Joseph J. Sisco (1919 – 2004) served as an American diplomat, playing a major role in Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy after the October 1973 Middle East War. He had served in the Central Intelligence Agency and became a foreign service officer in 1951. In 1969 he became Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs until 1974 when he became Undersecretary of Political Affairs. Sisco, Roy Atherton, Harold Saunders and Peter Rodman made up Kissinger’s core staff that negotiated three disengagement agreements between Egypt and Israel in January 1974 and September 1975, and Syria and Israel in May 1974.
Sisco has high praise for Anwar Sadat, listing the Egyptian president’s reasons for turning his country away from Moscow to the United States. He believed in the US economic system, the political freedoms practiced, access to technology, and that if he wanted Sinai returned to Egyptian sovereignty, the United States would be the only power that could persuade Israel back to Egypt. Sadat would often say, “the US has the cards in its hands.” He recounts how Washington failed to take Sadat seriously as a leader, how it failed to listen to his request for negotiations before the 1973 War but took him seriously after the war broke out and especially after a critical meeting that Kissinger had with Sadat in Cairo on November 6, 1973. Sisco recounts how Kissinger, Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Meir choreographed the December 1973 Middle East Peace conference so that Moscow would be side-lined and Israel and Egypt could have their post war needs met: Israeli POWs returned and Egypt and Israel having their forces disengaged. He confirms that once the US tried to have Syria participate in the post war diplomacy, and its leader, Hafez al-Asad declined, the US continued its focus on Egypt and Israel.
Ken Stein Interview with Joseph Sisco, February 27, 1992, Washington, DC
KWS: What I want to then is, I want to focus primarily on the period from about the outbreak of the October War until we get to the Syrian Israeli disengagement, or maybe thereafter.
JS: Well, we’ll see how far.
JS: I think we’ll probably have to do this in two parts.
KWS: That’s fine.
JS: Because. How long are you going to be around?
KWS: Oh, I’ll be here, I got a lecture at Johns Hopkins this afternoon. I’ve got to see Sam tomorrow, but I’ll come back.
JS: Yea, fine. Can we do that?
KWS: Absolutely. And if at any time you feel tired and want to stop, we’ll stop.
JS: Well, they’re two reasons. ‘A’, I’m going to run out of gas after an hour and a half. Two, I’ve got two reports that I must get out tonight.
KWS: Joe, you don’t have to say anything more to me, you don’t have to say anymore.
JS: …Barbara’s got the final drafts and I must go over them. And then we…
KWS: Alright. Now.
JS: How do you like our digs here? They’re nice, aren’t they?
KWS: Well, I mean, do you need me to come and carry your luggage? Or do you want me to clean?
JS: It’s very nice, no, we’ve been here for two years, and we have another office off seventeenth and “M” for seven years, but we like this place better.
KWS: I’ll work for you.
JS: Yea. Well, I wish I could afford to hire you, believe me.
KWS: Listen, I come very cheap.
KWS: Umm..Let’s see. What made Sadat feel he needed to get out of the cycle of war? [PAUSE] And when do you feel he began to sense that? How early in his relationship with Henry or with the United States, `71, `72
JS: I think, first question there were a couple of considerations. One, a deep distrust of the Soviet Union. He didn’t like the way they were acting in Egypt imperious somehow [he] lacked that basic distrust [in the Soviet Union]. Two, he was never a Communist. And, to what degree he was a Socialist, not a strong ideologue like President Nasser.
KWS: Where have you felt that…
JS: Third, he felt from the point of view of the welfare of the Egyptian people, the economy and so on. The, there was nothing he could get from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe that was worthwhile that he had to rely on the West. And to rely primarily upon the United States. When he made that statement, I think I cite it in here, “What you Americans have to really have to understand is that all the cards are in your hands provided you play them. Play them in the right way.” What he meant was, I can give you a precise definition of what he meant. He meant one, your political system provides freedom. Two, your economic system is the most effective in the world. And three, you the United States are in the absolute forefront of technology and are the strongest military power in the world.
KWS: Did he expect it to come up to our trough and take from it?
JS: Yes, sure.
KWS: Did he act, did he say that to Henry at some point? We sent them six C-130 aircraft in 1971.
JS: Yea, uhm. Let’s not focus on that for the moment. We’ll come back.
