78. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Mrs. Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel
  • Yitzhak Rabin, Minister of Labor and Prime-Minister-designate
  • Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister
  • Abba Eban, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Moshe Dayan, Minister of Defense
  • Shimon Peres, Minister of Information
  • Simcha Dinitz, Ambassador to the United States
  • Mordechai Gazit, Director, Prime Minister’s Office
  • Lt. Gen. Mordechai Gur, Army Chief of Staff
  • Avraham Kidron, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Ephraim Evron, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Col. Aryeh Bar-On, Aide to Dayan
  • Eli Mizrachi, Assistant Director, Prime Minister’s Office
  • Col. Dov Sion
  • Lt. Gen. David Leor, Military Assistant to the Prime Minister
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Ambassador Kenneth B. Keating, U.S. Ambassador to Israel
  • Mr. Joseph J. Sisco, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, Ambassador at Large and Chief U.S. Delegate to Geneva Peace Conference on the Middle East
  • Ambassador Robert J. McCloskey, Ambassador at Large
  • Mr. Carlyle E. Maw, Legal Adviser
  • Mr. Harold H. Saunders, National Security Council Senior Staff
  • Ambassador Robert Anderson, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Press Relations
  • Mr. Peter W. Rodman, National Security Council Staff

Kissinger: Let me report on my meeting with Asad.2 It took 4½ hours. I won’t go into all the issues but just the central issues.

There was an endless discussion about the red line. He took violent exception to the fact what he said about foreign troops appeared in Ha’aretz and the Arabic service of Kol Yisrael.3 He said it was impossible to have confidence in Israel.

[Page 353]

Let me talk about the fedayeen. I told him, first, . . . frankly, I went there in order to be able to construct a letter to you saying that I told him what Israel’s concerns were and that he understood them. I told the Prime Minister before I went what I thought was attainable.

I told him first what I was going to say publicly: If there are attacks across the line, the ceasefire can’t survive. If the line turns into a fedayeen front, I, as the one who took the responsibility for getting Israel this far, couldn’t ask them to take the last step unless I knew what his intentions were.

I talked to him only with my interpreter; there was no one else there. I asked my interpreter to write down the essence of the conversation as he understood it, and I made some notes as he was talking. And I also told him I couldn’t allow 25,000 civilians returning to Kuneitra and then have it turn into a fedayeen base.

First, he made a long explanation of why the question of the Palestinians is a particular problem for Syria. First, as a people without a country, without identity, without support from the world community—Damascus as the center of Arab nationalism couldn’t dissociate itself publicly from them.

“There is a feeling of despair among them which leads to certain radical actions, some of which can be tempered by moderate elements with whom Syria is in contact.” I said I had to repeat again that it was not consistent with the cease-fire. He said, “We have committed ourselves to the cease-fire; we will be extremely careful about border areas. Specifically, there will be no firing across the lines by anyone. There is no possibility for organized armed bands to cross into Israel. No fedayeen can be stationed in the front areas. We can’t guarantee against individuals sneaking through, but we can insure they won’t start from the border areas.” He said these are assurances he gives me.

This is from my interpreter’s notes. I checked it with my own notes, that said the same thing. “Crossing won’t happen.” “Groups will not cross.” “Individuals might cross—they are harder to stop.”

Mrs. Meir: I understand you told him you’d convey it to us.

Kissinger: Yes, but he cannot. This is what he tells me. If it becomes public, it will be very difficult.

Allon: This is going to be in a letter from Asad to you. This is part of the protocol.

Kissinger: No. That’s all it is.

Allon: It was an oral conversation of which minutes were taken?

Kissinger: Yes.

Mrs. Meir: That you’ll convey to us, in addition to a public statement.


[Page 354]

Mrs. Meir: Israelis don’t talk?

Allon: A change!

Eban: That is obviously the maximum we’re going to get on this issue, and we’re going to meet and decide tomorrow.


