211. Memorandum of Conversation1
- President’s Meeting with President Anwar Sadat
- The President
- The Vice President
- Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
- Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
- Assistant Secretary of State Alfred Atherton
- Ambassador Hermann Eilts
- William B. Quandt, NSC Staff
- President Anwar Sadat
- Sayed Marei, Speaker, People’s Assembly
- Foreign Minister Muhammad Kamil
- Hassan Kamil, Director, Office of the President
- Ambassador Ashraf Ghorbal
- Ahmed Maher, Director of the Foreign Minister’s Office
(The President had previously met alone with President Sadat for over an hour.)2
President: President Sadat has explained to me his analysis of the present talks with Israel. Later this evening I will explain to him the political situation here in the United States. We will use this time to try to clarify the issues of concern to us. We would like to discuss now the question of how to give impetus to the search for peace in the Middle East. I’ve suggested to him that I would begin by outlining what he had told me, and if I misinterpret his views, he’ll correct me. Let me say that I’m honored to have all of you here and I pray that our talks will help.
President Sadat: It is very kind of you to receive us.
President: President Sadat’s position in some ways is of deep concern to me. We reviewed our last detailed talks in April, at which time we had discussed the questions of land, peace, and the Palestinians. There were no significant differences between us on land. On peace, President Sadat then said that there was no real chance for peace because the distrust between the Arabs and Israel was so deep. It was not [Page 989] possible to have open borders, trade, and diplomatic recognition. But at my urging, he had said that maybe this could be done in five years. On the third question of the Palestinians, President Sadat acknowledged that other Presidents had not spoken of a homeland and of the need for complete withdrawal with minor exceptions. He termed the US-Soviet statement “marvelous,” because he believed that it opened the framework for peace negotiations. He stated admirably the point that he had never equivocated or bothered with procedural issues. He believed in the need for bold strategic action. He had not quarreled about the composition of groups, the shape of the table, and had agreed to any reasonable position. This is obviously the case.
When no progress was being made, he went off to make his private assessment, and he concluded that some bold action was needed. President Ceaucescu of Rumania told President Sadat that Begin was a man of deep conviction and was a strong leader. He might be different from previous Israeli leaders. Sadat therefore decided to go to Jerusalem. His first idea was to go with the other members of the UN Security Council, and he told me about that idea, and I didn’t think that it was so good. Then he decided that direct negotiations were important to Israel. He would try to do everything that Israel wanted. He would offer direct negotiations, recognition of Israel’s right to exist, full peace, and in an unprecedented way he accepted the American definition of real peace, with open borders, trade, and recognition. These were things that he was sure no Israeli leader had ever dreamt of getting before. With the exception of himself and a few others, most Arabs distrusted and even hated Israel. He decided to try to solve all of the problems in one step by going to Jerusalem and offering direct negotiations and recognition and full peace.
President Sadat recognizes that there are strong lobby groups in the United States and that this makes it difficult for an American President to act. He thought that he might be able to build strong support among Americans for the Arab position in favor of peace. He feels that his action took Israel by surprise and that the Israelis were perhaps not ready for such a step. He feels that his acceptance of Israel’s previous demands should produce American support for what he has done. He now feels very disappointed and discouraged because Israel is still adopting an incremental approach, and is showing its arrogance, that she is not ready for peace, and that Israel wants land that is not hers. When he was in Israel, he offered the Israelis full security and guarantees, and a pledge of no more war. He believes now that most Arabs, including Morocco, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, with as much as 90 percent of the total Arab population, have accepted his action. Some have not endorsed it in its totality in public, but the whole Arab world has changed its attitude, despite their initial shock.[Page 990]
President Sadat’s first experience of disillusionment was in Ismailia. He wanted a declaration of principles, not detailed negotiations. After five minutes, Prime Minister Begin had proposed the creation of a political and a military committee, and President Sadat immediately agreed. During the later meeting, Prime Minister Begin put on the table a proposal which was quite different from what he had given to us in Washington and which we had described to him. Prime Minister Begin mentioned for the first time his intention of retaining settlements in Sinai, and President Sadat thought that this was a joke and was not serious. He ignored the settlements question, and thought that it was better for Egypt and Israel to discuss principles and to show harmony. The details should be left for the military and political committee.
