190. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Romania1

25196. Exdis distribute as Nodis—Cairo pass Atherton. Subject: Secretary’s Meeting With Romanian Emissary Pungan.

1. Romanian Emissary Pungan met with the Secretary for an hour on January 24. President Ceausescu had wanted him to pass Romanian views to the Secretary and to learn what the U.S. thought about the present Middle East situation. Pungan’s presentation reflected the Romanian analysis of recent messages to Ceausescu from both Sadat and Begin, as well as a long meeting which Pungan had with Begin in Jerusalem on January 22.

2. Pungan said that Ceausescu was deeply engaged in the Middle East problem, but not of course as a mediator, having strongly supported the Sadat initiative and having advised both Egypt and Israel that conditions for a settlement as a result were better than ever. Ceausescu, however, was very concerned over the present situation caused by the break-off of the Jerusalem Political Committee talks. He felt that it was essential that channels of communication between Egypt and Israel remain open. For that reason, he considered it important that the Security Committee resume meetings right away since, if it did [Page 570] not, it might kill all prospects of resumption of talks in the Political Committee framework.

3. Pungan reiterated throughout this conversation—as he said he did to Begin—the Romanian view that there were “circles” hoping for a failure of the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations, including the Soviets. It was important, therefore, that Romania and others wanting progress in the present negotiations do their best to get them going again.

4. Turning to the Sinai aspect of the negotiations, Pungan said that Romania had advised both parties to find a formula for using the air fields in common for civilian purposes including tourism, while preserving Egyptian sovereignty over the area. The Sinai settlements problem was far more difficult. Romania had judged that Egypt would do virtually anything, but would never accept any derogation from its sovereign authority. The Romanians had suggested to Egypt that those among the settlers willing to stay under Egyptian administration be allowed to remain, but with no extraterritorial Israeli military protection.

5. The Secretary said that he had made similar suggestions. He sensed that two of the air fields would not present a problem in the end, and that Gamasy and Weizman had demonstrated some confidence, which Sadat did not share, that the problem of the third air field could be resolved satisfactorily. As for the settlements issue, the Secretary said he thought it would have to be resolved by the Heads of Government. If compromise proved impossible, one or the other might have to give in. It was the sorest of all Sinai issues, and its difficulty was compounded by press treatment of it. Sadat could not risk being humiliated, while Begin has made a case that the settlements were vital to Israeli security. For his own part, the Secretary said he did not believe the security argument was convincing. Pungan said that for Sadat, sovereignty was an issue of principle, which could not be tampered with if he was to keep constructive good relations with key Arab states. He noted that Sadat had offered large DMZ’s, and this might be a way out of the problem. The Secretary said we had taken virtually the same line.

6. Pungan and the Secretary agreed that the Palestinian issue was the most delicate and difficult problem in the negotiations. The Secretary explained how we had been trying to use the second agenda item in Political Committee talks to develop a basic negotiating framework for the West Bank/Gaza and Palestinian problems. Pungan said the Romanians sensed that Israel wanted to confine any future negotiations within the narrowest possible limits, involving only Palestinian residents in the occupied territories in a limited self-rule role. Romania believed, however, that it was necessary to involve representatives of the entire Palestinian community in the Middle East, including the [Page 571] PLO, in an exercise in self-determination. One problem is that no one knows for sure whether the PLO and the Palestinian diaspora would in the end accept or reject something less than a fully independent state, for example. The Palestinians were not monolithic, he said. He went on to speculate that, in an initial period, the West Bank and Gaza might develop their own administration and a degree of autonomy, and there would also be changes in basic Arab-Israeli conditions. Who could say for sure whether the PLO and others might find the new situation unacceptable. He concluded that, even if the parties came to an agreement on all other issues, a Middle East settlement will not work unless it deals satisfactorily with the basic Palestinian issue.

7. The Secretary said that we had made clear the need for Palestinian participation in the determination of their future, as in the Aswan statement. There has to be some consent of the governed to what is going on. The only real answer for the question of Palestinian representation, however, would be for the Arab confrontation states to come up with some ideas and suggestions, including perhaps names, acceptable to Israel. He agreed that the Israelis wanted to deal only with the West Bank/Gaza aspect and acknowledged that the overall Palestinian issue had to be resolved in the context of a larger settlement. That broader issue was greater than who represented the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. Pungan argued that it was easier to deal with the basic problem by broadening participation at the beginning. The Secretary said conceptually this was correct, but practically it was not easy.

8. The Secretary noted that Jordan felt the refugee problem should be tackled in smaller steps, dealing initially with the 1967 refugees and displaced persons, and then moving on.

9. Noting that the Romanians believed that the Arabs should now elaborate some concrete proposals in lieu of making demands and statements of principles, Pungan asked whether the West Bank/Gaza under a UN administration would be practical for an interim period. The Secretary said he had proposed this last spring to all parties, but met with a mixed reception. The Israelis were particularly wary of anything with a UN role.

10. The Secretary and Saunders said that the total Middle East problem was so complex and so difficult to digest that there was virtually no choice but to try to break it down into its component elements and deal with them individually.

11. Pungan said another problem was wider Arab participation, with Jordan in the first instance. He had met with both Assad and Arafat shortly after Sadat’s Jerusalem visit. Assad gave him the impression that he was not as opposed to Sadat’s efforts as had been portrayed. He would wait and see the results, but he felt the initiative was not [Page 572] well prepared. Assad made clear he would not close the doors to Syrian involvement in a settlement. Even Arafat, Pungan added, was not 100 percent against the Sadat effort. Pungan did not rule out the possibility that Syria, at some future stage, and even the PLO as well, would accept a formula for their participation. Continuing, Pungan argued that it was not enough to wait for such events; all concerned should prepare the ground. Ceausescu had suggested that perhaps another meeting, possibly organized under the UN, could be convened in another city which could provide the cover for bringing in others, including the Soviets.

12. The Secretary commented that the time may come when this would be feasible, but he first wanted to see some progress in the committee talks, and on a declaration of principles. Syria clearly would not go to a meeting in Cairo, nor would the Soviets. He agreed with Pungan that Egypt should at least keep the Syrians and even the Soviets informed of what they have been doing. Pungan said the Soviets will not go to Geneva, for example, merely to put their signature on a settlement already negotiated without their participation. The Secretary said that he, too, tried to keep the Soviets generally informed.

13. The Secretary observed that the PLO had been hurting its cause recently. He noted the murder of the PLO rep in London showed the strains within the PLO.

14. Pungan was gratified that both Sadat and Begin had made comparatively temperate speeches after the Jerusalem break up. It was important that diplomacy through the press be calmed and that the sharp public rhetoric end. This was the thrust of Romanian advice to Begin and Sadat. He was also encouraged by the two parties leaving open a future reconvening of the Security Committee. The Secretary said that his guess was that the Security Committee might be convened within the next seven to fourteen days; he was less optimistic about a reconvened Political Committee meeting. It depended upon the atmospherics, and he noted there were ideas for rotating meetings between Cairo and Jerusalem, or even meeting in the Sinai buffer zone.

15. Summing up, the Secretary said that, in most respects, the Romanian and U.S. analysis and approach to the problem were similar; there were some differences in our respective views of the Palestinian issue and the PLO. The Secretary thanked Pungan for coming to Washington to share with him Ceausescu’s views.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 9, Vance Nodis MemCons, 1978. Secret; Priority Exdis. Drafted by Draper; cleared by Andrews and in S; approved by Saunders. Sent for information Priority to Tel Aviv, Cairo, and Damascus.