75. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Hafiz al-Asad, President of Syrian Arab Republic
- Press Counsellor Elias
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Isa Sabbagh, Interpreter
- Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
(Photographers were admitted briefly at the opening of the meeting.)
Asad: I saw the negotiating team after you left.
Kissinger: And I saw the negotiating team on our side also.
Asad: The Syrian side told me they were given documents for surrender. This is how they described them.
Kissinger: We talked among ourselves. It is a . . . see, the difficulty is, we started out this negotiation with a gap that was too wide. And perhaps I should not have come out here until the conditions were a little more propitious, or until I understood a little better what the problems were. So I blame myself largely for having started this whole [Page 317] process. See, some of the documents we show you are about a tenth of what the Israelis ask us to show you.
Asad: Why should we be obliged to agree to them?
Kissinger: No, we are not bringing you Israeli documents.
Asad: We are not dealing with human beings if those are their demands. There is no historic precedent to our agreeing to any of this kind of language.
Kissinger: What in particular?
Asad: Everything that occurred in the documents. We never in the past agreed to this kind of an arrangement. Nor would we ever agree in the future to anything we had not agreed to in the past. No, they seem to be real enemies.
Last night and this morning, their radio said we were discussing the question of the fedayeen—though we had refused to discuss it. Those who want to discuss the question of the fedayeen should discuss it with their organizations. Any Arab leader who thinks he is the guardian of the fedayeen is the worst type of leader, and anyone who does it will be smashed and deserves to be smashed. They are a deprived people and entitled to defend themselves.
Kissinger: Well, I do not know what Israeli radio reported.
Asad: We were forced—I ordered a denial to be issued. Because the people must know the facts. Because, as you know, we have refused to discuss it.
Kissinger: I have tried for four weeks to get the Israelis to control their radio. I was specifically assured yesterday that there would be no problems while I am here. But they may have a different definition of “problems.”
I must tell you honestly that in my judgment there is really no basis at this time to conclude the relatively few things that remain to be done.
Asad: Yes, that may be the case.
Kissinger: It’s a tragedy to come this close and fail. And it’s an experience to which I am not used to in these negotiations. I have told His Excellency—and I know he agrees—why it would have been a very important step had we succeeded. But I also understand there are limits beyond which either side cannot go.
Asad: Yes, of course.
Kissinger: So what is His Excellency’s view on what should happen now?
Asad: Our position is clear. The remaining points were: the red line—the question of the United Nations can be sorted out; differences in the positions.
Kissinger: I am not worried about that.[Page 318]
Asad: The question of Kuneitra, which I do not consider simple, but which could be settled. The question of the red line is the basic thing. And our attitude in this regard is not new, as you well know.
Kissinger: And there are some aspects in the documents.
Asad: We discussed the documents in the past, but yesterday I was presented with new things in the documents which were not there in the past. We did not think they would be incorporated in the documents that were brought to me yesterday. We agreed on one document, the basic agreement. There were not important differences.
Kissinger: I agree.
Asad: We discussed the American proposal,2 and there were not important differences there. And we agreed the American proposal should only be about the restricted zone. Whereas yesterday, I was told there are new things in the American proposal.
The agreement, the American proposal, and the map—those were the three things we discussed in the past. We had no serious difficulties.
Kissinger: On the American proposal, the part that concerned His Excellency was the part that described what would happen in the demilitarized area.
Asad: No, several other points.
Kissinger: Like what?
Asad: Like the fedayeen crossing the line.
Kissinger: But all those are in the section on the demilitarized zone.
Asad: When it comes to the fedayeen, it would not be limited to one segment. It belongs to the people.
Kissinger: I am trying to isolate in the document. On the thinning-out zone in the American proposal, no disagreement.
Asad: Some textual questions.
Kissinger: But no problem. The problem arises in the other document, on the demilitarized zone.
Asad: There are eight points. Three we discussed before; five new points. Maybe they all belong to the demilitarized zone.
Kissinger: They belong to the demilitarized zone. I have looked it over. Of those five, several are not important—like who gets the fortifications which the Israelis abandon. I mean, that is not a major point.
But let me first explain to the President why we put it into that section, rather than into some other.[Page 319]
We first thought there might be a separate protocol on the demilitarized area, and that the Foreign Minister refused, and I understand why.
