17. Minutes of a Policy Review Committee Meeting1


  • Secretary Brown’s Trip to the Middle East


  • State

    • Warren Christopher, Deputy Secretary
    • Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary of State (NEA)
  • Treasury

    • Anthony Solomon, Under Secretary for Monetary Affairs
    • Fred Bergsten, Assistant Secretary for International Affairs
  • Defense

    • Harold Brown
    • Charles Dayan, Deputy Secretary
    • David McGiffert, Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs
    • Robert Murray, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs
  • OMB

    • James McIntyre
    • John White, Deputy Director
  • JCS

    • Gen. David Jones
    • LTG William Smith, Assistant to CJCS
  • CIA

    • Adm. Stansfield Turner
    • Robert Bowie, Deputy Director for National Foreign Assessment
    • Robert Ames, NIO for Near East and South Asia
    • Vice President Mondale
    • Denis Clift, National Security Affairs Adviser
  • White House

    • Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron
  • NSC

    • Gary Sick
    • Fritz Ermarth

Secretary Brown opened the meeting by noting that he had promised to make a visit to the Middle East when he had met with various Middle East leaders a long time ago. Many things had happened in the meantime. The Camp David meeting had occurred with its initial agreement and the subsequent slowing of the negotiation process. There had been the evolution of the Iranian political process and fall of Iran as a major regional security contributor at least with respect to U.S. advantage. It was now time to realign our security relations in the region and the trip provided a timely opportunity to discuss security issues with the nations of the region. The purpose of the meeting was to seek answers to three basic questions. First of all, should we seek closer relations with these nations in some cases? That question [Page 41] on the trip was at best preliminary. However, it could set the stage for further action later on. Secondly, what sort of security cooperation do we want with these nations? In the case of Israel and Jordan, we have had a close cooperation for a long time. However, it should be possible to draw attention to the fact that the threat emanates not from each other, but from the outside. This might be hard to do, but on the other hand these nations are not likely to do it for themselves. Thirdly, if we wish to pursue this path, what is the state of U.S. willingness to carry out its end of the agreement? This turns on questions of public attitudes, congressional attitudes, and economic capacity. In addressing these issues Secretary Brown proposed to use the general outline which had been distributed to members of the PRC the previous day entitled, “Secretary of Defense Trip to the Middle East, PRC Discussion Paper.”2 He proposed dividing this into a series of five questions. First of all, are the general objectives as spelled out in the first page of the paper satisfactory? Secondly, are the proposed initiatives for each country acceptable? Three, how should we treat the linkage between oil and security of financial aspects [assets?] and security issues? Four, what financial support is available on our side to meet some of these requirements in the various areas? And, fifth, what sort of public posture should be adopted, specifically with regard to the press who will be accompanying on the trip? He then turned to the question of the general objectives spelled out in the paper and asked for comments around the table. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski led off and said that he found the objectives to be acceptable. He thought it was necessary to focus on regional security as a general issue. However, addressing that question, the next question was what we should do about the regional security issues. He would personally prefer to deal with this question as a whole, not to disaggregate it. (C)

Mr. Christopher said that he had no argument with the general objectives. However, he found the specific issues in the paper perhaps too ambitious. He did feel that the timing of the trip was fortuitous. (U)

Mr. Dayan noted that the time is right for this kind of a trip and felt that the public visibility is an important aspect.

Mr. McIntyre said that he was not certain that there was a sufficient consensus of opinion developed on what the precise needs and objectives are on this case. The questions as stated imply levels of commitment. He is not sure that enough inter-agency work has been done to examine those implications. He noted that he had caught hell on the Hill in presenting the foreign affairs budget in testimony. Even to imply [Page 42] increased economic or financial commitment at this time would create great concern in the Congress.

Secretary Brown noted that a U.S. willingness to accept some obligations are important. He noted that our approach up until now had been largely to rely on words of assurance and in cases of third-country arms purchases to attempt to get the Saudis to pay for everything. This had left the Saudis feeling restive.

Mr. McIntyre suggested that the Secretary could go out and ask what they would like to have. Then perhaps the President would be in a position to make offers later on.

