145. Telegram From the Embassy in Egypt to the Department of State1

18742. Subj: Sadat’s Nov 9 speech: Geneva or Bust. Ref (A) Cairo 18646, (B) FBIS JN091832Y, (C) Cairo 18743 (Notal).2

Summary: Although only one third of Sadat speech devoted to foreign affairs, it was forceful reiteration of his commitment to peace settlement, reliance on US, Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian rights. Sadat has, at considerable risk, put Israel and other Arabs on notice that Egypt will not be deterred by procedural issues from going to Geneva. Move is consistent with Sadat strategy since 1973 and forced upon him by what he perceives as Israeli intransigence, Arab wrangling and necessity to give greater support to US peace efforts. If Geneva does not take place soon Sadat may find himself uncomfortably far out in front of his Arab brothers. End summary.

1. Foreign policy portion of Sadat’s Nov 9 speech to PA devoted to peace process. Said Egypt’s goal establishment of peace, which will enable everyone to live in his homeland and within secure borders. He reviewed recent efforts to reconvene early Geneva, noting Egypt wants serious conference to reach just and comprehensive settlement within set time table. Conf must not become platform for propaganda.

2. US. Sadat praised Pres Carter for giving ME problem top priority over domestic and international issues. Egypt “very appreciative”. However, Sadat noted US bears special responsibility in view of political, diplomatic and military support it has extended Israel. Despite this, within a few months of assuming office, Pres Carter forced American people for first time to address Palestinian question in its political and humanitarian aspects. Said this first serious attempt to “correct US policy” and “establish it on sound principles.”

3. Working papers. Sadat reviewed history of “working papers” to facilitate resumption of Geneva. Said second version drafted under “influence of furious Israeli campaign” aimed at compelling US resume stand of absolute support for Israel. Under these circumstances it “nat[Page 751]ural for Egypt to have reservations” about paper, which it had not hesitated to express frankly.

4. US/USSR statement. Sadat noted joint Soviet/American statement positive despite fact that, during last quarter-century, superpowers cannot impose their will on anyone. Nevertheless, because of statement road to Geneva now open on new basis which “differs from Israel’s views”.

5. Two points. Sadat stressed Egyptian position based on two points: representation of Palestinian people must be “free and true”, and one “in which Israel has no connection or say”; and discussion of Palestinian issue, including political and humanitarian aspects, must be within atmosphere “free of ambiguity and falsehoods”.

6. Opportunity. Sadat maintained current period offers historical opportunity force Israel abandon occupied territories and expansionist dreams. At same time, Israel must cease opposing “Palestinian peoples rights for dignified and honorable life in their homeland . . .” Otherwise, it will be forced to “unmask its true face to the world.” Said Egypt does not fear confrontation with Israel—Arab strength surpasses anything Israel can mobilize. Following Oct War, Israel shrunk to normal size: it is state which can be stopped; whose aggression can be repulsed.

7. Coordination. Sadat maintained progress possible because of Arab solidarity. Noted his coordination efforts in Saudi Arabia, with Arafat, King Hussein and Asad. (Description of Arafat, who was present, as “leader of PLO, sole legitimate rep of Palestinian people” was sole such reference in course of speech). Said he had talked with Asad on phone before addressing meeting and would visit Damascus after completing some “pressing tasks”. On Arab summit, said Egypt does not object but feels meeting at this time “premature”. Rabat strategy still applicable; nothing has changed. If, however, other Arabs want conf, Egypt will not object.

8. Procedures and Geneva. Sadat disclaimed interest in procedural aspects of getting to Geneva. Said “We are prepared to go to Geneva and sit there for the sake of peace, irrespective of all the procedural claims Israel is making . . .” Egypt will agree to any procedural process. Quibbles over procedure are Israel trick to get Arabs reject conf. Israeli procedural objections one result of fact that after Oct war Arabs “transferred to Israel all factors of division . . .” Israel nervous and hysterical. At Geneva, Egypt will demand return of Arab territories occupied in 1967 and Palestinian rights, including right establish own state. “Neither Israel nor any power will be able to prevent Egypt from demanding these legitimate rights” whatever procedures are agreed upon. Point is to get to Geneva.

9. Knesset. In most emotional passage, Sadat said “I am ready to go to Geneva . . . I am ready to go to the ends of the earth . . . I am ready to go to their house, to the Knesset itself, to debate them”.

