184. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East


  • U.S.

    • Secretary Vance
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary William Luers
    • Ints M. Silins, EUR/EE (Notetaker)
  • Romania

    • Ambassador Nicolae Nicolae
    • Third Secretary Petre Anghel (Interpreter)

SUMMARY: Romanian Ambassador Nicholae briefed the Secretary on Prime Minister Begin’s talks with President Ceausescu in Romania August 25–29. The Romanian account of these meetings shows that Romania pressed Begin to adopt a more reasonable position on solutions in the Middle East; the Romanian position has similarities to our own. The Romanians believe the Israelis may eventually show some flexibility but have no particular evidence for this conclusion. The Secretary said we will keep in touch with the Government of Romania on Middle East Issues and would welcome any suggestions on approaches to a peaceful settlement. END SUMMARY

Ambassador Nicolae called, on instructions, on Secretary Vance to present a detailed report on Israeli Prime Minister Begin’s visit to Bucharest during August 25–29. Ambassador Nicolae read his account from a written report, which he said was based on a stenographic record of conversations between Prime Minister Begin and President Ceausescu.

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1. The Romanian Position

Ceausescu had presented the Romanian position on conditions necessary for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. These include: (a) Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories; (b) recognition of the legitimate interests and aspirations of the Palestinians, including the right to create an independent state; (c) assurance of the independence and integrity of all states in the region. Ceausescu had expressed concern with some Israeli actions; namely, illegal settlements in the occupied territories, and Israeli involvement in Lebanon. Ceausescu said that Israel must revise its position and recognize the national rights of the Palestinian people, lacking which, no lasting solution is possible. He said that it is necessary to break the vicious circle around relations with the PLO by a clear statement of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people. He added that the establishment of a Palestinian state will not satisfy all Palestinian demands; there is also the problem of compensation for losses suffered by Arabs who were resettled in other countries.

Ceausescu said that no one can imagine a solution in the Middle East without participation by the PLO at Geneva on an equal footing and with full rights. He said that conditions are now most favorable for progress toward peace, and he particularly emphasized that responsibility rests with Prime Minister Begin and with Israel for not taking advantage of these favorable conditions. Ceausescu noted that Israel hangs on to old and rigid positions, and it is a grave mistake not to meet the flexible positions of the Arab states. Ceausescu said the situation may change at any time with grave consequences for peace.

Ceausescu pointed out that the framework offered by the UN cannot be ignored. Israel has to recognize the UN role, including that of the Committee on Special Rights of the Palestinian People.

Ceausescu noted that Romania does not want to assume the role of mediator but seeks to make its contribution to peace in the Middle East along with other states.

2. Begin’s Position

Prime Minister Begin repeatedly underlined that it is his desire and that of Israel to achieve peace and avoid another war in the Middle East—this is the sole motive for his actions. There are no preconditions for a reconvened Geneva Conference, and all problems should be subject to negotiations. Begin offered no new ideas on the framework of the negotiations but explained the content and sense of proposals he had made during his visit to the United States.

Begin said Israel would not oppose the inclusion of Palestinian representatives in a Jordanian delegation, if they are not known PLO members. Begin said that a single Arab delegation would not be justified since peace treaties must be negotiated and signed separately.

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Begin pointed out that the policy of non-recognition and rejection of the PLO is motivated by the fact that the Palestinian national charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Israel apparently plans an overall settlement through the conclusion of peace treaties. Begin did not mention the possibility of partial solutions during his meetings with Ceausescu. The essential content of these peace treaties, according to Begin, should be cessation of the state of war. Begin said that territorial problems and settlements in the occupied territories should not be obstacles to peace, everything being negotiable. Begin said the Israeli position on the delimitation of frontiers is dictated entirely by national security reasons and is not a pretext for territorial aggrandizement. The final borders are to be jointly established only through negotiations and reflected in the peace treaties. The establishment of diplomatic and other relations must be an integral part of the peace treaties—but this is a problem for the negotiations, not a precondition.

Begin attached great importance to the contacts at Foreign Minister level at the UN this fall. Israel would have preferred direct contacts, but in any case some progress can be made toward a conference.

With regard to the problem in southern Lebanon, Begin said he does not want any Lebanese territory and would do anything to avoid the outbreak of another war, but Israel cannot be indifferent to the fate of the Christian minority in the region.

3. Romanian Conclusions

The Romanian Government considers that Prime Minister Begin’s visit was a good opportunity to set forth the Romanian position toward establishment of peace in the Middle East. Efforts should be intensified to convince Israel to revise its rigid position. During the talks, the Romanian side got the impression that, despite Begin’s rigid statements, the Israeli Government might be considering the possibility of revising its positions. Begin did not reject the possibility of a peaceful solution to the Palestinian question, but said that it would be hard to do this as long as the PLO does not renounce the idea of destroying Israel. Begin said that he would think over the comments and analysis made by President Ceausescu.

If only for this reason, the Romanians consider the visit useful. It was never expected that Begin would revise his positions in Bucharest or find the solution to the Middle East problem while there. The opinion of the Romanian Government is that Begin’s intransigent statements do not represent the final word. The possibility of an understanding is not closed, but it is necessary for all countries to help bring the respective positions closer together so that the Geneva Conference can reconvene and a solution be found for PLO participation.

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Ambassador Nicolae conveyed President Ceausescu’s thanks for the briefing he had received on the Secretary’s Middle East visit,2 and he conveyed the hope that exchanges will continue, including a meeting between Secretary Vance and Romanian Foreign Minister Macovescu at the UN.

Secretary Vance expressed his great appreciation for the report on Prime Minister Begin’s visit. He said it was useful that such a conversation took place and that it was good for Begin to hear as many views as possible. The Secretary said there are many similarities between the US and Romanian positions on what is required for a settlement in the Middle East. The statements made by Prime Minister Begin in Romania are in line with what he said to us here. There are two crucial issues, however, on which we see no flexibility on the Israeli side: the West Bank and the question of a Palestinian entity or state. We agree there must be some Palestinian participation at Geneva; otherwise, there can be no lasting settlement. It is, therefore, both a procedural and a substantive question. We hope that at the UNGA we can help move the positions closer together and bring about a Geneva meeting no later than December.

The Secretary said that we look forward to keeping in touch with the Romanian Government on the Middle East and would appreciate any suggestions Romania might offer. The parties to the conference will have to make the final determination themselves, but they will need help.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, unlabeled folder. Confidential; Nodis. Drafted by Silins; cleared by Glaspie; approved in S/S on September 21. The meeting took place in the Secretary’s office.
  2. In telegram 197399 to Bucharest, August 19, the Department forwarded Secretary Vance’s summary of his trip to the Middle East to be used in a briefing for Ceausescu. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770299–0562) No report of when the Embassy in Bucharest briefed Ceausescu on the trip was found.