299. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter1


  • A Course of Action on Lebanon


This memorandum lays out for approval a concrete plan of action designed to transform the present ceasefire in South Lebanon into a longer lasting truce (a detailed scenario is attached). In the process we would seek to accomplish these specific additional objectives:

—enable the Lebanese Government to take several further steps to enhance its authority, particularly in the south, as part of the continuing implementation of Resolution 425;

—return internal Lebanese refugees to their homes and undertake an international program of rebuilding in limited areas of the south;

—strengthen UNIFIL’s role and capability in partial preparation for the later day when it may be asked under Resolution 425 to help the Lebanese Government secure the Israeli-Lebanese border;

—lessen the likelihood of an Israeli-Syrian confrontation in the air;

—produce a token demonstration of Syrian willingness to begin withdrawing its forces while the Lebanese take increased responsibility for security in central and northern Lebanon;

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—begin turning the Palestinians from a military to a diplomatic strategy (through which terrorist attacks in Israel might be curbed substantially.)


The centerpiece of the proposed program2 is an umbrella agreement which would provide for the following:

—All parties will observe strictly the ceasefire.

—No element of the PLO will attack Israel by any means from bases in Lebanon. No element of the PLO will attack the Lebanese militias in southern Lebanon.

—The Lebanese militias will not attack Palestinian or Lebanese targets.

—Israel will not attack targets in Lebanon. Israel will assure compliance by the Lebanese militias in southern Lebanon with these arrangements.

—No party will attack or harass UNIFIL.

—Ceasefire violations will be the responsibility of UNIFIL and UN representatives to resolve. Communications to UNIFIL or UN representatives about ceasefire violations will be reported through appropriate means—including radio hotline—by Israel, Lebanon, the Arab deterrent force, the Lebanese militias in southern Lebanon, and the PLO. All parties will respect recommendations made by the UN representatives and UNIFIL to resolve conflict. (We will discuss with the UN and troop contributors how UNIFIL can be strengthened.)

Under that umbrella, working through different channels we would seek implementing and complementary agreements in four areas:

—Reduction and eventual elimination of Palestinian and Lebanese militia fighters from the UNIFIL area. UNIFIL would be given greater freedom of movement in the area held by the Lebanese militias, while upgrading its surveillance and detection capacities. (We would discuss the possible need for additional manpower.)

—Establishing and expanding stage by stage a “zone of peace,” beginning with the city of Tyre. Palestinian and Lebanese leftist fighters and offices would be withdrawn from Tyre, and a Lebanese military and civil presence would be established there.

—A de facto arrangement to forestall Israeli-Syrian aerial confrontations.

—Further staged withdrawals by Syrian forces from key areas in Beirut, with Lebanese Army units replacing them.


The detailed program of action outlined here is intended to establish for our own use a concept and the stages through which we would logically move in order to reach our objectives. We would not intend, however, to make all details and aspects of this plan available to any of [Page 972] the parties (although we would share more details with Waldheim and one or two of his closest associates, because of their central role). To go into details, for example with the Israelis, could lead to an insistence that the details of the last stage of the plan be agreed upon before the first step is taken.

Our strategy would involve tailoring our initial presentation to the role which we foresee each party playing in the process and to anticipate—and thus to avoid—some of the difficulties which particular parties will have with certain aspects of the plan. As we proceed, we would retain the flexibility to refine or change some of the later steps we envisage.


Because there are so many actors, we have had to consider a number of issues that will arise in the implementation of this plan:

1. Management. We have reviewed various possibilities for the management of this program and have concluded that the U.S. will have to provide the motor to keep this effort going but will need to work in an almost co-manager relationship with the UN Secretary General. Ambassador Dean can well handle the U.S. role in Beirut. An important element in the UN’s ability to play its role will be its ability to field a personality who can be a focal point for the negotiations among the parties in Lebanon. Both of us, of course, will work closely with the Lebanese President and Prime Minister.

It may prove useful at some point for Waldheim to send a special representative to the area for this purpose. We, the Lebanese, and the Arabs generally have supported Waldheim naming the just-retired UK Ambassador in New York, Ivor Richard, to this position. Neither the Soviets (because Richard is from a NATO country) nor the Israelis have been keen on the idea. If the Richard appointment does not materialize, we may be able to make use of an excellent Pakistani, Ambassador Akhund, who is now about to arrive in Beirut to coordinate UN development and reconstruction programs in Lebanon.

2. Parties Involved. Within Lebanon and in support of this plan we will need to marshal the support of the following parties:

—Secretary General Waldheim and the UN Secretariat generally. (We will resume consultations with them after you have agreed to this general approach.)

Israel. (In both Washington and Tel Aviv, we would fill them in at an early stage on the broad outlines of our proposal, urge their cooperation, and promise to keep them informed of progress.)

—The Lebanese Government. (The U.S. and UN would jointly put forward a proposed course of action.)

—The PLO. (We would seek their cooperation through third parties primarily, but the UN would carry the major burden.)

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Syria. (We might use a special U.S. envoy such as Phil Habib.)

Saudi Arabia. (We would use John West primarily and the Saudi Ambassador here, but we might want to send an envoy to Riyadh also.)

Jordan. (Hussein has shown a great deal of interest and has a working relationship with Arafat.)

—The Vatican. (We will discuss Lebanon during the Pope’s visit and encourage him to call for a moratorium on violence. Ambassador Wagner would remain in close touch.)

France. (Through normal diplomatic channels in Paris, Washington, and Beirut. It is probably the key European actor.)

Kuwait. (We would work closely with the useful Kuwaiti Ambassador to the UN. Kuwait, with the Saudis, has a watching brief on behalf of the Arabs.)

