228. Telegram From Secretary of State Rogers to the Department of State1
2935. Secto 147. Subj: Sec Visit ME: Bilateral Conversation With Prime Minister Meir May 6. Following is uncleared memcon, FYI, and subject to change upon review.
Begin summary: Secretary reviewed for Mrs. Meir his impression of visits to Arab capitals. Noted Saudi concern re Jerusalem, strength of Jordanian regime but need for settlement if Hussein is to be able to hold out over long period, and Lebanese sense of insecurity and need for better equipment for army. Sadat gave impression of being totally confident of his position and preoccupied with Egypt, had stressed his decision to go for a peace agreement with Israel despite criticism at home and in otherArab countries, but had been adamant that he must get back all Egyptian territory. Sadat had made clear he viewed Suez agreement not as end in itself but merely better way to reach an overall settlement; Secretary had argued UAR should not press for time limita[Page 835]tion on cease-fire in connection with Suez agreement. After making these points, Secretary said he very much hoped GOI would make clear its stand and take a position that would make a peace agreement possible. USG feels time is ripe for progress, and as Israel’s main supporter believes it has legitimate right to ask GOI to make an effort. Mrs. Meir said Sadat’s aim is not to make peace but to get UAR territory back as first step toward destruction of Israel. Prime Minister returned to this theme repeatedly, with references to Heykal articles and Sadat speeches, claiming UAR wants to dictate terms of peace, not negotiate. Secretary reiterated USG support for negotiations through Jarring and strong hope that way be found soon to get negotiations off dead center. Exchange was friendly throughout but frank and lively. End summary.
1. Meeting convened at 5:15 p.m. at Prime Minister’s office and lasted two and one-quarter hours. In attendance on Israeli side in addition Prime Minister Meir were Deputy PM Allon, FonMin Eban, DefMin Dayan, Herzog and Dinitz of PM’s office, and Gazit, Elizur and Rivlin of FonMin. Accompanying Secretary were Ambassador Barbour, Sisco, Pedersen, McCloskey, Atherton, DCM Zurhellen and PolOff Korn.
2. Mrs. Meir welcomed the Secretary and said she and her colleagues were anxious to listen. Secretary said it might be helpful to talk about his impressions as result of his visit to Arab countries. In Saudi Arabia he had gotten impression of young, intelligent and dynamic officials in the government. King Feisal’s main concern, as regards the Arab-Israeli conflict, is Jerusalem, and also Palestinian problem. The King feels that the character of Jerusalem is being changed. Secretary said he had not gone deeply into this matter with King but had told him he would be talking with Mrs. Meir and would ask her views on the subject.2 In Jordan, Secretary said, King Hussein seems to be firmly in control. He too is obviously concerned over Palestinian problem and refugees. Secretary said he had flown with King Hussein from Dead Sea area along Jordan Valley to area of tank battles with Syrians last September. He had not visited refugee camps but he was impressed by the seriousness and the human tragedy of the problem. Hussein’s general attitude regarding peace, Secretary said, reflects recognition that he will have to make some territorial adjustments to achieve it. Hussein does not talk about getting back every inch of territory. King gives impression of feeling a little bit left out, since he has not been involved in recent negotiations, and he welcomed Secretary’s visit. He desperately hopes some progress can be achieved. He does not want any Russian [Page 836] presence in Jordan and has rejected several Russian offers. Secretary said USG is helping King Hussein and will continue to do so. Hussein feels that he can hold on for time being but there is concern that he may not be able to survive over a long period unless a settlement is worked out.
3. Secretary said main problem in Lebanon is that government feels insecure. There were some demonstrations though no violence during his stay, and Secretary had been encouraged by response that his stop in the street had aroused. However, government is very shaky and it is much concerned over Israeli intentions toward Lebanon. Secretary said he had told Lebanese leaders that any changes in Lebanese-Israeli borders would be absolutely out of the question and he was certain Israel had no intention of attacking Lebanon. Addressing Mrs. Meir, Secretary said he was sure she would not take issue with anything he had said to Lebanese leaders in this regard. Mrs. Meir said Lebanese leadership would do best to worry about Fatah within their own borders than about Israel. Secretary said problem is Lebanese Government does not have military strength to deal with Fatah problem. Army is small and weak, its equipment poor, and GOL is divided, and does not feel it has the ability to deal with fedayeen problem. Deputy Prime Minister Allon said GOL has shown in past that it can do well in handling fedayeen problem when it wants to. Secretary asked whether USG might be helpful to Lebanon by giving it military equipment. Mrs. Meir said there was a time when people talked about Hussein’s not being able to handle the fedayeen but then he took them on and won. Secretary said it was not correct to say it had been our view that Hussein was notcapable of confronting the fedayeen. Sisco noted there had been two or three occasions before September coup when King had told us he thought he could and should confront fedayeen. But, Mrs. Meir said, Israel was told time and again that it should understand the situation in Jordan and not expect too much of the King. Secretary said the difference between Jordan and Lebanon was that the King had a good army, but the Lebanese people are divided along religious lines.