Kissinger: The thing I find amazing is yesterday I was asked to bring back a paper saying I told him and he understood it.4 Now I bring back that he spells it out in great detail and more than I ever expected.

Peres: You asked us to keep quiet, and we have. [Laughter]

Keating [to Peres]: You did very skillfully avoiding the details on TV.

Peres: That’s my profession.

Allon: Of course, when one compares this to what we were given yesterday, there is progress. The only problem is, if eventually—as is bound to happen—this sort of thing leaks out, he will deny it. This is an open security.

Kissinger: I would have thought if a responsible Israeli cared about substance rather than publicity, he’d keep it secret. Unless it’s violated, which is a different problem.

I was told this agreement was legitimizing terrorism—the stranger it seemed as I thought about it. You won’t take this position; you’ll have an American public statement; and third, you have these assurances in infinitely more detail than expected.

Dayan: Can we get a letter from you that you have reason to believe the Syrians so and so? The Syrian understanding of the cease-fire has no crossing, etc.

Kissinger: I’m prepared to put what I have here in a letter to the Prime Minister, and to add that if there is a violation, the U.S. would feel an obligation to call it to account. But as a secret letter.

Dayan: The Prime Minister will be asked what is the Syrian attitude. Can she say in public she has reason to believe Syrians understand the cease-fire means no crossing?

Kissinger: They’ve promised not to rebut my public statement. They’re very sensitive to seem to have colluded with you against the Palestinians.

If you can omit the Syrians. Say “assurances” as if it is additional American assurances.

Mrs. Meir: I will say in rebuttal to Begin and Sharon that it is inconceivable the U.S. will say this to us without having reason to believe it.

[Page 355]

Kissinger: You can say it’s inconceivable they would say these to us without saying this to others as well. Because it’s a public statement. You can say there are assurances as long as you don’t mention Syria.

Dayan: Can she say she has assurances that it is the only interpretation of the cease-fire?

Mrs. Meir: It is inconceivable you would authorize us to read out such a statement without a basis for it.

Kissinger: You want to say you’ve been given additional assurances?

Mrs. Meir: Can we say that to the Knesset? That would be good.

Kissinger: They promise not to rebut. Maybe they won’t keep their promise.

Mrs. Meir [to Dayan]: Moshe, to the Foreign Affairs Committee we have to get all the details.

Kissinger: If it leaks before signing, it will blow skyhigh.

Dayan: On TV last night they had the whole agreement—numbers, forces, everything.

Peres: It was from Ha’aretz. They left out only the Palestinians.

Dayan: But if it leaks it won’t be an official leak.

Eban: Suppose it is signed Friday afternoon.5

Dayan: The Prime Minister can say further details were given to the Committee.

Mrs. Meir: Oh yes, I wouldn’t say any more.

Dayan: If you said that besides the American letter further details will be given to the Foreign Affairs Committee . . .

Kissinger: That would be by far the best.

Dayan: See what happens to me at 3:00!

Kissinger: You have a good idea.

Keating: That doesn’t solve the problem of a leak from the Committee.

Kissinger: That you have anyway.

Dayan: No one from the Committee will do it officially.

Mrs. Meir: Because this is security, pure security, can’t there be censorship?

Gur: I was discussing this just before with the spokesman and the official censor. The answer is no. Especially if it will be published abroad.

Kissinger: But the secret letter never will.

[Page 356]

Allon: Other foreign papers print it and the next morning ours pretend to copy it.

Mrs. Meir: We will do everything possible.

Kissinger: That’s all you can do.

Mrs. Meir: And will say further details will be given to the Committee.

Dayan: Last time we did eventually give them documents, so we can manage it.

Mrs. Meir: We’ll think it over. One thing you can be sure is that we’ll do everything possible.

Kissinger: I am confident.

Allon: Once you say there are further details, the entire public and press will search for what they are.

Mrs. Meir: “All details have been brought to the Foreign Affairs Committee.”