Mr. Dayan noted that they had been very specific on their requests for equipment.

Dr. Brzezinski noted that there was a real danger in asking them to specify what they want. In the Kenyan case we sent a survey team out and they came back with proposals for a billion dollars worth of equipment. Perhaps it would be better to give a range ourselves. He noted that the President attaches high importance to the Brown trip with respect to security, strategic and diplomatic objectives in the region. First of all, it will give the region a sense that U.S. shares their concern for regional security. He noted that this immediately leaves the question of how much we are willing to involve ourselves and that leads to a question of financing. Since the security of this region is also important to the Europeans, Japanese and others, it is possible that we might be able to turn to them for assistance in that line. Secondly, he looked to this trip to introduce some added momentum into the Egyptian-Israeli dialogue toward peace negotiations. Overall we should review the geo-strategic situation for the countries of the region and elicit a dialogue with them. We should focus on areas of interest to them, specifically South Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iran.

At that point (3:18 p.m.) the Vice President arrived.

Dr. Brzezinski continued that he would hope some form of consultative mechanisms could be established for security discussions with the countries of the region. This would serve as token of our seriousness of interest. However, such consultations should not serve simply as surrogates to strengthen the hands of one nation or another to improve its own bargaining positions in the negotiations. Rather it should create a sense of shared concern and shared objectives. In addition, perhaps we could go beyond the mere consultations and explore the possibility of a direct U.S. military presence in the region. Finally, he felt that we should think about multilateral consultative mechanisms which would bring in the Europeans, the Japanese, and others, particularly in areas of financial and energy interests.

Secretary Brown noted that would probably be most appropriate after the visit as a follow-up since it was not really in his area of responsibility.

[Page 43]

Vice President Mondale asked how the discussions on this visit would relate to the Fahd visit to Washington.3 He felt that Crown Prince Fahd must be able to see something coming.

Dr. Brzezinski noted that it should provide more than tone to the forthcoming meeting. Secretary Brown should talk seriously about the U.S. role. He should encourage Israel to talk seriously about Yemen, Afghanistan, and other regional problems.

Mr. Solomon strongly seconded the suggestion that we make a serious effort to multilateralize these issues. He felt that if we go too far toward the bilateral and take too much of a lead ourselves we jeopardize getting the Europeans on board with us at a later date.

Secretary Brown wondered whether we could expect anything from the Europeans beyond financial assistance.

Dr. Brzezinski said they know unless we are willing to do it, their own security is at stake.

Mr. Solomon said that for us to get too far in the lead is risky.

Dr. Brzezinski said who else could we expect to take the lead? The French have only a little naval power; the British have some, but have withdrawn it from the area; the Germans are clearly not coming back in; and the Japanese have nothing to offer on the security side.

Mr. Solomon noted that the economic costs in providing security for the region could be a shared responsibility.

Admiral Turner said that he felt our approach should be more bilateral than regional and more regional than global. He noted that the Saudis disapproved not of the regional problems but of us. They needed reassurance directly from us and he was not sure that the regional approach would work. On the contrary it could drive the Saudis toward the arms of the Syrians and Iraqis. We need to reassure them that we are not using them as a pawn in a bigger game.

Secretary Brown replied that it is in their interests and ours for them to realize that the Iraqi threat depends on what happens elsewhere and that everything that happens in the region is catalyzed by the Arab-Israel conflict. The real threat is one of regional instability and Soviet stimulation of radical forces. The fact that they, i.e. the Saudis, must do something about it is new.

Mr. Aaron said that the Saudis don’t believe that we have a vision of the regional situation.

Mr. McIntyre wondered if we do have a vision.

[Page 44]

Vice President Mondale said that reduced to simplest form our vision is to stop the Russians in the region. He wondered whether the concerns that we are hearing from the Saudis are something new? He thought they sounded neurotic and rather vague on what they think we should do about it. Do they realize that in many of these cases that there was nothing that we could do about it? Or do they really believe we could? How much do they think is soluble by us?