During these meetings, he was impressed by the fact that security on the West Bank is a real problem. Egypt would have to be accommodating to that concern. In Jerusalem, the Israelis had told him “we can sign an agreement with Hussein tomorrow.” The Israelis seemed to trust Jordan. They implied that the proposal that they put forward would be accepted. But the Ismailia meeting broke down, and President Sadat urged Begin to stay for one more day. But there was no progress. General Weizman had come earlier. President Sadat liked Weizman and thought he had a good attitude. He had asked Weizman whether the Israelis were serious about settlements, and Weizman had said “unfortunately, yes.” When he was in Jerusalem, President Sadat sat next to Foreign Minister Dayan. Dayan had been the planner of one of the major settlements. When Sadat questioned him, he learned that the settlements were of significance.
Before the Political Committee met, Sadat feared that the agenda would not be agreed upon. Egypt was prepared to accept the American draft, but when even that effort broke down, his national security council met and considered not sending a delegation to Jerusalem. Then, at my request, he did send his delegation, but the situation was already in doubt.
Before the Jerusalem meetings, there were many statements on the Sinai settlements. Minister Sharon had talked about the need for many new settlements. Finally, the Israeli cabinet decided to fortify existing settlements. Dayan went there, and soon it became clear that the Israeli cabinet was accepting the idea of keeping settlements. When President Sadat understood that, he was prepared to take his people out of the negotiations. He made no mention of the Prime Minister’s toast.
He feels that he cannot continue the political or military meetings. He plans to say this in his speech at the Press Club on Monday.3 He [Page 991] feels that people must understand that Egypt is a proud and sovereign nation. He is secure at home and with the Arab people. He thinks that more than 90 percent support him. If he breaks off the talks, he will have unanimous support in the Arab world and elsewhere. He has been shocked by the fact that he has given Israel all that she wanted and that Begin has escalated his demands. Begin now says “we don’t need recognition from anyone.” Begin says that Arab recognition is of no significance.
The rejectionist camp in the Arab world, in President Sadat’s view, cannot hurt him or us, but Prime Minister Begin’s attitude can. He had pointed out that, from the Arab perspective, there is disappointment with the United States. Saudi Arabia feels this way and President Sadat fears that his own people will become disappointed in the United States also. They know that Israel has only one friend, and that friend has armed Israel heavily. The United States helps Israel to exist and that is OK, but now Israel is making excessive demands. Israel intends to keep the occupied territories in the West Bank and even some in Egypt.
On the plane over here, President Sadat received messages from the leaders of Chad and Somalia. He is very concerned about the situation there. He also has Qaddafi as a neighbor, and he sees him as a Soviet agent in Africa. He wants to meet this challenge. He has tried with utmost commitment to give everything to Israel that they want. He has offered everything that the United States said Israel needed, and he has offered it on a plate of gold, in his words.
He has a six-point position for solving the problems in Sinai. First, there should be a demilitarized zone along the border of Egypt and Israel, and it should be proportional on each side of the border. This zone would be completely demilitarized, and would be very small on the Israeli side, and maybe 10 or 15 kilometers wide on the Egyptian side. Second, there would be a limited armaments zone between the demilitarized zone and the passes. President Sadat says that he never promised Begin that there would be no Egyptian forces on their own land between the passes in the demilitarized zone. He said only that there would be no main forces there.
President Sadat: I said that they would not “exceed” the passes.
President: Does that mean “not go beyond?”
President Sadat: We will not go beyond the passes. That means that from the eastern part of the passes to the demilitarized zone is a limited armaments zone. I have not gone back on my word. But we will not stay just to the west of the passes. I will hold to my word.
