74. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Hafez al-Asad
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Isa Sabbagh, Interpreter
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

Kissinger: Well, we have had a long night, Mr. President. I shall miss our almost daily chats. [Laughter] But I respect the way you have conducted the negotiations. It is a very difficult step for you.

Asad: While we have reached [something], particularly with regard to the red line, we have not really solved the complicated question. Because this agreement will be published. Even the map will be published. Some papers have already published it.

Kissinger: In Israel?

Asad: No, even Arab ones. Lebanese papers and magazines. Of course, as I mentioned before, we have to present it to everybody. Apart from this subject . . .

Kissinger: Yes, I know.

Asad: Is there an American letter or not?

Kissinger: Yes.

Asad: Because three days ago you said you would have one.

Kissinger: About what?

Asad: About the second phase.

Kissinger: First, I told the President it would be sent two weeks after. I would leave him a draft, but the actual letter would be sent two-to-three weeks after. For the reasons which I gave.

Asad: You said it would be about a week after your appearance before Congress. About a week.

[Page 301]

Kissinger: That is fine. That amounts to about two to three weeks.

Asad: Then we started discussing the content, and you never completed it.

Kissinger: Let me say, first, especially if the agreement is completed, there is a good chance the President will personally come to this area, and I believe the two Presidents will probably reach a rather satisfactory understanding about the second phase.

Asad: Of course, this is apart from the letter.

Kissinger: Yes. In letter, what we have in mind is something along the lines I discussed with the President yesterday: that within the year, we will engage ourselves to an active sustained effort to bring about the implementation of Security Council Resolution 338.2

Asad: We will start within the year?

Kissinger: Yes. And that this will include the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people.

Asad: You think things will remain so stable for a year? If within twelve months from now we will start this, when will it be carried out?

Kissinger: No, it will be started well before. I gave the President my estimate. We can have a preliminary discussion during the summer, and the start of active pressure in December, January.

Asad: In your estimate, when do you think Resolution 338 will be carried out?

Kissinger: I have to give you an estimate?

Asad: Yes.

Kissinger: Sometime during 1975.

Asad: Don’t you think developments that would have come about in the area—psychological, military, social—would create different circumstances in the area?

Kissinger: Different from what?

Asad: You think things will remain stable in the area for a long time?

Kissinger: No, absolutely not.

Asad: I do not believe the situation in the area will remain for a period of a year if Israeli occupation is not ended. This is my own analysis.

Kissinger: It is my own analysis too. I can tell the President that I told the Israeli Prime Minister I thought there would be a war within a year if there is not progress towards a solution.

Asad: Yes, you are right.

[Page 302]

So a letter along these general lines would not solve our problem, I think. Sure, I know the United States does not want any change in the area; a letter, of course, would have implied therein a moral commitment.

Kissinger: But if we did not want a change, we wouldn’t be here. Why should the United States care about disengagement? Why should we care about Line A, Line B? This is nonsense from the American point of view—unless we wanted to start a movement toward a resolution.

Asad: That is true.

Kissinger: If we wanted to protect Israel, we could give it military protection on its present line.

Asad: You are protecting Israel.

Kissinger: But if we did not have a larger objective in mind . . .

Asad: We have to speak frankly. This kind of action by itself is capable of various interpretations and could be seen from various points of view. For instance, I evaluate this action as not necessarily in the interests of the Arabs. Maybe.

Kissinger: But this was always the President’s view.

Asad: That is why I cannot from it alone or from it per se derive an indelible conclusion that America is moving in that direction.

Kissinger: I think if we put all the actions together . . .

Asad: I want to go a step further and say this is the way it looks: With this action you have somehow contributed to removing pressure from Israel. I do not mean Syrian disengagement, but the whole picture of disengagement, including Egypt and Syria. Of course, it has other facets, but I am talking about it from this point. The disengagement concept itself, as seen from the Arab point of view, has been like deflating various balloons, taking away the certainty of the preparedness, the readiness, the unison of the Arabs. We know the Israelis could come to this point. But this is a difficult point of the Arabs—military, political. What the Arabs were beginning to achieve by not having disengagement, by having them alert—this concept of disengagement would cause them to slacken.

