16. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting with President Sadat re Camp David


  • President Anwar al-Sadat
  • Vice President Mohamed Husni Mubarak
  • Ambassador Hermann Fr. Eilts

I met with Sadat for one and a half hours in Ismailia. Vice President Mubarak was also present.

I first briefed Sadat on our current thinking on the scenario for the Camp David talks. I told him the thought is to devote part of the first day to bilaterals between President Carter and each of the two visiting leaders. Thereafter, the scenario might develop depending upon how [Page 43] the talks progress. Sadat said that this arrangement is agreeable to him. He is anxious to have the opportunity to have an in-depth talk with President Carter prior to the first trilateral meeting. I then told the President that I was returning to Washington the following day and asked if he had any thoughts he wished me to convey. President Sadat asked that I convey his warm greetings to President Carter and the Secretary and to outline to them his preliminary thinking as follows:

He first said that we should leave the Israelis to what he called their own misimpressions. The Israelis believe that he will be seeking a declaration of principles. This, Sadat stressed, is not his immediate objective. We should seek what President Carter has already stated, namely, a framework for a comprehensive settlement. Sadat noted that Begin has spoken of wanting President Carter to act as a “broker”, not as a full partner. Sadat was happy that President Carter has reaffirmed his willingness to be a full partner. He will want to discuss with President Carter their common strategy.

As he had stated, he will not be asking for an immediate declaration of principles. This is still desirable, but should be handled at another level. At the Head of Government level, the focus should be on what President Carter has said, namely, a framework for a comprehensive settlement. This is the very least that should come out of the Camp David meeting. The framework should be a written document signed by Egypt and Israel. Such a written document should be the Camp David achievement.

Sadat continued that he has not yet formulated his strategy in detail. He is still working on it and will in the next week or so concentrate on fleshing out his ideas. He already had some broad ideas in mind, however.

First, Sadat noted, President Carter should be prepared for a “confrontation” between Sadat and Begin. But, as he had told the Secretary, President Carter should be assured that he, Sadat, will not let him down. It will, nevertheless, require a confrontation with Begin. He reiterated that he will want to discuss his strategy with President Carter when they meet on September 6.

Sadat said that he considers the Camp David meeting to be a turning point. It will be a crucial meeting, especially if—as he hopes will be the case—the meeting creates some movement in the stalled peace process.

Sadat wants President Carter and the Secretary to be sure that he has taken into account all considerations that they have previously discussed in formulating his strategy. Apart from land and sovereignty, be it Sinai or Golan, everything is negotiable. Here Sadat noted that he will not be speaking for Syria, but any plans that are developed at Camp David will presumably also apply to the Golan. He will, however, be [Page 44] speaking for the West Bank and Gaza. On the West Bank, Sadat stated he will prepare himself for “flexibility”. (He did not elaborate on what he had in mind.) He went on to say that in anything he negotiates, it will not only be Egyptians, but the Saudis as well who should support it. The Saudi position is terribly important. The U.S. has great interests in Saudi Arabia and has had a historical relationship with that country. If a satisfactory framework can be achieved, the Saudis will support it. He had the previous day received a message from Prince Fahd in reply to the President’s letter to King Khalid.2 Fahd’s message had stated that, apart from relinquishment of Arab land and sovereignty, the Saudis will support him in whatever he agrees upon.

I said I was glad to hear that there will be flexibility in his West Bank ideas but noted that some of his closest colleagues contend that Egypt has no mandate to discuss West Bank matters. How did he see this aspect of the problem? Sadat agreed that the lack of a clear-cut mandate from either the Arabs, Hussein or the Palestinians poses a problem for Egypt in negotiating West Bank matters. But, Sadat observed, if he neglects to negotiate the West Bank, which means the Palestinian case, he will in effect be pressed into appearing to negotiate for a separate Sinai settlement with Begin. This, as he put it, will subject him to criticism by the Soviets and the rejectionist Arabs. A separate agreement for the Sinai will strengthen the Soviets in the area. This should, at all costs, be avoided. The second reason why he is prepared to negotiate for the West Bank is the position of Egypt as the leader of the Arab world. He noted that Egypt has half the population of the Arab world. Real power lies in Egypt. Israel recognized this in the October ’73 war. The Syrians were finished in 48 hours, but it took 19 days before the Israelis bested the Egyptians. Even then, they would not have been able to do so if the U.S. satellite photography had not been furnished to the Israelis. This satellite photography had revealed his 25th Division preparing to cross the Canal. Egyptian leadership in the Arab world will be totally damaged if he were to discuss only Sinai. An agreement on a framework of peace signed with Egypt will give the Israelis the endorsement of the largest Arab power. No one can do anything to change this. There may be some terrorism, but there is no real threat to Israel if Egypt is out of the conflict.