KWS: OK, but the technology part was big.
JS: Let me elaborate some more.
JS: Then you can interpolate. [PAUSE] He felt that Egypt had paid dearly for wars. And felt very, very strongly that there was no way in which Israeli policy could be reversed. Other than by the exercise of American pressure. That was a very fundamental point with him. So that he viewed Egypt in a general context of orientation towards the West. He put it very generally. Now you know, you say did he expect to get something from the American trough prior to the ’73 War, not. What he said to us first of all; he came in as you knew as a rabid emotional nationalist in whom we had absolutely no confidence. We were concerned about him. The whole image was a hot head, a revolutionary, and very unpredictable and given to strong rhetorical outbursts. So, we didn’t know him and we didn’t trust him. And we certainly didn’t take his word–in the year, more than a year before the `73 War. When he made two points to us. A) this is the year of decision. My attitude was not, “Hell this is a buffoon that’s talking.” I was.. this is an overstatement, but to give you a feel of what it was like to be there. I remember when he made that statement. And I remember reading it in the FBIS. You know it all comes back. That I think it was more rhetoric. And the crucial thing was he was still in bed with the Russians until he kicked them out.
KWS: In July of `72.
JS: That’s right. So, but once, he kicked the Russians out, and we didn’t go to him and say, “You got to kick the Russians out.” This he did unilaterally. As the record shows. And frankly, he took us somewhat by surprise. Cause he got nothing in return, and he says in his own book, he might have been able to get something in return if he had come to us and negotiate [for their expulsion]. Then we began to pay attention. Then we really began to pay attention. That was the watershed moment.
KWS: How did we pay attention? Henry dealt with Hafez Ismail.
JS: No, not, that came after ’73.
KWS: Well, we didn’t have diplomatic relations.
JS: I know we didn’t. And, we had a liaison office that made contact. But the contact with Ismael, the Rogers trips, and all of that, they came before the `73 War. But, the Kissinger-Ismael talks did not take place until later. And they were before the war. Of what again there was a change, a crucial development. And the crucial development was the cease-fire that I had negotiated personally with Dayan and which Nasser then had abridged by moving in the missiles into the forbidden zone. And what happened there then was that that tended — well, you have two events, remember that this is all in the context of Kissinger, really trying to be sure that Rogers achieved no success. The tussle between these two guys in that period is unbelievable. And when Henry says in his book, that as Assistant-Secretary I spent more time negotiating between the two then than sometimes on substance, he is right. So, Henry exploited the fact that following the Galaxy speech, the exposure of the so-called Roger’s Plan — that speech after all was merely a public exposition of the positions that had already been taken in the negotiations with the Russians. Nine months before but everyone then wanted Henry to wrest control of Middle Eastern policy from Rogers. That was the first step. Then, when we negotiated that early `70 cease-fire — the stop shooting-start talking, and to get Jarring to take over. There’s a document on this ‘Stop Shooting-Start Talking’ — I coined the phrase. As I did coin the phrase “proximity talks.” As I coined the phrase “shuttle diplomacy.”
KWS: When did you coin that one?
JS: Right at the beginning. That’s when they began. And Henry gives me credit for it…to not to lose track of the thought. Those two events. That cease-fire and then Nasser blew it by moving into the zone. Nixon then finally decided that Henry couldn’t in effect get involved. Not to go over to the Middle East. And it’s following that event, and where we made a substantial commitment to Israel by way of additional military assistance. That the Ismael-Kissinger talks took place. Even though they never got anywhere. If you read Henry’s book on the Ismael talks, a fairly accurate rendition as to what didn’t happen. They met at New York. But then you move on to this increasing violence out of concern over the Fedayeen raids, out of concern over attack and counterattack, out of concern that the Soviets were getting nervous. Umm..and with some of this bombastic rhetoric coming out, but when then Sadat made this decision to kick out the Russians; he made one other point to us. Later, not much later, a few months later, I want negotiations with the other side. And if I don’t get negotiations I’m going to go to war.
KWS: February 4, 1973, exactly what he said.
JS: That’s exactly what he said.
KWS: And we didn’t believe that either.
JS: We were concerned but didn’t think he would it was a way of Sadat underscoring the importance he attached to the point. We became increasingly concerned that he might be serious about this. This belief was too strong. But we really didn’t think it was..
