214. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary
  • Deputy Secretary Robinson
  • Under Secretary Habib
  • Deputy Under Secretary Eagleburger
  • S—R.W. Aherne (Notetaker)


  • Transition

The Secretary: I have gone over your memorandum (attached).2 I want Larry [Eagleburger] to be in complete charge of the transition. He is to be responsible for liaison, and no one else is. He will be in touch with whoever we need to be in touch with.

Robinson: Are the messages okay?3

The Secretary: I have gone over these; the instructions are fine. I want this group, plus Winston Lord, to meet daily—as we do with the African group—even if it’s only for five minutes. Larry will go over problems and report to this group as things develop. (Secretary takes call from Scowcroft)

[Page 709]

The Secretary: We will have to set up procedures, including a way of getting messages back and forth between the President-elect and his colleagues. I am sure he’ll name some sort of liaison people.

Eagleburger: If he follows past practice, he will certainly name one, and soon.

The Secretary: I want Eagleburger to be the point of contact. We can’t keep Holbrooke from running around the building talking to people, but Eagleburger is to be the official point of contact, and the only one.

Eagleburger: We will have to handle requests for information from the Carter people.

Robinson: Do we know anything about who Carter will name?

Habib: No, but . . .

The Secretary: Phil, you don’t know a goddamn thing.

Habib: They have indicated some things, and suggested some names . . .

Robinson: But that’s for across-the-board liaison.

The Secretary: Phil, if you want to do something for the Foreign Service, you can see that they behave with discipline and control in the months ahead. My position is that anything that happens before January 20 is my responsibility, and anything afterwards is theirs. If the President-elect wants advice afterwards from the members of the Foreign Service, that’s fine. But they shouldn’t be sucking around in the meantime, trying to feed papers down there and get their points of view across. It will do nothing but demean them. The best protection for the Foreign Service is to behave with dignity. If they go running around pushing their points of view and obviously looking for jobs, they will have prostituted themselves before Carter and his people ever get to Washington. And if they do that, they will never have any stature with him.

Habib: That’s why we have set things up as we have in the memorandum: to accomplish that objective.

The Secretary: I am not worried about what takes place after the 20th of January. But if we start feeding policy papers down there beforehand, the people in Plains will just ignore them. When I was at the Pierre Hotel (during the ’68–’69 transition), we were deluged with memos and recommendations from various people in the Department. Larry, I don’t believe we ever read any of them, did we? There were all sorts of papers sent up telling us what we ought to do, and we just never paid any attention to them.

If Carter asks for something, we will do it. But there should be no papers telling our successors how to handle things and what to do. There should be no papers telling Carter what to do after the 20th of [Page 710] January. Johnson did that in ’69. All sorts of things were sent to us, and we never read them.

Eagleburger: That’s right. In ’69 we got briefing books and papers and so forth and never made any use of them.

The Secretary: If they ask, we’ll do it, but only if they ask. I will only deal with Carter or with the Secretary-designate; Eagleburger will deal with all others.

I must avoid the impression that I am trying to influence their actions. We must meticulously avoid the impression that we are trying to prescribe what they should do. So there will be no Bureau policy papers. If individuals want to slip things down to Plains, that’s their problem. But we will not forward anything from the Department, except through Eagleburger.

Again, Phil, the best protection for the Foreign Service is to do its job carefully and with dignity in the period between now and January 20. I will do the same. I will work closely with the new Secretary. I will bring him in here as soon as he is named. We will do what he wants to do; we will give him what he wants.

I took the same position when I was designated Assistant to the President in 1968. Rostow4 tried to involve me, to give me the cables, to bring me into his decisions. I refused.

Eagleburger: But do we have a reverse obligation now?

The Secretary: No, not necessarily. I will tell the Secretary-designate if he wants to read all the cables and sit in on all my staff meetings and see what I see, he can do it. Whatever he wants to do, I will do. I just don’t want to say to him that he should share in the decisions. But as soon as he is named, we will get him in here, and we will see what he wants to do.

Habib: Wasn’t anything prepared for you in 1969? Not policy papers, but just a description of the immediate problems facing you?

Eagleburger: Yes.

The Secretary: We will prepare a book of procedures.5 We will not tell them that this is the only way that the Department can operate because it’s up to them to decide how they operate, but we will prepare a book for several objectives: (1) it will show them what procedures they will find when they come to the Department; (2) it will give a list of things coming up immediately, issues and events which are already set and which will face them, such as CIEC, Law of the Sea, and so forth.

