269. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Arms Transfer Policy


  • The Secretary
  • Mrs. Lucy Benson, Under Secretary, Security Assistance
  • Mr. Robert Kimmitt, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Kempton Jenkins, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Congressional Relations
  • Senator Sparkman
  • Senator Baker
  • Senator Stennis
  • Senator Percy
  • Senator Pell
  • Senator McGovern
  • Senator Clark
  • Senator Stone
  • Senator Sarbanes
  • Senator Thurmond
  • Senator Javits
  • Senator Glenn
  • Senator Inouye2

Before the session got underway, Baker raised some questions about how genuine the consultation was to be. He noted the Gwertzman story in the New York Times last Monday3 and wondered whether, in fact, the President had already made his decisions. The Secretary informed him that the decisions had not been made and regretted the leak. He pointed out that the Gwertzman story concerned an options paper4 and what he was discussing today was a Presidential draft drawn up after considering the options paper.

The Secretary then distributed copies of the draft5 to each Member and led the Members through a point-by-point consideration of it.


Sparkman and Percy queried how we would be able to factor in the human rights element. Sparkman expressed some worry that commitment to human rights can be perceived as intervention; the difference is a fine line. The Secretary recognized the problem and assured the Senators that it was the President’s intention to deal with this problem with great precision and care.

Paragraph 1

Senator Stone opened the longest discussion of the meeting by questioning the specific exemptions for NATO, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, criticizing the absence of Israel from the excepted list. He pointed out that the problem was exactly the same on points 3 and 4 in the paper.

McGovern contested Stone, pointing out that, should we make a specific exception for Israel, we would then be cast in the role once again of one-sided support for Israel at the expense of the Arab states. He emphasized that pursuit of a peaceful settlement in the Middle East is the most important contribution we can make to Israeli security. Stone disagreed, insisting that the draft in its present form “discrimi[Page 672]nates” against Israel. He insisted the document must include a reference to our special relationship with Israel. Stone and McGovern then had a brief but intense exchange without result. Pell interjected that the way to solve this problem might be to drop the specification of any countries. Stone accepted that; Sarbanes pressed for deleting the exceptions in all three paragraphs.

Paragraph 2B

Javits expressed concern that the “prohibited” terminology was too sweeping. He said, furthermore, how could a system be operationally deployed with U.S. forces before research and development are already completed? He suggested that 2B be recast in the language of 2A, i.e., “except in extraordinary circumstances approved by the President”. While no one else at the meeting spoke on that subject, several Members nodded their agreement with Javits’ suggestion.

Paragraph 3

Sparkman suggested deleting the exceptions would solve the only problem in this paragraph. Sarbanes and others concurred.

Paragraph 4

Several of the Members commented again on the “exception” for NATO countries, et al. Once again it was clear that deletion of these exceptions would solve the no-reference-to-Israel problem. Stone insisted that the absence of any reference to Israel in this document which does reference other exceptions would clearly be a signal to Israel and the Arab states of a downgrading of the U.S. special relationship with Israel.

Paragraph 5

McGovern noted that this is simply a restatement of the existing law under the Foreign Assistance Act, which the Secretary confirmed.

Paragraph 6

Glenn and Javits expressed concern that this paragraph is perhaps more sweeping than we realize. Glenn even suggested that we might be exceeding our constitutional authority and said, “You will be telling American businessmen that they cannot go out and sell unless the Department of State authorizes it.” The Secretary and Mrs. Benson pointed out that there have been preliminary discussions with a number of defense corporations and that they seemed ready, generally, to acquiesce in this practice. In point of fact, Mrs. Benson said, much of this preliminary discussion with the State Department is already a well-established tradition, although nothing is as complete and binding as that in the draft. Other members of the Committee agreed with Glenn’s assessment that this is a significant policy change, but, in con[Page 673]trast to Glenn, they clearly support it—Clark, McGovern, Pell and Sarbanes particularly.

