218. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • United States

    • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • Warren Christopher
    • Ambassador John West
    • General David Jones
    • Chip Carter
    • Gary Sick
    • David Ransom
    • Isa Sabbagh
  • Saudi Arabia

    • Crown Prince Fahd Abd al-Aziz al Saud
    • Prince Abdullah Abd al-Aziz al Saud
    • Prince Sultan Abd al-Aziz al Saud
    • Prince Saud Faysal al Saud
    • Dr. Rashad Pharaon
    • Mr. Abd al-Rahman al-Mansuri
    • Note taker

Crown Prince Fahd opened the meeting by noting that the audience with the King had been excellent.2

Dr. Brzezinski said that he brought greetings from the President. He hoped that the Crown Prince would soon be able to visit Washington and continue these talks. The President believes that our countries are linked not only by interests but by a shared belief in God and a special spiritual bond. There is a very special relationship between us. We wish to preserve that. We believe those relations today are challenged by internal and external threats to our interests. As a consequence we must respond to the challenge, to determine if the future world will be dominated by moderate or radical forces. The external threat originates with the Soviet Union, and its effects have been seen in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and South Yemen. The internal threat consists of forces creating regimes favorable to the Soviet Union. The United States is determined to respond to both challenges. In recent weeks we [Page 756] have demonstrated our intent to respond. We are prepared to use force if necessary to protect the vital interests of ourselves or of our friends.

We are willing to work with all Arab countries who have shared security concerns, to shape a consultative security framework. This is not an attempt to split the Arab world, though we recognize that some Arab countries are better friends than others. It is in our longer term interests to increase our relations with Syria and Iraq, and we would welcome your suggestions on how that might be done. I have already spoken to King Khalid about the intellectual and spiritual revival of Islam and the importance that we attach to it. In this context, we want to find a solution to the Arab-Israel dispute.

We see the Israel-Egyptian treaty as the beginning and a cornerstone of a comprehensive peace settlement. The President has made very clear his determination to use this treaty to work to protect and preserve the rights of the Palestinians. This [is] a point of personal principle. We hope that the treaty will establish the principle of Israeli withdrawal and Israeli dismantlement of settlements in occupied territories. It should also lay the basis for the United States Arab friendship since it will result in changing attitudes on both sides. The treaty opens the door of redressing justice for the Palestinians and creating new conditions for giving the Palestinians their legitimate rights. We also believe that anything that hurts or undermines the treaty helps our adversaries. The Soviets do not wish a treaty, the Arab radicals do not wish one, the anti-Arab forces in the United States oppose it, and those Israelis who want to retain all of their lands also oppose it. So we want your cooperation over the next few months when it will be particularly difficult after signing the treaty.

We believe at this new historical stage you and we are ready for new wider relationships; but any economic or political sanctions against Egypt would hurt us as well [as] Egypt. We have been encouraged to hear that it is not your intention to do anything to disadvantage or hurt Egypt and that you will exert every effort to maintain normal relations with Egypt. This is a statesmanlike position. The President in Cairo pledged himself to work to solve the problem of the Palestinians. I cannot imagine any President in the future willing to do so much for the Palestinians. I would like to be able to tell him from you when we go back that there will be no tangible actions by you that would hurt Egypt or us. The President hopes that you will be able to visit Washington soon to discuss these matters and joint decisions to be taken. In the meantime, we remain committed to relations with you which we think are very deep.

Crown Prince Fahd said he was pleased when he first heard of the visit. He saw a clear indication of the interest of the President of the United States. All we hope for is that the efforts of President Carter con[Page 757]tinue to another stage to see the objective achieved with justice. I can assure you it is one of our salient principles that Saudi Arabia will not hurt anyone, so it stands to reason that we will not hurt Egypt which is our friend and relative. It suffices to mention two things—last week we signed with Egypt a $120 million agreement for purchase of machinery and another $525 million contract. Would we do that if we wanted to hurt Egypt? Of course one must admit as a realist that you cannot tell what will happen next week. But I reiterate we will not permit harm to come to anyone through us.

