135. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Saunders) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Newsom)1


  • Improving Relations with Iraq

Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein has clearly indicated, in response to probes and questions by both the Italian2 and Turkish Prime Ministers,3 that he is readier than ever before to resume diplomatic relations with the United States at some future moment. With Ecevit, Saddam Hussein laid down two conditions for resumption: that the United States not meddle in internal Iraqi affairs (while acknowledging that the U.S. has not been involved with the Kurds since 1975) and that relations be restored at a time when Iraq would not appear to others to be under U.S. pressure to do so.

This latest initiative comes at a time when Iraq gradually has been moving away from its heavy dependence on the USSR to a more balanced, less hostile position both within the Arab world and in its relations with the West. Iraq has shown a sense of responsibility in its continuing support for the Shah during this difficult period in Iran.

The President showed a keen interest in responding positively to these apparent Iraqi initiatives. In accord with a discussion you had with Draper before you went on vacation, we recommended to the Secretary the kind of statement we might pass on to Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. The Secretary decided that, rather than using Ecevit as an intermediary to convey our message, you should get in touch either with the Iraqi UN Ambassador in New York or with the head of the Iraqi Interests Section here. We subsequently recommended to the Secretary that the contact be with the Iraqi Interests Section head, since we know him to be a reliable reporter and a high Ba’ath Party official. The Iraqi representative in New York is in bad odor with [Page 431] Saddam Hussein, having challenged his leadership some years ago, and is also poor in English.

After the foregoing decisions were made, we consulted with Hermann Eilts in Cairo as to Sadat’s likely reactions to the response we would make. Hermann sensed that Sadat would be disturbed, but believed any U.S. response to the Iraqis could be explained as a cautious effort on our part to respond to Iraqi signals with a view to putting us in a better position to influence the Iraqis in various spheres, including in the peace process. He did recommend, however, that we inform Sadat in advance of your getting in touch with the Iraqis here and that we also make clear that we intend to make use of any dialogue that results from our exchanges with the Iraqis to encourage them to eschew terrorism and assassination.

Attached (Tab 1) is a cable instructing Eilts to inform Sadat of our planned response to the Iraqis and also giving instructions to Ankara, Rome, and Amman.4 At Tab 2 are talking points approved by the Secretary which you would use during your meeting with Mr. al-Khateeb in Washington.5 Since Hermann may have trouble getting in touch with Sadat in the next few days, we suggest you meet with Khateeb. Later this week. We will work with your office to set this up.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P860132–0005. Secret; Nodis Attachment. Drafted by Draper; cleared by Alan H. Flanigan (EUR/SE). A “P” was handwritten at the top of the page, indicating that Newsom saw the memorandum.
  2. Not found.
  3. In telegram 8823 from Ankara, December 11, 1978, Spiers described a meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit and Saddam Hussein wherein Saddam “reportedly indicated a desire to resume diplomatic relations with the U.S.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 46, Iraq: 6/77–12/78)
  4. Attached but not printed. The telegram to Cairo at Tab 1 reads in part: “We recently received signals of Iraqi interest in restoration of U.S.-Iraq diplomatic relations. Consistent with our past policy, we would like to encourage Iraqi interest in this matter. Although the signals have come to us through intermediaries, we intend to respond directly.” A handwritten note at the top of the first page indicates the telegram was sent on January 2.
  5. The talking points at Tab 2 read in part: “The U.S. is prepared to resume diplomatic relations with Iraq whenever Iraq is ready to do so. We would welcome such a step.” Mouhyi al-Khateeb was the head of the Iraqi Interests Section in Washington.