Ken Stein Interview with Peter Rodman, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1992
(June 10, 1992)
(Permission to publish this interview granted by Peter Rodman, June 1992)
Peter Rodman Member of United States National Security Council Staff and Special Assistant to Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, August 1969 to January 1977; staff member on virtually all of Kissinger’s Middle East negotiation and shuttle missions, 1972-1976, 27 pages.
Contents: Rodman provides wonderful detail about the outbreak and unfolding of the October 1973 War, recounting Egypt’s relationship with the US, Kissinger meeting Hafez Ismail, the run-up to the October war, where he and Kissinger were when the war broke out; Kissinger off to Moscow and the authority that he did not want from Nixon to negotiate with Brezhnev, Kissinger getting to know and changing his views of Sadat, meeting Sadat, Israeli population attitudes during and after the 1973 war, Kissinger and Golda Meir, Nixon and the October War and Watergate; Kissinger’s back channel approach of stopping the Kilometer 101 talks, Kissinger and Assad’s contacts, the Geneva Peace conference, and impact of the 1973-74 oil embargo. Little said hear about shuttle diplomacy as it unfolded in 1974 and only brief mention of the Jordanians. 10.13.2020
KWS: Alright. Now. What position did you hold with Kissinger when the War broke in ‘73? What was your title? Status? Etc.?
PR: Well, I was a Special Assistant to Kissinger in his White House job, so you could say I was Special Assistant to the Special Assistant. Sorry. Special Assistant to the Assistant to the president for National Security Affairs.
KWS: And what did that entail? What did that mean?
PR: Well I was. . . He always did business with a combination of people, sort of a small group of special assistants. Winston Lord did the same function on China policy and other things. In addition, this sort of professional specialists that live, you know, Winston had a very confidential relationship with Kissinger on, let us say, China. Although, I accompanied Winston some, I sort of supported him, but on the Middle East I was the one that Kissinger brought along on his most sensitive meetings. You know if there were some things where he did not want it widely circulated then he would involve me.
KWS: When did you start doing that?
PR: Actually, that goes back to ‘72, before he was Secretary of State. When he was in some of his own secret meetings at the White House with Rabin, or King Hussein. I remember a number of things that he did that he did not want the State Department to know about. You know, sort of things that Nixon wanted him to do.
KWS: Where were you when the ‘73 War broke?
PR: I was with Kissinger in New York at the UNGA.
KWS: This was the Arab prime ministers’ meeting that was taking place…
PR: Well, actually a couple of things. Kissinger went up before I did. He had various bilateral meetings that I don’t know about. I didn’t go to any of the big meetings, but I was going up late. I forget what day it is…week it is…and there’s an incident in Kissinger’s book. I was in contact with Shalev(?) in Washington, and Shalev asked me to do something, and I remember bringing something up, or . . .I was still in Washington when Kissinger was in New York. So, when the war broke, I think, the morning of the 6th, I was in New York, but . . .
KWS: It was a Saturday.
PR: That’s correct. I don’t know when I went up. I may have gone up on Friday afternoon.
KWS: Tell me about . . . I just want you to get your mind back to that period. Tell me, if you will, in your recollection, what you remember about the war and Kissinger’s relationship with Sadat, the evolving intervention of the United States in a diplomatic fashion, and then I’ll get back to deal with some questions specifically.
PR: Well, I might as well start with an episode that I was involved in, and this is just before the war when the Israelis had an intelligence report about, you know, puzzling activity on the Syrian and Egyptian fronts, I guess it was. And they asked us to check again. In the course of the preceding week, there had been various intelligence reports, that. . .and the Israelis had sort of checked in with us, and we had compared notes and both come to the conclusion that it was not a war threatening situation. But then, the overnight evacuation of Soviet dependents just shook everybody. This was what. . . the 4th and 5th. So, the Israelis. . .I guess this was Golda again, through her special channel, and Shalev, who was the charge at the time because Dinitz’s father had died. So Dinitz was back in Jerusalem. So, Mordechai Shalev, he called me, and he had a message. It was either. . .I don’t know whether it was from Golda or Eban, but. . .the details would be in Kissinger’s book more precise than my memory. And they just wanted to check. . . wanted Kissinger. . . wanted Kissinger to raise this with the Arabs. So, I presented this to Scowcroft, and I think what we decided was the first thing is to get our own intelligence assessment of what was going on and to compare notes with the Israelis on that point and then to call it to Kissinger’s attention which I think we did on that afternoon. We did not. . .We were not going to block any Israeli request to present some suggestion to Kissinger, but I think we accompanied this by our CIA intelligence report, that, yes, this all was puzzling, but they still thought the probability of war was low. And Kissinger was going to have dinner with Dobrynin, or something that night. You have to check my memory… and we put this in Kissinger’s folder for that dinner. I don’t know whether. . .I’m not sure whether he raised it or not because with all… you know, and our CIA was telling us that this was, you know, not a matter of urgency. I don’t know whether he did. He may have. Another point to make is, I think it would have. . .I’m not sure it was the right thing to do anyway, to raise it with the Arabs. Excuse me, can you turn that off. Back to ‘73, I… there’s a debate about whether it was correctly handled before the war started. In retrospect, it’s clear that nothing we would have done would have made any difference. I mean, if we had gone to the Arabs, and said what is going on here, they would have just confirmed them and the belief that they had us over barrel, and I don’t think there was any chance of deterring them.
