30. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President’s Meeting with King Hussein of Jordan, Cabinet Room


  • President
  • Vice President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering
  • Assistant Secretary Alfred L. Atherton, Jr.
  • William B. Quandt, NSC Staff
  • Hamilton Jordan
  • His Majesty King Hussein
  • Sharif Abdul Hamid Sharaf
  • General Bin Shaker

President: Let me begin by saying how grateful I am that you could come to the United States. I appreciate what you have done to build friendship between Jordan and the United States. The King told me that he plans to travel here after our talks and I said that we would be happy to give him any help that he required.

We will be prepared by the end of May to put together our understanding of the positions of different leaders in the Middle East. What I need is to understand your point of view and the major differences that exist among the countries of the area, and to hear your suggestions on what we might do. We’ve met with Prime Minister Rabin and President Sadat, and I’ll be seeing President Asad in Geneva. We have made some progress, at least I have, in understanding the issues better. Secretary Vance’s trip helped a great deal and he will probably be going again to the area after our meetings are over.

We are proud of the closeness of Jordanian-US relations. I hope that everything will be done to keep these ties of friendship as strong as possible. I hope to develop with you a personal, open relationship, so that I can benefit from your advice, your counsel and your criticism. It would be good for me if you could start with an assessment of the attitudes of the different Middle East countries and the prospects for this year. Perhaps you could outline the problems as you see them.

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King Hussein: Thank you for the honor and privilege of visiting with you. I speak for many in my part of the world, especially in Jordan, when I say that all of us have great faith in you and the greatest hope that success will be yours in helping to find the solution to the problems of the Middle East, and also to the problems of the rest of the world. I feel more happy and at ease on this visit than on any previous one. I look forward to close contacts.

On relations with United States, I have been proud to have them grow strong in all areas. Our region, as you know, was originally under foreign domination; then we came to the period of building when we needed cooperation and normalization of relations among countries. It has been dear to our hearts to build on the best part of our past, and to keep our identity. Then there was a tide of extremism later in our region which threatened all of our accomplishments. We opposed it, and US-Jordanian relations grew strong. Even though we were isolated from our neighbors in this period, I was always proud of my relationship with the United States.

Now the whole scene has changed. Other leaders come here to Washington and this is to our mutual benefit. We share with you the same ideas and the same principles. The whole area is passing through a period of many experiences which will hopefully lead to greater maturity. What we need most now is stability, and we cannot achieve this without a solution to the Palestinian problem. US-Jordanian relations are very close. When UN Resolution 242 was agreed upon, I was in the United States and I tried at that time to get clearer language. But the US preferred to leave it as it was, with the hope that rapid progress could be made. We talked about a rapid implementation of the withdrawal of Israeli forces in exchange for peace. But time passed, and nothing happened. I was able to get President Nasser to accept Resolution 242 and now it is our point of reference in the search for peace.

Unfortunately, now everyone in the area hopes for rapid progress this year, but the reality on the ground is that Israel continues to occupy the territory and there is no evidence of the kind of concessions that are needed for peace. For us, withdrawal must be traded for peace. But on the question of Jerusalem and the occupied territories, Israel still appears to intend to stay. This is a great hardship on those who live in the occupied territories.

The area around Egypt since 1973 has taken a course toward peace. There are great problems in Egypt, and they are very intent to make progress. It is my fear that they are raising hopes for a solution this year, and my long experience makes me cautious. I am not pessimistic, but the realities are difficult. If nothing happens, this would undermine the Egyptian leadership and perhaps even elsewhere. It would be a [Page 216] threat to progress and the pendulum might begin to swing the other way, leading back toward extremism and radicalism.

Syria is also interested in a solution. We have close relations. We are engaged in an experiment to prove that regimes of a different type can work together toward progress. We have a good political relationship at the highest level and this has helped us to look at problems honestly and realistically. President Asad is sometimes a little difficult on details, but he is a man who stands by his word once he gives it.

