52. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary’s Meeting with House and Senate Wednesday Groups, February 28, 1975—6:15–7:30 p.m.—Monroe Room


  • Secretary Kissinger
  • Deputy Secretary Ingersoll
  • Assistant Secretary McCloskey
  • Under Secretary Sisco
  • Larry Eagleburger
  • William B. Richardson (notetaker)
  • Glenn Beall (Md.)
  • Henry Bellmon (Okla.)
  • Mark Hatfield (Ore.)
  • Robert Packwood (Ore.)
  • Richard Schweiker (Pa.)
  • John Anderson (Ill.)
  • Pete Biester (Pa.)
  • Thad Cochran (Miss.)
  • Bill Cohen (Maine)
  • Larry Coughlin (Pa.)
  • Jim Johnson (Colo.)
  • Phil Ruppe (Mich.)
  • Herman Schneebeli (Pa.)
  • Alan Steelman (Tex.)
  • Marvin Esch (Mich.)
  • Bill Frenzel (Minn.)
  • Frank Horton (N.Y.)
  • Barber Conable (N.Y.)
  • Alphonzo Bell (Calif.)
  • Patricia Goldman, Executive Director

The Secretary opened the meeting by stating that instead of making a presentation he would answer questions in order that the session be a more productive one for the Members.

[Page 269]

Congressman Steelman asked the Secretary what our oil policy was in view of the Administration’s goal of a production reduction to $1 million [1 million barrels] a day reduction. The Secretary responded that the United States needed a longer term strategy of a 4–5 year period. He stated that our policy had two objectives: (1) to bring oil prices down; and (2) to make sure that our dependence on foreign sources does not increase. The Secretary said that we are working towards (1) increasing the pressure on OPEC countries to reduce prices; and (2) finding the most effective consumer position directed at locating substitute sources of energy. He stated that the figure of one million barrels a day had been used as the recession figure. The Secretary said we should make every effort to achieve that strategy, so that we can dispel the notion that the U.S. is dragging others along only to save themselves. The upcoming energy conference of consumers, said the Secretary, was not decisive, but one that would set the general strategy and goals in addition to trying to break the oil cartel.

Congressman Conable stated that although he agreed that military aid was an appropriate weapon of diplomacy, that there was confusion as to when we should use it. The Congressman said that on this score their Democratic colleagues were criticizing them for our military assistance policies. He stated that we have recently decided to reinstate military aid to Pakistan and that we had just asked the Congress for supplemental assistance for Vietnam and Cambodia.2 The Congressman asked the Secretary whether there was any rule of thumb on what was or was not a constructive policy on military aid.

The Secretary replied that the main problem in foreign policy was the lack of a national consensus on what the needs, goals, and direction of our foreign policy should be. The Secretary indicated that the objectives of military assistance could be linked to the Cyprus situation but not necessarily to trade negotiations. He stated that military aid can be [Page 270] given for many reasons, and that the obvious one was the protection of areas vital to our security; another obvious reason for military assistance, according to the Secretary, was for people like our allies for defense in their military purposes. The Secretary stated that if the Congress and the Executive Branch agreed that an area was vital, then there was no problem. Saudi Arabia, he said, was a key country in the Arab world for the following reasons: first, it had an enormous surplus production of oil; second, it had an unlimited surplus of petrodollars; third, it was the only country that could make an embargo stick. The Secretary said that Iran and Algeria could not afford to cut production, since most of their raw income was mortgaged for development projects. The Secretary maintained that the bilateral projects that we have initiated with the Saudis are for development purposes. One constant problem, said the Secretary, was the necessity to keep Saudi Arabia satisfied and on our side.

The Secretary stressed that we want a political relationship with the Saudis whereby they tie their conception of their security to ours. In this context, said the Secretary, we have agreed to sell them arms. The Secretary stated that if we did not do this, that France and Great Britain would step in there, thus reducing our influence. The objectives of the French and British, on the Middle East, said the Secretary, are different from ours. The Secretary stressed that the success of his upcoming negotiations depended on Faisal. The Secretary stated we would be in trouble if Faisal decided to back Syria and threatened to withhold money from Egypt. The Secretary then said that if Faisal stayed on the fence, then we would be okay. In all of the important Arab forums, according to the Secretary, King Faisal is decisive. The Bedouin society is extremely important, said the Secretary. The Secretary then stressed that France and Great Britain did not have the same political objectives that we had, and that their presence would not help matters. As for Iran, said the Secretary, they could not take the drastic foreign policy steps that Saudi Arabia could take.

