66. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Syrians
  • Foreign Minister Abd al-Halim Khaddam
  • Abd al-Karim Adi, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
  • Abd al-Ghani ar-Rafi, Assistant Foreign Minister
  • Hammud Shawfi, Director of American Desk, Foreign Ministry
  • Americans
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Philip Habib, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Ambassador Richard Murphy
  • Harold Saunders, Director, INR
  • William B. Quandt, NSC Staff


  • Secretary Vance’s Meeting with Foreign Minister Khaddam

Foreign Minister Khaddam opened the discussion by saying that he would like to hear the Secretary’s views. He suggested that the Secretary might review Prime Minister Begin’s visit to the United States, then mention any US thoughts on a peace settlement, and then summarize his talks in Egypt. The Foreign Minister said he would not ask about Lebanon since the Lebanese leaders were not deeply involved.

[Page 385]

The Secretary agreed to proceed along those lines, and then to present some alternatives on both procedural and substantive issues and some suggestions on how to deal with these topics. The Secretary gave the Foreign Minister a copy of Prime Minister Begin’s procedural proposals2 and read through the nine points in the document. He also described Begin’s two alternative approaches. He then reviewed the Israeli position on Palestinian representation, noting that the US had suggested several alternatives of its own. First, the Palestinians might be represented in a national Arab delegation such as Jordan. Second, Palestinians might be included in a unified Arab delegation. Third, prior Arab-Israeli agreement might be reached that the Palestinian issue would be on the agenda and that Palestinians would be present when the negotiations begin on that question. Fourth, prior Arab-Israeli agreement might be reached that the Palestinian issue would be on the agenda and that the modalities for Palestinian negotiation would be negotiated at the conference. The Secretary stated that we found the first two alternatives to be the most realistic and believed that one of them should be chosen. Israel’s position, as the Secretary described it, was that Palestinians would not be acceptable as part of a unified Arab delegation, but they might be part of a Jordanian delegation, and that Israel would not inspect their credentials. No known PLO members, however, could be part of such a delegation. The Secretary noted that in further discussions the Israelis were somewhat positive on the possibility of Palestinians in a unified Arab delegation, but that in a later press conference Mr. Begin had specifically rejected any known PLO members at Geneva.3 The Secretary went on to note that Mr. Begin accepts UN Resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis for negotiations at Geneva. He does not accept a return to the 1967 borders, and he does not accept the concept of a Palestinian state. He believes that the question of secure and recognized borders should be negotiated without preconditions. On the Golan and Sinai fronts, he will negotiate without any prior conditions. And, finally, on the West Bank question, which is intertwined with the Palestinian issue, he is prepared to negotiate, but he opposes a Palestinian state. That, in brief, is the substance of his position on these issues. The Foreign Minister said that this was very clear.

Secretary Vance stated that we had agreed to disagree on many of these issues and Mr. Begin understands the American position.

The Secretary went on to review the issues as the American side sees them. He emphasized the need to make progress in resolving differences and preparing the ground for Geneva. On the question of Palestinian representation, he stated that Palestinians in a Jordanian or in a [Page 386] united Arab delegation would be the most realistic alternative. In discussions with President Sadat, he suggested a third approach. He recommended that a delegation for Palestine be led by the Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League, who is the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army. Other members of the delegation might come from various Arab countries, and Palestinians would also be included. For example, some West Bank mayors might be part of the delegation, and there would be no question of Israel inspecting their credentials. Foreign Minister Khaddam asked a question of clarification on whether this represented President Sadat’s view. Secretary Vance said that it did, and that this is the alternative that he prefers. President Sadat opposes a unified Arab delegation, and although he could conceive of Palestinians in a Jordanian delegation, he does not think the PLO would accept this. Therefore, he has proposed this third alternative. The Secretary stated that in his own view the first two alternatives are the most realistic. On the question of US contacts with the PLO, the United States is bound by the terms of the Sinai II Agreement not to talk to the PLO unless they accept Resolution 242, possibly with a reservation. The Secretary then read the proposed language which spelled out the terms in which the PLO would have to accept Resolution 242, with only a reservation on that part which makes reference to the refugee question instead of to a homeland.4 He emphasized that it would have to be understood that the right of all states to live in peace includes Israel’s right. If the PLO would be willing to issue such a statement, then the United States could talk to them. By agreeing to talk, the United States would not be committing itself to PLO representation at Geneva. This would require further discussion. However, it would be a very important first step.

