20. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting between President Carter and Prime Minister Rabin


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • The Secretary of State
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser
  • Mr. Alfred L. Atherton, Assistant Secretary of State
  • Dr. William Quandt, NSC Staff
  • Prime Minister Rabin
  • Ambassador Simcha Dinitz
  • Mr. Amos Eiran, Director General, Prime Minister’s Office
  • Mr. Chanan Bar-On, Minister, Embassy of Israel
  • Mr. Eliahu Mizrachi, Personal Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • Gen. Ephraim Poran, Military Secretary to the Prime Minister

President: I’d like to outline for you in frank terms our attitude toward Israel and toward the possibility of reconvening the Geneva peace conference this year. I’ve had a chance to talk to a number of Congressional leaders, including Senators Ribicoff and Stone, and I have been impressed with how much the essence of our relationship with your country is based on the admiration and support of our people for Israel since its creation. The courage that your country has shown is a source of admiration and a guarantee of our continuing support.

We have always assumed that if and when a chance for permanent peace arrived, you would be willing to move aggressively toward that goal. We have assumed that you would be ready to forget about the past and about history, and to adopt a fresh perspective. But these must be your decisions and we know, of course, that there are risks involved.

The American people and I will look closely at the attitude of Israel, and I will be prepared to put in a substantial amount of my personal time to work for a permanent solution to the Middle East problem, this year if possible. We will be investing lots of our own resources in this process, and I will soon be meeting with some of your adversaries.

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I want to discuss some crucial elements that will have to be addressed in those talks. I do not believe that the Arabs, as a precondition for peace, will be prepared to open their borders with you. I would be happy if they would, but it seems unlikely. With Jordan it may be easier, and Syria will be the hardest. Egypt may be in between. But we’ll pursue that topic.

On territory, we have felt that your settlements in the occupied territories are illegal. Ambassador Scranton has reaffirmed this publicly and we have often said it privately. I know that you have been concerned with that statement of our position, but it is nonetheless our position. I understand that you see the settlements as outposts for your security, not necessarily as permanent settlements. I can understand the strategic reasons; I have looked at the maps.

Your control over territory in the occupied regions will have to be modified substantially in my view. The amount of territory to be kept ultimately by you will only, in my judgment, involve minor modifications in the 1967 borders. I attach significance to a dual approach—agreeing on secure lines of defense in areas such as the West Bank and Gaza, including perhaps some international forces, while emphasizing that ultimately you will have to withdraw from substantial parts of the occupied territories as part of a settlement.

On the PLO issue, Congressman O’Neill last night reflected a deep concern of the American people. We, of course, deplore terrorism, but even we sometimes have had to swallow our pride. We talked to the North Koreans, and the French talked to the FLN. We see a possibility that Palestinian leaders can be absorbed in an Arab delegation. And we don’t know of any Palestinian leaders other than the PLO. We hope that you could accept this arrangement. It would be a blow to US support for Israel if you refused to participate in the Geneva talks over the technicality of the PLO being in the negotiations. I know this may not be a technicality for you. But I have to have some way to deal with the Arab leaders when they come here to see me.

Your position is now more inflexible than when Secretary Vance talked to you. I understand your political needs, especially in a democracy, but if you look at our people’s views, they expect that this year will be crucial for peace. In every possible way, I hope that you will be flexible, especially after your election. I need to have hope that we can get to Geneva. I won’t quote you to the Arabs, but I need to have a way to work with them for some common understanding.

Prime Minister Rabin: We are hopeful that peace will be achieved. If peace is possible, we will entertain it. But we want real peace, not a substitute. Also, we want the capability to defend ourselves. This in-volves our military strength, to which you contribute by selling us equipment and by helping us to finance it, and it includes defensible [Page 150] boundaries. I also believe that when the United States and Israel work together, we get results. If the United States takes a clear position on the details of negotiations, such as boundaries or the nature of peace or the Palestinian issue, then the United States will be in a situation like that of 1969 when you could not be a go-between. Later, in the disengagement negotiations, you were able to help narrow the gap between the sides. I hope that you, Mr. President, will not take clear substantive positions before negotiations.

President: You have noticed, and I will continue to adhere to this position, that I will not say different things in public than I say in private. In public I will not take such specific stands. But I will tell you in private what my concerns are, and those of the American people. I agree with your point about taking public stances before negotiations. We still need to develop the terms of the meeting itself, before any agreement can be reached. We need to talk about how to get to Geneva, who will participate, and we need to address these issues soon. Then an ultimate agreement will still have to be reached in negotiations. And I accept your caution about the negotiations.