That is why we can in summary say that acts of disengagement now could be explained as not being in the interests of the Arabs, could be explained from a certain angle as in the interests of Israel, and in any case need not be taken as an exclusive indication of America’s intention for the future.

We have to separate these things when speaking of it. I for one am optimistic about the new trend we discern in the United States, but not necessarily based on that. Because perhaps it is the result derived from the consensus of our discussions, discussions which touched on other [Page 303] subjects wider than disengagement. But were I to shut my mind off from those positive indications I got from those discussions, and wider considerations, and concentrate on disengagement, I must say I feel in an uneasy mood, neither optimism nor pessimism.

Now we have gotten used to each other and have to speak frankly.

Kissinger: No, I appreciate it. I consider it a sign of confidence.

Asad: Therefore, I say this subject itself remains inadequate. And on this basis, I as the leader in this country cannot help but to continue to prepare militarily, economically, and look for friends, supporters, because this is not an adequate indication, (a) for me, and (b) for me to prepare my people for the new trend in America’s intentions. This is the way I frankly evaluate the thing. I would like to go back to that point so you will rest assured that my personal result of these discussions is optimism. But who can guarantee? Because Israel is strong in America. She might turn things up side down.

Frankly speaking, our discussions here on disengagement have strengthened that belief that I have, and strengthened my conviction that Israel is as far away from wanting to pursue the path of peace as ever. For instance, Israel is standing firm on a few points as if that territory belonged to her from the start of creation. With all due respect for what Dr. Kissinger has said about if the United States wanted to give protection, if every country in the world gave that protection, unless Israel learns to live as a Middle East country, it will not work. The Arabs are an ancient nation in this area. They are the first nation to present civilization to the world—the sciences, writing—whereas Israel as a political event is a new development here. There is no historic nation called Israel in the area. There are Jews, yes. It is not a question of a nation I am talking about. The Arabs have among them the Christian, the Jew, the Moslem. But to these Arabs, to them belongs this ancient civilization. But Zionism does not have this ancient civilization.

Religion is not the basis for a nation. Christians do not form a nation; Moslems do not form a nation; and the Jews in the world are not one nation. Moslem nations fight one another. A Syrian Jew is different from a Soviet Jew, from an American Jew. It is true that Zionism is trying to form a nation from religion, but this is a view which is contrary to logic and history and will never prevail. Especially when formed against the interests of other people. I do not mean the Arabs, I mean at the expense of all other people. For example, when Zionism tries to extricate a French Jew from his country, France, that is a loss to France and to him.

Zionism is not just an offense to Arabs alone but to others. In my evaluation, Zionism will not triumph. And this is a fact which in my opinion as an Arab and as an Arab individual, will not be changed, as I [Page 304] said before, by Israel being protected by the Soviet Union or the United States.

Circumstances do change, and Dr. Kissinger as a political scientist knows there have been historic circumstances when the United States did not support Israel. Eisenhower did not; the Soviet Union once did, and now is not. There was a period when France was supporting Israel very deeply, and has now changed.

Kissinger: France is still the second largest weapon supplier to Israel.

Asad: At one time, there was one organic union between France and Israel—witness the 1956 invasion of Egypt. Is this circumstance still obtaining? No. Arab citizens, I don’t think it will be possible to sway them by temporary considerations. That is why it is in the interest of Israel, the deep interest of Israel, to rush to follow the path of peace when the opportunity presents itself.

Kissinger: Let me make a few observations on what the President has said. First, I agree essentially with your analysis. I agree Israel must learn to live in the Arab world or it cannot live at all. I agree it is not possible to pursue a colonial policy, at all, but especially among a people as intellectually advanced as the Arab people. I agree it is absolutely imperative for Israel to seek the road of peace. And I have said so at every occasion, in Israel and publicly.

