25. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President’s Meeting with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Ambassador Hermann Eilts
  • Assistant Secretary Alfred L. Atherton
  • Mr. William B. Quandt, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Hamilton Jordan
  • Mr. Jody Powell
  • President Sadat
  • Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmi
  • Hassan Kamil, Chief, Office of the President
  • Minister of Economy Sayih
  • Ambassador Ashraf Ghorbal
  • Usama al-Baz, Chef de Cabinet, Foreign Ministry

The President: I want to emphasize my pleasure in meeting you. The American people feel a great friendship for the people of Egypt. It is hard to exaggerate our admiration for you and for your forceful moves toward peace. The exhibition of the Tutankhamen treasures2 is a powerful demonstration of that friendship. I enjoyed my visit to them.

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This is a year of possible major achievements in the Middle East. We must seek a maximum of harmony in order to get achievements. I want to share views with you and I will be meeting with you alone this evening.3 You are very welcome here. You have our friendship and I hope you enjoy your stay. I look forward to fruitful talks with you.

President Sadat: It is a pleasure and an honor to come here and to meet with you. After reading your book,4 I feel that we have a great deal in common. In Egypt, I speak of the principles of the village: the sense of limits, of family ties, of love of the land. I was happy to be invited to the United States by Secretary Vance. You are the man to help end the conflict in the Middle East. The United States is a super power and is the only one who can establish peace in the area. The Soviet Union is simply auctioneering, and has nothing to lose. But in Egypt we feel a deep love and respect for the United States. Millions of people turned out to see former President Nixon when he visited Egypt.5 It was a genuine feeling. The 18 years of confrontation between our two countries was contrary to the popular will.

You come from a village like I do. We share the same principles, and have the same type of religious background. I feel that we can do a lot together. We started the peace process right after the October War. It began immediately. We proved that we can achieve everything if we try. I am sure that we can do a great deal together this year. By nature I am optimistic, as villagers must be.

The President: You have to be optimistic if you are a farmer. You have to always believe that things will be better next year.

We will only have a few occasions to discuss these many important matters. I know your reputation for frankness. I will meet with other leaders later, but I wanted to see you first because of your natural leadership role in the area. You have been the most open in your call for peace. I hope that you will give me your frank analysis of how we might solve the difficult problems we face. We want to know how we can help. We are willing to play a strong part if asked. We need to discuss the definition of peace—open trade and so forth—and how to bring down the barriers between the countries of the Middle East. This is vital to Israel and to her neighbors. The withdrawal of Israeli forces is also crucial. It is also important to talk about the maintenance of secu[Page 168]rity in the period ahead, during the transitional period to peace. Then, as you said in your opening comments, we need to think of how we can change the Palestinians from refugees into a group with a home.6 I would like to ask you to outline the approaches that you think are most feasible. Israel feels the need for developing some common ground.

We will play an active role, but decisions must be made by those who live in the area. We will use our influence when it is asked for. Your ability to work with Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians is a great asset. I think we share a common purpose, both as individuals and as representatives of our people. I would like your advice and counsel. After dinner, I would like some time to talk with you alone. Perhaps you could now outline how you see developments this year.

President Sadat: We started the peace process after the October War. We have had two disengagement agreements in Sinai, and one in Golan. Without American help, we would have had no achievements at all. As an example, let me give a short history of the first disengagement. Our forces faced each other, with Israeli troops on the West Bank of the Suez Canal. I was nervous, because this spoiled the whole thing for me, and I was preparing to get rid of it. I told Henry Kissinger that I was not prepared to allow this infiltration to remain. Henry Kissinger said that I should not attack since the United States would have to oppose me. I asked him what is the alternative. He said there could be a disengagement which would take Israeli troops to the East Bank of the Canal, while I kept my gains in Sinai. I agreed, and we negotiated, using shuttle diplomacy. At a certain moment we reached a deadlock. Our forces were still facing each other. I could not afford to move. Kissinger then asked me about how I would react to a U.S. proposal. I agreed. So the first agreement was based on a U.S. proposal. This was quite natural. After 29 years, four wars, mobilization against one another, and the long history of this problem, there is no mutual confidence. When the psychological moment came, the U.S. entered the scene. The United States had the confidence of both sides. We would not have reached anything at all except on the basis of the U.S. proposal. The first agreement was an American one and it set the example. The Soviets are furious when I say that 99 percent of the cards are in the U.S. hands, but it is true.