In Lebanon the problems are immense and they are connected to the Palestinian issue. We hope that Lebanon will be rebuilt and that they can find a common understanding to create a more solid country. There is now the danger of south Lebanon, close to Israel’s borders where the tensions are growing like a time bomb that could go off at any time. We in Jordan tried for a long time to see what could be done. I am apprehensive, because after 1967—we saw the war coming, but could not avoid it, and it destroyed 15 years of work we had made to build our country—I personally thought I should go as far as possible to establish real peace in the next generation. I would not leave any barrier to direct contact, so we have had contacts with Mrs. Golda Meir, and with all of the others in positions of high responsibility, up until now. But unfortunately, we always find a wall which we cannot penetrate.

We know their ideas, but they suffer from a feeling that Israel was created through struggle. They now feel very strong, strong in an unprecedented manner, and they feel that they do not have to make decisions. They have a fortress mentality, and they think that time may bring changes in the area. I sometimes think that they would welcome a turbulent neighborhood, so this would bring the United States and Israel closer together. I fear that they lack the courage to gamble on peace. No one in Israel seems to be willing to withdraw in exchange for peace, to assume this historical responsibility. If they offer nothing, the result will be a disaster.

I am aware of talks about Geneva and about different ways of approaching negotiations. We have some ideas too. I am sure you would agree that we need to think about what will be achieved at the end. We should emphasize substance over the form of negotiations, and over questions of who should represent what faction, etc. We have told Israel that if they withdraw from the West Bank and if sovereignty is restored to us over the Arab part of Jerusalem—and this is very important—within that framework, which would guarantee the rights of both Christians and Moslems, and in which there could be an open city which would become a city of peace, without domination from either side, we would be prepared to play a role. If there is any internationalization of Jerusalem, it would have to be on both sides of the pre-1967 [Page 217] line, not just on what used to be the Arab part. Some minor rectifications of borders on the West Bank would be all right, since these are different from recognized international borders. There was only a cease-fire line before 1967, so we accept the possibility of some minor rectifications on a reciprocal basis. If Israelis would accept these principles, we would take the responsibility to deal with the problem.

We have a feeling that we could contribute to a better future, to building a more stable peace, but the Israelis are raising an argument about secure boundaries. As Secretary Vance was able to see when he visited me in Jordan,2 from my own house you can see Jerusalem. Security is less a matter of geography and borders than a state of mind and a feeling of wanting to live in peace.

Before Rabat,3 we told the Israelis of the dangers that might happen, and we were proved right. At Rabat, the PLO was accepted. There was a feeling that the Palestinians should be involved. Some Arabs wanted to withdraw from their responsibilities and had the feeling that if any concessions were to be made, the Palestinians should deal with the problem of getting a lasting solution. In addition, Jordan had nothing to offer as an alternative.

The PLO combines all of the contradictions of the Arab world. Its leadership is hopefully learning from its mistakes, but there is still a question of Palestinian representation through the PLO. The people of Palestine have never had a chance of self-determination. No one knows whether they would vote for the PLO. There possibly could be new situations. We are always ready to move if there were something we could live with. Most Palestinians, of course, want peace and dignity and they have suffered greatly, but without knowing the end result, we cannot do anything. Maybe the most extreme of the Palestinians should represent them as long as the outcome is not clear. Then at least they are not on the outside attacking everyone else.

Concerning Geneva, I would like to think aloud. There is no agreement among the Arabs. There is a possibility that the Arab side will begin to address this and to remove obstacles and a more coherent view may emerge. There is the possibility of one Arab delegation, consisting of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinians. This might help to remove obstacles. Then it could break into functional committees to deal with each topic. Egypt is, of course, worried that this will tie them down because of the problems of the extremists. We have also thought that a group on the Arab side might supervise the work of the delegation, making decisions by majority rule. There could be a committee on [Page 218] withdrawal, a committee to deal with the Palestinians, and a committee to deal with the guarantees of peace, and any others that would be needed. The idea of one delegation appealed to us and to the Syrians. Initially, Egypt and the PLO were against it. Arafat may now have changed his attitude, according to some recent information I have.