KWS: Why did we probe him? Why did we test him? You know push him a little on it. What do you mean by this? This is new stuff.
JS: We did probe him. We talked to him. All the way along we wanted more. We didn’t keep him out there in the cold.
KWS: So that the Ismael-Kissinger talks didn’t materialize [in conclusions], but we talked. We talked. I understand the difference. Let’s get down to the war. You painted a picture of Sadat’s souring on the Soviet Union on his economy in trouble and wanting US-Western technology of talking with the United States. Where during the war, the war broke out on October 6, where during the war did, he become sour on the Soviets. It appears that during the war you know they supplied them with weapons they resupplied him, and yet Kosygin goes off to a secret meeting in Cairo on October sixteenth until the nineteenth meets with Sadat five times. And yet Sadat in his mind, it appears anyway from all the autobiographies and memoirs which I have read, that Sadat in his mind understood that only the United States and only Henry could make this work and he virtually discarded the Soviet Union as a role player.
JS: And the reason is, that while obviously in the first forty-eight hours there was almost a near disaster that defeated the Israelis. He saw this concrete evidence of massive resupply of the Israelis by the United States. Of strong political support for Israel, because there was no doubt about this. We’ve operated based on the fundamental conclusion and assumption that the two aggressors in this particular instance were clearly Egypt and Syria. There was no.. there’s no you know people are trying to revise history as far as 1967, UNEF being moved and all that. And we were very concerned that the Israeli’s might be the first ones to shoot the first shot. Russ was always very worried about that in ’67. In this one it was very clear as to who the aggressors were. Very clear. There was no arguing in the State Department, Arabists or whatever you were. They had aggressed against Israel.
KWS: So, our staunch support for Israel made them realize that we were the ones who truly had the cards.
JS: Yea. Yea. And we contacted Sadat. Don’t hold me too literally too this. My impressions, through diplomatic channels, we made direct contact with Sadat within forty-eight hours of the beginning of that war.
KWS: Herman says we did it through the back channel.
KWS: Exactly what Herman says. Herman says at least at least by the third day of the war, Hafiz Ismael and Kissinger were dealing through the CIA.
JS: I think I recall writing the telegram for the CIA. You know you …
KWS: No, no. That’s exactly what Herman says. I mean that’s a very accurate recollection. So that by the time the Third Army gets a noose around its neck, he has to cast his lot with us.
JS: By that time, we had already given him a commitment as follows. That uhh wars are fought for political purposes. That once we are going to try to bring this war to an end, and once this war is ended, we want to be talking with you and we want to try to be helpful in bringing about a negotiation. That was conveyed to him before the war was over. As to our commitment in that regard. Not control of the Israeli’s as well, don’t misunderstand. But, Sadat in his own mind must have said I have achieved my objective. I’ve been telling these people for over a year and a half if I don’t achieve negotiations then I’m going to war. And they didn’t believe me. Basically, I’m trying to go through his thought process. But by God here they are. Now, Henry’s indication to Sadat through diplomatic channels; he’s been given a bum rap by the critics of Henry particularly in Israel. Saying, they delayed all this massive resupply in order to bleed Israel. And it related to the fact that we wanted Israel to bow…
KWS: To be dependent upon us.
JS: To be dependent upon us because we had political objectives afterwards. This is a dastardly lie! We had a tremendous amount of difficulty launching that resupply effort, because of the strongest opposition from the Pentagon.
