83. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of President’s Meeting with Egyptian Delegation


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Hon. Alfred Atherton, Ambassador-at-Large
  • Hon. Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
  • Mr. William Quandt, NSC Staff
  • H.E. Kamal Hassan Ali, Minister of Defense
  • H.E. Boutros Boutros Ghali, Acting Foreign Minister
  • H.E. Ashraf Ghorbal, Egyptian Ambassador to the United States
  • H.E. Usama al-Baz, Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs

The President welcomed the Egyptian delegation and referred to the good feeling produced in Egypt and Israel by the Camp David agreements. He expressed his hope that the remaining differences might be identified quickly so that the talks could reach a conclusion within days not weeks. The Israelis have agreed to work quickly.

The President said that the United States had drafted a standard form2 of a peace treaty to use as a model in the discussions. This will provide a starting point. Ambassador Eilts has also gone over the Sinai map with President Sadat. We want to work toward realization of the Camp David agreements within the shortest timeframe envisaged. The President has already talked to the Israelis about the need for rapid moves. He urged them to complete the first withdrawal within three months, not nine months. The Israelis in return raised the question of how rapidly Egypt could move toward recognition and the normalization of relations.

[Page 301]The President referred to the many pressures that exist within the Arab world. He fears that if the process of peacemaking goes on for a long time there will be more chances of problems arising. He expressed his hope that President Sadat would be willing at the time that the interim withdrawal had been completed to go ahead with open borders and normalization of relations without delay. The President said that he also asked the Israelis how soon they could carry out total withdrawal. They said that it would depend upon building alternate airfields. The United States will help in this process and will examine sites. If this can be done in two years, then we want total withdrawal, including settlers, to be completed by then.

The President said that he had talked to U.N. Secretary General Waldheim,3 as well as to Dayan and Weizman,4 about the U.N. forces in Sinai. There is general agreement that there is no need to increase the present force of about 3,000 men. If it were necessary to go back to the U.N., the Soviets might debate the question and could veto any increase. It will, therefore, be best to stay at the present level. This apparently suits Israel. We do not need larger forces. They should be a token force in any case, with a specific role, for example near the airfields in the Rafah area and near Sharm al-Shaykh. The U.N. forces there would just routinely inspect the airfields as agreed upon.

There is also the question of early warning stations. The President has told the Israelis that President Sadat required reciprocity if there were to be any early-warning stations on Egyptian territory. Based on this principle, there should be stations within Israel as well. The Israelis agreed to this principle. It will be worth discussing this further with them, but they agreed to reciprocity. This is a major step. The level of U.N. forces at places like Sharm can be negotiated. The President said that he had no preferences.

The President then stated that we had taken a map5 and drawn some lines for the interim withdrawal. This line is the most controversial. The President curved it eastward, but the Israelis may insist on a straight line, and it will be hard to dispute them. We have looked at a topographical map and have tried to find the most appropriate line, but we have no preference. We just want things to go quickly. The President has urged the Israelis to be forthcoming, and they are taking a constructive attitude.

Concerning the buffer zone envisaged for the Egyptian side of the border, the President said that the Israelis had spoken of a zone thirty to [Page 302]fifty kilometers wide, but the President knew that Sadat wanted it to be only twenty to forty kilometers and he has agreed to this. We have, therefore, suggested a line that is about twenty-five kilometers wide. Our lines are not final, however, and are meant to be the basis for negotiations. If Egypt and Israel cannot reach agreement easily, we will try to help.

There is also a question, the President noted, of demilitarized zones on either side of the interim withdrawal line. There should be some buffer in this area, and this needs to be decided. A ten to twenty-kilometer zone would be good. This is not written into the agreement. There might also be a U.N. force, simply to inspect this area. This has not been discussed yet with the Israelis. Finally, the President mentioned that he hoped that the press arrangements during the talks could be similar to those at Camp David. We want to keep the negotiations out of the news.

The President said that he also hoped to use the talks in Washington to lay out a plan for the West Bank and Gaza. He understood that President Sadat felt disgust with the attacks that had been leveled against Egypt, but he would not want to give up on Hussein or the Palestinian Arabs. We need to try to move to reach an understanding on the authority of the self-governing body, on who will represent the Palestinians, and on the timeframe for these talks. It will be best not to inject these issues into the formal Israeli negotiations, but Egypt should prepare a list of questions for the President. Then we could act as an intermediary with the Israelis. It is better for Israel and Egypt to meet together directly to deal with the Sinai issues, but on the West Bank and Gaza there is little that can be done now without Jordan and the Palestinians. Therefore, it is preferable for the Egyptians to deal with the President and for him to talk to the Israelis. The United States can be the intermediary. We don’t want some dispute over Jerusalem to disrupt the Egypt-Israel treaty talks. As those move forward, then we can advance on the West Bank and Gaza.

