46. Letter from Secretary of State Vance to Congressman Lee H. Hamilton1

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The President has asked me to reply to the questions you have raised about commitments made by the previous Administration to Israel concerning United States’ dealings with the Palestine Liberation Organization.2 I should like to explain how this Administration regards the commitment in question.

As the President indicated in his remarks of May 20 to the out-of-town editors and news directors, we continue to honor the promise made on this score to the Israelis by the previous Administration.3 Its terms were that the United States will continue to adhere to its present policy with respect to the Palestine Liberation Organization, whereby we will not recognize or negotiate with it so long as it does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and does not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. This was a statement of the diplomatic intent of the United States, on which Israel should be able to rely.

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We have not considered it inconsistent with the foregoing position to deal with the PLO at the working level on administrative or security matters where we felt this was in the national interest or required by international agreement. Specifically, during the civil war in Lebanon, when the PLO was in control of much of Beirut, we dealt with the PLO in order to ensure the security of our personnel there. We have also dealt with the PLO Observer Mission in New York on administrative, security and similar matters in accordance with our responsibilities under our host-country agreement with the United Nations.

In our policy toward the Middle East, we have foremost in mind our goal of helping achieve a comprehensive settlement and, to that end, reconvening the Geneva Conference as early as possible. In addition to the principle involved in honoring promises made by the United States Government, the credibility of our commitments to Middle East countries and the constancy of our basic policies are essential assets in the role we are seeking to play in the search for a settlement.


Cyrus Vance
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Subject File, Box 74, Palestinians: 7/77. No classification marking. Hamilton was the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East of the House Committee on International Relations.
  2. In a May 23 letter to Vance, Hamilton referred to recent statements by Carter in regard to upholding the promise made by the Ford administration as part of the Sinai II agreement to not recognize or negotiate with the PLO as long as it did not recognize Israel’s right to exist and failed to accept U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Additionally, Hamilton cited then Under Secretary of State Joseph Sisco’s 1975 testimony before the House Committee on International Relations during which Sisco noted that “we retain the freedom of action and the option to do what is necessary in the pursuance of our national interest.” Hamilton suggested that Sisco’s testimony raised “the possibility that we do not have as clear and firm a commitment as seemed to be implied in [Sisco’s] statements.” (Ibid.)
  3. See Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 945–954.