65. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Saudi Side

    • HRH Crown Prince Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz
    • HRH Prince Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz, Minister of Defense (and Acting Foreign Minister)
    • Counselor Rashid Pharaon
    • Abd al-Rahman Mansouri, Deputy Foreign Minister
    • Ismail al-Shura, Director of Western Affairs, Foreign Ministry
  • U.S. Side

    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador John C. West
    • Ambassador Roy Atherton
    • [Page 238]Hodding Carter, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
    • Joseph Twinam, notetaker
    • Isa K. Sabbagh, interpreting

Prince Fahd opened the meeting by referring to the rigors of present day diplomacy conducted by air travel. The Secretary noted that it must have been easier in the days of ship travel at the time of the Versailles conference.2 He said that except for Wilson’s involvement in Versailles, no American president has been longer involved in a diplomatic conference than was President Carter at Camp David.

Fahd said that as difficult as Camp David must have been for those inside the camp, it was even harder on those outsiders like himself, since the insiders at least knew what was happening, while he could only guess. Fahd said that whatever the results, there was no denying that Camp David represents a good step forward which opens certain paths.

The Secretary emphatically agreed and referred to the Congressional reception of the President’s report,3 which was unlike anything seen in the halls of Congress in decades. There was a spirit of joy and hope on both sides of the aisle, without regard to party affiliation.

Fahd said he appreciated that a stalemate of many years was broken. He wished that all of the participants would heed Carter’s advice to refrain from making rash statements after the agreements had been reached. He continued that Saudi Arabia was greatly pleased by the Secretary’s visit, since it regards the United States as its greatest friend and always finds it useful to exchange views.

The Secretary expressed appreciation at having been received on such short notice and asked if he could brief Fahd on the agreements.

The Secretary said the President considered the results of Camp David so important that the President wanted him to come immediately to the area to brief Fahd and others and answer any questions. He appreciated Fahd’s suggestion that he go to Damascus.

Fahd said he considered the Damascus visit a wise thing to do. King Khalid had sent a message to Assad urging calm and restraint. In the message the King sought to emphasize that President Carter from the beginning of the Administration had seriously and with much effort focused on the Middle East problem. The Saudis had advised Assad to bear with us and to give us a chance to move toward a common goal.

[Page 239]The Secretary said the President wanted him to convey the need to seize the opportunity provided by Camp David. We have seen the Saudi government statement. We realize that a number of our friends in the area have concerns about the agreements. The Secretary said he would like to try to resolve any questions Fahd might have. We recognize that the Camp David agreements do not contain everything we and others would have liked.

Fahd said the Saudi statement had been carefully worded. In his view it had forestalled a few things from happening. Time will point out the advantages of the Saudi statement.

The Secretary said it is important to look not only at what is not in the agreements, but at the very substantial new elements which they contain from the Arab point of view. Camp David achieved an Israeli commitment to resolve the final status of the West Bank and Gaza within five years. For years Israel refused to face up to the West Bank issue. Even this year the Israelis talked only about considering it at some point in the future. Now Israel is committed to considering it within five years. This may seem long but political vitality of the West Bank is like a new born child which takes time to gain strength and learn to walk. The agreement states that solutions must be in accordance with all the provisions and all parts of resolution 242. This means also that the principle of withdrawal in the West Bank and Gaza applies, as it does to the other fronts. The U.S. side had sought for hours and days to get Israel to sign a document saying that 242 applies in all its parts and provisions.

The Secretary continued that the framework agreement is designed to provide a comprehensive settlement. In its first operative paragraph it says

“They therefore agree that this framework as appropriate is intended by them to constitute a basis for peace not only between Egypt and Israel, but also between Israel and each of its other neighbors which is prepared to negotiate peace with Israel on this basis.”

The Secretary continued that Israeli military occupation would end. The agreements provide that a commission of Egypt, Jordan, if it will, and Israel will sit down with a committee of West Bankers to proceed through free elections for an administrative council. Although it is not spelled out, the understanding of the parties was that inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, regardless of political affiliation, could be elected, including persons affiliated with the PLO. The Secretary said he wanted to make clear that he means residents of the West Bank or Gaza and not PLO members from outside that area.

Fahd said he understood this to mean that the governing authority would not include Palestinians from outside the West Bank and Gaza.

[Page 240]The Secretary said this is correct but that the agreement provides a mechanism for admitting displaced persons in an orderly way. This is to assure that they will have means of support rather than having to go to refugee camps.

Fahd asked if the number of persons permitted to return is to be limited.