President: The third point was that there should be early warning systems. The fourth point had to do with the stationing of UN forces in the demilitarized zone. The fifth point concerns UN forces along the Gulf of Aqaba and in Sharm al-Sheik. He views this as a special conces[Page 992]sion. The Gulf of Aqaba will be called an international waterway. The sixth point is that there would be a permanent Egyptian-Israeli Military Committee which would meet alternatively in Al-Arish and Bersheeba. This committee would exist to help avoid confrontations.
President Sadat also mentioned the problems of the airdromes. He believes that this has possibly been resolved between Weizman and Gamasy. Israel must give them up. Concerning the one near Eilat, Israel can retain that airfield until the final withdrawal. In the meantime, the others can be converted to civilian use or they should be destroyed.
I asked President Sadat, and this was almost the only remark that I made this morning, if the Israeli settlements in the demilitarized zone might stay under UN protection. He said that this was not acceptable to him. He could accept 10,000 Israelis coming back to Egypt who had originally been from Egypt.
I pointed out to President Sadat that we needed to talk. The only possibility for a settlement is if the American people trust him and me in our work for peace. We have an unshakeable commitment to Israel as a nation. He understands this. Later after supper I’ll explain the American political situation to him and what we can and cannot do.4 I’ve outlined his views now, and I hope that I’ve not misinterpreted them.
President Sadat: The President has mentioned everything except one point. The inspiration for my initiative itself came from President Carter. He wrote me a private letter in his own hand, and it was given to my Ambassador, and I answered the President.5 I quite agree with his statement of my views. When he wrote to me, I felt the weight of the Zionist lobby in the United States. I felt this was unfair to him, and I told him that I was thinking of taking some bold action. I had nothing in mind at first, but I told him that I would take some bold action and that I would inform him. The President has told you the rest, but maybe I can add something on the spirit of what has happened recently. Even before the Political Committee convened, there had been a series of statements from the Israelis on their radio and television, and they were asking for some new settlements in Sinai. The Israeli cabinet refused to authorize these, but they did fortify the old settlements. This disheartened me 100 percent. This was not the spirit that should have prevailed after my initiative. I’ve offered to give Israel more than any Israeli ever dreamed of. The President sent me a message that Vance [Page 993] was going to Israel after agreement on the agenda,6 and this is the only reason I sent a delegation. But actions before the Political Committee met had already twisted the spirit of my initiative. I told my colleagues that they could expect no results at all, but that since Secretary Vance was going I could not let him down.
We could make no results because the approach of Israel is completely different from our own. I told the President that the Israelis have raised issues, and that the Israelis have done nothing other than what they would have done had we gone to Geneva, as if I had never gone to Jerusalem. They want to expand, they want land, there is still the hatred, and nothing has changed. I told the President that I cannot continue. Some may think that I came to ask the aid of President Carter because I might collapse otherwise, but the rejectionist camp cannot hurt me, only Begin’s statements can hurt both of us. My Egyptian people are really discouraged. They think that Israel would never take such a hard line without American economic, political, and military support.
President: I tried to summarize for the President the situation in Sinai. I pointed out that in New York Foreign Minister Dayan had promised me that no more new settlements would be established.7 At the end of one year, there would be six settlements, with some increase in population. There would be military settlements, and settlers would put on military uniforms. Since then, 13 settlements have been established or expanded. One has been declared without the authorization of the government. On the subject of settlements, I told President Sadat that I have termed them illegal, and that we have a sharp difference with Israel over this. The American public and American Jews are concerned about the settlements issues. This has now become the key issue in Sinai, and it seems as if even some progress has been made on the airdromes. The only other difference is the level of Egyptian military presence east of the passes. Prime Minister Begin seems to have misunderstood what President Sadat had said. The President had said there would be no Egyptian main forces. In Sinai, the difference then boils down to settlements, which we see as illegal, and US public opinion will support us in that view.
