187. Telegram From the Embassy in Syria to the Embassy in Belgium1

94. For the Secretary’s attention. Subject: Congressmen Meet Arafat and Receive Message for Carter.

Summary: Four members of HIRC met Arafat and PLO aides in Damascus January 5. Arafat has furnished Congressman Findley message for President Carter 2 which Findley tentatively plans to deliver Embassy Cairo for onward transmission. We strongly discouraged any [Page 920]publicity about message and requesting any Embassy involvement in transmitting text. End summary.

1. Congressman Findley (R–Ill), along with three HIRC colleagues from Codel Zablocki, met with PLO leaders Yassir Arafat, Faruk Kadumi, Basil Aql and Abu Mahir in Damascus for three hours afternoon Jan 5.3 Near end of meeting, Arafat dictated a statement which Findley undertook to relay to President Carter. I attended briefing which Findley gave subsequently for Codel colleagues and understand that message is along predictable lines that Arafat wants to maintain a moderate line and his emphasis that he had been a defender of President Carter’s policies within PLO councils against hardliners. Arafat said he felt there had been a deterioration of US policy towards the Palestinian state since the US-Soviet communique.4 He hoped President Carter would not push him further into a corner. Arafat professed to see glimmer of hope in the President’s Aswan statement5 even though President did not mention PLO.

2. Arafat referred bitterly to Dr. Brzezinski’s “bye bye PLO” statement.6 He and his companions ridiculed this statement saying the Palestinians are here, will be around for a long time, and anything the US may say will not affect this.

3. Regarding Palestinian state, Arafat told Findley he would be satisfied with independent state on West Bank and Gaza Strip but it must be fully independent. PLO was ready to establish such an independent state on any part of liberated Palestine. He said he would also be ready to accept an international peacekeeping force in the new state of Palestine consisting of forces of the five veto power nations in the UN “since these forces would be subject to the command of the Secretary General” (sic). He did not specify how long these forces should stay but said this [Page 921]was a detail which could be worked out. (Findley wondered whether this was not a new element of moderation in Arafat’s position. He and other attendees could not recall Arafat having said it before.) Questioned about desirability of introducing Soviet forces into area, Arafat said the peacekeeping force might not require services of great powers, i.e. US or Soviet forces.

4. Arafat claimed that Israel need not fear Palestinian expansionism since mini-state would be surrounded by overwhelmingly superior military forces. In addition, state would take fifteen years to set up basic infrastructure of hospitals and schools and Palestinians did not intend to waste their resources on arms.

5. Asked if PLO state would have normal relations with Israel, Arafat replied “not immediately” since PLO has only one card to play and this must be used at proper time. He said diplomatic recognition would depend on Israel’s behavior after establishment of new state.

6. Arafat said that President Sadat had told him the trip to Jerusalem was made at US request and under US pressure. According to Arafat, Sadat claimed he has a personal letter from Carter to this effect. Arafat disapproved of the Jerusalem visit. Nevertheless, Arafat asserted he continued relationship with Egyptian President through presence of two chief lieutenants in Cairo.

7. Arafat stressed at several points that he could act as a bridge between Israel and Arabs. The Palestinians understand the Jews from their prior life in Palestine and because “we are cousins.”

8. In response Codel questioning, Arafat denied categorically that he or PLO leadership had ever ordered any terrorist incident. (sic) He said he had nothing to do with Munich7 but admitted he could not control all his people. Congressmen said that Arafat had been shaken by the assassination this week of PLO rep in London8 whom he described as his close friend. Arafat claimed that Iraq was responsible.

9. The conversation was held in English and was tape recorded. Arafat impressed Congressmen as “candid, gentle mannered and very intelligent.” Arafat said he would have tape transcribed and sent to Cairo for Codel use.

10. Findley said he would like to make a public statement about his talk with Arafat, perhaps on arrival in Cairo, and would deliver Arafat message to Ambassador Eilts at Cairo. After the briefing, I talked privately to Findley. Noted that this is particularly sensitive moment for [Page 922] ME negotiations. I urged he not publicize news that he had an Arafat/Carter message since this could only stimulate misunderstanding and embarrassment which would be counterproductive to present peace efforts (PLO Beirut has already publicized fact of Congressional meeting with Arafat, as far as we know without mentioning Arafat/Carter message). Said I doubted in any event White House would want Embassy Cairo or any other US mission used as vehicle for delivery of such message. Findley professed understanding but feels he has obligation to deliver message. He acknowledged he could arrange delivery on his own after return to Washington o/a January 20. He would appreciate further guidance when he reaches Cairo today where delegation will stay until proceeding to Amman January 9.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850083–2358. Confidential; Niact Immediate; Exdis—Treat as Nodis. Sent immediatefor information to Cairo and the Department of State. Sent for information to Amman, Tel Aviv, and Jidda.
  2. See Document 202.
  3. A 15-member Congressional delegation led by Representative Clement Zablocki of Wisconsin, Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, traveled to Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran on an information gathering tour. (Executive Intelligence Review, Volume 5, Number 3, January 24, 1978)
  4. See Document 120.
  5. In Carter’s remarks to the press after meeting with Sadat in Aswan on January 3 he said, “We believe that there are certain principles, fundamentally, which must be observed before a just and a comprehensive peace can be achieved. First, true peace must be based on normal relations among the parties to the peace. Peace means more than just an end to belligerency. Secondly, there must be withdrawal by Israel from territories occupied in 1967 and agreement on secure and recognized borders for all parties in the context of normal and peaceful relations in accordance with United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. And third, there must be a resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects. The problem must recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and enable the Palestinians to participate in the determination of their own future.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book I, pp. 19–20)
  6. In an interview with Paris Match, Brzezinski described U.S. policy toward the PLO after Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in November as “bye bye PLO.”
  7. A reference to the 1972 Munich Olympics where 12 Israeli athletes were taken hostage by armed Palestinians. When the West German police attempted a rescue of the Israeli hostages, the Palestinians killed the Israelis.
  8. Said Hammami, the PLO representative to the United Kingdom since 1973, was assassinated in his London office on January 4.