Dinitz: I value very much if we move the signature to Thursday.

Mrs. Meir: We discussed that before.

Kissinger: The first problem is, when will we know when the Cabinet has decided?

Mrs. Meir: We meet at 7:30 in the morning.

Gur: In four hours.

Kissinger: What will the Cabinet announce? It can’t say an agreement has been reached. Unless you want to be killed in Washington, and in Damascus.

Allon: What do you want us to say?

Kissinger: That we will convey the answer to Damascus and await their reply, and there will be a later announcement.

Dayan: There was an announcement from Damascus that an agreement was reached on the principles, but someone was left behind to complete the work.

Kissinger: I made no statement.

Dayan: This was a Syrian statement.

Kissinger: That was not unhelpful.

Allon: Let’s say “we are very close to a successful conclusion to the negotiations and are expecting further clarification, and in a few hours we will make an announcement.”

Kissinger: On the signing, if we are going to consider signing Thursday, we have got to get a lot of things moving fast.

Sisco: It is technically possible.

Kissinger: Asad would welcome it because he was very unhappy to publish the documents a day and a half before the signing. He didn’t [Page 357] want a debate in Syria before it was signed. Therefore, he implored me to implore you to have the Knesset session secret. [Laughter]

His concerns are to get the documents—the Agreement, the UN protocol and map—published only on the day of the signing. Second, he wishes not to have the U.S. proposal published. Third, he has the difficulties I have read to you. So these are his concerns.

If we are thinking of signing Thursday, we had better get a cable off to him today. Then the documents will be public.

When you bring something to the Knesset, how do you do it?

Mrs. Meir: A speech.

Kissinger: You don’t hand it? I think he would most prefer to get them published after the signature.

Mrs. Meir: That is impossible. We could send our delegation to Geneva Thursday, with instructions that they don’t sign until they get the signal after the Knesset debate. The debate will be . . .

Peres: 10 hours. [All say no]

Mrs. Meir: If it is a four-hour debate, it means six hours. I have to introduce the debate, and someone has to close it, and that is not included. Then there is a vote.

We can start at 11:00.

Peres: Even 10:00.

Mrs. Meir: If it starts at 11:00, it will finish at 5:00 p.m.

Dinitz: Which is 4:00 Geneva time.

Mrs. Meir: Our people will be there, so they don’t have to travel.

Kissinger: Then we’d better get a cable off to Asad tonight that in view of his great concern that the documents will be published the same day, we should have it Thursday. It should help his concerns.

Mrs. Meir: When do we get the wounded?

Kissinger: Twenty-four hours after. The other prisoners are released the morning after.

Mrs. Meir: I got permission from Burg [the NRP Minister]6 for even doing it Saturday.

Five o’clock Geneva time, 6 o’clock here.

Gazit: That is too tight.

Kissinger: Six o’clock Geneva time.

Joe, you realize none of this can be set in motion until tomorrow afternoon. Can we do it?

Sisco: Yes.

[Page 358]

Maw: We can have the mechanics done.

Dinitz: It will be a secret covenant openly arrived at.

Sisco: You’ll have to send a cable shortly before the announcement.

Mrs. Meir: Do the UN people go from New York?

Sisco: They have people there.

Kissinger: What worries me is . . .

Eban: What difference is it if there is a flurry in Geneva on a contingency basis?

Kissinger: It is a concern to people I have to worry about. Simcha can explain.

Mrs. Meir: It is only Wednesday.

Kissinger: I’ll send a cable to Asad tonight. We’ll have an answer by the time a Cabinet decision is made.

Sisco is a national hero in Syria since I made the joke that he is out to get my job.

They postponed the dinner for Gromyko every two hours, then they cancelled.

Dinitz: That is why Gromyko was so unpleasant.

Kissinger: Gromyko was . . . very worrisome. He made a violent speech on the Palestinians, worse than anything Asad has made at his worst. On the other hand, he was playing a very pathetic role there.