JS: Jim Schlesinger. And finally, I, Ken, can’t tell you how many yelling matches, shouting matches, shouting matches that I personally got into with the Pentagon. As well as Henry. And I can remember I finally right at that point I called Henry and Bob McClosky always kids me about it. He says boy Joe you really were shouting; they could have heard you from the State Department Building or to the Pentagon well. Uh no, Henry, I said. We’re not going to be able to get this done. You and I can’t get this done. We can’t move these sons of bitches. There’s only one way Henry, you got to go to the president. You got to tell him he’s got to issue the order. And issue the order in the strongest possible terms. And he did. Nixon picked up the phone, and you know how Nixon felt. Nixon, the underdog psychology, last thing he wanted was a Soviet victory in this area. He had this strong visceral commitment to Israel for a lot of reasons. He blasted the hell out of them. Schlesinger and the Pentagon and even then, for a few hours they gave us a run around about that we must lease these airplanes and all. And again, I came back to Henry. And Henry got back. We kept going. And they did it. Once they decided they had to do it, they did a highly effective job. Now, you got to remember that the delay, there was another reason for the delay. And this the Israelis will openly admit. A miscalculation of intelligence. You got to remember, that in the early twelve hours of the Israelis falling back that Dinitz was assuring us and our intelligence people were assuring us don’t worry we’ll take care of it militarily. We’re, we can handle this situation. It’s only after those initial breakthroughs. And that Israelis concluded that in fact they were in serious trouble militarily. This was not a case where in umm before the June ’67 War, the Israelis when we were talking a little about a declaration on the freedom of the straits and backed up by a naval flotilla. That the Israelis came to us about forty-eight hours before that or twenty-four hours we said. The focus is no longer upon Aqaba or the straits. We’re worried uhh we think an actual land attack is imminent on the part of the Egyptians against us. We kept our intelligence people up for forty-eight hours. And they made their own assessment and concluded that no such attack was imminent. That we concluded that it was largely a political argument that they had made to us, or the Israelis lost credibility in the `67 War in that regard. But that relates then to the whole `73 ambiance so to speak. We took the Israelis at their word. After all, Golda had to resign and Dayan had to resign over this intelligence failure. And it was their intelligence failure. I can tell you that our CIA almost relied exclusively on Israeli intelligence for our assessments. So that when Dinitz in the first forty-eight hours said don’t worry we’re going to reverse it, of course we had no doubt in this regard. And suddenly, he bursts in [and says] and we’re about to be defeated. Those are not the exact words, but this is the essence of it.
KWS: How did. Did the noose around the Third Army essentially define the diplomatic reality of the disengagement agreement? Had you not had the noose around the Third Army, could there have been a disengagement agreement hammered out so quickly?
JS: No. That after all proved to be important leverage on the ground.
KWS: Was it the most important leverage? Umm I mean was it was it a critical issue for Sadat?
JS: No. Well, you had Sharon.
KWS: Would he have survived if the Third Army had been cut to shreds?
JS: He would have been. I can’t answer that. He would have been certainly far more vulnerable.
KWS: Do you think he understood that?
JS: Oh, I think so. I think so.
KWS: I don’t want to overstate it.
JS: No, no, no. General Gamasy was in charge. Very sensible guy–General Gamasy. I have a great deal of respect for him, he’s still alive. But he never really agreed with the political policy of Sadat, negotiating with the Israelis, and working a disengagement agreement, a noose around their neck, created leverage in the sense of the context of any negotiation on the ground and all of that sort of thing. You got to remember what the most fundamental point is- that Sadat had already given indications of a desire to have a disengagement agreement. Well before the `73 War. And you look at the history and it relates to the discussions that I had with Dayan. Where Roy Atherton and I took a trip and find I’ll tell you when it is. It was on the, we had an NSC meeting in Santa Barbara at the West Coast White House, and there was an NSC meeting with two phases. The first phase, I’ll never forget, Nixon parceled out assignments to Bill Rogers as to whom he should call to let them know on the opening to China when Rogers had been left totally out. There I was, seated there to see all of this. You know, it was a very small meeting, with Rogers, me, Henry, and one or two others and that’s all there was. And it was a kind of truncated NSC meeting. And then after that, the meeting on Middle East plan. And my instructions were very specific. God, I like the way Nixon put it. He said, “Joe, I want you to push Golda to see if we can get a modest disengagement here. And I want you to bring it to the brink–if you need to. But I don’t want you to go over that brink. And that if she doesn’t go for it, then we’ll try another day.”
KWS: This is when you brought her the flowers at the last minute.
JS: Yes. Yes.
KWS: That’s that story.
JS: Yes, that’s fine. And I was clear. I said Mr. President, I understand it thoroughly, and I can assure you I will carry it out. If obviously he brought her in on his own. And uhh so that uhh we were doing that in the knowledge that Sadat had already indicated an interest in wanting a disengagement agreement. And he kept saying, he said this to me personally, “Politically, all I need are a few riflemen on the other side of the Suez Canal.” And I kept saying to Golda, “Golda, we`re not talking about a change in the military security situation. We’re merely talking about political symbolism here and if you give this to Sadat you`re adding to your security a hundred-fold simply because you know da da da da daa.” Never mind. But, so that the disengagement agreement we had a prior round before we got into the disengagement agreement. Rounds in the pre-’73 period.