[Page 711]

But on issues, we will only give them papers if we are asked. And we will wait until I have talked to the new man. We can do those quickly if they need them, we can do them in two weeks.

Habib: I have no problem with the first, but I think we may have a problem with the second point. We may not be able to do them that quickly. Two weeks starting when?

The Secretary: We will not have policy papers. And the problem with doing factual papers is that the analysis of facts and circumstances in the papers is the essence of policy-making.

Robinson: On page 7, the section on issues and problems . . .

The Secretary: No, we will not do one on the “role of Congress”. That’s just the kind of thing I mean which will turn into a policy paper.

Habib: This was just meant to cover a description of the immediate problems.

The Secretary: There will be no briefing papers. There are two drawbacks: (1) if we give them a list of things which we think ought to be done, I will be able to use it against my successor. I can say we told them these were the things that ought to be done, and they haven’t done any of them; and (2), he will be able to use them against me; he will be able to point to them and say, look at all this they left for us.

And there is a third point: I will not be able to pay attention to the papers. I will not give them papers unless I have looked at them and approved them. But I will not have the time. So the Bureaus will be grinding out papers, and I will not have any impact on them. They will come across as being Department papers, but they will not necessarily represent my point of view.

The first thing is that I must see my successor and talk to him. In any case, he won’t have the time to go through voluminous papers. He will have far too many things to do, with the basic issues of personnel and so forth.

Habib: So we will do “C” and half of “A”—on conferences?

The Secretary: Just list the fixed obligations. I will not give them any policy recommendations. We just want to tell them what will be coming up in the first days that they are here after January 20.

Habib: Well, we can take care of the Congressional problems in that context.

The Secretary: (to Eagleburger) Don’t you think that’s the right approach?

Eagleburger: Yes. Then that means that we should also not have the Assistant Secretaries prepare any briefing material for their successors?

The Secretary: That’s right. Unless I spend all of my time on this, it will not represent my views, it will represent the individual views of [Page 712] Assistant Secretaries. And you cannot say that our Assistant Secretaries have all distinguished themselves by their good judgment.

Habib: As we describe how the system functions, should we also cover the relationship with the intelligence community, for example?

The Secretary: Yes, of course. And the relationship with DOD and the NSC, and so forth. That’s part of the system, and it has to be shown to them.

Eagleburger: But only as a description, a factual description.

Habib: Well, if you agree then, Winston Lord and I and a few others will get together, and we will hold it very closely, but we will just write a description of how the process works now.

The Secretary: I don’t know how many people you need. I would think the description of the system ought to be within our capability.

Robinson: We do face a question about the role that some members of your immediate staff will play in this . . .

The Secretary: Who?

Robinson: Well, Sonnenfeldt, for example.

The Secretary: This is the group. This group right here is it. I have lived with Sonnenfeldt for eight years. You tell him that there are no substantive papers involved, and he is not part of it.

Eagleburger: What about Winston Lord?

The Secretary: Yes, Lord is okay. He won’t do it to get attention, and he won’t do it because he is looking for a job. This is not a substantive group. Tell Sonnenfeldt there will be no contact with Plains, although he has probably already contacted them. He is probably on the telephone to them this morning.

Eagleburger: I will take care of Sonnenfeldt. I will talk to him.

The Secretary: Tell Sonnenfeldt that there ought to be no substantive contacts with Plains until there are people named.

We must do this in a way that makes it clear that we are serving the country. We must show that we are working in the national interest and not pushing our policies. We have had eight years to push our policies. Now is not the time to be doing it; now we are serving the overall interest.

Habib: I believe you should say the same things to the Assistant Secretaries when you meet with them this afternoon.6 I understand your point, but I think it would be important for you to say it to them [Page 713] and to emphasize the need to behave as a professional service. I will do it with some of the younger ones, and I will also do it with the Assistant Secretaries, but I think you should make the point today.

The Secretary: Phil, I want you to understand this is no problem for me. I don’t care what they do. But I believe they would cheapen the Foreign Service if they start running to Carter’s people. Those people in Plains will be so busy with other things that they will not pay any attention to people who are clearly looking for jobs. They will not only not pay attention to them, they will lose all respect for them. This kind of sucking around with the new people will not do the Foreign Service any good, and it will not do the individuals any good.

