141. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s Meeting with Jewish Leaders, February 2, 1983


  • President Ronald Reagan
  • Edwin Meese, III, Counselor to the President
  • James A. Baker, III, Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President
  • William P. Clark, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Robert C. McFarlane, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Howard J. Teicher, Staff Member, NSC
  • Jewish Leaders

    • Albert A. Spiegel, Chairman, National Republican Jewish Coalition
    • Edgar Bronfman, President, World Jewish Congress
    • Julius Berman, Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
    • Dr. David Moses Rosen, Chief Rabbi, Romania


President Reagan . I know that you all have concerns about the Middle East situation and we do too. Ambassador Habib is trying to bring about a solution in Lebanon. This will help us proceed with the peace process. My view is that the greatest security for Israel lies in peace with its Arab neighbors. It cannot go on as an armed camp experiencing 130% inflation. Maybe there has been a misunderstanding, but the only way to proceed is to convince the Arabs to negotiate peace. On Lebanon, the new government there is having difficulties. They are asking all foreign forces to leave. By staying, Israel puts itself in a position of occupation. I know that some Lebanese want to help Israel for getting rid of the PLO. I hope the Israeli government can be persuaded to leave. I will not let anything happen that would endanger Israeli security. We are making headway with King Hussein. We must make progress, but Jordan is not Egypt and cannot afford to be isolated or to become a pariah.

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Julius Berman . The Jewish community is very grateful for the way the Administration acted during the summer. Attacks against Israel were unfair. American and Israeli goals have been the same historically. We all look forward to the ultimate peace process. Israel has stated time and again its readiness to negotiate. Yet the Arabs won’t stop talking about talking to Israel. Yet, the perception here in the White House is that Israel is intransigent. But the bottom line is Israel is ready to talk and no one is on the other side.

President Reagan . Regarding Lebanon, we must let Lebanon establish its sovereignty. All foreign forces must get out. It was our own idea to put in the multi-national force to help stabilize Lebanon. Our efforts with Hussein and the Arabs are affected by their feeling that they cannot come to the peace table while Israel is in Lebanon.

Julius Berman . Have they said if the Israelis clear out of Lebanon that they will come to the table?

President Reagan . Hussein said he is ready but the only precondition is withdrawal from Lebanon.

Julius Berman . The only precondition? Did I just learn that Hussein told you he would join the peace process when Israel leaves Lebanon?

William P. Clark . It is not that explicit. A great deal has been said in private between the President and the King. We do not reveal the details of discussions between Heads of State. It would be unfair to go beyond what has already been said publicly.

Robert C. McFarlane . The spirit of King Hussein’s message is that he is close to receiving an endorsement to represent the others. A Lebanon solution is necessary but not a precondition.

William P. Clark . We have said this before. It is not something new. The King said it publicly.

President Reagan . When the King was here we had a private talk then a regular discussion with his advisors.2 It is sometimes hard to put it exactly as he said it. But he is heart and soul supportive. He is trying to satisfy the point of view of the Palestinians, but needs a go-ahead from his allies. Mubarak also told me he wants to go forward to improve Egypt-Israeli relations but is held back by Lebanon.3 A halt to settlement activity during negotiations will also be necessary.

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Edgar Bronfman . Are the Syrians and PLO willing to pull out?

President Reagan . Yes, and Lebanon has asked them to leave.

William P. Clark . We are working on a continuum since the cessation of combat. It is in the mutual interests of all to withdraw. There has been no change in our policy. However as each day passes without progress the Soviets show greater interest. There are more incidents, such as the wounding of French troops.

President Reagan . The analogy is not exact but I can’t help but compare this situation to what we experienced on the campuses in the 1960s. The Communist Party line became not to directly cause a conflict, but wherever there was a chance for a conflict, to get involved. It is the same with the Soviets today. They are always looking to exploit and worsen existing problems.

Albert Spiegel . I want to reaffirm the Jewish community’s commitment to the give and take of negotiations. This expectation gives us comfort. Your own personal involvement and commitment, especially what you said on September 1, is fully appreciated. But it is important that we get Israel to the negotiating table without having to give up anything in advance of negotiations.

President Reagan . You are right. We are aware of the feeling that we may have given something away to the Arabs that must be negotiated. When Israel went into Lebanon the Arabs believed we were involved. They are so convinced of the closeness of U.S.-Israeli relations that they cannot believe that if we want Israel to leave Lebanon, Israel won’t leave. This perception affects our ability to convince them to join the peace process.

The meeting adjourned at 9:55 a.m.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Subject File, Memorandums of Conversation—President Reagan (02/08/1983–02/09/1983). Confidential. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. The memorandum of conversation is also scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XIX, Arab-Israeli Dispute.
  2. The President met with King Hussein at the White House on December 21, 1982. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) Documentation on the visit is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XIX, Arab-Israeli Dispute.
  3. The President met with Mubarak in the Oval Office on January 27, from 11:30 until 11:55 a.m. From 11:55 a.m. until 12:25 p.m. the President and Mubarak met in the Cabinet Room and were joined by U.S. and Egyptian officials. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) Documentation on the visit is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XIX, Arab-Israeli Dispute.