He recalled that his Jerusalem trip3 had given Israel legitimacy so far as the Arabs are concerned. On the West Bank, he reiterated that he will show flexibility. The West Bankers, he professed to know from his Jerusalem trip, are with us. This will provide ample legitimacy to any West Bank arrangements he might negotiate. He is ready to proceed [Page 45] with or without Hussein. If there are no Jordanians on Al Aqsa, he is ready to put up an Egyptian flag and deploy Egyptian forces on the West Bank.

Sadat went on to say that there can be no concessions on the Sinai borders. He hoped that whatever proposals the U.S. may make, the idea of Sinai border concessions will not be included. If it is, he will refuse it. This also applies to the sometimes mooted concept of Israeli settlements remaining in Sinai, perhaps under Egyptian Government protection. This is also not acceptable to him. Retention of the Sinai settlements is as a matter of principle refused. He could under no circumstances agree to this. He noted that this is a point of disagreement between him and the U.S. President Carter had at one point or another suggested something along those lines, but he wanted to emphasize that he cannot do this. (He did not spell out why not, but negative Egyptian military reaction has sometimes been cited as the reason why he cannot.) “Let us have no illusions on this matter,” Sadat said.

Having said this, Sadat wanted President Carter to know that he will cooperate in making everything go smoothly. On the West Bank, he recognizes there is a security problem for Israel. He is ready to meet that security problem. If Hussein comes in, he is sure Hussein will do the same. If Hussein does not come in, he, Sadat, will take the responsibility. In negotiating the security problem, Sadat suggested that this should include the termination of the Israeli military government immediately after signature of an agreement, and also the withdrawal of Israeli forces. If this can be achieved, it will enable him to get Arab support for the agreement. The rejectionists will disavow it, but no matter. Over 90 percent of the Arabs can be persuaded to support Sadat if such agreement is reached.

When the stage of concrete proposals is reached, Sadat indicated we may want to tell the press about this. He plans to discuss this with President Carter at their first bilateral meeting.

There will be a role for the United States to play in the implementation of the agreement. Begin, Sadat was sure, will oppose it, but Sadat said he wants Begin to come out in the open and to be exposed on his opposition. Sadat stated emphatically that he has no confidence in Begin. It would be better to be negotiating with Peres, Weizman or even Golda Meir. But Begin is the Prime Minister and he will have to be exposed. Begin’s idea of partial separate agreements is also “completely excluded”. So is the concept of a third disengagement agreement. Sadat said emphatically that he will not sign anything of this sort with Begin.

Apart from this, however, he was sure President Carter will be satisfied with his strategy. As he had said at the outset, he has broad outlines but must still fill in the details. He will probably give President [Page 46] Carter a written paper on the Egyptian strategy and positions. He plans to meet with Foreign Minister Kamel this week to develop details.

Sadat said he is thinking of “saving President Carter for a major coup.” Begin will be working on a theory that President Carter plans to come out with some proposals. This is what Begin is trying to abort. Perhaps, Sadat said, President Carter will not have to make any proposals or suggestions. He, Sadat, is thinking of doing something along the lines of his Jerusalem visit that might vitiate the need for an American proposal at this time. He did not at this time wish to elaborate.

President Sadat said that he will need President Carter in what he called a Dullesian4 exercise in brinksmanship. “This man Begin,” he said, “is totally against any agreement except on his terms.” Sadat’s strategy is that President Carter and he come out “victorious,” whatever the results of the Camp David talks might be. Begin is trying to “hit” at President Carter, but Begin will find that this turns into a trap for him.

As I was leaving, I asked whether Sadat has had any further thoughts on bringing Gamasy. Sadat said he does not plan to bring him. To do so will only give Begin the opportunity to divert the discussions by suggesting that the Defense Ministers might be tasked with discussing difficult matters. If agreement is reached and a need arises for Gamasy to come in order to work out details, Sadat noted that Mubarak can send the general to Washington within twenty-four hours.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Files of Alfred L. Atherton, Lot 80D166, Box 5, Preparations for Camp David Summit—August 1978. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Eilts. The memorandum of conversation was found attached to an August 28 covering memorandum from Eilts to Vance, sent through Atherton, in which Eilts summarized Sadat’s main points. (Ibid.)
  2. See footnote 1, Document 11.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 4.
  4. Reference is to John Foster Dulles who was Secretary of State from 1953 until 1959.