Now, in terms of the evolution of American policy: Of course both Zionism and Israel are strong in America, or America would never have started supporting Israel. That is a reality with which we must live, and with which I as a political leader must cope.

The President in his own experience must have come up against times when the least effective way to achieve something is a frontal assault on the pattern that is to be changed. And sometimes it is necessary to surround the problem rather than make a frontal attack. I do not think I have to give lessons in political leadership to the man who has led Syria the longest in its recent history.

Now, with respect to the current situation, I had made the current conclusion I gave to the President before October 6 war, that is to say, on the necessity of peace. I said that to the Arab Foreign Ministers to whom I spoke in New York.3 But it is also clear we would almost certainly have failed, without the October 6 war. I have considered the October 6 war a strategic defeat for Israel. They achieved some tactical successes, but no strategic successes. I concluded from the very begin[Page 305]ning of the war that the war should be used as an opportunity to move towards peace. And therefore I have given much of my energy to bringing about a crucial first step towards peace.

The President is absolutely right about the long-term trends. But many things can happen before long-term trends express themselves. And therefore it has been the intention of our policy to accelerate this process by American pressure and to bring about a reorientation of Israeli thinking and an alteration in American attitudes.

I believe we have been quite successful in this. If the President’s analysis is correct, and I believe it is, then no new line can be permanent. Because the same factors that produced the October 6 war are certain to produce other confrontations, and nations that were ready to go to war when the impression was that Israel was invincible will certainly go to war when they have gained their military self-respect. And it is for this reason that the United States has embarked on this process and is determined to pursue it.

Now there are many other forces in the world, and to the degree they have no direct responsibility or ability to do anything, they can afford to make big pronouncements. But we are engaged on a course we consider inexorable, the early stages of which will be painful and difficult, but which will gain its own momentum after a certain point.

It is, of course, entirely up to the President to conclude what he will do about United States intentions. It is entirely up to him what he wants to tell his people about it. We believe it is in the interest of [solutions to] the problems we discussed to create the best possible relations between Syria and the United States. But the pace of this progress has to be left to the President.

So I think a thoughtful analysis of the totality of our action can leave no doubt about our intention.

Asad: That is precisely what I meant when I said when I look at the total picture of American interests and actions, I am optimistic.

Kissinger: What have I done in the last four weeks? I have, every time I went to Israel, asked for more concessions. I have sometimes told His Excellency I thought I had reached the limit of what could be done. But never once have I proposed something whose trend went the other way. This is the first time the United States has done this systematically.

And I have done it in a period of extraordinary domestic difficulty for the United States. Some of our newsmen were told by some low-level Syrian officials that it was the Syrian Government’s assessment that our present domestic difficulties made it easier for us to press Israel. The argument of these Syrians was that I needed to come home [Page 306] with a success.

Asad: That complicated formula, I rarely understood it myself. The situation is exactly opposite of what you just said—[in] the responsible Syrian analysis. Not only I, but I mean by responsible Syrian circles the political leaders working in this, the political current in this country: The Syrian analysis is that Israel is taking advantage of the comparatively weak domestic situation in the United States to intimidate the United States into freezing its efforts and energies so that it would not show its new intentions in the area. This is my analysis. Yesterday at Headquarters I said this. I said it was my feeling that the United States was wishing to do more but that—and that is what I added—the internal situation in the United States does not allow the United States to exercise more pressure up to what you call the explosive point. Plus the pressure of the Zionist movement in the United States.

Kissinger: This is fair enough. I think the President may not sufficiently understand and give credit for the enormous change we have already produced in American public attitudes in the last six months. We have in the public mind ended the polarization in the Middle East. Americans are no longer uncritical supporters of Israel but they take pride in the way the United States is participating and taking the lead in the move towards peace in the Middle East. And this is gaining more and more momentum. Very soon a point will be reached where Americans would feel if we did not contribute toward peace in the Middle East, we would not be doing our national duty.

