63. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Egyptians
  • President Anwar al-Sadat
  • Vice President Husni Mubarak
  • Ismail Fahmy, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister
  • Hasan Kamil, Chief, Office of the President
  • Ahmad Osman, Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Americans
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Philip Habib, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Ambassador Hermann Fr. Eilts
  • William B. Quandt, NSC Staff


  • Secretary Vance’s Meeting with President Sadat

President Sadat warmly welcomed Secretary Vance and expressed his special pleasure that Egypt was the first stop. He referred to the need for mutual cooperation to give momentum to the peace process begun in October 1973 by the US and Egypt. Sadat spoke of his admiration, trust and friendship for President Carter, and recalled his promise never to let him down. Working together, the US and Egypt can achieve permanent peace in the area.

Secretary Vance replied by expressing his appreciation for the confidence, warmth and friendship extended by President Sadat. President Carter’s warmest good wishes were extended. The Secretary then noted that our views on substance remain unchanged. The US will remain active in working for a Geneva Conference in which we will be able to develop and sign a just and durable peace document. He then outlined two sets of issues: the convening of the conference and the question of Palestinian representation at the conference. On the latter point, he reviewed two alternatives: the possibility of including Palestinians in a Jordanian delegation and the inclusion of Palestinians in an all-Arab delegation. Lebanon might also be added in the latter case. The [Page 377] Secretary stated that he saw no chance for a separate PLO delegation and urged that all the parties be realistic.

The Secretary then restated that our position on substance had not changed. Five principles have been developed as a framework for the conference that deal with substantive issues.2 We hope for common agreement on some of the principles, and others might be put forward by the two co-chairmen. Secretary General Waldheim agrees that this could be done. Ultimately, however, the questions will have to be negotiated by the parties, with the US working as an intermediary.

Turning to the results of the visit of Prime Minister Begin, the Secretary reviewed the procedural proposals put forward by Israel. The Secretary expressed appreciation for Sadat’s restraint in not commenting on the proposals and referred to his other speeches and gestures as conducive to peace. The Secretary provided President Sadat with a copy of the proposals, and discussed them briefly, noting that Lebanon could be included at Geneva. On the question of the role of the co-chairmen, the Secretary stated that Begin prefers that they not be present in the mixed commissions.

President Sadat reacted to the use of the term peace treaties by saying that he preferred to speak of peace agreements. He was concerned about the apparent absence of a US role in the negotiations in the Israeli concept. Secretary Vance replied that the Israelis do accept Resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis for the Geneva Conference and do accept a US mediation role. The Israelis also say that they prefer bilateral committees; that they will not return to the 1967 lines; that they will not accept a Palestinian state; and that borders should be negotiated without prior commitments. On Palestinian representation, Israel will not accept a separate PLO delegation, but they will not inspect the credentials of Palestinians in the Jordanian delegation, provided that they are not known members of the PLO. We indicated that our views differ, but that we would convey Israel’s views. On the nature of peace, Begin’s position is that full peace should include normalization of relations, the details of which would be negotiated in Geneva.

Foreign Minister Fahmy reacted to Begin’s proposal by calling it a “non-starter.” President Sadat referred to Begin’s ideas as “very extreme.” He agreed, however, that Resolutions 242 and 338 were the basis for negotiations. Begin’s refusal to withdraw to the 1967 borders, however, was an indication of his expansionist designs. He then asked the Secretary a “very important” question—“I wonder what your idea is on the borders problem.” Secretary Vance replied that our view on [Page 378] borders is the same as it was when Sadat visited Washington:3 the borders should be negotiated by the parties and should approximate the 1967 lines with only minor modifications. Sadat replied: “Marvellous, very good.” Summarizing Begin’s views on 242-338, the US view on borders, Sadat said he thought we were not so far from agreement. He termed PLO participation a psychological problem more than a substantive one. The alternative of Palestinians being included in a Jordanian delegation will not be accepted by the Arab world or by the Palestinians. “We have given full power to the PLO after Rabat.4 But let us be flexible in this matter.” Sadat then proposed that the Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League, Lt. General Muhammad Ali Fahmi, who is also Egyptian Chief of Staff, could head a delegation for Palestine. Sadat felt that he could convince the Palestinians to accept this arrangement and that this would get us out of the impasse. Secretary Vance stated that if the Arabs would agree to this idea, it would be all right with the US. But he asked if Assad would agree. Sadat replied that Assad would be “very furious,” but if the Palestinians are convinced, Assad can’t oppose them. Sadat emphasized that this would be a separate delegation to represent Palestine, not the same as the Egyptian delegation. He views this as a concession to Israel by not insisting on known PLO leaders. Some Palestinian leaders, however, might be associated with the delegation.

In reply to the Secretary’s question, Sadat said that he did not agree to a unified Arab delegation at Geneva. As he had told President Carter in April, this sounds ideal, but in fact it would make it easy for Israel to maneuver and the Arab side would explode from within. The delegation would have to be led by an Egyptian, since Egypt represents one-third of the Arab world. Egypt is able to answer any question Israel may raise, and Sadat is ready to take the lead among the Arabs. This will mean that the US can achieve peace in the most dangerous area of the world. If there were one Arab delegation, then each country would have a veto over the others and this would impede progress. “I do not want to be retarded by anyone.” Sinai II caused an uproar in the Arab world, but eventually it was accepted.