Even on the problem of recognition, it may be possible to overcome obstacles. It might be reasonable for Israel and the Palestinians to simultaneously recognize each other, with Israel recognizing Palestinian rights and the Palestinians recognizing Israel’s right to exist. We have many thoughts along these lines, but we don’t know any ideal way of approach. I suppose it would be possible if the territories of 1967 are to be recovered to place them under international authority and then to carry out self-determination for the Palestinians. This could help overcome the problem of Palestinian representation. These are some of my thoughts.

President: That’s very helpful and very clear. The hope we have is that world opinion might be aroused this year to induce all parties to be flexible, and then if a comprehensive proposal can be tabled, which is fair to all, anyone who rejected such a fair proposal would be subject to tremendous pressure to modify their position. I have seen the Israel-Jordan border, from the Israeli side, of course, and I know the sensitivities on territorial rights. What we have found is not too different from what you have said. I have been somewhat disappointed in other Arab leaders for their lack of a clear commitment to real peace even if Israel withdraws from the territories and there is some resolution of the Palestinian problem. I have found a deep reluctance to make a commitment to real peace.

Israel feels, rightly or wrongly, that leaders will come and go and that they need some genuine interchange with their neighbors to help uphold peace. If they were to adopt a more vulnerable posture, and if they do not receive some guarantees on real peace, they would have fears for their future. I am not sure this is an accurate view, but that is their position. But I found that Foreign Minister Khaddam and President Sadat could not say that they will promise open borders, etc.

You have outlined clearly the problems in the territories that are occupied—and I have publicly said that Israel should withdraw substantially to the 1967 borders, although I think there should be the option perhaps of minor modifications, but not substantial ones. I have spoken of guarantees of real peace, and also recently of a homeland for the Palestinians, but on the form that would take, in terms of territory and in terms of relations among Palestinians, Jordan, and Israel, I wouldn’t want to talk about that. That depends on you, Israel, and the Palestinians. I have no further thoughts on that. These are the three thoughts that we will explore—withdrawal, peace, and the Palestinian [Page 219] question. I have in mind to complete these useful meetings, and to rely on your analysis and that of others, to try to understand the possibilities for agreement. Then perhaps Secretary Vance will come talk again with you, and see if our thoughts are moving in the right direction. If there is no possibility of common agreement, it might be an error to meet in Geneva. But if there is a chance of progress, we will consider taking a strong position of advocating a comprehensive settlement, or, we might judge that it would be better to refrain from doing so. But we will have to make that choice.

This relationship between a Palestinian entity, or whatever it is called, and Jordan is something I don’t fully understand. What options do you see, and which do you prefer? I have read your earlier statements and I know President Sadat’s position and the Israeli position. Perhaps you could help me understand this question.

King Hussein: You know the history of the area. The borders came into existence in this century. Basically, we are one people with very close ties. Between us and the Palestinians, the ties are very close. Very many people from 1948 and 1967 have come to Jordan. We are the only Arab country that gave the Palestinians the right to carry a Jordanian passport. Up until Rabat, we had equal representation for the Palestinians in our Parliament. Since 1967, we have remained close to the West Bank and we continue to help as if we were still involved there. We provide as much as we can to meet their needs and we help in every possible way. We pay government employees, teachers, and the municipalities get some help, as has always been the case. Open bridges allow people to move back and forth and to visit their relatives. It would be bad to close those bridges. The West Bank can export products to us and through us to the rest of the Arab world, so the ties are very strong, but somehow sensitivity has developed and Palestinians and Jordanians both want a special identity, within the framework of one family and one people. This led me to announce the United Arab Kingdom idea,4 which would consist of two states of Palestine and Jordan. It is our eventual aim to have very close ties.

