263. Memorandum of Conversation1

  • SUBJECT
    • Meeting with Saudi and Algerian Oil Ministers
  • PARTICIPANTS
    • Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
    • William H. Donaldson, Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance
    • William E. Simon, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury
    • Robert S. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
    • Julius L. Katz, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs
    • Alec Toumayan, Interpreter
    • Francois M. Dickman, Country Director, Arabian Peninsula Affairs
    • H.E. Ahmad Zaki Yamani, Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources
    • H.E. Belaid Abdesselam, Algerian Minister of Industry and Energy
    • H.E. Ibrahim al-Sowayel, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia
    • Mr. Abdelkader Bousselham, Head of the Algerian Interests Section

Kissinger: I am delighted to welcome both of you here to have an exchange of ideas. I recall my meeting with Minister Yamani last year2 and I regret to say that everything he predicted has come to pass. I am happy to have this opportunity for a general exchange of ideas. I might mention at the outset that I greatly appreciated the hospitality extended to me in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Arab world.

I believe that the U.S. and the Arabs now find themselves with the following situation. The Arab world has achieved considerable political success in the events of last October. I think it is true, as Minister Yamani pointed out last year, that the conflict in the Middle East did not have the priority attention of the U.S. Government. This was partly because we did not take this serious matter sufficiently into consideration. As I told the Arab Ambassadors in New York shortly after I was confirmed, I recognized that the situation in the Middle East was intolerable; but the war in the Middle East gave this problem an impetus [Page 754]which it would not otherwise have had. However, we have made a decision to get a just peace under Security Council Resolution 242. The President has affirmed this and I mean to carry it out.

Now there is a relationship, however, between our efforts and what you and the other Arab Governments are doing and the decisions that you have taken.

Yamani: We are very delighted to have this opportunity to meet with you and to hear the attitude of the U.S. Government and of the efforts it is taking to get a peaceful settlement in the Middle East. Unfortunately, what we predicted has happened. We are not happy with this and we will be only happy when the day comes when we can remove all the restrictive measures we have taken. I believe there is no reason for me to explain to you why these measures have been taken unless you wish me to do so.

What we want is to get back occupied territories. If this is achieved, we will immediately restore production to the September 1973 levels. What we want is a peaceful settlement and when this is achieved, our production will rise to a level that is defined by economic circumstances. I previously told my friends at Mr. Donaldson’s lunch that we in Saudi Arabia will increase production if we can industrialize. We think this is possible and there are many favorable indicators and I am optimistic.

At the present time, we are applying two measures. The first has been to cut back oil production. We are prepared to restore production to the September 1973 levels according to a timetable which corresponds to a timetable of Israeli withdrawal. We also have the embargo. We hope we will soon be able to lift the embargo against the U.S. when we have a justification to do so. We would like to have your views on this to justify a change in our oil policy that we can point to in light of Arab public opinion.

Kissinger: I don’t know who is taking notes, but I do not want to have this conversation distributed all over town. Now to answer your question…

We understand the Arab concerns and Saudi Arabia’s policy up to a point, but we are in a different position from the Europeans. You can get from the Europeans any amount of rhetoric you want but they cannot deliver. The Europeans can make speeches, but cannot assure political progress in the Middle East. The Soviets can deliver arms. Only we can give you a settlement. If the Arabs want political progress, they have to work through us, but for this reason we have to be much more careful about what we say because we will be held responsible for whatever we say. We will not promise anything we cannot deliver; we will, however, deliver what we promise.

When I saw Prime Minister Saqqaf before and during the Middle East war, I did not promise that we can deliver but I did say that we [Page 755]have fully committed ourselves to implement Resolution 242. This is a very serious commitment for the U.S. How to do it and when to do it depends in part on several practical considerations.

I remember that previous Secretaries of State had made promises, but there never were any results. This was not their fault. It was because they did not have either the backing of the White House or of the American public. Now we have the full commitment of the White House and we are working to get the support of the American public. However, the timing of what we do has to be left to our judgment. I am not speaking of two years from now, but of a measurable time. It would be easy for us to make declarations at this time but you will judge us by results and not by declarations.

