34. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Burt) and the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Wolfowitz) to the Counselor of the Department of State (McFarlane)1


  • The Secretary’s Trip to the Middle East2

One of the most important objectives of the Secretary’s April visit to the Middle East will be to give to the leaders of the four countries he [Page 115] will visit a first look at our integrated strategic approach to the security of the region. As you know, the Secretary strongly believes that the treatment of the Arab-Israeli issue or other regional disputes must be placed in the broader strategic context of the Soviet threat to the area. Without confidence on the part of these countries that we know what we are doing, we can hardly expect increased cooperation at any stop on the trip or after. There is, however, a problem in getting our message across.

The Secretary will undoubtedly be meeting with the leaders of these countries with only one or two other officials present on each side. That is the way serious business is done in the Middle East. Thus, while he will explain our strategic concept directly to Sadat, Hussein, Fahd, Saud, and Begin, there is a real danger that our critical message will not get much further in any of these governments, especially the Arab ones. For example, as Roy Atherton points out in paragraph 6 of the attached telegram, we cannot rely on the Secretary’s strategic briefing being disseminated to senior officials in Egypt.3 There is also the problem that most of the American participants in the meetings will be foreign service officers rather than policy types.

This seems to us to argue that we three should accompany the Secretary on his trip and fan out at each stop to describe our strategy for the region to the senior officials who will, in fact, have a major say in the level of cooperation we eventually obtain. Such an intense set of subsidiary briefings at these four stops would ensure that we left behind us an understanding in the respective bureaucracies of how sharply American policy toward that part of the world has changed with the new Administration. In the absence of such comprehensive briefings, these officials central to our strategic objectives, will get an impression of what we are out to do either from fourth-hand reports from the Palace or from the pages of the Washington Post. And we will receive our impression of the problems involved in each of these countries from dry reporting cables rather than face-to-face encounters. Equally important, our talks with officials during the trip would provide us with important insights which would be of significant value as we formulate a sharper conception of an overall strategy for the region.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/P Files, Memoranda and Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff to the Secretary and Other Seventh Floor Principals: Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons PW 3/11–20/81. Confidential; Sensitive. Drafted by Blackwill. Wolfowitz did not initial the memorandum.
  2. Haig was scheduled to visit Egypt, April 4–5; Israel, April 5–6; Jordan, April 6–7; and Saudi Arabia, April 7–8. Documentation on his trip is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XIX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, and Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XXII, Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula. For Haig’s remarks made during the trip, see Department of State Bulletin, June 1981, pp. 14–19. In his memoir, Haig explained the genesis of the visit: “I made plans for an early journey to the Middle East to reassure our friends there that the United States would once again be a reliable partner in that troubled region and to set the stage for overdue progress in the Arab-Israeli peace process, which had largely lain dormant since Camp David.” (Haig, Caveat, p. 89)
  3. Attached but not printed, is telegram 5379 from Cairo, March 9. In it, Atherton, noting that Haig was invited to attend a dinner hosted by Mubarak, stated: “The Secretary should plan again to give an overview of the administration’s approach to regional threats and our, and our friends’, common response. (This should be pretty much a set piece to ensure that all senior GOE officials share a common perception of what we will be about in our Middle East strategy. We cannot rely on cross-briefings to get this basic picture across.)” An unknown hand placed two vertical lines in the right-hand margin next to the last two sentences.