The Pakistan case, said the Secretary, was an anomaly. Here was an ally of ours, he said, and yet we had been embargoing it at a time when its neighbor had been receiving one billion dollars a year in arms. The Secretary said he could not understand why we had embargoed Pakistan. As for the recent decision to resume arms sales to Pakistan, said the Secretary, we decided on the most minimal cash sale as strictly a symbolic step; there was no military mission involved, no escalation of the arms race which would alter the balance of power in the area. The Secretary stated that we just wanted to eliminate the political anomaly in that area. France and Great Britain, said the Secretary, sell arms to Pakistan. The Secretary stated that this sale will not affect our relations with India since we made clear to them what our objectives [Page 271] were before we announced our decision. The local Indian Ambassador, said the Secretary, got carried away in his reaction. One goal of our foreign policy, stressed the Secretary, was not to get involved in an arms race in the subcontinent. We can regulate this matter by the amounts we sell to Pakistan as well as the amounts of ready cash that they have to pay for these arms, stated the Secretary.

The Secretary then stated that he wanted to discuss the supplemental requests for Vietnam and Cambodia. On the Indochina issue, said the Secretary, we have all been anguished for many years. It was an issue that was very hard on both him and the Congressmen present. The Secretary said that he received many letters on this topic also. He stated that he was saddened by the present rhetoric of the debate on this issue; he felt that the rhetoric being used at the present time was one of the past, and that this was an entirely new issue. With respect to Cambodia, the Secretary said, the issue was whether the United States would condemn the people and country that have stood by us by refusing to send them ammunition. The Secretary said that this responsibility of denying them these arms was very great to assume, even if the Cambodians lost. The Secretary said that in his judgment the U.S. had exhausted all of the peacekeeping possibilities; he said we consulted every Asian leader, focusing on progressive leaders and not military dictators, to help us towards our negotiating objectives. The Prime Minister of Singapore and other leaders that we consulted concluded that there were no prospects for negotiations in view of the military situation, said the Secretary. He stated that in December the French almost got negotiations started again. He said that the present Cambodian conflict had to be settled.

The Secretary said that with respect to Vietnam, the question of whether we should have gone in will be settled by history. He stated that a strong case could not be made in American society for helping the South Vietnamese yet there were millions of people in South Vietnam that we have propelled into this kind of situation. He said he always heard from everyone that we ought to get our troops and our prisoners out and then to let the South Vietnamese defend themselves. Never did he hear, the Secretary said, that we should give them aid to defend themselves with; the Secretary then stressed that by denying the military aid we were condemning them; that, the Secretary considered, was an immoral act. The Secretary stated that he could not honestly tell them (the Congressmen) that there was a terminal date to our providing this aid. The Secretary said that last summer he felt that there was no way the North Vietnamese could win militarily after efforts at further negotiations failed. He stated that his view was that the Congress should vote adequate aid as long as it was necessary, but that [Page 272] one could not put a terminal date on it. If we did announce this terminal date, said the Secretary, it would jeopardize our security interests in the Middle East and all other areas of our interest. According to the Secretary, the perfect example of what has happened is the Jackson amendment,3 where you get chivvied, but it is simply the best one can get. The Jackson amendment was better than no trade bill at all; therefore, the Secretary said, a cut off is better than cutting it (the aid for South Vietnam) off completely. In Vietnam’s case, the Secretary stated, it was better to go for three years with a maximum effort. He stated that there were different reasons for military aid in different parts of the world; in most cases, said the Secretary, American security depends on this.

Congressman Esch stated that he was a member of a Congressional group that met in this same room with the Secretary’s predecessor in 1967 to discuss the issues that were being discussed at this meeting. Congressman Esch then asked if it was unrealistic to expect whether we can apply leverage to China and the USSR to halt their arms supplies into that area.

The Secretary replied that although the word leverage was easy to use that it was very hard to define. He then stated that he would like to get together with a few Congressmen and ask them to write down what leverage they feel we have. With the Soviet Union, the Secretary felt our leverage was economic. He said it was prestigious for them to have a close association in an economic partnership with us. Should the Russians kick up the arms race in the area, we just cannot retaliate by cutting off credits since our economic cards hardly exist anymore. There is no credible threat, said the Secretary, which indicates an increasing arms race in that area. Our total leverage, said the Secretary, was shrinking and thus détente was suffering. The Secretary said that every negotiation with the Soviets is tougher because we have less chips to offer.