You have asked for a justification. Now I would like to review briefly what we have done. We have brought about a ceasefire when a major military defeat for Egypt would have otherwise occurred. We have saved the Third Army. We are now working to get the peace negotiations started, but we are faced with an important question. This is a question of principle. We have given our word to your King (Faisal) and other Arab leaders of our intention. Now, should we be blackmailed while we are in good faith trying to help meet Arab aspirations? This will hinder us in pursuing this policy. The Arabs can always reimpose oil restrictions if the promises we have made are unfulfilled.

It is not appropriate for us to bargain in advance of what we are going to negotiate. We understand the Arabs’ interpretation of Resolution 242, and I have said in Peking that it would be necessary for Israel to make substantial withdrawals. I am trying to avoid a major uproar in this country before the peace conference begins. For the forthcoming peace conference, I believe the first item on the agenda will be disengagement of military forces. This is one reason why I felt that going back to the October 22 lines was not very important, that it was a very minor move. But once the peace conference starts, we will make a very serious effort. Now I have told all Arab leaders that nothing can be achieved until after the Israeli elections. I have pointed out it would be a mistake to try to do something now when there are 25 Cabinet members engaged in political maneuvering in Israel and at least 10 of these want to be Prime Minister. Dayan3 is traveling through the U.S. making speeches. We would be unhappy to get in the middle of this so that we are not going to press now. However, you have to have confidence in us. I pointed this out to King Faisal in Riyadh.4

I should also point out that we have carried out strictly what we have told we were going to do to the Arab leaders. We have seen that [Page 756]the Third Army was resupplied. We have committed ourselves again publicly to UN Resolution 242. I personally have testified eight times before various Congressional committees, and I am meeting with another group of leaders this afternoon as well as tomorrow.

But our Arab friends must understand that if they want progress, they must let us choose the correct timing, but it will be soon.

Yamani: In January 1974?

Kissinger: We will begin moving in January 1974 in an unqualified way, but I do not want to see this statement in the newspaper tomorrow.

Yamani: We fully agree that what the Arabs can do towards the U.S. is nothing compared to what they can do to the Europeans or Japanese.

Kissinger: The Europeans can do nothing but talk but the more they talk, the more they move away from reality.

Yamani: I don’t think this is a good time to move away. We do appreciate the efforts and the promises of the U.S. and we hope they will achieve the results we want. What we want is peace and the fulfillment of the previous promises we received from the U.S.

Kissinger: But you never had promises in the past. What you had were assurances of general objectives.

Yamani: I believe we are more hopeful now.

Kissinger: I believe that is true. I don’t think you had promises before designed to a specific negotiation process.

Yamani: What we are doing is not blackmail, and I hope I can explain why. I think what we did was legitimate. We were hurt by what the U.S. did in providing military and economic aid before and during the war to Israel. The oil restrictions are a means of defense. I am hopeful, however, that we are starting a new era and that the way will be found to realize peace and to look forward to a good future.

Kissinger: We understand the reasons the decisions were taken by the Arabs to restrict oil during the war, and there is no question about the good relations that we have with Saudi Arabia and the strong personal ties many Americans have in the Arab world. The problem we face now is the situation produced by the war. We felt obliged during the war to introduce massive military aid to Israel. I don’t mind repeating to your colleague from Algeria, who may have another point of view, that we had one fundamental motive—this was to offset the massive introduction of arms from the other side. We had to prevent the Soviet Union from gaining dominant influence. We said this to the Saudi and Algerian Foreign Ministers when they came here during the war.5

[Page 757]

We now have a new political situation, however, which permits movement toward a solution and where no outside country can dictate an outcome. It is in this new situation that we see oil restrictions as blackmail. Before the war, we were helping Israel but we were not making political moves. Now we are making a contribution to peace. We will support Israel’s existence but we will also meet Arab aspirations. To pursue this policy will cause a tremendous uproar in the U.S., but it will be very difficult to do if it is done while we are suffering hardships as a result of the oil restrictions. That is why I call these restrictions blackmail.

