14. Memorandum of Conversation1

SYRIAN PARTICIPANTS

  • Abd al-Kalim Khaddam, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Abd al-Karim ’Adi, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
  • Abdullah al-Khani, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Samih Abu Fares, Translator

U.S. PARTICIPANTS

  • Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State
  • Ambassador Richard W. Murphy
  • Philip C. Habib, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Isa Sabbagh
  • Robert H. Pelletreau, DCM
[Page 99]

The meeting began at 1530 local. Following introductory courtesies, Foreign Minister Khaddam welcomed the Secretary and expressed his conviction that the Secretary’s visit must produce positive results. He regretted the Secretary could not stay longer, but he hoped he would come back for another visit.

The Secretary expressed his thanks for the Minister’s kind and gracious welcome and conveyed President Carter’s greetings to the Minister. The Secretary stated both the President and he attributed great importance to Syria and to the Middle East. They considered the importance of this trip paramount in terms of the priority to be accorded issues facing the United States both in the Middle East region and throughout the world. The Secretary said he believed the people of the area do wish to achieve peace, and the United States intends to do everything in its power to help attain this objective. The United States recognizes that this task may be very difficult. Differences on both substantive and procedural issues were deep seated. Nevertheless, the United States must persevere in this direction. That is why, the Secretary continued, he welcomed the opportunity to come to Syria to obtain the views of the Minister and President Asad on how the United States and Syria could best proceed in this common pursuit. The Secretary said he had benefitted greatly from the meetings he had held up to this point and what he had learned would be of great value to the President and him in preparing the course of action the United States would take in pursuit of a peaceful solution. He said he was prepared to discuss his impressions but would find it most enlightening and useful to learn the Minister’s views and to have his ideas on how to overcome the dangers and obstacles that divide the parties.

Foreign Minister Khaddam said he understood that the purpose of the Secretary’s visit was to study the situation as he saw it on the spot. Because of Syria’s conviction of the importance of the role of the U.S. in solving this problem, it was incumbent on Syria to be cooperative and to contribute to presenting as clear a picture as possible to the Secretary. In order to know the nature of the problem, Khaddam said, it was necessary to know the nature of the area. It was one of the most sensitive areas of the world, overlooking three continents. Eight Arab nations were in Africa, twelve were in Asia. Contact with Europe was constant, and the area could be said to border on three seas and two oceans. People had been living in this area for thousands of years. They represented historical values and an ancient civilization. The Middle East, bordering on the Soviet Union, had great wealth, particularly in oil. The Arab nations had more than 70 percent of the world’s oil and also a great deal of monetary power from oil and other sources. Throughout history the area has had an impact on international peace and security, and indeed on world civilization. Throughout history [Page 100]also, the area had contributed to liberalizing movements in Asia and Africa, and it is clear that the area has an important influence on the world’s economy. If the states of the area wanted to take a given decision or play a given role in international forums, they could have a decisive influence. If they sided with the Soviet Union, for example, it would gain automatic hegemony over the world’s economy and pose a great threat to Western economies. Likewise, if the area were to stand with the West, that within itself would give the West a preponderance of power.

Khaddam continued that the area suffers from an important and sensitive problem, one that is complicated and also is painful to continue. This problem has two aspects. The first is that of the dispersed people of Palestine living in the miserable conditions economically and socially and suffering all the hardship of dispersal through no fault of their own. The second aspect is the occupation of the territory of certain Arab states in contradiction to resolutions and the Charter of the United Nations.

The Foreign Minister said he did not wish to review the whole sequence of events in the area, but he did want to note that at the time of Balfour Declaration2 there were only a few thousand Jews in Palestine. The Arabs had paid a high price for siding with the West in two world wars. In World War I they had stood against the Turks in order to gain their liberty, but they were deceived by the British, the French, and the Allies who encouraged the Zionist movement. In World War II the Arabs again stood with the Allies and were rewarded with creation of the State of Israel. All this, of course, was part of history, the Foreign Minister said, but the United States would be well advised to heed this sequence of events in fashioning the future. Ever since its establishment in 1948, Khaddam continued, Israel had tried to portray itself to the world as persecuted and under constant threat from knife-bearing Arabs. But to see through the falseness of this image, one needed only to look at the size of Israel in 1948 and note that the territory Israel now occupies is at least seven times as large.

