179. Memorandum From William B. Quandt of the National Security Council Staff for the Record1


  • Meeting on Camp David II, February 19, 1979, The Cabinet Room, 6:00–7:15 p.m. (U)

Participants: The President, The Vice President, The Secretary of State, The Secretary of Defense, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ambassador Hermann Fr. Eilts, Ambassador Samuel Lewis, Assistant Secretary of State Harold Saunders, Ambassador Alfred Atherton, David Aaron, Jody Powell, William B. Quandt

The President asked Secretary Brown to comment briefly on his trip to the Middle East.2 Secretary Brown said that all of the leaders in the area are in general agreement on the general security situation that confronts us all. But they are less clear on what we should do. The Saudis were pleased with what the Secretary said, but were taken back by the specifics.

The President then asked Amb. Eilts to comment on President Sadat’s thinking. Amb. Eilts reported that Sadat says he has no further concessions to make. Prime Minister Khalil will not come with specific concessions, but he will be prepared to discuss alternative formulations on Articles IV and VI. Linkage may not be the primary focus of discussions, although the Egyptians still feel that they need something on this topic. The draft side letter as it now exists should be satisfactory as a basis for discussion. Khalil will have a positive attitude and he has some discretionary latitude in negotiations. Concerning oil, the Egyptians will approve to accompany an agreement, but do not want to put this in writing. We have not really pressed them on this issue and there will be some scope for negotiation.

The President asked if Egypt would find it easier to sell 1.5 million tons of oil to us, and then let us resell it to whom ever we wish. Amb. Eilts said that this might be possible, and Amb. Lewis agreed, although he emphasized that the quantities involved would be closer to 2.5 million tons and that the Israelis would much rather prefer to get the oil directly from Egypt.

[Page 618]The President commented on the strategy paper and noted that it would be best to put forward any U.S. proposals in complete privacy to Dayan and Khalil. If their advisors are present, they will be obliged to take harder positions. Amb. Lewis agreed, but added that ultimately Prime Minister Begin will have to be involved personally in the negotiations for them to succeed. The President added that if this were true, we would have to leave something for Begin to do and to take credit for. Amb. Eilts added that President Sadat was also expecting to be invited to a summit.

The President said that the only new idea that he had involved splitting off Gaza from the West Bank. We should perhaps encourage Sadat to withdraw his offer to represent Hussein’s interests in the West Bank. This would let him off the West Bank hook. Sadat does not care as much about the West Bank as he does about Gaza. If he can represent Gaza, this would allow him to conclude a separate treaty with Israel and to embarrass Hussein. This would let him claim that he has done his part, while increasing pressure on Jordan. Otherwise, the President said he had no new ideas on how to proceed.

The Vice President said that there is widespread expectations that there will be a summit. It is important then to state that a summit will only take place if progress is first made at the Foreign Minister level. The President said that perhaps he should send a personal message to both Begin and Sadat asking them not to reject any individual points in the proposals that we will put forward. We want to avoid any public confrontations. We need to show progress, and then try to pin down details at a later date. It would be better for both parties to reject our package, but not to go into the details, and to acknowledge that progress was being made. If there must be a summit, the President said, there should not be too much delay.

Amb. Eilts added that the most serious problem for Sadat would be the timing of the exchange of Ambassadors. The President acknowledged that he would have to deal with Sadat directly on that issue.

Both Ambassadors Lewis and Eilts agreed that the “Gaza first” approach made sense. Amb. Eilts added, however, that if this is to work, it must involve a significant degree of authority in the hands of the self-government, and it must be seen as a precedent for the West Bank.

Dr. Brzezinski added a comment on procedure. He said that the President himself would have to be directly involved in the negotiations. The success or failure of these talks would be of political importance. The President might consider meeting both Dayan and Khalil at the outset to stress the regional security concerns that underlie our policy. This should add a certain urgency to the negotiations. Dr. Brzezinski also said that he felt it would be a mistake for the Ministers, after having been softened up at Camp David, to go back home not having [Page 619]reached agreement. There is a danger that positions will harden, that there will be leaks, and that we will lose control. Therefore, if progress is made in the talks, it would be desirable to move directly to a summit. This would help add to the sense of urgency.