In territorial terms, the territories occupied in 1967 would have to be evacuated with only minor rectifications, and Arab sovereignty would have to be restored in some part of Jerusalem, but the city could be open and could become a symbol of peace. There could also be a link to Gaza, and on the human level, Palestinians should have the right to choose compensation or return to their homes. But none will choose to go back in reality, although it is important to have the right to do so for psychological reasons.

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Egypt wants us to agree with the PLO and to announce in advance of Geneva the nature of our link and to go as one delegation to Geneva. The PLO prefers its own state before discussing the future, and they realize the need for close links with us. The PLO is the creation of Arab summits, not the choice of the Palestinian people. We are always willing to take responsibilities for peace, but if there is to be a compromise on something that is Palestinian, then we cannot do it. Any such solution would fail.

President: Self-determination, then, is the key to it.

King Hussein: Yes, yes. Actually, few people have thought much about this. Realistically, if we talk of Jerusalem, it cannot work without contacts between the two sides, and there is also the possibility of regional economic development—the Dead Sea, water projects—so that the kind of relations that now seem difficult would have to come, but it is a question of time. I believe that if we find the right basis for a solution, all the rest will fall into place. It is not logical to think that after peace there would be no contact. A new era would begin.

President: What role should the US play, especially in preparation for the scheduled Geneva Conference? How forceful should we be? We don’t want to upset the possibilities of agreement.

King Hussein: You should follow the present course, looking at the views of the parties and then come up with your own ideas, while remaining in close contact with all parties. To go to Geneva without a previously agreed plan would be a disaster. It would have serious implications for the future.

President: I agree with that.

Secretary Vance: Should a solution be worked out before Geneva, with Geneva primarily to ratify the agreement, or can substantial business be conducted there?

King Hussein: It can’t be.

President: If it can be worked out before Geneva, it would simplify the problem of PLO representation. President Sadat and Foreign Minister Khaddam say that we need to communicate with the PLO. We will need to address that question later after the Israeli elections and after my talk with President Asad.

We are in the position of having made a major commitment to Israel and Israel’s right to live in peace. I can’t dispute about what you say about their intentions—I just don’t know—but I will not enter talks as Israel’s advocate. If I don’t seem fair or if I don’t have Jordan’s interests at heart, there is no reason for you to trust me. I’ll make an effort to honor the sensitivities of all involved. Even with the best possible progress, the moves necessary to carry out an agreement would have to be made over time as trust builds up.

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Now, and in the future, could you try to evolve a sequence of events leading to a settlement and let us know your thinking? That would be very helpful. It is crucial that I try to understand your position, just as it is crucial for you to understand the special position of Israel, but there has to be mutual agreement. If we don’t make progress this year, it will be hard to make a major effort next year. All of the Arab leaders seem to feel that the time is good for making progress, that there are reasonable leaders in power.

In Israel, if Shimon Peres becomes Prime Minister, as seems possible, he is likely to be a strong leader, and he may be willing to make bold decisions after the election and after the formation of his government. I hope this is true. The world feels that this is a difficult and uncertain problem, but it is important to do our best in 1977. It may be a long time before we can make a similar effort.

Vice President: Our President has been more forthcoming on the need for Israeli concessions for peace, but we need to get Israeli support, and a definition of peace and open borders is a crucial element in it. Under your leadership, there have been contacts across the border. You have been willing to take risks to keep the dialogue going. We hope that other Arab leaders may see the wisdom of this.

King Hussein: If we see some idea of what the end result will be, it is possible to see a change there.

President: It was reported in the papers that President Sadat spoke about five years for normalization to take place. We wish it could be sooner, but would Syria even accept that, if the territorial issue and the Palestinian problem were resolved?

King Hussein: I think so. That is a definite possibility.

President: Israel is concerned, and to some degree we share that concern, about the genuineness of Arab acceptance of a permanent peace with Israel. Some fear that the Arabs hope that after thirty or forty years Israel will disappear. This is what adds significance to the idea of open borders, etc. I had assumed that this would be easier for the Arabs to promise than it seems to be.