Asad: Never did it occur in our discussions, nor were we given to understand that the area was to be treated separately. All we knew was there would not be major forces in that area, specifically, artillery and tanks—this is what I myself said—and that our authority over it would be complete. Yesterday what I saw was new.
Kissinger: We had taken the idea of the buffer zone—maybe we never understood what a buffer zone is—but a demilitarized area under Syrian civil administration.
Asad: Why should we take it when it is going to be demilitarized? We agree it was just that one and a half kilometers.
Kissinger: But what was the idea when His Excellency sent me the idea of the buffer zone? What was his idea?
Asad: It was to have been west of the southern part of the front, the line which we agreed on, and to a distance one-to-three kilometers, devoid of people, which it is. Even so, with people in it, to the west of southern Golan.
Elias: The western half of Golan.
Kissinger: I think, Mr. President, what we should need is a few weeks to restudy this problem. Because we think we are close enough to a solution to be able to do something, although it is impossible to do something today, in time I have left. And I do not think we can do it with this present (Israeli) government. And what we should do is either ask two or three of the leaders to come to Washington or if the President should come to the Middle East, on that occasion to attempt another discussion on the subject.
Asad: That is possible,
Kissinger: Because I think it is primarily a problem of the red line, and for the other issues the President raises, we could probably find a compromise solution.
(Elias says something to Asad, goes out.)
Kissinger: I hope this does not declare me persona non grata while I am in the country.
Asad: No, this is the statement about the fedayeen, denying the Israeli report and saying we never entered into it and whoever wants to discuss the fedayeen should go to their organizations. This is necessary.
Kissinger: I understand.
Asad: None of it touches you.
Kissinger: No, of course.
Asad: We have never made such statements.[Page 320]
Kissinger: No, it is a great disappointment to both of us that this negotiation has not succeeded.
Asad: The fedayeen?
Kissinger: No, both of us. But I want the President to know we believe he has behaved in a decent, honorable, and constructive way. We have no complaints about the conduct of the Syrian side, nor shall we make any criticism of the Syrian side.
Asad: For our part, we will never say anything but good about Dr. Kissinger’s work and efforts and energy. Because this is a fact. The Israelis have not left much of a breathing space.
Kissinger: The Syrians will surely say something about the Israelis. But if some space, a month, could be left before all-out criticism starts, it would help the negotiations.
Asad: Generally speaking, our information media will remain pragmatic and objective.
Kissinger: Now, what should we say?
I have some ideas on the red line, but there is no sense negotiating with you, going back to Israel, and having a three-day Cabinet crisis. When we start again, we will start from a new position. I would rather make a fresh start with the new Israeli Cabinet in two weeks’ time.
Asad: How will you start?
Kissinger: To resolve these few remaining issues.
Asad: I agree with that.
Kissinger: I will try to do two things: I will have the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Foreign Minister come to Washington and talk with the President and me, or conceivably use the occasion if the President comes to the Middle East, if he now comes to the Middle East, to make further progress.
Can I ask the President, as a friend? What is his idea of the President’s trip to the Middle East under these circumstances? Honestly.
Asad: I myself welcome it. But I think, in the circumstances—and that is the key sentence—a visit would be complicated. And I think, as the President of the United States of America, he should come in more auspicious circumstances, for his own dignity and that of the United States. This is the way I look at it.
Kissinger: No, I speak to you as a friend.
Asad: Of course, personally, I welcome seeing him anytime.
Kissinger: May I ask, again as a friend, this question? If, on the advice of the other Arabs or for other reasons, he should decide to come anyway, should he include Syria?
Asad: This is left entirely up to his own inclination and desire. I would welcome him any time.[Page 321]
Kissinger: Even in the absence of an agreement?
Kissinger: Let me sum up, so I can reflect views I will give only orally: The President feels that, as a friend, he would recommend it would not be fully consistent with the dignity of the President of the United States to visit the area under these circumstances.
Kissinger: And to wait for more auspicious time. However, if the President (Nixon) should decide, because he makes a different judgment or on the advice of other Arab leaders, then he (Asad) would be delighted to receive him in Damascus.
Asad: (nods): Yes.
Kissinger: This is a fair statement. And I will add on my account that I know Syrian hospitality. You do not have to say that; that goes with being in Damascus. Is that a fair statement?
