Meeting between President Assad and Secretary Kissinger 15/10/1975


Publishing date: 1975-10-15





SUBJECT: Meeting between President Assad and Secretary Kissinger

PARTICIPANTS: U.S. secretary Kissinger

Ambassador Murphy

Under Secretary Sisco

Assistant Secretary Atherton

Deputy Assistant Secretary Saunders

Mr. Isa Sabbagh, Interpreter

Syria : President Asad

Foreign Minister Khaddam

Muhamad Haydar, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs

Naji Jamil, Deputy Minister of Defense and Air Force Commander

Adib Daoudi, Political Counsellor to President

Elias, Press Counsellor

Date : 15/10/1975


Assad : The Foreign Minister delayed his departure for Cuba to be here.

Kissinger: I was most appreciative.

Assad: He felt it was important for him to be here.

Kissinger: It’s a very complicated situation. I almost formed a government myself. Of the 5 major parties, the leaders of 2 are former students.

Assad: The more students you have, the better the situation should be. You have no students in Egypt, in Syria? No students in Israel?

Kissinger: Only the foreign minister who is one of their best

Kissinger: Did you ever see The Gunfighter”? Everyone wants to prove he is better than “the Gunfighter. In the end he gets shot in the back. That’s my fate. Every Foreign Minister wants to prove he’s better than I. No problem here. Khaddam knows he’s better than I.

Khaddam: Do you know? [Laughter]

Kissinger: Seriously. It’s a problem for me. The President’s English is improving.

Assad: I learn a few words each time.

Kissinger: You will be speaking with a German accent!

In Turkey, we did make some progress. They have to get a government before they can act.

Assad: They can’t form one?

Kissinger: Probably in the next two weeks–or agree on an election.

Assad: On Cyprus, they have a government, don’t they?

Kissinger: An administration, but they won’t form an independent state.

Assad: What is the population of Cyprus?

Kissinger: 800,000–200,000 Turks. But they will form a federation. Turkey will give back some of the territory they now hold.

Assad: The Turks fear the Greek Cypriots will join Greece. Have Greece and Turkey agreed to talk about the Aegean?

Kissinger: Yes, but a few weeks after the Cyprus talks begin.

Assad: Ecevit is a poet.

Kissinger: Yes, He is really good–and very understanding

Kissinger: of the Arab view. It is a serious government because every significant leader is outside the government

Assad: The Cabinet will work on the technical aspects.

Kissinger: Yes. It’s a good system of government if you don’t want to make concessions. I’m sure Israel will adopt it if it ever catches on.

Assad: It has its negative aspects–for instance, if war erupts.

Kissinger: It’s not a matter of government. It can’t last The military may even take over. It is not probable–but possible.

Assad: The military still have great authority.

Kissinger: If Turkey can get a government, there could be a Cyprus agreement in 2-3 months.

Assad: I read that West Germany will be providing arms- instead of the U.S.

Kissinger: Spare parts–and some arms.

Assad: This is a maneuver around Congress?

Kissinger: The German Foreign Minister is a student of mine! No, the Congress knows about it.

Assad: I hope Congress won’t cut off relations with Germany .

Kissinger: With me.

Kissinger: About the Middle East. Maybe we should talk alone later. I told your Foreign Minister that when I leave office all I’ll be qualified for is to run a lunatic asylum.

Kissinger: The Egyptian newspapers say an agreement is  wrapped up. Israeli papers say, “Never.” I don’t know what either is talking about.

Frankly, it is a very weird situation. There’s no agreement of any kind. Both sides say what they want–not what they’ll give. I’ll do one or two more shuttles and then break off if I decide it can’t be done.

You may have certain requirements to criticize U.S. policy. You haven’t done it yet. We’re not conducting this like last May’s negotiation. Then, I was an extremely active force. Then I felt war was likely if Syria was left out. And I didn’t take “no” for an answer–even while dealing with President Assad who will not take “yes” for an answer.

If this negotiation doesn’t succeed, we’ll have to see what will happen. I can’t play God in the Middle East.

But it can succeed.

The basic problem can be determined from the newspapers.

The Israeli’s want it to have more of a political character–Egypt, military.

Egypt wants the passes and oil fields. Some Israeli ministers may agree, but the Cabinet has not yet. The Cabinet meets tomorrow.

In Aswan, I said we had received some concrete ideas–but they’re not so concrete. But I’ll have to force the Israelis to make some decision. I can’t spend all my time here.

This is where it stands. No decisions yet.

Kissinger: Since I saw you, I’ve only been in Egypt one more time–only 24 hours.

It is not moving with enormous speed. I want to state my basic position again.

I have no interest in coming this often to Syria if I were not interested in the peace process. If I wanted to divide Syria from the others, I could just do it and take the consequences.

If an agreement is reached, I cannot refuse it. But I am prepared to exert the same effort for a Syrian agreement

Assad: Egypt–Israel?