To the question of whether the Arabs wanted peace or not, the Foreign Minister’s question was, “Yes, the Arabs want peace”. As to whether Israel wanted peace or not, the Minister said he would leave it to the Secretary to decide on the basis of his convictions.

Syria, Khaddam continued, wants a peace that will be just, permanent, and stable. Unless peace includes all these elements, any agree[Page 101]ment will be transitory and contain within itself the seeds of future wars. In order for peace to be just, permanent, and stable, however, it must deal with substantive issues. All past ways of dealing with the problem, the Minister asserted, had been merely palliatives. In fact, steps taken over the past two years had actually complicated the situation in the area. In the Minister’s opinion, Israel’s desire for peace had been clearer in 1973 than in 1976. The steps taken or “achieved” had only encouraged Israeli intransigence.

Khaddam said that the Charter of the United Nations and international legitimacy, in his opinion, provided the basis for a solution, and this solution contained two elements. The first element was to ban the concept of obtaining territory by force, and this meant Israeli withdrawal from Arab territory occupied in 1967. In this connection, the Minister said he wished to point out that Israel’s proposition that it would withdraw to secure borders had no validity in this modern age. Israel justified its occupation of Golan on the basis that the Golan Plateau overlooked the Hula Valey and made it vulnerable to attack. With the weaponry of modern warfare, however, Syria would have no difficulty shelling the Hula Valley settlements from near Damascus. This meant there was no such thing as a secure border. Furthermore, Israel was building more settlements on the Golan and by its logic tomorrow would be claiming even more territory to protect these new settlements. It was a vicious circle of expansion justifying further and further expansion under the pretext of seeking secure borders. The international community, the Foreign Minister declared, could not logically accept the premise that any state could be allowed to define its borders as it wished in terms of its own view of secure borders. Under this logic, secure borders for the United States would be in Moscow and for the Soviet Union in Washington. Secure borders for any people, in a true sense, the Minister said, do not stem from their delineation by one side alone on the basis of its power. They could only be assured by nations establishing peace and uprooting thoughts of war. This was the first element of peace.

The second element was the Palestinian people. Their plight did not begin in 1967, but with their dispersal in 1948. The tension in the area which their situation created led directly to the 1967 war. A solution must be found to the situation of the Palestinian people. The Israelis say that they are willing to seek a solution in the framework of negotiating with Jordan, but the problem of the Palestinian people is not confined to the West Bank. There are some 300,000 Palestinians in Syria and another 300,000 in Kuwait. There are about one million Palestinians in Jordan and several hundred thousand in the rest of the Arab World. What happened in Lebanon was also a result of the Palestinian dispersal, and unless this problem is solved, the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian presence will remain factors of turmoil in the area.

[Page 102]

The Foreign Minister continued that even if Egypt, Syria, and Jordan were to sign an agreement with Israel on the basis of the 1967 War, in all frankness and honesty, such an agreement would not last because it did not take into account the Palestinian problem. Any serious solution must start with a solution to this problem. The United States might point out that the Israelis would refuse even to recognize the existence of Palestinians and that they refuse to recognize or deal with the PLO. They protest that the PLO does not recognize Israel. Syria, the Minister declared, believes that thinking of this nature is only trying to evade the problem. Neither Syria, nor Egypt, nor Jordan recognize Israel, yet Israel is willing to talk and negotiate with them. Israel’s answer is aimed only at obfuscating efforts toward peace. Even if Syria, Egypt, and Jordan were to agree to recognize Israel, Israel knows that the Palestinian people would remain an element of turmoil in the area.

