205. Telegram From Secretary of State Vance to the White House and the Department of State1

Secto 1068. White House for the President and Dr. Brzezinski. Department for the Acting Secretary and Tarnoff. Subject: My Meeting With Sadat, January 20.

1. In sum, I believe my talk with Sadat today2 had averted a breakdown in the current peace process and has kept the lines of communication potentially open, although there will have to be a period of some cooling off before formal exchanges of the Political Committee can begin again. Sadat has agreed that we can reconfirm to the Israelis their invitation to go ahead with a meeting of the Security Committee as soon as the Israelis are ready, but he would prefer working further through US to try to complete the declaration of principles before [Page 971] having the Political Committee meet again. We can expect a tough speech by Sadat Saturday night before his National Assembly,3 but he has agreed to calm the rhetoric after that. I am sending a quick report to Ambassador Lewis for Dayan tonight, and Roy Atherton will be returning to Israel Saturday to meet along with Lewis with Begin Saturday evening so that the Sunday morning Israeli Cabinet meeting can consider the question of sending Weizman back to Egypt for another meeting of the Security Committee. I will tell them that Sadat was encouraged by the latest version of the declaration of principles which emerged from my meeting with Begin and Dayan last night, particularly the new paragraph expressing commitment to a just solution of the Palestinian problem.

2. I found Sadat deeply disturbed over Israeli behavior in the last few weeks. I began the meeting by giving him the signed copy of your letter4 and emphasizing our continuing desire to help him achieve our common objective of a comprehensive peace. I told him I need not repeat our great respect and admiration for him, but in order to help him, we had to know what his strategy is rather than being surprised by events we are not prepared for. I told him it would help me to understand his thinking to know what had led up to the recall of his delegation.

3. In response, he told me the following: When he had decided to go to Jerusalem, he had done so taking into account the strong emphasis we had placed on the issue of achieving a full peace and normal relationships. He believed that his visit to Israel did accomplish what is most important to Israeli desires. He felt he had broken down a wall of mistrust and had opened the door to a comprehensive settlement. His discussions with Begin in Jerusalem had confirmed this conviction. He had felt there that the declaration of intent never to go to war again had provided another fundamental building block in the move toward peace.

4. At Ismailia, his disillusionment began. At the beginning of their meetings there, he and Begin agreed that the issue of the nature of peace had been resolved by his trip to Israel; Begin had said there would be no problem in Israel’s withdrawing to 1967 borders; and Begin had intimated that the Palestinian problem could be resolved. However, when they reached the point of putting these understandings down on paper, Begin started falling away from even wanting to talk about the “Palestinian problem.” Sadat said he began to have some concerns but he still thought they could be worked out. The Israelis suggested follow on meetings in the Security and Political [Page 972] Committees and he had readily agreed so that understandings could be worked out.

5. When Weizman had arrived in Egypt before Begin’s Ismailia visit, he raised for the first time the question of Israeli settlements in the Sinai. Sadat responded by saying he thought the proposal was a joke, and not much more was said. They discussed at length security measures for the Sinai such as buffer zones, limited armament zones, and troop levels west of the passes. He assumed that their discussion indicated that Israel knew Egyptian forces would be in the passes and between the passes and the Suez Canal.

6. Then after Ismailia, the whole atmosphere was poisoned by a series of Israeli decisions. There had been reports of work on new settlements in the Sinai and the decision to hold off on new settlements but to expand old ones. There had been reports of the Israeli intention to insist on a military presence to defend the settlements. There had been more talk about the Israeli plan for Judea and Samaria. And there had been the Begin speech Tuesday night in Jerusalem,5 which he angrily talked about at some length. Begin had also misquoted Sadat publicly in reporting that Sadat had said “all members of the PLO are Communists.” In short, these actions confirmed his view that the Israelis just did not understand the spirit of his visit to Israel.

7. As the Jerusalem meeting of the Political Committee approached, he seriously considered not sending his delegation. This thought was reinforced when disagreement arose over the agenda, but when the US broke the impasse, he decided to go ahead and to see what would take place. Begin’s speech forced his decision. Sadat is convinced that Israel’s main objective is land, not security, as Begin has argued. Begin, he said, wants security, land, and peace all together. After talking about the importance of Arab recognition of Israel, Begin has now said “arrogantly “that” he does not need Arab recognition.”6

8. Sadat believed that Israeli strategy is to put both Egypt and the US “in the marshes.” He says he can survive because he has the support of his people, but the US is beginning to be blamed in the Middle East for what is happening. If the US position suffers, the Soviet position will improve and that would hurt Egypt.

9. If Israel would go back to talking about its need for security, Sadat said he is willing to do anything to help in developing security arrangements. He said he is afraid Israeli arguments stem from what Egypt and the US have done in support of Israel, and in this connection he mentioned his concern about imminent US decisions for further [Page 973] supply of advanced aircraft to Israel. He concluded by saying that he had decided to call off the Military and Political Committee meetings and let the situation stand still so that everyone could think about it for a while.