Foreign Minister Khaddam said that the difficulty stemmed from the fact that the Palestinians are being given nothing by Israel or the United States. The only thing left for them is to be skinned alive, having already lost their clothes. The Secretary said that he understood that the Palestinians did want to talk to the United States. We are looking for ways to make this possible. We think that this is a sound approach and a good-faith way of starting a dialogue.

The Secretary then reviewed the five general principles on the substance of negotiations.5 He explained that we were trying to move toward increasingly concrete discussions in order to prepare the way for Geneva. He handed the Foreign Minister a copy of the five draft principles and read each of them, with some elaboration on numbers 3, 4, and 5. On the third principle, he stressed that the United States fa[Page 387]vored an eventual relationship which would include trade, free movement of peoples, and diplomatic relations. The United States would envisage the establishment of normal relations as something to be accomplished in phases over a period of years, along with other elements of a settlement. On the fourth point, the United States position is unchanged with respect to the question of Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders with only minor modifications. President Carter has stated our position on this. On the fifth principle, the United States preference is for a Palestinian entity linked to Jordan. We can see advantages to such a solution. We feel that it is important that self-determination be permitted for the Palestinians, and therefore some form of transitional administration will be required for that to come about. To that end, we have given thought to an international trusteeship under the UN leading to a plebiscite at the end of a transitional period. At the end of the trusteeship, the Palestinians would exercise their right of self-determination. With respect to the question of trusteeship during the transitional period, the United States believes that it should be established under the United Nations, as is customary. As to the trustees who would be acting under the UN and would be responsible to it, there are several possibilities. One variation would involve a third party not from the area. From the Israeli standpoint there is little chance of that being accepted. Therefore, it might be possible to consider Israel as one of the trustees responsible to the United Nations during a period of transition. This is a subject requiring more discussion. But we do believe in the principle of self-determination and believe that it will be hard for people to argue against that principle. The Foreign Minister replied that it would seem that the Palestinians’ fate has already been determined. What would be left for self-determination?

The Secretary said that they would still have the choice on how they would be governed and what their relations would be with the neighboring states. The vote of self-determination may take the form of the election of a constituent assembly which would take steps to establish a government and to develop relations with its neighbors. The Secretary noted that all of the principles had been discussed with the Israelis and that Israel had rejected principles 4 and 5. Foreign Minister Khaddam said somewhat lightly, that if Israel rejected numbers 4 and 5, perhaps Syria would reject all of the principles.

The Secretary emphasized that it is important to try to find a set of principles to establish a general framework for discussions, it is increasingly important to state positions concretely, and with this objective in mind, the Secretary said that it would be useful to have from each of the parties a draft of a peace treaty as they would like to see it. He said that such a draft should be sent only to him. After reviewing it, the US would put together a series of draft treaties that would be fair [Page 388] and equitable and could serve as the basis for discussions in the future. The Secretary said that if something like this were not done, the parties would continue to talk in generalities and little progress would be made. Time would be wasted, and the parties would not get down to the nuts and bolts of an agreement. As a neutral intermediary, the United States could play a useful role. If this were done, as he had indicated, he would like to ask the foreign ministers to continue discussions with him in New York or Washington, where he would be able to move among the parties to help them come to grips with the issues that need to be resolved before going to Geneva. By all convening in one city, the process of communication would be facilitated. Khaddam asked whether the Secretary envisaged all of the foreign ministers getting together, or whether he foresaw bilateral talks between himself and each of the foreign ministers. The Secretary said that he expected bilateral discussions, unless the parties themselves wanted to get together. The Foreign Minister asked what President Sadat had been talking about when he mentioned working groups. The Secretary said that this was a similar notion to his own, and that for some time he had been thinking of the need for talks with the foreign ministers in New York. If they want to get together as a group, he would of course have no objection. The Foreign Minister said that the news accounts were talking of a working group meeting under Secretary Vance to prepare for the Geneva Conference. The Secretary acknowledged that such a suggestion had been made and would include all the parties to the Middle East conflict. Khaddam asked if the PLO would be included, and the Secretary said that it would not.