The Minister stated that almost the whole world had acknowledged the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians. The PLO has observer status at the United Nations and it has been invited to attend the Security Council as a party to discuss problems concerning it. When the Security Council invited the PLO to participate, this was in effect recognition by the Security Council of the PLO. The United Nations Security Council Resolution of November 1975, for example, set a date for discussing the Middle East problem in the light of UN resolutions.3 That resolution lent validity to previous resolutions of both the Security Council and the General Assembly. Therefore, from both a legal and procedural point of view, the Israeli argument did not stand up.

The Minister continued that the question now is how a peace containing these elements could be achieved. There is no doubt, he said, that the United States has a major role to play, one which could be played in the service of international legitimacy and the United Nations framework. The Geneva Conference should be convened on this basis. It should also be convened on the basis of seeking an overall settlement to the conflict. The Minister here recalled that in past discussions with Americans and Europeans, the Syrians had frequently been told that Israel would accept certain positions and not accept others. Syria could not understand this approach. If a solution really rested on whether Israel would accept this or that proposition, the Minister said he could not be optimistic. If, on the other hand, the solution rested on [Page 103]logic and just responsibilities stemming from United Nations resolutions, then there was hope for a just and permanent peace.

An example of Israel’s attitude, the Foreign Minister said, and one which the Secretary knew well was the crisis of Southern Lebanon. Israel very well knew that Syrian forces in Lebanon had but one function, to help bring about security and peace in that country under the command of President Sarkis. Syrian forces would not remain in Lebanon for one minute after the Lebanese forces themselves could assume responsibility for security or for one minute after President Sarkis asked them to leave. The Lebanese President had ordered a few hundred Syrian troops to go to the Nabatiyah area to restore respect for Lebanese law. These troops numbered no more than 300 and constituted no danger to Israel. In fact, the entire Syrian force in Lebanon represented no danger to Israel as it was dispersed throughout the country. In spite of the fact that Lebanon was an independent country and a member of the United Nations, the Minister noted, it seemed that the Lebanese President could not move his forces as he deemed necessary in order to maintain internal security. What was this mentality of Israel, the Minister asked?

Khaddam declared that the Arabs had great hope that the new U.S. Administration would realize the unnatural situation in the area. If the current chance for peace were lost many changes would result. For that reason Syria attached great importance to the visit and to firm and decisive steps on the part of the United States Government. That was why Syria was talking frankly and with an open heart. Its premise was that the U.S. and the Arabs could have good relations and the bases for these relations should be the achievement of a just and permanent peace in the area. Israeli blackmail, on the other hand, would not be conducive for peace. The impression was widely shared internationally that now was the time to bring about peace.

This impression, the Foreign Minister said, was strongly held on the Arab side but unfortunately it did not appear to be shared by the Israelis. It had been announced only a few days ago, for example, that Israel intended to establish new settlements in Sinai and the Gaza strip.4 Israel had also announced its intention to explore for oil in the Gulf of Suez and the U.S. had criticized this decision.5 In addition, the Israelis had decided to consider Jerusalem as their capital, knowing the sensitivity of this issue to both Christian and Muslim Arabs. The Israelis [Page 104]know, Khaddam asserted, that even if war continues far into the future the Arabs will not give up an inch of Jerusalem. The Israelis are also asking how peace can be achieved without guarantees. In fact those who need guarantees are the Arabs for they are the victims of aggression. These guarantees could be international. Also, peace itself is a form of guarantee.

The United States, Foreign Minister Khaddam said, has achieved progress in its relations with Arabs and has aroused the hope that it is in earnest about achieving a solution. As King Hussein has said, the Arabs do not wish to raise their hopes unreasonably for if these hopes collapse the situation will become extremely grave. There is now, however, an historic opportunity for reaching a comprehensive and just settlement to the conflict.