KWS: So, when the noose is around the Third Army’s neck, we talk about a separation of forces. So, let’s talk about blankets and blood and food for these guys, but in the back of his mind, he said this is going to be something larger than that.
JS: That’s right. But you must get your hands on the document, the working paper with Roy and I wrote and presented to Golda, because it’s linked to the later disengagement. Now, if you stick with the conferences, you may not need all of this.
KWS: But let me ask you a question. Speaking about conferences… Sadat in the middle of the war gives a speech to the parliament. The sixteenth of October, and he talks about the first time he enunciates an international conference. First time that you guys had heard about it? Was there discussion about it previously?
JS: No discussion. Not, nothing in precise terms. And the answer is no. It was his signal that what he was saying all the way along, and our responsiveness and I can’t tell you whether our message saying to him we’re going to talk about all of this, we want to get going on all of this. Whether that came after he received our message or before, in any event, if you put our indications through Herman through private channels to Sadat. We want to sit down with you after this war. And you look at the public statement of the conference. There’s a definite relationship. I don’t know which came first or last, but they’re interacting on one another. Even though we never used the word conference I can assure you. Because Henry and I were thinking on a strictly unilateral role on the part of the United States for one simple reason. When Nixon came in, uhh he made me his presidential envoy, and he gave me one instruction. I want to test the Soviet Union as to whether they want to control tension or whether they are willing to agree upon something. For nine months, we negotiated, we failed. And the failure was enunciated in the substance of the Galaxy speech. The substance of the Rogers Plan number one. I then wrote a memorandum a month after that, gave it to Nixon right on Air Force One, I forgot where we were going. He went over it. Contents of that memorandum was very simple. Mr. President, we made that test, the Soviets have tested, our overall recommendation, my recommendation is this is January, from now on the United States goes after this thing unilaterally without them. This unilateral singular approach of the United States.
KWS: January `73?
JS: No, no. This is January 1970. And you must get your hands on that ..
KWS: January `70?
JS: Yes sir, that’s when the unilateral role of the United States began, because
KWS: And we began to think of the Middle East as something we were going to push to some sort of negotiated conclusion and keep the Soviets always at bay.
JS: Absolutely. And it starts with January ’70 because we have two NSC meetings in March of ’69. A decision was taken at that March `69 NSC, the second meeting to undertake two negotiations. One, I was designated by him to negotiate with the Soviets in this bilateral thing that became the Rogers Plan. It was to be done in Washington-Moscow, but because he was going to see DeGaulle in March of `69, he didn’t want to affront DeGaulle. The French had already made a proposal for a four-power conference, a four-power negotiation. We had to find a way of not rejecting that out of hand. And therefore, we agreed to conduct four power talks simultaneously at the UN. With instructions to Yost. Yost didn’t like it at all. That the positions that I would be taking in the bilateral talks with the Soviet Union all those telegrams would be transmitted to him. He was free to stay within that framework but was not free to go beyond that framework. And so, kind of off the record, he deeply resented that I dictated this to him. But that`s the way it was run.
KWS: You said that our meeting on April 16, last year, you said quote, “The Geneva Conference was the umbrella for the Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement.”
JS: Yea. Ummm.
KWS: What did you mean?
JS: That’s what I mean. By the time we went into Geneva Conference, we were under no illusions as to A) how feasible it was to achieve it.
KWS: To achieve what?