The Secretary repeated the importance of progress being made in the near future. Nothing would be lost if all of the parties were to submit draft treaties, and the Secretary would prepare alternative drafts as a means for furthering the discussions. President Sadat would be prepared to take this under consideration. The Secretary does not know what the reactions of other parties would be.

Foreign Minister Khaddam responded by commenting first on Prime Minister Begin’s ideas. He termed them “not worthy of discussion, because they show the depth of the Zionist policy of continuing aggression.” “There seems to be a Zionist decision to close all avenues to peace. We feel these suggestions are new obstacles in the path of peace.” Khaddam termed the Israeli proposals an obvious maneuver to cover the fact that Israel does not want to withdraw to the 1967 lines. But they say they will negotiate without prior conditions. They talk of peace, but they refuse to recognize the Palestinians. It does not take much intelligence to understand their thinking. Khaddam stated that Mr. Begin had gone to the United States with very specific objectives in mind and that he had succeeded in reaching those. This was not very [Page 389] encouraging. The United States limits itself to making a few suggestions to the Israelis, and then does not follow them up; but with the Arabs, the United States continues to ask for more and more concessions. When one reads the thoughts of Mr. Begin, one can conclude that the road to peace is very long.

Khaddam stated that peace must have three major elements: Israel must withdraw to the 1967 borders. There can be no discussion on this no matter what. In the Syrian view, the preparations for peace should have as their primary concern arrangements for withdrawal, not the discussion of the question of withdrawal. The second issue is the question of the Palestinians. The Palestinian problem in the area does exist. The wars of 1967 and of 1973 are the results of the problem of the Palestinians. Without this problem, there would have been no wars in the area. So how can negotiations proceed without tackling the core of the problem? This question has to be posed. Is the objective to create new areas of conflict, or is it peace?

Khaddam argued that a policy of ignoring the Palestinians could result in the alliance of Palestinians with others who would not be party to a peace agreement, and that could be dangerous. Several other Arab states might accuse Syria, Egypt, and Jordan of having abandoned Palestinian interests. There would also be international quarters who would try to take advantage of the situation. Any agreement that ignored the core issue would fall flat. The same fate befell other agreements and treaties which did the same. Therefore, since Syria wants peace, Syria wants serious discussions and preparations. Syrian leaders have to ask whether public opinion would accept any alternative to dealing with the Palestinian question. Even if policemen could be put on every street corner, the Syrians would not accept such an approach, and it would be contrary to our own interests. Syria has Palestinian refugees in its country. Where are their rights, and where is their future?

If we are seeking a just and durable peace, all of this has to be on the table. Syria cannot understand the US commitment under the Sinai II not to talk to the Palestinians. The United States had a commitment to South Vietnam, and it was dragged into war, but eventually the US commitment to South Vietnam was ended. Which is more important, Khaddam asked, a commitment to a policy that is worn out, a commitment that gives Israel too much, or a policy of undoing that commitment in order to reach real peace? Secretary Vance replied that it was unfair to compare the South Vietnamese situation to the Sinai II commitment. Khaddam had not accurately stated all of the facts concerning Vietnam and the comparison was not a good one. The United States does have a commitment under Sinai II, and it has tried to find a constructive way to relieve the constraint of that commitment and to open the way to talks with the PLO. He hoped that Syria would help. [Page 390] Khaddam said that he did not believe the situation was more complex, and he jokingly suggested that he could arrange a meeting with Arafat. The Secretary said that if the PLO made the appropriate statement, then we would talk. Khaddam said that we should talk to them first.

