12. Telegram From the Embassy in Jordan to the Liaison Office in Riyadh1

1023. Subject: Memcon on US–Jordanian Meeting.

1. The Embassy forwards uncleared memcon on US Jordanian meeting held in Amman today, February 19.

2. Participants: Jordanians

His Majesty Hussein I, King of Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

His Royal Highness Crown Prince Hassan

Prime Minister Mudar Badran

Chief of the Royal Court Abdul Hamid Sharaf

Lt General Zayd Bin Shaker, Commander in Chief, Jordan Armed Forces


Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State

Thomas R. Pickering, Ambassador (notetaker)

Philip C. Habib, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

Alfred L. Atherton Jr., Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs

Place: Hashemiyyeh Palace, Amman

[Page 84]

Date: 0830–1115 am February 19, 1977

Subject: U.S.-Jordanian Discussions

3. The meeting commenced with a breakfast and only gradually evolved into discussions of substantive questions. During the meal, King Hussein, Bin Shaker and Sharaf all mentioned Jordanian need for military and economic assistance. The King in passing emphasized his concern about future stability in Egypt. Egypt did not have too many options for the future and was counting on a peace settlement to exist. Sadat was in a precarious position in the King’s view.

4. Mr. Habib mentioned that the Israelis were looking at the possible use of watch stations to oversee a peace settlement. These would not substitute for Israeli strong points or settlements in the Jordan Valley or elsewhere. President Sadat also saw value in watch stations.

5. Sharaf with Atherton and the King discussed at some length the background of Resolution 242. Sharaf made the point that the language is clear and it is only the Israelis who have strayed away from the correct interpretation which calls for full withdrawal with minor border rectifications possible.

6. The Secretary asked the King about how the process of peace negotiations could get started. The King said that it would be necessary to get the PLO into the process. Jordan recognized the Israeli difficulties. Jordan itself had no love for the PLO. Without changing Rabat2 Jordan itself could not get into the negotiations. There should be some way to ease Israeli objections. Jordan was studying the possibility of reciprocal recognition. In return for Israeli recognition of the rights of the Palestinians on their own soil the Palestinians would recognize the right of Israel to exist within the 1967 boundaries. The Palestinians should be given the rights of self-determination. Jordan has begun a dialogue with Palestinians about their future relations but it has not really started yet. Jordan cannot understand why Israel fears a mini-state in the West Bank. There were other ideas such as a unified delegation but Egypt would not agree to one Arab delegation (with the PLO being independently represented there). Jordan also favored functional working groups but in order to ensure that the PLO could not hold up Egypt through a veto on its own, Jordan thought that the use of majority voting in such groups might help to solve the Egyptian problem. However both Egypt and the PLO insist on separate delegations. The PLO wants to be invited but is not really sure that it will go even if it is invited. There is some talk about putting the Palestinians on a Jordanian delegation but then Palestinian identity would be lost. Jordan is in the process of trying to define more thoroughly these various options.

[Page 85]

7. Mr. Habib asked about whether an Arab consensus existed. The King replied that they were agreed on many issues and that many Palestinians are reasonable people who want the right to live in peace but are not prepared to continue to live under conditions of the occupation. Most of the Arab states are agreed on this. They also believe that it depends upon the United States as to what will happen. The Arabs want to know how and when the United States will act. The Arabs talked frequently together but they cannot come and say what they want when they haven’t been getting any response from the Israelis.

8. The Secretary asked whether it was realistic to aim for Geneva in the autumn of 1977. The King said he thought so and the Secretary noted that if that is the premise it helps us set a timetable for doing various things such as attempting to deal with the PLO problem and other preparatory work.

9. The King added that he thought that a conference could take place if Israel accepted total withdrawal and the return of Arab sovereignty over Jerusalem, which should be a meeting place for all people. Jordan could agree to minor border rectifications and if Jordan had a notion that Israel was really ready for complete withdrawal, when the idea of the PLO having to be at the talks might not present such a problem. In the case of Israeli agreement to total withdrawal Jordan could look again at what it might do, but short of that Jordan is helpless.