JS: A conference. A meaningful conference. This is before the conference. And B), this is the more relevant thing, but we never felt that the conference per se was going to be the locus of the real negotiations. Even if we had achieved a meaningful Geneva Conference. And by meaningful what I mean rather than the turn down and the story I told about the letter [Assad’s rejection of the invitation letter after negotiating its contents] and all that from Syria. Even if Syria had been included, you would not have had a conference setting. It would look much more like the Madrid Conference and breaking into individual sub-committees or bi-lateral talks or whatever. You find that repose of some kind or another. That was our notion, but obviously as a minimum, the Arabs needed that as an umbrella. When I said then that it is an umbrella for the disengagement agreements: that’s not precisely the way it should be put. It should be put this way, that we recognized that whatever umbrella was provided, the most likely avenue to development would be disengagement agreement talks between the Egyptians and the United States, because that was on the wicket that we were on. Indications from Sadat already we had tried already a little bit already in the 70’s. There was no doubt in Henry’s mind, in my mind that it had to be step by step. That regardless of all the noises above, comprehensive, all its package, and phraseology that we threw in, we knew that the most feasible bi-lateral step would be in the aftermath of Geneva: the talks between Egypt and the U.S.
KWS: You said something, I don’t know if you mis-spoke Joe, but you just said that we knew because of negotiations between the United States and Egypt. Did you mean the negotiations between Egypt and Israel or negotiations between Egypt and the United States? What you’re telling me is that.
JS: There were no discussions between Egypt and Israel.
KWS: So, in other words, we interposed ourselves in the middle of the war as the sole interlocutor
JS: Yes, yes.
KWS: and we made the Israelis therefore dependent upon us in the negotiating process.
JS: Put it this way. Uhh, I don’t quite like that phrase. Uhh the Israelis understood that the United States intended to take a major initiative in the political sphere. We didn’t have any trouble in that regard. I’ll tell you why. The inconclusive military result of the `73 War, the near disaster, in sharp contrast with six days of 1967, with eight thousand casualties, which you know what that would have meant proportionately in our own country. Believe you me, when I use this phrase that it was boon to negotiations, there`s no doubt about it. Pain on one side, and Sadat seeing the need for it on the other. You know that the ’73 War is clearly umm a political victory for the Egyptians.
KWS: Clearly, the physical and the psychological trauma which Israel suffered made her dependent upon negotiations.
JS: No question. And the United States role. And not only were there no [Israeli] objections, but it was quite acceptable, because the perception was broadly perceived at that time that the air support intervention quote `saved Israel.’ Umm, now the Sharons of this world once they had crossed the Suez wanted to go on to Cairo at the time of the siege of Suez city and so on. Obviously, we put our foot down, and uhh Golda had no desire of going all the way to Cairo what was Israel going to do? Stay in occupation of Egypt for ten years. Well, be that be as it may that’s, that’s.
KWS: Was there any ever any discussion about a Syrian Israeli disengagement currently?
JS: Not at that stage.
KWS: So, you and Peter Rodman disagree on that. Peter at the United States Institute of Peace says that there was such discussion.
JS: No. Uhh, because we were dealing…Uh we didn’t we didn’t send signals to the Syrians of the kinds we sent to Sadat. Now what Peter is talking about I would be very glad to hear what he says, and I might agree with him or disagree with him.
KWS: Your recollection was that the focus was on achieving Egyptian-Israeli agreement.
KWS: Peter says that Asad was considering the idea of a Syrian Israeli agreement. When you all went to him to discuss the invitations.
JS: Oh my God!
KWS: Right or wrong?
JS: You know when that is?
KWS: That’s in December 15.
JS: We’ve all. We’ve already got an Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement. We didn’t start the real discussions on a disengagement agreement with the Syrians. Although the Syrian’s character. Until we had already achieved the Egyptian-Israeli disengagement.
KWS: Which is the early part of November.
JS: And the letter writing. Huh, that’s an early stage.
KWS: Ok, so we’re talking about.
JS: Your talking during the war. We didn’t even contact the Syrians [during the war]. As far as I’m aware– during the war. It was Egypt.
KWS: How do you think Asad perceived our effort with Sadat? Did Asad perceive our re-supply of Israel in the same with the same political result that Sadat perceived it? That the cards were the United States. That the United States was going to defend Israel politically. That the United States was going to defend Israel militarily. That no matter what happened, Israel was not going to be moved in this relationship with the United States, and the United States. Do you think Asad viewed it the same way?
JS: This what I’m saying to you is purely speculative. Because, I have no indication.