Eagleburger: That’s absolutely right. In 1969, I had calls from any number of people in the Foreign Service who knew the job I was doing, and who were looking for something out of it. I got to the point where I just had nothing but contempt for those who called me trying to get into the process.

The Secretary: It’s not only stupid to do that, it’s incompatible with the Foreign Service. If Carter gets the impression that the Foreign Service is a bunch of self-serving time-servers, by the time he gets to Washington, he will be convinced that it should be ignored. But if he sees a professional group, working at the day-to-day business and prepared to transfer their loyalty completely to him on January 20, if he sees a group that behaves with dignity, he will see that he has a valuable instrument in the Foreign Service, and he will use it.

Habib: Of course, we can’t prevent his guys from calling into the Department to talk to individuals that they may know about whatever it is they want to ask about. As I think you did . . .

The Secretary: No, I didn’t. I never took any initiative with the Department. I had one meeting with Nick Katzenbach and Read,7 but I never met with the Assistant Secretaries nor with Rusk. Isn’t that right, Larry?

Eagleburger: That’s right.

The Secretary: I just didn’t feel that I could take the responsibility. It can’t be divided. They offered to send the cables to me, to give me office space in the EOB. I didn’t take it. You can’t push them. They have the responsibility. And I don’t think we should do it in the other direction now.

[Page 714]

You can’t keep Holbrooke8 from wandering around this building. And I will understand that any Foreign Service officer that he happens to talk to won’t want to blot his copybook with the Administration by refusing to see him or not saying anything. But the only one that I will talk to is my successor. He will get everything if he wants it. He can get the cables, he can be in the meetings. And if he sees something that we are planning on doing which he thinks will cause him a problem after January 20, I will not do it—unless there is some compelling reason to do so before that time.

Habib: One thing I think we need to focus on is just what you want to do, what you will be taking an interest in accomplishing between now and January 20.

Robinson: I think that should emerge from these daily meetings.

The Secretary: That will take care of itself. We will do the daily business as if nothing else is happening.

Habib: But you have to realize that the people in this building will want to know what they should do. They will want to help you, and they will want to try to serve you as in the past.

The Secretary: Don’t scare me.

Habib: Alright then, we will just do the business as usual, as the memos and papers come up . . .

The Secretary: As things come up and need to be done, just send them in to me, and we will take care of it. Business as usual.

Eagleburger: (to Aherne) Make sure that we transcribe the press briefing this afternoon. It should be sent as a cable to our overseas posts.9

The Secretary: Yes, and paragraph 2 of this cable needs to be rewritten. We must reflect the fact that the President-elect is entitled to formulate his own policies. We must make it clear that it is not the business of the Foreign Service to pre-empt him by formulating recommendations and advice.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 329, Department of State, Carter, Jimmy Transition Papers—Chronological File, Feb.–Nov. 1976. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office at the Department of State.
  2. Attached but not printed is a draft action memorandum from Robinson to Kissinger outlining recommended instructions to the Department to begin the transition process. The memorandum is printed, as approved by Kissinger, as Document 215.
  3. Attached but not printed is a draft memorandum to all Department of State employees designating Eagleburger as the officer responsible for coordinating the transition on behalf of the Department. Draft memoranda from Eagleburger to Scowcroft, to all Assistant Secretaries and Bureau heads, and to all Department employees, announcing his appointment as transition coordinator, are also attached.
  4. Walt W. Rostow, Special Assistant to the President, 1966–1969.
  5. Not found.
  6. Kissinger repeated the substance of this meeting during the Secretary’s staff meeting, attended by all of the Department’s principal officers or their designated alternates, held at 3 p.m., November 3. (National Archives, RG 59, Transcripts of Henry Kissinger’s Staff Meetings, 1973–1977, Entry 5177, Box 11, Secretary’s Staff Meetings)
  7. Nicholas deB. Katzenbach was Under Secretary of State, 1966–1969. Benjamin H. Read was Special Assistant to the Secretary of State and Executive Secretary of the Department, 1963–1969.
  8. Richard Holbrooke, who served as a foreign policy adviser to the Carter campaign would serve as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 1977 to 1981.
  9. The transcript of the press briefing is attached but not printed. See footnote 4, Document 215.