17. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Follow-up on NSC Meeting on the Middle East

I enclose the minutes of the NSC for your approval.2

I believe this was a very useful meeting. We are all on the same wave-length in terms of our approach—head toward Geneva and use the interim period to develop the substantive framework for what will happen there.

There are some additional points that came out of the meeting which you may wish to keep in mind:

1. Going to Geneva is a concession to the USSR. The Soviets, in return, should make the concession of being constructive. Until now, they have always adopted the position of the most radical Arabs. They have not used their influence for peace. Until we have an understanding with the Soviets that they will, in fact, play a constructive role, we should avoid getting publicly committed to holding the Geneva conference. In other words, we should hold out the promise of a Geneva conference this fall and work towards it but stop short of being committed to holding it.3

2. Permitting the PLO to come to the United States will be a major concession to them. Again, we should get some concession from the PLO. Equally important, we must be careful that this step which will add to the PLO’s prestige is carefully timed to support our other efforts in the Middle East. The moderate Arabs are making an effort to get the PLO under control and, in effect, to diminish their stature somewhat. This is in our interest, and we should not undercut them by suddenly giving the PLO a big public shot in the arm. Above all, we should not simply agree to let them in merely because it is a good idea.4

If you agree, I will discuss this with Cy Vance with a view to insuring that any flexibility we demonstrate on the PLO is matched by some concession on their part and is carefully coordinated with the other moderate Arabs.

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3. We should not take a hands-off attitude toward the role of the PLO in Middle East negotiations and in the ultimate settlement. If the Arabs are left to themselves to settle their differences over the role of the PLO, we will get the lowest common denominator and the most radical solution. It is only the prospect that we are going to use our influence for peace in the Middle East which has enabled Asad and Sadat to make the efforts they have already made to get the PLO under control. We will need to continue to play a discreet role in encouraging the moderate Arabs along the path they are now pursuing.

4. The Israelis must be made to understand that Geneva is not a substitute for a stalemate. They might well prefer to go to Geneva without too much substantive prior agreement—and then have the conference stumble. That is why your talks with Rabin should be used to get them to move forward on the key substantive issues—with us not shy in encouraging this movement with substantive thought of our own.5

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Subject File, Box 66, Middle East: Peace Negotiations 1977 Vol. I [IV]. Secret.
  2. The minutes are not attached; printed as Document 16.
  3. A handwritten note in the margin by Carter reads, “ok—put in next Brezhnev letter.”
  4. A handwritten note in the margin by Carter reads, “I agree.”
  5. Carter underlined the phrase “not shy” and wrote in the margin, “We should play a strong & discreet role, but first we must decide what we want—ultimately & step-by-step.”