10. The Secretary noted that the Israelis believe there are three basic problems, (A) what they call peace, (B) territory and (C) the Palestinian issue. For them the most important question is peace which they equate with the return to normal relations. If that can be resolved they would look differently at territory. And if territory can be agreed, perhaps the Palestinian problem can be resolved. They agree the Palestinian problem must be resolved but put it off for later until the other two issues which they regard as primary are worked out. The Israelis are not thinking now of total withdrawal only of border rectifications. If over time a peace agreement is reached, they may have more views.

11. Mr. Habib stated the Israelis were very firm on the fact that no third state should exist to the east of them. The King said that the Arabs talked about links between the East and West Bank in the form of a federation in which the Palestinians could attain their identity. Mr. Habib thought the Israelis were thinking along those lines as well. He also noted that something that had been said in the conversation implied that the Jordanians believe the United States can define or form a consensus on peace. The King replied that if anyone can do it, it was the United States. Sharaf added that the Arabs themselves have a consensus on the substance of peace and on the PLO as well. The three confrontation states agree that Israel must exist within the region within [Page 86] the 1967 boundaries. They accept the need for a state of peace and they all believe the Palestinians should be linked to Jordan. The Secretary probed Jordanian views about the end of the state of war or of belligerency and asked whether Jordan was talking in terms like Sadat of peace in several “generations.” The King responded that in his view peace in the Middle East is like it would be elsewhere in the world. He was realistic and he did not think limits should be applied. The Israelis had to make the decision. They could either have territory or peace, but not both. There were other issues such as the rights of the Palestinians to return or to have compensation, but that was involved in a UN resolution and could probably be worked out. Sadat had tried to distinguish between a peace treaty or agreement, but the King did not know what he meant. The King was for the existence of a state of peace and not for isolating Israel if the Arabs could get their territory back.

12. Mr. Atherton pointed out that the Israelis distrust the Arabs and believe Arab hesitation on the question of a peace agreement is really a device to get their territory back. They feel there is no substantive meaning to the Arab professions of good will and good intentions and this reveals the profound depth of Israeli distrust. Sharaf commented that this was a self-generated fear on the Israelis’ part. He asked how anyone can satisfy the Israelis about the Arab state of mind. It is a false issue and there is no way to give believable assurances. The Arabs can deal with guarantees and legal definitions, with a UN presence, demilitarization and so forth. But good will is a psychological state of mind. The Secretary agreed, but said that this was not a false issue for the Israelis—it was a psychological state of mind that had to be taken into account—it also very much needed to be changed. Mr. Habib thought this mind-set was the reason for the Israeli emphasis on defensible secure borders. Sharaf agreed that the psychological problem was real and the Arabs had lived with it but he added that the Israelis also desired to acquire territory and used the need for firm assurances to pursue this end. If there is anything we can do in practical terms, that is fine. But if they use the need for assurances to defend a theoretical or ideological desire to acquire more territory, then the Arabs can’t satisfy them.

13. The Secretary asked how we could begin to attack this psychological problem of motives and reciprocal concerns. The King replied that the Arabs would be helped if they knew what the end of the road was. Resolution 242 defined it in vague terms but it was not a good definition. Resolution 242 had been changed and nothing had happened. The Secretary remarked that he understood the King’s point and that there were still deep psychological concerns and fears on both sides.

14. Sharaf added that the Arabs had become more explicit on the question of peace but the Israelis were hedging on the issue of territory. [Page 87] He asked if they could have more parallel commitments. Both Jarring and Kissinger worked on it but not much was produced. He saw a role for the United States in exploring this point.

