87. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Egyptians
  • President Anwar al-Sadat
  • Vice President Husni Mubarak
  • Ismail Fahmy, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister
  • Hasan Kamil, Chief, Office of the President
  • Usama al-Baz, Chef de Cabinet, Foreign Ministry
  • The Americans
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Philip Habib, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Hermann Fr. Eilts, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt
  • William B. Quandt, National Security Council


  • Secretary Vance’s Meeting with President Sadat

Secretary Vance began with a review of his talks in Israel. The visit was dominated by Israel’s negative attitude on possible USPLO talks. Prime Minister Begin and other members of his cabinet urged that we not talk to the PLO under any circumstances.2 The US position was made clear: if the PLO accepts UN Resolution 242, with a reservation on the Palestinian issue, then we would be prepared to talk immediately. In talks, we would discuss any issue, but we would not guarantee the participation of the PLO at Geneva. That will be up to the parties, including Israel, to decide. The US will also oppose any attempt to amend 242. We prefer to proceed in a simple manner and will now await results.

The Secretary stressed that Israel continues to oppose a Palestinian entity or state. We restated our position that there should be an entity and the Palestinians should exercise their right of self-determination to settle their future. This was a major disagreement between the US and Israel. On both the PLO question and the Palestinian entity, Begin has strong support for his position in Israel. One Israeli opposition leader said this could change, but was not particularly optimistic.

The Israeli government, according to the Secretary, does not agree to return to the 1967 borders with only minor modifications on the [Page 464] West Bank. We expected this position at the outset of negotiations. Israel knows our position. In brief, we disagree on talking to the PLO; the Palestinian entity; and the 1967 borders with minor modifications. On the more positive side, the Israelis have agreed to provide us with texts of a draft peace treaty. Dayan will probably bring these with him to New York. Dayan is more flexible than the others and genuinely wants to negotiate. It is too early to see how flexible he will be, and he will have to work from government instructions. He wants a peace agreement. With Dayan and the others, the Secretary stressed the importance of the parties preparing texts for our use in preparing our own drafts. Jordan responded positively; Saudi Arabia supports the idea; Syria will give us something, although their attitude is less clear. If the others all are ready to give us ideas or fully outlined positions, then Syria is likely to do so as well. All of the Foreign Ministers will come to the UN in September and the Secretary will move between the two sides. Fahmy termed this proximity talks, but the Secretary said he preferred not to try to attach any label. All will be in New York; he will talk to them in order to accomplish what is necessary.

Turning to the PLO question, the Secretary answered questions that had been previously raised with Ambassador Eilts. The US can only guarantee that it will talk to the PLO if the PLO accepts 242, not that the PLO can go to Geneva. Fahmy asked if we could support their participation, to which the Secretary replied that we want to find a mechanism to include Palestinians at Geneva. Once they accept 242, we will talk as soon as possible. New York would probably be the best place. If talks can be held sooner, Phil Habib would represent the US side, or Roy Atherton in his absence.

Responding to a question from Sadat, the Secretary said Israel will accept Palestinians in a Jordanian delegation, but no known PLO members, and Israel opposes a unified Arab delegation. The Secretary expressed his understanding for the reasons behind Sadat’s opposition to a single delegation—his desire to remain flexible and to exercise leadership—but he pointed out that one delegation could split up after the plenary into Egyptian-Israeli, Syrian-Israeli, and Lebanese-Israeli groups. All the other Arab parties agree to this concept, but Israel is flatly opposed. No one felt that there was much chance of getting Palestinian support for a delegation for Palestine led by the Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League. Israel refused the idea on principle. The Secretary characterized the Israeli position as very firm on this point.

Sadat replied that this “puts you in a fix.” The US is not asking Israel to yield or submit, but Israel is “making your position very difficult.” The Secretary said that we would have to work with them to change their position if we are to get to Geneva. The easiest way will be [Page 465] to have Palestinians in a unified delegation, along with the Lebanese. This could then break up into bilateral committees.

Sadat asked whether the hard Israeli line was tactical or strategic. In the Secretary’s view, Israel’s position on the PLO is tactical. On the Palestinian entity, it is both tactical and strategic, as is the position on the West Bank. Concerning Sinai and Golan, the Israelis have opened with a hard bargaining position. Israel sees that any concession in dealing with the PLO will lead to the question of the Palestinian entity and a resolution of the Palestinian problem. They want to put this off as long as possible. If this prevents the reconvening of Geneva, they will be isolated in world opinion. Begin’s view of the West Bank is colored by his religious views. This is not true of all Israelis, but they are all concerned with the military aspects of the West Bank problem. On borders generally, Israel is not prepared to reveal its final position now. Israel is unhappy with the US position on borders.