The Secretary then stated that we have one source of leverage with China: they need us for a balance of power. He said that the press keeps saying that Taiwan is the key issue in blocking better relations. The Secretary stressed that it was not Taiwan that brought us together, but rather the Chinese desire to hold the ring around Russia.

According to the Secretary, the Turkey issue had done considerable damage to our relations with China. In this case, said the Secretary, here they see the United States cutting off aid to a country that stands [Page 273] between the Middle East and the USSR.4 The Secretary said the Chinese then question whether we can deliver; their factors, stated the Secretary, blunt off any effort by him in asking the Chinese to please cut off arms to Indochina. In the right circumstances, said the Secretary, we could go in with the Chinese. The Secretary stated that the South Vietnamese had to defend their northern frontier and that they were running short of ammunition. The North Vietnamese, said the Secretary, had to be strong to have taken the provincial capital.

Senator Hatfield asked the Secretary what our commitment was to the Cambodian government. He said that he recalled a hearing before his Appropriations Committee where Under Secretary Tarr reiterated that there was no commitment to Cambodia, that the purpose of our policy was only to protect American troops. Senator Hatfield stated that now he was not so sure, and said he wanted to know why the Secretary had requested the recent $222 million aid package for Cambodia.

The Secretary stated that we do not have a formal commitment to Cambodia, but something deeper. The Secretary again stressed that the U.S. had no formal defense or political commitment to Cambodia, and that we have not said to them that we will defend them. What had to be distinguished, said the Secretary, was the nature of our relationship; in other words, stated the Secretary, how our actions vis-à-vis the Cambodians will be perceived in the world. Should we refuse to send them ammunition, said the Secretary, that would be morally wrong and inequitable.

Congressman Coughlin asked how much money it would take the Cambodians to get them through the monsoon. Coughlin stated that the Executive Branch had requested $752 million for Indochina and now an additional $222 million for Cambodia. Coughlin asked whether so much money was needed; wouldn’t $100 million be sufficient, he asked.

The Secretary replied that he was no expert at numbers, that what was requested was the minimum that was essentially needed.

[Page 274]

Congressman Anderson stated that the U.S. engaged in nearly $8 billion worth of arms sales around the world. He said that he was troubled at what the Secretary had said earlier; it seemed to him that our policy was based on keeping up with the Joneses, i.e. the fact that if France and Great Britain do it, we should do it too. The Congressman asked the Secretary whether the United States could exercise influence on developing countries to use their funds for development projects rather than for military purposes.

The Secretary stated that the biggest purchasers of arms were not impoverished nations, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. He said that with each of these countries we have set up economic commissions to promote economic development. The Secretary asked at what price could we keep some of these countries from buying arms to modernize their military forces for their own security purposes. The Secretary stated that we had suffered more by denying countries our sales; Peru, said the Secretary, was the perfect example of this short-sighted policy. The U.S., said the Secretary, refused to sell arms to the Peruvians so as to redirect their funds for development purposes. What happened next, said the Secretary, was that the Peruvians bought 200 Soviet tanks and brought in Cuban technicians. The Secretary stated that we hardly gained from this situation, and that we placed ourselves in a very difficult situation. In general, the Secretary said that we do encourage countries to put their funds into development rather than for arms.

Congressman Horton asked what the prospects were for a Middle East settlement.

The Secretary stated there were three problems in negotiations, (1) Egypt and Israeli relations; (2) relations between Egypt and other countries; and (3) the USSR and other nations in the area. He stated that Egypt and Israel were getting along better. With a little bit of luck, the Secretary said that chances for success were slightly better than 50/50. Tonight, the Secretary said, he and Joe Sisco had sent a message to all the countries that they would be visiting,5 asking everyone to do a little thinking on their own, that the U.S. is not going to do it all. One of the key issues, stated the Secretary, was whether Syria could mobilize Arab support to kill any kind of rapprochement between Egypt and Syria. The Secretary said that in Assad’s view, for Assad to gain nothing while Egypt gains something was bad. He said that Assad was playing all his cards: Arab unity, flirtations with the Palestinians. If there is movement on the Golan Heights issue, said the Secretary, Assad will keep quiet. Whether he can mobilize pressure, said the Secretary, depended in large part on other countries and the Palestinians. With re[Page 275]spect to the USSR, stated the Secretary, they so far have been more obnoxious than obstructionist. Should the Soviets start a massive diplomatic campaign, said the Secretary, that will be a bad thing. The Secretary said that if the radical Arabs win, then it will mean the defeat of moderate Arabs, moderate programs, and the United States at Geneva. If the U.S. fails, said the Secretary, the Soviets and the radical Arabs will be successful, causing a nightmare. The end result, said the Secretary, would be that moderate Arabs would be discredited, the Soviets would win, and the worst results for Israel. The key issue, said the Secretary, is what position we are in when we go to Geneva.