Dr. Brzezinski said there were two new aspects to the question. First of all, the events of what happened in Ethiopia, Yemen, and Iran brings the danger home and very close to them. The U.S. did not respond to those events. They have the feeling that we didn’t do much. Secondly, there are now more divisions among the Saudi royal family. In the past we saw Prince Saud as a hardliner, but then we felt that Fahd was in control. It is now less clear that Fahd is in charge of the situation. The succession to the Crown Prince position is in question. The Saudis today are faced with external anxiety and internal divisions.

Secretary Brown noted that in addition to that we are beginning to see public attacks on the U.S. in Saudi newspapers which is also something new.

Mr. Saunders agreed with Dr. Brzezinski. He felt that you could date the beginning of new attitudes in Saudi Arabia from the time of Angola and Somalia and those fears have been extenuated since the events of Ethiopia and Yemen.

Vice President Mondale wondered whether this situation was substantially worse. (The group felt that it was.) He thought that we had been getting along with the Saudis very well earlier in the Administration. Now it seems to be the reverse.

Secretary Brown noted it was the force of events. Previously they may have thought that we were stronger than we were. Now perhaps they think we are not as strong as we really are.

Mr. Dayan said that on the basis of his trip out there, he found that they do not understand our inability to act.4 For instance, when we tell them it takes 36 months to get them a tank, they simply can’t believe that we are not stalling.

General Jones said that we are approaching a crisis in confidence. He had just left the head of the Turkish Army and he betrayed a sense of desperation. He thought that we should have been able to do something and was extremely worried about the situation in Iran. He had thought that we were more powerful than we turned out to be. We need to enunciate a clear policy and come to a consensus that this [Page 45] part of the world is absolutely critical to the well-being of ourselves and our allies. The nations of the region have come to expect the U.S. to be timid in responding and unwilling to face Congressional opposition.

Admiral Turner said they often do not hear an expression of concern on our part.

Dr. Brzezinski said that indeed one problem was that we didn’t express enough concern, but even more important than that is that we really didn’t do much and they are watching our actions as much as our words. In some cases we need to be prepared to do something unpopular and tough. We must be able to flex our muscles. For instance, if there is a direct threat to Saudi Arabia from South Yemen or if the Cubans suddenly arrive in South Yemen, it might be necessary for us to be prepared to run it over. He realized that this was not a popular line.

Vice President Mondale wondered why we do not simply say, when they ask us for equipment, that tanks are underway.

Mr. Dayan said that finally we did. When they asked for tanks for North Yemen, we ended up taking them from the U.S. inventory to make sure that they arrived expeditiously.

At that point (3:40 p.m) the Vice President and Mr. Aaron left the meeting.

Secretary Brown then turned to Saudi Arabia. Were we prepared to initiate consultations on security issues with the Saudis? Contingency planning?

Secretary Dayan said we should say yes on consultations and that we should be as forthcoming as possible on military equipment that they have asked for. In the past we have told them no on STINGER which they wanted. They had purchased some REDEYE but when they asked for more, we said that the line was not open. They said that cost was no object. Why not reopen the line? He could not see any objection to that himself. There was no money involved on our part.

Secretary Brown noted that there was indeed a Congressional problem about additional arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Christopher noted that the request for F–5 munitions has been put off in the past by Congress. His reading of the Congressional mood which he thought was no different from anyone else’s was considerably upset by the fact that the Saudis had not followed through on the Camp David agreements and oil and had given us grounds for concern by their performance in Baghdad. It would take a hell of a sales job to convince them to give more on Saudi Arabia without a peace treaty first. However, with a peace treaty this position could change. But we should not kid ourselves, that we would be facing a major battle in Congress.

[Page 46]

Mr. Saunders noted that Church is making a speech tonight in Miami attacking Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Solomon wondered how much better off we would be if an explicit linkage were made between our security provisions and their cooperation on economic and oil matters. He felt that there would be some good feeling on the Hill if we could get the Saudis to agree to a package of some sort on energy or finance.

Secretary Brown wondered how the Saudis would react.