15. The King added that the Israelis seemed to want direct negotiations and that the Arabs in effect were doing this by telling the Israelis publicly what they want but they find absolutely no reciprocity. He does not know how much further the Arabs can go. There is no problem. When the Arabs say a comprehensive settlement the Israelis say step-by-step. When the Arabs change, then the Israelis reverse themselves. Their game is obviously to stall and buy time. What the future holds is definitely not clear.

16. Mr. Habib pointed out that territory is particularly difficult because it is linked to the Palestinian problem. Sharaf agreed and said that the Arabs preferred to avoid calling it a territorial problem and singled it out as an “occupation” problem. The Israelis appear to insist that the territory belongs to no one and that both sides are haggling over it from an equal basis. The Arabs look at it as getting their territory back. The Israelis say they could go back with “peace”. When Arabs say they will give them peace then the Israelis ask for defensible borders. Then the Israelis say no third state can exist to the east of them. Jordan is also not for a 3rd state but Jordan itself is a third state between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel wants secure borders but if the Allon Plan were put into effect it would have more territory to defend in a more awkward way. The Arabs found out that the only time progress was made was after the 1973 war. It would be unfortunate if another war were required to get more movement. Now Sadat and Asad and the King were all prepared to provide assurances on peace and it would be good if the United States could play a constructive role on the key issues of territory and the Palestinians. The King could not move out alone now. In the past he had led the country with courage but he could not make peace alone after 25 years of Arab grievances. There is fear that we might lose more time and the moderate leaders in the Arab world would be severely pressed. Jordan has been hard put in the past. You only have to look at the 1970 troubles3 and its present economic problems. Jordan was adjusting now its relations with Syria. It had open bridges with the West Bank. But there must be decisive US participation in resolving the problem.

17. The King reinforced this statement by noting also that the Arabs cannot continue waiting for too long a time—that the problem cannot be allowed to languish. Otherwise there will be a build up to a [Page 88] military conflict. If there is no progress, the extremists will benefit. Sadat has been badly shaken by his economic problems and without an advance on the peace front, the future is bleak for him.

18. The Secretary explored the issue of withdrawal and asked whether the Arabs would permit some border rectifications. The King in reply said that if it was on the West Bank, probably minor reciprocal rectifications could take place. Syria and Egypt are responsible for Sinai and Golan and might have different views. Secretary asked for the King’s views on Jerusalem. The King mentioned “dual” sovereignty a unified city open to free movement and the capital of Israel and a “Palestine” with the right of all the religions to use the city. Secretary asked if dual sovereignty meant Arab sovereignty over the Arab sector and the King said yes. The Crown Prince added that there should be a “proliferation of flags” in Jerusalem in the context of a unified administration. He then turned to the West Bank and said the Israelis wanted a series of strong points located in the crescent around the perimeter of the West Bank. Can’t we also think of having some of the Arab villages within the 1967 boundaries of Israel traded off in return for possible means of working out reciprocal arrangements to meet this Israeli desire. The Secretary asked him to spell this out further and the Crown Prince explained the location of some of these villages. The King added that there might be some value in keeping this option in mind, although he doubted the Israelis would be very easily convinced.

19. The Crown Prince continued by describing some of the “demographic realities” of Palestinian presence in the Arab world. Jordan had more refugees and more Palestinians than any other state. More thought had to be given to the problem of how they made their livelihood in the future and where they would go. Suppose UNRWA should collapse? There are many Palestinians in the Gulf and the situation could be serious. Sharaf added that this is one aspect of the role of Jordan in the future that should be researched further. The Jordan economy complements the West Bank and Gaza. Demographically perhaps only Jordan could absorb a large number of Palestinians. All of the possibility dictated a territorial entity linked in some way to Jordan. The Crown Prince said he felt that if Jordan had reconstructed and developed the West Bank in 1948 in a real way or had accepted his grandfather’s proposal for the King of Palestine in 1936, there might well be no Palestinian problem today. Sharaf remarked that there could well also be a Palestinian state only on the East Bank. Sharaf said East Bankers always worried about this possibility. He said the Jordanians are seriously concerned when the Israelis make statements about having the Palestinian state on the East Bank.

