121. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Jordan
  • Abdul Hamid Sharaf, Chief of Royal Court
  • Hasan Ibrahim Salah, Foreign Minister
  • Zaki Nusaybah, Permanent Representative to UN
  • Abdallah Amin Salah, Ambassador to U.S.
  • Khalil Salem, Ambassador to France
  • United States
  • Secretary Vance
  • Philip C. Habib, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Arthur R. Day, Deputy Assistant Secretary, NEA
  • Ambassador Thomas Pickering
  • David Korn, Policy Planning Staff


  • Secretary’s Bilateral with Jordanian Court Minister Sharaf (Breakfast Meeting)

The Secretary said we have been talking with the Soviets about the possibility of a joint statement.2 We will be issuing it tomorrow morning. The statement covers the issues involved in the reconvening of Geneva. The Secretary then read from portions of the statement calling for resolution of the Palestinian problem and recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The Secretary said he thought this would be a useful document; it is important to have the two co-chairmen state that there must be a resolution of the Palestinian question, including the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. The Secre [Page 637] tary noted that the statement calls for convening of the conference by December.

The Secretary then asked Sharaf whether he had had a chance to reflect further on our working paper.3 Sharaf said they had consulted on it and conveyed it to Amman. His Majesty has it now. We are studying it and, of course, we would like to pursue it further, Sharaf said. The Secretary said the paper is just a suggestion for resolving the issues. If you have differences on it you should come back to us and say where it is wrong; we are not locked into cement on it.

Sharaf said that Jordan is committed to the idea of a united Arab delegation. We want to advance the Arab cause. For us, Sharaf said, the most immediate problem is the nature of the process by which the Palestinians reach self-determination and Israel withdraws from the West Bank. Sharaf said the Jordanians are concerned over how self-determination and withdrawal would affect Jordan; they want their interests to be protected. Sharaf stressed that Jordan wants to maintain close contact with the United States on all matters concerning the conference. Obviously, Sharaf said, we are concerned that the occupied territories be returned and we hope that the leadership on the West Bank will be positive and moderate.

Sharaf said he had a few questions regarding our paper. When we speak of the opening session do we mean the plenary? The Secretary said yes. Sharaf observed that the plenary goes beyond ceremony. Regarding paragraph 2(e), Sharaf said when you speak of “others” do you mean Syria and Lebanon? The Secretary noted that for the discussion of the refugee question the parties might want to ask countries from outside the conference also. The Secretary said we put this in to leave flexibility; perhaps it could be worked out at the opening session. Sharaf asked how Israel reacted to the paper. Very negatively, the Secretary said. What did they find objectionable, Sharaf asked? The Secretary enumerated the Israeli objections as follows:

(a) the reference to well-known PLO;

(b) the provision about reporting to the plenary;

(c) they are not happy with paragraph 2 (e);

(d) they want to talk about the West Bank only with Jordan.

Sharaf asked how about Gaza? The Secretary said the Israelis are more positive about the handling of Gaza. Sharaf asked about the Israeli attitude on discussion of refugees. The Secretary said the Israelis accept that this problem cannot be handled bilaterally; they say they would be happy to meet outside Geneva for it.

[Page 638]

Sharaf asked how the agenda would be drawn up at Geneva. The Secretary said it would be done by the co-chairmen. The parties could suggest amendments. The Secretary said that is the only way you can make sure of getting the right formula for discussing the Palestinian question. The Secretary then asked Sharaf if he thought the idea of the co-chairmen setting the agenda was a good or a bad idea. Sharaf said he thought the agenda should be drawn up in consultation with the parties. Yes, the Secretary said, but the co-chairmen will decide.

Ambassador Nusaybah asked whether, assuming that the procedural problems can be resolved and the parties can get to Geneva, the Secretary thought the Israelis are really prepared to make a deal. The Secretary said they are prepared to make a deal on Sinai and the Golan. On the West Bank, they are prepared to negotiate, but they keep putting off the issue of when there might be other sovereignty there. They want to talk only about how things would be administered during the transition. Sharaf asked if the Israelis have spoken about the possibility of sovereignty other than Israel’s on the West Bank. The Secretary said they foresee this ultimately, though there are many differences of view among the Israelis on the West Bank question. Ambassador Nusaybah asked if the Israelis would be ready to accept a UN administration for the West Bank. The Secretary said the answer is no at this point. The Israelis want to work out something between Jordan and themselves. They say they have to sit down and discuss the West Bank with you and the West Bank Palestinians. They say they do not want to administer the West Bank, they are ready to work out something with Jordan. Ambassador Nusaybah said the West Bank Palestinians have been talking with the Israelis for several years about this. Peres asked them why they didn’t accept local autonomy. But the autonomy that was offered them was not real, the mayors would have no power. Ambassador Nusaybah asked if this is what the Israelis have in mind now? The Secretary said he thought they were thinking of something more.

Sharaf said Jordan is open-minded about the question of whether there should be another Security Council resolution. He said Jordan is really interested less in the formulation of a text than in what actually happens. Perhaps the joint Soviet-U.S. statement would serve as a basis for Geneva. (Sharaf seemed to be saying that the Jordanians were not keen on a Security Council resolution.) The Secretary said we feel another resolution would be disruptive at this point.