Asad: Yes. Exactly. This is my thinking.
Kissinger: May I see whether a statement, which is similar to what we drafted the other day, would be appropriate to issue?
Kissinger (reads from draft at Tab A):3 “President Hafez Asad and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger today concluded a series of talks on the separation of forces between Syria and Israel.” That is a fact. (Laughter) “They agreed to recess the talks for a few weeks and allow both sides to study the problems involved. President Asad expressed his deep appreciation for the efforts of the United States and for the initiative and determination of the Secretary of State. He believes the talks have been conducted in a cordial, friendly and impartial manner. Secretary Kissinger in turn has expressed his thanks to President Asad and his government for the positive spirit in which these talks have been pursued.” His only complaint is the 5 kilos he put on while in Damascus. (Laughter) That I added. “He also thanked the President on behalf of his colleagues for the warm hospitality extended to them in Syria.
“President Asad and Secretary Kissinger agreed that very considerable progress has been made toward an agreement on disengagement of forces, including the matter of the disengagement line. However, a number of other complex and related issues remain, which will require further time to resolve.[Page 322]
“They therefore agreed that during the period in which the talks will be briefly recessed, diplomatic contact designed to bridge the remaining differences will continue.”
I’ve added a sentence at the end, but it is up to the President: “To this end President Asad plans to send a personal emissary to Washington soon to continue the discussions with Secretary Kissinger.”
Asad: This last one wouldn’t be very useful.
Kissinger: All right.
Asad: One person in Washington. We could say we could send someone to Washington for any other purpose. If we here couldn’t do it, one person in Washington couldn’t do it.
Kissinger: We could have a sentence: “President Asad agreed these talks have helped Syrian-U.S. relations, and to further these, he will send an emissary to Washington.” Or “both agree.”
Asad: The thoughts I agree with in principle, although I may have one or two adjustments in the text. I suggest a recess for a half hour; I will talk to the Syrian side and maybe come up with a statement.
Kissinger: Add that sentence, Mr. Elias: “Both sides agreed that these talks have contributed to U.S.-Syrian relations. In order to further develop these, the Syrian side will send an emissary to Washington.”
We have two dangers, Mr. President: (1), that the American people shouldn’t get discouraged with this effort. Because I am determined to continue and I need public support. Secondly, it is important that the American people retain the improving attitude towards Syria. And therefore, if, independent of a joint communiqué, the President could find it possible to say something friendly about our mission . . .
Kissinger: It would ease the attacks which are going inevitably to start on me now. I want to tell the President now: For the next three weeks, you will see many attacks on me. Because all the Israeli supporters, who feel I’ve tormented them in recent weeks, will now take their revenge. You’ve seen it already this weekend: There are ten articles saying I’m neglecting my duties in Washington. And that can’t be an accident. Nevertheless, I do not fight stupid domestic battles. And I will overcome them. And I—speaking to you as a friend—am not in the same position as the President. So I can mobilize my support. I am just saying this to the President so he doesn’t get nervous.
Asad: That is the one point that is paramount in my thoughts. Because after having established this nice human personal contact, then out of loyalty, out of fondness, when we look at the imperative of Syrian-American relations, I’m particularly looking at the need not to harm you.[Page 323]
In your views, how far could the red line be moved? When it can be moved. Let’s speak openly.
Kissinger: I’m in Never-Never Land, Mr. President. I’ll tell you what I thought last night—for which I have no authority. I think the President and I went through the same process last night; we concluded it was extremely difficult if not impossible. So I tried to see what could I imagine—without any authority.
And let me say one other thing, again speaking personally and as friends: I don’t want to do anything that would hurt President Asad. If the President accepted something that was extremely difficult for him and caused complications later for him, we would have defeated an important American purpose. So I don’t want to be responsible for having made the President—through persuasiveness—do something that will later on hurt him. Because that would be a tactical success but a strategic defeat.
I want to say this about my view.
Asad: I appreciate this. The sincerity of this.
Kissinger: The President will see, in the context of our other discussions, that we’ll give concrete proof of this. Within our limited capabilities.
But let me tell you what occurred to me. But I have no knowledge whatever whether the Israelis would accept it.