Turning to the question of representation at the Geneva Conference, Khaddam referred to the position stated by President Assad of preferring the unified Arab delegation which would include all of the Arab parties and the PLO. The only alternative to that would be PLO participation at Geneva on its own. Syria does not want to adhere to just one view, and it does want movement. But the proper circumstances must be created to get movement. If the PLO can be considered terrorists, then Israel under Begin should also be viewed as terrorists. On the question of recognition of Israel, Syria does not recognize Israel, but it is prepared to go to Geneva with Israel, and Israel accepts that. We must go back to the question of whether there is a Palestinian problem or not. Are the Palestinians in a social and political position to express their own view of the future or not? Is there an international legitimacy to the PLO or not? If you want to solve the problem, it is inescapable that all parties to the dispute must be represented. King Hussein cannot represent the Palestinians. Syria cannot represent them. Egypt cannot. We want representation in the framework of responsibility. If the Palestinians were left out, they would go on a rampage. The French negotiated with the FLN. The US negotiated with the National Liberation Front. The US could have refused to do so, but the war would have gone on. That would have been contrary to the American policy of ending the war. If the objective is peace, then all must sit at the table. If the objective is not peace, then each party is on its own. We in Syria need peace and want peace and are ready to move in a way that will achieve this goal. But to ignore the Palestinians will not secure the achievement of peace, and will create new struggles. Khaddam said that he did not think the United States wanted to see this. Syria hoped for pressure on Israel to submit to international legality. Khaddam would not comment on Begin’s views, because he felt that Mr. Vance did not take them all that seriously.

Secretary Vance responded by saying that the United States had discussed with Begin the importance of resolving the Palestinian question. We have said that there can be no solution to the Middle East problem without a resolution of the Palestinian issue. We have discussed the question of Palestinian representation and of the PLO. We cannot force Begin to do something he is not prepared to do at this point. We can only express our views. The Secretary repeated that we had made constructive suggestions in Geneva and if the PLO were to recognize Resolution 242 with a reservation, then we could talk to them. The Secretary said that he did not understand why it takes so long to get anything done on this.

[Page 391]

Khaddam said that he would discuss this with the Palestinians, but that if there were no progress Syria would not be responsible. Begin was the one that was presenting obstacles. He had once said in a speech that if the Egyptians wanted to go to Geneva and called for full withdrawal, then it would be better for them to stay in Cairo. Who then is responsible for freezing of the situation? Who is building settlements? How can Syria be convinced that Israel intends to withdraw when new settlements are being established? Syria has rallied its public opinion in the direction of peace. By contrast, Israel is working up its public opinion against peace. The fact of new settlements is by itself an indication that they are telling their people that there will be no peace. Khaddam argued that all of the declarations by Arab leaders have been in the direction of peace, but that the Israeli statements call for holding on to the occupied territories. He said that there is a freezing of the situation, but that it is not Syria’s fault.

The Foreign Minister asked about President Sadat’s suggestion for sending a delegation to Geneva. He asked whether it would be composed of both political and military representatives, and the Secretary said that he believed that both would be included. Khaddam said that the proposed head is the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian military. This led to the impression that it was a military delegation. Syria cannot react to this proposal now, since it is the first time it has been discussed. Perhaps President Assad would be able to comment.

Khaddam asked about the Egyptian attitude toward a unified Arab delegation. He stated that he did not understand the reason for Egypt’s opposition. Syria believes that a unified Arab delegation would facilitate negotiations. In any case, agreement among the Arabs has been reached on meeting together after Secretary Vance’s tour in order to coordinate positions. Turning to procedural issues, Syria does not now agree to regional subdivisions in the negotiations. Syria would like to see committees formed to discuss specific topics, but not along regional lines. There should be a committee on withdrawal, on guarantees for peace, and on the Palestinian question. But to have an Egyptian-Israeli group, and a Syrian-Israeli group, and a Jordanian-Israeli group—if that were the situation, Syria would see no reason to join such a discussion.

