167. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Secretary’s Meeting with President Sadat

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Sadat
  • Vice President Husni Mubarak
  • Prime Minister Mamduh Salim
  • General Abd al-Ghani Gamasy
  • Foreign Minister Butros Ghali
  • Hassan Kamal
  • Secretary Vance
  • Ambassador Hermann Eilts
  • Under Secretary Philip Habib
  • Assistant Secretary Alfred L. Atherton, Jr.
  • Harold Saunders, Director, INR
  • William Quandt, NSC Staff

(The Secretary had previously met privately with President Sadat for over one hour.)2

The Secretary began by expressing his admiration for the bold and historic initiative taken by President Sadat. His trip to Jerusalem helped to break down barriers and to establish the basis for a just and lasting peace. He has the thanks and respect of the people of the United States and of President Carter. The Secretary expressed our hope to build on the momentum created by President Sadat’s visit, and that the Cairo [Page 808]meeting would be part of this process. The United States will do what it can to support these initiatives. Summarizing his private talk with President Sadat, the Secretary said that they had discussed the Cairo Conference and its purposes in removing procedural obstacles and paving the way for a comprehensive settlement. In his visits to other countries in the area, the Secretary will urge the Syrians, the Jordanians and the Saudis to continue to support the peace process that is under way. The Syrians should not exclude themselves. The United States will urge them to play a constructive role. Referring to Mr. Habib’s trip to the Soviet Union,3 the Secretary said that the Soviets had been unhelpful and we had told them this.

Mr. Habib elaborated upon his conversations in the Soviet Union, noting that he had charged the Soviets with negativism. The United States viewed President Sadat’s initiatives as bold, and as part of the peace process. If the Soviets were really interested in peace, they should not object to these moves. In no way was the Sadat initiative contrary to the US-Soviet statement of October 1. The Soviets accused the United States of collusion with Egypt and of having deliberately undermined the Geneva Conference. The United States pointed out that the Cairo Conference and Geneva are not incompatible. Egypt and Israel are still talking about a comprehensive settlement. Mr. Habib had emphasized the irrationality of the rejectionists’ viewpoint and urged the Soviets not to support the rejectionists.4 There has been some moderation of the Soviet propaganda since then. Mr. Habib was received courteously by the Soviets but the difference of opinion was clear.

The Secretary reverted to discussion of the Cairo Conference, and said it would presumably begin with speeches about the importance of peace based on Resolution 242 and the need to carefully prepare before going to Geneva, and resolving procedural problems and preparing steps for an ultimate comprehensive settlement. The Cairo Conference will be part of an open process and no time limit will be set. The Secretary reminded President Sadat that Assistant Secretary Atherton would head the American delegation.

President Sadat said that he was glad to hear from Mr. Habib about his talks in the Soviet Union. He said that he was not worried about the rejectionists. After the Sinai II agreement, they had been much more vehement. The rejectionists are little more than the Soviets’ agents in the Arab world. South Yemen has given them a base. We all know Qadhafi.

[Page 809]

Yesterday President Sadat had seen King Hussein who had been in Damascus. The King reported that President Assad is raving, that he has lost his mind, and that he has threatened to give nuclear bases to the Soviet Union. He said he would never agree to what comes out of my initiative. The President also stated that he had heard from Crown Prince Fahd after Assad’s visit in Saudi Arabia. King Khalid seemed susceptible to Assad’s arguments, but the real discussions were left for Fahd, Sultan, and Abdullah. The King had been influenced to some degree by Assad’s argument that the visit to Jerusalem constituted de facto recognition both of Israel and of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. King Khalid has nothing to do with politics. The others were more understanding. Assad has also gone to Kuwait. When the rejectionists wanted to freeze relations with Egypt, Egypt responded by breaking relations. They had not anticipated this.

President Sadat said that Assad was the only loser in the Tripoli Conference.5 Iraq had lost nothing. It was far from Israel and would not fight. It faced no threat. It can afford political slogans. Qadhafi did nothing new. Boumediene is also far away and he can say what he wants. Assad was the main loser. He wants to join the peace process, but the Baath party causes him problems. He will always reject what comes from Egypt. The US-Israeli working paper had caused a quarrel with Syria. This became the main motive for President Sadat’s visit. Egypt had agreed, and the Syrian Baathists had opposed. Now Assad has lost everything. He has gone to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait because he did not expect Sadat’s drastic response. The President referred to his moves as showing the Syrians and the Soviets that the problem is in Egypt’s hands and that he will proceed to the end.

President Sadat expressed his gratitude to President Carter and to Secretary Vance for their understanding and help. He said that he would always continue, as he had told President Carter and Secretary Vance, to proceed forward in the peace process. Some had said that the American role was now less important. But they are wrong. The United States’ role has been emphasized by Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and President Sadat stated that he depended on President Carter and on Secretary Vance to understand his initiative. The main influence on what he started has been President Carter. The President had not told him to do it. No one had thought he could do it. But through his correspondence and his exchange of views, he had drawn the conclusion that such a step was necessary, but found that he would be in dispute with Syria for years over the US-Israel paper. He said “to hell with the paper.” He, President Sadat, was ready to go to Geneva.

