66. Telegram From Secretary of State Vance to the Department of State1

Secto 10071. Subject: Meeting With Assad September 24, 1978. Pass White House for the President and Dr. Brzezinski from the Secretary. Department for Christopher and Saunders.

1. We have just come from a marathon four and one-half hour meeting with President Assad. There was discussion of Lebanon2 for [Page 249]part of this, but bulk of time was spent on Camp David Agreements. At end of my presentation, Assad called for his copy of Agreements and began long list of penetrating questions about documents. He and Khaddam had obviously given close and careful scrutiny to the documents and in course of our discussion they asked questions designed both to zero in on certain aspects of the Accords which are particularly important to him. i.e., Jerusalem, the Palestinian question, etc., as well as many points on which he felt genuinely in the dark, or confused.

2. Assad raised so many points it is impossible to mention them all in this initial report, which I want to get off to you quickly. But I will touch on what appeared to be the main areas of his concern. He expressed keen interest at several points which were “not in the Agreements.” He asked whether there had been any discussion of where final borders would be on West Bank (I said this had been left to negotiations for final status of this area). He asked what discussions there had been on Jerusalem. I reported that there had been areas of agreement but that final agreement had foundered on issue of sovereignty. He asked me to restate US position on Jerusalem. I did and he seemed reassured.

3. I discussed at length the outcome on West Bank settlements issue in which Assad was keenly interested. I explained at length our agreement with Begin that new settlements would be frozen during negotiations for the transitional regime, and that those negotiations would also deal with question of future settlements. Again this was a point on which it appeared possible to reassure Assad. On another point, Assad seemed puzzled by provisions at end of general framework agreement in which we invited the Security Council to endorse the peace treaties, and the permanent members to underwrite the treaties and conform their policies thereto. I explained that the latter provision only requested the permanent members to act and that this provision was included with the Soviets in mind.

4. Assad asked some penetrating questions about our view of Jordan’s role in any West Bank settlement. Did we feel Jordan had same kind of role in West Bank situation as Syria was playing in Lebanon? I explained that Jordan had profound interest in peace settlement with Israel and that we did not think problem of determining final status of [Page 250]West Bank could be separated from negotiations for a Jordan-Israel peace treaty. This was why we saw them as linked and had proposed that elected Palestinian representatives participate in both sets of negotiations.

5. We had lengthy discussion of question of Israeli forces remaining on West Bank during and after 5 years. Assad pressed particularly hard as to whether there had been agreement behind the scenes for Israeli troops to remain after 5 years. I told him this question would be determined in negotiations for final status in which, I pointed out, elected Palestinian representatives would participate as well as the three parties. Assad said he noted Begin was saying otherwise, and I told him Begin was saying a number of things these days, presumably in anticipation of the vote in the Knesset.

6. Assad also pressed to know whether Golan had been discussed at Camp David. I said only in the general sense that all agreed that the negotiations for a Syria-Israel peace, when Syria decided to join the negotiations, would be governed by all the principles of Resolution 242. Assad said as far as he was concerned the Camp David Agreements were seriously “unbalanced.” They were specific on things the Israelis wanted—such as ending the boycott—but remained vague on things the Arabs wanted—such as withdrawal. I took issue with him and went through chapter and verse. This led to discussion of the withdrawal question with Assad asking whether the US position that withdrawal should be to 1967 lines with minor modifications had changed. I said it had not.

7. At end, Assad thanked me for these explanations but then summed up Syrian attitude which was standard Syrian hard line. He said he considered the Agreement to be completely in the interest of Israel. He did not see that it served Syria’s interest. He could not give it legitimacy except as an Egypt-Israel understanding. He said Sadat had regrettably slipped from the united Arab front and no single party could achieve peace on its own.

8. Assad said in spite of this Syria wants peace and will not be deflected from pursuing peace in accordance with Resolution 338. But there was a serious contradiction between 338 and the Camp David Agreements, because 338 calls for conference of all the parties whereas at Camp David only one on the Arab side had been there. There could be no compromise with Israel on territory or on Palestinian rights.

9. I rebutted Assad’s summation, asking him once again to focus on what the Agreements achieved and reflect carefully on the advantages, which I had detailed, of what they offered the Arabs. In particular, I pointed out they provided the Arabs with the prospect of changing the status quo which had not been in the Arab interest. I asked him, as I had earlier, to see Agreements not as an ending them[Page 251]selves but as beginning of a process which I was convinced would lead ultimately to a solution which would meet Arab objectives.

Vance
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 88, Syria: 4/78–5/79. Secret; Flash; Nodis. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room. Vance arrived in Syria from Saudi Arabia on September 24 and departed the same day. Seelye sent an assessment of this meeting in telegram 5677 from Damascus, September 26. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850061–2033)
  2. During the portion of the meeting which addressed the situation in Lebanon, Assad charged that in contrast to his government’s position of urging that Lebanon’s “central, legal authority must effectively exercise its jurisdiction over the country,” the United States had “unwittingly seemed to encourage outside assistance” in the country. Assad further stated that Ambassador Parker “seems to be coordinating resistance activities,” citing his visits with Lebanese Christian leader Camille Chamoun. In response, Vance countered that the United States “fully” supported the “unity and territorial integrity of Lebanon,” adding that he believed that Parker’s meetings with Chamoun “have been aimed at persuading the Chamounists to terminate their resistance and to cooperate with the Central Government.” A summary of this exchange is in telegram 5655 from Damascus, September 25. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780391–1017) Assad reportedly replied to Vance’s explanation, “I did not know that.” (Telegram 5696 from Damascus, September 27; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780394–0430)