Saudi Arabia is thinking seriously about sending a special emissary to Iraq, Syria, and the Palestinians. Perhaps this will cause them to reduce their enmity and bring them closer to moderation. This is just a hope. Circumstances are not settled. Our hope is that the treaty involving Israel, Egypt and the United States will embody something with which we can work and put to rest those anguished souls who wish to do something drastic. We need something we can use as a counter-argument. Does the treaty indicate the path on which the Palestinians travel to determine their own future.

Dr. Brzezinski said the treaty has provisions which create the circumstances for Palestinians to participate in the political process. This will probably not be satisfactory initially but if it is exploited by the Jordanians and Palestinians the situation on the West Bank can be transformed.

Mr. Christopher said that the crux of the negotiation over the next several months will be the efforts of President Sadat to find linkages or relationships between the treaty and a comprehensive settlement. If Sadat wanted only a bilateral settlement, he could have had that long ago, but he held out and now he has a strong commitment that negotiations will begin one month after the treaty is ratified with respect to arrangements on the West Bank. The timetable has been laid out under which, within one year, the modalities had to be determined with regard to election and self-government. Both Palestinians and Jordanians are free to participate. He wants to make it clear that Sadat fought hard for the process leading beyond the bilateral stage.

Dr. Brzezinski said it was predictable that the radical Arabs would say this is not enough. But we want to start a process which over the next few years transforms the conditions on the West Bank. Those Israelis who want to retain permanent control are very fearful about the provisions of the treaty. He had recently been to Israel with President Carter, and he could say truthfully that he was surprised by the political difficulties that Begin is encountering. That is why we are anxious to start a process as soon as possible to insure that the process is not derailed. The creation of an Egyptian-Israeli treaty helps to overcome difficulties in the United States thereby creating possibilities for a wider [Page 758] relationship on security issues with Arab states. This is why the President asked him to come here. You understand that we are walking down the path of history together.

Crown Prince Fahd asked is there nothing in the treaty that the Palestinians after a certain time will get self-determination? The Palestinians will ask us that.

Dr. Brzezinski said the words “self-determination” have not been used. To Israel that means a separate Palestinian state. We have used the words “participate in determining their future,” because we believe that the next five years will bring conditions in which Palestinian and Israeli objectives are not incompatible. He mentioned the Peres speech in the Knesset on Palestinian rights as evidence that change does take place over time. Golda Meir said there was no such thing as a Palestinian.3 Begin said one year ago that the Israelis are Palestinians. Peres may be the next Prime Minister and he spoke of the rights of the Palestinians. President Carter and President Sadat created a framework in which we can redefine existing reality into something very different within the next five years.

Mr. Christopher said that difficult questions lie ahead in determining the scope of self-government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The concept of full autonomy is to a large degree self-government. Institutions can be created on the West Bank and Gaza Strip which would eliminate most of the objectionable aspects of outside involvement. It is important that the Palestinians find a means of becoming part of the negotiations themselves. We are prepared to welcome the Palestinians into negotiations on the basis of their acceptance of Resolution 242. Your government earlier made efforts along those lines. We hope you will do so again to insure that moderate Palestinians join the process.

Crown Prince Fahd said of course they would continue the process toward the results mentioned, but they are asked questions and they need an answer when the Palestinians ask them. They hear the pronouncements of the ultimate aim but they want assurances that they have a choice of their own future.

Dr. Brzezinski said the answer is that in the course of the next five years the situation can be altered in ways not specifically predictable at present. If the United States now stated flatly that there would be a Palestinian state in five years, they would not get a single Israeli prepared [Page 759] to cooperate in the process. But many Israeli critics of Begin in the Knesset say the result will be a Palestinian entity with self-government. Therefore, we hope and ask for two things. First, we want the Palestinians to show the political wisdom to seize this opportunity; secondly, we want our friends, and especially our close friends with whom we can cooperate on regional security, to give this process a chance and not join into actions designed to derail it. I am very encouraged by what his Royal Highness said that Saudi Arabia has an overriding interest in shaping a moderate Middle East.

Mr. Christopher said that we live in a world of alternatives. This alternative (the treaty) is much preferable to others. Leaving the status quo only creates a dangerous situation. If the present situation continues and the Israeli occupation continues, there is no chance of progress.