On the question of the PLO, Khaddam stated that Syria has asked the United States to begin a dialogue with the PLO as a contribution to peace. He said that there is a Security Council resolution in existence which refers to the Palestinians and some reference to it might help. He quoted from Resolution 381, of November 30, 1975. That Resolution called for a reconvening of the Security Council on the 12th of January, 1976, to continue the discussion of the Middle East problem, including the Palestinian question, taking into consideration all of the relevant [Page 392] UN Resolutions in this context. The President of the Council said, and it was understood by the majority of the Security Council members, that the PLO would be included in the deliberations. On January 12th, 1976, the Security Council did reconvene, and the PLO did attend. The Geneva Conference stems from the Security Council. If the Security Council has agreed to deliberate on the question, it follows that to refuse the PLO participation when the Conference derives from the Security Council does not make sense. The PLO should participate when the Security Council considers the Middle East.

Khaddam then referred to Resolutions of the UN General Assembly, and noted that the PLO is an observer member of the General Assembly. He does not see how there can be objections or procedural reasons to prevent the PLO from participation. If the PLO were to say that it agreed to a solution based on all the pertinent UN Resolutions, some of which include good points for the Palestinians and some include good points for the other side, that should be sufficient. Syria has not discussed this possibility with the Palestinians, but if the US were to accept the idea, Syria would discuss it. This would be easier for them to accept. Khaddam stated that he must underscore that he is not insisting on the PLO because he particularly likes Arafat, but rather because he feels it is a helpful suggestion. This is why Syria hopes that the American side, in the interests of peace and in light of what is known of the Palestinian desire for peace, will consider what could be done to bring in the PLO in the context of preparing the work for peace.

Turning to the principles by Secretary Vance, Khaddam said that he hoped the Secretary would not be shocked by his views. He said that Syria had accepted Resolution 338 with two reservations spelling out Syria’s demand for complete withdrawal from all occupied territories, and a guarantee of the national rights of the Palestinian people in light of UN Resolutions. Syria cannot argue with the objective of reaching a just peace, but on Resolution 242 it should be noted that the Resolution dealt with a specific situation of war between Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. It did not treat the core of the problem—the Palestinian question. This is why negotiations now should have as their basis all of the UN Resolutions. For example, Resolution 1816 dealt with the situation in the Middle East in a more complete way than Security Council Resolution 242. The guide for peace can be found in the UN Charter and in the resolutions on the Middle East. Israel was created by a UN Resolution and therefore the Israeli problem must be solved within the UN context. The struggle in the Middle East is not just a regional one. It has assumed international dimensions, and it is connected with the international situation and with economic issues. Just as peace is relevant to [Page 393] the peoples of the area, so it is now to all of the world’s peoples. Therefore the discussion of the problem should not be isolated from world opinion, which is represented by the UN and its Resolutions. Finally, peace will require guarantees, and these must come from the UN. This does not negate the role of any particular nation that can help to mediate. The United States in particular has a dual capacity as a great power and as a UN Security Council permanent member. This gives it special responsibility. Syria does not equate the United States with Britain or France. On the third principle, the United States has its concept of peace. This was a subject discussed in Washington and in Geneva. If one takes Resolution 242, one finds that it calls for an end to the state of war, not for the resumption of normal conditions. These are part of the sovereign action of any state. Even in the case of a surrender agreement, such conditions cannot be imposed. And Syria has not yet been vanquished. But even if Syria were beaten one hundred times, politics and history are still on Syria’s side. Khaddam rhetorically asked who could force the United States to engage in normal and friendly relations with Cuba? These might occur, and Syria would not deny the possibility, and Syria might even help in cases like American relations with North Vietnam. But even among Arab states there are some which do not recognize one another. For example, Oman does not recognize South Yemen, and Jordan does not recognize Mauritania. They have no diplomatic representatives in one another’s capitals. What is important is that steps be taken to prevent the occurrence of war in the area. Anything else belongs to future generations. In the case of East and West Germany, where they are one people, it was a long time before they had contacts. In Syria’s opinion, it would be a mistake to stipulate that these things must happen within a specific period of time. Some may take a thousand years, some may take a hundred years, some fifty, some ten, but it will all depend on circumstances at the specific time. What is important is that the state of war be ended and that the possibility of conflict disappear. Syria is ready with an open mind to take all steps to prevent the occurrence of war in the area. The United States has expressed its view on point 4 very clearly.

