67. Telegram From Secretary of State Kissinger to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1

Hakto 124. Please pass the following message to the President:

1. I have just completed a five hour meeting with Assad2 which was the most difficult of any that I have had with him. While some [Page 292] progress was made in certain areas, the remaining differences are serious enough to lead me to believe that an agreement may not be achievable.

2. The Syrians and Israelis are agreed on the line of demarcation. They are agreed with the arrangements in and around Kuneitra which gives Assad some breathing room so that he can bring in civilians. There is agreement in principle between the two sides that there should be zones of limitation and a buffer zone between the two main defense lines. There is also agreement in principle that there should be a UN role to help keep the cease fire and check on the agreement.

3. However, there are serious remaining differences. These are:

A. Syria insisted on taking over the positions in the Mount Hermon area; Israel is willing to give up all the positions on Mount Hermon to the UN except the one it maintains it took prior to the cease-fire going into effect.

B. Syria is insisting that its forward defense line more or less coincide with the October 6 line. Israel has been holding to the position that this line should be six to eight kilometers eastward, though it has made clear it is willing to consider advancing it provided it is satisfied with the arrangements regarding the zones of limitations.

C. Syria and Israel have different conceptions regarding the zones of limitations. Assad is thinking in terms of a narrow five kilometer zone east and west of the respective defense lines with only limited restrictions. Israel wants much more far reaching restrictions which the Syrians insist would require an actual pullback of a substantial part of their armed forces. Israel is also insisting that in a twenty five kilometer zone there be no weapons placed that can reach the defense line of the other side. Up to this point, Assad has not been willing to agree to any such restrictions. His Foreign Minister told me that to accede to these requests would lead to Assad’s overthrow.

D. While the nature of the mandate for the UN presence can be compromised to meet the essential needs of both sides there is a large gap in the numbers with Israel insisting on about three thousand and Syria talking in terms of no more than three hundred observers. We know there is some give in these positions but whether there is enough flexibility cannot be determined too clearly at this point.

4. Apart from the aforementioned details there is a more fundamental consideration which seems involved in the current negotiations. Assad has underscored frequently that if he goes beyond his present position that he will not be able to sell the disengagement agreement internally. We have no real way of judging this since if he decides to go ahead, he can certainly point to a substantial Israeli withdrawal as a first step towards an eventual settlement. Israel is deeply suspicious and with the transition from the outgoing to the incoming [Page 293] government few of the leaders, if any, seem able to take a broader view of matters.

5. Regardless of whether we achieve the agreement or not, I believe we have made sufficient progress that the talks could be suspended in such a way that no seriously adverse repercussions on our overall position would take place in the short-run, though the long-range implications of failing to achieve an agreement now are worrisome.

6. My judgment would continue to be that a trip by you to the Middle East would be favorably received. I expect to pass through Cairo on the way home and I would want to get President Sadat’s judgment on this so that you and I can discuss it fully upon my return.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 45, HAK Trip Files, Middle East, HAKTO 1–179, April 28–May 31, 1974. Secret; Sensitive; Immediate.
  2. The meeting between Asad and Kissinger took place on May 21 from 5:45 until 9:45 p.m. at the Presidential Palace in Damascus. (Memorandum of conversation; ibid., RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 8, Nodis Memcons, May 1974, Folder 7)