250. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassies in Lebanon and Israel1

115270. Eyes Only for Ambassadors Dean and Lewis from the Secretary. Subject: Contacts With PLO/Fatah.

(S) Entire text

1. For Ambassador Dean: We have given further thought to the security problems in Lebanon which we discussed during your recent consultation in Washington. We agree that the personal safety and security of you and all members of the Mission, along with private American citizens, makes it essential that all appropriate precautions are taken.

2. In recognition of the decisive role that organized Palestinian groups have played and could play in the security of our Mission and the physical environment in which it must function, you are authorized to initiate and maintain such contact with an appropriate PLO/Fatah [Page 836] representative or person associated with those organizations as is necessary to assure reasonable protection of your own security and that of your staff and American citizens in Lebanon. You should pick one individual for this contact. This contact represents a continuation of the liaison with PLO/Fatah for security purposes which was authorized for Embassy Beirut in 1976 and has never been rescinded. We recognize, however, that experience has shown that you must have discretion to conduct exchange with associate or representative of PLO/Fatah who may be accessible only to the Chief of Mission.

3. In the first instance you are authorized to conduct exchanges with Basil Akl, if he is your choice, on the understanding that you will inform us immediately if you believe it essential to be in touch with others in PLO/Fatah.

4. Your contact must not rpt not stray beyond the understanding we have with the Government of Israel, as recently reaffirmed in the memorandum of agreement.2 Your contact, therefore, will at this time relate to security and security-related issues within Lebanon. Your contacts will not be construed as recognition of or negotiation with the PLO/Fatah on issues going beyond security.

5. For Ambassador Lewis: You should not rpt not raise this issue with Israelis but regard it as consistent with past policy in Lebanon which has been publicly acknowledged. If asked you should cite past practice and say you will query Washington. For your own background only at this stage, we would probably ask you to reply to such a query along following lines:

A. The security of American personnel and institutions in Lebanon depends on a large degree on the self-restraint of the various Palestinian groups. (There are 56 Americans in the Embassy and several hundred Americans working at the American University, American schools, financial institutions, and businesses.) Our inability to prevent incidents by routine measures was illustrated by the April 2 grenade attack on the Embassy and the April 16 bombing of the cultural center. Another example of the danger to Americans in Beirut was the threat made in mid-April of 1979 against Ambassador Dean’s life by the same group that assassinated Ambassador Meloy in 1976.3

B. The Israelis will understand our vital security concerns and our determination to take all necessary measures to protect our personnel [Page 837] and citizens. They will recall our shared efforts to safeguard Israeli personnel in Tehran, when our concerns paralleled one another. They will recall that our Embassy in Beirut had contacts with Fatah on security matters in 1976. We have authorized our Embassy in Beirut—up to and including our Ambassador—to maintain, as required, contacts with a representative of PLO/Fatah or person associated with that organization for the purpose of assuring a reasonable degree of safety for the Ambassador, Mission staff and property, and American citizens in Lebanon. This contact, therefore, will relate to security and security-related issues within Lebanon. This contact will be limited to only a single person associated with PLO/Fatah.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Box 10, Beirut. Secret; Roger. Drafted by Draper; cleared by Saunders, William McAfee (INR/DDC), and Tarnoff; approved by Vance.
  2. See Document 232.
  3. Francis Edward Meloy, Jr., his aide, and their driver were kidnapped and later shot to death in Beirut. Although several members of Palestinian and Lebanese groups were arrested and charged, no one was ever convicted. (James M. Markham, “U.S. Ambassador and Aide Kidnapped and Murdered in Beirut Combat Sector,” The New York Times, June 17, 1976, p. 1)