The Secretary thanked Foreign Minister Khaddam for his clear analysis of the situation as he saw it. In essence the Minister thought the problem boiled down to two issues, withdrawal and the Palestinians. On withdrawal, the U.S. has supported this concept since its inception. UNSC Res. 242 dealt with withdrawal. With regard to the Palestinian people, the U.S. has said that no solution will be possible without settling the question of the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people.

Khaddam interrupted to question the Secretary on the distinction between “legitimate interests” and “legitimate rights”. The Secretary replied he was a simple man and used simple words, to which Khaddam replied in turn that he was asking the question of the Secretary as a lawyer.

The Secretary said that the U.S. believed the Geneva Conference could be reconvened in the second half of 1977 and that it should treat substantive issues in order to reach an overall and final settlement of the problem. He said he had found no disagreement in any country he had visited to holding the Conference in the second half of 1977 nor to the proposal that the objective should be a comprehensive settlement. He asked Khaddam whether he agreed. The Minister replied that Syria did not disagree in principle but he wondered what steps could be taken between now and the convening of the Conference. The Secretary said he would reach this point shortly but he wished first to say that he understood the Israeli position on withdrawal and the political question to be that the Israelis agreed both subjects should be discussed without preconditions. Turning to Khaddam’s question about the difference between legitimate interests and legitimate rights, the Secretary said that in his view the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people would include the question of how their future should be dealt with including steps to provide a homeland for the Palestinian people. This would be a subject to be discussed and decided at the Conference. It would be for the parties to work out and not for the United States to [Page 105]dictate or impose. If the parties were unable to agree the United States would be willing to use its good offices in an attempt to bring them together. But it would not be appropriate at this point to try to dictate a solution. Regarding the linguistic and semantic differences between legitimate rights and legitimate interests, this difference related to whether there was an entity already in existence or which does not yet exist. The important point, the Secretary emphasized, was that the problem of the Palestinian people must be solved and should not get lost in semantics. Khaddam agreed.

The Secretary noted that they had talked about withdrawal and the Palestinian people but the Israelis raised a third point—peace. The Israelis defined peace as the restoration of normal relations between neighboring states. Sadat, on the other hand, held the view that peace was an end to the state of war or belligerency. There was, therefore, a difference between the Israeli view and the Egyptian view. What was the Syrian view. Khaddam replied by pointing out that there was no war at present between the United States and Cuba but there was no normal relations either. Likewise no normal relations existed between the U.S. and China or between the U.S. and Vietnam. A state of peace therefore did not of necessity imply a normalization of relations. In the same vein Khaddam noted that if Mexico became a Communist state, it would not be in a state of war with the U.S. but the U.S. might well take certain actions such as blockade which would be short of a state of war. Peace, he repeated, does not automatically mean normalization. In this Syria shares the viewpoint of President Sadat.

The Secretary noted that between now and the convening of the Geneva Conference in the second half of 1977 several procedural questions must be solved. One of these combines procedure with elements of substance in the opinion of some and that is the question of the PLO. This is a fundamental procedural question which must be resolved in advance of Geneva. Khaddam interjected that this was very much a substantive question. The Secretary repeated it contained elements of both procedure and substance and asked for the Minister’s views. He said he was sure the Minister was aware of the fact that Israel said that since a covenant existed according to which the PLO would not recognize the existence of the State of Israel, this was a block to reciprocal action by the Israelis. The Israelis also point out that the PLO does not recognize UNSC Res. 242 or 338 as the basis for convening Geneva. Khaddam in reply said he would comment first on the Israeli viewpoint. Syria, Jordan and Egypt do not recognize Israel nor is there any implication in their respective constitutions or other official documents of the right of Israel to exist. The textual references in the Constitution of the Confederation of Arab Republics and decisions taken at the 1967 [Page 106]Summit in Khartoum6 could not in any way be said to imply recognition. Yet, Israeli representatives appeared willing to go to Geneva to meet with representatives of these states. The Minister continued that when representatives of the PLO and Israel sit at the same table they are two people sitting there; they are not ghosts. Each represents certain facts of life. The question, therefore, is not a semantic or textual one but a living fact of life. Furthermore, the Minister stated, any official recognition by the PLO of Israel’s existence means an automatic relinquishing of rights usurped by Israel. But if on the other hand Israel were to recognize the PLO it would not lose anything. Israel was occupying the territory whereas the Palestinians were in camps.