Kissinger: If they want it. I have no particular incentive. From our viewpoint, Mr. President, how can the U.S. refuse to help if the others want it. Whether or not there is an agreement, we will do our utmost to see that there is an agreement.

And there has been a fever chart in all of tl1cse negotiations. The first time I talked to Golda Meir about withdrawal on the Egyptian front, she wouldn’t discuss one kilometer. With each issue, they refuse. What they did in Quneitra was wrong. Friday the Israelis admitted that.

After the initial stage there comes a period when I am attacked in the U.S. Then we move into a negotiation.

We have started the first phase on Syria in that I have made clear that something will have to be done for Syria. My press are asking when- not whether, the Syrian negotiation will begin.

Kissinger: I haven’t put it before the Israeli Cabinet because I don’t want a negative decision. I told Rabin I agreed with Dayan that there could be no peace until something is done on the Golan. This is my basic approach. There are two basic things that can happen in the next 10 days: What I’m doing now will fail. Or it will succeed.

If it fails, that will diminish a role for the U.S. because our people will be turned off.

What we should avoid either way is a crisis atmosphere and to try to develop as much of a common strategy as you are willing to develop.

So this is the general situation. Since I just saw you Sunday, there hasn’t been much change.

Assad: The Egyptian-Israeli differences are still basic?

Kissinger: Quite basic. I don’t Kant to mislead you. It is important that we trust each other. As of now, they’re quite basic–Egypt wants more in the military field than Israel has given. Israel wants more in the political field than Egypt has given. On the other hand, it is possible on anyone or two trips that the basic gaps could be closed.

I have no proof.

This afternoon, the Israeli inner group is meeting. Tomorrow, the whole Cabinet meets. Tomorrow evening I’ll meet the inner group again. I don’t know what they will tell me. I don’t think Rabin knows. This Cabinet hasn’t made this kind of decision.

Kissinger: I’ve told them not to make this decision thinking this is the end of the process.

I did not bring an Egyptian proposal that they could accept or reject.

I know Khaddam’s mind. We won’t sign anything while he is in Cuba.

Tomorrow, the best the Israelis could do is make some general decision. After that there would be all of the details. We went through it! I’ve never been the same since!

I know the location of every hill and Druze village on the Golan. That’s hard to work into a Washington cocktail party conversation.

On the Syrian problem, the difference is still very great.

But I know I am making an impression on the top leadership–that they must think about this with a seriousness never before.

Rabin told me last night-this is in strict confidence, he has been in touch with Dayan  to see whether  they can work out some common’ position.

The Israelis earlier said they didn’t want me to see Dayan.

Assad: Why?

Kissinger: He had seen me before he made his last statement on Syria.

Rabin seems to be changing his mind.

I want you to know this.

We can’t negotiate now.

Intellectually the problem is what we discussed a few weeks ago.

Kissinger: For Israel, if all they are asked to do is withdraw, they don’t know when the agony will be.

But if they could see some progress towards peace, their attitude might be different. I believe the mood in Israel today is less arrogant and more willing in that direction.

I really think there has been an important change. When I saw Rabin at dinner last night- Peres, Zadok and some professors were there- I said there has to be a Palestinian state at some point. The government people were negative. The professors and the mayor of Tel Aviv said this is inevitable. I repeat–the government absolutely rejects it. But the others- I asked them individually–reacted very differently.

This was interesting.

The problem of statesmanship in the Arab world is how to move Israel from war to peace. I have the impression that the Israeli public would force a momentum towards peace if they saw hope of some progress.

The less this is done in an atmosphere of crisis.

If you and I could see what progress toward peace is possible, this could create an irreversible process–especially since they don’t expect it of them.

I will come here again before I go home no matter what happens.

For instance, if Israel could reduce compulsory service from 3 to 2 years, it would affect the mood and the military complexion.

Forget a moment  the immediate crises and look at the future .

In the context of moving towards peace-at the future. if we go at it as a military problem – every hill will block us.

Let me say one other word about the Palestinians. I have not made an agreement with Sadat to

recognize the Palestinians.

Assad: It was in Al Ahram.

Kissinger: First, I recognize the paramount interest of Syria, and I would make no such move without consulting Syria.

I’ve told Sadat what I’ve told you. If I could trust them more, I might have moved sooner.

Once I establish contact, they have a weapon to use against me with Israel and in the U.S.

In the U.S. they are considered terrorists and murderers.

I would be open to messages through you. We could do that fairly soon.

If we establish physical contact we will do it in Morocco not in Cairo.

he trouble is the Moroccan king–fond as I am of him–is no specialist in keeping secrets either.

He is coming to Washington.

Assad: In my recent interview–we have the memos- I said when it comes to the person of Dr. Kissinger…

Kissinger: I have no complaint. But after the Foreign Minister’s speech in Havana, we will have cause to complain.