4. The Secretary said we had been thinking about question of USG providing arms to Lebanon. What would be Israeli attitude? Mrs. Meir said there is no problem between Israel and Lebanon from territorial viewpoint. In 1948 Israel had occupied 40 Lebanese villages but gave them back right away, and until the 1967 war the Israel-Lebanon border “was an ideal border.” But after 1967 border area became a Fatah area. Since then there has been shelling, shooting and mining, and Lebanese themselves say there is no Lebanese Government presence in border area even though territory is Lebanese. Lebanese Government reached agreement with Fatah according to which Fatah could not shell Israel [Page 837] but was free to cross over into Israel. This may be all right for the Lebanese but it is not all right for Israel, Mrs. Meir said. It is Lebanese territory and Lebanese Government must be responsible for actions carried out from its territory. Mrs. Meir reiterated that Lebanon, however, “is the last people we want a war with.” “There were good relations after 1948 and we want good relations in the future.” Secretary said he thought USG would consider helping Lebanon by providing military equipment. They are weak and need help. It is one thing to implore them to take action against fedayeen, but quite another thing if they do not have arms to do so. Secretary said we would naturally want to make sure that any equipment provided Lebanese be used only for internal security purposes. Mrs. Meir said if Lebanese do get [arms] from USG there must be assurances they will be used responsibly. Eban added that GOI had sent a statement to GOL through Jarring assuring it that Israel considers the present border to be the permanent one.
5. With regard to Egypt Secretary said impression is Sadat is totally confident regarding his own position. Sadat gives the visitor impression that he is well along toward taking Nasser’s place. He is intelligent and resourceful although he does have Arab characteristics of emotionalism. Secretary said he and his party had been much impressed by the way Sadat had talked about Egypt, not about UAR, and with extent of Sadat concern for things Egyptian. Mrs. Meir interjected “We always called it Egypt too”. Secretary saidSadat definitely gives one the feeling that he is the leader. Sadat had told Secretary that he was the President and could make decisions. He had already decided he wanted a peace agreement even though a lot of people in Egypt and other Arab countries criticized him for it. Sadat had said that in deciding on a peace agreement with Israel he had taken the word straight form Mr. Eban’s remarks. He should have read on further, Mrs. Meir commented. Yes, Eban added on to what I said about secure boundaries. Continuing Secretary said Sadat had said he was prepared to do what Israel and US wanted, to make a peace agreement, and would accept any kind of guarantees that anybody wanted to add. He said he did not need these guarantees, but he would [garble] was that he could not give up any of his territories. Sadat had repeated time and again, Secretary said, that he was ready for agreement with Israel, but could not under any circumstances give up territory.
6. Secretary said Sadat had talked very little about Gaza and not at all about Jerusalem problem. He had said in effect that Gaza could be under Arab control, whether under Jordanian or some other arrangement he did not care. He had talked to Secretary about his problems with his military leaders regarding Suez agreement issue, and had said that even his Foreign Minister had not been in favor of an interim Suez agreement, but he had made the proposal anyway. Secretary said Sadat [Page 838] had asked about Israeli position regarding a peace settlement, and Secretary had answered that we had no information beyond what Israel gave to Jarring. We told Sadat, Secretary said, that Israel had said that if Egypt would be ready for a peace agreement, Israel would lay its cards on the table. Sadat had said that time was passing and the situation will deteriorate if it is not put to good use; he would have a problem and so would King Hussein, so now was the best time to work out a solution. Sadat had said he knew Soviet presence in Egypt was a matter of concern to USG. He could assure Secretary that he had not wanted Sovs in [Egypt].