(They get up to look at the map.)4
One is, I think we can get another kilometer here (in the north). But that’s not the key issue. But what I think—absolutely without authorization—just like the 20-kilometer thing, but that I discussed with three Israelis and have some support. What I discuss now I’ve never discussed with any Israelis. I give my personal word of honor. If we measure ten kilometers from each side of the October 6 line, but within the Syrian 10-kilometer zone, the area forward of the red line would be—whatever we call it—demilitarized, no tanks, whatever. So one would have this only as a dotted line, like this dotted line.
Asad: I didn’t quite understand this. You mean ten kilometers from this?
Kissinger: There are two problems with the red line. One is, it starts the ten-kilometer zone from a point further back from the Syrian line of control. The second is the symbolic aspect of Syria just leaving this territory in an undefined nature, and the problem of explaining this to the public.[Page 324]
Practically I don’t think it is so decisive because Syria could still defend this area from here. (Indicates) But symbolically . . .
Asad: Your analysis is correct.
Kissinger: I’m just giving the President my analysis.
When I couldn’t sleep last night (Laughter), I was thinking what conceivably could be done in a matter of weeks. Suppose we say in the agreement that an area ten kilometers west of the blue line will be thinned out and an area ten kilometers east of the purple line will be thinned out. With 6,000 men, 75 tanks, 36 artillery pieces.
Kissinger: However, in a separate understanding, the Syrian side agrees not to station forces forward of this line—or whatever line we finally agree to as the red line. (Asad studies the map.) For example, I could not get that accepted today, I can tell you that. (Asad studies the map.)
Asad: As to there being three to four kilometers east of the red line, the new zone.
Kissinger: Yes. Instead of ten kilometers. And down here there is no problem. It’s my imagination, Mr. President.
Asad: Would it be possible to agree to something like this: Out of two brigades we were thinking of . . . (Sabbagh, in translating, intending to say “the President says,” says by mistake “the Ambassador says,” and then corrects himself.)
Kissinger: (to Sabbagh) Tell the President what you demoted him to! (to Asad) I certainly will not take responsibility. I need a victim. Sisco looks like a victim. Bunker is respectable. But I have a theory: Sabbagh and you were carrying on a conversation unrelated to our negotiation.
Sabbagh: There is an Arabic saying “Wipe it in my beard,” meaning a scapegoat.
Kissinger: It’s a new theory.
Asad: Out of two brigades, we would position a small proportion—say no more than half of these two brigades, in front of that red line. We could probably position them in certain locations. And from a practical point of view, our positioning them in certain locations would have more of a moral, psychological impact than anything else.
Kissinger: The whole thing is crazy. Even if you put 6,000 men here (on the October 6 line) you’d either attack with 100,000 men or not at all.
Kissinger: So we’re talking politics.[Page 325]
Asad: This kind of suggestion they might crack into their thick skulls and realize its importance that is moral, psychological, that no attack is designed. Because one brigade is . . .
Another suggestion: Cut this distance in half, a little bit (between the October 6 line and the red line).
Kissinger: Then you would accept the red line?
Asad: If they could make some kind of pockets around these three villages.
Kissinger: I’ll bet 100 to 1 those three villages are on hilltops.
Asad: Yes, there is a hill.
Kissinger: Here, they’re indented.
Asad: As far as the hills are concerned, they’re not gaining anything. We want it for observation purposes. We use hills for observation. Whether the line be here or there, we’ll still be observing. We have our people there. They’re not going to prevent our observing. These hills will be used in our interest. We have these hills at our disposal. From this point of view, we’re not gaining anything.
Kissinger: Suppose the line went here. (Closer to the Oct. 6 line)
Asad: Yes. With two pockets.
Kissinger: How about this road in between? They’ll certainly want to keep it non-military.
Asad: Line or no line, the road should be in the middle, civilian.
Kissinger: Suppose here.
Kissinger: You talk about hills to the Israelis! Well, assuming it can be done.
Asad: I will bear the brunt of the other side. If this can be done, I will take it upon myself to do the other. This line will do us injury; if not on the October 6 line, but with this new suggestion, if the red line could be as you pointed out, I will myself take the responsibility. We’ll find a justification for why the red line has to be where it is.
Kissinger: But then everything has to be counted from the red line, because my suggestion couldn’t be done.
