188. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting with Foreign Minister


  • US

    • The Secretary
    • Philip Habib Under Secretary for Political Affairs
    • Alfred Atherton, NEA Assistant Secretary
    • William Luers, EUR Deputy Assistant Secretary (notetaker)

    • Foreign Minister George Macovescu
    • Ambassador Nicolae Nicolae

Summary of Actions

The Secretary told Macovescu he would work on setting a date for the Ceausescu visit and report back to the Foreign Minister soon.

The Secretary asked that the Romanians keep us up-to-date on the PLO thinking over the next few weeks.

Macovescu renewed his invitation to the Secretary and to Mr. Habib to visit Romania. No commitments made on these.

[Page 562]

Middle East

Foreign Minister Macovescu said he had promised the President he would provide us news from the report of one of Romania’s officials (Pungan) who had visited Damascus.2 The report is that President Assad intends to keep to his stand on the Sadat visit. The Syrians are making an analysis to determine the consequences of the visit and cannot say exactly what the outcome will be. Assad is still in favor of the Geneva conference and believes this is the way to have a global solution in the Middle East but he is preoccupied that the way Sadat is moving will not lead to Geneva. He is worried about a separate agreement.

The Foreign Minister, in referring to the PLO, said that Arafat is still angry. He has learned that the PLO Central Committee decided to attack Sadat but keep the criticism within certain limits. The Secretary asked whether the Romanians have specific knowledge that the criticism was to be within certain limits or is that just the Romanian impression from observations. Macovescu confirmed that the Romanians have knowledge that the PLO Central Committee agreed to establish certain limits on the criticism. The Secretary then said he had heard from UN Secretary General Waldheim that the PLO in the UN had in the last 48 hours played down the attacks on Sadat. The Foreign Minister said his Ambassador at the UN had given him similar reports but also that the PLO representatives at the UN were expressing disturbance about being possibly left out of a Geneva conference.

The Secretary asked whether the PLO said how they planned to proceed from now on with regard to the Sadat visit. Minister Macovescu said no. Mr. Habib asked whether the Romanians sense any change in the PLO position as to whether they must be invited as the PLO to a conference. Macovescu replied that he had no recent word from Damascus or Beirut but the PLO representative in New York had said several weeks ago that the PLO would not reject the idea of going to Geneva as part of an Arab delegation.

The Secretary asked what the PLO reaction has been to the Iraqis and Libyans and how recent events have affected those relations. Minister Macovescu said he had no reading on that subject. The Secretary said that the US Ambassador will talk to the Syrians in Damascus today to get their view on how they see the situation developing.

Macovescu said, in summation, that the Syrians and the PLO expect to have a conference on the Middle East in the near future and they fear a separate settlement. They even think that the US may be behind the development of a separate settlement between Israel and Egypt. [Page 563] Mr. Habib said that had the PLO and the Syrians accepted the earlier proposals of the US we and they would be in Geneva by now. Macovescu replied that the Syrians and Palestinians are now analyzing that situation. Mr. Habib suggested that the Romanians could be helpful in influencing that analysis. Macovescu then reiterated what he had told President Carter that since the PLO and the Syrians want a conference that US should press the Israelis for some concessions to Sadat to bring the conference about.

The Secretary said that it is our view that we should continue to strive for a Geneva conference and discourage separate agreements. This Administration has stood for a comprehensive negotiated settlement and continues to do so, realizing that within a comprehensive settlement separate peace arrangements would be possible. The Secretary said that it is difficult now to determine how this new element (the Sadat visit to Israel) will affect the timing of the preparations. The Secretary said that he is strongly in favor of having such a conference well prepared in advance.

Macovescu replied that he was very glad to hear that the US still favors a Geneva conference and a comprehensive settlement; that there are rumors that the US was behind the Egyptian-Israeli meeting and that the US supported separate settlements. The Secretary replied forcefully that the US for years has been saying that we wanted the parties to the dispute to talk to each other. Naturally we feel that the Sadat visit to Jerusalem was a major step in this direction which we fully favor. But this does not change our position that we favor a Geneva conference which will deal with the matter comprehensively. The Secretary asked that the Romanians do what they could to kill the rumors to the contrary.

Reception of Ambassador Aggrey

The Secretary thanked the Foreign Minister for the warmth of the reception given to Ambassador Aggrey in Bucharest and the speed with which his credentials were accepted. Macovescu thanked the Secretary for the message conveyed by Ambassador Aggrey and made some general remarks about disarmament issues and the fact that the Belgrade conference is now into its second phase. He said “the show is now over” as they move to work on new proposals and to drafting the final communique at Belgrade.