7. Secretary said he had thought that perhaps Sadat had been thinking of Suez agreement as a half settlement. As it turned out, however, this impression was incorrect. Sadat made clear that he was thinking about Suez agreement in terms of an overall settlement, with Suez opening being merely a better way to reach an overall agreement. Secretary said he had told Sadat we thought there were four areas of general agreement (Secretary cautioned he had made clear that what he was saying did not commit Israel in any way): (1) Israel is willing to have Suez open (Secretary commented parenthetically that as far as USG is concerned there are some advantages and some disadvantages to having Canal open; on the whole it is a standoff); (2) A withdrawal of some kind would be possible under proper conditions; (3) This would be coupled with a ceasefire of some duration; (4)The agreement would not be an end in itself. Secretary said Sadat had taken note of those points. Sadat had talked about need for his forces to cross Canal. Secretary said he and his colleagues had argued against this. Sadat had added that he did not want Russians to cross the Canal. We did not get into specifics, Secretary said,but we also made the argument that if UARG presses for big Israeli withdrawal it will be defeating its own purposes, since that would make it look like a permanent agreement. Secretary said he and his colleagues had argued that even a small Israeli withdrawal would look like a major success for Sadat, and would be striking demonstration of Israel’s acceptance of principle of withdrawal. It would also signify that there could be agreement on larger issues as well. Secretary said he and his colleagues had argued these points at length. He could not tell what effect they had made on Sadat, though Sadat had listened intently. We said we had no proposals and no pieces of paper, Secretary said, and he could think of no more senseless procedure than putting down things on pieces of paper and having people then reject them. Secretary said he had told Sadat that we will be ready to convey two sides ideas and to help, but first let us see if we can reach some points of agreement before we start putting things on paper. Sadat had said he accepted that concept, would remain in touch with us, and would convey his thoughts.[Page 839]
8. Secretary said he would tell Mrs. Meir same thing. If your government wants to convey thoughts, we will pass them on. On a more general level, however, we find ourselves in a difficult position because we have said we believe that if Egypt would say it was prepared to make a peace agreement with Israel and say that they recognized Israeli sovereignty and were ready to live with it in peace, do all they could to prevent their territory being used to attack Israel, then we thought a peace agreement might be possible and believed Israel would be ready to state its terms. Secretary said he was sure Mrs. Meir and her colleagues knew that Israeli Government had lost support recently because of its stand; even a government as friendly toward Israel as Turkey had expressed deep concern over the Israeli stand. Israeli international support is deteriorating and Israel and the USG are in the same boat. Secretary said there was no need to do it right now, but he very much hoped that GOI could make clear its stand and take a position that would make a peace agreement possible. Now is the time, Secretary said, and we will help. What would you like us to do, Secretary asked? If you have doubts and think the other side is not sincere, you are not committed until you sign, but it seems to us that you would want to keep the momentum going. Secretary added that we don’t care how this is done.
9. Sisco said he would like to make one point. Why does US feel the time is now ripe? Why do we think there is now a chance that might later be lost? Let’s look at the conditions. Sisco said he thought GOI agreed that Jordan is now as secure a partner for peace as it likely to be. This could change in the future but King Hussein is now in control and wants a settlement; during September 1970 crisis Israelis realized that if there were no King Hussein there would be no one to make peace with in Jordan. Jordan is now in a position to make peace and run a reasonable chance of having it stick. As regards UAR, Sisco said, we came away with impression that Sadat is a man who would like to try to do business and feels able to do something at present but is not sure what would happen in the circumstance of a continued impasse. Question therefore is, Sisco said, what does Israel expect and what does it want to see develop in these two countries in the future. If you think things will be better in six, twelve, or eighteen months, we would like to know, Sisco said, because our impression is that the longer things continue stalemated the worse the situation becomes. Please tell us if you think we are wrong in this estimate, Sisco said. What are you prepared to do, Secretary asked? The time is now ripe to make a move.
10. Mrs. Meir said she would have to “say something you may not like.” People say Sadat wants to make peace with Israel and ask why it is that Israel does not agree. Mrs. Meir said that she could not forget that last year, while at dinner in New York at Ambassador Tekoah’s, [Page 840] Dr. Bunche had told her that if he were really an honest man, he would return his Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Bunche said in 1949 he had been convinced that there would be a permanent peace within a year, but it had not come. If Dr. Bunche remembers these things, Mrs. Meir said, how can we forget? We all recall these things, Secretary said, and we all have our own emotional reactions, but we must not allow them to get the best of us. When Sadat says he wants peace, Mrs. Meir resumed, all he wants is to get his land back.But we must ask what happened four years ago when all of a sudden Egypt prepared for war. Did Israel provoke Egypt? Why after 1957 had there been war again in 1967? Israel had been happy with the UN force, but then the Egyptians threw it out. I can only say this, Mrs. Meir added, we have to learn from our own experience. Many people came back from talks with Nasser and told us Nasser says he wants peace. Secretary interjected that Nasser had never said this in the way that Sadat had recently said it. Secretary recalled that Israel had said that if Nasser leaves the scene then it would be possible to make peace. Mrs. Meir said she had a collection of things that Sadat had said after he had quoted Eban about a peace agreement. Sadat had described how he pictures a final settlement, i.e. no more Jewish state. Heykal’s articles (he is more than just a newspaperman you know, Mrs. Meir said) list the priorities: (1) get Israel out of the occupied territories, (2) get them back to the 1947 lines, and (3) then turn it into a mixed Moslem-Christian-Jewish state. This is no secret; Sadat said the same thing at the Fatah conference in Cairo.3 So which Sadat are we to believe?
