washington their level of representation would [Page 160]depend on the circumstances at the time. I asked if secrecy could be maintained if such a meeting did take place. The Secretary felt very strongly that if secrecy is lost in delicate negotiations then propaganda would follow and this was not conducive to success. He acknowledged that your tactics had scored many successes and said that they would confine such knowledge to their central committee.
Very significant to me was the fact that unlike what took place at our first meeting, not only did they not inveigh against King Hussein but they never once mentioned his name or their sufferings at his hands. I draw from this that they were impressed by our telling them in November that he was our friend and are keeping their options open with him.
Khalid said that Gromyko had received Arafat officially in Cairo and had told him that the Soviets were prepared to recognize the PLO as the government of a state. In the past all of their dealings with the Soviets had been with the CPSU rather than with the Foreign Minister. Khalid said that they realized that their relationship with the Soviets and the U.S. could not be exactly the same but they hoped that their relationship with us could change. They could not remake their public opinion toward the U.S. overnight. Khalid spoke well of Sadat and Assad and somewhat dubiously of the Iraqi regime. He asked about the Zarqa Mutiny3 and I said that my information was that it involved pay and in some measure corruption but did not involve their loyalty to King Hussein. He said that their information agreed with this. At this point he could easily have made some derogatory remark about Hussein or Zaid Rifai but did not do so.
Khalid also asked about Iranian-Iraqi relations, particularly about the border clashes. I said I knew little other than that such clashes had occurred. The Iraqis had bad relations with almost all of their neighbors such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan but they did have good relations with the Soviets. Khalid commented that King Faysal was very firm on Jerusalem. I said the oil weapon should be used carefully. It was important to know when to turn it off before it did more damage than good.
Khalid noted the high educational level of the Palestinians and the major contribution they had made to other Arab states in administrative and technical competence. He said immense amounts of capital would soon be available to the Arabs because of the new oil prices. He [Page 161]wondered if we had given any thought to these funds and how they should be used. I assured him that you had given much thought to this. I noted that such wealth brought responsibility as well as advantages. This seems a very important point. Playing the role of intellectual mentors to the rich Arabs would not displease the Palestinians. In fact I think they would relish the prospect of playing a key role in the use of the great funds soon to be available to the Arabs (particularly in the context of a Saudi-American agreement on such matters). This could provide an outlet for the Palestinians that would relieve some of their pressures for resettlement in Palestine for all Palestinians and soothe some of their hangups.
The Palestinians feel that they rendered you a great service by warning President Franjiyeh through the Kuwaitis about the plot against you in Beirut.4 When I mentioned that you had not appreciated the Damascus caper5 Khalid replied that the Beirut plot had been much more dangerous.
Khalid harped a little on the U.S. special relationship with Israel which he said had been a dagger in the heart of the Palestinians and hoped this would change. I said I could not tell him that the U.S. would abandon Israel but we had such special relationships with a number of countries and they were not exclusive of others.
Khalid said that the Palestinians had been somewhat troubled by a number of people offering to act as intermediaries for them with the U.S. President Ceaucescu in particular had harrassed them on this point, claiming credit for your initial contacts with the Chinese. I said we too had had a number of people make approaches to us claiming to be acting for PLO. Khalid with Shawara nodding agreement said they wished to use this as the only channel.
Khalid complained that the Palestinians got very bad treatment in the U.S. media. I said that this was the fault of the terrorists who had given the Palestinians a bad name. He said scornfully that it was easy to be a terrorist, all one needed was a hand grenade. I said that if our channel is to continue there must be no act of terrorism against the U.S. He agreed.
The Palestinians accepted before the end of our talk the fact that we were not prepared to go further until after the beginning of disen[Page 162]gagement on the Syrian front. They did not like it but they accepted it. They are clearly hopeful that once this has begun that I will bring them something more precise.
This talk lasted two hours and in addition to the above we talked economics, philosophy as well as black Africa and agreed on the existence of God.
I will be in Washington Sunday afternoon and will call you then. King Hassan did not attend the talk but I saw him both before and after my discussions with the PLO representatives.6 I will send a second message on my talks with him.
On meeting and leaving the Palestinians I was kissed. (It was only on the cheeks and I know you will understand.)7
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Palestinians, Folder 1. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Walters first met with PLO officials on November 3, 1973. See Foreign Relations, volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973, Document 318. On February 12, PLO officials relayed word through the Moroccan Government that they wished to meet again in Morocco as preparation for an eventual meeting in Washington, DC. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 189, Geopolitical File, Middle East, Palestinians Contact Messages Book, 1973–1975) According to Kissinger’s memoirs, the U.S. Government agreed on February 16 to a meeting in Morocco between Walters and PLO representatives in March. (Years of Upheaval, p. 1037)↩
- A reference to the first meeting between Walters and PLO representatives on November 3, 1973.↩
- On February 3, a garrison of Jordanian troops in the town of Zarqa, 15 miles northeast of Amman, attempted an uprising against the Jordanian Government over a lack of pay raises to keep up with the cost of living and over the perceived corruption of several Jordanian officials. The uprising was suppressed by February 6. (New York Times, February 7, 1974, p. 7)↩
- In December 1973 Kissinger received a report that Palestinians planned to shoot down his plane as he flew into Beirut for talks with President Frangieh. (Years of Upheaval, p. 788)↩
- According to Kissinger’s memoirs, on February 27, 1974, Palestinian militants planted mines in the road that led to the Omayed Mosque in Damascus with the intention of detonating them under Kissinger’s car. Since a morning meeting with President Asad had finished later than planned, Kissinger postponed the visit to the mosque and avoided the assassination attempt. (Years of Upheaval, p. 958)↩
- In telegram (text not declassified) March 8, Walters described his meetings with King Hassan both before and after his meeting with the Palestinians. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Palestinians, Folder 1)↩
- According to a summary of U.S. contacts with the PLO from 1973 to 1974, a Palestinian made an approach to U.S. officials in Beirut on April 20 with a message from Arafat requesting that the U.S. Government provide encouragement regarding PLO aspirations for “national authority” and participation in Geneva. On May 6, the U.S. Government offered an informal reply through Beirut, which noted that the United States will consider the Palestinian role in a settlement and Palestinian “legitimate interests.” It also noted that the U.S. government had not excluded in advance any possible arrangement. (Ibid.)↩