170. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Middle East Strategy (U)

Secretary Vance has sent you a report on the results of the Atherton mission (Tab A). In brief, the only promising result was the possibility that both Egypt and Israel might agree to drop the idea of asking for our legal interpretation of Article VI (5).2 Otherwise, no real substantive progress was made in twelve days of talks. Atherton’s conclusion is that the remaining issues cannot be solved in isolation and must be settled at the political level as a package. (S)

Before we take any new initiative, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about the developments surrounding the negotiations:

—Time is working against the Camp David approach. The longer the negotiations go on, the greater the likelihood that any agreement reached will only be a separate Egyptian-Israeli treaty. Our own political realities must be taken into account.

—Neither party wants to appear overly anxious to conclude the talks. They both know that we will be tempted to ask further conces[Page 587]sions from the more eager party. Sadat in particular fears that we will turn to him as the more pliant of the two parties.

—Talk of a summit may have the effect of precluding progress at any other level. Both Sadat and Begin may prefer not to play any cards until they deal directly with you.

—Our refusal to discuss aid questions has not had the effect of softening the Israeli stand. At some point we will have to decide how to respond to Israeli aid requests. The more we commit now, the less we will have to work with when the West Bank/Gaza negotiation gets underway.

—The situation in Iran has produced a greater degree of caution in both Israel and Egypt. (S)

Within the very near future we will need to make fundamental decisions on the substance, procedure and timing of another round of negotiations. (C)

Tab A

Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter3


  • Status of Middle East Negotiations Following Atherton Trip

We are preparing a paper4 on the options we have for pursuing the Middle East negotiations, for discussion with you later in the week. Meanwhile, I want to give you this assessment of where things stand following Atherton’s talks with the Israelis and Egyptians.

It is our judgment that Begin and Sadat both still want to conclude the Treaty negotiations and have the political strength to sell domestically whatever they may agree to, even though both are under mounting pressures from elements of their respective political constituencies who feel they have already gone too far. The more time that passes, however, the greater is the danger that growing second thoughts in Israel about Camp David will undermine Begin’s ability to have his way with the Cabinet and the Knesset.

[Page 588]While both leaders want to proceed to wrap up the Treaty, both are having trouble with their respective political constituencies and this fact has increased the perceived advantages for both in bargaining hard over the remaining issues. In addition, events in Iran have probably caused both sides to stiffen as they have perceived increased risks in concluding a peace Treaty, resulting from potential area repercussions of what is happening in Iran. Israel is more concerned than ever about giving up Gulf of Suez oil fields without ironclad Egyptian supply commitments. It is also more determined than ever to ensure that Egypt will be firmly committed to peace and normalization regardless of developments elsewhere in the area, before giving up the security of its position in Sinai. The Egyptians for their part stress increasingly that the peace Treaty must not isolate Egypt and thus weaken its ability to play a leading role for stability in the area. They therefore want the Treaty package to include credible evidence that they are not making a separate peace.

As a result of these perceptions, the “linkage” issue has taken on even greater importance for both sides, with Egypt determined to maximize, and Israel to minimize the linkage between their bilateral Treaty and implementation of the Camp David Framework for the West Bank and Gaza.

Following Atherton’s trip, it is clear that both sides see all of the remaining issues, and not just the West Bank/Gaza side letter and ambassadorial-exchange question, as “linkage” issues which can only be dealt with and resolved together, if they are to be resolved at all. This, more than the intrinsic difficulty of any one of the three Treaty text issues Atherton tried to resolve, probably accounts for their unwillingness to make significant headway during his trip. The linkage question is fundamental to both sides, and they want to see how all of its parts will be dealt with before trying to resolve any aspect of it. It is also clear that, if these issues are to be discussed with any hope of success, this must be done at the political level. Begin must be intimately involved on the Israeli side, either through moving the talks back to the summit or through ministerial-level talks in the area where Dayan can have frequent direct access to him.

