187. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s Meeting with the Romanian Foreign Minister


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Mr. Philip Habib, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Mr. William B. Quandt, NSC Staff
  • The Honorable George Macovescu, Foreign Minister of Romania
  • His Excellency Nicolae M. Nicolae, Ambassador from Romania

Foreign Minister: President Ceausescu sends his best regards.

President Carter: I am very proud of our friendship with him.

Foreign Minister: I have a message for you from my President. (The Foreign Minister hands the President a letter.)2

President Carter: It’s a pleasure to have you here. You have made a long trip. We are looking forward to next spring when we hope to have President Ceausescu with us.

Dr. Brzezinski: We hope to find a time in the late spring for his visit.

President Carter: It will be a pleasure to have him here. We have a strong friendship with your country and we are proud of our good relations.

Foreign Minister: We feel that our relations have developed well, and President Ceausescu wants to extend this. He considered this to be a good time to send me here with some ideas on the Middle East, especially after the visit of President Sadat to Jerusalem. In the last three months, President Ceausescu has met with Prime Minister Begin and then with President Sadat. He talked at length with both of them. You have also talked to them. I would like to tell you about our interest [Page 558] in the Middle East. We have no special interest, no strategic or economic interests in the Middle East. We do trade with the Arabs and with Israel but we have no special interests. Our main interest is in peace. We consider our security to be in danger if peace is not reached. We want peace and understanding in the Middle East and we are working hard for it but we are not mediators in the Middle East. We try to provide an open channel for the two parties to use, so that they can transmit ideas, can see each other’s point of view, and we sometimes add our own, but we are not mediators.

President Ceausescu saw both Begin and Sadat, and now they have met each other.3 Our estimation is that this is an important step for peace and for understanding, but I have travelled many times between Jerusalem and Cairo and I know how deep the lack of confidence between the parties is. Now a first step has been taken toward building some confidence and we think it is a good step. The next main step is to go and convene the Geneva Conference, but the parties needed to help prepare it directly, and we think that has been done. There are now some differences in the Arab world.

President Carter: I’ve noticed!

Foreign Minister: We see a dramatic situation, and my President believes it is the right time to help Sadat. Sadat has support at home and support from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sudan, Morocco, Jordan, and Tunisia. In fact, this represents a majority of the Arabs. Against him is Assad, and some others like Algeria and the PLO.

I can say that President Ceausescu has sent a message through an emissary to President Assad and to Arafat. He sent Mr. Poungan, but we have no news yet of his meetings. If we receive news, we will tell you.4 Our interest is to try to calm the situation. We understand the Syrian and PLO position but we want them to calm down. Now is the right moment to go for peace. If we lose time, there will be dangers.

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President Carter: President Ceausescu has played a constructive role in getting the meeting started. This shows the confidence that the two parties have in your Presidents. I thought that President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin would get along well, and that seems to have been true.

I have been disappointed by the negative attitude of President Assad. We have tried to encourage Assad to be moderate. He personally has refrained from attacking Sadat, but his government has been very negative. He had some news this morning that Sadat has asked the PLO to leave Egypt. Your officials have relations with Arafat and we do not. Arafat has also been reticent to attack Sadat, but others have been very critical. I agree with you and President Ceausescu that the time has come to move toward a comprehensive peace. We are pleased with Jordan’s statement and if Syria were more positive, Jordan would be able to go further. The Lebanese attitude also depends on Syria. What do you suggest doing next?

Foreign Minister: My President has some suggestions. He thinks that it is important to try to convince Begin to respond to Sadat with flexibility. Sadat has played his big card. This is the right time for Israel, with your help, to take steps to show flexibility and to move on to the Geneva Conference. We have to go to Geneva in the near future. We can’t lose momentum. Secondly, my President felt that it would be a good idea to send Vice President Mondale or Mr. Vance to Egypt to talk to Sadat and then to travel in the area to show your continued interest in the region. Third, my President feels that the time has come for you to talk to the PLO. Even Mr. Begin does not reject this idea.

President Carter: Perhaps you already know that we have a public agreement that was signed between Mr. Ford and the Israeli Government, and was reaffirmed by me that states that we will not meet with the PLO unless the PLO abandons its insistence on the destruction of Israel. We have asked Arafat to accept Resolution 242, and he can add a statement of his concern that the Palestinian question is not included in 242, because 242 only talks of refugees, and then we would be glad to meet directly. But I can’t break a promise as long as the PLO calls for Israel’s destruction.