Javits suggested that we subsume paragraph 6 under paragraph 2 and limit its application to “sophisticated weaponry”.

There was then a good deal of back and forth with Glenn, Javits and others as to what is covered and what is not. It seemed from the discussion that a brief insert after the language, “defense articles and services” to explain that we mean items of major defense equipment on the ITAR list would answer these questions.

Arms Control and Iran

McGovern then asked the Secretary about how this new policy would impact upon our arms sales to Iran and the Committee’s deep concern about arms transfers to the Persian Gulf area. The Secretary said, in his judgment, this policy would have a profound effect on arms sales to Iran, particularly in terms of the more sophisticated weaponry which the Iranians have sought. He pointed out that in Iran, for example, a number of cases had developed where arms salesmen had dealt directly with the Iranians and had created interest in advanced weapons systems, some still on the drawing board, which then posed a diplomatic challenge for us if we chose to limit such sales.

Earlier Notification to Congress

Clark said he hailed the President’s draft and wondered if we might not wish to crank in a specific means of providing earlier notification to the Congress. He said whereas Congress now has 20 days informal notice and 30 days formal notice, this was still after an arms sale project was fairly well developed and Congressional disapproval became difficult and diplomatically expensive. He referred to the possibility of Congressional involvement at the price-and-availability stage. Clark said perhaps the new board for arms sales controls would be the best vehicle for early Congressional input. Mrs. Benson and the Secretary concurred.

Hussein’s Visit

Javits then raised the question of Hussein’s visit.6 He said the situation, in his judgment, is now ripe for a review of Rabat.7 He wondered whether this had come up during Hussein’s visit.

[Page 674]

The Secretary replied that he had indeed discussed it with Hussein. He said Hussein will not be the first one to raise the question with his colleagues, and other leaders are not sufficiently in agreement to revise it. It would seem, however, that this could be done some time in the future.

Javits replied that few things would provide more reassurance as to peaceful settlement in the Middle East. Hussein has a well-deserved reputation as a moderate. The Rabat agreement, however, gave the ball to the radical militants among Arab leaders and he, Javits, felt it was a matter of great urgency to get the ball back into the hands of the moderates.


The meeting concluded with a number of Senators, including Percy and Sparkman particularly, praising this genuine consultation. It was obvious that all the Members present recognized the serious intent on the part of the President to consult in advance. They expressed the hope that this is the harbinger of a new era in consultation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, EXDIS Memcons, 1977. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Jenkins; cleared by Benson in substance and Kimmitt in draft; and approved by Twaddell on May 4. The meeting took place at the Capitol. Vance held a similar meeting with members of the House of Representatives on April 26. (Ibid.)
  2. Ducked in for a few minutes only. [Footnote is in the original.]
  3. The New York Times published Bernard Gwertzman’s article “Carter is Studying Arms Sale Controls” on April 25.
  4. Reference is to a paper prepared by the Ad Hoc Interagency Group on Arms Transfer, “Response to PRM/NSC–12: Arms Transfer Policy Review,” undated, attached to an April 7 memorandum from the Acting Staff Secretary of the National Security Council, Michael Hornblow. (National Archives, RG 383, Records of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Office of the Director, Subject Files Pertaining to Presidential Review Memorandum and Directives, MEMCONS with Foreign Officials, and National Security Decision and Study Memoranda, May 1963–October 1980, Accession #383–98–0053, Box 1, Presidential Review Memorandum/NSC–12—Arms Transfer Policy Review, January–May 1977)
  5. See Attachment to Document 270.
  6. King Hussein of Jordan visited the United States on April 25–26. For more on these meetings, see Foreign Relations, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978, Documents 30 and 31.
  7. King Hussein and Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, met in Rabat, Morocco in March to discuss a proposed Palestinian state on the West Bank and whether the PLO should be an independent representative or part of the Jordanian delegation to an upcoming peace conference on the Middle East.