Human Rights—Goma

The Secretary said he would like to raise a delicate matter. He asked what the facts were behind this mornings press reports of the remarks of Romanian writer (Paul) Goma (who had recently left Romania). Macovescu replied that he had known about this in advance. The Foreign Ministry had learned of the PEN Club invitation to Goma and [Page 564] it was finally agreed that he should be given a visa to travel abroad for one year. The Foreign Minister said he guessed that Goma would “speak up” once he departed. He said, “We are not scared. One person cannot hurt us.”

The Secretary then asked about the facts of the case as Goma alleged them in his press conference.3 Macovescu said that it is difficult to say. He, Macovescu , does not know all the facts of the case but the Secretary should understand that Goma is not a big writer in Romania and he is a liar. Macovescu does not believe Goma. “It is not a problem for us.” Macovescu said that we can talk together in general about improving human rights in Romania and improving the general situation to provide better conditions for the Romanian people but let’s speak frankly, “We cannot make a problem of Mr. Goma.” The Secretary did not reply to this last remark of the Minister.

Middle East

The Secretary said he would like to return to a discussion of the Middle East. He asked whether Romania would continue to be in touch with the PLO. Macovescu replied they would not be in touch on a continuing basis but would do so whenever the need arose. The Secretary said that from our standpoint, we would like an updated reading of PLO views as the situation develops over the coming weeks. Macovescu said he would take these US interests into account. He then reiterated that action from the US side would be helpful in determining events. He said that the Americans are a courageous people and should be capable of turning policies around and moving toward a real Middle East settlement.

The Secretary asked whether the Romanians had any discussion about the expulsion of the PLO from Cairo. Macovescu said that they had no discussion on the subject but that they know the PLO representatives who were allegedly expelled are still in Cairo. Macovescu said that he knows that the relations between Arafat and Sadat were and still are good and he does not believe that these relations have significantly changed.

The Secretary asked how Arafat’s relations were with the rest of the PLO, particularly with regard to the rejectionist element. Macovescu [Page 565] replied that he still believed they were “O.K.” and that the left wing of the PLO headed by Habash is not a real problem. Mr. Habib said that rejectionist element, not the “left” element, is the most serious and wondered whether the “rejectionists” influenced Arafat toward continuing rejection of Israel’s right to exist.

Macovescu said that Arafat will accept the right of Israel to exist.

Date of Ceausescu Visit

The Secretary said we were looking forward to the visit of President Ceausescu and we will try to have a date very soon. Macovescu replied that this is very important.4 Ceausescu is planning to go to London around that period (late spring 1978) and would like to prepare his schedule. Also, he would like to begin preparations on the substance of the trip. The Secretary agreed that he would move forward to get a date very soon.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vance’s visit to Latin America.]

Continuing Contacts

The Secretary thanked the Foreign Minister for coming to Washington to discuss the Middle East and stressed the importance of maintaining these contacts. The Foreign Minister said that he had discussed this desirability with Mr. Habib . Mr. Habib replied that the Romanians have been very kind to keep open their invitation to him to visit Bucharest, but the Secretary kept him so busy he could not go. Macovescu said that Mr. Habib was always welcome and he renewed his invitation to the Secretary to visit whenever he could. The Secretary thanked the Foreign Minister.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, unlabeled folder. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Luers; approved in S/S on November 30. The meeting took place in the Secretary’s office.
  2. See Document 187.
  3. Romanian dissident writer Paul Goma departed Romania in November 1977 for France on a one-year tourist visa. Once in Paris, Goma held a press conference accusing the Romanian Government of inhumane treatment of dissidents, of firing over 4,000 miners as a result of the 1977 unrest in Valea Jiului, and alleging that the Romanian secret police had threatened him. He suggested that the assault on Radio Free Europe Romania desk reporter Monica Lovinescu the previous week by unknown assailants was a Securitate’s attempt to intimidate him and other dissidents. (“Rumanian Dissident Makes Plea in Paris,” The New York Times, November 25, 1977, p. 2)
  4. In December, the Department of State recommended that some visits by foreign dignitaries scheduled for the first half of 1978 be rescheduled for the second half of 1978 or early 1979. The memorandum was forwarded to Mondale by Clift on December 13, with his concurrence. Disagreeing with the recommendation, King wrote “ Ceausescu and the Romanians are going to be very upset over this. He has already been told the first half of 1978 and proposed April. To put this off is going to cause real problems for us, since the Romanians are already having doubts about our interest in them. I will do a more formal protest memo if that is required.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, VIP Visit File, Box 12, Romania: President Ceausescu, 4/12–13/78: Cables and Memos, 12/13/77–4/10/78)