242. Editorial Note

On March 27, 1979, in the aftermath of the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, a conference of Foreign Ministers from eighteen Arab states and the Palestine Liberation Organization convened in Baghdad to consider the implementation of sanctions censuring Egypt’s negotiation with Israel passed at the Baghdad Summit in November 1978. Reporting on the opening session, the United States Interests Section in Baghdad noted the “harsh rhetoric” used by Vice Chairman of the Iraqi Ba’ath Party Saddam Hussein, Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Saddoun Hammadi, to condemn the Peace Treaty, the U.S. role in its negotiation, and Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat. In his speech to the first public session, Hussein “made it clear that any Arab state not remaining committed” to the Baghdad resolutions “was an ally of Sadat and thus an ally of the Zionist enemy.” It was, he continued, “incumbent on Arabs to take actions against any backsliders lest decisions of Arab Kings and Presidents become mere ink on paper.” Saddam also criticized the United States for “pushing Sadat in to a peace settlement,” an action which he noted would cause U.S. interests in the Arab world to “suffer.” Arafat called upon the Arab countries to “take decisions to punish the U.S. and to impose boycotts on it in the fields of petroleum, finance and commerce.” Lastly, Hammadi stated that the United States “bore the ‘primary responsibility’” for the “capitulationist treaty,” adding it was the “nationalist responsibility of Arabs to check Zionist imperialist conspiracy through an increase of awareness and sacrifices.”

Hammadi’s speech outlined six demands for the conference: 1) “to expel Egypt from the Arab League and to isolate it both from Arab world and within the international community;” 2) transfer the Arab League headquarters from Cairo, along with all of the League’s associated institutions; 3) stop all Arab economic, financial, and technical assistance programs for Egypt; 4) “withdraw all official and private Arab deposits from Egypt[ian] financial institutions;” 5) “freeze” Egyptian membership in all economic, cultural and other groupings; and 6) “call upon the Egyptian people to shoulder their responsibility by supporting collective Arab efforts to confront Zionist, imperialist plots which have turned the Egyptian regime into their executive tool.” (Telegram 694 from Baghdad, March 28; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790142–0982)

[Page 815]However, the March 28 conference sessions were marked by intense debate over the proposed sanctions. Jordan announced it would recall its Ambassador from Cairo but would not break relations; the Omani Government, which had boycotted the conference, issued a statement praising the Peace Treaty as it brought the return of Sinai to Egypt. The delegation from Saudi Arabia only agreed to the “minimum sanctions” against the Egyptians which had been agreed at the Baghdad Summit the previous November, a position which drew rebuke from Arafat. (Marvine Howe, “Arabs, Deeply Split, Bar Stronger Steps Against U.S., Egypt,” The New York Times, March 29, 1979, page A1) Addressing the conference, Arafat attacked what he viewed as Saudi Arabia’s lack of support for the Palestinian cause and its “soft” position on imposing sanctions upon Egypt or the United States. The speech provoked a “heated exchange” between Arafat and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal, followed by a walk-out by the Libyan, Syrian, and P.L.O. delegations. The Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Abd al-Aziz al-Thunayyan informed Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John C. West that Arafat’s attack was “most serious and completely unexpected.” “The Saudis,” West reported, “had expected to implement the Baghdad sanctions and to achieve a consensus but the Arafat accusation had upset all plans and calculations. Thunayyan said that he could not understand why Arafat attacked as he did and he did not know what the outcome of the Baghdad meeting would be.” (Telegram 2602 from Jidda, March 29; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790144–0446)

In the end, on March 31, a set of compromise resolutions, imposing an extensive diplomatic and economic boycott of Egypt, was unanimously approved by all the delegations in attendance. While no decision was taken to withdraw Arab funds from Egyptian financial institutions, impose exchange controls on Egypt, or impose an oil embargo on the United States, the delegations resolved to suspend diplomatic relations with Egypt; to suspend Egyptian membership in the Arab League and all associated ministerial councils as well as other specialized Arab organizations; to transfer Arab League headquarters from Cairo to Tunis; and to halt all financial and technical aid programs. Moreover, the resolutions stated intent to seek the suspension of Egyptian membership in the non-aligned movement, the Islamic Conference, and the Organization of African Unity for “violating the resolutions of these organizations pertaining to the Arab-Israeli conflict.” The full text of the Baghdad resolutions is printed in Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1979, pages 29952–29953.

Meeting with West to discuss the resolutions on April 3, Saud explained that his country had “worked hard to prevent radicals from carrying the day at Baghdad.” The Conference had ended in a “com[Page 816]promise absorbing the furor of the Arab world, which was, in Saudi view, [the] best that could have been expected.” Saud advised that if the United States was “going to pursue Phase II of peace process, it should take steps to open direct contacts with PLO.” Otherwise, he asserted, “it would be better to forget about [the] peace process for the moment and concentrate on bilateral relations with the Arabs while the dust settles.” (Telegram 2746 from Jidda, April 4; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790154–0337)