62. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East


  • US
  • The Secretary
  • Marshall D. Shulman, S/MS
  • USSR
  • Amb. Anatoly Dobrynin

After Dobrynin came in at the Secretary’s request to discuss the forthcoming meeting in Cairo, in reviewing the present situation, the Secretary made the following points:

1. The US proposes to send someone to the meeting to talk to the parties and to stay in touch with developments.

2. We would make an effort to get a delay in the time for the Cairo meeting in order to allow more time for preparations.

3. It had not been decided whom we would send, but our intention was to send someone at the expert level. We felt that it would be a bad move if we sent no one, that it would allow the situation to drift and we would lose an opportunity to move the developments into a Geneva context. We would hope the Soviet Union would do the same. The President had asked that Dobrynin pass along his personal hope that the Soviet Union would send someone at the expert level to the Cairo meeting. He and the Secretary were concerned that unless the US and USSR keep their hands in developments at this state, it could drift into a bilateral rather than into the broader framework that could lead to a solution of the Middle East problem.

Dobrynin asked whether it was necessary to send someone when we have an embassy there.

The Secretary replied that we had been thinking about it in these terms but had also weighed the possibility of sending Assistant Secretary Atherton.

Dobrynin commented that Atherton would be regarded as a high-ranking representative, the Secretary’s deputy, in the Russian sense, rather than as an expert. The Secretary made it clear that if this were done it would be with the thought that Atherton would bring the appropriate level of expertise to the meeting, rather than the symbolism of high office.

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Dobrynin then prefaced his reply by saying that he had not yet received any official reaction or instruction, which he was expecting at any moment, and for the time being would be communicating only his own thinking. He stressed the importance of having joint Soviet-American action, consistent with the Vance/Gromyko statement committing the two countries to support of a comprehensive agreement. Recent developments were leading to a split in the Arab world which would threaten the idea of the Geneva Conference. Our feeling, he said, is that we should try to restore the movement toward Geneva and not encourage this separate development. If the US should send an expert at the level of an assistant secretary it would encourage an adverse trend. “I may be wrong, but I doubt that we will send such a person. I doubt that we will send anyone; maybe we will use our embassy.” (“In any case,” Dobrynin observed in an aside to Shulman, “our Ambassador would, of course, be reporting on the meeting, but this is not the same thing as designating him as a representative.”) We feel that this is a distinctive departure from the movement toward Geneva and that all of us, including the Secretary General, should now be working to try to get the process back on the rails and not be giving these developments our blessing. We feel it doesn’t help Geneva to be moving toward a split among the participants. This weakens what the Soviet Union and US have been trying to do to get the parties to Geneva. We were quite close before this move; now if we give our blessing to this kind of policy, it will encourage the split in the Arab ranks which will make it more difficult to convene Geneva.

The Secretary responded by saying that the other side of the problem was that if we did not participate it could have the effect of letting the two parties break out on their own and making a separate peace settlement, which would then make it more difficult to fit it into the Geneva framework. We should take at face value Sadat’s statement that this was intended to be a preparation for Geneva.

Dobrynin responded by saying that when we discussed the Geneva meeting, neither of our two countries ever had objected to any contact between the parties. If the Egyptians and Israelies had met quietly, that would be their business, but the glare of present publicity changes the prospects for moving from a broad settlement to a narrow one, without the other parties.

The Secretary inquired whether it was Dobrynin’s judgement that the effect would be appreciably different if we were to be represented by our embassy in Cairo.

Dobrynin thought that this would be preferable, but still thought that our designation of anyone to be a representative would lead to a split—not only within the Arab world but also between the co-chairmen. Our concern is not with public pride about our role as co[Page 234]-chairman and it is not that we have objection to Sadat’s talking to the Israelis, but we feel that this will lead to a separate agreement which will undermine prospects for Geneva. Dobrynin added he didn’t know yet what the Syrians would do, whatever they may be saying publicly. The Syrian Foreign Minister is now in Moscow and he hoped to have a report on these conferences soon. He felt sure that if we supported Sadat this would serve to inflame the rest of the Arab world. He felt that it would have been difficult for Assad to refuse to go to Geneva but now Sadat had made it easier for him to do so, and he called attention to the emotionalism of Assad’s statements. He said that the Soviet feeling has been that only a united Arab front could make Israel yield on the territorial and Palestinian issues and that the split in Arab ranks therefore made this kind of settlement less possible. Under pressure to prove that his moves were successful, Sadat, he thought, would be forced to make concessions in order to survive, and this would further split Arab ranks. He also felt that these developments would lead to the appearance to the world that the US and the Soviet Union were also splitting on the Middle East, and he warned of the serious consequences of this development.

Marshall Shulman observed that one effect of the Sadat initiative was to encourage movement in the political debates within Israel which might result in more flexibility in Israeli policy, and that this could be a constructive development.

Dobrynin , in conclusion, pressed for a joint statement by the two co-chairmen, reemphasizing their desire for convocation of the Geneva meeting before the end of December, together with renewed efforts to work out the PLO representation problem, and said that if we did so, “at least our conscience will be clear.” If the Sadat initiatives could be brought within this framework, we would not object. It would then give some alternative to the moderate Arabs.

  1. Source: 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 3, CV–Dobrynin 11/28/77. Secret. Drafted by Shulman on November 30; approved by Anderson on December 6. The meeting took place at the Department of State.