When I started, there were very few Americans—politically active Americans—who believed we should engage ourselves in what they thought was a hopeless enterprise. And today in America it is quite different. And this is a big defeat for the extreme Zionism in America. Because to the extent that America engages itself for peace, it must be in the direction of removal of the occupied territories. It must bring about conditions in which the process will accelerate very dramatically. And whenever the President [Nixon] comes here—whether in two or three weeks or two or three months—this will give tremendous momentum to this public consciousness. [Asad nods yes].

So I would say His Excellency should appreciate this totality of events. The American people simply would not understand any more if, having gone this far, we would go no further. [Asad nods yes.]

Asad: I am going to give instructions to the Foreign Minister to tell Gromyko to come later at night. [He presses button to summon aide.]

Kissinger: Monday night.4

[Page 307]

Asad: I told him to come Monday. We will tell him to arrive about 10 o’clock. Of course I will then not be so free to see him, because I will be busy. He will arrive at night but I will not be able to see him.

Kissinger: Let me explain our relationship with the Soviet Union. We cooperate with them in many areas. First, if I were the Syrian President, I would take as many arms from them as I could get.

[The aide comes in, and the President gives instructions concerning Gromyko. He then turns to Kissinger.]

Asad: About 10 o’clock.

Kissinger: That way I can meet him at the airport. I can come from Israel. [Laughter]. I am joking. I do not think I will come back. Unless there is an overwhelming emergency. It would not be good if I were here and did not meet him. But I will not be here.

Asad: If you come, you can go to Palmyra.5 [Laughter]

Kissinger: It is not necessary. It is not necessary. Under no conceivable improvement of U.S.-Syrian relations could we give you the quantity of arms that the Soviet Union gives you. So I don’t want to mislead the President. We realize it creates certain political realities also. Our concern with the Soviet Union has been that they seem to us to be more interested in form than in substance. And especially about their own participation. In an almost childish way. And in terms of strategic positions, as far as we are concerned, we have no strategic objective in the Middle East. We do not want any military bases and we do not want any military participation with us in any Middle East country. We do have an interest in better relations with the Arab countries for a variety of reasons. But we are not in a position of confrontation with the Soviet Union. We just do not like to be pushed when there is no practical objective. We do not see why we should talk to Brezhnev when we can talk to you or Sadat or Faisal. That is our only occasional difference. I mean, occasionally they ask us “what is your policy?” My view is: If we tell them our views, they have two choices: They can make an agreement with us without telling you and impose it on you, or they can go to you and ask your opinion. We do not have much confidence in imposed solutions. We think Syria is a lousy candidate for it anyway. [Laughter]. And if we wanted to ask your opinion, we can ask it directly.

And some of these travels, I frankly consider them irrelevant. They do not help anything and they do not hurt anything. I do not oppose them; I do not support them. And when the President [Nixon] and Brezhnev meet at the summit, they will have an irrelevant discussion about the Middle East but Brezhnev will make a lot of noise.

[Page 308]

So that is our relationship, as far as the Middle East is concerned, with the Soviet Union. In many other areas, we have close cooperation. In the Middle East, we have a certain measure of cooperation but mainly on procedural issues.

Asad: You are in agreement on the Geneva Conference?

Kissinger: Yes.

Asad: When?

Kissinger: Oh, about a month after disengagement is completed. But do you think much is going to happen in Geneva?

Asad: The cause must be moved somehow.

Kissinger: And it is useful for that.

Asad: It doesn’t mean that people will go to Geneva only to have their pictures taken. I believe, mark my word, if there is no solution, there will be a war within a year.

Kissinger: I agree.

Asad: So how do we move our energies in the direction of peace?

Kissinger: No, I believe Geneva is not bad. I am not opposed to Geneva. I believe we should talk privately, and have it come together at Geneva. I have told Gromyko privately that I am in favor of Geneva.

Asad: It is useful. And your utterances are convincing.