Mr. Christopher said he thought it would be a mistake to try to create an explicit linkage. Fahd’s reaction this week to a fairly explicit linkage attempt is a good example of the kind of reaction we could anticipate.5

Secretary Brown said they must know that we only love them for their oil.

Mr. Solomon said he hoped that by the time Fahd arrived to talk [to] the President enough linkage could be established to get the job done.

Dr. Brzezinski said that there is no need to make linkage explicit, but it can be put in terms of tying in our mutual interests in security and oil, because the two do overlap.

Mr. Solomon again stressed the fact that the Europeans should be brought in. This is as much in their interest as it is in our own. We are better off not having the United States as the semi-sole guarantor.

Secretary Brown said that the French, Germans, British and others certainly are free to sell weapons. They are not likely to do anything else on the military level.

Mr. Saunders wondered what we would do if they would ask for squadrons of combat aircraft.

Secretary Brown said that we could rotate aircraft through Dharan.

Mr. Solomon wondered if they should all be U.S.

Secretary Brown doubted whether the French, British or others would in fact participate.

Mr. Saunders said he had some doubts whether the Saudis would want such a show of force.

Secretary Brown said we have to think about what elements we could in fact multilateralize. He is not sure the Saudis were in fact interested in a multilateral role. He was not sure what kind of political guarantees they really would like to have.

[Page 47]

Mr. Solomon noted that the Europeans can give something that the Saudis would like very much, and that is access to the Deutschmark, Swiss franc and other European money markets. If we would work it out with the Germans and other European countries, this would permit them to diversify their holdings somewhat.

Secretary Brown wondered if this would be a suitable subject for him to raise on his trip.

Dr. Brzezinski said we should talk to the Europeans first. Maybe it was not the best forum to discuss this kind of issue.

Mr. Solomon said he would be meeting with five Ministers of Finance from Europe next week. He would first of all need to do more homework. He would do some more work on it and send out a proposal for review.

Secretary Brown wondered whether he should raise the question of oil field security. The Saudis had been leery of this subject in the past.

Dr. Brzezinski said it would be a mistake for Secretary Brown to raise it; rather, he should ask the Saudis to define their own view of their security problems and to give us a list. We should ask them what is their list. Are they confident that the oil fields are secure? It is also important that we link our ability to help solve their problem to continued progress on the Camp David agreement. That is not simply a matter of psychology, it is a matter of fact.

Mr. McGiffert said he thought it was dangerous to go that far.

Mr. Bowie said that the Saudis see the Camp David accords as a threat to their own security.

Dr. Brzezinski said he understood that that’s the way the Saudis viewed the subject, but it was our objective to try to make them understand that the Camp David agreements were to initiate a process in the West Bank.

Mr. McGiffert wondered when do we want the Saudis to act and what do we want them to do.

Mr. Saunders said that was very straightforward. If the treaty was signed, we would not want them to go back to Bagdad and join with the rejectionists.6 We would want them to support Sadat, to continue their aid to Egypt. We would like them to work to bring the Palestinians into the process. They are asking us to move the Israelis to an agreement. [Page 48] If they want us to succeed, they must listen to us as to how to do it our own way.

Mr. McIntyre said he was concerned about the fourth point in the paper regarding the Saudis which calls for us to agree in principle to continue our joint cooperation in third country military assistance programs, including nominal US financial participation. He had reservations about agreeing to something he knows nothing about.

Dr. Brzezinski agreed and noted that agreement in principle often leads to a commitment which even worse leads to our not keeping the commitment.

General Jones noted that we should be forthcoming to our approach to consultations.

Mr. McIntyre said it is important that we not imply a lot of commitments when in fact we could encounter disagreement later on about those commitments. He had a real concern that the questions be analyzed in advance. He saw the approach outlined in this paper as exactly the same approach as we used toward the Iranians.

At that point (4:00 p.m.) Dr. Brzezinski left the meeting.

Mr. Sullivan wondered what arguments there were against the idea of consultations.

Secretary Brown said that the arguments against were that we would promise more than we could deliver.