King Hussein: The Arabs fear that too many concessions made in advance will hurt them. They have not given much thought to it.

President: Would the people in the Arab world be more forthcoming than their leaders suggest?

King Hussein: If there is a framework, yes.

President: We think it would be fine if there could be mutual trade, and if the countries of the Middle East could spend less for weapons, and could concentrate more on economic growth, education, and health, such as you have done in your country. This is the kind of vision for the future that we would favor.

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King Hussein: This is the only vision worth working for.

President: It is our inclination for the Soviets to play only a minimal role. So far their attitudes have been good.

Secretary Vance: So far they have been constructive, and they have not tried to block our mediating role. Eventually, they will want a more active role, at least in public. This may be possible, while we will continue to play the role that we should play.

King Hussein: We are more than willing to do anything for this objective. It is worthy of all our efforts. We feel that it is up to our friends, and our problem occurs when we come up against something that is unacceptable, and which is not meaningful. But we will try to help directly and with the others.

President: I have a specific question on whether you would accept the possibility of some dual territorial delineation, whereby sovereignty would be restored essentially to the 1967 lines, but there would be a phased withdrawal of the Israeli presence, within a carefully agreed upon framework.

King Hussein: If there is a reasonable time, not too long . . .

President: How long?

King Hussein: Just for a transition, a reasonable period, not too long.

President: What about a permanent peacekeeping force? Or at least one until trust has built up, which could help to stabilize the border areas?

King Hussein: We have no preference. International forces would be all right.

President: The outposts in Sinai have been working well, and we are not looking for a new role to play, but it might be useful to have electronic outposts and reconnaissance such as the Sinai Agreement. It has worked well.

Secretary Vance: It provides a degree of assurance to both Egypt and Israel.

President: We have detected some slight violations, and once we have the photographs and provide them to the parties, immediate corrective action has been taken. There has been good will in honoring these agreements.

King Hussein: On the Egyptian side, the large distance helps. It would be harder elsewhere.

Secretary Vance: Foreign Minister Khaddam made this distinction of geography also. He said he would have to look hard at any idea of using electronic equipment in the Golan Heights, but he would not rule it out, although it seems less readily applicable to him.

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King Hussein: In time, anything that could be arranged that would be fair to both sides would be acceptable.

President: If all the leaders were like you, it would be possible to have a permanent peace. You are strong and gracious and have a constructive attitude toward peace. It is an inspiration to see you.

There are many Palestinians in Jordan, I understand. One million?

King Hussein: Somewhat less.

President: And they play a major role?

King Hussein: Yes.

President: If the Palestinian entity were created, would many Palestinians leave Jordan?

King Hussein: Not very many. There would be differences. Those who came after 1948 would stay. Others from the occupied territories who came in 1967 might go back to their homes on the West Bank. Now we can’t even be sure who the Palestinians are in Jordan.

Mr. Sharaf: With your permission, I would like to explain that the consequences of the Rabat meeting in October, 1974, concerned us directly. The PLO was recognized as the representative of the Palestinian people. As a result, there were some difficulties in Jordan concerning the future of the Palestinians in our elections, for example. Most Palestinians in Jordan are Jordanian citizens, and as a result, it became difficult to know who should be able to vote. This was a temporary domestic problem.

King Hussein: This relates to the West Bank, and if we take a step to define who is a Palestinian, there are some ambiguities. There might be some complications in Israeli attitudes also.

Secretary Vance: On self-determination, are you talking of it as something that would happen after a negotiated arrangement, or before?

King Hussein: Either.

Dr. Brzezinski: Your Majesty, you emphasized the need for good preparations for Geneva, but maybe you also said that there should be a wide-ranging agreement before Geneva. Am I correct?

King Hussein: I think the President is right that developments this year are crucial, especially for Egypt and Syria. If we go to Geneva as we are now, there would be enormous difficulties. We need some agreed upon framework.