President Sadat has asked the President to come to Egypt for the signing of the peace treaty. The President said he was inclined to accept, although he had not given a formal response. If he did go to the Middle East, he would want to talk to President Sadat about how to help bring the other parties into the negotiations. When they see the Egypt-Israel agreement being finalized, their opposition will dissipate.

Minister Hassan Ali said that President Sadat appreciates President Carter’s efforts in the Middle East. He said that Egypt had some differences with the Palestinians and with King Hussein, but that Egypt hoped that by giving some impetus to the West Bank and Gaza talks this will help encourage moderate Palestinians. President Carter said that he had a list of questions from King Hussein that he had not yet [Page 303]personally studied. Ambassador Atherton might go over these questions with the Egyptians and the President would do the same with the Israelis. Then he would respond to King Hussein. He wanted to encourage the King. He also said that the Saudis appeared to be taking a somewhat constructive role and were not an obstacle at present. If the Saudis see the United States working actively in the West Bank and Gaza, this should help. We do not intend to go over our answers with either Egypt or Israel, but we will discuss the questions that King Hussein has posed.

Minister Boutros Ghali then explained recent developments in Egyptian thinking. He had personally spent twelve hours explaining the Camp David agreements in Parliament. There were many questions reflecting a fear that Egypt might become isolated in the Arab world. There was criticism of the idea of a bilateral, separate peace with Israel. Many deputies pointed to the fact that the Egyptian constitution starts by referring to Egypt as part of the Arab world. He was asked about the correlation between the two Framework Agreements. After the first Agreement is achieved, what pressure would be left on Israel to carry out the West Bank and Gaza agreements? Why had the letters on the settlements not been received? Many felt that Jerusalem was important. The most difficult question of all was that of the correlation between the two peace agreements. There must be some synchronization of steps.

Boutros Ghali said that President Sadat had spoken of parallel movement in the two agreements when he was in Morocco. He spoke of a de facto link. If Egypt is to obtain some advantages in Sinai, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza should also gain some advantages. If the treaty is signed between Israel and Egypt, then the military government in the West Bank and Gaza should also end. Otherwise Egypt will be isolated. There was some concern expressed in Egypt about what would happen to the two billion dollars that Egypt receives from Saudi Arabia.

Egypt’s prestige is also at stake. There were more than seventy questions raised in Parliament, some of which were minor, but many of which were serious. Opposition came from the government’s own part, not just the left and the right. There is a fear of isolation. Even in Morocco, and with the close ties between Egypt and Morocco, there was criticism of the idea of a separate peace. This comes back to the need for some correlation between the Sinai talks and the West Bank and Gaza. There should be some clarification of the settlements question before a treaty is concluded. We need some gentlemen’s agreement with Israel. If everyone agrees that Egypt should be helped to play a leadership role in the region on behalf of moderation, then practical advantages for the Palestinians are important.

[Page 304]Minister Boutros Ghali said that he had met with many Palestinians and with the Arab ambassadors, as well as with the French leaders just recently. They all asked the same question: Won’t Egypt lose leverage over the West Bank/Gaza negotiations after the signing of a treaty with Israel? If the West Bank/Gaza negotiations are postponed, sooner or later there will be real problems in the Middle East. The Minister said that some correlation must be found, and some exchange of letters or some gentlemen’s agreement must be reached. This is very important. This is more important than the points that the President had reviewed in his opening comments.

Minister Boutros Ghali said the President had also spoken of normal relations. This question had come up also in the Egyptian Parliament. Questions had been raised concerning how far Egypt could go toward normalization while foreign troops were on its territory. This can be answered, but it was harder to answer the question about the lack of any direct correlation between the two agreements. Boutros Ghali has spent his full time on this question. New members of the government are even asking these questions. Some have asked why President Carter has not yet received a letter on the settlements.

President Carter said that he considers the framework agreement on the West Bank and Gaza to be binding on Egypt, Israel, and the United States. His own reputation is at stake. He wants to know from the Egyptians how we can move forward, especially if Jordan stays out, and if the Palestinians refuse to participate. What could be done in those circumstances? The President said that he had also spoken to Dayan about the settlements. President Sadat’s memory was that there would be a freeze on settlements for three months, and that then consultations would take place. The President and Prime Minister Begin disagree over whether the period referred to was the Sinai negotiations or the West Bank/Gaza negotiations. President Carter said it was not meant to refer to the Sinai negotiations, since it was being discussed in the context of the West Bank and Gaza. There should not be any new settlements set up during the negotiations for the self-government. Later there should be consultations among the parties. Dayan has re-emphasized that there will be no new settlements for a period of three months beginning tomorrow. The West Bank/Gaza talks should also be concluded in this three-month period. Dr. Brzezinski and others reminded the President that this had not been specified in the framework agreements.