[Page 810]

The Soviets were engaging in a hypocritical action. Five years earlier, when Sadat was in Moscow, the Soviets had proposed to his Ambassador, Murad Ghali, that President Sadat meet with Mrs. Meir in Tashkent. They had just arranged a reconciliation meeting between the Indian Prime Minister Shastri and Pakistani President Ayub Khan. But now they attack Sadat for having met with the Israelis.

President Sadat emphasized again that the rejectionists’ bloc consists of the Soviets’ allies in the Middle East. The United States should not ignore this point. They will continue in the Arab world and in Africa to create difficulties. The Soviets cannot be convinced that the United States and Egypt are not plotting against them.

Turning to the Cairo meeting, President Sadat said he had proposed a meeting according to his theory that he had discussed last April.6 He felt then that there should have been a working group to prepare for Geneva. But when he had proposed this idea, the Syrians had rejected it. He was worried about going to Geneva and discussing procedures for one or two years. Therefore, he proposed the Cairo meeting after his visit to Jerusalem. He thought that he had made an impact on Israeli and American public opinion. Whenever Egypt pushes forward for peace, Syria will reject such a move. But in the end, they will come along. There was an angry reaction after Sinai II, but Assad eventually made up with Sadat. This is the Syrian way. Assad’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait shows that he is scared after the break in relations. Relations have been broken for two reasons: First, Sadat was telling the others that they should be polite. They have become impertinent in their accusations. Second, Sadat wanted to show the Arabs and others what the real size of the rejectionists was. Cairo will be open to any delegation—the Palestinians, the Syrians, and King Hussein—to join the preparations for Geneva. He told King Hussein this yesterday. He also told him to take his time and the King was very understanding. The King could not understand the rejectionist position. It was as if they had not read Sadat’s speech before the Knesset, or listened to his statements. What was it that they were rejecting? Did they object to his position on Arab Jerusalem? On withdrawal? Or on a comprehensive settlement? It has been a childish argument.

Secretary Vance asked whether the Tripoli group would fade away or whether it would do something else. Sadat replied that it would talk and would hurl abuse at him. It would use Carlos7 and the Palestinians for hijackings and for attacks on Embassies. This is the only thing that [Page 811]they can do. Sadat had intended to break relations to show the world the way to deal with the group at Tripoli. They count for nothing! Nothing! Even Assad, after the October war, thought that he had a big role to play. After Tripoli, he is the only loser. He has lost everything.

Mr. Habib emphasized two additional points from his talks in Moscow. The Soviets feel left out. They know of Sadat’s initiative and of American support and they know that they cannot do anything about this. They understand that the rejectionists offer them very little. They are confused about the present situation. For the Soviets to have a role, they need a comprehensive settlement in Geneva. Some of what they proposed is unacceptable. They said that everyone at Geneva should participate in all discussions. Habib said this was not possible. Sadat said this was the Syrian position. Habib went on to note that the Soviets believed that the co-chairmen should have a role of concurrence, but Mr. Habib replied that if the parties themselves agree, there is no need for such a role. And, if they disagree, there is no point in it. The Soviets also say that they support the PLO and want the PLO to be represented. They also want a prior commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state. Habib pointed out that if the PLO were brought in on those terms, there would be no conference. He spelled out a formula that would help to resolve the Palestinian representation. This had been settled prior to President Sadat’s trip but the Soviets had not been helpful in building momentum for Geneva.

President Sadat noted that he had heard from the Saudis that they had told President Assad that the Tripoli decisions had cancelled the Rabat decisions. One could no longer say that the PLO is the only representative of the Palestinians, etc. (Subsequently, at his press conference after the meeting, President Sadat emphasized that the Tripoli group had rejected the Rabat Conference’s commitment to a peaceful settlement based on full withdrawal and on the solution of the Palestinian problem. He emphasized, however, that he stood by the position that the PLO represents the Palestinians.)8

Returning to the question of the Soviets, President Sadat said that they are a hopeless case. Mr. Habib said that he had urged them to play a constructive role as co-chairman. President Sadat then spoke of UN Secretary General Waldheim’s initiative in calling for a conference in New York.9 He said he agreed to such an idea after the Cairo meeting. He would be prepared after Cairo to go to New York, to Washington, [Page 812]or to Geneva, but the Soviets feel that they are rapidly losing ground in the area.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Trips/Visits File, Box 108, 12/7–17/77 Vance Trip to the Middle East: Meeting Minutes, 12/77. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place at the Barrages Rest House.
  2. No memorandum of conversation has been found, but for a report on this meeting, see Document 170.
  3. Under Secretary Habib met with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and other Soviet officials from December 5 to December 6 in Moscow.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 78.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 163.
  6. See Documents 2527.
  7. A reference to Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, who adopted the nom de guerre “Carlos” when he joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) during the early 1970s and engaged in several terrorist acts during the 1970s and 1980s.
  8. For the transcript of Vance and Sadat’s December 10 news conference in Cairo, see the Department of State Bulletin, January 1978, pp. 40–41.
  9. On November 29, Waldheim proposed talks in New York after the conference in Cairo to prepare for a reconvened Geneva Conference. (Kathleen Teltsch, “Waldheim Accepts Sadat Invitation, Urges U.N. Talks,” New York Times, November 30, 1977, p. 3)