Dr. Brzezinski: Broad principles, but there still might be negotiations at Geneva?

King Hussein: Yes.

Dr. Brzezinski: How do we get this broad framework?

King Hussein: We look to our friends.

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Dr. Brzezinski: Would it be through bilateral talks or a general meeting, or direct contacts?

King Hussein: Direct contacts, and an exchange of views.

Mr. Sharaf: With a US initiative.

King Hussein: Yes, a US initiative.

President: Could the Arabs get a unified position?

King Hussein: Yes, but you must take the initiative. We will work closely with you.

Mr. Sharaf: At the moment, the only framework is the 1967 UN Resolution 242. It defines the framework of withdrawal, peace, freedom of navigation, demilitarized zones, and a refugee settlement. What His Majesty has been trying to stress is the need to go a bit further. From our experience, there is a certain barrier of interpretation. The withdrawal to 1967 lines with only minor rectifications, and the Palestinian homeland and self-determination—your views, Mr. President, have helped, and His Majesty agreed that Jordan and a Palestinian entity could have close ties. But we want them to express their own rights and their own options and to participate in the peacemaking process. His Majesty wants the United States to help get an agreed framework. Israel is still equivocating on withdrawal and on the Palestinian identity. The Arab side agrees on peace in exchange for withdrawal and Palestinian rights.

President: I am not sure that is exactly right. Egypt and Syria are not so clear. They talk of non-belligerency, but when we speak of open borders, trade, and recognition, they won’t say it.

Mr. Sharaf: They have a normal definition of peace as the absence of war. They see Arab-Israeli relations as like those existing elsewhere. They might be good or they might be bad. To define peace this way is maximalist. Jordan doesn’t have any diplomatic relations, for example, with Mauritania, but we have friendly ties.

King Hussein: And with Libya, we have diplomatic relations, but . . .

Mr. Sharaf: We don’t expect those furthest from Israel in the Arab world to have the same relationship with Israel as we might have. This can evolve in time.

President: But some expressed desire to move toward that objective is needed. Do you think the PLO leaders could accept UN Resolution 242, with the possibility of exclusion of the Palestinian portion?

King Hussein: Without that, I doubt it.

President: But with that exception, is it possible?

Dr. Brzezinski: With that one reservation.

President: Yes, could they make a reservation on that, but accept the rest of it, including Israel’s right to exist?

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King Hussein: If that was dealt with, it might be possible.

Mr. Sharaf: The PLO is moving that way, but the main problem is reducing Palestinians only to refugees.

President: I understand that.

Mr. Sharaf: They will be less forthcoming in the absence of any Israeli movement on Palestinian rights, whether the PLO is involved or not. This is a source of worry to His Majesty. It is shared by all of us. Israel is trying to avoid the Palestinian issue, to lump it into the Jordan question by saying that Jordan is Palestine, that both are the land of Israel. They push the Palestinian homeland onto Jordan in order to justify the absorption of all of the West Bank, and then the homeland could be created for Palestinians on the East Bank. His Majesty is ready and is enthusiastic for a role in a peace settlement, with the closest links to the Palestinians, yet if Israel permits this interpretation, we would have serious doubts. We would like to hear more from you on the question of a Palestinian homeland on the West Bank.

President: You know I am reluctant to define the territory.

Perhaps tomorrow we can talk more on Libya and on bilateral issues. I hope you have a good afternoon. This evening we will just have a small supper with some Congressional leaders.5 They may want to ask you a few questions. It would be good for them to hear your views. Thank you very much for coming.

  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. Hussein visited the United States April 24–27.
  2. See Document 12.
  3. See footnote 8, Document 6.
  4. Hussein proposed the United Arab Kingdom idea in 1972, but it never received significant support from any other countries.
  5. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter hosted a dinner party at the White House from 7:30 to 9:40 p.m., after which he and King Hussein met alone until 10:10 p.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials) No record of the discussion has been found.