To begin, we need to develop mutual understanding and friendship between our two countries and at the level of the Presidents. We have a long way to go with the Arab-Israeli conflict. There are also lots of problems in Africa which worry me a great deal. King Hassan of Morocco contacted me yesterday about Africa. I also have messages from [Page 169] President Numayri of Sudan, and from President Giscard. We have lots to talk about. But with understanding, everything can be settled.

On borders, I do not think that you would agree that others should take land by force. There might be minor rectifications of borders on the West Bank, especially where some villages were separated from their land. This can be done. But the border problem can only really be solved when the U.S. is willing to apply peace based on justice. You will have no problem with us.

The question of the nature of peace is very crucial. They want open borders. But after 29 years of war and of hatred, no one can agree suddenly to open borders and to free exchanges. This is mostly a psychological problem. What I see is that I will sit at Geneva, and that we will sign a peace agreement that will end the state of belligerency, we will normalize the situation, and both we and the Israelis will fulfill our obligations under Resolution 242.

The Palestinian question is also crucial. There are lots of alternatives. Now it is necessary to give the Palestinians some entity, some homeland. Whatever guarantees are necessary, we are ready. The proper approach to the question of the nature of peace and to the Palestinian question is through guarantees. There can be a U.S.-Israeli defense pact. That is OK with me. But we will also ask for a guarantee.

I want to say that as long as we can keep talking there will be no insurmountable problems. I have said that a Palestinian state should have some link to Jordan.

The President: How do the Palestinians respond?

President Sadat: In principle, they agree. But there are differences. I say the link should be established before the peace conference, and they say it can only be established after the state is created. I think I can convince them.

The President: You mean there should be a relationship between a Palestinian state and Jordan?

President Sadat: There should be a declared relationship between Jordan and the Palestinians.

The President: What is the possibility of overcoming the refusal by the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to accept Resolution 242? Israel insists that this be done before Geneva. This now seems irreconcilable. Do you see a solution?

President Sadat: It is easy. Before Geneva, a certain link should be declared between Jordan and the new Palestinian state. Israel need have no fear of a Communist state that would serve as springboard for aggression in the future. But concerning recognition, Israel is already recognized by both super powers, by the United Nations, and has its state and its land. The Palestinians have nothing. Even their human [Page 170] rights are denied. I am urging the United States and the Palestinians to begin a dialogue. This will help them to save face in dealing with Israel. If the U.S. becomes involved in a dialogue, then it is very easy. Israel talks of the Palestinian Charter. But the Palestinians have already agreed to come to Geneva with Israel present, and they will sign a peace agreement at Geneva. It is a matter of saving face for both sides. As Minister Fahmi has pointed out to me, it has already been agreed to by Henry Kissinger and by President Nixon that you would enter into contact with the Palestinians, and I know that you have been in touch with Morocco and in Lebanon.7

The President: I understand. Do you see an agreement being reached first, and then being carried out in stages? Is there some alternative to this approach?

President Sadat: Israel is playing for time. We should not lose time. It is better to end the whole thing, and then to start the normalization process. I am sure that everything will eventually be normal. But if we wait a very long time, the situation will become dangerous. The situation could deteriorate easily. I have prepared the Arab world. The Syrians and the Palestinians were recently against me, with support from the Soviets. But now they are behind me. The Arab world is prepared. No one knows what will happen later. There are extremists on all sides. But now we are ready. Time should be used later for harmonizing and for normalizing our relations.

The President: I agree that we should move as rapidly as possible. In the area of security arrangements, how can we overcome fears that exist and how can we enhance security? When you have recognition of your final borders, could there be special security forces to add reassurances? Would you see the possibility of some Israelis being included in a multinational force for a limited period?