Congressman Ruppe stated that it was his understanding that King Faisal would not be content until he got to pray in Jerusalem. Since the Secretary seemed to indicate that Faisal was the linchpin of the Middle East, didn’t this factor have to be taken into account.

The Secretary stated that in one sense Saudi Arabia was a linchpin, in another sense it was not. The Secretary said that when one first perceives Faisal, he appears as a real fanatic. The Secretary stated, however, that Faisal was a very canny operator. He sits, said the Secretary, on $200 billion worth of reserves and 8 million Bedouins, and makes the rounds successfully with his ambiguous postures. Faisal, said the Secretary, gets the conservatives by appearing as a religious fanatic, and then gets the support of the radicals by espousal of the Palestinian issue. The Secretary stated that Faisal never exposes himself, and talks in riddles to keep all his options open. A colleague of his, said the Secretary, once told me (HAK) that if Faisal would tell the Secretary that he would not go ahead with an embargo, then he would do it. The Secretary said that Faisal was a very complicated man, and that he probably does want to die in Jerusalem. The mistake people make about Faisal, however, said the Secretary, is that they think he wants to hear about Jerusalem. In all the conversations that he has ever had with Faisal, stated the Secretary, Faisal has never raised the Jerusalem issue nor the ’67 borders issue. He is an extremely practical man, said the Secretary, and on the Syrian front, he will go along. How he will come down on the totality of issues, said the Secretary, nobody knows. Sadat, said the Secretary, may ask him to support him, and Faisal may go ahead and do it. If you want to talk philosophy with Faisal, the Secretary stated, he has a standard 45 minute speech on Zionism and Communism.

Senator Schweiker then said that our problem with Cambodia was that we were playing a Catch 22 policy there. It seems, said the Senator, that we have to prove our virility and our manhood and that we are using the old Cold War logic that we have to do it if the Commies do it. Then our only policy, said Schweiker, is to respond to that Cold War logic and to the eventual neglect of other areas.

[Page 276]

The Secretary stated that before we get involved in something again, that we will think it over extremely carefully, since the Indochina experience has shown how hard it is to disengage. A total refusal to the Cambodians, said the Secretary, was condemnatory and the wrong way to end the war, a big mistake. The U.S. action in Cambodia, said the Secretary, when we became involved with the sanctuaries, saved thousands of lives. At the present time, stated the Secretary, the Cambodian situation was an extremely dangerous one, and it may get worse when the rainy season starts again.

Congressman Cohen stated that in recent days, former President Nixon and Chuck Colson had said that the Secretary was one of the more dangerous and unstable men in the world.

The Secretary said that it was a lucky thing that Colson had converted to Christianity, otherwise he (HAK) would hate to speculate what Colson would have said if he had not.

Congressman Cohen then said that the Secretary had talked about Congressional intervention in foreign policy in several forums.6 Would the Secretary elaborate on this point.

The Secretary replied that it was disastrous to operate a foreign policy without the support of Congress and the public. He stated that he strongly believed in Congressional consultation. When he was at the White House as Assistant to the President, he often met with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and especially Chairman Fulbright. There was nothing in it for him (HAK) at the time, said the Secretary, yet he did it. The Secretary said he was extremely concerned with establishing a partnership with Congress, yet it was technically difficult to consult with this Congress. The Secretary said he meets three times a week with groups like these, yet he did not know which of the Congressmen he meets with can deliver. Consultation with the Congress, said the Secretary, is a technical problem, which is the Congress’ problem, not his. The Secretary stated that he was perplexed at what was happening to the Committee structure, but that it was not affecting him.

[Page 277]

The Secretary asked what the role of Congress should be in foreign policy-making. Trying to mess in the day-to-day conduct is often dangerous and destructive. Foreign policy was a series of moods, nuances, and continuity, and there is a loss if there is a day-to-day intrusion in its conduct. Foreign policy, said the Secretary, is like a chess game; one can knock out yards than wonder if it disintegrates. What Congress can do, stated the Secretary, has not been figured out; the Congress, said the Secretary can make important inputs in longer term trends. With respect to Cambodia and Vietnam, the Secretary stated that he had not complained of the Congressional prerogative of appropriating funds. Congress, said the Secretary, exercises the right of supervision in this field.