The Secretary replied that the limit would be imposed by the commission which would determine how many could return each year. He read Fahd from the agreement:

“During the transitional period, representatives of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the self-governing authority will constitute a continuing committee to decide by agreement on the modalities of admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, together with necessary measures to prevent disruption and disorder.”

Fahd asked if this provision applied only to the refugees of 1967.

The Secretary said there was another provision for earlier refugees. He quoted the relevant paragraph:

“Egypt and Israel will work with each other and with other interested parties to establish agreed procedures for a prompt, just and permanent implementation of the resolution of the refugee problem.”

Fahd asked if all 1967 refugees have the right to opt to return.

The Secretary said yes, but the committee will determine the number to return each year. The Secretary continued that he should add that President Carter had made clear in his speech to the Congress that all this should be in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions.

When the Palestinian authority takes over in the West Bank and Gaza the Israeli military government is to be withdrawn, lock, stock and barrel. The thousands of Israeli military personnel in the cities and towns will be withdrawn. In our view, if the Palestinian authority conducts itself responsibly this would set into motion an evolutionary process which will enable the Palestinians to govern themselves.

The Secretary continued that we fully believe that this process, once started, will be irreversible. At the end of five years an outcome which meets basic Arab requirements will be almost inevitable. The great advantage of the way this is structured is that it deals with the West Bank and Gaza in their totality rather than talking about partitioning the West Bank or Gaza.

The Secretary continued that in this document the Israelis have rec[Page 241]ognized the “legitimate rights” of the Palestinians. The implications of the acceptance of this principle are great and obvious. For years Israelis have had trouble accepting this concept. Now they have signed a document saying, “The solutions from the negotiations must also recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements.”

Fahd said that is fine but he had heard that Begin refused to use the term “Palestinians” and continued to refer to them as the “Arabs of Israel.”

The Secretary said what Begin had said was that he would continue using the term “Palestinian Arabs.” He never said “Arabs of Israel.” We would reject that and so would Egypt.

The Secretary noted that on the West Bank settlement Begin had given us a letter which we had rejected.

Fahd deplored Begin’s “verbal acrobatics”, noting that he had heard the details as the Secretary described them on Israeli radio. The Secretary said he had a message from Dayan4 in which Dayan agreed with what the Secretary and the President had been saying on the settlements, and indicating that they would straighten things out when Begin returned to Israel and give the U.S. an acceptable letter. The Secretary said that he felt at Camp David that Begin’s advisors sincerely wanted an agreement which would bring lasting peace.

Fahd said on the basis of the recent poll, Israeli public opinion obviously wants to relinquish the Sinai settlements. He feared Begin wants to make trouble in his remaining years in office. What is important, however, is what the U.S. Government understands the agreement to mean.

The Secretary said that our own West Bank settlement language will be in a published letter. The Saudis should wait to see what it says.

The Secretary continued that the Palestinians are recognized as a party to negotiations with Egypt, Israel and Jordan in which the final status of the West Bank as well as its relation to its neighbors will be settled. The negotiations are to be completed within five years. Parallel with this negotiation, Israel and Jordan will negotiate a peace treaty. We insisted in a difficult fight that the agreement provide that Palestinians can participate in the Jordan/Israel treaty negotiations. Our position was that the treaty would affect the future of the people of the West Bank and Gaza and that they therefore had a right to participate [Page 242]in negotiating it. Finally, after long argument, Israel accepted this principle. The Secretary said that Israeli settlements on the West Bank would be handled in accordance with the letter to be published next week. In essence, Israel has agreed not to create any new settlements while negotiations are underway for a West Bank transitional regime. The question of future settlements will be subject to agreement among the negotiating parties setting up the regime.

Fahd said this was good work on President Carter’s part. He read the Saudi government’s Arabic language translation of the appropriate section of the agreement.

The Secretary continued there is an Israeli commitment to work out procedures promptly on the persons displaced in 1967. Dayan said that he thought most of the 1967 refugees will return and that a place could be found for them. Fahd said that the important thing is that the Palestinians outside the area be given the choice of returning.

The Secretary continued that in addition to the gains he had just mentioned from the Arab point of view, the Camp David agreements offer important strategic advantages. They provide a basis around which moderate forces in the area, with the support of the United States and our friends, can rally and expand the position and influence of moderate Arabs in the area. The Secretary said he thought this of strategic importance. A major motivation in the President’s mind at Camp David was to strengthen moderate forces by means of establishing a peace framework that would break the stalemate which provided an opportunity for radicals to move in. This is a critical moment for the moderates as we look around the area. At this moment, we feel moderate forces in the Arab world are looking to Saudi Arabia and the United States for leadership. We believe and hope Saudi Arabia will play a key role in seizing the opportunity. We can understand that Saudi Arabia will want to consult with its friends in the Arab world. As the Saudis do so President Carter wants to make very clear he remains fully committed to the role of a full partner in seeing this through. Now, with Camp David achieved, we are not going to walk away and cease to pay attention. We are going to see it through.

