102. Telegram From the Embassy in Syria to the Department of State1

5795. For Secretary from Murphy. Subject: Message to President Carter From President Assad. Ref: State 192565.2

1. I was summoned to FonMinistry September 11, the day before the beginning of the five-day Ramadan holiday, to receive Assad’s answer to President Carter’s letter of August 14 (reftel). The Ministry translation of Assad’s reply is as follows:


Dear Mr. President:

I received your letter which Ambassador Murphy delivered on 16 August 1977, and I highly appreciate your pursuance of efforts to attain the establishment of peace in the Middle East region.

The visit of Secretary Vance to the region and his meeting twice with us during the visit3 was a useful opportunity to exchange information and present ideas. We consider that this visit constituted an important step during which we strove to give our points of view with respect to all the issues that were discussed.

To start with, I wish to point out clearly that the Israeli viewpoints relayed to us by Secretary Vance were in whole and in every part obstacles in the way of the efforts aimed at realizing peace. While Israel is talking about peace, she wants to retain and continue with all the aspects and facts of aggression. While Israel says that it is not placing preconditions, we see it clinging to everything that is bound to wreck the peace discussions by deforming (Arabic “tamyiij’”) the issue and to gain time in order to implement its plans to perpetuate the current situation and take actions aimed at annexation and expansion.

Following are the specific views we see adequate as a basis towards a peaceful settlement for the Middle East issue.

A. Procedures:

Since the Palestinian issue is the core of the problem, we reiterate our view in respect to the necessity of the participation of the Palestinians in the peace talks at the Geneva Conference.

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In view of our commitment to the decisions of the April 7 Summit conference in Rabat, the PLO is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.4 We foresee its participation according to one of the two following formulae:

Either (1) by forming a unified Arab delegation, representing Syria, Egypt, Jordan and the PLO

or (2) by forming individual Arab delegations representing Syria, Egypt, Jordan and the PLO.

B. With respect to the issue of peace:

The complete withdrawal from all the territories occupied in 1967 and the return to the lines of 4 June 1967;

Securing the national rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination and the establishment of their independent state. We envisage this state as comprising the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with a corridor between them;

Solving the problem of the Palestinian refugees in accordance with the UN Resolutions;

“Ending the state of war” means peace.

The agreement may include other complementary measures, details of which may be agreed upon such as delineating narrow buffer zones on both sides of the borders and stationing international observers in these zones as well as other measures that do not violate the principles stated in the previous paragraphs.

These are the ideas which we envisage to comprise the peace agreement. They are objectively based on the principles and bases of the UN Charter and the UN Resolutions including SC Reses 338 and 242.

With respect to the problem of South Lebanon, I wish to affirm that the most important problem in this issue is Israel’s constant intervention in this area. Such intervention represents the major obstacle blocking efforts exerted to implement the Shtaura Agreement5 and consequently to achieve stability and security throughout Lebanon. Nonetheless, this will not prevent us from continuing our concentrated efforts to implement the Shtaura Agreement and the cease-fire and to realize stability in that part of Lebanon. Mr. Khaddam during his coming visit to the U.S. in September would be ready to clarify the above points during his meetings with you and Mr. Vance.

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I seize this opportunity to reaffirm our keen desire to pursue the process so as to realize a just peace in the region. I reiterate my appreciation for your sincere efforts towards this end.

Sincerely yours, Hafez al-Assad


2. Comment:

Although this letter is basically a reiteration of Assad’s previous verbal formulations, it is nonetheless encouraging that the President has been willing to take this first step in the exercise of drafting a peace agreement.

3. We now have all that I suspect that we are going to get prior to Khaddam’s arrival in Washington in the way of Syrian draft language for a “peace agreement.” The text contains no surprises but we had no reason to expect any. Its only loophole is in the statement that “The agreement may include other complementary measures, the details of which may be agreed upon . . . as well as other measures that do not violate the principles stated in the previous paragraphs.”

4. The delay in Assad’s answering Carter’s August 14 message is largely attributable, I believe, to the fact the President was on vacation in the Lattakia district for the last 10 days of August and the first week of September. It is probably significant that its delivery followed the latest Arab FonMinisters conference in Cairo.6

5. Note on translation. In the Arabic text the sentence “Mr. Khaddam during his coming visit . . . with you and Mr. Vance,” is included as the final sentence of the paragraph on South Lebanon. I agree with the FonMinister’s interpreter that this sentence logically refers to the whole preceding message and not just to South Lebanon.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Subject File, Box 76, Peace Negotiations: 9/77. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. See Document 91.
  3. For records of the conversations during Vance’s two visits to Syria, see Documents 66, 68, and 88.
  4. The Rabat Conference declaration of October 1974 recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. See footnote 8, Document 6.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 76.
  6. The Arab League Foreign Ministers met in Cairo September 3–6.