UNIFIL Troop Contributor Governments. (We would work particularly closely with the French, Dutch, Norwegians, and Irish.)

UK. (We stay in close touch with the British on all Middle Eastern matters.)

The Soviets should be briefed at some stage, since they will become aware of the details of the initiatives in any case. A briefing may reduce the chances of Soviet mischief-making. We will wish to ensure, however, that they do not become engaged in the process, since this could hurt the chances of gaining Israel’s cooperation and also hurt general Middle East peace negotiations.

3. A Focal Point for the Negotiations. In order to make everyone feel that this initiative is not just “more of the same,” we believe there may be a need to create some new forum, either to promote negotiations or to formalize the understandings reached. We do not envision a conventional conference with all interested parties coming to the same room because that would quickly degenerate into a stalemate. We have concluded that perhaps the formation of a “Consultative Group” in Lebanon might provide a sense of new dynamism while allowing us the flexibility to engage in separate negotiations with the parties until agreement on the proposal has been pretty well worked out. Specifically, it seems to us that a group in Beirut consisting of the following would serve this purpose:

—The Lebanese Prime Minister, the UN representative, the Papal Nuncio, and the Ambassadors of the U.S., France, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, the UK, and perhaps Italy.

Early on, after we have talked with the UN Secretariat, we may wish to set up a consultative mechanism in New York. We have in mind a small group (but not a formal “contact group” as in the Namibia case) which could meet periodically. Membership might include: the UN Secretariat, US, UK, France, a representative of the UNIFIL troop contributors (Norway and Netherlands) and a representative of the Arab group.

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4. U.S. Contact with the PLO. Initially, we will probably be able to steer clear of any contact with the PLO apart from our normal security contacts in Beirut, which are publicly known. (The UN, the Lebanese Government, and members of the consultative groups in Beirut and Lebanon would have direct contacts right away with the PLO.) At some point, however, it may be necessary for us, if the potential gains are high enough, to decide to have contact with the PLO in the Lebanese context for the purpose of achieving an end of terrorist attacks on Israel, not only those launched from Lebanon but also those coming from within the occupied territories. The latter would be a particularly hard objective to achieve, but we believe we must try.

The Israelis would, of course, react sharply to any contact and charge that we had violated our Sinai II commitment.3 Any contact would have to be justified on the following grounds: (a) It is an extension of our publicly announced security contacts. The objective is to enhance the security of the American mission and the people of southern Lebanon. (b) The “Sinai II Commitment” was made in a Memorandum of Agreement entitled “The Geneva Peace Conference” and relates entirely to the peace process. Contacts in Lebanon on Lebanese problems were not addressed, nor were they intended. Israel has never objected to our contacts on security in Lebanon. (c) The Israeli argument that contact constitutes recognition is not tenable; governments, including Israel’s, often have contacts which they acknowledge do not constitute recognition (e.g., Israel with Jordan). The issue would not be contact but the purpose of the contact. In the Lebanese context, contact would not constitute recognition of the PLO in the peace process and would not in any sense involve negotiation on issues related to the peace process. Nevertheless, we would have to expect strong Israeli objection. Our defense would lie in whatever success we achieved in ending violence.

5. Dealing with Israel. We will clearly have to keep the Israelis fully involved in an effort to encourage an evolution in their thinking. However, as noted above, we will also probably have to delay until later discussions with Israel on specific elements of the plan. Initially, we would set forth general targets for a moratorium on attacks on Israel, and our overall purpose of carrying out Resolution 425 (which Israel has accepted). At the moment, Weizman—perhaps without Cabinet backing—has modified Israel’s preemptive strike strategy by saying that Israel would not hit the Palestinians if the Palestinians did not hit Israel. It seems unlikely that we will get more from the Israelis in the near future until we are able to describe the readiness of other parties to make certain commitments. At some point, however, we will have to [Page 975] seek an Israeli commitment not only to refrain from its own attacks but also to assure certain actions by the Lebanese militia forces under Haddad in the southern Lebanese buffer area.

6. Risks and Pitfalls. Achieving the objectives of this plan will be extremely difficult, and some may be impossible in the end. A particularly difficult handicap is that the PLO does not control certain radical Palestinian and Lebanese leftist groups and may not agree to do so through the use of its enforcement apparatus unless it has been given major incentives (e.g., increased international respectability and contacts). A major terrorist incident in Israel could undo totally at any moment what we may have accomplished in the meantime. We will have to monitor very carefully the timing and execution of our various steps so that we do not damage the autonomy negotiations or undermine Israeli confidence in our intentions. Soviet involvement could stimulate Israeli opposition to our overall strategy. As mentioned above, any direct U.S. contact with the PLO could be particularly risky and it would be even more of an issue if our contacts failed to bring about the objectives we would be seeking.

On the other hand, because of inherent dangers in the Lebanese situation, we would in any event be trying to do many of the same things contained in this plan of action, even if we stopped short of seeking our most ambitious objectives. The high risk of a major Israeli-Syrian conflict and a possible Israeli long-term occupation of southern Lebanon—if we did any less—makes a major and sustained effort essential.

7. Financial Implications. At an early point, we would have to analyze the financial implications for the U.S. and UN of an international relief program and expanded capacities for UNIFIL.


If you approve, we will be pursuing this initiative through the sequence of steps shown in Attachment 2.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Presidential Advisory Board, Box 83, Sensitive XX: 10/1–11/79. Secret; Nodis.
  2. Attached but not printed is a more detailed scenario for the proposed plan.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 97.
  4. Attached but not printed.