UNSC Res. 242, the Minister stated, dealt with the 1967 war and not with the question of the Palestinians. The Resolution was the result of the Security Council debate after the 1967 war. How, he asked, could the Palestinians be expected to recognize this Resolution when it was not concerned with them. Res. 381, on the other hand, stated in its first Section that the Security Council would meet on January 13, 19767 to debate the situation in the Middle East including the Palestinian question in the light of pertinent UN resolutions. If this Resolution were taken as a basis for discussion of a settlement perhaps this would be acceptable to the Palestinians and at the same time the Israelis could not object. This Resolution in fact referred to UNSC Reses 242 and 338 as well as UNGA resolutions referring to the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. When the Palestinians asserted that UN Res. 242 was not directed at them, they were right both legitimately and actually. That Resolution did not treat their problem but rather the problem of Egypt and Syria and Jordan at the time when the West Bank was under Jordanian control. If Israel wanted peace, Foreign Minister Khaddam affirmed, it must accept the PLO at Geneva. At one time, the Minister recalled, the Arabs were not moving in this direction. They used to refuse to attend any conference, but when they came to realize that peace was necessary for the area they agreed to go to the Conference without any complexes. Accordingly, it is a political decision which must be made by Israel—whether it wants peace or not.

The Minister appealed to the US Administration to assess fully and thoughtfully the dangers of trying to isolate the Palestinians from any overall peace. This, he said, would be detrimental to peace and to sta[Page 107]bility in the whole area. The Minister continued that it would be useful to world peace for the US to bring pressure on Israel on this point. He recalled the results of the 1967 and 1973 wars. He said he believed that the economic difficulties and the inflation which the world experienced at that time were a direct result of the 1973 war. Tensions in one area could not necessarily be confined to that area alone. The Syrian citizen has an interest in peace, but so does the French citizen and the American citizen. All the world shares this interest and it is necessary to bring pressure on the recalcitrant party.

The Minister said he hoped the Secretary would accept it in the right spirit when he said that the Arab world had adopted a moderate policy regarding peace. If this policy produced no result it was inevitable that these moderate policies would cease either through violence or because their advocates would have to change their views. Syria knew this was not in the interest of the area. The 17th and 18th of January in Egypt witnessed a real popular revolution.8 It was not only against the lack of food but also against President Sadat’s policy of moderation. The Egyptians were showing their frustration with a policy which had not produced results. The same thing could happen in any Arab country and end the policy of moderation in the area. As a leader of the moderate policy, Syria firmly believed in such a policy itself but public opinion was sensitive to other influences. In some areas a single rumor could topple a regime, such as the story that unseated Willy Brandt in West Germany.9 Factors contributing to public opinion were not completely under the control of the government. It would be useful, the Minister said, for the US to discuss whether a moderate policy in the Arab world could continue in the absence of an overall solution. Syria deeply believed that this subject was worthy of US attention and firmly wanted the US to come in with measured steps towards peace. In addition, the Minister added, Syria wished to redirect funds spent for arms to its national development, but so long as the Israelis were located less than 60 kilometers from Damascus, Syria could think no further than the defense of its capital and its country.

The Secretary said he had been saddened to listen to the same arguments by leaders in each of the countries he had visited, including Israel, that they needed to reduce the amounts spent for defense in order to invest more funds in development. Secondly, all leaders agreed on the need for moderate forces to predominate in the area. Identical senti[Page 108]ments were shared by all the leaders but the bitterness and inability to move towards peace remained. If all the countries of the region share the same basic desire, then there must be a way to move towards peace, the Secretary stated.