Mr. Christopher said that the simple fact of talking often leads to a request. We are expected to put something into the pot.

Secretary Brown noted that regardless of that, there is no way that we could be more tied to the Saudis now.

Mr. Christopher wondered if this type of thing would in fact help prevent the situation that happened in Iran.

Secretary Brown said “no.”

Mr. Saunders noted that it was not a budget problem.

Mr. Solomon wondered whether we should be careful to limit our involvement to external threats.

Secretary Brown said they don’t want internal involvement from the United States.

Mr. McGiffert noted that the first question they would put to us in consultations is “What would we give if Yemen attacked?”

Mr. McIntyre wondered whether we had thought through our response in that case.

Mr. Solomon noted that our interests lie in working as closely as possible with them.

Secretary Brown said that it is alleged that the Saudis are not so much in danger as the Iranians were. They have a large royal family [Page 49] which remains close to the people. He could not vouch that this was true.

Mr. Saunders said that the real issue in Saudi Arabia is that of corruption, and that’s the point where the Iranian case and the Saudi case are very similar.

Mr. Dayan said that this region was an area of overwhelming significance to the United States and the West. There is a positive need to demonstrate that we understand that. The sooner there is public visibility on the subject, the better. He drew attention to a CIA paper which had just been published which was a reassessment of the Saudi position,7 and noted that they were re-evaluating their own policy. This was of overriding strategic importance to the United States. It should be met head on.

General Jones also drew attention to the point in the paper which indicated that the Saudis intended this call for consultations as a direct test to the US commitment. He felt that we should be forthcoming in regard to contingency planning.

Mr. Christopher said he agreed with that, but that we should not directly link security issues with economic and energy issues; and secondly, we should make it clear that we can’t stop something from happening inside Saudi Arabia—external threats, yes; but internal threats, we could not deal with.

Secretary Brown then turned to Egypt. He wondered whether we should encourage Sadat to play a role outside his own country in line with his own idea of providing an intervention force for Africa and other regions. He said that if you examine the whole region, looking for a replacement for Iran except for money, Egypt came the closest.

Mr. Dayan said that he thought the list of initiatives presented for Egypt were very good, especially the fourth one which called for the initiation of FMS credits.

Secretary Brown thought that FMS credits to Egypt were more sal-able in Congress than arms sales to Saudia Arabia, although the former required US funding and the latter did not.

Mr. Christopher felt that until a peace treaty had been signed, we should not plan on large-scale consultations even on a survey team to Egypt.

Secretary Brown said we could take the line that we want to do it, but we can wait until after a treaty is signed.

Mr. Christopher agreed.

[Page 50]

Mr. McGiffert wondered if that applied to all five items on the list.

Mr. Christopher said that there could be talks about what the Egyptians might want from us. The first point was certainly alright. They need to know that it is a good thing to diversify their sources of supply.

Secretary Brown said that when we tell countries to go elsewhere for their source of arms, they take it as a lack of interest from us.

Mr. Christopher said we should not hold out the hope that we will be the sole source of arms for Egypt and also provide money.

Secretary Brown said that may be difficult, since the Egyptians just came out of that kind of relationship. We need to talk to the Saudis about the level of support for Egypt.

Admiral Turner said that it will be difficult to turn Sadat away from his concept of being a Middle East policeman, but there are real dangers in our encouraging that role. There is a danger that he will ignore his domestic problems, ignore the military dissatisfaction with such a policy, and that he could end up generating the same kind of problems that we have just seen in Iran.

Secretary Brown said perhaps our position should be that he would be in a better position to play that role after a peace treaty was concluded.

Mr. Christopher said he hoped we would not divert Sadat from the hard problems of a peace treaty and domestic problems.

Mr. McGiffert said he thought it would be bad if Secretary Brown goes to Egypt and offers only a few contingency possibilities. That would have a negative effect.

Mr. Christopher said that some APCs could be offered after the treaty is signed with the numbers to be determined later.

Mr. McIntyre noted we already provide $750M in SSA to Egypt.