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10. Comment: Sadat’s offer to go to Knesset is a first for an Arab leader and should be seen as his way of dramatizing lengths to which he prepared to go to achieve peace, not as serious possibility. Principal aims of Sadat’s obviously carefully thought out, although seemingly extemporaneous and emotional remarks on peace process were, in our view (A) to demonstrate Egypt’s commitment to Pres Carter’s peace efforts and to to give additional support to them in face of mounting Israel Zionist pressure; (B) to remind Syrians and PLO that Egypt alone among Arab states has option of going it alone; (C) to stress that Sadat will not be diverted from substantive negotiations on core issues of withdrawal and rights of Palestinians by peripheral or procedural matters, either by Israelis or other Arabs. (This position is fully consistent with Sadat’s negotiating strategy during Sinai I and Sinai II and his refusal to treat such matters as Gulf of Suez conflict and anti-boycott legislation as other than peripheral matters.); and (D) to spell out more forcefully than heretofore that Arabs, at least Egypt, will not fall into Israeli “trap” as they have so many times in the past by overreacting to Israeli hard line positions or military action by saying no to negotiations. (As if to emphasize this point Sadat did not even mention Nov 9 Israeli strikes in Southern Lebanon.)3

10. Whether purposefully or not Sadat also seemingly undermined Fon-Ministers meeting in Tunis beginning Nov 12.4 He made clear that Arab coordination on peace process already taking place at chiefs-of-state level with Saudi Arabia, from which he had just returned; Jordan, whose King had just visited Cairo; and Syria, which he is to visit in the near future. Furthermore, Sadat considers Arab strategy decided upon at Rabat as still valid and sees no basis for summit meeting to amend it. Nevertheless, GOE officials will be watching closely Syrian actions at FonMin meeting to see if Syrians go beyond expected theatrics and seriously attempt to mobilize Arab world against Sadat.

11. With regard to Sadat’s visit to Damascus after settling “pressing business” we understand that wording designed to avoid setting date in order await outcome of FonMins meeting and Asad reaction to speech. Sadat has been irritated by Syrian concentration on procedural aspects of reconvened Geneva and last night was obvious effort to force Asad’s hand.

12. Arafat, too, must wonder whether Sadat prepared to go Geneva without PLO. Egyptian press did stress that Palestinians must be [Page 753] represented by freely Arab chosen del but did not specify that this be drawn from Arafat’s ranks. His assertion that Egypt agrees to “any procedual process” is apparent acceptance of Israel’s right to reject PLO negotiating role. Despite this, Sadat “is going to Geneva.”

13. Behind Sadat’s decision to publicly dispense with procedural issue in favor of concentration on substance is suspicion that Israel has no intention of concluding settlement at this time. Sadat may feel that only by demonstrating this to world in unequivocal manner will he be able to obtain degree of US pressure he feels necessary to force ME solution. He showed little give on crux of Arab position: Israel must withdraw and recognize Palestinian rights, including right to establish own state. Where he did give was on how to get Israel to confront these demands across bargaining table. Latter, to Sadat, is central issue.

14. In short, Sadat has at considerable risk demonstrated once again sincerity of his commitment to a peaceful settlement and determination to get to Geneva and negotiate the core issues. It is not, in our view, a move he has made out of desperation, but a move consistent with the strategy he has pursued since 1973 and one that he perceives is now forced upon him by Israeli “intransigence” and need of US administration for Arab support in face Zionist pressures.

15. His hand will be strengthened if gambit succeeds and cosponsors able to convene Geneva in relatively near future. If, however, conference is long delayed, Sadat may find that he has gotten out uncomfortably far beyond his Arab brothers.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770415–0983. Confidential; Immediate. Sent for information to Abu Dhabi, Algiers, Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem, Jidda, Khartoum, Kuwait, London, Moscow, Paris, Rabat, Tel Aviv, the U.S. Mission at Sinai, and Tunis.
  2. Telegram 18646 from Cairo is Document 144. In telegram 18743 from Cairo, November 10, Ambassador Eilts summarized the portion of Sadat’s November 9 speech to the Egyptian People’s Assembly that dealt with domestic affairs. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770417–0139) FBIS JN091832Y has not been found.
  3. On November 6, several Palestinian rockets struck the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, killing two Israelis. On November 8, the IDF retaliated with artillery attacks on Palestinian positions in Southern Lebanon. On November 9, the IDF launched airstrikes at Palestinian positions in Southern Lebanon. (“Israel Attacks Sites in Southern Lebanon With Jet and Artillery,” New York Times, November 9, 1977, p. 8)
  4. The Arab League Foreign Ministers met in Tunis November 12–14.