Crown Prince Fahd said that he would speak as a friend and that he shared the desire for a stable Middle East, but he wanted to mention and make clear that no one can guarantee that what we say will be heeded by Iraq, Syria, or the others. We will do our best because we share this view. We will try to knock some sense into them. He would like to have something clear, however; if the area experiences acts of destruction and we find ourselves keeping quiet or following a policy not readily understood, you should know that we are not being destructive but dealing with the matter in our own way. We are happy to consult but you should not misunderstand our motives. It simply underscores the need of both sides to get together on what is happening. Things are not predictable.

Dr. Brzezinski said that his mission is an example that we are always ready to do that. We hope that you will soon be able to consult with the President, since there is no substitute for consultation at the highest level. He deduced that our fundamental objectives are similar, that we share the same concern regarding the external threat and internal security and to continue to help Egypt set in motion the peace process so that we can go on to the next phase. We are talking about a partnership for moderation and stability in the Middle East.

Crown Prince Fahd said this is what is required.

Crown Prince Saud noted that there were certain Arab League technical measures that would be taken.

Dr. Brzezinski said we would hope the Arab League would not force you to do things that you would not want to do, such as economic sanctions.

Crown Prince Saud said the technical measures are not punitive but jointly agreed upon by the Arab League including such things as a boycott.

[Page 760]

Dr. Brzezinski asked if the Arab League measures would not have the effect of economic sanctions. (All said no.) He noted that we are launching ourselves on an effort to help the area. We intend to help Egypt militarily, and other damage to Egypt would hurt us. We might as well be frank about it.

Prince Saud said that the measures stipulated by the Arab League are not to be taken as punitive measures against Egypt or the United States.

Mr. Christopher said that he was heartened by the indication that Saudi Arabia will not take unilateral direct steps to interfere with the peace process. We are anxious to report that to President Carter. In the candor of our friendship it should be pointed out that the U.S. people and the Congress may not distinguish so clearly between acts taken unilaterally or collectively with Arab friends. If you do make efforts to persuade others, it would be desirable if this became known, even if it fails, and I hope that it does not. We have asked Congress to do some extraordinary things in our mutual interest so it is very desirable to be able to explain to Congress the acts that have been taken.

Crown Prince Fahd said that the point was well taken with regard to your attempts to bring Congress around. He hoped that you would bear with me when he says that in this part of the world we know best how to make friends. Some things are better done quietly.

Dr. Brzezinski said we are not asking you that, and not giving you advice on how to conduct your relations. We wonder what is behind the words used by Prince Saud. We do not want to surprise you and we do not want to be surprised by you. We understand the Foreign Minister says that collective actions will not prevent Saudi cooperation. This is really important to us. We are going to the Congress to ask money for Egypt, to undertake measures to enhance security for the region as a whole to promote moderation, and to prevent the Soviets from gaining a position. So we need to know what you will be doing.

Prince Saud said the measures to be taken would consist of three categories. (The interpretation of what might be harmful to the bilateral relationship between Egypt and Saudi Arabia would depend on the nature of those relations.) These actions will stem directly from the Arab League and the Mutual Defense Pact. In the event the Egyptians sign a treaty, the automatic results or the measures to be taken will be based on the regulations and charter of the Arab League: First, suspension of membership in the Arab League; second, moving the headquarters from Cairo elsewhere; and, thirdly, to apply Arab boycott regulations to Egyptian companies or institutions dealing with Israel. This means changing the relationship not only between Egypt and Saudi Arabia but between all the members of the Arab League. They will change the responsibility of Egypt to the Arab League and vice versa. It is some[Page 761]thing like a member of NATO having a treaty with the Soviet Union. What relations would they then have with the rest of NATO?

Dr. Brzezinski said there were two questions:

—First, what economic effect would the boycott have with regard to Egyptian-Saudi relations?

—Secondly, are you telling me that at a time when the United States is starting to help the Egyptian military become stronger in the region with respect to Israel, you would terminate assistance to Egypt for military purposes?

(All the Princes shake their heads no.)

Crown Prince Fahd said that he had explained at Baghdad4 that he would not stop aid to Egypt. He cited the two examples that he had given previously as evidence that Saudi Arabia had no such intention.