Sharaf asked what the agenda would consist of. The Secretary said it is a little too early to say, but speaking generally it would include the various matters to be considered: the question of withdrawal, the question of Palestinians and a Palestinian entity, and the nature of peace. Sharaf asked if the agenda would say that the following question could be discussed and then set out how committees should be formed. The [Page 639] Secretary said we really have not focused on that; the thing we have focused on is the agenda being a vehicle for insuring inclusion of the Palestinian issue. Sharaf said Jordan prefers functional committees for discussion of the major issues, i.e., withdrawal, peace guarantee and the Palestinian question. Mr. Habib commented that if you do it that way you will run into trouble right off the bat. You have got to leave room, Mr. Habib said, for bilateral as well as multilateral dealings. We want to avoid a head-on conflict between those who want functional committees and those who want bilateral committees. The Secretary said that in defining the issues you have to add the nature of peace. Sharaf observed that the group was now talking not about the agenda but the question of organization of the conference. Ambassador Nusaybah said he had a question regarding the nature of peace. What if the Arab confrontation states reach a peace agreement with Israel? Could the Israelis later say it is not valid because Algeria, for example, has not yet made peace with Israel? The Secretary said no, the Israelis would not do this.

Sharaf asked how the question of Palestinian representation at Geneva would be handled. The Secretary said we are looking to you to help on this. Sharaf said by “us” do you mean the Arab parties? Particularly Jordan, the Secretary said. We have talked to all of the Arabs about this, the Secretary said, and obviously it is the key question as far as convening of the conference is concerned. The Secretary said that at the conference we will have to determine how we can include among the Palestinians a voice that will be acceptable to the PLO and yet at the same time not drive Israel into refusal to come to the conference or into leaving the conference when it opens. Ambassador Nusaybah asked what the Soviet position is. The Secretary said the Soviets say the PLO represents the Palestinian people by virtue of the Rabat-Arab Summit decision. Therefore, they have to be included at Geneva. The Soviets recognize however that this presents problems. The Secretary said he thought the Soviets would accept anything acceptable to the Arabs. For them it is a practical matter, the Secretary said. Sharaf asked what the Soviets say about the principle of self-determination. They accept it, the Secretary said. Mr. Atherton said the Soviets endorse self-determination as a way of getting a state for the Palestinians.

Sharaf said we feel strongly about self-determination for the Palestinians. Jordan had intimate relations with the Palestinians, and there are a million Palestinians on the East Bank. Sharaf said he did not want to go into a lot of detail, but it was obvious that the Rabat decision on the PLO came about mainly because the Israelis were so adamant. But Jordan has repeatedly endorsed the idea of self-determination for the Palestinians. King Hussein has spoken many times since 1967 about the right of the people of the West Bank to self-determination. The Secretary said we agreed, for two reasons. The first is that we do not think [Page 640] there can be a settlement unless the process of self-determination is used. The second is that self-determination is a way of resolving the difficult problem of whether the PLO are in fact the people who should govern the West Bank, or should it be someone else? The Secretary said it is up to the Palestinians to answer that question.

Sharaf remarked that it is always the people who have the greatest ability to make trouble who succeed in grabbing power. Sharaf said he hoped that that problem would be taken into account; there is a serious moral problem there. Amb. Nusaybah pointed out that if there is to be a lasting settlement there must be self-determination, the Palestinians must put their seals of approval on it. Otherwise people will come and say it was an imposed settlement. The Secretary said he did not want anyone to misunderstand. At this point, the Israelis would be opposed to self-determination; they prefer to negotiate regarding the West Bank with Jordan. Sharaf said Jordan understands that. Sharaf then reviewed Jordan’s reason for supporting self-determination. The Secretary said he thought that if the Israelis could be sure that the West Bank would be linked to Jordan they might not oppose self-determination. But they fear that self-determination will lead to an independent state. Ambassador Nusaybah said everybody understands that the questions to be asked in the self-determination poll will be important.

Sharaf asked what would happen to the U.S. paper concerning the five principles?4 The Secretary said he thought that at some point it might be useful for the co-chairmen to discuss the paper on principles. We could say that these principles are the main issues to be resolved at the conference. But, the Secretary said, we really have not thought in detail about how to use the statement of principles.

Sharaf said he wanted to ask what might seem to be a strange question. What does Jordan gain by participating in this process? The Secretary replied that he suspected Jordan might gain restoration of some of its territory in the long run, depending on what happened in the process of self-determination. Mr. Habib remarked that you have to participate in the process if you want to gain any benefit from it. The Secretary said yes, if you don’t participate you might find that you don’t like the outcome.

Ambassador Nusaybah raised the question of Jerusalem and stressed its importance. The Secretary said the question of Jerusalem has got to be resolved. We did not put it in the joint Soviet-U.S. statement because we did not want to single it out, the Secretary said. Referring to the U.S. paper, Minister Ibrahim asked if the PLO could be formally designated as a party to the conference. The Secretary replied [Page 641] that if you did that the Israelis would not go to Geneva; there would be no conference. Ambassador Nusaybah said the main concern of the Palestinians is not with the PLO, it is freeing their territory from Israeli occupation. Ten years of occupation is more than any people can be expected to endure. Ambassador Nusaybah stressed that the important thing is to get Israeli withdrawal and self-determination for the West Bankers.

As the meeting concluded, the Secretary asked if he could have a few minutes alone with Sharaf.5 The rest of the party then left the room.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Trips/Visits File, Box 107, 9/19/77–10/25/77 Vance Meetings with Middle East Foreign Ministers: 9–10/77. Secret; Nodis. No location is noted for this meeting, but Vance was still in New York.
  2. See Document 120.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 118.
  4. See the Attachment to Document 54.
  5. No memorandum of conversation has been found.