The Palestinian question is one which was almost OK on the basis of Begin’s original description to us in December.8 I never endorsed his views, because I knew the Jordanians and the Palestinians would still have to be involved. Begin later told others that we had approved his proposal, when we had in fact not done so. Then he returned to Israel, [Page 994] and he presented his case to the cabinet, and his plan was changed before it was presented to President Sadat. Some version of Begin’s proposals, with modifications, might be the basis for a five-year transitional period, with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt all being involved in the administration of the West Bank and Gaza. At the end, the Palestinians there should have a voice in their own future. We don’t personally favor a separate or independent nation. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states seem to find that position acceptable. I can’t describe what the governed people would want—a continuation of multinational protection, with the United Nations; a tie to Jordan; or a tie to Israel. We’ve tried to spell out our views somewhat. We think there should be some arrangement for five years in the West Bank and Gaza, and that then Israel should withdraw militarily, and should define borders which would be secure for Israel, and there should be some acceptable form of determination by the people who are governed.
Begin did commit himself to not claiming sovereignty for Israel beyond the 1967 borders, and he said he would withdraw his military forces into military encampments, some on the Jordan River, and others on the hilltops. I did not agree, but he did spell these views out. That might be OK. My own hope is that we should not close the door to continued discussions. My belief is that you, I, the American people, and many American Jews who are very committed to Israel, need to be able to see down the road to a reasonable settlement. They need to see a secure Israel and they also need to see how your needs can be met. It would be a horrible blow if any action were taken that foreclosed that possibility.
Secretary Vance: It would be a great blow if a statement were now made that was interpreted by the American people as foreclosing progress on the road to peace. It would be hard to recover from that. The effects would be very deep and long lasting and dangerous. I hope it will be possible for you to forego any such statement. Let’s work together, and agree on the objective, and then think of how we can work to achieve that objective and lay out a timetable for it.
President: The issue that seems to be most important in Sinai and to some degree in the West Bank is the question of settlements. Israel is most vulnerable to pressure from American Jews, from Congress, from the people, and from you and from me, on this issue. I have a feeling, a political feeling, that in a showdown, Begin would lose in Israel if settlements were viewed as an obstacle to permanent peace. Most Israelis now support the retention of the settlements. They feel they can have settlements and peace. Begin is popular, and he was elected in part because of his strong commitment to the settlements. This was probably more of a campaign promise. When he was elected, he had made these promises, and he is now trying to minimize the number of the settle[Page 995]ments. In our view, any settlements are illegal. We have had some harsh words on this. We have sent messages, and I have made public statements. The Israeli government is vulnerable on this issue. Some of the Labor Party leaders, and Deputy Prime Minister Yadin, and some editorial writers in Israel have expressed concern on this issue. I can see the possibility of a five-year interim agreement on the West Bank and Gaza that would be acceptable to you, to Begin, to Jordan, and to the Palestinians. We are not yet there. But there is no insurmountable obstacle to that.
Vice President: I think you know that there have been few things in my political career that have made more of an impression than your historic trip to Jerusalem. You swept aside barriers in a simple human stroke. You risked your career and your life to change a framework of 30 years, and the reaction here was indescribable. More people watched your speech to the Knesset than almost anything in American history. In 48 hours, in the minds of Americans you became one of the world’s leading apostles of peace and statesmen. I believe that it is very important for the evolution of Israeli policy that you continue to be seen in that light. The Israelis should be asked what they are doing to reciprocate. You should not let the Israeli government off the hook by saying that what you did was a one-time thing. Begin should not get you in a position where he can say that he has had no response to his moves. I can’t advise you, but I fear what might happen. The night that Prime Minister Begin gave that outrageous toast to your Foreign Minister, that offended people here because they thought it was in poor taste and that it was in a spirit that was at odds with peace. Pressures were building, and people were saying that Begin had not done enough. The settlements are not popular, and they are seen as an aggravation, and as a possible disruption of peace. Then when the talks broke up, there was a new theme. People said that maybe Sadat is not serious. There is a powerful force for reform in Israel and it can bring pressure to bear on Begin to move. But I’m afraid that if there are no talks, Israel will say that Egypt is not serious. Israel will have an excuse for not being forthcoming.