Let us go back now to the subject of the letter, therefore. Have you drafted it? Have you given it some thought?

Kissinger: I have drafted something along the lines of what I have told the President.

Asad: Where are your views on withdrawal? Is it limited by “secure borders?”

Kissinger: My personal view on withdrawal is, no Arab state will accept a peace settlement short of the ’67 frontiers.

Asad: That is true.

Kissinger: And I consider that a reality. I do not know any Arab state that would settle for less.

Asad: Does the United States, is it its view that a solution should come about for less than this, the ’67 frontiers?

Kissinger: No.

Asad: These questions are not just thrown at you academically.

Kissinger: No, I know.

Asad: This is important to evaluate the present trend of American thinking. It is very important to us. Why can’t this sense be incorporated in the letter?

Kissinger: Because we cannot have the President sign a letter that he cannot politically live with if it is published. Whatever the assur[Page 309]ances. When we reach the position of negotiation for final borders, then a new situation arises.

Asad: Then the original subject of the letter will be about 338 and the interests of the Palestinians.

Kissinger: And within a year . . .

Asad: Full implementation of 338.

Kissinger: In all its parts. And a U.S. commitment to engage itself in that within a year.

Sabbagh [explains]: Within a year—between one month and 12 months.

Asad: If the language could be made clearer, something like this: The United States commits itself to the full implementation of Resolution 338 within 12 months. In this sense there would be nothing harmful to the United States. Then there would be some moral commitment on the part of the United States.

Kissinger: Let me check this tonight. And I will let you know tomorrow morning.

Asad: I will jot down His Excellency’s specific language so I can study it.

About the rights of the Palestinians, have you any specific language?

Kissinger: I have told His Excellency: We should take fully into account the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people. A settlement should.

Asad: What is the difference between “rights” and “interests” in this particular context? I understand some, but . . .

Kissinger: “Interests” means we have an obligation to consult the views of the Palestinians. “Rights” means we know what their interests are. But “legitimate,” in any event, implies the notion of rights. And “legitimate rights” is a tautology.

Asad: And what I think is an advance of it.

Kissinger: No, it is “legitimate interests.” I checked it last night.

Asad: In actual fact, the word “interests” could go in various directions. It could be interpreted as money, compensation. Of course, the Arabs are not looking in this direction.

Kissinger: No, in my view, the Arabs are looking for a Palestinian political entity, in one way or another.

Asad: Yes, the Palestinians themselves, this is what they want. In various ways. So this is where the meaning of rights fits in, in this concept. But “interests” would be a bit more confused.

You have not started any new contacts with the Palestinians?

[Page 310]

Kissinger: No, but I have told the President that after this disengagement we will establish contact at a political level. We have sent them a message, which you may know, in Beirut, about two weeks ago, that we took seriously their legitimate concerns.6 But we have not followed it up. But I think they understand us. When we reach this point, we would appreciate the advice of His Excellency [about] with whom we deal.

Asad [nods yes]: But my question is, do you insist on having the word “interests” and not “rights” included in the letter?

Kissinger: Yes.

Asad: Number one, I want to say the Palestinians cannot believe that in all our discussions we are not discussing them. Of course, I am telling them, wherever the occasion presents itself, that we always use the expression “Palestinian rights.” We are not guardians over the Palestinians, but they cannot believe we are not discussing them.

Kissinger: I have no objection to His Excellency telling them some of our discussions here.

Asad: Does the United States have a specific concept of Palestinian rights? This is not for publication or announcement.

Kissinger: We are speaking personally and not officially: I have always thought there could be a Palestinian entity, on the West Bank, which could be connected with Gaza.

Asad: But Israel is hanging on tenaciously to parts of the West Bank. They want the river, they want . . .

Kissinger: This is one of the problems in the second phase.

Asad: You think the Israelis would agree to give the Palestinians a corridor between the West Bank and Gaza?