Khaddam said he agreed and repeated that he was asking for a move from the US. The next question was whether a move towards peace had to be made only by the occupied party. Who, Khaddam asked, was occupying whom and who was threatening whom. The Secretary, he asserted, knew the magnitude of US arms support to Israel and of the Soviet arms support to the Arabs. The Secretary knew that the balance remained in favor of Israel. Did this mean that the US expected the Arabs to capitulate? If they did so it would only complicate the situation in the area. Moderate policies would be doomed since no nation was willing to accept occupation and subjugation forever. The Minister agreed that movement was necessary but he said the US should address the party not wishing to move.

Khaddam continued that several years ago no one in Jordan, Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia would have stood up and said he was for peace. This moderate policy, therefore, should lead to something tangible. On the Israeli side there had been no change in its declared position since 1967. But moderation had grown among the Arabs. If, Khaddam said, the question of 300 Syrian soldiers in Lebanon had caused the Secretary to address 12 letters to the Lebanese President, what could be expected from the US on large issues. In all friendship, he added, he considered this incident a test of the US. If President Carter had told Prime Minister Rabin if he interfered in Lebanon the US would take stern measures, the crisis would have ended. In any case, Sarkis had solved the problem in another manner.

The Secretary said that surely the Minister knew he was not suggesting that the Arabs capitulate. The Minister nodded his agreement. On Southern Lebanon, the Secretary continued, he appreciated the action which Syria had taken in helping Sarkis deal with the problem of reunification and the restoration of law and order in Lebanon. He also appreciated Syria’s position as the Minister had stated it, that when Sarkis had an adequate Lebanese force at his disposal Syria had no intention of remaining in Lebanon. On the special problem of Nabatiyah,10 the Secretary remarked that the absence of advance notice that Syrian forces were moving into a new area had led to a chain of events. The US had been asked to act as a calming influence and a conduit for messages to reduce tensions. Khaddam interjected a question whether any country in the world had to ask a neighboring country for permis[Page 109]sion to move 200 soldiers in order to restore order within its own territory. The Secretary replied that this was not the question but whether a situation had been created which was potentially explosive. Under those circumstances, the US had exercised its good offices to act as a conduit and to help solve the problem. Fortunately, as the Minister had said, President Sarkis’ action had resolved the crisis.

Khaddam wondered if 300 Syrian soldiers could cause such alarm in Israel why were not the thousands of Syrian troops on the Golan causing a similar alarm? The Secretary stated that the US had delivered as many restraining messages to Israel as it had delivered to Sarkis and to the Syrians. Khaddam opined that in his view the US could have handled the crisis in a way more beneficial to its interests including bringing tranquility to the area. If the US had said to Israel that any foolish action would meet a firm response by the US, Prime Minister Rabin would not have dared to move. This would have been a good way for the new Administration to start dealing with Israel. The Secretary reiterated that the US had spoken as strongly to Rabin as it had to any of the other parties. Khaddam noted that if in a wrestling match the same pressure was applied to a healthy man and a weak man the weak man would of course suffer more. Sarkis needed everyone’s help to reconstruct his country. The Secretary agreed and noted that in Beirut he had spoken publicly in support of Sarkis.11 Khaddam indicated his approval. The Secretary said he had pledged US assistance in the form of humanitarian aid and for reconstruction and had called on other nations to help in this effort.

The Foreign Minister said that he wished at this point to say a few words about Lebanon. It was a sad and painful tragedy. Everyone was responsible for helping Lebanon regain its feet by offering both material and moral assistance to Sarkis. The situation was improving. Small problems came up which were being dealt with but in general, calm and security in Lebanon were spreading. Syria hoped all nations would continue to offer material and moral support. He asked the Secretary for his impressions of Sarkis.