The Secretary then stressed that the aid cut off to Turkey, however, was a calamity for all of the U.S. Congress, and that the chief victim will be the democratic Greek government. What happens is that Turkey is driven away from NATO, said the Secretary, and the situation does not help Cyprus. Congress’ action was an unnecessary move, a very serious interference, stated the Secretary. Negotiations had to be given a chance to develop on the Greek-Turk issue, but then the ax fell. The impact of this action, stated the Secretary, on the perception of other countries towards our ability to honor commitments is in the long term disastrous.

The Secretary then referred to the Jackson Amendment and stated that he agreed with Jackson’s intent and his objectives. Congress can tell us its concerns, said the Secretary, and then we can get together. Should these trends continue, stated the Secretary, these interferences will create a lack of confidence in the ability of the United States to deliver, resulting in a disintegration of our foreign policy.

Congressman Ruppe then stated that the average guy in his district asks why we give all these funds and credits to the Communists.

The Secretary replied that Europe had given over 7½ billion credits to the USSR, creating a leverage on the Russians. Perhaps, stated the Secretary, we did not explain our strategy adequately. In terms of the Middle East crisis, said the Secretary, there are few obstacles for the Soviet Union: the only danger for them is the threat of our military involvement and thus they have little to lose in the whole process.

Congressman Anderson adjourned the session and thanked the Secretary.

The Secretary then told Anderson, Cohen, Ruppe, and Horton (as they were leaving) that he wished he could find five key people in the Congress that could deliver, and let them read cables so that they form a partnership. Congressman Anderson agreed that there was a vacuum of leadership.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P820123–0961. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by William B. Richardson (H) on March 12 and approved by David C. Gompert on May 11.
  2. On January 29, Ford met with Cabinet members to discuss the Vietnam and Cambodian supplemental and domestic budgetary matters. Both Ford and Kissinger underscored the importance of the $522 million supplemental in relation to the administration’s broader foreign policy aims. Failure to pass the measure, Kissinger argued, would “hurt our credibility world-wide. Our allies must know that we will stand by them and by any agreements we have with them. It will hurt our international negotiating power, if we do not stand in South Vietnam. Ford concurred: “Our global relationships are very important. It is necessary for people around the world to know that we will stand by our allies. As we deal internationally, what we say in the Middle East or Southeast Asia or in détente with Russia or China, that they can count on those statements as being backed by the American people, and the American Congress. It will impair our international negotiating ability if it always hinges on the domestic question of whether or not Congress will approve.” (Notes of a Cabinet meeting, January 29; Ford Library, Cabinet Meetings, Box 1, 1/29/75)
  3. See footnote 3, Document 19 and Document 31.
  4. Following the June 1974 Greek Cypriot overthrow of the Makarios government on Cyprus and declaration of enosis between Cyprus and Greece, the Nixon administration attempted to mediate an agreement among the Greeks, Cypriots, and Turks. Ultimately, Kissinger could not bring the parties to an agreement. The Ford administration subsequently sided with Turkey in the conflict in order to protect NATO’s Southern Flank, much to the disapproval of many Greek-Americans. Members of Congress sought to curb U.S. involvement with two joint resolutions eliminating further U.S. military aid, initiatives that Ford vetoed. Ultimately the administration and Congress brokered a compromise: House Joint Resolution 1167 of October 17, 1974, P.L. 93–448, prohibited the administration from offering military assistance to Turkey until Ford certified that Turkey was in compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Foreign Military Sales Act and progress in negotiations had been made. The embargo took effect on February 5, 1975, and lasted, with some modifications, until 1978.
  5. Kissinger was in the Middle East March 8–18 to review the peace process and discuss the disengagement of Egyptian-Israeli forces.
  6. During a January 24 address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Kissinger noted: “The growing tendency of the Congress to legislate in detail the day-to-day or week-to-week conduct of our foreign affairs raises grave issues. American policy—given the wide range of our interests and responsibilities—must be a coherent and a purposeful whole. The way we act in our relations with one country almost inevitably affects our relationship with others. To single out individual countries for special legislative attention has unintended but inevitable consequences and risks unraveling the entire fabric of our foreign policy.” For the complete text of Kissinger’s speech, see Department of State Bulletin, February 17, 1975, pp. 197–204. The Secretary also offered remarks in this vein during his February 25 news conference, stressing that “there can only be an American foreign policy, not an executive or a legislative foreign policy.” (Ibid., March 17, 1975, p. 322)