It is also clear from Atherton’s talks that the Israeli Government is so locked into its rejection of the proposals5 I took to Jerusalem from Cairo last month that it cannot agree to any of them in their present form. It is equally clear, however, that Sadat cannot agree to any major departures from the substances of those proposals. The issues we confront, therefore, are twofold: (1) whether we can find new ways to [Page 589]package an overall proposal for a solution of the remaining issues that will still meet Sadat’s needs and yet be acceptable to Israel, and (2) what negotiating format has the best chance of bringing both Sadat and Begin along. The paper we are preparing for your consideration later this week will focus on these two issues. As background for your review of our future options, the following summarizes where matters stand on the three paragraphs in the Treaty and on the oil question which Atherton discussed during his visit (he did not, as you know, get into the West Bank/Gaza side letter and ambassadorial-exchange issues or the aid questions pending with the Israelis and Egyptians).

Article IV—The Egyptians still insist on specifying that a review of Sinai security arrangements must be undertaken “promptly” when requested by either side and must in any case occur within a specified number of years. They are willing, however, to use a synonym for “promptly” (e.g., “without delay”) and to specify a six-year rather than a five-year review period. The Israelis remain opposed to either concept, however expressed. I still feel this is the least difficult question to resolve, but both sides clearly want to hold off on any compromise until they see what they can get on the other outstanding issues.

Article VI (2)—There does not seem to be any way the Israelis can accept an interpretive note to this paragraph of the Treaty, which the Egyptians want in order to make clear that the phrase “independently of any instrument external to this Treaty” does not mean they are making a separate peace. Both Begin and Dayan acknowledged to Atherton, however, that this issue would have to be dealt with, and Dayan suggested that this might be done in the context of the West Bank/Gaza side letter.

Article VI (5)—At the end of Atherton’s trip, as you know, we were close to agreement with the Israelis on an ad referendum text of a letter to them responding to questions they raised, as a result of the legal opinion we offered the Egyptians, dealing with the circumstances under which Egypt would and would not be justified in joining hostilities against Israel under the Arab mutual security and collective defense pacts. The Egyptians, however, have reacted sharply to the idea of such a letter. This has raised the question of whether, in the process of overcoming Israeli objections to the legal opinion, we risk losing the Egyptians. Khalil suggested to Atherton that a way out of this dilemma would be to drop from the Treaty package both the legal opinion and the letter to the Israelis and to seek a brief statement agreed to by both parties which would make clear that Article VI (5) does not define any priority of obligations one way or the other between the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty and other obligations of the parties. Begin did not reject this alternative approach when it was described to him by Atherton, al[Page 590]though we have not explored possible formulations sufficiently to know whether it can be made to work.

OilKhalil indicated to Atherton a possible opening for resolving the problem of a supply commitment to Israel. On the one hand, he firmly maintained the Egyptian position that, while Israel will be able to purchase its requirements on a commercial basis from Egyptian sources once there is peace, Egypt cannot put this understanding in writing. On the other hand, he suggested that arrangements which would assure a fixed supply to Israel could be made on a company-to-company basis, with the Egyptian Government giving its permission to the selling company (presumably AMOCO) to enter such an arrangement with a company purchasing oil for Israel.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 16, Egypt-Israel Negotiations: 2/79. Secret. Sent for information. The date is handwritten. Carter initialed “C” at the top of the memorandum, indicating that he saw the document.
  2. Atherton and Hansell met with Khalil, Boutros Ghali, and el-Baz in Cairo on January 26 to discuss the remaining issues in the treaty text. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840163–0775) In the course of these discussions, Khalil proposed addressing the impasse over Article VI (5) by suggesting replacing the U.S. memorandum of law with an agreed statement on the two sides’ problems with the paragraph. When Atherton and Hansell proposed this to Begin on January 27, the Prime Minister stated that he would “not reject” Khalil’s proposal “out of hand.” (Telegram 326 from Jerusalem, January 27; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850011–1343)
  3. Secret; Nodis. Carter initialed “C” at the top of the memorandum, indicating that he saw the document.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 171.
  5. See Documents 157 and 158.