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

Secto 2031. For the President From Secretary Vance. Subj: Discussions in Egypt.

1. My meetings in Cairo today with Pres Sadat and FornMin Fahmy 2 were in many ways the mirror image of my talks yesterday in Israel.3 The experience of discussing the problems of ME peace one day with Israelis and the next day with Egyptians sharply highlights the differing perceptions, emphases and political imperatives of these two principal antagonists and is a sober reminder of the difficulty of the task before us as we seek to move this area toward peace. The suspicion and distrust of each other’s intentions are profound and are matched [Page 81] by an almost total inability on each side to understand the other’s political realities. Whereas the Israelis want the peace process to move at a measured pace and fear being pressed to make basic decisions too rapidly, the Egyptians reflect a sense of urgency about getting the process started and having early, visible activity to point to. The Israelis emphasize the need for concrete evidence of an Egyptian commitment to peaceful and normal relationships, insist that their security requires retention of some occupied Arab territory and oppose the idea of a separate Palestinian state or any dealings with the PLO. The Egyptians consider PLO participation in the negotiations and establishment of a Palestinian state the crux of the problem, insist on total recovery of terrority occupied by Israel in 1967 and equate peace with the signing of a peace agreement and the termination of belligerency without the positive attributes of peace which Israel seeks—open borders, the exchange of persons and goods, etc.

2. In my talks with both Sadat and Fahmy, I covered in detail the same procedural and substantive issues that I discussed with the Israelis. It is clear that Sadat is the strategist and thinks in broad general terms while Fahmy is the tactician to whom Sadat leaves questions of detail. With both, however, the issue of the Palestinians was uppermost in their minds. It is clear that they have been giving considerable thoughts to ways in which the impasse over PLO participation in a reconvened Geneva Conf might be overcome. Fahmy had seen PLO leader Arafat earlier today and told me Egypt was pressing him hard to modify the PLO position on recognition of Israel. Fahmy claims Arafat is prepared, when the Palestine National Council meets in Cairo March 12, to introduce modifications in the PLO Covenant which presently rejects the existence of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state. It remains problematic, however, whether Fahmy’s optimism is justified. Sadat said he was working on the PLO and Jordan to declare a formal confederation prior to Geneva—a concept clearly designed to help meet Israel’s concern about a totally independent Palestinian state. On other aspects of a settlement, in addition to insisting on the primacy of the Palestinian question and the need for total Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, Sadat said he was prepared to accept any forms of security arrangements and international guarantees of a settlement, including a US-Israeli military pact. He also said repeatedly Egypt was prepared for “permanent peace” but does not envisage this as including initially direct relations and interaction with Israel which he says are sovereign matters for every govt to determine.

3. On the question of the timing of a conference, both Sadat and Fahmy spoke of reconvening in Geneva the next month or two as tangible evidence of progress, even though they recognize no substantive results are possible before the Israeli elections. I stressed that realis[Page 82]tically, it was difficult to see how Geneva could reconvene before the second half of 1977. I had the impression that Sadat, at least, could live with such a timetable provided there was sufficient on-going activity of a bilateral and preparatory nature in the meantime. I pressed Fahmy hard on the question of whether Egypt was prepared to go to Geneva without prior conditions. In the end he said that provided the Palestinian participation question could be revolved and the conference was convened on the basis of Resolutions 242 and 338 Egypt would agree that nothing would be excluded from discussion at the conf.

4. In our discussion of bilateral matters, both Sadat and Fahmy were effusive in their appreciation for our economic assistance and in particular for your approval of the recently announced $500 million impact package in the wake of the recent riots.4 Both reiterated repeatedly their firm determination to work with us in the peacemaking process and their complete confidence in you. Sadat said at one point: “I shall never let you down”. I was struck by their outspoken animosity toward the Soviets and their desire to work only through the US. In turn, I conveyed to Sadat your recognition of his leadership role in the Arab world and in the peacemaking process. When I gave him your letter of invitation to Washington,5 he was visibly delighted and accepted with alacrity.

5. In my meeting with Fahmy, after expressing satisfaction with our political and economic relationships, he expressed concern on two points. The first was what he called “Israeli provocations” citing in particular the problems raised by Israeli drilling activities in Amoco concessions in the Gulf of Suez and interference with Amoco operations in the eastern part of the Gulf.

6. Secondly, Fahmy stressed at length the problem posed for Sadat by the cut-off of Soviet arms supplies, putting this in the context of Sadat’s need to retain support of the army if he was to pursue his peace policies successfully. Fahmy then surfaced a list of military equipment which Egypt would like to obtain from us. I explained the status of our review of arms transfer policy, and your hope that other states, including those in the Middle East, would work with us to try to reduce the level of arms sales. After some discussion, Fahmy agreed not to present the list to us at this time.

7. At the end of the evening I had a private talk with Sadat.6 I will give you more details later but the most significant thing was his straightforward commitment to doing anything he could to bring [Page 83] about a settlement. In this regard he said that he could bring the other Arabs along by virtue of his substantial influence which he was prepared to use.

8. Following our meeting, Sadat and I held a joint press conference. Sadat expressed his appreciation for our economic help and his continued determination to work with us for peace. At the same time, he took the initiative to refer to the decision not to sell CBU’s to Israel, which had just been announced, calling this a “statesmanlike” decision. He also announced publicly that he had accepted your invitation to visit Washington the first week of April.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840072–1137. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis; Cherokee.
  2. See Documents 9 and 10.
  3. See Documents 6 and 7.
  4. The U.S. aid involved a transfer of $190 million to Egypt. See footnote 2, Document 9.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 10.
  6. No record of this private talk has been found.