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


  • West Bank/Gaza Negotiations

Secretary Vance has sent you the memo at Tab A2 in advance of our Friday morning meeting with Bob Strauss.3 At this point more questions are raised than answered. Specifically:

A deputy for Strauss. Bob will not be able to assume full responsibility until later in the year. Even then, he may not want to get into all the details. One possible candidate to be his deputy is Jim Leonard from our UN Mission. He knows the Middle East well and is an experienced diplomat.4

Appropriate US role. How active should we be? When should we begin to lay out substantive positions? Cy prefers to hold back for a while, letting the Egyptians and Israelis take the lead at first.

Broadening Arab support. The positions we take on settlements, Jerusalem and a dialogue with the PLO will be important signals to the Arab world. The direction and timing of our moves will require careful consideration.

PLO. Most Arab governments are urging us to open a dialogue with the PLO. This would cause an uproar in Israel.5 An alternative [Page 835] means of attracting Palestinian support would be to stake out credible positions on settlements and the scope of authority of the self-government. (S)

After this preliminary discussion, we will need to accelerate our efforts to develop a coherent strategy for the next phase of negotiations. This meeting should try to resolve issues of staffing and to set broad guidelines for the conduct of the talks. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 36, Israel: 5–11/79. Secret. Carter wrote at the top of the memorandum, “Cy’s memo to Bob [Strauss] J.”
  2. Attached but not printed is Vance’s May 2 memorandum prepared for Carter in anticipation of a their scheduled May 3 meeting on the “practical and substantive issues we will face in the West Bank/Gaza negotiations,” also involving Mondale, Strauss, Brzezinski, and Jordan. (See footnote 3 below) The memorandum provided “a brief status report on questions connected with US staffing of the negotiations;” discussed “issues that arise with respect to the initial phase concerning arrangements, procedure, and agenda;” addressed “substantive issues on which we need early decisions if we are to have an effective strategy of winning Arab support for the negotiations,” including Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and U.S. relations with the Palestinians, including the PLO; and presented “alternatives for our longer-term strategy toward the negotiations.” In the upper right-hand corner of the first page of Vance’s memorandum, Carter wrote: “To Strauss—for comment J.C.” (Ibid.)
  3. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter held a breakfast meeting with Mondale, Vance, Brown, and Brzezinski from 7:30 a.m. to 8:56 a.m., May 4. They were joined by Strauss from 8:35 a.m. to 8:56 a.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials) No memorandum of conversation for this meeting has been found.
  4. The appointment of Leonard, who had previously served as Deputy Representative to the United Nations, as Strauss’s deputy was announced May 12. (Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book I, p. 852)
  5. In an April 30 letter to Vance, Begin protested reported comments made by Saunders and Hansell to Congress “to the effect that communications between the government of the United States and the P.L.O. might be considered compatible with the commitments of the United States to Israel and that the United States Government is not obligated to obtain Israel’s prior approval.” Begin noted that the U.S. commitment neither to recognize nor negotiate with the P.L.O., as affirmed in the 1975 and 1979 Memoranda of Agreement between the United States and Israel, was “an absolute one.” “The fact cannot be disregarded that any direct or indirect contact by the United States Government with a representative of the P.L.O.,” Begin continued, “is tantamount to recognition of that organization and will inevitably confer on it a degree of legitimation. This is the case, whether or not the contact takes place in the context of negotiations.” (Telegram 110026 to Tel Aviv, May 1; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 36, Israel: 5–11/79)