President: I think this is accurate. I’ll speak frankly, as the Vice President did. Israel approaches the prospect of leaving Sinai and the West Bank with reluctance. They want land and settlements. If they think they can keep American support, they don’t feel that they have to leave the Sinai or the West Bank. When you went to Jerusalem, they weren’t ready for the initiative. You put them in a defenseless position. I am glad the Vice President raised this. I have an understanding of your concern about the political talks, but when you withdrew, there was a feeling that it was your fault. Up to then, Begin had been condemned for his terrible toast. The American public later said that maybe it was not Begin’s fault.[Page 996]
I won’t mislead you, but without you and your support in American public opinion, I can’t force Israel to change. With your support, I can put pressure on Israel to change. This is a new thing. Many American Jewish leaders see Secretary Vance and Vice President Mondale. There is a growing feeling among American Jews that Begin and the Israeli government are becoming an obstacle to peace over the settlement issue. In a showdown between me and Begin, it would be hard for American Jews not to support Begin. My hope has been that some key Congressional leaders and American Jewish leaders could join me to press Begin on a settlement. He might accept a five-year plan and then grant the West Bank residents a voice in their future. If you take a position of no more political or military talks, he’ll say that Israel wants to continue the talks, and this will set us back and will remove the argument that Israel does not want peace.
I have asked for a summary of poll data on the American image of Egypt and of you. This can give an indication of what you can do to help, and I want to go over it with you. Also I want to talk to you privately about the Panama Canal Treaties and the SALT negotiations. I have a time problem that I have got to address. The Senate is considering the Panama Treaties next week. I don’t yet have the votes, and if the Treaties are rejected, this will be a serious blow to my leadership, and could lead to a military confrontation in Panama. Several Senators who support the Treaties also support Israel. If there is a crisis in the Middle East, and if you break off the talks, it will make it difficult for me. I’ll go into more detail later.
I hope you will give me a chance to go over American public opinion and my time problems. We ought to set this down in writing. We can say what we hope to accomplish and what time schedule. We can talk about how to give the best image to our efforts for our position. We can talk about what pressure to bring on Israel to get them to do what is right. I’d hate to see your trip here result in a more serious problem than we now have.
I also want your advice on whether I should see Begin. My impression of him is that he wants peace, and he sees himself as a Jewish leader like Moses, like Ben Gurion, and he wants to bring peace to Israel. He thinks he has a sense of purpose from God to fulfill, and he is a man of history, and there is nothing wrong with that. But he also sees himself as lonely, and he is very lonely now. I have a Cabinet that is with me, but Begin is not in that position. His closest friend is Shmuel Katz, who has now quit him. And he has problems in the cabinet. Begin would not react negatively, I think, to the building up of some support for peace here. He needs help from you and me to restrain the settlements. Sharon is making ridiculous statements on settlements, and he needs American Jews, Congress, the people here, the Europeans, and [Page 997] responsible Arabs to give him time to change the political climate in Israel. This is not a question of years, but maybe of weeks. He needs to let public opinion build up for peace.
My son Chip is just back from Israel. The Israelis believe that peace is near, but they still support the settlements. The danger of keeping the settlements has not gotten through, and they do not see them as an obstacle to peace. Your experience in Jerusalem, with the children and women showing their support for peace, is the feeling of the Israeli people. Begin could be put in a more vulnerable position if the path of peace is kept open. The Middle East conflict is one of the most frustrating issues, and what you did with one move will take much longer to do in Israel. Opinion can be changed against the settlements, but he needs more time than you or I want to see pass. The Vice President is right. We can get the best result if we bring incremental pressure to bear on Israel, and if we let your image as a courageous leader be maintained. I have noticed your view that 99 percent of the influence is in Washington, and only one percent is in Israel. I don’t agree with that. This takes the pressure off of the Israeli government and puts it on me. I don’t object to pressure, and I’m not afraid of a confrontation or a showdown when the right time comes. But it should be clear to the world that the breakdown of progress is not due to Washington, but to Begin.