Sadat asked about the position that the US planned to take in light of this trip. Secretary Vance stated that our position is unchanged: (1) We favor the negotiation of comprehensive peace treaties; (2) Resolutions 242 and 338 form the basis for negotiations; (3) the state of war should end and normal relations should develop over a period of time; (4) there should be withdrawal on all fronts to the 1967 lines with minor modifications on the West Bank, and the withdrawal could be in stages; (5) there should be a Palestinian entity and self-determination for the Palestinians after a transitional international administration. This last point requires more thought, but one possibility would be a plebiscite for a constituent assembly. We want the thoughts of the parties on this, especially from Jordan. Jordan also indicated that there should be a stated position on Jerusalem. Sadat agreed that this should be mentioned.

The Secretary reviewed King Hussein’s ideas on Jerusalem.3 The old city should return to Arab sovereignty, and the other parts would remain under Israeli sovereignty. There should be a free access to all holy places, and there should be free movement within a unified city. (Sadat nods agreement.) A view expressed by the Israeli foreign ministry holds that the city should remain unified under Israeli sovereignty, but the eastern sector should be established as a separate borough with its own president who would be an Arab. A council of borough presidents would be formed, and the job of mayor would rotate among them. At some point, the Arab borough president would be mayor of Jerusalem. This is not yet a formal Israeli position, but is similar to ideas held by Teddy Kollek. The Secretary agreed that something [Page 466] should be included on Jerusalem in the statements of positions since it is one of the issues to be dealt with. President Sadat asked if the Secretary believed, after his talks in Jerusalem, that Israel really wants peace, or whether it is only a maneuver. The Secretary replied that Israel does want peace, but there is a wide gap between what they are prepared to give and what the Arabs are asking. But the Israeli leaders, like the Arab leaders, do want peace. There are large obstacles, but we must persevere. Sadat repeated that “They are making it difficult for you, really.” Fahmy stated that he believed Israel was trying to buy time and to test American firmness. The Secretary replied that we are firm and we mean what we say. Fahmy termed the US position very clear and constructive; Sadat termed it “very constructive.” Fahmy noted that the idea of draft treaties will help to cut the process short and will bring us to the point where an American proposal can be offered. The Secretary agreed. Fahmy said this would not mean a US-imposed plan since it would grow out of what the parties give us.

Sadat remarked that October has no special significance for the Geneva conference. What is needed is momentum in the peace process. Geneva might wait until November or December, whenever the parties are really ready. Fahmy described a conference which met for photographs and then collapsed as suicide.

The Secretary noted that only President Assad seemed hesitant about supplying a draft agreement. Sadat replied that Assad would hesitate until Egypt signed, then he would come along. Fahmy jokingly suggested that Egypt might make trouble for Syria in Lebanon.

Turning to Lebanon, the Secretary described the Israeli concern for the Christians in the south. The Israelis believe that the Syrians are not trying to carry out the Shtoura agreement4 in the south and they claim Syrian officers are with Palestinian forces. Begin feels a moral responsibility for the survival of the Christian population in the south. Sadat laughed, terming this “really sarcastic.” The Secretary relayed Assad’s view that the Shtoura agreement was being implemented in stages and that it would be implemented there. Palestinians would move to assigned areas and their heavy weapons would be collected. Assad agrees to a Lebanese force in the south, but realizes that it will take time. He would have no objection to a UN force along the border, provided the Lebanese wanted it. Sadat agreed. The Secretary advised Assad that some means must be found to stop the shelling and to end the bloodshed. Tensions must be reduced, otherwise the situation could get out of hand. Fahmy noted that many believe Israel might open hostilities on one front or another. The Secretary said he did not believe [Page 467] this would happen in Sinai, the West Bank or Golan. But he could not rule out some shooting into Lebanon.

(The meeting ended at 4:30, and was followed by 30 minutes of private talks between the Secretary and President Sadat.)5

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 50, Middle East: 7–9/77. Secret; Nodis. Thirty minutes of private talks between Vance and Sadat followed the meeting.
  2. See Document 80.
  3. See Document 72.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 76.
  5. No memorandum of conversation was found of this private talk.