JS: We ever had an indication from this man. This speculation is based on what I think I know of this man, because first regardless of everything he was getting from the Soviet Union, he never fully trusted them, also all sorts of skepticism. Secondly, he was making the decisions, not the Soviets. Third, in our later discussions, and this is an ex post facto sort of a speculation based on what we learned later. In our detailed twenty-eight consecutive or twenty-three consecutive days that we did Jerusalem and Damascus. He was disdainful of the Soviets. Uhh Ummm I’m dealing with you, in fact, the Russians were pressing to get into the picture, and he said in effect to Henry well we said Gromyko is coming to Damascus, and we must see him. God! We saw Gromyko for two hours in Damascus just out of courtesy and gave him the back of the hand. In Damascus itself. So, did he [Assad] realize that the United States had the cards. I’d have to say yes. Because, this is a shrewd tactician, and knows how to play the balance of power game in that very Byzantine atmosphere that existed.
KWS: So sure, US had the cards, but he had his own disdain for the Soviets.
JS: Yea. And [Assad] understood, the decisive role of the United States. That would be. But as I say there is nothing, I have on that I can point to. It’s purely speculation.
KWS: It’s the kind, it’s the essence that comes out of USIP talks. Or that’s essentially what happens. Essentially it says that at no time did the Soviet Union ask the United States… At no time did Syria ask the United States to have the Soviet Union play any substantive role in planning for Geneva or carrying out the Geneva Conference. It was just because Asad wanted to protect his own territorial integrity, he was worried about the Israelis twenty miles from Damascus. And he really didn’t trust the Soviets.
JS: I think that you can be very explicit in saying that at no time did Asad encourage us to include the Soviets.
KWS: You said that on April 16. See how good your memory is. At no time did the Syrians press us to include the Soviets. I mean they had already seen the example of US brokering the Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement at Kilometer 101. And you would have to have thought that the Syrian conflicts, they would have wanted to bring the Soviets in to provide some added political leverage. But I see quote you again,” absolutely no leverage of Syrian insistence whatsoever to bring the Soviets in.” That’s exactly what you.
JS: As to the best of my recollection.
KWS: OK. At any time before or after Geneva, at least until May of `74 when you signed the Syrian Israeli one, did the Soviet Union have any role to play in the disengagement negotiations with Syria?
JS: No, we kept them informed. Both times.
KWS: You say that with certain amount of smugness on your face.
JS: Well, I loved it.
KWS: [LAUGHS] Why?
JS: Well, because uhh to that point. Right to that point, at no time did the Soviets ever take a position that was anything other than the total maximal Arab position. Total Israeli withdrawal to the pre-June `67 borders. That`s point one. At no time. You got to go into history again. Bear in mind, they [Syria] had failed the test of 1969. In the bi-lateral negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. When the Rogers Plan called for the Egyptian side, total Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai subject to three conditions: those indirect discussions, security arrangements for the Gulf and Sharm el-Shaykh would be established, there would be demilitarization in the Sinai; and that there would some agreement as to the security arrangements and sovereignty. Remember that Gaza, remember that the Egyptians never had sovereignty they were only the administrative power. So, we had those two examples. You see we had the example of the failure in `69 as far. And no predilection on the part of the Syrians. This is not to say however, that there weren’t discussions between the Syrians and the Soviets. Of course, there were.
Moreover, you got to look at it globally. Whether you believe in linkage or not. You have a Richard Nixon who was out to secure detente. And that was the number one priority both with Moscow as well as Washington. And I dare say, again this is speculation, Asad understood this. Particularly when, and I’ve forgotten the day. Nixon went to Moscow. There was a declaration that came out. And it was by God essentially the American position. It was agreed on that day. All the bad things that we wouldn’t want like total Israeli withdrawal and so on. Not that the Soviets changed their position or would have changed their position in an actual negotiation. Uhh, but they were forsaking the overarching agreements of detente.
JS: Leave out the things we can’t agree on.
KWS: I don’t know if it was you, or if someone else said at these meetings. Gromyko even commented to us that he felt totally out of place in the discussions for the Geneva Conference. `Cause it was only Kissinger’s men who were making all the decisions about procedure, and no one consulted him at all.
JS: That’s correct. We did. Henry, myself and particularly or the [Sherpa] as I was number two on the delegation, Henry one. You know, I’m the one who was dealing with the Secretary General. And where the table is, whose placing what and all of that, last minute pictures that came up.