Fahd said that at this time not just governments but individuals in a position to be influential must do what they can with the stalemate broken to achieve a satisfactory solution. While there are others in Israel besides Begin who will take tough positions which are not in Israel’s interest, there are persons of reason and good will who recognize the logic of peace. But the paramount question of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and outside of it is what will happen after the transitional period. This is what the moderate Palestinians will ask the Saudis.

[Page 243]The Secretary said that in his view evolutionary progress will start in the transitional period, reminding Fahd that there will have to be discussions among the parties in order to work out the treaties.

Fahd said the agreements spoke of negotiations up to the end of the transitional period.

The Secretary said they provide a limit so that they cannot drag on indefinitely. The process will determine what evolves from it. It was his belief that in the West Bank and Gaza some sort of Palestinian entity will emerge. It is his guess that this entity will have some sort of link with Jordan but that is up to the Palestinian people.

Fahd said that is fine and logical. It represents the principle of non-imposition by outsiders.

The Secretary said that is precisely why the Palestinians must be given a role in the negotiations.

Fahd said that freedom of choice is the only sensible solution. Thanks to the American effort, by the end of the transitional period the Palestinians will be ready to make a responsible choice.

The Secretary said it is our deep hope that they will be ready to govern themselves responsibly.

Fahd said the problem, which is deep one, would be if Israel is permitted to insist on not permitting the existence of a Palestinian entity. What if Israel permits local government but keeps for itself the elements of sovereignty such as defense and foreign affairs? He had wanted to see language giving the Palestinians a free choice with regard to attachments or affiliation at the end of the transitional period.

The Secretary said we were not able to get “self determination” into the agreement. Instead we were able to get the Aswan wording5 about Palestinian participation in determining their future. We had felt this inadequate without spelling out the procedures to achieve it.

Fahd said there is a basic difference. After five years either Israel says there will be no Palestinian entity or Israel says the Palestinians will have to determine their own future. That is a big difference. What worries the Saudis is that the ink is hardly dry and Israel is already saying that there will never be a Palestinian entity. This is causing anxiety. This will tie the Saudis’ hands. For instance, on the settlements, now they are saying three months. If they are saying this the Saudis will not be able to help President Carter as much as they would like. Even on the Egyptian agreement the Saudis fear Begin might obfuscate. These agreements are serious, and Israel must treat them as such.

[Page 244]Fahd continued another point is that the Palestinians living outside the West Bank and Gaza think that the agreements are keeping them out of the process. This is disturbing because they are likely to be the primary makers of trouble. Also, self rule may not be fruitful if Palestinians in the area hesitate to come forward to participate in it in deference to those Palestinians outside the area.

The Secretary said that with respect to those Palestinians outside the area there is provision for the return of those displaced in 1967 and the sketching of guidelines to achieve prompt, just and permanent implementation of the refugee problem.

Fahd said once the Palestinians outside realize that they have the choice of returning and participating in the administration and determining the future of the area, all would be well. If that is not clear he felt that things would not go well. He asked whether President Carter has in mind that after five years Israel will withdraw totally leaving the Palestinians free to determine their own lives.

The Secretary said that the answer is yes, with the proviso that if necessary to protect Israel’s security, Israel could have specified limited areas in which limited numbers of military forces could be placed for defense.

Fahd said he would like to pursue this. Israeli security points will not be effective but will only agitate the Palestinian population. Why should they be in Palestinian territory? Why not in Israeli territory? The Palestinians will not feel free if they are in Palestinian territory.

The Secretary replied that after five years Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt will have negotiated treaties. There is no security problem there. The Israelis, however, fear Iraq. Fahd asked where the Iraqis would come from, through Saudi Arabia, or across Syria? He assured the Secretary the Iraqis would not interfere with Israel’s security. The Secretary replied that is the Israelis’ concern.

Fahd said that it is his deep conviction that in its heart Israel is confident it is here to stay. The security concern is a fabrication. Real Israeli security lies in support by the United States and peace with the Arab states and in the willingness of the Palestinian people to live in peace.

The Secretary said he agreed with this. In five years as the situation develops, the Israelis may come to feel that the security points are not needed. He wanted to make clear that we are talking possibilities. The agreement does not specify arrangements after five years. It simply says there should be provision for security but does not specify. Fahd stressed the importance of the psychological element that the Palestinians realize that they will be free after five years and that those outside the area will be free to return. If they realize this all problems will cease. He urged the United States not to lose sight of this.