Sadat then turned to the phrase “minor modifications.” This should be understood to apply only to the West Bank, where some villages were divided. Mutual adjustments will be necessary. But on Sinai and Golan, “there can be no minor rectifications at all.” On the Golan Heights, there can be UN observers and small demilitarized zones. Assad will agree. In Sinai, there is an international border, recognized [Page 379] in the Rogers Plan of December 1969.5 No minor rectifications are called for there. Sadat next referred to the unique historic opportunity that the US under President Carter faced. The US is trusted by Egypt, the main force in the Arab world, with over one-third of the population, and a greater share of the influence. At the same time, the US has a special relationship with Israel. The Soviets need not be excluded, but they have nothing to do with the problem. Everyone should feel the problem is solved by the US. The disengagement agreements have reduced tensions and defused the bomb. In the next phase of peace making, if the US leaves the Arabs and Israelis alone together, there will be no trust. This is quite natural after 29 years, four wars, and so much violence. Sadat referred to his conversation with President Carter in which he said that a peace agreement should be carefully prepared beforehand under a working group headed by Secretary Vance. This should be done discreetly, so the Soviets will not explode. Geneva should not become like the disarmament conferences. The model should be the first disengagement agreement which grew out of an American proposal. Unless the US does this again, the Soviets, Syrians, and maybe even Jordan will try to work against me. The Palestinians are not a problem. But King Hussein still wants the West Bank. He should not have resubmitted the United Arab Kingdom idea, since this was dropped at Rabat. In the end, there will be something like the UAK, but it should not be talked about. The West Bank will have to have a link to Jordan. President Sadat again reviewed Begin’s positions and his own, emphasizing that Begin’s rejection of a Palestinian homeland was untenable, since Palestine was the core of the whole problem. How, he asked, can there be permanent peace in the area without solving the Palestinian problem? The Palestinians are not asking to throw Israel into the sea and the last PLO Council meeting in Cairo passed very moderate resolutions.6

Hypothesizing about Geneva without an active US role, or separate delegations on the Rhodes model7 with a US role, Sadat said he thought he would prefer the latter. He referred again to the unique American role and his trust in President Carter. Foreign Minister Fahmy added that Geneva already has an Egyptian-Israeli committee which has a UN chairman.8 Therefore, Begin’s alternatives add nothing to what exists. Secretary Vance asked about Sadat’s views on the nature of [Page 380] peace. Sadat’s reply was that an article could be written into the peace agreement saying that after the end of belligerency, and after the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces, then within five years Egypt and Israel will sit together to discuss normalization. The state of belligerency could not end, however, while any Israeli soldiers remained on Egyptian land. Normalization cannot begin until all Israeli troops have withdrawn. Otherwise Israel would have a gun at his chest and would be forcing him to make concessions. Normalization should come after withdrawal, gradually, not artificially. If Egypt cannot do it, no one else can.

Secretary Vance reiterated the importance the US attaches to normalization and stated that he thought normalization could be staged over a number of years. Sadat responded by saying that he would not allow his land to be held as a pledge (hostage) for this. Fahmy interjected to note that perhaps Israel would want assurances that once a peace agreement is reached, Egypt will agree to the phasing of normalization. Sadat said that after the signing of an agreement should come withdrawal; then normalization. Fahmy asserted that Israel should be content that normalization would take place within a certain period of time. Secretary Vance asked why these steps could not be taken over five years. Sadat responded that after withdrawal is complete, then it would be possible; but withdrawal could not take five years. He repeated that he would not end the state of belligerency until the last Israeli soldier leaves Egypt.

Secretary Vance then reviewed the draft principle on the Palestinian entity and self-determination.9 Sadat said that he was prepared to try to convince the Palestinians to accept a UN force in the West Bank and Gaza as an interim measure. This would give Israel some security and at the same time a plebiscite could take place to determine a link to Jordan. Secretary Vance raised the possibility of a trusteeship, possibly with Israel and Jordan as joint trustees. Sadat replied that this would be completely refused. Israel should be excluded, but Jordan, the Palestinians and other Arabs could act as trustees. If Israel were a trustee that would give her the West Bank. Secretary Vance urged Sadat to keep an open mind on this issue. Israel would not accept having the UN take over the West Bank. The Secretary went on to note that ultimately the parties would have to negotiate the details of any agreement. The formal talks ended at 9:30 p.m. and the Secretary proceeded to discuss issues with President Sadat privately for another hour and forty minutes.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Trips/Visits File, Box 109, 2/3–4/78 Visit to President Sadat of Egypt: Briefing Book [II], 2/78. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place at the Maamura Rest House in Alexandria, Egypt. Vance visited Alexandria from August 1 to August 3 and returned to Egypt on August 11.
  2. See the Attachment to Document 54.
  3. See Documents 25 and 27.
  4. See footnote 8, Document 6.
  5. See footnote 9, Document 21.
  6. The Palestinian National Council met in Cairo March 12–22, 1977.
  7. See footnote 5, Document 18.
  8. Presumably a reference to the post-disengagement talks held in Geneva by an Egyptian-Israeli military working group under the chairmanship of General Siilasvuo. The group met six times in January 1974. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973, Document 425.
  9. A reference to the fifth draft principle. See footnote 2 above.