183. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President’s Meeting with King Khalid


  • Saudi Arabia
  • King Khalid
  • Crown Prince Fahd
  • Prince Abdullah
  • Prince Sultan
  • Foreign Minister Saud
  • Dr. Rashad Pharaon
  • Ambassador Alireza
  • United States
  • The President
  • Secretary of State Vance
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Ambassador John West
  • Assistant Secretary of State Atherton
  • Anthony Lake, Department of State
  • Hamilton Jordan, White House
  • Gary Sick, NSC Staff (notetaker)
  • Isa Sabbagh (interpreter)

(The first few minutes of the meeting were devoted to a series of photo opportunities lasting until 5:43 p.m.)

The King began the discussions saying that he would have liked the opportunity to show the President the land of Saudi Arabia, its farming and its people. It was a great pleasure for him to say that the President is welcome in Saudi Arabia and his visit here is certainly no chore. It is a great pleasure. The Middle East problems are so complicated and the Communist threat is so great that talks are essential. Solutions of the Middle East problem will not come from relying solely on Egypt or solely on Israel. Neither of these countries can create a solution by themselves. The King sincerely hoped that a solution could come about by U.S. hand and that the Communists not have a hand in it. As the President knows, if the United States would not lend its support to Sadat’s serious efforts or if the United States should leave him in the lurch, then the Communist danger would be increased so much [Page 909] more. The reputation and the prestige of the United States are extremely important and the King would not want to have the prestige of the United States lowered, or God forbid, eliminated.

Referring to the Horn of Africa, the King stated that he did not want to see the situation go to the point of no return and leave the area open to increased Communist infiltration. With regard to Syria, it had been moving along well, but in view of what has happened, it is no longer moving along. The King was aware of the enticements which wealthy nations such as Libya could offer to Syria, which might in fact draw Syria in that direction.

The President responded that he was happy to have friends such as Saudi Arabia, and he hoped that our efforts might move along the same path. The differences in the Middle East have been long-standing, and during his first year in office he had devoted a maximum effort to bringing peace. There was a tendency to overestimate U.S. influence. It exists only so long as the parties have confidence in us.

The President felt that proposals we had made to Crown Prince Fahd and Foreign Minister Saud some months ago still offer a good basis for a solution to the Middle East problem.2 The U.S. realizes that it is not appropriate for us to impose solutions on others. The parties must accept the solution of their own free will.

There are several basic principles which should govern the Middle East negotiations. First, the UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 must prevail. Secondly, the Israelis should withdraw from occupied territories. And third, the peoples of the West Bank and Gaza should have a voice in their own self-determination. We feel that President Sadat and his initiatives have shown great courage, and we want the world to know that he has our complete backing.

The President thanked King Khalid for his graciousness in agreeing to let him leave early enough the following morning to permit him to meet with Sadat and demonstrate the strength of our support. The President felt that it would have been better if President Sadat had notified Saudi Arabia, King Hussein and others before his visit to Jerusalem. (King Khalid interjected at that point “That’s it.”) If he had notified in advance, the various parties could have coordinated with him. (At that point King Khalid interrupted to say that he was interested to hear the President make that statement since everyone was accusing the United States of having engineered the entire thing.) The President continued that now that President Sadat has taken this momentous step, it is necessary to give him support.

[Page 910]

The President noted that he had met with the Shah of Iran and King Hussein in Tehran.3 And the further talks today would give him an opportunity to propose a unified proposal with regard to the future. He noted that in 12 days Secretary Vance would be with the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Israel in Jerusalem. The President hoped that the Secretary’s voice will represent what Saudi Arabia wants to say as well as ourselves.

The President noted that there are minor differences which he detected between the Saudi position and that of the United States. First of all, the President felt that it may be advisable, if the discussions are to make good progress, to have some minor changes in the 1967 borders. Those borders would be mutually negotiated and mutually acceptable. Primarily, the modifications would relate to borders closest to the Mediterranean Sea. This was also the position accepted by King Hussein when he spoke privately with the President, and he authorized the President to relate this to Saudi Arabia. The President indicated that he felt it would be a mistake to have an independent nation established between Israel and Jordan. (At this point the conversation was interrupted while the King conferred privately with Crown Prince Fahd.)

The President then concluded that we are afraid that an independent Palestinian state would be a concentrated target for influence by Libya, Iraq, and others. King Khalid responded that if it were established as an independent state with international guarantees, like Cyprus, there would be no room for that much agitation.

The President replied that the points that he outlined were simply opinions of ours that a new Palestinian homeland should be related to Jordan, that Israel should withdraw from occupied territory, and the people there should have a voice in their own affairs. The President noted that if the nations involved can negotiate a solution which is nearer to the Saudi views, the United States would certainly have no objections. The King asked if Jordan would accept. The President said he believed so.

Crown Prince Fahd noted that King Hussein was tied down by the decisions of the Rabat summit.4 The President said he could not speak for Hussein, but if that was in fact the path for permanent peace, the President believed he would accept. That was something the King must [Page 911] say for himself. The President believed that King Hussein wanted to come and talk to the Saudis directly. King Khalid noted that would be fine. He then asked if the Palestinians would accept this idea.

The President said that he could not speak for the Palestinians. Very possibly those living on the West Bank and Gaza would accept it, but that is a question that he could not answer.

The President then stated that the last difference between the U.S. and Saudi position that he wished to raise was that of a transition period, to be determined, wherein it might be useful to have joint supervision by Jordan, the Palestinians, and Israel during the transition period. The U.S. prefers that the transition period be as brief as possible and include U.N. troops or others to give confidence to the people as it occurs.