Dr. Brzezinski: I know you will do what is right on Monday. But if you announce your negative decision on the political and military talks, it will be seen that the Carter-Sadat meeting has failed. You won’t gain anything from that and we won’t. Only those in Israel who do not want compromise will benefit. If instead, you were to say that the political talks could be resumed, and combined that with a strong statement on settlements and a strong statement on Resolution 242 as it applies to all of the territories, then you could get strong support. If the talks were to resume, then Israel would be on the defensive, especially on the issues of settlements and Resolution 242.
President: The statement would be almost the same as what you are planning.
Dr. Brzezinski: Otherwise there will be an impression of failure of this meeting and that could have historic importance.
President: If instead of saying that you won’t continue the talks, you were to say that you will continue, provided that the settlements and so forth . . .
Dr. Brzezinski: Then we could be sympathetic. Maybe you can draft some language along these lines that would be helpful.
Foreign Minister Kamil: If you’ll allow me, when President Sadat speaks of not resuming the talks, it is because he does not want to be faced again with the situation such as that in Jerusalem. We do not [Page 998] want to go back to Jerusalem, and then have to break the talks off again. The President will continue, provided that we will not have these confrontations again that will put us in the position of having to go back. If we can find a formula to give the right impression, we will continue, but the meetings must be postponed while President Carter and the US Administration help bring the sides nearer together. Then we can resume after clearing away the nonsense. But this has to be done when Israel is ready to give more in the spirit of Sadat’s initiative. We can maybe discuss the formula.
Mr. Atherton: I agree with what has been said about how the public would view a breakoff in the talks. The Foreign Minister’s view merits consideration. If Egypt could show a willingness to talk, with the United States continuing to play its role of laying the groundwork for those talks, that would help.
President: We haven’t done as much as you have. What Foreign Minister Kamil said is compatible with what you said. I wouldn’t go to Jerusalem with the first item on the agenda the question of settlements on your territory and who will guard them. But if a formula can be worked out, and if it could meet your demands, that would put the responsibility on us and would allow public opinion to bring pressure to bear on Israel.
Dr. Brzezinski: There are two ways that you could state your position. You could say that you are willing to resume the talks, and then discuss preconditions, such as the settlements and Resolution 242. Then the Israelis can manipulate the situation, and can hold out for their incremental strategy to slow down progress. Or you could state your willingness to resume the political talks and make an unambiguous statement that settlements cannot be an obstacle to peace and that Resolution 242 applies to everything, and this would put the burden on Israel. I favor the second approach.
Vice President: Israel says that Resolution 242 does not apply to the West Bank. But they have not said so publicly, because they would be seen as ridiculous. If that point were made, plus the settlements, Israel would not be in a popular position.
Foreign Minister Kamil: This is something very important. We understand Begin’s problems. And we see the problems that you have. But we also have problems with the other Arabs, not with the rejectionists, but in any further steps we have to be able to carry Jordan and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states with us. This is very important. We cannot go on without them. To do this, we need a declaration of principles that stresses the need for a solution to the Palestinian question and withdrawal. I wouldn’t put the emphasis so much on settlements, although we will attack them, but we need to reach this key of a declaration.[Page 999]
Secretary Vance: I agree. The settlements and the Palestinian issue, and especially the latter, are the important points. I hope that we can work together to bridge the differences on this. We need a positive statement.