Prince Saud said there was one point that needed to be clear. We consider Israel to be the enemy, not just any state. Therefore, any agreement that Egypt makes with Israel is not just like any agreement. With respect to cooperation with the United States, that will continue forever. That is not a question.

Mr. Christopher asked if Egypt will lose some aid due to its departure from the Arab League. (Prince Sultan shook his head no.)

Prince Saud said he wanted to be careful in his reply because he was not sure what the Arab League might pay to Egypt. In fact Egypt might gain by not being required to pay its dues to the Arab League.

Crown Prince Fahd said that the situation was very delicate. He repeated that they would lean over backwards to help obviate the problem facing Egypt, but if they fail they are only human.

Dr. Brzezinski said that in all relations with Saudi Arabia, now and in the past, we have found them to be men of their words. President Carter has given his word that we will work for the West Bank. They should remind their Arab colleagues that we see the Egyptian-Israel treaty as the first step to a comprehensive settlement. Even the Baghdad conference called for a comprehensive settlement, so on that basis we can work together.

Crown Prince Fahd said that when they talk to the Palestinians and their Arab friends who have ears to hear, can we say we have it as word from President Carter that this treaty is only the first step to the larger goal and that he is committed to work for a settlement of the Palestinian problem so that they will have freedom and self-determination?

Dr. Brzezinski asked him to use the phrase “self-expression” rather than “self-determination”. We cannot signal a Palestinian state. We [Page 762] have used the phrase that they would “participate in determining their own future”.

Crown Prince Fahd said that was an exceptionally anglo-Saxon phrase. There is nothing like that in Arabic. (Some discussion ensued about how to translate the various phrases.)

Dr. Brzezinski wondered how President Carter’s speech5 in Cairo had been translated. He thought they should use that translation. That was a very careful choice of words.

Crown Prince Fahd said that the status of Jerusalem had a very special significance for this country. Muslims first turned to Jerusalem to pray until God declared that they should turn to Mecca.

Dr. Brzezinski said that the President had been asked this specifically in Israel, i.e., to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. There are also demands for such an action in the United States. Our position remains unchanged. This issue will be resolved only in the context of a comprehensive peace settlement.

Mr. Christopher said that we stand by our position not to recognize any unilateral steps by Israel which claim that whole territory. It is recognized by us as occupied territory to be dealt with in the context of a settlement of the West Bank and Gaza.

Crown Prince Fahd said that this had been a very fruitful exchange. He would like once more to reiterate their determination to be helpful in lessening the problems. We will be sending out words and emissaries to lessen the problems. We urge you to recognize human limits. We will come to you at once and say, “This is the problem that remains.” We must stay in close contact and look at the whole area. We are surrounded by more than just nuisances. Try to see the situation that we are in and never attribute ulterior motives to us. Saudi Arabia will not dig the U.S. in the ribs or harm relations with Egypt.

[Omitted here is discussion of regional security issues.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 33, Memcons: Brzezinski: 3–6/79. Secret. The meeting took place in the King’s Palace.
  2. The U.S. delegation met with Khalid at the King’s Palace from 5:45 p.m. to 6:10 p.m. on March 17. The memorandum of conversation from this meeting is ibid. Earlier the same day, the delegation met with Saud in the latter’s office from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., where the discussion covered the state of U.S.-Saudi relations, the threats to the Middle East posed by the Soviet Union and by “radicalism” in the region, U.S. efforts to promote a wider security framework, U.S. relations with the Arab world, and Washington’s efforts to broker a comprehensive regional peace for the region. On the last point, Brzezinski highlighted three results of the impending Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty: the establishment of the principle of Israeli withdrawal and dismantlement of the settlements, the initiation of Palestinian involvement in the peace process, and the cementing of Arab/American friendships. The memorandum of conversation for this meeting is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XVIII, Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula.
  3. Referring to the Zionists who arrived in Palestine in the early 20th century, Meir was quoted in the June 15, 1969, Sunday Times [London], as saying: “There were no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” (Sunday Times, June 15, 1969).
  4. See footnote 7, Document 91.
  5. The text of Carter’s March 10 address to Egypt’s People’s Assembly is printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1979,pp. 412–414.