Foreign Minister: I understand. But even Sadat used to say No for a long time and now he has gone to Jerusalem. We need more flexibility. You should tell the Israelis that you want some contacts and then the PLO will become more flexible. We know them well and they are in difficult positions. They don’t know how to react. It is also time for you to discuss with the Soviets how to reconvene the Geneva Conference as co-chairmen. We might send an invitation to the parties or do this through the United Nations. We think it is best to talk to the Soviets and to keep them in a positive frame of mind.

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President: We are in close touch with the Soviets. I think that there are two or three people now, President Assad and President Brezhnev. We are ready to move rapidly through the UN to call for the Geneva Conference. We can do this once we have an agreement with the Soviets on the format, and indications from Assad that he will attend. I would be reluctant to exclude Syria if they want to cooperate. In a few days, we will have information from the Israelis and the Egyptians. Then we can judge our role. I have talked to Prime Minister Begin, but I have not yet heard from President Sadat. They were both tired after the visit. President Ceausescu could help with President Assad. After your emissary has met with Assad, we would like to know anything you learn about how we might best approach the Syrians. I have been pleased with the Soviet attitude as expressed in the joint statement. They could, of course, obstruct a Geneva Conference but we see no evidence that that is their intention. They have played a constructive role as compared to the past and are now eager to move to overcome the problem we have with Syria.

Foreign Minister: Concerning the substance of my trip, my President was very happy that you would agree to see me. The main point is to make clear that we need to help President Sadat. If he falls or if he is isolated, there can be no peace in the Middle East. His trip to Jerusalem was an important step.

President Carter: What is your relationship to Saudi Arabia?

Foreign Minister: We have had none. We see each other sometimes and talk, but we have no diplomatic relations. They are not prepared for them.

President Carter: We have had good cooperation from the Saudis. They help Egypt, and we don’t want to see that disrupted. Most of the world admires Sadat for his move and we hope that the meeting he had will be a success.

Foreign Minister: He sees himself as a strong leader who can afford to make this kind of move.

President: He is a strong leader and he has proved it. I am glad to see that you are taking constructive steps and that they are fully in line with our own. I hope that we will keep exchanging views.

Foreign Minister: This has been our first mission since the Sadat trip.

Dr. Brzezinski: Has Mr. Poungan gone to see Arafat?

Foreign Minister: Yes, he left two days ago.

President Carter: We look forward to hearing the report. We have good relations with Assad and I like him. I think he is a fine man.

Foreign Minister: Our direct bilateral relationships are good and President Ceausescu looks forward to his visit here.

President: I look forward to meeting him.

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Foreign Minister: If the Vice President could come to Romania, or Secretary Vance before Ceausescu’s visit, it would be very good. It should not be linked to a visit to the Middle East.

President: The Vice President does not need much encouragement to travel.

Vice President Mondale: I went to Romania in 1968, and I met the Foreign Minister at that time and we had a good talk.

President Carter: It is hard to keep him here.

Vice President: I’ll become an expert on Romania.

Foreign Minister: It would be good to have you in our country.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 36, Memcons: President: 11–12/77. Top Secret. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Brzezinski forwarded a copy of the memorandum to Vance on November 28. A summary of the meeting was also transmitted in telegram 283125 to Bucharest, Tel Aviv, Cairo, and Damascus, November 26. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840072–0448)
  2. Ceausescu sent Carter a letter designating Macovescu as a special envoy on “some considerations on the situation in the Middle East and on the continued development of Romanian-American relations.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 16, Romania: President Nicolae Ceausescu, 2/77–12/78)
  3. Ceausescu visited Egypt May 11–12 to hold bilateral discussions with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. In telegram 8153 from Cairo, May 13, the Embassy reported that the primary purpose of the Ceausescu visit seemed to be bilateral and economic issues, and that there was little evidence that Ceausescu was carrying any special message from either the Soviets or the Israelis. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770170–0772) Begin visited Bucharest August 25–30. See Document 183.
  4. In telegram 416 from Bucharest, January 19, 1978, the Embassy reported Aggrey’s conversation with Andrei. Andrei informed Aggrey that Ceausescu had decided to send Pungan to Cairo and Jerusalem, and that asked Vance meet with Pungan confidentially in either one of the two cities. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850101–2417) Vance responded in telegram Secto 1055, January 20, 1978, that a meeting in either city would be impossible and that he would prefer not to meet during the trip, but rather brief the Romanian Ambassador in Washington upon his return. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840148–1549) Vance and Pungan met January 24 in Washington. See Document 190.