KWS: Brian Urquhart said you ran around a lot a couple of days before the conference. He said I didn’t know Joe could run that fast. Is what Brian said.
JS: Yea, yea, I ran awfully fast.
KWS: Umm…You said there was no link whatsoever with the UN. We didn’t have any plans to seek authorization from the UN. If I recall, you said we’re going to inform the UN it was strictly within the terms of United States, and then we only consulted with the Soviet Union.
JS: Yea, yea, that’s correct. And then finally, we came to the perception of the image of the Secretary General, being there. But this was a US-USSR Conference.
KWS: But it was really a US conference.
KWS: To what degree, during the war, did we stay in touch with Jordan?
JS: Jordan ’73 War?
KWS: Umm huh.
JS: Here my recollection is vaguer than what I will say I am certain of its accuracy. We did keep touch with King Hussein. [END OF FIRST SIDE OF TAPE]
JS: …and so I’m sure the record will show a series of telegrams. Kept him [King Husayn] informed and so on. But, largely in that category, we [the U.S.] made no commitment in the context of a war that we’re going to try to work something out between you Jordan and the Israelis. The focus was on Egypt and this disengagement agreement. It’s not that we precluded anything on the Jordanian side, subsequently as you know, and we did set aside, in retrospect, I think it was probably a mistake. But we deferred to Yitzhak Rabin’s view that if you do this, I [Rabin] could fall [after April 1974]. And then the other factor was if Nixon’s Watergate was really going down the drain and one thing, we had learned was that all of these crucial stages of the disengagement agreements, when we hit an impasse, it was the President’s direct intervention, Henry doesn’t like to hear this. It was the President’s direct intervention that brought about the concessions.
KWS: To what degree. Tell me how that worked. How…
JS: I’ll tell you how it worked. Each night, after each day’s negotiations I would write for Henry, a first person note–to the President from Kissinger. Today we did the following, and here are the problems, and tomorrow we intend to proceed as follows. And we were never given any kind of instructions. And we would always politely, and unless you have any objections Mr. President, or some additional thoughts we are going to proceed as follows. Nixon had such confidence in Henry, that he was pre-occupied [with Watergate]. Moreover, or not, Al Haig was at the White House at that time, now they I can, I can review how Al Haig at that particular juncture was not much more than a bag carrier. That’s going to surprise you, but I don’t want to see this in print…
KWS: I won’t see it. You won’t see it in print.
JS: I never thought he was very bright. And he followed orders. Henry was the boss. So, we, I can’t recall ever getting a telegram from the Deputy National Security Council Advisor Al Haig during that whole period.
KWS: But Joe, you said something very important. You said that when we reached an impasse, it was the President’s intervention that…
JS: Whoa, but no. And then we would say look we have reached this impasse. We think here’s the way you ought to intervene, and then we would draft the letter in his name. And it would come back approved, and we would present.
KWS: Did he ever change the stuff you guys drafted?
JS: No, no ,no, no.
JS: There was no need to. Cause, Kissinger was in the middle of a negotiation. It was a question of, do I have judgement in my negotiator that I’ve got to intervene. And by the way, Nixon welcomed intervening, because you got to remember first, Henry was getting bigger than life. And Henry was getting so much of the publicity and so on. And the last thing that Richard Nixon wanted to do was to look as if he was a bystander. And he wasn’t bystander. Don’t misunderstand here.
KWS: Henry understood that too.
JS: Yes, Henry you bet he understood that.
KWS: And he understands that he had to be deferential. He had appropriate moments.
JS: Put it this way, he [Kissinger] understood that he was not the President of the United States. Yea. And he also understood what the outer perimeters were. And the kind of thing that I just described to you, this is ask Herman as anybody or anybody whose been at my level in the State Department level, because that’s where all the real drafting came about, not in the embassies. Atherton drafted as many as I did. Standard operating procedure, Hal Saunders will tell you its standard, you write the letter for the President. We want your authority to send this letter under your signature. It tells Golda this, or it tells Sadat this…
KWS: This is the objective, this is the purpose, this is the reason, this is the logic.
JS: Yea, and those letters made a difference let me just tell you.
KWS: When you wrote those letters, and there was also a covering memorandum that explained what was in the letter and what the results would be.
JS: Many times, we would present it orally.