[Page 245]Fahd continued that Saudi Arabia wishes President Carter every success. What would seem to spoil that wish, however, is how the Palestinians outside the area will react because they feel neglected. It would not be as smooth as Saudi Arabia or the U.S. would wish. If the outside Palestinians felt after five years that they would have self determination, all would go smoothly. They are at loss to see what is intended for them. The PLO is organized; it is recognized in the UN. What will it do?

Fahd continued by asking what Saudi Arabia could tell the Palestinians in the absence of assurances. Without such assurances they would consider Saudi Arabia an enemy, not a friend, if it urged support for the agreement. Saudi Arabia hopes for a clear-cut reference projecting past the five-year period so that it can calm the Palestinians down. Fahd continued that he stressed this point because Saudi Arabia wants to cooperate with the United States. Thus Saudi Arabia is pleading for a significant indication or promise that the United States can give. He urged the Secretary to go back and discuss this with the President. He urged the Secretary to convey the strength of Saudi feeling. He asked that we come up with something tangible that the Saudis can use if they are to carry out their side of the bargain. This is urgent, so that Saudi Arabia can take an active role. It is extremely important for Saudi Arabia to support President Carter’s magnificent effort.

Deputy Minister Mansouri asked if there is linkage between the two agreements.

The Secretary replied that there is no specific linkage in the documents but that Sadat had said he would not sign the Sinai agreement until Israel had signed the general agreement.

Fahd said Saudi Arabia wants to help Sadat. He asked the Secretary to convey to the President the tone, the spirit and the urgency of his remarks. He said that if the U.S. would give Saudi Arabia the wherewithal the Saudis will summon the PLO and others to soothe the situation. Saudi Arabia is fearful of an explosion. The Soviets and rejectionists are lighting a fire under the Palestinians. It is easy to do. If the U.S. will enable Saudi Arabia to hold the reins the Saudis can help with the Palestinians. The U.S. should also get Begin to “pipe down”.

The Secretary said that he had called Begin personally6 to say that Begin is doing a disservice to his own country and to Sadat. Counselor Pharaon noted that the absence of reference to Palestinians outside the area will cause Israel to insist on security barriers as long as there are displaced Palestinians who might cause trouble. The Secretary noted [Page 246]that the provision for displaced persons should help us to start dealing with that problem immediately.

Fahd said that is fine but what is needed is something tangible. The Secretary said he understood and said he would see if we could do something to help. He would be meeting with the President Monday7 and would convey his remarks. Fahd urged him to do so and reiterated that if he had this from the President he would invite the Palestinians to talk. The rejectionists are now meeting and Saudi Arabia needs something to counterbalance. Fahd said that three days ago he had talked with Palestinian representatives, urging them to be calm and work for peace. He felt that he had calmed them somewhat but he was missing something in his presentation to them because they lacked assurances. The Secretary asked as a hypothetical question whether, if the U.S. could resolve the problem it has in talking with the PLO, a dialogue with them would be helpful.

Fahd said the PLO would be delighted. Saudi Arabia would arrange the meeting. He asked that we think about it.

Fahd asked if the Secretary could confirm that Sadat had written Assad that the Golan solution would be the same as the Sinai solution. The Secretary said he didn’t know whether or not there had been a letter but that Sadat had said that the Sinai agreement could be a model for the Golan agreement.

Fahd asked if Golan were discussed at Camp David.

The Secretary said there was no real discussion of the Syrian aspect, just reference to Syria and the fact that we had to have a framework applicable to all the countries.

Fahd expressed appreciation for the Secretary’s patience with the Saudi concerns. He assured the Secretary that Saudi Arabia would like to support anything that the United States embarks upon. He expressed appreciation for the invitation to go to the U.S., saying that he was actually packed when he learned that the King had to go for medical treatment, thus he had to stay in Saudi Arabia. He said he was reserving the invitation as a rain check.

The Secretary said that Fahd had a standing rain check. (At this stage Fahd asked his advisors if they had questions and Mansouri asked about Jerusalem.)

Fahd said that Jerusalem is another large and urgent problem. There is no mention in the agreements of Jerusalem. This gives the impression that it is ignored and Israel is free to work its will. The Secre[Page 247]tary explained that we had tried desperately at Camp David to have an operative paragraph on Jerusalem. The parties reached agreement on such issues as holy places and free access but hit a stone wall on the question of sovereignty. Therefore we were not able to include it in the framework.