20. Mr. Habib noted that the Israelis talk about ceding sovereignty but keeping some presence in the West Bank. Sharaf said the Arabs [Page 89] were used to this. The Israelis recognized the 1947 partition resolution which was their birth certificate. It provided for a smaller area. Israelis transcended that in 1948 and the gradual acquisition of land continued. The Crown Prince asked about a possible Israeli consensus emerging from the elections. The Secretary said he thought there would be no real consensus but the coalition might be slightly modified. The results will be close. Mr. Atherton mentioned that the National Religious Party might be excluded. The Secretary reported that both Rabin and Yadin said they thought they could form a coalition without the NRP.4 Mr. Habib thought that there would be a “second generation” leader but without much authority.

21. The King then talked about the interests of Jordan’s future and its relationship to Syria. He pointed out the historical relations between Jordan and Syria and the challenge of finding a link between a republic and a monarchy. Jordan was now talking seriously about how they would go ahead in the future. There was a reasonable regime in Syria and they were in particularly close touch and he had high regard and respect for President Asad. In Lebanon the Syrian attitude had been good and Syria had played a constructive role. Looking to the future Jordan and Syria might come up with some form of federation which Jordan hoped would be relevant to others in the context of a broader Arab federation.

22. In the past Jordan had been concerned that Syria’s instability, Lebanese anarchy, and Iraqi extremism could all be linked by some form of a radical crescent in the Middle East. Asad had demonstrated great courage and did not support the extremists. In Lebanon itself Jordan was in touch with its friends and had a great deal of hope in the new younger generation. On a military relationship with Syria, this had to begin with training and doctrine. He hoped to alter the Syrians toward the Jordanian view as the right approach. The King told the Secretary he would find Asad impressive and that he should expect to spend hours in discussion with him. The King then made the point that he felt it necessary to be cautious on the future of Geneva. Sadat was too openly optimistic. He said he also thought he should play an active role to ensure that the Arabs do not break up again. Only we Arabs can lose if we begin splitting apart. The Secretary said he agreed strongly with this point. That it was very important to avoid Arab fragmentation, and nothing could be more serious. Mr. Habib asked what the Secretary should do regarding President Asad. The King said it will be important to indicate that the US is in favor of progress and intends to help in accomplishing this. The King did not feel that Asad was suspi[Page 90]cious of the United States. Asad realizes this is the beginning of a new administration, that the Secretary is on a fact-finding mission, and that he is willing to wait to see what happens.

23. Sharaf said that the King could take credit for a good bit on the evolution in Asad’s position. For two years Asad had been becoming more moderate. The King noted that Asad was now in touch with a lot of people in the area and mentioned Iran and others as helpful influences on him.

24. The King said he thought the Middle East had opened up. Jordan used to be alone in its view. Now they were pleased to see other Arabs adopting the Jordanian outlook, but they would be equally unhappy to see all of this fail. The Secretary said that he saw Jordan’s role as a key to bringing things together and as a bridge position, and emphasized that he wanted to have the King’s advice and guidance on a continuing basis. The King agreed to stay in close touch in the future.