11. Secretary recalled that when she had spoken to Ambassador Barbour, she had said that as soon as Sadat says he will sign peace Israel would lay out its position. We are prepared to do it now, Mrs. Meir rejoined. Israel has wanted peace for 20 years, and it wanted to negotiate for secure and agreed borders. Egypt’s answer was the Khartoum formula.4 We want negotiations, that is what Israel wants, Mrs. Meir said. Jarring handed Israel and Egypt a paper and asked for our commitment. Sadat had said he was prepared to sign on the condition that Israel would withdraw to the pre-Six Day War lines. We won’t accept that, Mrs. Meir said, but we are prepared to go on with negotiations.
12. Mrs. Meir said it was not correct to say that nobody knows what Israel wants in regard to a settlement. She had set Israel’s position out in public and to the USG. One, it is not coming down from Golan (now there is a better regime in Syria, Mrs. Meir added, but she still must say this); two, it is no secret that Israel must hold on to Sharm el-[Page 841]Sheikh and have a land connection. It is not that we have not said these things, Mrs. Meir said, but you don’t accept them. What about the rest, the Secretary asked? Mrs. Meir replied that she had told Ambassador Barbour that Israel did not want all of Sinai, not even half. How wide the area that Israel will hold should be is a question for negotiations, but nobody can say Israel wants all of Sinai. Mrs. Meir recalled her conversation with the Secretary in Washington at which time the Secretary had asked if Israel wants property, or perhaps only a 99-year lease. Her reply had been that she would take the question to the government, but in any case there must be Israeli control, not an international force.5 The United States well knows what Israel wants, Mrs. Meir said. She was sorry to say, however, that there is a disagreement between Israel and the United States. The disagreement, however, is not because United States does not know what Israel wants. There is nothing more unjust than the accusation that Israel wants territory, Mrs. Meir said, but it does want more defensible borders, borders that are in themselves a deterrent. When the Syrians sit on Golan, we don’t feel secure. Secretary said we agreed. Continuing, Mrs. Meir said when Natanya and Tel Aviv were within range of Jordanian guns, Israel also did not feel secure. “We want borders which, if attacked out of the blue, we can defend.”
13. Mrs. Meir said that Israel had been called intransigent because it insisted on direct negotiations and then it had accepted the U.S. initiative but, Mrs. Meir asked, what are these negotiations? What is it when Egypt’s Ambassador to UN returns Israeli paper because it is labeled a communication from Israel to UAR. Israel states its position, but then UAR says that if that is the case it doesn’t want to negotiate. Mrs. Meir said Israel feels that negotiations should now proceed to point by point examination of issues in question. But there is also the problem, Mrs. Meir said, that when you tell me I must believe Sadat when he says peace, I must also believe him when he says what kind of peace he intends.
14. Secretary said we know Israel says it wants control of Sharm el-Sheikh, but GOI has never told us where it would withdraw to if it did get Sharm el-Sheikh. We don’t know. President asked me, Secretary said, and I couldn’t answer. Definitely not the 1967 borders, Mrs. Meir said. But USG has announced there must be withdrawal to the 1967 borders, she added. Secretary said this was not correct. What we had said was we thought that if satisfactory arrangements could be reached regarding Sharm el-Sheikh and free passage, demilitarization of Sinai and on Gaza, then we thought agreement could be reached on basis of 1967 borders. But, Secretary reiterated, we do not know where you will [Page 842] withdraw to. Secretary said we hoped that sometime soon, perhaps not tonight or tomorrow, but sometime soon, we would like to know. We are Israel’s principal supporter, we feel we do have a legitimate right to know its position. We very much want negotiations to be continued under Ambassador Jarring and hope that an honest and active effort will be made in this direction. U.S. policy has been very adversely affected by Middle East impasse, Secretary said. Israel tells us what it does not want, but we need to know what it does want. Do you not want us to work together and give you our support, Secretary asked? We are prepared to consider any kind of guarantee that Israel thinks will help. Israel and the U.S. are in the same boat, and we think that this is the time to take risks for peace, though we realize that it is easier to do nothing. If it turns out in the end that no agreement is possible, that there is no chance for peace, then we will give it up.
