136. Telegram From Secretary of State Vance to the Department of State1

Secto 8036. White House for President and Dr. Brzezinski. Department pass other posts as appropriate. Subject: Secretary’s Meeting With Gromyko: Final Session July 13 on Middle East.

1. Summary: The final session, devoted to the Middle East, produced no surprises. The Secretary briefed Gromyko on preparations leading to the London meeting2 and our hopes for a favorable outcome. Gromyko made no special promise to intervene with the Palestinians on Lebanon. The Secretary said we would inform the Soviets of the outcome of the London sessions. End summary.

2. The Secretary led off by reviewing the present situation. He noted that both Israel and Egypt had put forth proposals on the West Bank and Gaza which over time might lead to a Declaration of Principles. This, in turn, could set a framework for a new Geneva Conference. The Secretary outlined the positions of Israel and Egypt, noting four basic areas of agreement and their basic differences over what would happen at the end of the five-year period.

3. At the upcoming London meeting, the Secretary said we expected the parties to explain their respective proposals in detail. He hoped this would make it possible during the two days of discussion to find common ground between them, or at least to clear up ambiguities. He added our further hope that this would start a process of resumed negotiations between Egypt and Israel in the Middle East.

4. Turning briefly to the Lebanon situation,3 the Secretary said that, according to our best information, some progress had been made during the last two or three days toward improvement. Syrian and [Page 434] Christian forces had been pulled back somewhat. A serious problem remained, however, in the lack of leadership at the top of the Lebanese Government. It was unclear to us if Sarkis would resign, but contingency arrangements were being considered for rapid election of a successor to avoid a vacuum. The Secretary noted we had asked the Israelis to urge restraint on the Christians. We had also cautioned the Israelis over the danger of introducing their own armed forces again. He pointed to the particularly dangerous situation posed by the 20 UN forces troops captured by the Palestinians. At this point, the Secretary urged Gromyko to use Soviet good offices with the Palestinians through Arafat to seek his influence in working toward resolution of the situation.

5. Gromyko asked two questions: first, what would happen to the Sinai Territory in the event of an Israeli-Egyptian settlement? Secondly, he asked what voice the Syrians would have and, in particular, what would be done about the Golan Heights. The Secretary said that the Syrians had indicated they did not want to be involved as long as only Israel and Egypt were taking part. Sadat’s view was that, if the Declaration of Principles could be established as a framework for a comprehensive settlement, then Jordan and Syria would join in the negotiations. As for the Sinai, the Secretary said Sadat would not commit himself to withdrawal until the questions of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Declaration of Principles were solved. He noted, however, that Israeli and Egyptian Defense Ministers had discussed the situation in the Sinai and had a preliminary agreement on a number of questions which would be involved in a peace treaty.

6. Gromyko said he had listened attentively and would give only a brief reply. He said the Soviets did not have much hope for the Israeli and Egyptian talks since the two countries involved were only a small part of the Middle East. He added the Soviets strongly favored a complete, general and radical settlement with the participation of all parties, including the Palestinians. The most appropriate path to such a settlement was another Geneva Conference. He reviewed the difficulty in organizing a second Geneva Conference, but said he believed it could be realized. He recalled the U.S.-Soviet joint statement on the Middle East4 and complained that it had not been implemented, alleging that we knew the reasons why.

7. At this point, Gromyko said that the Secretary had not mentioned the Geneva Conference in his remarks. The Secretary rebutted this, calling Gromyko’s attention to his earlier statement that the results of the London meetings could produce a Declaration of Principles, [Page 435] forming a framework leading to a Geneva Conference. Gromyko said that a preliminary accord between Egypt and Israel would not help possibilities for a Geneva Conference. It wouldn’t even help if theoretically Egypt and Israel became allies. There were too many Arab countries which opposed Israel and the Israeli occupation. He said the Soviets would not assist in any partial deals which he felt would not permit a settlement but rather sowed the seeds of future conflict.

8. Referring to the Secretary’s suggestion that the Soviets seek to influence the Palestinians, Gromyko said that the Soviets had exerted such influence in the past and continued to do so through Arafat. However, there were various factions in the Palestinian movement which complicated things. Furthermore, what Israel and Egypt were doing now limited Soviet possibilities. This did not mean the Soviets would remain passive however. Indeed they could not, if only for reasons of geography. Gromyko said that if the U.S. and the Soviets pursued a common line, pointing to the Geneva Conference as the means for settlement, peace could be assured. He complained about Israel’s defamatory statements against a Geneva Conference. He said, however, that the USSR supported Israel’s right to existence no less fervently than the United States did.

9. Gromyko alleged that the United States considered Israel to be strong because of its arms deliveries. This course, however, was unreliable. Looking back over the past 20 to 25 years, he claimed that we were now pleased that Sadat had come to us, but if the Soviets had given him two or three times more arms, the situation would be different. Concluding, Gromyko said the Soviets would hold to their position of principle and would continue to oppose separate deals, conferences, and meetings except for a Geneva Conference with full participation. However, he recognized that both the U.S. and USSR were interested in the situation and hoped that it would be possible to continue exchanging information from time to time in the future. In particular, if we saw fit, he would appreciate information on the London meetings. He thought that information exchanges should take place not only in formal meetings but in working contacts as well.

10. The Secretary promised to keep the Soviets informed on the London meetings. He agreed that security would arrive in the Middle East only with a real peace. However, if the Declaration of Principles could be agreed, it would set the framework for another Geneva Conference. The Secretary noted he had said many times that only at such a conference could all the pieces of the Middle East puzzle be fit together so as to lead to lasting peace.

11. Gromyko asked what the Secretary felt chances were for success in London. The Secretary replied perhaps 1 in 100. Gromyko seemed rather relieved by this but the Secretary pointed out that even if [Page 436] the chances were this small for the London meetings, they could be a start. If agreement were reached on the West Bank and Gaza problems, this could fill a missing piece in the Declaration of Principles and lead the way to Geneva.

12. In closing Gromyko voiced the hope that it might some day be possible for President Carter and Brezhnev to get together and have grounds to congratulate each other on peace in the Middle East.

13. The Secretary then met alone with Gromyko at the latter’s request on bilateral matters. A separate cable will follow.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Vance EXDIS MemCons, 1978. Secret; Niact Immediate; Exdis. Sent Niact Immediate to the White House. Vance traveled from Geneva to Frankfurt and Bonn, where he and Carter attended the Economic Summit Meeting, July 14–17. The memorandum of conversation of this meeting is in the Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 8, Vance/Gromyko: Geneva, 7/12–13, 1978.
  2. Vance met with Egyptian and Israeli Foreign Ministers on July 18 at Leeds Castle.
  3. At the beginning of July, Syrian troops fought fiercely against Christian troops in Beirut, causing significant civilian casualties in addition to property damage. On July 6, Lebanese President Ilyas Sarkis threatened to resign, and Israeli officials warned Syria that confrontation would ensue if Christian areas in Beirut continued to be targeted. As a result of the two threats, on July 7, Syria stopped targeting Christian areas of Beirut. See Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1979, pp. 30006–30007.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 52.
  5. Not found.