Kissinger: If you want my opinion on how to do it—which you will not like—my idea would be to let the Jordanians deal with Israel about the West Bank, and then let the Palestinians deal with Jordan.

Asad: On the West Bank?

Kissinger: Yes.

Asad: How about Gaza and the corridor?

Kissinger: And on that basis one could have Gaza and the corridor.

Asad: Because we have not expressed any view on the subject, whether to King Hussein or to the Palestinians. A lot has gone on between the King and the Palestinians.

[Page 311]

Kissinger: I noticed that!

Asad: How can they solve it when they are estranged and there is a lot of resentment?

Kissinger: Maybe the Syrians could play a role there.

Asad: They seem to have unanimity not to be back under King Hussein’s rule. There has been a massacre, and it is like milk curdling between them. We tried before the war. And the one responsible for this estrangement is King Hussein. Because he used to take one step forward and pull back. So we have come to a very complicated pass.

Kissinger: What is His Excellency’s view on how to solve the problem?

Asad: Honestly, we haven’t come to any clearly defined concept.

Kissinger: That is our problem. We haven’t either.

Asad: There are many concepts in the works. But I have advised them not to quarrel about anything. Because in any case, Israel is still having the West Bank. My advice is, let us first get that which we have lost and then sort things out. It is sort of ridiculous to quarrel with King Hussein about the West Bank when Israel still has it.

Kissinger: That is my view.

Asad: Back to the letter. Do you think it is not useful, or is it possible, to mention the United States recognizes there will be no real solution to the Middle East unless going back to the borders of 1967, from the point of view of the Arabs?

Kissinger: This I have pointed out would be a problem. But when the President comes here, you will find you have a useful discussion.

Asad: Is there anything else you would like to discuss? When we have finished discussing these other things, we could go back to that.

Kissinger: Yes.

Asad: Of course you should rest a little too!

Kissinger: But this is important. It is also important because it will be impossible to explain, having spent four weeks in the Middle East, why it failed at the last moment.

[An aide comes in.]

Asad: The maps are here. The maps of scale 1:25,000.

Kissinger: Good. How does His Excellency visualize proceeding concretely in U.S.-Syrian relations? Because that is part of the strategy.

Asad: What I have in mind is that, within a period, we should restore relations. Without graduation; not gradually, but straightforward.

Kissinger: In what period?

Asad: Not before the carrying out of disengagement, but after.

[Page 312]

Kissinger: That is a good idea.

Asad: Of course restoration of relations will help to increase our contacts, to have occasional exchange of visits. Personal contact is very important. These are my views on the subject, how we can start going about things.

Kissinger: Yes. We will establish, as President Boumedienne may have told you, a Cooperation Commission with Algeria. For economic and technical cooperation. And we will do it also, as you know, with Saudi Arabia. And probably with Egypt. We would be prepared to do the same with Syria whenever the President [Asad] was ready. It should not be the first thing; it should be in some months. And the President can in general assume that whatever we do with any Arab country we would be prepared to do with Syria. We may not propose it specifically because we do not want to seem to have an unending desire to make proposals.

Asad: This is fine. As long as we have the intent to develop relations in the right direction.

Now back to the disengagement subject. There are three points, as I understand it.

The question of Kuneitra is finished as far as I am concerned. About tanks, etc. Although I knew they knew I have asked for this and am insisting on it, they have broadcast it.

Kissinger: I am embarrassed.

Asad: My thought is, it is natural from their point of view to know I have asked for it. Because it is absurd for people to exist between two enemies. Of course, within this context, I do not think we will expend a great effort in returning people to their places. I do not think they themselves [the Israelis] would go back under such conditions. Because no one would send their family there. The Israelis, whose homes are behind them, want us to pull our guns back. In spite of the fact that we have similar villagers ourselves. So the position of the villagers in Kuneitra will be a very bad one.

The two points are: The United Nations, and (2), the red line.