President Sadat: This has no significance for me. But I cannot do it. Let me give a small example. At Sharm al-Shaikh, at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, the Israelis wanted to keep soldiers there along with UN forces. This was to secure their port of Eilat. But in the October War, I was able to close the area by attacking their ships north of Bab al-Mandab. They had to close Eilat harbor, and this was at a time when they had soldiers of their own at Sharm al-Shaikh. So their soldiers served no purpose. I cannot accept Israeli soldiers on my land.

With long-range arms, everything has changed. In my October 16th, 1973, speech, at the height of the war, I declared that my long-range missiles were aimed at Israeli cities. If they were to attack [Page 171] my cities, I would attack theirs.8 Neither side took such action. So you see, long-range arms have changed everything. I can agree with you that Israel should have assurances, but I cannot agree to Israeli soldiers. I would be attacked for that. In the second disengagement agreement, I accepted U.S. technicians.9 The U.S. acted as a witness between Egypt and Israel. You can help remedy this problem. The U.S. is the main factor in establishing peace. We each have trust in you. I am not asking Israel to make any concessions of sovereignty or of land. And I agree that the United States should be present as a witness. For example, you man the early warning stations in Sinai. This could be done on the borders.

The President: I don’t want to get too specific, but if there were peacekeeping forces that also included Arab forces for some short period of time, is that something that you could consider?

President Sadat: UN forces? You mean on their side?

The President: On both sides. I’m not trying to pin you down, just to discuss possibilities.

President Sadat: It won’t work. It is the U.S. who can balance everything. That’s what the Soviets do not like. Peace in the Middle East should be American. If from now to Geneva, the United States can produce some proposals, they will be accepted and we will go to Geneva simply to sign the agreements. Or we could go to negotiate with Israel at Geneva and it will take ten years and we will get nothing.

The President: So you suggest that we should play a role in offering proposals of our own? And you think that the parties would agree?

President Sadat: [Nods “yes”]10

The President: How would Syria and Jordan react?

President Sadat: Jordan would agree. Syrians—I have talked to President Asad. He is soon going to Moscow. I am flexible. If we can get the land occupied since 1967, I will do everything possible. I told this to Asad. He may raise some protests, but he will come around. Now we have a combined leadership.

The President: You advocate a quick implementation of the entire agreement. If this were possible in September or October, could you then immediately open your borders to Israel?

President Sadat: This is very difficult. It is a psychological problem for us. We have a very long history which makes this very difficult. But [Page 172] if we can reach this year an agreement, the second disengagement does not end until October 1978. So let the period of implementation take place in 1978.

The President: It is hard to get Israel to make all the concessions immediately and then to delay what is most important to them. I asked earlier about phases of implementation. We cannot get Israel to withdraw immediately and then only have full peace at a later date.

President Sadat: We can have the year of 1978 to implement Israeli withdrawal. It could be done, as in 1956–57, in only two months. But maybe it can take a whole year. The second agreement expires in October 1978. So during that year, the implementation of withdrawal could be phased. But opening borders is impossible for us, in all frankness.

The President: In fairness, that should be part of the whole process. We cannot ask Israel to withdraw without full peace and open borders.

President Sadat: There is a history to this open borders. Prime Minister Ben Gurion put forward that theory of Israeli security based on the idea that peace could be imposed on the Arabs. But it cannot be done. It can only be negotiated. Are there any precedents for a peace agreement including open borders and diplomatic relations? This is just part of Israel’s security theory which was proved wrong in October 1973. It is part of their style of imposing conditions. Eisenhower got them out of Sinai in 1957 only to return to an armistice. But now we are prepared for a real peace agreement with an end to the state of belligerency.

The President: What time would be needed if all goes well for you to open your borders with Israel?

President Sadat: We need to forget the past and then to normalize relations. A Palestinian state will be created in the West Bank and in Gaza and there will be a corridor that passes through Israel. It will be natural that coexistence will develop between Israel and the Palestinian state, since it cannot be done otherwise.