Yamani: The U.S. has promised a peace settlement but we do not know what is the interpretation of Resolution 242. Is the U.S. committed to complete withdrawal? We do not question your commitment to Israel’s survival but we question whether the U.S. is committed to Israel’s continued occupation of Arab lands.

Kissinger: When the Israeli Prime Minister was here,6 we had an unbelievably hard time. I spent three nights in this room with her. I can assure you if I have to spend three nights with a lady, I would rather not do it with her. We kept getting phone calls during the Prime Minister’s visit from Congress that we were wrecking Israel. This commotion has now calmed down. I believe that history will show that the decision by President Sadat to work on the basis of a six-point program was very statesmanlike and in the long run will be helpful to the Arab cause. It enabled us to contain our own pressures in the U.S. The Israelis are more flexible now than they were on November 1, and they will be even more flexible on January 1. The Arabs have to understand what we have in mind. We have discussed many matters with Arab leaders already and there are many ideas. But before the U.S. takes a position on the frontiers, we will want to have discussions about Israel’s security with Arab leaders. The solution must be acceptable to the Arabs and not be imposed, and there is no dispute about the need for massive Israeli withdrawal.

Yamani: We do not know what “massive Israeli withdrawal” means.

Kissinger: It involves the issue of establishing a final frontier; this is not the appropriate forum to discuss this question but the Arabs should be under no misapprehension what we are saying. The Israelis have never gone back one kilometer. The first thing that has to be done is to get a major Israeli withdrawal and this will create a new state of mind in Israel.

[Page 758]

Abdesselam: Our countries and the Arab world in general are aware that the solution lies in the U.S. There are two problems: a problem of substance and a problem of procedure. The problem of substance deals with a final decision. Then, there is the problem of procedure; how to settle the matter. Concerning the problem of substance, we are in the dark about the position of the U.S. There are three essential points. Withdrawal from the territories but that is not the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is the Palestinian one because that has been the source of all the other difficulties. There is the occupation of the territories since 1967; and then there is the question of the security of Israel which is raised by the U.S.

We can have no hope in a final solution unless there is a clarification of the U.S. position on the Palestinian issue, since the question of the security of Israel can be settled by means other than acquisition of new territories. When we see withdrawal tied to Israeli security, we tend to believe that the final solution will entail territorial concessions on the part of the Arabs. We consider that the matter of security for Israel can be settled by other means. To see withdrawal tied to security is tantamount to accepting the Israeli thesis that security per se is a justification for the acquisition of new territories.

The U.S. has not made its position clear. In no case should there be a consecration of the concepts of acquiring new territories in a final agreement. The war was not the fault of the Arab leaders. The U.S. gave Israel massive aid while the war was going on in Arab territories. We could have understood massive aid being extended if the classic borders of Israel had been threatened, if Israeli territory had been threatened. But the U.S. gave Israel massive aid in a manner which led the Arab Governments and public opinion to see it as assistance to Israel so it could maintain its occupation. This is the new factor which has occurred since the October war and which is keeping us from being able to change our attitude. We are not criticizing the U.S. for being friendly to Israel, and giving guarantees to Israel for its security, but in the present situation we see the U.S. as supporting the expansionist designs of Israel.

The U.S. should have a clear expression of its position set forth in global terms encompassing the basic issues, the guarantees for Israel and the clarification of the position on the Palestinians. We see this as a political problem and corollary to withdrawal from the occupied territories. A clear expression of position from the U.S. can be an incentive to the Arabs to change their attitude.

Kissinger: (Waving to break in)

Abdesselam: I have two more points to make. To solve the Palestinian problem you have to start involving the Palestinians themselves and it is up to the Powers responsible for the restoration of peace and primarily the U.S. to involve the Palestinians in the process of solution. [Page 759]At present, we see the Palestinians as being kept aside or out of any conversations as if, in effect, there were an Israeli veto which we see no move to override. The problem must be tackled globally. The line of October 22 cannot apply only to Sinai but also to Golan, and the question of the Palestinians and of Jerusalem must be tackled at the same time. I am saying this because right now we see a trend to move toward a partial solution, an attempt to solve one part and not the others. We are not simply supporting the position of the Egyptians, the Syrians or the Palestinians. Our support is global. If the U.S. speaks of this disengagement of forces, this cannot apply only to the Egyptian party. If there is a disengagement of forces as a first step on the Sinai, then it must be carried out on Golan simultaneously. A number of tracks must be pursued concurrently.

