200. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s First Meeting with President Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • O. Rudolph Aggrey, Ambassador to Romania
  • George S. Vest, Assistant Secretary of State
  • Jerrold Schecter, NSC Staff Member
  • Robert R. King, NSC Staff Member
  • Mrs. Huffman, Interpreter
  • President of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu
  • First Deputy Prime Minister, Gheorghe Oprea
  • Foreign Minister, Stefan Andrei
  • Presidential Counselor, Vasile Pungan
  • Minister of Machine Building Industry, Ion Avram
  • Ambassador to the United States, Nicolae M. Nicolae
  • Interpreter, Mr. Celac
  • Notetaker, Mr. Mateescu

The President welcomed President Ceausescu and suggested discussing international issues first and bilateral issues during the second meeting.

President Ceausescu expressed pleasure with the visit and hoped that the talks would contribute to better relations between the two countries. He invited President Carter to visit Romania.

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The Middle East

The President suggested that the Middle East be discussed first since Israeli Foreign Minister Dayan had just visited Bucharest and both countries follow complementary policies on this issue. He mentioned that Romania played an important role in bringing about the Sadat visit to Jerusalem,2 but since that visit the process has stalled and there is a need to restore momentum.

The President said that there has been some progress in influencing the views of Prime Minister Begin, but he is still not willing to accept that Resolution 242 applies to the West Bank and Gaza. It is our view that any Israeli settlements in these areas are contrary to international law. Begin was asked to permit no settlements, but he was not willing to accept this view. There is still a possibility for progress, but it will be difficult. We will appreciate any help President Ceausescu can offer in the weeks ahead. We have benefitted from the information and assessments he has given and we welcome the Romanian views on how we should proceed.

President Ceausescu also emphasized the importance of the Middle East situation, approved the US role in the Sadat initiative, and agreed that Israel has not fully responded. Begin’s interpretation of Resolution 242 is not accepted even by some political figures in Israel, a number of whom Ceausescu has recently met.

At present, the first step must be to secure the speedy withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in order to prevent further hostilities and create conditions for direct Israeli-Egyptian talks to resume. Ceausescu told this to Dayan, but the US should do more to encourage proper Israeli action. Although he is personally opposed to the use of pressure, in this case it is not detrimental and should be used.

The next step is for Israel and Egypt to work out a declaration of principles. The Egyptian proposals are generally acceptable to Israel, but agreement on formulations must be worked out. The US should encourage both sides in this regard.

The Palestinian issue is perhaps the major obstacle to a settlement, and progress must be made before the talks can be widened to include [Page 621] Syria and Jordan. The Palestinians must be given an opportunity to determine their fate. The Begin proposals on this issue are far from acceptable.

Also related is the problem of the PLO. The Palestinians must be represented in the negotiating process, and the PLO is the only organization which can speak for the Palestinians. The Romanian President said that Dayan was not unyielding on recognizing the PLO. Just before leaving Romania a representative of the PLO told Ceausescu of the organization’s wish for direct talks with the US. Ceausescu feels that the PLO is following a policy that will permit recognition of Israel’s right to exist.

The present framework of the Egyptian-Israeli talks do not permit the participation of Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians, thus it would be useful to consider convening a Geneva conference to permit wider participation, including that of the USSR. Both Begin and Dayan have indicated a willingness to consider that possibility.

The President said that there were certain differences of view with the Romanian assessment. The US does not support complete Israeli withdrawal since some border modification would be useful, and we do not favor an independent Palestinian state. The US has long sought to convince the PLO to renounce its committment to the destruction of Israel and accept UN Resolution 242, but we have found no evidence that the PLO is willing to modify its position.

Israel has put forward proposals on the West Bank that are inadequate. The next step is for Egypt to make a counter-proposal in order to determine precisely where differences exist. We also feel that formulations can be found to bridge the differences over the statement of principles. We wish to encourage progress, but our influence over Israel is overestimated.

The President asked Secretary Vance to comment on these issues. The Secretary said that our experience has been that the Israelis are much more rigid on the PLO question than Ceausescu indicated—Begin in particular, but also Dayan. We fully agree that a way must be found to widen the circle to include other states in direct negotiations in order to achieve a comprehensive settlement. Agreement on a set of general principles would be a first step in this direction.

The President said that US and Romanian goals in the Middle East are the same—peace and Israeli withdrawal. We are not discouraged since there is greater evidence of progress today than a year ago.

President Ceausescu reiterated his concern that a way be found for the PLO to participate in the negotiating process. He also repeated the assurances of PLO willingness to talk with the US.

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US-Soviet Relations

The President then reviewed US relations with the Soviet Union, noting progress has been made. He expressed the hope that Secretary Vance’s visit to Moscow this month and Foreign Minister Gromyko’s later visit to Washington will lead to a summit meeting with Mr. Brezhnev. Many past differences have been resolved in the SALT talks but others remain, which we hope can be dealt with soon. In addition, progress has been made on agreements to ban the testing of all nuclear devices, limit the buildup of military forces in the Indian Ocean, prevent the destruction of each other’s satellites, and control conventional arms sales. The Soviets have negotiated in good faith, and we are pleased with the progress thus far.

One important problem in US-Soviet relations is the Soviet intrusion into Angola and Ethiopia by means of Cuban soldiers. Soviet actions in Africa have roused suspicion of Soviet intentions, thus difficulties in the minds of Congress and the American People. We hope the USSR will not become involved in Eritrea, but we will not permit these differences to interfere with the SALT negotiations.

We look forward to Brezhnev’s visit here. No date has been set thus far since the Soviet leader probably wants to be certain that an agreement will be ready for signature. We hope this will not be delayed.

President Ceausescu said that he welcomed progress toward the solution of problems between the US and the USSR, and the conclusion of a SALT agreement will have a favorable influence on international affairs. Other problems remain, however, which cannot be solved by the superpowers alone. Relations between the US and the USSR must not be achieved at the expense of other states, large or small.

Problems in the area of nuclear weapons, and in conventional weapons as well, are not a matter for the US and USSR alone, though they have the largest arms stockpiles. Other countries and groups of countries (including the People’s Republic of China) are also increasing their weapons and must therefore play a greater role in disarmament.

The President expressed the desire to discuss China, preparations for the Madrid meeting, the Korean question and the Pacific at subsequent meetings. He appreciated the discussions. Copies of the President’s book Why Not the Best and a book of satellite photographs were given to President Ceausescu, who expressed thanks.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 36, Memcons: President: 4/78. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room.
  2. See Document 183. On February 4, 1978, while describing his meeting with Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, Carter wrote in his diary: “Sadat described the sequence of events since our last April meeting. He said he asked [President Nicolae] Ceausescu of Romania if Begin was for a genuine peace, and if he was strong enough to implement one. Ceausescu thought the answer to both questions was yes.” (Carter, White House Diary, p. 169. Brackets are in the original.) William Quandt, the National Security Council Staff member directly involved in the Middle East peace process, also recounted in his memoirs Ceausescu’s role in assuring Sadat that Begin would “negotiate in good faith with Egypt.” (Quandt, Camp David, p. 144)