Kissinger: But then the Israelis won’t agree to it. I’d like nothing better than an agreement the President is happy with. Now we’re down to 1,000 meters again.
Asad: You could present this as an American compromise proposal. Because it really is a problem. For only this, to balk and throw the rest down the drain . . .
Kissinger: But what happens to the documents?[Page 326]
Asad: I understood from you those problems could be sorted out.
Kissinger: But both of us have to do something. (Laughter) The President’s idea is that I sort everything out!
Asad: They amount to obligations on the part of Syria to the United States.
Kissinger: The remaining.
Asad: Yes. Because there are certain topics which touch inextricably on a radical solution to the entire problem. The problem with the Palestinians is separate unto themselves.
Kissinger: The problem of the Palestinians is this—I’m speaking openly. There were periods when the demarcation line was quiet between Syria and Israel. And that could not have been an accident.
Asad: That was the will of both sides; that is what I imagine. The question of the fedayeen. In those days there were no fedayeen.
Kissinger: This is a huge political problem in Israel. They’re asking 10,000, 20,000 Syrians to come here. Supposing they’re all Saiqa?
Asad: They have the Israeli army there, and observers must be closer to the blue line.
Kissinger: What we need, as a minimum, is some vague language. Then we’re prepared to say something privately to the Israelis about helping them patrol this line. I mean, giving them mines—I don’t know what we can say to them. They have them anyway.
Asad: They can put all they want. It might sober them (the fedayeen) up. It’s up to them (the Israelis) to defend it. How can we assure their security and defense? They claim not to be able to defend themselves? Frankly speaking, the question is not dependent on our desire. Even if we had agreed to this.
Kissinger: Why not compromise? You need ten brigades to protect the fedayeen, and if you give ten brigades you’ll keep the fedayeen out—Why can we not use the phrase that . . .
Asad: Even if we’d lined them up, 6,000 soldiers, along the 80 kilometers, even those wouldn’t be adequate prevention.
Kissinger: If we said something like, “Syria will refrain from hostile action.” Not “paramilitary,” but “hostile.” Not “prevent,” but “refrain.” If it’s “prevent,” then Syria has to keep the others from doing. When it is “refrain,” then it is what is under the political, governmental control of Syria.
Asad: The word “hostile” is wider and has a wider application than “military.”
Kissinger: That is true.
Asad: This applies to anything pertaining to the state of belligerency, the state of war. This expression pertains even to information policy.[Page 327]
Kissinger: Let’s forget that now. If we can find a phrase, an adjective . . .
Asad: Then it would go in the direction of the fedayeen. It would be very serious. Very serious.
Kissinger: Then the President could maintain the position that he has agreed to only stop things which are under the governmental control of Syria.
Asad: We could say something like, in Article A–1, that Syrian armed forces will scrupulously observe the ceasefire, or something like that. My desire is that the thinking of the average citizen not to go off on a tangent in the direction of something not in our authority, that is, in the direction of the fedayeen.
Kissinger: Let me ask the President this: I’m trying to see if a solution is possible. He won’t like it. Something like this paragraph, and the United States then said we understand Israel’s desire to protect itself against fedayeen attacks as a part of the cease-fire.
Asad: As a statement.
Kissinger: As an American statement.
Asad: No problem.
Kissinger: What if we made it publicly?
Asad: In America?
Kissinger: And they would want to tell it to their Parliament.
Asad: As long as there is no connection to us.
Kissinger: And you won’t attack us for it.
Asad: (Laughing) Future American performance could really create a good impression with the fedayeen. There are some who are interested.
Kissinger: How about some who want to shoot down my airplane?
Asad: Some of them do. But not only yours!
Kissinger: I just want to be sure that if they capture me, the President will put in a good word for me.
Asad: No, because then they won’t have a good word for me!
Kissinger: No, I know the responsible ones won’t.
Asad: And inside our country I can’t imagine anything happening because they know the penalty, and it would be catastrophic for them individually and for the organizations.
Kissinger: No, I’ve felt absolutely secure in your country.
Asad: (Laughing) I’m going to meet Arafat today.
Kissinger: I expect to meet Arafat eventually.
Asad: It’s independent of our discussions.
Kissinger: You can speak to him of my views.[Page 328]
Asad: Maybe on King Hussein, Arafat has a different view from yours.