25. Mr. Habib asked about conditions in Iraq. The King replied that it was unstable and unpredictable and had resources enough to do damage in the region and particularly to Syria. Iraqi intelligence organizations had carried out blatant operations in Jordan. They played a malevolent role in the Gulf, particularly in Bahrain and their pressure on Kuwait was serious. They also had some presence in Lebanon. President Ceausescu of Romania appeared now to be trying to play some role in bringing Iraq and Syria back together again (possibly at Iraqi instigation), but Baath Party differences were strong.5 Iraq was very dangerous and was recruiting students who could be used as terrorists. Iraq was like Libya in this sense. The Secretary asked about the Iraqi leadership and the King said that the number two man, Saddam Hussein Tikriti, was bright and intelligent. The Iraqis were expansionists and had border problems with a number of their neighbors. The King also said that at the same time he wanted to build bridges to even the most radical of the leftists. The Secretary asked for the King’s advice on whether the US should try to build a bridge with Iraq. The King replied “why not?” The Secretary remarked that at the present time we were cool toward Iraq in spite of some few hints from them about improving relations. The King said he thought it was worth exploring such openings very carefully. Mr. Atherton asked about what President Asad’s views of this might be. The King did not reply but did say he had been shattered to find out that Iraq had now built a nine division army and was buying $3 billion worth of modern arms from the So[Page 91]viets. The Crown Prince said that if President Bakr dies there might be a clash between the army and the party militia with a move to the left that would help the Soviets.

26. The King said that at the last summit meeting in Cairo6 he had tried to talk to everyone including South Yemen and Somalia. He was surprised at their reaction. They were flabbergasted that anyone would take some time with them and were polite in return. Isolation tends to push them further away. He had been invited to visit both countries but had not yet made up his mind to go. Some form of a link often helps. Turning to a new subject the King said in the Gulf Jordan is doing all that it can. In the UAE the army is led by a Jordanian general who has difficulty in getting full cooperation. In Qatar things are good and Oman is coming along very well but they do need help and Iran is reducing its forces there. With Iran Jordan’s relations are perfect and it is seeking more cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Its relations with Egypt are good, but there are only sporadic contacts with Libya.

27. The Secretary said he wanted to turn once more to the Palestinian question and asked what the U.S. could do to be helpful. Is this something the U.S. should not become involved in? Should we leave it for the Arabs to work out the relationship with the PLO. The King said you might consider getting in touch with them. It might not hurt to do this now. The Secretary said it is very difficult now for us to do anything like that. The King said the PLO includes every contradiction in the Arab world and it might be difficult to determine which part or faction to be in contact with.

28. Mr. Atherton asked what the King thought would happen at the Palestinian National Assembly.7 The King replied that changes are possible, and that the PLO has lost ground in Lebanon and it is undergoing an internal reappraisal. Changes in the leadership might take place, the PLO is much more isolated now than it has been, it is looking to the possibility of accepting a West Bank and Gaza state, and will have to face the issue of whether to participate in negotiations. Not all of the PLO member groups see eye to eye. But we have always thought it might not be a bad idea to let the extremists make the concessions. They probably will not be able to face up to that.

29. The Secretary asked how strong Arafat is among the Palestinians. The King said that within the PLO Arafat was still strong, but the PLO really only represented five to ten percent of all of the Palestinians. In the 1970 confrontation, the Jordanian army was almost fifty percent Palestinian and it stayed loyal. Jordan does not want to create [Page 92] those conditions again. It had great sympathy with the people in the occupied territory who had stayed behind and had had to stick it out. Mr. Habib asked about whether West Bank Palestinians could exert leadership in the PLO. The King said that he was not that close to be able to answer but Israel should use the West Bank leadership to build a new Palestinian consensus. Most of the West Bankers had ties with Jordan as did people from Gaza. The Crown Prince continued by saying the West Bank should be allowed to become the point of fusion in the area. Now it is only a cheap source of labor for Israel. Israel is afraid of the PLO and therefore permits the West Bank moderates no latitude in developing good relations among themselves. The West Bank leadership needs to coalesce. The Labor Party in Israel was aggravating the whole situation in developing its own position. Israel did not look at the West Bank as an area that should be handled with care and circumspection. Instead the Israelis used the West Bank as an area where the trade should all be one way in their favor and they hold some tens of millions Jordanian dinars in Geneva banks. They then refused to allow the reopening of one Arab bank there to assist with the economic development of the territory.