On the fifth principle Khaddam stated that the commitment of the Palestinian entity to peace would be resolved by PLO participation in the peace conference and this would solve the Palestinian problem. It will be natural for a Palestinian state to show the same responsibility as the other Arab states. But if the PLO does not participate, then the whole picture will be different. This is precisely why Syria insists that the PLO participate. Syria wants them to involve themselves in taking responsibility. As to the suggestion that the Palestinian entity not be militarized, the same should also then apply to Israel. Both parties are existing on the territory of Palestine. If there is real peace, neither side should have arms. This would save the United States lots of money. [Page 394] The United States could even take back the arms that it has already given! It does not stand to reason, in Khaddam’s view, that Israel should be an arsenal while the other would only have a few police-men with rusty bullets. Concerning self-determination, this has a ba-sis in UN Resolutions. There are basic principles defining how people should achieve self-determination. Therefore, the question of self-determination should be governed by appropriate UN Resolutions. The Secretary said that he knew of General Assembly Resolutions to that effect, but not of any from the Security Council. Minister Khaddam said that he was speaking about the principle of self-determination, not specifically relating it to the Middle East or to the Palestinians. The concept of self-determination, in his view, should be linked to United Nations Resolutions. The Secretary asked for clarification. He said that the fifth principle did refer to self-determination and that he did not see this as a deviation from any UN Resolution. Khaddam said that he would prefer that the concept of self-determination be tied specifically to UN Resolutions on this subject. The Secretary reiterated the importance we attach to the concept of self-determination. Khaddam agreed that it could be referred to, but again expressed that it should be related to UN Resolutions, but he did not elaborate further.

Turning to the question of trusteeship, Khaddam said that the Palestinians do not need it. The Palestinians have the potential to run 20 states. The Palestinians are quite capable and therefore trusteeship as a principle is not acceptable. Since it is not acceptable in principle, anything derived from it is also not acceptable, such as an Israeli role. Since the Secretary will be meeting with President Assad shortly, Khaddam said that he would not go into further detail.

On the question of draft peace treaties, Khaddam said it would need to be discussed further. The working group idea suggested by President Sadat, in which the Foreign Ministers would meet under Secretary Vance, does not seem to be a practical proposal. If the intention is to meet as a preparatory committee, why not do it in Geneva? Such a meeting would not produce much. All parties agree on the need for good preparation. The working group idea would simply be another version of Geneva. If it met and agreement was not reached, it would have the same effect as a meeting in Geneva.

Khaddam said that he went along with the idea of staying in constant touch with Secretary Vance and of continuing the talks. Syria is committed to not giving up on the talks. There is a great objective of reaching peace in the area. Much blood had been spilled and great efforts would be required. Syria finds it useful to stay in touch. Syria wants to take one point and bring it to agreement, then set it aside, and then move on to the next point. This would be a useful way to proceed. [Page 395] The parties should not lose hope in peace. They should continue, but it will not be reached within a year or two.

After a short break, the discussions resumed, while waiting for the talks with President Assad to begin. Secretary Vance noted that President Sadat had had the same problem with the third principle that Khaddam had mentioned. Sadat had had little problem with the fourth principle. On the fifth principle, he was concerned that Israel might have some responsibility under a transitional authority. Otherwise he found that the principles were sound. He particularly agreed to the principle of a transitional period and of self-determination. In reply to Khaddam’s question, Secretary Vance said the Israeli reaction to this idea was negative. Begin does not agree to the fifth principle. This is not a reason for it to be excluded, and the US sees it as a sound way to solve the problem. Begin has been told the US view and the principle will be placed on the table.