15. Mrs. Meir said this grieved her very much, and was unjust. There had been many unjust accusations made against Israel. Israel refuses peace on dictated terms. Israel had presented to us its ideas regarding opening of Canal, but Sadat had said there must be full withdrawal. This Israel does not accept. Secretary said USG does not accept it either. But he would like to ask if GOI really favors opening of Suez Canal. When we got Israel’s response, we had impression that Israel thought of it as a favor to us. But this is matter between Israel and UAR; GUS is ready to help but is not a party. Sisco noted that we had said we were ready to transmit Israel’s views. Mrs. Meir asked if Sadat would agree to an end of shooting in connection with Canal agreement. No, Secretary said, for this would mean, for Sadat, giving up everything. Eban commented that Israel had said in its paper that the line the IDF will hold is not to be considered the final line and the special agreement will not affect other agreements which may be reached in the future. Secretary said he did not believe that, in any case, these were the major hurdles. It should be possible to work out positions and language which will overcome the differences between the two sides. Mrs. Meir said it would be ridiculous for Israel to agree to withdrawal without having gotten Egypt’s promise that there will be no more shooting, or to let Egypt send its army across the Canal. Eban asked what was Sadat’s precise position regarding the ceasefire. Secretary said Sadat wants a specific time limit. Secretary said he had told Sadat it would be wiser not to do that, not to create for himself artificial deadlines. Main thing is to have an agreement. But Secretary added, if Israel says Sadat must foreswear shooting forever in return for Suez opening, then there can be no agreement, since he couldn’t do that.
16. Dayan asked whether Sadat had indicated his position regarding other elements of a settlement, i.e. West Bank, and Golan. Secretary said Sadat had not raised these, he had always talked about [Page 843] Egypt. Sisco added that what struck us most was that Sadat had been so Egypt-oriented there had been none of the old pan-Arab litany. Sadat is preoccupied with Egypt. Mrs. Meir asked rhetorically what people do when they want to make peace. They sit down and talk, argue, but finally reach agreement. But Sadat says he wants peace only on his own conditions. He says no diplomatic relations with Israel, but Israel can live another 100 years without an Egyptian Ambassador. Problem is Sadat really wants no Israel at all. Mrs. Meir then quoted at length from a speech by Sadat (apparently Sadat speech to Palestine Council late in February) calling for Palestinian rights, terming Palestinians “the owners of the country” and saying that there must be an end to the Zionist movement. Sisco interjected that in other Arab countries there is a great concern that Egypt will abandon the Arab cause. Mrs. Meir said we only know what we hear and read. But if we only went by public statements, Sisco said, there would never be any hope for settling the Arab-Israel conflict. We have to be guided not by public statements but by real negotiating positions, Sisco said.
17. Summing up, Secretary reiterated his strong hope that as a result of his visit some way would be found to get off dead center. We think it is in your own national interest, Secretary said; literally there is no other nation that supports you. We hope that Israel will do something to get negotiations going again. Maybe Jarring should try to get the parties together, Mrs. Meir replied. The Secretary answered we hope Israel will not fall back now on the face-to-face argument. USG still holds to position that there can be direct negotiations later, but to insist on that now would kill any chances for agreement. In closing, Secretary reiterated the hope that GOI would take steps to get negotiations moving again. He noted that he had found atmosphere for USG much improved in Arab countries and Israel itself had always said that the more friends USG has in Arab world, the better things would be for Israel. Resumption of negotiations would be of great benefit to all.
18. Both sides agreed to continue talks at next meeting, scheduled for afternoon May 7.6
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 657, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Nodis/Cedar/Plus, Vol. II. Secret; Nodis; Cedar. All brackets are in the original except those indicating garbled text and “[Egypt]”, added for clarity.↩
- For a report on Rogers’s meeting with King Faisal, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970, Document 149.↩
- Reference is to the meeting of the Palestine National Council, a body of the Palestine Liberation Organization, held in Cairo on February 28.↩
- See footnote 4, Document 18.↩
- See Document 162.↩
- See Document 229.↩