77. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Hafiz al-Asad, President of Syria
- ’Abd al-Halim Khaddam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
- General Mustafa Tlas, Minister of Defense
- General Najd Tamil, Air Force Chief of Staff
- Brigadier Hikmat Shihabi, Chief of Army Intelligence
- Press Adviser Elias
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Joseph J. Sisco, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
- Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
- Harold H. Saunders, NSC Senior Staff
- Robert Anderson, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Press Relations
- Isa Sabbagh, Interpreter
- Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
[The Secretary and President Asad conferred alone from 8:15–10:50 p.m. At this point, the larger group was admitted and introduced.]
Kissinger: Our two Syrian friends, while Gromyko was here,2 were waiting for the love call of the Siberian woodbird. They have never heard it.
Asad: He only sings it in your presence. [Laughter]
Kissinger: Wait for his departure statement! [Laughter][Page 349]
Khaddam: They have a draft joint Syrian-Soviet communiqué all ready. It will have to depend: I have waited to see how this goes before I decide what it will be.
Kissinger: Are you trying to blackmail me?
Asad: Not at all. [Laughter]
Kissinger: Does it mention imperialism?
Khaddam: Imperialism, Zionism, and reaction. [Laughter]
Kissinger: What do you do when Saqqaf comes here?
Khaddam: The one who attacks imperialism and reactionaries the most at meetings is Saqqaf! [Laughter] I will show you the memcons.
Kissinger: I thought the Foreign Minister has an all-purpose communiqué, and he just fills in the blanks.
Asad: The question of prisoners remains. They haven’t sent a complete list of prisoners.
Kissinger: I’ll take care of that tonight.
Asad: Including the PLA.
Kissinger: I’ll talk to them tonight.
Asad: And about those in the Israeli jails? There are four or five.
Kissinger: You were going to give me a list.
[Asad summons an aide.]
I’m getting worried about getting back to Israel.
Asad: We can sit down. I’m worried about your lover Gromyko.
Kissinger: We’ll depart the airport in an hour and fifteen minutes. [Sisco goes out to make these arrangements.] I need an hour or two in Israel. I’ll just skip Gromyko. I don’t have the time.
[The group goes in to dinner. They are joined at dinner by Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlas, Air Force Chief of Staff Najd Tamil, Press Adviser Elias, and Chief of Army Intelligence Brigadier Hikmat Shihabi.]
Kissinger: The Foreign Minister planned this dinner so I would miss Gromyko.
Asad: There is a phenomenon today that warrants attention—that Dr. Kissinger didn’t want Mr. Sisco to come here alone!
Kissinger: I wasn’t afraid he’d fail—I was afraid he’d succeed. [Laughter]
Asad: We’re witnessing an historic fact. Sisco is born for achievement. Perhaps if you would let him, he would do great things.
Kissinger: It’s an epic poem. [Laughter] He got it from the Defense Minister. As long as this group lives, it will know it has done something that has not been done in 6,000 years of recorded history: There has never been an organization called UNDOF. [Laughter]
Asad: These were my sentiments yesterday.[Page 350]
Kissinger: I’ve never heard the Defense Minister’s poetry.
Shihabi: I have; the difference in comprehension is the same. [Laughter]
Sisco: The Israeli Chief of Staff writes children’s books.
Tlas: He’s planting in the minds of children hatred of the Arabs.
Asad: They are not military?
Shihabi: I have read it.
Kissinger: I have not. General Tlas recites his own, or others’ poetry?
Asad: He knows very much poetry. But he’s the author of a book on guerrilla warfare. The trouble is the fedayeen are attempting to apply his book. [Laughter]
Kissinger: On the Lebanese front.
Khaddam: The Israelis in 1969 in a raid in southern Lebanon captured 50 copies of General Tlas’s book. They said they’d captured General Tlas! They’d captured only his book. [Laughter] This reveals their evil intentions! We should have his name on our list of prisoners they hold.
Sisco: The press says you and Gromyko met last night at the airport.
Khaddam: How often have you met him?
Kissinger: Five to six times a year. I make jokes about him but he is very able.
Tlas: There is a story about a Khalif whose court poets were sticklers for meter and dividing up meter precisely. That’s why Dr. Kissinger wanted the poem in the agreement!
[The Defense Minister then recited a nonsense poem in Arabic which Isa Sabbagh insisted was impossible to translate.]
Sisco: It sounds like the chirping of birds.
Kissinger: Then Khaddam should recite it to Gromyko. [Laughter]
[At 11:45 the group reconvenes in the meeting room and Asad shows the map to his generals. The Army Chief of Staff Shakkour, and other generals come in. The generals take a copy of the map across the room to another table and study it. Secretary Kissinger, President Asad, Minister Khaddam and Under Secretary Sisco confer on the procedural details.]
[The President and Secretary Kissinger then agreed on the text of the following announcement:
“The discussions conducted by U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Henry A. Kissinger with the Syrians and the Israelis have led to an agreement on the disengagement of Syrian and Israeli forces. The agreement will [Page 351] be signed in the Egyptian-Israeli Military Working Group of the Geneva Conference on Friday, May 31, 1974 in Geneva.”]
[They agreed it would be released at 7:00 p.m. Damascus time, 6:00 p.m. Jerusalem time, and at 12:00 noon Washington time.]
[President Asad gives Secretary Kissinger the names of the PLA prisoners held in Israel.]
Kissinger: I will raise it as a personal question.
Asad: Some time ago we released the people who had been in jail accused of cooperating with the Israelis. Those are some accused of cooperation with us. They are a mixture of Syrians and Druzes.
Kissinger: I will raise it with them.
The announcement of the fact of the agreement will be made tomorrow in Washington, and you can pick it up. [Asad nods yes.]
If there is no way of stopping publication, then the agreement, the protocol, and the map will be public at 8:00 a.m. Thursday Damascus time. The U.S. proposal will not be published.
Asad: No, it will not.
Kissinger: It will remain secret.
Asad: It will not even be referred to.
Kissinger: I will send you tomorrow the map.
Kissinger: Yes, late in the afternoon, and one of the letters, broken down into two. I’ll say “These are the letters, and we will get you the original.” And if there are any questions about the other, send it back and we will rewrite it. It will be done in a way that strengthens our relations.
And there is a good chance the President will be coming here and that will be a good time to discuss it. It may be the best time to give it to you.
Asad: When will it be?
Kissinger: In about two weeks.
I have to get back to Israel. I may not be able to convince them. There is one consideration we discussed. But I am hopeful. The texts we don’t have to worry about.
I’d better see Gromyko for ten minutes. I’ll meet the Foreign Minister at the Guest House afterwards. Or I’ll sing out a love call. [Laughter]
[The Secretary and Mr. Sisco thereupon departed for a courtesy call on Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko.]
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 194, Geopolitical File; Middle East, Peace Negotiations, Israeli-Syrian Relations, Negotiation Books, Volume III, March–May 1974. The meeting was held at the Presidential Palace in Damascus. Brackets are in the original.↩
- Gromyko arrived in Damascus on May 27.↩