President: In preparation for these talks, we have spent time discussing the declaration of principles. I think Vice President Mondale, who is close to the American Jewish community, has described the situation accurately. There has been a consistent assumption that Israel has accepted Resolution 242 as the basis for negotiations in all occupied areas. Labor never disavowed that. The Begin government has tried to limit 242 to Sinai and Golan, but not the West Bank. They are quite vulnerable on this issue. The declaration of principles is a mechanism by which to re-endorse Resolution 242 as the basis for a settlement on the West Bank and Gaza. When we say settlements and 242 are the two key points, we mean that this could be done through a declaration of principles. Israel can’t reject 242 and retain the support of the American people. This is also true on settlements. They will respond to pressure if we don’t get in a position of being seen as the obstacle to peace, and if we don’t threaten the security of Israel. After lunch, President Sadat and I will leave you, and we’ll go over the time schedule that is possible. You might discuss these matters also and give us notes on what you come up with.
Secretary Vance: OK.
President: I feel better about our talk.
President Sadat: I have listened carefully to my friends, and I think that there is still something I have not heard from you that I was expecting to hear. But it is the important key question, and I do not know if it can be answered. Everything now is in this deadlock and everything depends on it. I differ with you about the 99 percent. I believe the American position is central. During the last decade, since President Johnson, who was prepared to give Israel carte blanche, and who said the Arabs would have to sit with Israel and reach an agreement or Israel would get full American support, this has been true that the American position counts. Israel has been able to defy the UN and the Security Council and the United States. When Israel has American backing, Israel feels that it can stay in Sinai and in the West Bank. Israel will only heed the United States. I don’t know. We have reached the point where the American position must be made quite clear to Israel. It must be put in very elementary principles on which no one differs. No one can tread on others’ sovereignty or land. We are not against the security of Israel. We say that Israel has a right to feel secure, yes. We say the United States can have a special relationship with Israel, yes. But we have tried since 1967 to get an American position on principles, but we could not get that.[Page 1000]
Even in the Johnson Administration, which was 100 percent behind Israel, even there it was stated that the United States is responsible for the existence of Israel and its security, but not for defending its conquests. This has been stated even before Nixon. I wonder if the Israelis feel, or if they see an American position based on principles that have universal support, how they would react. I have no objection to continuing. I accepted the proposal of the Political and Military Committees. It only took five minutes with Begin when we were together alone. This happened before we sat around the table. In five minutes I agreed. But I wonder if there could be some specific American position.
I was elated by your invitation to come on this visit. I wanted to tell you the real facts. I want to be candid with you. My main concern has been the disappointment of my people and of the Arab people in the American position. Begin is exploiting by every means American support. He is telling heads of state something that has never happened when he says that you have supported his proposals.
I wonder if we can reach a point of getting a specific American position. I wonder if the time is suitable or not for you to decide. This will save us a lot of problems. When we reached a deadlock in the disengagement agreements, it was a very hot situation with our forces confronting one another. The old lady was Prime Minister then.9 She is very critical and hard line. In the first disengagement, there was deadlock and the whole thing was saved by an American proposal put forward by Dr. Kissinger.
One of the most important points is that I do not want the Egyptians and the Arabs to be disappointed in their friends in the United States. Ninety percent of them are with us. Egypt and Sudan make up 60 million, Morocco has 20 million, altogether there are 100 million Arabs supporting this initiative. But they are getting very bitter and they have been gravely disappointed by Begin. I do not give the rejectionists any importance. They will never do anything. But the attitude of Begin has done this. I wonder if the time has come. There is no obstacle on my side for the establishment of peace. It can be done in one week.
President: Let me reply. The answer is yes. The time has come for a US position to be presented on both sides. You said in Aswan that there were no differences between us on what peace should be. But if the United States puts forward a position after our meeting, it will look like a US-Egyptian proposal. Then regardless of its content, American Jews, the public and Israel will reject it. It will be seen as collusion. It is essential for me to see Begin, and to invite him, and to have a similar [Page 1001] meeting. Then let us put down an American position and go public with it. We would get worldwide support. I think you would accept it. I guess we would have differences with Begin. But I have to have the US public see that I have consulted both you and Begin first.
In the Arab world, when Dayan and I met in New York, we came up with a US plan, but it was seen as a US-Israeli plan, and therefore it was not accepted. So the answer is yes, as quickly as possible, and we can probably estimate the time schedule. I will look at my calendar, and we will have Begin over. I don’t want to delay further. We’ve discussed this, and the time has come for a plan parallel to what Henry Kissinger did.