I am the only leader in the Arab world who can take real steps toward peace. I first talked about a peace agreement with Israel in 1971. Secretary Rogers came to Egypt11 and told me that Mrs. Meir had said that if any Arab leader had the courage to talk about a peace agreement, then Israel would put its cards on the table. Rogers had nothing to ask of me. Israel did not put her cards on the table. No other Arab leader, even in Jordan, will go as far as I will.

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The President: There is already fairly free movement of people in Jordan.

President Sadat: That is true. But I cannot do it.

The President: What can be done, for example with diplomatic relations, and the exchange of ambassadors?

President Sadat: It’s the same problem. It’s Israel’s attempt to impose conditions. Peace cannot be imposed. This is a matter of sovereignty. You did not have diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union for 16 years. With Jordan, they have an open bridge. With the Palestinians, they can have de facto coexistence along their corridor. This will reduce the time necessary for normalization. But the main concern now is to end the state of belligerency, to normalize the area, and then to guarantee the settlement.

The President: Why is it an Israeli imposition of their will to ask for an exchange of ambassadors?

President Sadat: Because it is related to the old theory.

The President: But we should look to the future.

President Sadat: But in the three wars that they started, this was their main aim. In 1967, Dayan said he was waiting for the phone to ring. This was a very humiliating defeat for the Arabs, but they could not impose their will on us. I take these demands as an attempt at imposition, or I would give it to you.

The President: Well, this has not been very productive to this point. You don’t see any time when it could be done.

President Sadat: I don’t know if in a peace agreement we can add a clause on normalization in five years or so. Or perhaps you could guarantee the normalization. When peace is achieved, and there are guarantees, this issue should not be a problem. But you should be there as a witness. It is very difficult.

Secretary Vance: Has there been any change of views on the type of Arab delegation at Geneva?

President Sadat: I discussed this with President Asad. Ideally, there should be one Arab delegation across from one Israeli delegation. But I fear that Israel can use this to blow up the whole thing from inside. Asad insists on this to reduce my room for maneuver, so that he can veto my moves. This reduces my flexibility and it will create problems. He has done this before, like in Sinai II. I do not agree to it. Maybe at some time we could do it, if it offers real hope. But only if Israel does not fear peace. If you find the need for my making concessions, and if you convince me that Israel wants peace, then I will do it. But one delegation reduces my flexibility.

The President: Would President Asad agree to one delegation with subcommittees made up of separate national groups?

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President Sadat: President Asad agrees to one delegation, but I do not agree.

The President: What then can be done?

President Sadat: We should go as separate delegations.

The President: Fine, but what about Asad?

President Sadat: Whenever we agree on Geneva, he will agree. This is his style. He will agree because there is no alternative to Geneva. We went to Geneva in 1973, but they refused.

Secretary Vance: On borders and security arrangements, what are your views of reciprocal demilitarized areas on each side of the border?

President Sadat: In this respect, I am quite ready to agree. I also say that since Egypt is very large and Israel is very small, the demilitarized areas can be proportional.

The President: That is fair.

President Sadat: Let us say our area could be double their area.

Secretary Vance: How should we handle Lebanese representation at Geneva?

President Sadat: They now have an armistice agreement with Israel and they should come to Geneva. As part of a permanent peace in the whole area, the same security arrangements can be made on the Lebanese border as elsewhere.

The President: Such as demilitarized zones?

President Sadat: Or UN forces.

Dr. Brzezinski: If there is a possibility in the peace agreement of saying that in five years there will be full normalization of relations, could we see a relationship between that and security arrangements?

President Sadat: How? I get you. They keep security borders apart from real borders.

Dr. Brzezinski: I am thinking of a link between full normalization and security. Security for Israel should not simply depend upon your good will. There should be some quid pro quo.

President Sadat: Israeli security does not depend on our good will. They can have a pact with the United States, guarantees, demilitarized zones, UN forces, and then, of course, they are very well armed. But why ask for more than that for Israel?

The President: We aren’t asking for Israel. What about the idea of dual borders in some areas?

President Sadat: This will go back to the old theory. It is very sensitive.

The President: Both sides have sensitivities. We need to look for areas of accommodation.

