175. Telegram From Secretary of State Vance to the Embassy in Israel and the Department of State1

Secto 12126. State Please Pass White House for Brzezinski. Cairo for Atherton. For Charge From Secretary. Subj: Report on Secretary’s Meeting With President Assad, December 13, 1977.

1. I met later Tuesday afternoon for two hours with Foreign Minister Khaddam,2 followed by another two hours with President Assad.3 Although the Syrians disagree profoundly with Sadat’s policy and our support of it, the tone of the meetings, especially that with Assad, was quite positive.

2. I began by restating our commitment to a comprehensive peace and the reconvening of the Geneva Conference. I explained that we support the Cairo meeting as part of a process that we hoped would advance the cause of peace.4 I then reviewed the results of my trip to date. Assad showed considerable interest in the atmosphere in Israel, asking many questions about indications of changes in thinking. I told him that there has been a fundamental change in Israeli attitudes and that the Israeli leadership and public seemed to be aware of the need to come to grips with the key issues and to take a step which would be a serious response to Sadat’s decision.

3. In the course of lengthy discussion of their own views, Assad and Khaddam were both critical of the Sadat trip to Israel because in their opinion, it had disrupted the “equilibrium of forces” in the area, had weakened the Arab position, and had thus made Geneva impossible until a “new equilibrium” was found. As Assad described the situation, in the past the Arabs had been united against Israel. Now one of the key Arab countries has “joined the other side.”

4. Assad was careful not to attack Sadat personally, although he was highly critical of his actions. Both he and Khaddam stressed that Syria is still committed to the goal of peace, but the situation had changed and the Cairo meeting will serve no purpose. Assad is worried by the prospect of a bilateral Egyptian-Israeli agreement. He doubts [Page 857] that Begin will really take the hard decisions that Sadat is demanding of him. The skepticism goes far to explain his distress over Sadat’s initiative. He believes Sadat has given a great deal with little likelihood of getting much in return. He seems to imply that if the Israelis were to change their positions on territory, the Palestinians, and Jerusalem, then the peace process might open up again. But he is skeptical that this will happen, and thus prefers to sit on the sidelines until the picture clears.

5. Assad was anxious to convey the point that our bilateral relations remain strong and that we should remain in touch. I told him in private of the upcoming Begin trip.

6. You should draw on the above as you think appropriate to brief Dayan on my discussions in Damascus.

7. In addition you should make the following points about my stops in Amman and Beirut:

A. In Amman,5 I found Hussein supportive of Sadat’s initiatives, convinced that his views and Sadat’s are close, particularly on the West Bank and Gaza. He repeated his conviction that there would be no real peace unless the Palestinian question is solved. Hussein says he will continue his efforts to keep Assad from joining the rejectionists.

B. In Beirut,6 I conveyed Israel’s concern for moving the Palestinians out of rocket range of the border. Sarkis emphasized his strong interest in getting the Palestinians out of South Lebanon so that progress can be made in rebuilding a national consensus. However, they still do not feel they have the capability to enforce a full pullback. I conveyed Israeli statements that they would need to take action if there were serious attacks on Israel from South Lebanon. On the question of reinforcement of Palestinians in the south, they thought the likelihood small that reinforcements are coming from inside Lebanon.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840072–1395. Secret; Immediate; Exdis Handle as Nodis; Cherokee. Sent immediate for information to Cairo.
  2. See Document 174.
  3. No other record of the meeting has been found.
  4. Atherton attended the first session of the Cairo Conference, which opened on December 14. His remarks at the opening session are printed in the Department of State Bulletin, January 1978, pp. 47–48.
  5. See Document 172.
  6. See Document 173.