Asad: Although there was once a time when they had contact.
Kissinger: Arafat and Hussein?
Let me sum up. If we can redraw the line and loop it around these villages, the President will accept it.
Asad: Yes. Yes.
Kissinger: Advancing the red line a little bit.
Kissinger: All I need is a coup d’etat in Israel! And on the Palestinians, you would accept an American public statement saying it is the American interpretation that as part of the cease-fire Israel has the right to protect itself against fedayeen attacks and to take measures to defeat them, or whatever.
Asad: On the basis that this is an American view, not ours.
Kissinger: No, it is an American view. The implication would be that America would support Israel against fedayeen attacks from Syria. As an American statement. You don’t have to say anything.
Asad: On the basis that this is an American opinion and that it was not discussed with us.
Kissinger: We will not say we discussed it with you. But we don’t want to do it if it ruins Syrian-American relations.
Asad: It won’t.
Kissinger: That is a possibility: If we make a public statement to that effect.
Asad: Any statement expressing an American opinion would not adversely affect Syrian-American relations.
Kissinger: All right.
Asad: Since it would not bear any relation to the agreement.
Kissinger: We would say the agreement doesn’t prevent that, in our interpretation. It is no Syrian obligation.
Asad: No problem. Of course, Israel naturally has the right to defend itself.
Kissinger: Can we take a half-hour break while I discuss it with my colleagues?
Asad: Yes. At the Guest House?
Kissinger: Where they are. They are there. Can I just come back anytime I’m ready?
Asad: Oh yes.
Kissinger: I’ll call you.[Page 329]
Asad: Of course, American forces won’t take part against the fedayeen.
Kissinger: Oh no. (Laughter)
Asad: I was joking.
Kissinger: No, I will make a statement publicly there will be no American forces in the Middle East. I will do it within two weeks after I return to America.
Sabbagh: You have great courage.
Kissinger: No, I will volunteer it.
There will be no American troops in the Middle East—except to fight Russian troops. We won’t fight Arab troops!
Asad: If there is peace, there is no need for Russian troops.
Kissinger: We are here to disengage, not to engage!
(At 11:25 a.m. Secretary Kissinger departed the Presidential Palace for the Residence, where he conferred with the staff. At 12:35 his private conversation resumed at the Palace with the President:)
Kissinger: I want to have a discussion in principle of what perhaps can be done.
Kissinger: What you are asking for is two very fundamental changes in two very fundamental Israeli positions. One is the red line; the other is—especially in light of recent weeks—the problem of the fedayeen, or however you call it. Now, to sum up my understanding of what the President is saying: If we move the red line some distance towards the blue line—I have to tell him right away that half way will be impossible.
Asad: And the pockets.
Kissinger: And make two pockets, sausages, to include the villages, then the President will accept the red line.
Kissinger: Secondly, if we drop the disguised reference to the fedayeen in the first paragraph, the President will oppose—or to put it another way—it will not affect Syrian-U.S. relations if the United States makes a very strong public—not secret—statement, that it understands that Israel as part of the cease-fire will take measures to protect itself against fedayeen attack.
Asad: “Has the right to.”
Kissinger: “Has the right to.” And that the United States will support such measures. Politically. We’re not talking about militarily.
Asad: On the basis that this subject is not a common stand, and has not been discussed with you.[Page 330]
Kissinger: No, it is a U.S. statement. But we have to have an understanding that the President will not agitate among other Arabs against such a U.S. statement. Obviously you won’t agree with it.
Honestly, I have the gravest doubts whether it is possible to succeed with the Israeli Cabinet. But I’m prepared to ask for a meeting of the Israeli Cabinet for 7:00 tonight. But, the only way this can succeed, the only way this can succeed, is that we finish all the documents in a satisfactory manner and that I take all the documents to Israel and say: “This is it; the Syrians accept all this here except the red line.”
Asad: There are no other points.
Kissinger: What I would then propose to the President, if he accepts this procedure, is that I leave him again for an hour, then I go over the documents with my colleagues and then I go over them with him.
Asad: There are no big issues. The fortifications.
Kissinger: I want to be absolutely sure there are no disagreements except the red line and the first paragraph. I’ve already ordered a plane from the U.S. I will have the Israelis put the new lines on a map. I’ll have Sisco come up here with the map.