30. Sharaf shifted the subject to mention Jordan’s need for greater economic support from the United States. He understood the Ford administration had cut back all assistance levels. He hoped that the Carter administration would restore these levels. Mr. Habib indicated that the levels had been restored and the King asked the Secretary to fight for this in Congress. The Secretary said he would do so and that he had been having personal contacts and telephone calls with individuals on the Hill on many subjects. Sharaf also mentioned that the King had good relations with the Congress and Mr. Habib urged these be developed further when the King comes to the United States. The Crown Prince mentioned that Jordan hoped that in connection with activities on the political front towards peace there would also be economic activities in the area as well and asked for a mini-Marshall Plan. Jordan was working hard to develop the country in terms of its social needs and needed more help in this area.

31. General Bin Shaker explained Jordan’s military role in the Gulf and its hope to continue to sustain these efforts. [2 lines not declassified] The King said he wanted to thank the Secretary for his words which indicated support for US–Jordanian relations both now and for the future. Frankly the King said he was concerned. He wanted to know if we could continue our joint efforts. Jordan played a role in Oman and the Gulf and Yemen in close conjunction with the US. But without US help Jordan could not afford to do this. Jordan had actual physical needs in doing these things. The King said he was sad and disturbed by what had happened after all these years of very close relations. But Jordan [Page 93] had done nothing without the closest consultation with the U.S. Over the years we have talked together in great confidence. We provide you with a great deal of help and information. The King said he felt the press disclosure was all aimed at him and he didn’t know why although he understood that Adenauer and Jomo Kenyetta had also been mentioned.8 The Secretary said that he wanted to assure the King that he continued to have our greatest respect and confidence. The United States depended upon his advice to shape our goals for the future. It was his guess that the information had been leaked from a very low level and he did not know the reason for this. The King could be sure this did not reflect US Government views. The King then continued that his whole life had been Jordan and all that he had was in this country. He had always wanted Jordan’s relations with the US to develop and improve. Often Jordan did things for the US in the past for which Jordan had been nearly crucified. The King said he would appreciate anything which could be done to redress the situation now. In the future he did not know what could be done. We had worked together so often and so closely in the past. We had been in closest possible touch on issues as terrorist activities. Jordan had valued the cooperation but wanted to know what it should do now. Should I stop the King said. The Secretary replied that the answer was not clear. He would want to look into the problem as soon as he returned to Washington and to find out how much we would continue in the future and be back in touch. The King then again emphasized Jordan’s common objectives with the United States and its great confidence in the relationship and its desire to face jointly with the US any threats that might come up. The Secretary again said he would look into the issue very carefully and would be back in touch with the King through the Ambassador.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State, 1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Vance Exdis Memcons, 1977. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. See footnote 8, Document 6.
  3. A reference to the Jordanian crisis of September 1970. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXIV, Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970.
  4. Yigael Yadin founded the Democratic Movement for Change in 1976, and the National Religious Party formed in 1956 as an Orthodox Jewish political party.
  5. The Baath Party originated during the 1940s as a secular nationalist party movement challenging colonial rule in the Middle East. In 1963, the Baath Party gained power in Syria and in Iraq, although in Iraq it only ruled for part of that year. By 1968, however, the party regained control in Iraq.
  6. See footnote 5, Document 7.
  7. The Paletinian National Council met in Cairo March 12–22.
  8. On February 18, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Government had made secret payments to King Hussein for several years. (Bob Woodward, “CIA Paid Millions to Jordan’s King Hussein,” Washington Post, February 18, 1977, P. A1) That same day, the White House issued a statement praising the King’s leadership role in the Middle East and refusing to confirm or deny the charges. (Charles Mohr, “U.S. Tries To Minimize the Impact of Report on C.I.A. Aid to Hussein,” New York Times, February 19, 1977, p. 1) The New York Times also reported that day that several other leaders had received payments. (David Binder, “More Heads of State Are Reported To Have Received C.I.A. Payments,” New York Times, February 19, 1977, p. 9)