The Secretary said he had had a good meeting with Sarkis.12 Sarkis said he was gradually bringing the situation under control. He admitted, however, he was having difficulty mobilizing his internal security forces and his army. He thought the first units might be ready in three months. The Defense Minister, however, had said it would be [Page 110]closer to six months. In addition, the President noted that his economic problems were severe and he needed both short term and long term assistance. The US had told Sarkis it would do what it could along with other nations to help. Sarkis, the Secretary said, had many serious problems still confronting him but he seemed to be making progress. The Secretary remarked that Sarkis had mentioned his great appreciation for Syrian assistance.

Khaddam noted that Syria had tried to help Sarkis even in internal matters. When he faced an internal problem with one faction or another Syria tried to help. Some Lebanese politicians had vested interests but Syria invited them to visit Damascus or sent someone to visit them. In the crisis Syria considered Sarkis to be one of the best possible people to have assumed power in Lebanon.

The Secretary asked whether the Minister thought Sarkis’ estimate of three months or the Defense Minister’s estimate of six months was closer to the mark as the probable time for initial Lebanese units to be organized. Khaddam replied it all depends on the effort that was made. With intensified efforts a force might be ready in three or four months. Syria was encouraging Sarkis to intensify his efforts in this direction. Syrian efforts in Lebanon were costing it a good deal, Khaddam added.

Returning to Geneva the Minister asked whether the Secretary was suggesting a freeze before the conference convened. The Secretary replied he was not because a lot of ground had to be covered between now and the reconvening of the Conference. The more that could be accomplished the quicker the Conference could get to substantive matters.

Khaddam asked whether Syria could conclude that “step-by-step” was no longer valid. The Secretary replied that in his view it was time for an overall solution. Khaddam said he agreed that a final solution was the proper objective. Syria’s quarrel with the US had been because of “step-by-step.”

The Secretary asked the Minister’s views on another procedural question on Geneva—whether Syria favored combined or separate delegations. Were there differences between Syria and Egypt on this point? The Minister replied that Syria’s discussion with Egypt had not been conclusive. In Syria’s view a unified delegation was preferable. Efforts would be more concentrated and it might even help solve certain procedural problems, but Syria did not wish to quarrel with Egypt on the point and in fact had not discussed it fully.

The Secretary asked whether at a reconvened Geneva conference subcommittees should be formed on the basis of functional or country-by-country problems. Khaddam replied that Syria did not favor bilateral subcommittees. Subcommittees rather should deal with the issues. Peace with Egypt, for example, would be no different in substance than[ [Page 111]peace with Syria and the same was true regarding the issues of withdrawal, guarantees, ending the state of war, rights of the Palestinians and any other subject agreed upon. Subcommittees should be formed to discuss topics.

The Secretary asked whether it would not be best to work out the structure of such subcommittees during this interim period. Khaddam replied that Syria’s position was clear but Syria did not know Israel’s views. He agreed that subcommittees should be formed on the basis of topics, such as “guarantees,” for example. The same guarantees should exist between Syria and Israel as between Egypt and Israel. Regional and bilateral subcommittees could get bogged down on such points, the Minister added. The Secretary asked whether there should be guarantees. Khaddam replied affirmatively but said it was not a question of Israel alone having guarantees nor could territorial occupation be considered an acceptable form of guarantee. The Security Council could give guarantees, as could the international community. Furthermore, to move towards peace was in itself a guarantee. Syria did not oppose guarantees.

The Secretary asked whether there was not a relationship between guarantees and borders and whether guarantees would help in determining borders. The Foreign Minister replied that guarantees were one thing, but the delineation of borders was another. Syria would not give up one inch of its territory but it had no objection to discussing guarantees of its borders. Boundaries were to Syria a point of principle unless of course Israel might also agree to return to Syria the bits of territory pilfered in 1960 and 1962.13

The Foreign Minister asked whether the US and Syrian understandings were the same regarding the meaning of withdrawal, that is, that withdrawal should be from all the occupied territories. He recalled that President Nixon had assured the Syrians that the US agreed with them on this point. The Secretary replied that the US position on withdrawal was as stated in UNSC Res. 242 and it was up to the parties to determine this withdrawal in negotiations. Khaddam retorted that if boundaries had to be negotiated they would have to go back to 1947.