Asad: Taking into account the differences we discussed yesterday.
Kissinger: No, the blue line will be adjusted so it is consistent with the overlay. 500 yards here. (in the Southern sector).
Asad: These three. And here (in the north).
Kissinger: Those three things will be changed in the blue line.
Asad: Four things, as I remember.
Kissinger: Yes, four things. Peter, will you write these down? (He and Asad point them out on the map.) The Kuneitra area. Rafid; five hundred yards. And two points to the south on the blue line.
Kissinger: So there is no misunderstanding, the ten-kilometer zone and the twenty-kilometer zone would be counted from this red line, I mean moved forward a bit.
Asad: But explain it to them that it’s more than ten and more than twenty.
Kissinger: Yes, but I don’t want to complicate it. I now propose we take an hour recess. I’ll go over the documents with my colleagues. I will then come here with my colleagues. And I agree with you, there shouldn’t be much. But let’s just get every detail one hundred percent. (Asad nods yes.) Then I can go to the Israelis and say: “It’s all concluded; these are the documents, except for those two points.” I’ll send [Page 331] Sisco here. Then we can announce tomorrow that it’s agreed. Sisco unfortunately won’t have the authority to negotiate. It won’t be necessary.
Maybe I’ll send him in the middle of the night. So he can reach me.
Asad: It is better.
Kissinger: You won’t shoot him down!
Asad: We only need thirty minutes.
Kissinger: Then I’ll stay in Israel overnight.
Asad: That is better.
Kissinger: That way is best.
Asad: Because after all this time and effort, it shouldn’t fail. It would be very bad. Very bad.
Kissinger: I agree. Let me ask one more question. I’m trying to think of everything. Supposing there are hills there, in these two villages. (Laughter) I’m just . . .
Asad: I understand.
Kissinger: Would the President authorize me, as a last resort, just as we did with the two hills behind Kuneitra, to give a personal letter to the Israelis that the Syrians will not station guns on top of these hills that will fire into Israeli civilians?
Asad: Yes. Direct?
Asad: If there is a hill in front of a village, for instance?
Kissinger: I mean from the top of hills you don’t shoot into the settlements. Direct.
Sabbagh: Direct at populated areas.
Kissinger: You can use artillery to shoot from behind.
Kissinger: No weapons that can shoot in a direct line at populated areas.
Kissinger: All right. Now then . . .
Asad: This is not necessary to be included in the American proposal to us in writing.
Kissinger: No, no. I write it in a personal letter to the Israelis. “President Asad has assured me . . .”
I have two other problems, then I’ll take a recess. One, which may be embarrassing to the President, is the Gromyko problem. It would be easier in Israel if it were not presented in Israel as if Gromyko had anything to do with it. I don’t care; I really don’t care. If he could be delayed until tomorrow, it would be easier. But I don’t want to embarrass the President. I won’t make an issue of it.[Page 332]
Asad: He may be on his way.
Kissinger: It takes only three hours.
Asad: Now, it would be very embarrassing. It would even appear impolite.
Kissinger: Then don’t do it.
Asad: From the point of view of character.
Kissinger: Character. What I want to avoid in America—again I’m speaking as a friend—is if the Israelis are able to make the Syrians appear as a Soviet tool, the second phase will be more difficult. My strategy in America is to say that Syria is difficult, very proud, very independent; it certainly takes Soviet weapons for its own purposes pursuing its own policy; and we cooperate with Syria when Syrian and American interests coincide. And where Syrian and Soviet interests coincide, obviously they cooperate. But it’s not a matter of principle with the Syrians.
Asad: This is my opinion too.
Kissinger: That’s why I’d like not to have it appear as a concession to the Soviet Union.
Asad: An American concession to the Soviet Union?
Kissinger: What happens tonight. Whatever happens with Gromyko, whatever is discussed, it would be better if it was related to the second phase. You will handle it. If the meetings could take place after Sisco is here, it would be better.
Asad: After Sisco is come and gone.
Kissinger: I’ll make him come tonight.
Asad: Sisco must come tonight. If he comes in the morning, what time can he come?
Kissinger: There is a one-hour difference. It may take a little time to prepare the maps.