Kissinger: I would like to…

Abdesselam: The Arabs are aware that the solution rests only with the U.S. but in view of all that has happened, I must ask if the Arabs are now being asked to sign a blank check. We do not come with set ideas or a frozen position. We are disposed to be flexible but there must be a substantial justification on the basis of which we can have a change in our attitude.

Kissinger: I will be making another trip to the Arab world7 only one month since I have taken the last and I will have the opportunity to go into the points which you have raised. I would emphasize that the principle of disengagement in the Sinai applies to the Golan, too.

Abdesselam: This is not the situation today.

Kissinger: But this is what I am telling you.

Are we going to approach this the French way or the practical way? The French and those educated in French lycées have a tendency towards the formulation of Cartesian principles.

Abdesselam: Are you saying this to me or are you reproaching the French?

Kissinger: I am reproaching the French for teaching this method. I have dealt for four years with people trained by the French and my nervous system has not fully recovered.

There is one aspect that Arab leaders should consider. The Arabs have complained about the U.S. commitment to Israel. It clearly was not an accident and it clearly has basic reasons because the U.S. does not commit itself to a nation of 2½ million people 8,000 miles away as a general principle. If this consideration is understood, it can’t be challenged on a day-to-day basis. It has to be dealt with case by case. We are not ready to make the comprehensive statement you want us [Page 760]to make. We have domestic pressures to contend with and we are dealing with them. Even though it is not visible yet, we believe several basic objectives have been achieved.

We do not want a confrontation with the Arab states. Placing conditions based on a comprehensive solution, however, will make a solution that much more difficult to achieve. There are the questions of security, of frontiers, of guarantees, of the Palestinians and Jerusalem. All of these have to be settled in a satisfactory manner before a global solution is achieved. I told your Foreign Minister that the Palestinian question has the greatest complexities, and there are two aspects to this question: who represents the Palestinians; and what provisions should be made for the Palestinians. I am aware of this problem but I think it is unwise to fight too many theoretical battles. Timing is very important at this point.

As for the blank check, we see three problems: (1) the embargo; (2) the oil production cutback; and (3) the need to increase oil production. We are aware that the Arabs can produce an energy crisis simply by going back to the September 1973 level and no further. Therefore, the proposals that the Arabs have made to the Europeans should not be very reassuring. If the Arab oil producers stay at the September 1973 level and there are no cuts and no embargo, it will eventually cause an energy problem unless there is an increase in production. Therefore, we are not talking about a blank check. If the Arabs increase production and make no demands, then that would be a blank check. If the Arabs remove the embargo, this would be a symbolic act which would help. If they remove the oil cutbacks, this would ease the situation also, but it would only postpone an energy problem that would arise a year or two from now.

The oil restrictions raise the issue whether countries toward which we show good faith and whose objectives we are supporting should engage in discriminatory policies against the U.S.. What I am saying is that it would be highly desirable if we could go back to the September 1973 level, but that is not an end in and of itself since production at this level will only postpone the energy problem temporarily. There is going to be more and more demand for oil.

Yamani: I would like to say…

Abdesselam: Production cuts are his problem (pointing to Yamani) not mine; I want high production and high prices.

Kissinger: Yes, but we are far from asking the Arabs for a blank check. We would think that if immediately after or just before the opening of the peace conference the oil embargo and restrictions were removed, this would have a favorable impact. The Arabs could always reserve the right to reimpose these restrictions if no significant movement occurred but their removal at this time would turn public opinion [Page 761]against those who would oppose our achieving a settlement of the Middle East problem.

Yamani: I do not disagree with what you have said but we have public opinion also, and our public opinion is more important to us than your public opinion. We are not in a position to do anything without additional justification. The massive U.S. aid to Israel was the reason for our action and this aid is continuing. We cannot ignore that Israel poses a military threat to the Arabs.