Fahd urged that it not be neglected.

The Secretary said each of the parties has written a letter stating its position. These letters will be made public. They will supplement the framework without attempting to resolve the question.

Fahd noted the question of Jerusalem is important not just to the Arabs but to all Muslims. The Secretary said we understand this, we will state our position, which is the historical American position.

Fahd said the whole world expects the United States to be clear and fair on this position. There was a clear division of authority in Jerusalem before 1967. Saudi Arabia would welcome a clear U.S. position.

Fahd said he would ask the Secretary to reserve the discussion of the situation in South Arabia until he met with Prince Sultan the following day.8

The Secretary said he would like to make two final points. This is not a perfect agreement. It lacks points we would like to see in it. But if we don’t seize this opportunity and it slips through our hands it may be a long time before an opportunity comes again. That is why all of us must work to make it work.

The Secretary said that secondly he would like to see Fahd’s advice on the upcoming meeting with Assad. What subjects might interest him?

Fahd said Assad is wise, honest and discerning. For instance, despite pressure at the Tripoli conference9 he refused to renounce 242. The Secretary should take time to explain the agreement to him and show him what is the official outcome of Camp David as opposed to subsequent rumor. The Secretary should ask him to examine the situation calmly, noting that there is no overnight solution and that the United States position is based on deep conviction. The Secretary [Page 248]should stress that President Carter would like to see a Golan solution in order to relieve the great burdens on Syria and to permit the development of a close US-Syrian relationship. The best way to cause Assad to ponder the situation calmly is to assure him of President Carter’s deep interest in solving both the Palestinian problem and the problems of Syria. The Secretary said he could do that.

Fahd said it is extremely important to assure Assad that President Carter wants to solve the total Palestinian problem. The Secretary noted the President had said that publicly the other night.10 Fahd said that it bears repeating face to face by the Secretary. He said the Secretary should urge Assad to calm the Palestinians down and to give us a chance. He should appeal to Assad to urge the Palestinians to avoid violence and not to mar the Arab image while President Carter is trying so hard for the Arabs.

The Secretary thanked Fahd for his advice. In closing Fahd expressed his delight that the Secretary would be going to Syria.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Files of Alfred L. Atherton, Lot 80D166, Box 8, Memcons, 2 of 2. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Twinam on September 23; approved by Wisner on October 3. The meeting, held in the Al-Ma’dher Palace, followed a brief meeting between Vance and Khalid. In this exchange, which largely focused on the King’s health and the general history of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, Khalid told Vance that “during the Camp David summit he had been preoccupied with his wish that President Carter would achieve success, that while he was also concerned for Sadat’s success his thoughts were much more with President Carter.” The record of this meeting is ibid. Vance visited Saudi Arabia September 21–24.
  2. Reference is to the Paris Peace Conference, an international meeting convened in January 1919 at Versailles, just outside of Paris. The purpose of the meeting was to establish the terms of the peace after World War I.
  3. See footnote 14, Document 64.
  4. On September 20, Dayan asked Viets to inform Carter and Vance that he, along with Weizman and Barak, were “extremely upset over Begin’s public disagreement with the President over the issue of the duration of a settlements freeze.” Viets reported, “Dayan said he was certain that he, Weizman, and Barak ‘and others in the Cabinet’ can prevail on Begin to agree to a formulation covering cessation of settlement activity which will be acceptable to us. In retrospect, Dayan observed, it had been a serious error ‘to leave Begin on his own’ in Washington and New York. He (Dayan) should have stayed on, for if he had this unfortunate situation would never have arisen.” (Telegram 12849 from Tel Aviv, September 20; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840153–2618)
  5. See footnote 5, Document 3.
  6. A record of this conversation was not found.
  7. September 25. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Vance met with Carter, Mondale, Brown, Brzezinski, Eilts, and Warnke from 7:31 to 8:46 a.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials)
  8. Vance summarized his September 22 meeting with Sultan in telegram Secto 10038 from Riyadh, September 22. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780387–1166)
  9. Arab leaders convened in Tripoli on December 2, 1977, in response to Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem the previous month. The conference established the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front to oppose Sadat’s peace initiative toward Israel. The Front was joined by all of the attending heads of state, from Libya, Syria, Algeria, and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, and by leaders of Palestine Liberation Organization factions. On December 5, Sadat broke diplomatic relations with all countries that attended the conference. (Marvine Howe, “Arabs Meet in Libya On Opposing Sadat; Accord Is Uncertain,” The New York Times, December 3, 1977, p. 1)
  10. Reference is to Carter’s televised speech of September 18. See footnote 14, Document 64.