Allon: According to the press, he had a meeting with Arafat there.

Kissinger: Yes.

Allon: This may explain his interest in that.

Kissinger: No, the Russian strategy is to get everything to Geneva, to lump everything together, to pick an issue on which the U.S. can’t do anything for the Arabs and on which other Arabs have to support them, in order to push us out of our role. That is the Russian strategy.

Mrs. Meir: I want to tell you, since we are exchanging compliments around the table, I feel terribly guilty, since we urged you to go to Damascus.

Kissinger: It was worth it. I was dubious but it was the right thing to do.

Keating: Asad kissed Sisco tonight.

Kissinger: You will then make an announcement that at least leaves the final decision open.

Gur: There should be a working group tomorrow about the maps.

Kissinger: Oh yes. I promised I would send up your map with 1:25000 [scale].

Gur: It is done already. There is a difference between the Syrian map and our map. So there should be a working group. Sisco and [Page 359] Motta Mottke [Gazit] should sit with Dovele [Sion]. There is a difference in the old purple line. This is a difference we had before. But it has no importance regarding the changes we did now.

Kissinger: They are eager to get the map. I told him any discussions about it should take place in the Military Working Group. But he said he would appreciate having it in Damascus—not in Geneva—before his Generals left.

Sisco: These copies are different?

Gur: Because it is on our map.

Kissinger: But I understand this doesn’t affect areas affected by this negotiation. It is between you and the Syrians. As long as the Rafid salient doesn’t disappear.

Dinitz: There was one sentence in the U.S. Proposal.

Kissinger: They wanted the same language in the Agreement as in the U. S. Proposal. It should say, “will not have any military forces” instead of “demilitarized.” One, to have the same language, and second, because they say it translates badly. Everything else remains exactly the same.

The Syrians are sending a General and a Colonel.

The U. S. Proposal will be signed by their Chief of Staff, the U. S. Proposal about the thinning out. Their Chief of Staff will sign it in Damascus. Our Chief of our Interests Section will deliver the signed document to him.

Mrs. Meir: All documents will be signed by military. Is that right?

Kissinger: Yes. The one in Geneva will be signed by a General. The thinning-out agreement, the U.S. Proposal, will be signed by the Chief of Staff in Damascus.

Dinitz: In the Egyptian agreement, the President signed it.

Kissinger: They want to treat it as a military document. I had it at the Foreign Minister’s level but Khaddam protested so violently that he wasn’t the competent official on thinning out.

Dayan: The Red Cross should be alerted.

Kissinger: The wounded will be exchanged 24 hours after the signing. I’ve got the names of four Arabs he wants released. They look like hard cases.

Dayan: I have four Arabs I want to give him. Maybe the same ones!

Kissinger: They have not exactly short sentences. [He reads from a paper]: Twenty years, 10 years—a bicycle thief. [He hands it over] I have now transmitted it.

He said he doesn’t know them but there was an appeal published in a Beirut paper.

Can I see you five seconds alone?

[Page 360]

Mrs. Meir: Sure. The young people want to go to sleep.

Should we move the Knesset forward an hour, so we can get the prisoners back?

Dayan: Nine o’clock is all right.

Kissinger: Then make the signing at 5:00 p.m. in Geneva?

[Mrs. Meir and Secretary Kissinger conferred alone from 3:45–4:00 a.m. The rest of the party departed for the hotel at 3:45 a.m.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 8, Nodis Memcons, May 1974, Folder 10. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, and took place on May 29, not May 28–29 as indicated on the original. Brackets are in the original. Kissinger met with Meir right before this meeting from 2:10 until 2:45 a.m. at the Prime Minister’s office. (Memorandum of conversation; ibid.)
  2. See Document 77.
  3. Ha’aretz is an Israeli daily newspaper and Kol Yisrael is an Israeli public radio service.
  4. See Document 76.
  5. May 31.
  6. Yosef Burg was a founding member of the National Religious Party (NRP).