74. Memorandum From William B. Quandt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Consultations on Lebanon

At his press conference on September 28, the President referred to the possibility of “a conference of those who are involved” in Lebanon, “primarily the people who live in Lebanon, the different factions there.” He also mentioned a “new charter” for Lebanon and some form of UN action, presumably in promoting a conference of interested parties. (See the attached portions of the press conference.)2

In response to questions, we have been saying that the President’s statement does not constitute a formal proposal. We will be consulting with the Lebanese government and others on possible next steps to alleviate the crisis in Lebanon.3

[Page 270]Secretary Vance will be discussing this issue at the UN4—he meets with the French Foreign Minister today5—and you will want to compare notes with him before you depart for Europe.

Without knowing how Secretary Vance is handling this in his talks, let me make a few points:

—An “all parties” conference on Lebanon is probably not in the cards, since the parties include Syria, the PLO, Israel, and the Christian militias, as well as the Sarkis government.6 I do not see these disparate groups all sitting down with one another.

—There may be some prospect for us to organize talks among “friends of Lebanon”—France, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, Jordan. We should be a bit cautious in taking our cues on Lebanon from Egypt or Israel in present circumstances. Both have their own axes to grind.

—Lebanon’s problems will not be solved by a “new charter.” A fairly good political formula was worked out in late 1976 when Sarkis was elected President. (It provided for an equitable sharing of power among the various political communities in Lebanon.)

With those caveats in mind, we should recognize that there will be no solution to the Lebanese crisis until the following steps are taken:

—The Syrian army disengages from the areas of confrontation with the Christian militias in Beirut. This requires the introduction of a loyal Lebanese armed force.

—The creation of a Lebanese army/gendarmarie loyal to Sarkis and responsive to his orders. (This seems to be politically impossible, but the effort has to be made.)

[Page 271]—Some reduction in arms and serious restraint on the part of the extremist Christian militias (who are aided and abetted by Israel).

—Some means of reducing the size of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, particularly that of the armed PLO elements.

Significant progress on any one of these steps would be worth more than a dozen conferences. The problem is to find channels of influence to move forward on any or all of these fronts. What we should be doing now instead of calling for conferences or discussing new charters is to identify correctly the problem, then try to figure out how to influence directly or indirectly the Syrians, the Christian militias, the Israelis, and the PLO, while simultaneously providing Sarkis with a bit of backbone. But we have to think of what we can realistically ask each of these parties to do. A plea for restraint and moderation is not going to get very far.

I suggest that we explore with Sarkis, the Syrians, the Israelis, the Saudis and the French the following steps:

—Disengagement of Syrian troops from Beirut and their replacement by Lebanese army units.

—Simultaneous steps to insure that the Christian militias do not take advantage of a Syrian withdrawal by seizing control of more territory by force. (The Israelis will have to help with the militias.)

—Active consultations with Sarkis and other Lebanese political leaders to mobilize support for a more assertive Lebanese governmental role in ending the fighting. (The arrival of our new Ambassador7 provides an opportunity for extensive political contacts.)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Chron File, Box 135, Quandt: 9/78. Secret. Sent for information.
  2. Attached but not printed are the portions of Carter’s press conference related to Lebanon, in which he responded to a question regarding the situation in Lebanon by suggesting the convening of a multinational conference to resolve the crisis. According to Quandt, Carter’s response was an “offhand reference.” (Quandt, Camp David, p. 267) The complete transcript of the press conference is printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book II, pp. 1653–1663.
  3. On the evening of September 27, heavy fighting, including artillery fire, erupted in East Beirut between Christian militia and Syrian forces, killing six and wounding 50. Militia officials blamed the Syrians for the skirmish, which they described as the worst since the July 1978 bombardment of East Beirut, stating the move was intended to disrupt the Camp David Accords. This charge was countered by a communiqué from the largely Syrian Arab League peacekeeping force faulting the militia for the violence, adding that it “cannot go too far in its toleration” and “will regretfully find itself forced to silence sources of fire effectively and quickly wherever they are found.” (“Beirut Erupts; Syrians Accused of Attempting to Wreck Accords,” Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1978, p. 11)
  4. Vance referenced Carter’s September 28 remarks in his statement at the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 29, stating that Carter had “made clear” his “determination to spare no effort to assist in finding a solution to the Lebanese tragedy.” The current UN force, Vance argued, “has done much to stabilize the situation in that part of the country, and we call upon all to support this effort to reassert Lebanese sovereignty . . . As the President said yesterday, it is time for us to take joint action to call for a conference of those who are involved and try to reach some solution. It may involve a new charter for Lebanon.” (Department of State Bulletin, November 1978, p. 49)
  5. Vance discussed the situation in Lebanon, Carter’s September 28 statement, and his UNGA speech with French Foreign Minister Louis de Guiringaud on September 29. In telegram 251591 to Paris, October 4, Christopher summarized the conversation, reporting that the French “expressed keen interest in possible USG initiative for a conference on Lebanon and urged full consultation with France and others before any such meeting be called.” Vance explained to Guiringaud “that USG was still examining all options to break Lebanon impasse,” emphasizing that “no decisions had yet been taken,” but promised the French “full and early consultations.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780405–0833)
  6. In a telephone conversation on the evening of September 29, Parker raised Carter’s press conference remarks with Boutros. Parker reported in telegram 5700 from Beirut, September 30, the Lebanese were “disturbed that idea of this importance would be floated without consulting them.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780399–0724)
  7. Parker departed Beirut on October 1. Carter nominated the new Ambassador, John Gunther Dean, on September 15. (Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book. II, p. 1513) Dean was formally appointed on October 2 and presented his credentials to the Lebanese Government on October 10.