KWS: What was Kissinger’s attitude towards Sadat before the war started?
PR: Well before the war, he was. . . We all remember the July ‘72 business when Sadat kicked the Russians out and that he was very impressed by it except for the fact that he was amazed that Sadat would do this unilaterally without, you know, coming to us, or getting some assurance from us. So, he thought this was a little bit strange, but he. . . on the other hand it was a vindication of the Nixon policies. And the Nixon policy, as you know from ‘70 onward, was to punish Arab relationships with the Soviet Union. It was to penalize. . . to penalize, you know, Egypt, or any other country, who were Soviet-Soviet connection in order to basically convince the Arabs to come to us, and Sadat did this without any consultation. I mean, there had been a channel that had opened up. A back channel had opened up in April (1972), actually, through the CIA, so we had sporadic messages back and forth with Sadat. But nothing. . . We hadn’t done anything in that channel.
KWS: This is before the Hafiz Ismail-Kissinger meeting.
PR: Oh yeah. Well this is April ‘72, it began, and there wasn’t a lot of content in the channel. And then to kick the Russians out without . . .without, you know, any. . . getting any advance assurances from us. So, Kissinger didn’t know whether this was bold and brilliant, or a little bit wacky, but, in any case, we did start trying to organize a meeting with Hafiz Ismail. And there was a lot of conversation about setting that up, I think, through the channel, and the intention was to have a meeting later in ‘72. The problem is Vietnam negotiations heated up, at like, almost exactly the same time. July, August, September, October, Kissinger was in Paris almost all the time for Vietnam it consumed him totally. And then the thing broke down and it went even after the election. So, there were negotiations in November and December with the Vietnamese. So, we had to postpone any further thing with the Egyptians, which offended the Egyptians. I mean, they thought, they’d taken this amazing move and were getting short tripped from us, but in fact, it was totally bona fide. I mean, Kissinger. . .part of the cost of having all this authority in his own hands was that you could only deal with one issue, one crisis. . .you know, only deal with one crisis at a time, and the Vietnam negotiations just consumed us all the way through into January. And so, the first meeting with Hafiz Ismail was set for February. And this was worked out as you know, but I think Kissinger was impressed with Hafiz Ismail and with the seriousness of the Egyptians and it was clear they were groping for something. They were groping for some way out.
KWS: Did they basically say they wanted our involvement?
PR: Oh yeah. I mean, that’s exactly. . . they wanted Kissinger’s involvement… and Nixon. In fact, they felt the whole point was they had been dealing with the State Department and they realized the focus of power was in the White House. Secondly, they were very impressed with Nixon and Kissinger and all the tour de force that they had seen of the assault at Riemann, and the Chinese thing, and, even, the Vietnam settlement… and the Vietnam settlement, in an interesting way, it impressed both the Arabs and Israelis. The Arabs were impressed that Nixon would stick to his policies even in the face of domestic opposition, and the Israelis were impressed by the fact that Nixon would stick to his policies even in the face of international opposition. So, the fact that, you know, Nixon and Kissinger had taken so much crap on a lot of their policies just was very impressive in the eyes of foreigners who thought, you know, this represented courage. And, in any case, it only enhanced the Egyptians interest in getting Nixon and Kissinger involved personally. They realized that as long as they were dealing with the State Department, they did not have real American engagement. Now then, you know, the war obviously caught us by surprise.
KWS: How did you. . .
