101. Letter From President Carter to Syrian President Asad1

Dear Mr. President:

I have decided to write to you directly because I feel that we are approaching a critical period in the search for a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Over the next several weeks, I will be devoting a great deal of my time, as will members of my Administration, to establishing the basis for reconvening the Geneva Conference later this year. I particularly look forward to meeting again with Foreign Minister Khaddam in Washington later this month.

While I would have hoped that more progress could have been made by this time in resolving differences among the parties, I am not discouraged. You can be assured that my own personal commitment to using the full resources of my office to promote a peaceful settlement in the Middle East has not wavered. The positions that I outlined to you during our meeting in Geneva remain the basis for our policy.2

In my view, the time has come to move from those generalities and broad principles toward greater concreteness. This will help to initiate a negotiating process and will create a context in which American influence can be used constructively. I hope that you will be able to help us move in this direction by providing a detailed statement of the provisions of a peace agreement as you see it.

In order to reconvene the Geneva Conference this year, a solution must soon be found to insure representation of the Palestinians in the peace negotiations. Secretary Vance has reviewed with you several possible alternatives. Let me emphasize that the United States does want the Palestinians to be involved in the search for peace. No settlement of the conflict can be achieved without their participation. We cannot, of course, guarantee precisely how Palestinian concerns will be met in the negotiations, but I can assure you that my government does believe that Palestinians should be represented at Geneva and should participate in shaping their own future in conformity with the principles of UN Resolution 242 and of self-determination.

As you know, the United States would be prepared to enter into official contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization if the PLO were to accept UN Resolution 242, with an appropriate reservation as [Page 494] Secretary Vance indicated to you and Foreign Minister Khaddam.3 You were the first Arab leader with whom I discussed this idea, and I continue to look to your leadership to help persuade the PLO to take this important step. All of the other participants in the Geneva Conference have subscribed to UN Resolution 242, and it is hard to see how Palestinians can be directly represented at Geneva unless the PLO also accepts the only agreed upon framework for negotiations.

I believe that the time has come for all parties, including the Palestinians, to commit themselves fully to the search for peace. The alternative of stalemate and continuing hostility offers little hope to the peoples of the Middle East. If the Palestinians do decide to associate themselves with the peacemaking process, they can be sure that their views will receive a full hearing at Geneva and in bilateral talks with my government. As I have made clear in my public statements, I am not unsympathetic to legitimate Palestinian aspirations, and I am deeply aware of the central concern of all Arab leaders that Palestinian rights be respected.4

Mr. President, I recall with pleasure our meeting in Geneva. In the spirit of friendship that links our two countries, I hope that we will continue to work closely together in pursuit of our common goal of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Trips/Visits File, Box 107, 9/15/77 Strategy for the Next Round of Middle East Talks [II]: 9/77. No classification marking.
  2. See Document 32.
  3. See Documents 66, 68, and 88.
  4. On September 18, as reported in telegram 5888 from Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Khaddam informed DCM Pelletreau that Syria had reached an agreement with the PLO on a formula regarding U.N. Resolution 242 and the PLO that reads, “The reservation of the PLO regarding Res 242 is that it does not establish a complete basis for the Palestinian issue and for the national rights of the Palestinians. It also fails to refer in any manner to a national homeland (watan qaumi) for the Palestinian people.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840070–0226)