Prime Minister Rabin: On the PLO, our position is as I expressed it yesterday. I’ve seen some changes in the Arab world, but a change now in the US position will hurt these trends in the Arab world. We lately have seen Egypt and Syria place more responsibility on Jordan for negotiations. This is moving in the right direction. Why? Because we and the United States took a firm position. The Arabs concluded that the only way to get to Geneva would be to adjust to the US and Israeli position.

President: Our position has not changed.

Prime Minister Rabin: I thought the position explained to us by Secretary Vance, and your traditional position, has been that as long as the PLO does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and UN Resolutions 242 and 338, then the United States will not deal with them.

President: Yes.

Secretary Vance: But even if they were to do those things, you are not prepared to deal with them.

Prime Minister Rabin: You have your position and we have ours.

Vice President: When I went to Europe2 we put lots of pressure on the Europeans concerning the Palestinian issue.

President: This was difficult to do. Some of our close allies pressed us. They wanted to recognize the PLO, but we opposed that. Our position has not changed. You don’t agree with our position, but the alternative to having no talks at Geneva may be to accept the PLO on our [Page 151] terms—their recognition of your right to exist plus Resolutions 242 and 338. Then if you refuse, there would be an adverse reaction to Israel. I’m not warning you, but I’m stating a fact. A number of Congressmen have stated their view that Israel’s position should not become the obstacle to progress towards peace. I don’t know what the Arab leaders will say. I have never met an Arab leader in my life. I will be strong in my support of Israel. But as much as you can, I want you not to place any obstacle in the way of Geneva.

Prime Minister Rabin: We are prepared to go to Geneva for peace and security. We pose no obstacles. We know there are differences between our countries. But we don’t want to argue about hypothetical questions. Why argue before you get a positive answer from the PLO?

President: But take as a hypothetical proposition that Sadat says he will open his borders to visits and trade if the PLO can go to Geneva with Jordan. I have to consider what to say. Your position is an obstacle to that kind of discussion. You want permanent peace with Egypt, and that is more important than whether the PLO is at Geneva or not. But you seem to put them on an equal basis. It seems to me that an ultimate peace agreement is much more important than who goes to Geneva.

Prime Minister Rabin: There are many options, and many hypotheses. We can’t run through them all. That is the purpose of negotiations. We can put forward our position, we can hear yours. There are some differences. It is normal that there will be differences. But negotiations have not even started; we do not even have a framework. You will meet with the Arab leaders in April and May. After that I hope we will be informed, that you will get their positions, and then there will be room and time to decide where we stand, and what are the gaps. But we don’t want to start now with hypothetical questions. We know that if there is even the slightest difference between the United States and Israel that it will be blown up out of proportion and that no one will gain.

President: I agree.

Prime Minister Rabin: So why commit yourself to positions now before you have even met with the Arab leaders?

President: I believe it is accurate to say that the positions that I outlined are the historical and traditional positions of the United States Government. Some have been stated in public, and some in private. But I don’t want you to misunderstand me. We want to keep open any opportunities to go to Geneva and we do not want to get bogged down on procedure. We cannot maintain the commitment of a large portion of our resources and capabilities to work for peace in the Middle East if we lose this year’s chance. I will devote lots of my energy if there is a chance of success. But if we lose 1977 as an opportunity for peace, it will be hard to marshal such efforts again. We need to start getting specific. But you avoid being specific about boundaries and about the Pales [Page 152] tinian issue, for your own reasons. You also avoid being specific about Palestinian representation at Geneva. Well, I think we understand each other. We can move on.

Prime Minister Rabin: Our position on the Palestinians is distinct from our position on the PLO. I don’t want to leave any area of misunderstanding. The Palestinian issue needs to be settled, but it is different from the question of PLO representation. We can discuss this in June.

President: It may or may not be possible to separate the two issues.

Secretary Vance: When you get into the Palestinian question and try to find other leaders than those in the PLO, you always have to come back to the PLO. They are intertwined.