Khaddam referred to the attitude of President Sadat on Palestinian representation. The Secretary said that Sadat did not believe that the PLO would accept participation in a Jordanian delegation, so he proposed his own alternative. Khaddam asked what the difference would be between a unified Arab delegation and an Arab League delegation. The Secretary clarified that Sadat had in mind a delegation for Palestine, not representing the Arab League. Khaddam asked if this was to be in addition to the national delegations, and the Secretary said that it would be. Khaddam said that this would mean a Syrian delegation, a Jordanian delegation, an Egyptian delegation, and a delegation for Palestine headed by the Arab League. Khaddam had thought that the Arab League delegation was to replace all of the others. The Secretary said that this was not Sadat’s idea. Khaddam said that in this case the question would not be resolved. If there were to be a single delegation representing the Arab League as a whole, Syria would consider it. The Secretary reminded Khaddam that Sadat opposes a single delegation, and Khaddam asked again about the rationale. The Secretary replied that he preferred national delegations, and Khaddam said this was a problem.

The Secretary repeated that the United States saw that the two preferred solutions were either a unified delegation or Palestinian participation with the Jordanians. Khaddam said that this would have been possible if the Palestinians were to replace King Hussein. But the question involves the Palestinians west of the Jordan River, not the Palestinians east of the Jordan River. Khaddam then asked whether there had been any discussion of step-by-step approaches as opposed to an overall settlement. The Secretary said that the United States favored a comprehensive approach, and that all of the other parties agreed. Khaddam said that it was no doubt the better approach. Any new step [Page 396] would produce a negative reaction, so a comprehensive approach was best.

The Secretary said that one should try to define the goals of a peace agreement, and then work on how to achieve those goals. It is therefore best to deal with all of the issues, and that is why the United States favors a comprehensive approach. Khaddam returned to the question of what Sadat had in mind concerning the working group. The Secretary said that it would help to prepare for Geneva, and that Sadat was worried, as he was, that unless things were worked out in advance, negotiations would drift. Khaddam asked whether Sadat really believed that when Dayan and Fahmy sat down together that Dayan would be so ashamed that he would be prepared to make concessions. The Secretary said that one should not think of the working group in a formal sense. All of the ministers would be in the same place and this would facilitate communications. Khaddam said that it had always been a problem of getting Arabs and Israelis together at the same place. The Secretary said it simply required being in the same city, not necessarily in the same room. In order to narrow the differences, the Secretary would like to be able to move easily among the parties. If they are all in New York for the General Assembly, then the opportunity should be taken for such talks. Khaddam said that he had the impression that the working group idea was meant to be a formal group. Secretary Vance said that he did not see it that way. All of the parties should simply come to New York prepared to work on the same problems. It should not be a question of how to label such talks, but it was important that communications be facilitated. Khaddam said that he had no objection to the United States playing a role among the parties. He then asked about indirect contacts with the Palestinians and how far these had gone. Secretary Vance said that we would be prepared to talk directly if they would accept Resolution 242. Khaddam said he had in mind indirect contacts and had heard of Palestinian contacts with elements in the White House. Secretary Vance said that some people who had been in government had reported to us on their talks, but they are not now in government and they were not asked to do so by the government. He referred to Governor Scranton who had met with a PLO representative in London and who had later reported to Secretary Vance. But this had not been done at the Secretary’s request. There had also been Members of Congress who met with PLO representatives, such as Lee Hamilton who had met with Arafat and later reported to the government.7 Khaddam said that he had heard of a professor at AUB, Khalidi, who had some contacts.8 The discussions ended at 12:40 p.m.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 50, Middle East: 7–9/77. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Vance visited Damascus from August 3 to August 5 and returned on August 11.
  2. See the Attachment to Document 52.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 56.
  4. See Document 67.
  5. See the Attachment to Document 54.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 32.
  7. See footnote 2, Document 61. No reports by Scranton or Hamilton have been found.
  8. A reference to Professor Rashid Khalidi, a professor at the American University of Beirut.