Secretary Brown then turned to Israel. He noted that the specific proposals called for security consultations on a regional basis. This would be something new in our security discussions with the Israelis. He would also need to talk about the relocation of the air bases. Our commitment to assist on air base relocation is ill defined. The President must discuss this with the Israelis, but he could lead the way.

Mr. McIntyre said that opposition [our position] should be that we will make no cash commitments, but after a settlement is reached we will assess the request and make recommendations. That is the line he has been taking on the hill—it implies some additional funding, but that is all. How would we rationalize that position if we now go forward with new commitments as a result of this visit?

Secretary Brown said he was only talking about 1981. Obviously, this would not apply before that budget year.

Mr. McIntyre said that there are general totals that we are operating on with regard to 1981, and that we have to tread very carefully on that.

Mr. Christopher said that the air base and other issues of that sort should be discussed under the general context of the peace process.

[Page 51]

Mr. McGiffert noted that the $1B figure in the paper is new. We have never given that to Israel before, although that is in the air base study.

Secretary Brown said we have never talked about $3B in total aid, even if that is understood to include air bases and other factors.

Mr. Christopher said it would not be desirable now to make a commitment for $1B for air base relocation. There are already big numbers there as far as the Israelis are concerned.

Secretary Brown said he had not intended to make a commitment on this, rather he intended to discuss the study and the estimated costs that came out of it. It would be a mistake to say that we would provide loans or grants of money to Israel for that purpose.

Mr. Christopher said that the words of the Secretary of Defense are heard as a commitment whether it is 81, 82 or any other time. Any discussion of the study should be prefaced with a clear statement that this would involve no commitment as to when or how we would provide funds.

Mr. McIntyre said he would want to [go] to the President to see how he would deal with the question of budget levels.

Secretary Brown said that he had told Weizman on several occasions that there would be $1B in FMS credits and $750M in SSA, and not more than that on an annual basis.

Mr. McIntyre said that we should not leave the impression that that level will continue in perpetuity; however, that is a subject that is probably left unsaid at this point.

Secretary Brown said he was worried about talking security with these countries without something to offer on his own.

Mr. McGiffert wondered how he could possibly be quiet on the entire list.

Mr. Saunders said that there were certain items that they had requested that certainly could be granted which didn’t cost money and could be incorporated within the current aid levels.

Secretary Brown said he was afraid that such discussion would not send a positive signal. However, he thought he could avoid making new financial commitment.

Mr. Saunders said he didn’t think it would be so negative. He thought the general objectives spelled out in the paper were excellent and provided a good basis for talking seriously with them about security needs. We could also discuss their specific needs and relate those to the situation in Oman and Yemen and elsewhere in the region.

Secretary Brown said that that was true as far as the Saudis, and that it was easier since there were no financial problems there; however, on the Saudi case there were Congressional problems.

Mr. Christopher wondered what you could say to the Israelis on any of these subjects without making a commitment.

Secretary Brown said there are some things on the list that could be discussed without any new financial commitments. By discussing [Page 52] the study, we could show we have done something on the airfield situation. We can assure them that some work can be done on the airfields without an impact on the Israeli economy; however, no decision can be taken at this time. He felt that what was required was a decision memo for the President which had to be done immediately for him to examine some of the critical specific issues.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 73, PRC 090, 2/1/79, Secretary Brown’s Trip to Middle East. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. Sick sent the minutes to Brzezinski under a February 7 covering memorandum; Brzezinski subsequently approved the minutes.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 16.
  3. On February 20, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud informed Ambassador West that Fahd’s visit, scheduled for March 13–14, would have to be postponed indefinitely due to Fahd’s health. (Telegram 1515 from Jidda, February 20; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850027–2387)
  4. See Document 10.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXVII, Energy Crisis, 1974–1980, Document 185.
  6. The rejectionists included Algeria, Iraq, Libya, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, Syria, and the PLO. They came together after the December 1977 Tripoli conference (see footnote 4, Document 161) in opposition to Sadat’s dialogue with the Israelis. More information on the formation of the group is in telegram 1525 from Tripoli, December 5, 1977. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770450–1012)
  7. See Document 181.