Prime Minister Rabin: I would like to raise some bilateral issues. I have talked to Secretaries Vance and Brown and I have tried to explain why we in Israel have made a big effort to increase our capability to produce part of our own defense needs. We also need to use our resources to advance our technology. The price of development of new technology is high. Only if we can export can we reduce the unit costs of such items. We first have to think about meeting our own needs. Our exports are designed to keep our own capabilities going. We have tried to reach agreements with you and in some cases we need your permission to sell our equipment. We will keep any agreement that we sign. When the Secretary of State was in Israel, the Ecuador issue arose,3 but that decision has been made. Maybe there was a problem of time or maybe the decision fell between two Administrations. But we face problems on more than just this one item. Your policy affects us and we want to understand your view.

President: It would be helpful if your Ambassador would go over a list of possible customers with our Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Our position is fairly clear. If we prohibit ourselves from exporting to a country, this prohibition also will apply to you for any arms that contain our components. For example, in South America I understand that Peru has bought large numbers of weapons from the Soviet Union, and that Brazil and others have bought weapons from France. But our position is to reduce the proliferation of arms in Latin America. We cannot depart from that for you. The sale to Honduras, of course, was a mistake.4 We also have embargoes on arms sales against [Page 153] some countries, and we cannot allow you to send any equipment that contains American made components to such a country. But apart from those restrictions, there must be a long list of countries, maybe 100 or 120, where we would have no problem. But if there is any doubt, check with us first; and if there is no problem, you can go ahead.

There is also a problem with security involving some of our advanced technology. We cannot make an exception for you in cases where we will not even give our advanced technology to other NATO countries. But within those limits, you have unlimited advance approval to use and to sell equipment containing our component parts.

Some items may be much more expensive for you to produce than for you to buy from us. If we do finance your purchases, that could also be a factor in our decision. But that we can negotiate. These are the only caveats. This leaves a large area for flexibility. There is a problem when there is no clear policy formulated ahead of time or when there has been no inquiry about doubtful cases. I do not want this ever to be a problem between our countries again. We should go over a list together. We probably have never had a Secretary of Defense with as much knowledge of specific defense items and components as we now have, and he can answer your questions. Secretaries Brown and Vance will give you any necessary details. Is that an answer for you?

Prime Minister Rabin: Yes, for the future.

President: I am eager to do this. I want no disruption of our relationship.

Prime Minister Rabin: It was awkward for us to break our word to Ecuador. This is the first time we have not been able to keep our word and it was embarrassing.

President: I asked Secretary Vance just this morning to reconfirm my understanding of whether we have ever sold advanced military equipment to Latin America. And he confirmed that we have not. This has been a constant policy and was not something new directed against you.

Prime Minister Rabin: The second issue in our bilateral discussion is the F–16. Our request has been under study for several months. We want to purchase 50, then some additional ones. We need to know to what extent we can agree on the purchase of the 50, and they, of course, will not be delivered before 1980–1981. Then we want to get agreement in principle on co-production of some components, some parts.

President: I can’t answer that now. Have you discussed it with the Secretary of Defense?

Secretary Vance: Yes. We need to discuss the question of co-production with our NATO allies.

President: How long will that take?

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Secretary Vance: I don’t know for sure.

President: I’m not that familiar with the F–16. I have not talked to the Secretary of Defense. But we can give you an answer without delay. I understand that you wanted 125 F–16’s for your own air force, and that you intended to replace some of your present aircraft. I have these figures in mind.

Secretary Vance: We have already agreed in principle on the sale of the F–16, but not on numbers or on the price.5

Prime Minister Rabin: That is correct. We have agreement in principle, but no figures.

President: The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense will give you an answer.

Prime Minister Rabin: We have asked for 250 planes for a ten-year period, and 125 for a five-year period.

Ambassador Dinitz: Our total request amounts to 250 over a ten-year period, beginning in 1980–1981. These would be replacements for old planes. An answer on the Letter of Offer has been delayed. We want to purchase 50, and to have some co-production on the remainder. We have not worked out the details of how much can be co-produced. All that is still open. But we want agreement on the principle of some co-production. We have to maintain our ability to have an indigenous defense production capability. This is a problem with the Defense Department that is now under review. We understand it is part of a wider review inside the United States Government.

President: You have not decided on force levels in different years and which components you wish to produce.

Prime Minister Rabin: We have made one specific proposal.

Ambassador Dinitz: We have been specific on numbers, but not on the components for co-production.

President: I am not familiar with the issue.

Secretary Vance: I talked to the Secretary of Defense and he said that we need to talk with our NATO allies on this and the process has now begun.

President: I am not trying to delay an answer. We will get an answer to you quickly.

Prime Minister Rabin: Thank you for your aid, for the increase in fiscal year 1978.

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President: Was it too much?