On the question of the United Nations—okay, it too, we can give and take on it. But on the question of the red line, once again I say it is impossible. Because this map is going to be published and the inhabitants whose villages are going to be in front of the red line have an untenable position too. Apart from everything else, it would look like something that is imposed on us by force. It has no clear justification we can use. So that is why I believe this subject must be discussed further and something must be done about it.

Kissinger: But how can something be done about it?

[Page 313]

Asad: You said you expected their Council of Ministers [Cabinet] to meet. For them, it is not a very important thing, but for us it is important. Why this adamance on their part? Because we have really given in on a lot of things, things we have insisted on in the past.

Kissinger: Their adamance, as you say, derives from the fact that they think they are pulling their forces back 37 kilometers.

[They get up and look at the map.]7

Asad: Their original defensive lines are here [October 6 lines].

Because all their defense lines here [in the salient] are temporary. Because there was not enough stability to establish defense lines in the bulge. This is their defense line [the October 6 line]. They worked hard on it, and established it.

Kissinger: And you penetrated it.

Asad: There is no defense line in the world that cannot be penetrated.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Asad: Every man knows it. It is a mistake if they think they are impregnable, because no matter how strong they make it, an enemy can put together a sufficient force and break it.

Kissinger: That is the lesson of military history. Their Council of Ministers will meet, but they will never agree. This Cabinet will not. They might change a kilometer in here, but it does not change your basic problem.

The only other thing that has occurred to me, Mr. President, was the point General Shihabi made. Because it had occurred to me also that we count the artillery line from here [the October 6 line] and not from here [the red line]. And for that we would have to get the approval of the Israeli Cabinet. I have no basis for it.

Asad: Of course, this is a positive point.

Kissinger: Why should I bargain with the President? I am like a doctor; I am trying to gauge what is possible without breaking it. I can tell you, at the end of the meeting today I did not get a satisfactory change in the red line. I went to Rabin, and Allon, and Eban, and said to them: It does not seem absolutely fair to me to count the artillery from here. If I come back from Damascus and say the artillery has to be from here, from 20 kilometers—the 10 kilometers has to be from here [the red line]—would you agree with it? And they said they cannot say yes. But I am assuming they would do it. So if we want to get it concluded tomorrow, and we have to be realistic, I could probably on my authority [Page 314] get that done. And I could probably, based on the same sort of conversation, get another kilometer in here.

Asad: I really cannot explain this line away. What do I say about it? I have already told my people we are going back to the October 6 line. I explained it on the map, even, to the leadership of the party, the day before yesterday. The zone of limitation, the thinning-out zone, 6-plus kilometers, plus 10 kilometers here, and here of course it will stretch along.

Kissinger: But then the second 10 would be only 4 kilometers here, if they accept my theory.

Asad: Then that would be the advantage to the Syrian side? It would be a very limited advantage.

Kissinger: You would save these six kilometers.

Asad: The net result. For all. I imagine if you applied a little more pressure . . .

Kissinger: No, I have tried it, believe me. They will not do it. I know they will not do it. The mistake I made was, they wanted to do it all the way down here [in the south] and I refused.

Sabbagh: The Syrians want it all the way up here. The reverse. The red line.

Asad: I do not really know how to express it. Because I know very definitely you spent four weeks. I certainly appreciate all you have done. This is an imposition by force, so to speak.

Kissinger: Not by force.

Sabbagh: Not by physical force, but an enforced result.

Asad: It is very difficult that the ceasefire would remain stable in this kind of condition.

Kissinger: Why?

Asad: Because neither people nor officers would put up with seeing this kind of line, arrangement.

Sabbagh [to Kissinger]: I was wondering if there could be some sort of time frame, a bilateral understanding.

Kissinger: [to Sabbagh:] His problem is he has to publish this map.

Asad: It is inescapable.

Kissinger: If he doesn’t, the Israelis will.

This has not been published yet?

Asad: The same concept, but not line by line.

A number of factors are accumulating which would not be helpful to stabilizing the ceasefire. The major factor is we have not defined a limited distance between us. So from a practical point of view, when they move one step forward, we will hit them, and if we move one step [Page 315] forward they will shoot at us. That is one important factor: that they do not have a defined distance between.