Khaddam: We will attack imperialism–not the U.S. I will ,have to greet you.

Kissinger: At the UNGA, he was very restrained–more restrained than the president of the Assembly (Bouteflika) .

Assad: Bouteflika was here last night. We discussed the area. He had a message from Boumediene. We talked of our own situation, the Iraqi Iranian situation. Our relations are very good.

Kissinger: I like Boumediene very much. He’s a very good man.

Assad: We couldn’t give them much. I told him I didn’t know what you would bring.

Kissinger: If he had waited for me I’d have told him.

Assad: He said you had sent him a letter. He told us the contents.

Kissinger: Was it the same as I told you?

Assad: What I understood from you seemed more optimistic.

Kissinger: I wrote Boumediene mainly about his speech to OPEC. He had received our Under Secretary for Economic Affairs. I thanked him.

Bouteflika’s speech was more in the Khaddam tradition.

Haydar: Khaddam speaks with heat–with no oil to ignite it. We are having U.S. companies to look for oil to ignite Khaddam. Even with oil they are dealing with us on a step-by-step basis.

Kissinger: Then I added one paragraph on my mission. I could not state the nuances. You’r right. It was less positive . It’s so hard to put it in writing.

Assad: He was pressed to get to Tehran. Or he could have stayed. Today is the session between the Iraqis and Iranians.

Kissinger: My problem is: If I write all the Arabs the same thing, they think I’m a liar. If I write them too differently, they think I’m a hypocrite. We regard Boumediene highly. I may send someone to brief him. And what we are prepared to do for Syria.

Assad:   Useful .. It’s been some time since you had any contacts with the Palestinians?

Kissinger: I was going to send Roy Atherton to Rabat in November, but after the conference and Arafat’s speech at the UN, it became very difficult.

But if you have suggestions, let me know. It’s not a question of principle.

If the Palestinians could stop attacking the U.S. and me, it would help. It’s not vanity. It makes it harder It helps me politically. But for contacts…

Let them attack Sisco.

Assad: Please appreciate the special situation the Palestinians are in. We can’t ask as much of them.

Kissinger: For me, it’s not a major problem.

Assad: Generally, they have complexes. That’s why when Ceyelin asked me whether the PLO would recognize Israel, I asked whether Israel would recognize the PLO.

Kissinger: If I may suggest–I told Sisco after our times with Rabin–for the first time I begin to see how peace could come.

I hoped a point could be reached in the step-by step approach where people would be tired of it and say, let’s make peace. I just saw a glimmer. We’re not at that point yet.

Some time, it would be good for the PLO to recognize Israel.

Assad: When we had followed that step-by-step path, if each step had been on all fronts, we could have discussed many points and have moved closer to peace.

Assad: Egypt and the Palestinians could have moved faster. But as I said before, we are for peace. War cannot be a hobby for any sane person. I have emphasized this. Peace is that situation which preserves justice for human beings. Otherwise it would be surrender rather than peace. Open declarations before Our people could never be a maneuver. we don’t like maneuvering and our people wouldn’t stand for it.

We want peace. I say it all the time. It is my conviction that it is in Syria’s interest. My talk of peace is for our people. Not for Israel.

Peace would be our gain. This is a matter of our conviction. But Israeli behavior doesn’t give us evidence the Israelis want peace.

Kissinger: No. The Israelis are confused–whether to go to war or peace. Once the peace process has started, the process will be irreversible. If peace rests on a few kilometers, no one will believe in peace. Peace is the atmosphere in which people feel no injustice is being done to them. Let’s say we get a few kilometers in Sinai and Golan–as time passes the Arabs will still feel injustice–and as long as Palestinians are in camps.

[Assad asked colleagues whether they object.]

Kissinger: Problem is how we are going to achieve this peace. If we had tried last year it would have led to an inconclusive war. War would have followed war.

As I explained last May, the reason we had to start with even unsatisfactory steps was to get people used to the process of peace.

Intellectually, I agree that simultaneity would have been better. What makes these meetings so painful to me is that intellectually you are

Kissinger: You are also right that it would be easier because there would be no suspicions because the Arab partners could help each other do things they couldn’t otherwise do.

But from the U.S. view, it cannot be in our interest to divide the Arab world

If you and Boumediene and Iraq are all dissatisfied, where are we?

We will proceed on the path I have indicated to you.

In terms of my political necessities, a move with one country makes it easier for me to get a move for another.

you must all have been up all night talking to Bouteflika. It can’t be short.

Assad: This was my first long talk with him.

Kissinger: In my book on Arab Foreign Ministers, he will have an honored place.

Assad : This is a threat to khaddam

Kissinger: Sadat had to cancel a dinner he had for me.

Assad: Bouteflika arranged it.

Kissinger: I gave him my apartment in New York for the UNGA

[The Secretary and the President moved into a private talk with only Mr. Sabbagh present.]