Kissinger: We foresee a situation arising where the Arab countries could overplay their hand. I believe the Arabs in the past have made a mistake by seeking to gain their political objectives through hostility to the U.S. This was a policy followed by Nasser. It made it easier for those who wanted to maintain the status quo in the Middle East. The Arab states could make the same mistake now with their economic policy. We can live with the oil restrictions and we can make the necessary adjustments; however, it causes irritation which complicates the authority that the U.S. Government will require to carry out the policy needed in the Middle East.

Yamani: There is another point of view that the Arab oil restrictions may have helped the U.S. pursue its new Middle East policy.

Kissinger: It has up to a certain point, but if the Arabs push too hard, it will be counter-productive.

Abdesselam: When I referred earlier to the global solution, I didn’t mean that all issues had to be solved all at once. What I meant was that movement must take place on several levels simultaneously. Troop withdrawal must be carried out on the two fronts. The Palestinian problem must be taken up at the same time. As for the question of the Palestinian interlocutor, I believe that the Palestine Liberation Organization is now viewed by all the Arabs as the only representative of the Palestinians. I do not want to say too much on the Jordanian problem. You will be talking to the Jordanian leaders. But today there is a Palestinian problem; there is not a Jordanian problem because the West Bank has in the past been part of Palestine. There is also the problem of Jerusalem.

Kissinger: I mentioned Jerusalem before you did, and I know that King Faisal will bring this to my attention again when I see him.

Abdesselam: We have no mandate to negotiate any solution. I have not tried to talk from the French standpoint but from a practical standpoint. We realize you hold the key to the solution and if you are ready to move toward a solution, we cannot move in two different directions.

Kissinger: I understand and I believe our objectives are complementary. It would be a mistake to move in different directions. This is why I am making another trip to the Arab world. I have had to deal with three parties in Vietnam and now nine parties in the Middle East. The possibilities in the Middle East to achieve a solution are better than [Page 762]since 1948. We are determined to achieve a solution, not perhaps at the speed of the most impatient Arabs, but as quickly as possible. We believe the process must start in January 1974 and symbolically beforehand in Geneva on December 18. I believe that progress will be shown quickly and will accelerate once it gets started. You must understand, however, that we are faced with a very difficult exercise, and we cannot do it under pressure. We cannot act like some other countries with whom the Arabs have had dealings. Therefore, you (the Arabs) have to calibrate your actions with this reality. The need for energy in the world will continue to increase and therefore you will never be without weapons.

I must say in retrospect that Minister Yamani gave me a warning, and I have not forgotten our earlier conversation. We think we understand the situation and I will do my best but Arab oil producers should not complicate the situation.

Yamani: We greatly appreciate this opportunity to meet with you. I hope all of this will be over soon and there will be no need for any more warnings.

Kissinger: (to Yamani) If there are any special problems you would like to raise with me before I leave, I would be glad to see you again.8

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Department of State 1968–1977, Box CL 342, MemCons External, Sep 73–Feb 74. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Dickman. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s office. Yamani and Abdesselam also met with Secretary of Commerce Dent on December 6. (Memorandum from Dent to Rush, December 11; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL SAUD–US) In his December 8 meeting with Clements, Yamani promised an additional 100,000 barrels per day for the Sixth Fleet. (Telegram 240916 to Jidda, December 8; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 630, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Vol. IV)
  2. Kissinger met with Yamani April 17, 1973; see Document 176.
  3. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.
  4. See Document 238.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 219.
  6. Golda Meir visited the United States November 1. For documentation on this visit, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973.
  7. See footnote 4, Document 247.
  8. In his memoirs, Kissinger recalled that he met again with Yamani on December 6, without “the radical Algerian.” Yamani indicated “that the formal position would be interrupted with great flexibility in practice. The embargo would be lifted if we achieved an Egyptian-Israeli disengagement in January as we planned.” (Years of Upheaval, p. 883) According to the Secretary’s Calendar of Events for Thursday, December 6, Kissinger met with Yamani from 6:40 to 7:12 p.m. No other record of this meeting has been found.