So far, in every other respect the U.S. and Saudi opinions have been the same. They (the Saudis) are using a maximum effort to get peace. Historical hostility is difficult to remove. The President believed that Egypt, Jordan, and even the Syrians have enough confidence in us now to permit us to work toward peace. He would like to make one other statement: Any settlement must be multinational, even though Egypt and Israel can do the initial work. (During this last statement, King Khalid interrupted at one point to comment that the relations between the Palestinians and Jordan were almost as bad as the relations between the Palestinians and Israel.)

King Khalid replied that the President had “mentioned a sidestream pouring into a muddy pool,” referring to the relations between the Palestinians and Jordan after 1970 and with Lebanon after the civil war and other events. The King felt that it was very important that Sadat not fail in his initiatives. If he did it would be considered a U.S. failure and would harm U.S. prestige and that would be disastrous.

The President stated that he was close to Sadat both before and after his visit. He knew that President Sadat could have had a quick agreement on the Sinai but rejected that in favor of the Arab nation’s interest. “President Sadat needs your support as much as he needs ours.” “It is my hope and belief that you and I and Hussein and Sadat can present a common proposal.”

King Khalid stated that there is “no difference whatsoever between us and Sadat.” On the contrary, Saudi Arabia was doing its best to remain in support of Sadat. That was one category. Another category is what the United States does for Sadat. And a third category is what the United States does for Israel to bring about peace. Of course King Khalid had no prior knowledge of Sadat’s visit. A message arrived from Assad to intervene with Sadat and stop him. The King was away, and before he heard about it Sadat had jumped the gun. The statement [Page 912] that Saudi Arabia issued after the incident irked Sadat,5 but there is no question of Saudi support for President Sadat’s initiative.

The President responded that this is very good news. Before the night was over he hoped to draw up the key positions of Saudi Arabia, the Shah, and King Hussein so that he could provide these to Sadat at his meeting the next day. If there are differences these should be identified so Sadat would know where everyone stands. King Hussein said he was willing to participate in the negotiations if two principles were stated: (1) the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank; and (2) self-determination of the Palestinian people. The President hoped that Israel can accept this. The King interjected to note that “This is our stand, too.”

The President continued, that if minor adjustments were made on the western border and a permanent tie was established between the West Bank and Jordan, that is what the United States sees as a solution. The obstacle is that King Hussein, President Sadat, and perhaps President Assad feel bound, along with Saudi Arabia, not to be flexible on these two points at all. Privately, there is a feeling that this part of the Rabat agreements could be revised. The President believed that the Israelis will recognize the international borders between Syria, Egypt and Israel. With a smile, the President added that if the Arabs were reluctant to be flexible on some of these issues, then the United States is willing to accept the responsibility for changes if those will lead to peace. (The Saudis chuckled at this.)

Crown Prince Fahd stated that he understood King Hussein’s position. Israeli withdrawal and the right of the Palestinians to self-determination are principles where there is no difference in their two points of view.

King Khalid wondered if King Hussein had told his position to President Assad. The President said that he did not know. He thought that King Hussein would like to come and talk to King Khalid.

Crown Prince Fahd wondered whether Israel would be agreeable to these two principles. The President said that he hoped that, with the minor modifications he expressed, they might be amenable. The United States will use its maximum influence. There must be a transition phase and the establishment of the Palestinian homeland between Israel and Jordan. King Khalid urged that the transition period not be too long, and the President agreed. The King said otherwise many would be willing to fish in troubled waters.

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The President said that he believed that King Hussein intends to consult with President Sadat before the Jerusalem talks in mid-January. The United States will stay informed and be prepared to speak accordingly when we go to Jerusalem. Perhaps Prince Saud and Secretary Vance could put in writing what we have discussed so that when we get to Aswan there would be no misunderstanding. We would be glad to put this forward as a U.S. proposal, but we want to know what Saudi Arabia believes.

King Khalid noted that he really felt that we are in a common effort. “We see your success as ours, and that’s why we must go on shoulder-to-shoulder.” The King noted that Saudi Arabia had always wished the U.S. success, but that now that the U.S. was “up to its earlobes in the problem,” he wished us even more success.

The President noted that many are involved in this problem. He believed that the Common Market nations will help. He knew that Prime Minster Desai would support something like what we have discussed. And of course the Shah of Iran will help, particularly if he got a request from Saudi Arabia. He then asked Secretary Vance to get together with Prince Saud and put some proposals on paper.

The President stated that when Congress comes back into session he will propose the sale of F–15 fighters. Secretary Vance had done a great deal of work with Members of Congress preparing them for rapid approval. The people of the United States are more and more aware of the importance of relations between us and the need to support our efforts to work closely with Saudi Arabia on security issues. The King remarked that that was simply a patriotic duty.

The President stated that he could not guarantee how long it will take to gain approval, but the prospects looked good. He noted that when Members of Congress come to Saudi Arabia they (the Saudis) should try to persuade them. The President said that he would use his full influence.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Subject File, Box 1, Arab-Israeli Peace Negotiations 1978: Volume I [I]. Top Secret. The meeting took place in the Royal Guest Palace. Carter visited Riyadh from January 3 to January 4.
  2. See Documents 75 and 77.
  3. For the meeting between Carter and Hussein, see Document 182. No memorandum of conversation of Carter’s meeting with the Shah has been found, but according to the President’s Daily Diary, he met with the Shah and Iranian officials from 6:19 to 7:15 p.m. He also met with the Shah and King Hussein from 11:43 to 11:50 p.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary)
  4. See footnote 8, Document 6.
  5. The Saudi statement broadcast on Riyadh radio charged that Sadat’s visit “placed the Arab world in a precarious position.” (Marvine Howe, “Cairo Faces a Crisis,” New York Times, November 19, 1977, p. 1)