Normally when two armies face one another, there is a certain distance defined in which they cannot move. 100, 200 meters. As the case used to be before October 6. For instance, our authority stretches to the blue line. Can we really go up to the blue line where they happen to be? I believe our people will find some excuse to go to the blue line, because it is in the agreement. But they [the Israelis] will not permit this. This is a kind of irritation-type situation. For instance, around Kuneitra, they will establish themselves on the blue line, and already the border is the blue line. You can imagine this. This is clear?

Kissinger: Yes.

Asad: There is no belt: a soldier here, a soldier here.

These things as they can appear have confirmed rather than dismissed the aggressive intentions of Israel.

Kissinger: I do not think this is quite fair, Mr. President, because many of these confusions resulted from our pressure, and our pressure in turn was to give the maximum civilian authority to Syria.

Asad [thinks]: Yes, but of course it should be known that we will have to establish points—if we are not going to establish a defense line, we are bound to establish military anchors and observation posts.

Kissinger: Yes. Mr. President, I do not think you are unreasonable. I have told you from the beginning, I would do it differently, if I were to negotiate. I might not negotiate; I might decide on war. But if I were to negotiate, I would do it generously. And not grudgingly.

It depends on what line one publishes. If one publishes the line of civilian control, it is a forward movement of Syrian authority. I am thinking of the presentation.

Asad: No, the people on the lines—because these are military lines. When people think of lines, administrative lines, they immediately think of soldiers on that line.

Maybe you should rest up. And tomorrow we will discuss.

Kissinger: All right. What time should we meet tomorrow?

Asad: At your convenience.

Kissinger: What time is it now? 2:15?

Sabbagh: Yes, sir. 2:15.

Kissinger: 9:30? In fact, let us say 9:00, so I can get back. 9:00, 9:30.

Asad: 9:30.

Kissinger: Tomorrow is my birthday, Mr. President. I am going to debate the hills of Kuneitra. But it is worthwhile. I understand the President’s problem. I really understand it.

Asad: There is not one of the military people who likes this.

[Page 316]

Let us sleep on it.

[Dr. Kissinger and President Asad get up]

Kissinger: Where are my people?

Sabbagh: With Khaddam.

Kissinger: Tell them to meet me in the Guest House in 5–10 minutes.

[Before the Secretary left, the two maps of scale 1:25,000 were given over. Asad asked to look at them first. He and the Secretary spread them out on the table and examined them. They were then folded up again and given to Mr. Rodman to carry back to Israel.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 21, Classified External Memcons, November 1974, Folder 2. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Presidential Palace and occurred on May 27, not May 26–27 as indicated on the original. Brackets are in the original. Previously, on May 26, Kissinger met with the Israeli negotiating team from 9:15 a.m. until noon at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem (memorandum of conversation; ibid., Box 8, Nodis Memcons, May 1974, Folder 10) and with Asad from 9 p.m. to midnight in Damascus (memorandum of conversation; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 193, Peace Negotiations, Israeli-Syrian Relations, Negotiation Books, Volume III, May 1974, Folder 2). In these meetings, the final details of the agreement were discussed.
  2. See footnote 6, Document 7.
  3. Secretary Kissinger hosted a lunch for Arab Foreign Ministers and Permanent Representatives to the UN in New York on September 25. A report is in telegram 3416 from USUN, September 26, 1973. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  4. Gromyko arrived in Damascus on Monday, May 27.
  5. An ancient city in Syria.
  6. Telegram 89704 to Beirut, May 12, transmitted a message from Acting Secretary of State Kenneth Rush reported that the Palestinian role in the settling of the Arab-Israeli dispute “has been and remains very much on our mind.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 189, Geopolitical File, Middle East, Palestinians Contact Message Book, 1973–75)
  7. The map is not attached, but a final status map is printed in Appendix B, map 2.