Prime Minister Rabin: When we talk to the Pentagon, they say that one half of the money that we will get must be used simply for maintenance of old equipment. That leaves little for new equipment which has already been approved. So we have to list our priorities among items that have already been approved.

Ambassador Dinitz: So you can see it was not too much.

Prime Minister Rabin: I have talked to Secretary Vance, but I will also mention it to you. The Secretary will go to the Soviet Union and we would like him to help bring about freer immigration for Jews. We appreciate his willingness to raise this. Also, there is the question of some activists who are being harassed by the Soviets. We have some names.

President: Give the list to the Secretary of State. But let’s keep this out of the news media. We are already pressing the Soviets hard on this. They may want a quiet way to show their good faith.

Prime Minister Rabin: But if asked, I will say that I raised it. But I will not mention any list.

Mr. Mizrachi: There are nine on one list, and 12 on the other, for a total of 21.

President: We’ve handled lists like this before.6 I would like to see it done.

Prime Minister Rabin: I want to thank you for your help in Syria on the question of Jews there.7 It is the only Jewish community in the Arab world except for Morocco. All the other countries let them leave. But there are terrible problems with Syria. They live under permanent threat in a ghetto, and they want to leave. We will be glad to give them homes.

Secretary Vance: I discussed this with President Asad. For the unmarried girls, some arrangements are already underway. But if there is publicity, then President Asad said that he would be unable to go forward with this.

President: Then there is some hope.

Prime Minister Rabin: I believe that is all. Let me return to an earlier point. If the Arabs hear that your position is different from our own on peace—

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President: Your standards for peace are exactly compatible with our own.

Prime Minister Rabin: But if on withdrawal and on the PLO our differences of views are known, then there will be real problems in the area.

President: My only goal is to help bring about a permanent peace in the Middle East. I want your country to be at the center of that peace, with open trade, with good relations with its neighbors, with assured access to energy sources, with aid from us to help with your development, and with an undeviating acknowledgement by the international community that we are the closest of friends and allies. These commitments will not change. Our attitude has been stated, but we will be just as insistent in dealing with the Arabs. We will insist that they recognize you, that they open their borders, and that they end belligerency. But I do not intend to tell them where the borders should be. This has been a helpful discussion. You will be told after each of the visits of the Arab leaders what we learned. I enjoyed seeing you.

Prime Minister Rabin: I want to thank you for your time and for your hospitality.

President: I think you know our country, and I know your Ambassador does. Many Americans who share my religious background feel in a very personal way that the establishment of Israel is the fulfillment of religious prophecy. This is quite aside from politics. It provides a stable and unchanging basis for our commitment to you, apart from the commitment of our Jewish citizens, and it offers a permanence in our relationship that will guarantee the future against change. I said this often during my campaign and it was never disputed. I hope that this might alleviate some of your concern about our constancy. We want a partnership with you in peace, and I understand how difficult it will be for you to accept the proposition that the Arabs really do now want peace. Thank you.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Subject File, Box 66, Middle East: Peace Negotiations 1977 Volume I [I]. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room.
  2. Mondale visited Western Europe and Japan from January 23 to February 1.
  3. See footnote 10, Document 3.
  4. In 1975, Israel sold six overage French Super Mystère fighter-bombers equipped with American engines to Honduras. Some American officials expressed concern that the sale violated U.S. law, which required that Israel receive permission from the U.S. Government to make such a sale since the Mystère engines included American military technology. Israeli officials admitted they failed to get permission, but asserted that it was an oversight rather than an intentional act. U.S. officials dismissed the incident by February 1977. (Graham Hovey, “U.S. Blocks Sale of Israeli Planes to Ecuadoreans,” New York Times, February 8, 1977, p. 1)
  5. The Ford administration approved the placement of orders for the military equipment on Israel’s list of items, but gave no commitment on the quantity or delivery time. Documentation on Israeli requests for military equipment after the signing of the disengagement agreements is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976.
  6. An unknown hand inserted this sentence.
  7. A reference to the Carter administration’s efforts to gain exit visas for Syrian Jews. By August 12, the Syrian Government would allow 12 Syrian Jewish women to emigrate to the United States on condition that they had husbands waiting for them there. Accordingly, 12 Syrian Jewish women were married by proxy to men living in New York and then the Syrian Government allowed the women to emigrate to the United States. (“‘Proxy’ Syrian Brides Meet Their Grooms in New York,” New York Times, August 12, 1977, p. B14)