Secretary Vance said that he was sympathetic to this idea and that it should not be ruled out. But he is afraid that it will expose the President too soon, before a proper framework has been laid. Perhaps the President could come up Friday3 night and meet with the two heads of the delegations. Dr. Brzezinski said that if the talks fail, the President will be blamed in any case. If he must be involved, he should start at the beginning. Secretary Brown stated that he shared the concern of involving the President prematurely. We should hold back someone, but if the President could confine his comments to regional security, then it would be worth having him meet with both delegations right away.

Ambassador Lewis noted that it might be difficult to get Cabinet approval for an immediate summit. The Cabinet is very determined to review everything that happens in the negotiations. If Begin is invited, he will probably try to bring half the Cabinet with him. Nonetheless, Ambassador Lewis saw merit in the idea of an immediate summit. The President said we should keep this as a desirable option. The Vice President asked if we could give something to Dayan to take back to the Cabinet, possibly private messages that he would just pass on to Begin.

Turning to the Gaza option, Secretary Vance asked if the letter should be changed. The President said we should just urge the Egyptians to drop their commitment to negotiate the West Bank. Sadat should get his foot out of the West Bank, and this would allow him to put pressure on Hussein. The President felt that two errors had been made at Camp David. First, too much emphasis was placed on the exchange of ambassadors. Second, Sadat should not have been asked to negotiate for the West Bank.

Dr. Brzezinski asked what the incentives were for each party to conclude the negotiations. In particular, what do the Israelis fear from the failure of negotiations? The President thought they were afraid of Egypt turning to a more hostile posture. This would contribute to the general malaise in Israeli society. Ambassador Lewis thought that the primary concern was the deterioration of U.S.-Israeli relations. The President felt that the Iranian situation should make the Israelis want peace with Egypt more. Ambassador Lewis noted that the majority of Israelis may feel that way, but that others are reacting more cautiously. The President also felt that there was an increase in threat from the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to the Israelis, and that the situation in Iran has [Page 620]emboldened the Palestinians. Ambassador Lewis felt that the increased national consciousness of the Israeli Arabs was more of a problem. The Vice President added that he felt the Israelis were worried about the loss of public opinion here, and Ambassador Lewis agreed. Secretary Vance reminded the group of Dayan’s statement that “Israel cannot afford to win another war”. Ambassador Lewis said that Dayan was the most aware of all Israeli leaders of the U.S. connection and its importance.

The President said that when we get to the question of oil, we should check with the Egyptians to make sure that the language of any letter is satisfactory. Sadat may want to sell the oil to us rather than to Israel.

Dr. Brzezinski asked whether we ought to convey the point that this was the last effort that we would be able to make in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion. Secretary Vance said that he had already told Ambassador Evron that, the President stated that we should not be saying that publicly. We do not want to be seen as giving up on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but practically everyone should recognize that we cannot start over from scratch. There is a tenacity to Sadat, that he cannot hold in limbo indefinitely. Ambassador Eilts agreed that if the talks fail, Egypt will go back to the Arab world. Ambassador Lewis added that the Labor Party favors a quick settlement, and Secretary Brown noted that the Labor Party supports the Gaza first option. Ambassador Lewis said that the Israelis widely believe that this [is] the last serious round of talks. We don’t need to say it publicly. Secretary Vance added that the process of erosion is clearly under way.

The President asked about Egyptian-Saudi relations and Ambassador Eilts said that Sadat wants Saudi support, but does not see it as crucial at this stage. He feels that the Saudis will have to be confronted with a fait accomplí. The President added that there is no place for the Saudis to go once the treaty is signed. They have to work with the United States and Egypt. Secretary Brown said the Saudis will take a negative public line, but in private they will not be so upset. Discussion ensued on the comparative strength of various personalities in the Saudi ruling family, and it was generally agreed that Fahd remains the single most important figure, but that Sultan and Abdallah have been gaining in influence as well.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Chron File, Box 135, Quandt: 2/79. Secret. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room. Printed from an uninitialed copy.
  2. See Document 178.
  3. February 23.