The President stated that the best way then to avoid any problems of timing would be to get King Hussein into the talks as soon as possible. There would be nothing to prevent him from having his delegation made up of Palestinians. They could be from Jordan or from the West Bank, or by mutual agreement, from outside these areas. The Pres[Page 305]ident wants to move on the West Bank and Gaza. He sees the two sets of issues as interrelated. He urged the Egyptians through their contacts with Palestinians to start to encourage Palestinians to sit down and negotiate, even without Jordan. Perhaps there could be Egyptian, Israeli, and Palestinian talks at a minimum.

Mr. al-Baz stated that the Egyptians are already in contact with moderate Palestinians. Some have come to Cairo and seen Sadat. They have come from the West Bank and from Gaza. The Egyptian assessment is that the situation will improve for Palestinians participating in the negotiations as time goes by. It is hard now for them to participate openly, but they believe that it will become easier. The opposition to the Camp David agreements has just about reached its peak. Secondly, the attitude of King Hussein will probably improve in the next two to three months. The United States and Saudi Arabia can influence them to be more positive. Hussein will realize that he has no other good alternative. More Palestinians will want to accept the agreements on a de facto basis and will respond to the argument of trying to improve the agreements from within. Hussein wants to try to improve the frameworks to justify his participation. This is the purpose of his questions. He can then justify joining the talks. The people from the West Bank and Gaza who have talked to the Egyptians think that it will take another two or three months for the situation to ripen. The people in Gaza are more willing to participate than those in the West Bank. They feel closer to Egypt and their interests are tied more to Egypt. Jordan has little influence in Gaza, whereas it has great influence in the West Bank. Some moderates in the PLO leadership have even tried to discuss the positive aspects of the Camp David agreements, but the PLO leadership has overruled this approach and their attitude will remain negative for some time. Some in the West Bank and Gaza are intimidated by the extremists outside the area.

The President said that he would appreciate receiving suggestions on what might be done before the Palestinians and the Jordanians join the negotiations and what could be done if Jordan did not participate. Minister Boutros Ghali said that we should find some way to get practical advantages to the Palestinians quickly even before the conclusion of the peace treaty with Israel. Dr. Brzezinski noted that military rule could not be brought to an end before some Palestinian authority had been formed. This would require talks. Minister Boutros Ghali agreed, but said that some steps short of ending military rule should be found, such as some redeployment of Israeli forces. Dr. Brzezinski added that there might be a lifting of the ban on political meetings, but that Palestinian participation would be important to produce “partenaire valable” to whom authority could be bequeathed.

President Carter said that we are as interested in the West Bank and Gaza as in the peace treaty negotiations, but we do not want to see the [Page 306]treaty negotiations complicated by disagreements over details on the West Bank and Gaza. The President said that he would be available day or night. If there were any problems that could not be resolved, Ambassador Atherton could call on him. He would be prepared to come over or to receive the delegations at the White House. The President hopes as much agreement as possible can be reached at the outset. The President would then help resolve areas of disagreement. He has already reviewed maps and believes that the lines suggested are fair, but these are just suggestions. The lines suggested are somewhat favorable to Egypt, and Israel may oppose them. The President has tried to meet President Sadat’s needs, but the Israelis have not yet seen the map.

Mr. al-Baz said that the Egyptians are assuming that the negotiations will go forward in the new spirit of cooperation and they should not be particularly difficult. The President said that the Egyptians should feel free to turn to him whenever necessary. Ambassador Atherton understands this. He asked Minister Hassan Ali to convey his deep friendship to President Sadat and his appreciation for Sadat’s constructive attitude. He reiterated that he is very eager for early success.

The meeting ended at 6:15 p.m.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 14, Egypt-Israel Negotiations: 10/11–12/78. Secret; Sensitive. The memorandum was found attached to an October 24 memorandum from Quandt to Brzezinski indicating that this is the official transcript of the conversation. Carter’s handwritten notes from the meeting are in the Carter Library, Plains File, President’s Personal Foreign Affairs File, Box 1, Egypt, 11/77–11/81.
  2. A copy of the initial draft negotiating text of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 2, Arab-Israeli Peace Negotiations 1978: Volume II [III]. An earlier version, dated October 9 and bearing Carter’s handwritten comments and textual changes is in the National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Files of Alfred L. Atherton, Lot 80D166, Box 6, Blair House Talks—October–December 1978: Briefing books.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 82.
  4. See Document 82.
  5. Not found.