The Secretary noted that if Geneva were reconvened Israel had stated its readiness to go without preconditions. What was Syria’s position? The Minister asserted in reply that it was not Syria who was making conditions. New settlements, for example, were de facto conditions being created in the occupied territories. Syria hoped the US would make another statement condemning such settlements. Syria was ready to go to Geneva, Khaddam said, on the basis of two prin[Page 112]ciples, not on conditions. These principles were securing peace through withdrawal and the achievement of legitimate Palestinian rights. The Secretary asked whether in Syria’s view then these subjects could be discussed without preconditions. Khaddam replied that when the conference reconvened Syria wanted it to discuss all these questions. If agreement were reached, fine. If agreement was not reached, Syria would have to look to other means to achieve its goals.

The Secretary indicated he was not quite clear on this point. Khaddam then stated that Syria’s only condition was that these topics be discussed. Success would mean reaching solutions in accord with the principles involved. If not, however, Syria would have to be prepared to look to other means. Khaddam then asked about Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards the problem of Jerusalem.14 The Secretary replied that the Saudis had not raised Jerusalem except as an issue that had to be solved. There was no discussion of viewpoints. King Hussein, however, had discussed his views at length and very clearly.15 Khaddam interjected that King Hussein’s views were similar to Syria’s. Hussein believed the PLO should play its role. On Jerusalem, the Secretary replied, the King had not referred to the PLO.

  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; Nodis. Drafted by Robert H. Pelletreau. The meeting took place in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  2. On November 2, 1917, the British Government released the Balfour Declaration, which stated that it looked with favor on the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine but that non-Jewish communities’ civil and religious rights should not be prejudiced against.
  3. A reference to U.N. Security Council Resolution 381, adopted on November 30, 1975, which called for the reconvening of the Security Council on January 12, 1976, to continue the debate on the Middle East problem, including the consideration of all relevant U.N. resolutions.
  4. The New York Times reported on February 13 that Israel was extending its area of settlements into the Sinai. (Moshe Brilliant, “Isreal Intensifies Sinai Settlements,” New York Times, February 13, 1977, p. 9)
  5. See footnote 13, Document 6.
  6. The 1967 Arab League Summit in Khartoum culminated with the Khartoum Resolution of September 1, 1967. The resolution called for no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel. Additionally, it called for an end to the Arab oil boycott that had been put in effect during the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, an end to the civil war in North Yemen, and economic aid to Jordan and Egypt.
  7. Resolution 381 states that the Security Council would meet on January 12, not January 13, 1976.
  8. See footnote 17, Document 3.
  9. A reference to the Guillaume affair in which Brandt’s personal assistant, Gunter Guillaume, was identified by West German security as an East German spy. This led to criticism of Brandt and played a role in Brandt’s decision to resign as West German Chancellor on May 7, 1974.
  10. See footnote 3, Document 6.
  11. Although there were no reports of Vance specifically supporting Sarkis publicly, he did announce on February 18 in Beirut that the United States would provide $50 million in relief aid to help repair damage incurred during the Lebanese civil war. (Bernard Gwertzman, “Sadat Declaration is Lauded by Vance,” New York Times, February 19, 1977, p. 9)
  12. See Document 13.
  13. Israel and Syria engaged in several border clashes during the early 1960s. These led to accusations of Israel stealing land from Syria.
  14. Vance met with Crown Prince Fahd and Foreign Minister Saud in Riyadh on February 20. Vance transmitted a report on all of his meetings in Saudi Arabia in Secto 2063, February 20. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840072–1300) For Vance’s and Saud’s remarks to the press on his departure, see the Department of State Bulletin, March 14, 1977, pp. 218-219
  15. See Document 12.