10. When he had finished, I reiterated our desire to support both sides in their effort to resolve their problems. The Israelis have made a fundamental decision to return Sinai to Egyptian sovereignty. I felt that the issues posed by Israel’s desire to retain access to its military airfields could be dealt with. We then had a considerable discussion about the Israeli desire to maintain some settlements in the Sinai. I asked whether he could accept some settlements which would be there as a result of his sovereign decision, provided there were no associated defense forces. He said that questions of principle and honor were involved, and this was a matter on which he would never concede. He said there might have been a time when a solution could have been worked out, but he felt that Begin had misled him on this subject and had dealt with it publicly in such a way that there no longer was a possibility of reaching a compromise. I then pressed him to continue the Military Committee as scheduled, pointing out the potential harm if he should be the one to cancel the meeting. He said if we believed it desirable he would do so.

11. In discussing the future of the Political Committee, I said I hoped he had not closed his mind against using it. I urged him to say publicly that the road to peace is not closed, and he did say this in the press conference which followed our meeting.7 He did not rule out reconvening the committee at some point, although he clearly feels that some time will be needed before this can happen, and most of the people around him were very reluctant at this point to see the work of the committee continue in Jerusalem. We talked about private meetings on Rhodes or Cyprus, or in some other neutral place. Basically, however, he would like to see the Political Committee held in abeyance for a period while we attempt to advance discussions in this area through our own efforts between the two parties. I told him that Assistant Secretary Atherton would be staying in the area and would be prepared to travel back and forth, conducting quiet talks along these lines.

12. Then we went into the draft declaration which we had produced following my meeting Thursday evening with Begin and Dayan (sent to you in our telegram last night).8 He has no problem with the first two paragraphs. He was impressed with the new paragraph 3 indicating agreement that there must be a just solution to the Palestinian [Page 974] problem. He found this heartening and recognized it as genuine progress. On the question of the dividing of paragraph 4, he could see no reason for not having the two sentences together in one paragraph and, although he would consult with his negotiating team, he seemed prepared to overrule them, and that would give us agreement on that paragraph. Since paragraph 6 is agreed by everyone, that brought us to the real disagreement on the paragraph dealing with the Palestinian problem in detail. I had the feeling that more work can be done on this paragraph as quiet talks go on, but he had no particular suggestions today. He likes alternate B as currently drafted.

13. We then turned to the question of what he really needs from this exercise. I asked whether he needs Hussein involved in the discussions, and he said he did. When I asked about the Saudis, he said he did not need them. I then asked whether we do not need some sort of declaration of principles to get the Jordanians involved, and he had no answer. I said it was our strategy to try to use the draft declaration in order to bring Hussein under that umbrella. He replied that made sense.

14. We then turned to discussing his speech to the National Assembly, now scheduled for 1830 Saturday evening. He said he would start by summarizing the reasons for recalling the Egyptian delegation. Although he would try not to escalate the level of rhetorical exchange with Israel, he would have to respond to what they have done. He said he would announce the need for a period of thought, and in speaking with the press after our meeting he spoke of the need for a reevaluation from the Israeli side before Political Committee discussions could continue. I urged him not to offer his resignation, and he said he did not intend to; he already has the strong support of his people.

15. He went on to say he would discuss the problems he has in connection with Soviet activities in Africa. He intends to say that he will ask the US to send someone to consider his military needs. He said he really did not care whether the US provided military equipment to him or not, but he felt he needed to dramatize the problem and believed this would bear an impact on Israel.

16. At the end of our conversation we reviewed where matters now stand. He would continue the Security Committee meetings. In principle, he is not averse to the idea of continuing in a quiet way exchanges on the declaration of principles, but he will want to consult with his advisors. He felt the need for another bold step and suggested the drafting of a treaty between Egypt and Israel that could serve as a model for other treaties in a comprehensive settlement. I pointed out that such discussions would fall naturally under the third item on the agenda that had been worked out for the Political Committee, and he did not seem to have focused on that. I said such discussions could [Page 975] quite naturally parallel further work on the declaration of principles. In conclusion, he asked me to tell you that he will say that the door remains open but that he feels some cooling-off period is necessary. He asked me to urge the Israelis to permit Weizman to come on Sunday to continue the work of the Security Committee. He agreed that he would tune down the rhetoric following his speech to the National Assembly.

17. I found a great deal of residual bitterness, and our meeting served to let him get some of this off his chest. I am sending a telegram to Tel Aviv instructing Ambassador Lewis and Assistant Secretary Atherton to ask Begin to tell the Israeli Cabinet Sunday morning that I urged that Israel agree to continue its work in the Security Committee. I think he was surprised at the progress we had made on the declaration of principles because he had pulled back his delegation before we could report that to them. I will urge that General Weizman leave the subject of settlements aside for the time being and try to work with General Gamasy on other aspects of a military agreement in the Sinai. At this point, Sadat is so adamantly opposed to the settlements that I think we need a period of silence on them, if possible.

18. I believe we can expect a tough speech by Sadat tomorrow. In substance, he has left the door open, but another round of sharp rhetoric would be unhelpful, to say the least.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850036–2382. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Sent for information to Cairo. Sent immediate for information to Tel Aviv.
  2. See Document 204.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 207.
  4. The letter has not been found.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 198.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 204.
  7. The transcript of Vance and Sadat’s news conference is in the Department of State Bulletin, February 1978, pp. 36–38.
  8. See Document 203.