Asad: If he can’t come tonight and if he can only come in the morning, I’d rather he arrive at our airport at 7:30 so he arrives here at 8:00.
Sabbagh: The President will receive him at 8:00.
Kissinger: The trouble is he’d have to leave Jerusalem at 5:30. I’ll send him as soon as humanly possible.
Asad: I’ll be receiving Gromyko after 10:00 in the morning. If you could make it as early as possible.
Kissinger: If you make it at 11:00, I’ll make sure he has come and gone.
Asad: There is no hiding Dr. Kissinger’s intense efforts. Every day I’m following your news anyway.[Page 333]
Kissinger: It’s a stupid publicity problem. I’m not worried. Anyone who knows the reality . . .
Asad: Even babies.
Asad: You’re a household name.
Sabbagh: I swear, a friend of mine was telling me, there is a certain sour plum here. His daughter said, get me a couple of Dr. Kissinger’s. (Laughter)
Asad: This whole business goes beyond this.
Kissinger: Mr. Scotes has a favorite taxi driver who calls me a prophet, wonderworker. You should introduce him to our press.
Asad: Because these piddly little things won’t have any effect.
Kissinger: One other question. When we restore diplomatic relations—whenever that is, one month from now, two months—I want the President’s judgment about the choice of Ambassador. My problem is, I could appoint a more senior person, a better known person, or I could appoint Scotes who is a more junior person but is known here. It is not usual to ask the President of another country whom to appoint, but I wanted our relations to be good.
Asad: Number one, the person should have your confidence. Number two, such a person should be objective. In other words, if he’s not with us, he shouldn’t be against us. He shouldn’t be pro-Israel. If he arrives and his emotions are against us from the start, he won’t work for an improvement in our relations, and his information will be different from the facts. These are my two qualifications.
Kissinger: How does Scotes fit this?
Asad: Scotes has been in touch with Mr. Elias, with my secretary, with General Shihabi, and with the Foreign Minister, and of course he may be competent.
Kissinger: I will repeat nothing that is said here. I’d like a person who has the confidence of the President. It will certainly be somebody who has my full confidence, because we’ll have very sensitive things to discuss.
Kissinger: And it will certainly be somebody who, while representing the American point of view, will be sympathetic to the policy I’ve outlined.
Asad: That will be better. I only saw Scotes once before yesterday. The impression I got is good. It is good.
Kissinger: I will review all the candidates. If I conclude that he, while junior, is really the best man, you will not consider that an offense to the President?[Page 334]
Kissinger: I may send somebody else.
Asad: It doesn’t really matter to us.
Kissinger: I don’t have to exclude Scotes from consideration, in the President’s judgment.
Asad: Yes. He gave me the impression he is good.
Kissinger: I can’t judge his personal relations, but he writes brilliant reports about Syria. Seriously. The best reports of any Ambassador in an Arab country. Why? Every Ambassador sends reports on what he’s told. But he sends me reports every two days—every day when I’m here—about the mood in Damascus: When Arabs say something, what they mean. He did one once—I’ll show it to you sometime—about, when Arabs use a mediator, what they expect of him. It proved to be true.
Asad: He’d be the Ambassador.
Kissinger: He’d be called Ambassador. We’d promote him fast. There may be a delay because of regulations, but . . .
Asad: The one we’re sending, do you have any requirements?
Kissinger: I want someone who has the President’s personal confidence. I thought yesterday that you would want to send somebody anyway for a general exchange. He will see all the exchanges with the Soviets and the Egyptians during the October 6 war. Because we will deal with you honestly. You won’t like everything we said. But you knew our strategy.
Why don’t we meet in one hour? Then we plan to arrive in Israel at 6:00.
The President understands I haven’t any idea Israel will accept this.
Asad: I know. I know.
Kissinger: I don’t want to mislead him.
Asad: I know. But the statement about the fedayeen we issued, I trust Dr. Kissinger has seen it.
Kissinger: Yes. It wasn’t bad. You had no choice.
(The meeting broke at 1:15 p.m.)
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 21, Classified External Memcons, November 1974, Folder 2. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The meeting was held at the Presidential Palace in Damascus.↩
- Kissinger introduced an American proposal on May 16. See Document 62.↩
- Tab A attached but not printed.↩
- The map is not attached, but a final status map is printed in Appendix B, map 2.↩