President Sadat: I agree. This is logical. You can’t say what your proposals are after our meeting or they will be rejected. This is the same as if you were to announce them after Begin’s visit.
President: Maybe you should disagree with some parts of our plan!
Secretary Vance: If we go along this road, we cannot create a situation on Monday which leaves the impression of a breakdown. In the meantime, we will work out a time schedule.
President: In fairness, President Sadat should have an idea of the time frame. I can see the problems of delay for him. I’ll let Secretary Vance and Dr. Brzezinski look this over. Begin will come. He is planning to come in April, but I’d like to see him earlier.
Dr. Brzezinski: It would be useful to say that we might take a series of specific steps, and then we could work out the time for each. For example, the first step might be that you make your position public by taking a positive stance on resuming the talks, and you can be tough on settlements and Resolution 242. Second, we will back you on the settlements and 242. Third, the President would meet Begin. Four, you would come out with your comprehensive peace plan.
President: Why should President Sadat do this?
Dr. Brzezinski: There has to be an Arab plan. Israel will probably reject it, and then we can come up with a plan to break the deadlock. Our role will be more effective in breaking a deadlock. Your plan should even go further than our view.
Foreign Minister Kamil: Should the Arab plan be presented by several countries, or by Egypt alone?
Dr. Brzezinski: By Egypt alone. You have the credentials and you have the greatest credibility, especially in American public opinion.
President: I hope you will consider this carefully. I’d like to say that your proposals for Sinai seem adequate and complete. You’ve done all that is needed there. But there is no Egyptian, or Egyptian-Jordanian, proposal for the West Bank and Gaza. We need some sort of interim [Page 1002] plan. Maybe this could be considered. Begin has a plan,10 but it is too detailed. You did some fine work last year on a proposed draft peace treaty. This was helpful to us. It helped to initiate peace proposals. I hope you can think what you’d like to see in the West Bank and Gaza. That would be helpful.
Mr. Marei: I’d like to say two words. I think that if we work on this declaration, it can buy us some time. President Sadat can make his statement about 242, settlements, and the West Bank and Gaza. We would then like to see Jordan join us, along with Saudi Arabia. To get them in, we need a declaration which mentions Jerusalem. This adds a complication. And we need something for the Palestinians. This is a dilemma. The Palestinians have to be related to Jordan somehow in a confederation or otherwise. This is my impression. The first procedure is safer. We have these committees. We have a commitment to a comprehensive peace. We need to have a clear US position. Then we can start to deal with the second problem on the West Bank and Gaza once Jordan and Saudi Arabia come out with their support.
President: Would you expect an American proposal to say something about Jerusalem?
Mr. Marei: This is essential for Saudi Arabia.
President: We don’t want to go into that much detail.11
- Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 54, Middle East: Camp David Strategy, 7/78. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sadat visited the United States from February 3 to February 8.↩
- No memorandum of conversation has been found.↩
- February 6.↩
- According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter, Sadat, and their wives met informally after dinner on February 4 from approximately 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) No memorandum of conversation has been found.↩
- See Documents 134 and 141.↩
- See Document 192.↩
- See Document 124.↩
- See Documents 177 and 178.↩
- A reference to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.↩
- The plan, entitled “Home Rule, for Palestinian Arabs, Residents of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District” is printed as the Attachment to Document 177.↩
- Carter and Sadat met again on February 5. Carter wrote in his diary, “Sadat and I had another serious discussion, and we went over the principles concerning the West Bank and Gaza, and the Palestinian Question. He basically agreed and said he did not want Jerusalem to be divided but there had to be joint sovereignty over one square mile where religious places were located.” (White House Diary, p. 170) The White House statement issued on February 5 following the Camp David meetings is printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book I, pp. 279–281. The White House issued another statement on February 8 at the end of Sadat’s visit; see ibid., pp. 291–292.↩