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President Sadat: As in the second disengagement, the U.S. could provide a guarantee for both sides. If we can work on this, I am quite ready.

The President: One final point. It is accurate to say that Israel does not trust us entirely.

President Sadat: Israel trusts no one entirely.

The President: I can understand why. She fears for her existence. It is not accurate to believe that a mutual defense pact with us or that UN troops would meet Israeli fears. Even those arrangements might only be temporary and the Israelis are looking far ahead into the future. They see normal diplomatic relations and trade as ways of establishing a permanent peace. We have to face that.

Minister Fahmi: I don’t see how guarantees, demilitarized zones, an end to the state of belligerency, political guarantees and a final peace agreement can fail to provide Israel with security. Why would an Israeli ambassador in Cairo help?

The President: It is a symbolic thing.

President Sadat: I started the October 6th War and I had no intention of accepting a ceasefire until we reached the passes. After five days, the U.S. intervened. I declared that I can fight Israel, but not the U.S. I agreed to a ceasefire at once. This was despite the infiltration on the West Bank. It was only a matter of time. Israel had 400 tanks there to scare me, but they could not have reached Cairo. They had no room for maneuver. So I was not scared. But I agreed to a ceasefire because I would not fight the United States. I had 800 tanks around the Israelis, and many missiles, and I would have had a big victory. But Henry Kissinger said that the Pentagon would hit us. So with a pact, you can see that Israel would be secure.

The President: I see the problem. It is obvious. The Arab nations say to Israel “withdraw to the 1967 borders.” Israel says that the Arabs will never recognize Israel. Israel wants full diplomatic relations and trade for economic development of the Middle East and to strengthen trust. The Arabs say they cannot give this full recognition. The difficulty of these adamant stances is that they narrow the options. I do not understand why, if Geneva is successful, the Arabs cannot say “Let’s exchange ambassadors and trade.” I honor your concern, but it is important to you and to Israel to keep trying to find a common ground. I hope we might forget as much as possible about the past and look to the future. Everyone must give a little. I am afraid that if we do not make major progress in 1977, it will become more difficult in 1978 and 1979. I cannot spend so much time later and you have other priorities too. If we make an all-out attempt this year, I hope that you will make an extra effort at accommodation. We won’t betray your trust.

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I can see the possibility that ten years from now our ties to you in the economic, military, and political spheres will be just as strong as the ties we now have with Israel. There is a natural affinity between our two countries. But permanent peace in the Middle East cannot be assured by a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship and a strong U.S.-Egyptian relationship alone. There also needs to be an Israeli-Egyptian relationship. This is very difficult, but we have to address it this year. Now let’s move on.

On the African situation, could you outline your points on Africa, and we can continue with this tomorrow.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Middle East.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Subject File, Box 66, Peace Negotiations 1977 Vol. I [I]. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room. Sadat was in the United States on an official visit from April 3 to April 6.
  2. The treasures of 14th century B.C.E. Egyptian King Tutankhamen traveled to the United States from 1976 to 1977 in a major exhibition in Washington, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Seattle.
  3. Carter hosted a working dinner the evening of April 4 (see footnote 2, Document 27) and then had a private meeting with Sadat from 9:58 to 11:05 p.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) No record of their discussion has been found.
  4. A reference to Carter’s autobiography Why Not the Best?: The First Fifty Years.
  5. Nixon visited in June 1974. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Document 92.
  6. Sadat made the comments during the welcoming ceremony at the White House; see Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 561–564.
  7. For background on U.S. Government contact with the PLO, see footnote 4, Document 1.
  8. Telegrams 3136 and 3137 from Cairo, October 16, 1973, summarized Sadat’s speech of that day. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File [no film number])
  9. A reference to the U.S. Sinai Support Mission. See footnote 6, Document 4.
  10. Brackets in the original.
  11. Secretary of State Rogers visited Egypt from May 4 to May 6, 1971, during a trip to meet with Middle Eastern leaders. He was the first Secretary of State to visit Egypt since 1953. Documentation on his visit is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXIV, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1969–1972.