PR: Well, let me backtrack…
KWS: Ok. Sure
PR: …and talk about the Hafez Ismail thing, and this is my impression. I was in all the meetings. The Egyptians were groping for some way out, but they were not willing to bite the bullet in terms of an interim settlement. I mean, there had. . . maybe a few years earlier there had. . . the Israelis. . .you know, there had been discussion of an interim agreement, but the Egyptians were still in this sort of a classical Arab position of wanting a guarantee of the final outcome before they would take any interim steps. I mean they wanted, insisted on talking about, you know, the ‘67 borders, and they would talk about interim steps only as stages of implementation of some final agreement that was already set. And they wanted to know what guarantees they would have of what the outcome was going to be, and this is just a non-starter. And, I think that was the obstacle, and the Egyptians blame us for not trying hard enough even in ‘73, but I think the blame has to be passed around. The Egyptians sort of had to launch a war and recover a little prestige before they were capable of handling an interim agreement, and we disguised it as disengagement. But, basically, what that represented was the interim agreement as had earlier been conceived and discussed by various parties. You know, taking a step without a guarantee of the outcome and, which developed into the step-by-step model and . . . . which I think is the only sensible approach. The only way you can get the Israelis to move and– you know, you have to start with things that the Israeli political system can handle, and these things usually build. I mean, if the first agreement works, it makes other steps easier. The Arabs never. . . the Arabs had a hard time absorbing this. They still do.
KWS: Let me get down to some specifics. . .
PR: Ok, why don’t you ask some specific questions.
KWS: Did Nixon and Kissinger differ about Nixon’s policy about punishing the Arabs?
PR: No. I think that’s something they both agreed. I mean, Nixon. . .
KWS: Was Nixon more, or less, favorable to this interim approach?
PR: Well, I don’t think Nixon had a view. I think he, you know, had no instinctive pro-Israeli feeling. He, for a lot of reasons, let the State Department play with the issues, you know, for the first few years. You know, figuring Kissinger maybe shouldn’t get involved directly, but, on the other hand, Nixon would always pull back from the State Department whenever there was particularly a Soviet angle because the State Department never sort of never thought of this in strategic terms, and Kissinger did and so did Nixon. I mean, Nixon was very concerned with the Soviet involvement in the Arab world, and with the War of Attrition, and the Egyptian-Soviets pilots flying mission, and the cheating on the stance to a cease-fire, which the Soviets connived, and the Soviet-Syrian involvement in the Jordan crisis. So, Nixon would. . .would . . . he never gave the State Department his full confidence either because he had a low opinion of their judgment on this as anything else.
KWS: It wasn’t conceptually right.
PR: Yeah, and the State Department continues to vindicate his view. I mean, the way the stance to a ceasefire was bungled. So, Kissinger, you know, could usually add some influence with Nixon whenever some disaster was impending, or some other stupidity, and Nixon would pull back and…he didn’t want all his prestige committed to the State Department. The approach, which was again why Rogers never had, you know, the full mandate, even though he sort of had the ball to run with, he really didn’t. Particularly, as he…Nixon saw it in terms much closer to Kissinger’s when it came to the strategic dimension, and, you know, Nixon, while not a great lover of the Jewish people, was. . .admired the Israelis, he admired Rabin. Rabin was the perfect ambassador because he represented the toughness, the no nonsense, you know… These were people who were willing to defy international pressures and all the fashionable opinion and the progressive opinion, and, you know, the Israelis just defended themselves without apology. This was a quality Nixon admired enormously. And, plus Rabin’s brilliance in his strategic view, and the fact that Rabin saw the Soviet threat. He saw the Middle East in the strategic context himself and, you know, Rabin supported Nixon’s Vietnam policy. It became known that Rabin was not eager to see the United States in the Far East, and this became known and a great embarrassment to the Democrats, and Nixon loved it. So, that’s another example of. . .
KWS: Did Henry change his view of Sadat when he saw the Egyptians were, you know, with the surprise attack? Did he think Sadat was sort of crazy, or a buffoon?
PR: Well, the first. . .you know, the first reaction was what do they think they can gain because at the beginning everyone had the allusion that this would be a short war and another Arab humiliation. Secondly, we all shared the view that the Arabs. . .there was no way, related to the first part, there was no way they could gain significant territory militarily. So again, you know, what the hell were they doing, but what impressed him enormously, it says this in his book, is there’s a message path and the fact that we used back channels completely and almost on a daily basis back and forth. Even in a way during the war, even when we were airlifting weapons to Israel and the whole thing, the Egyptians were in a dialogue with us about peacetime about what was going to happen afterwards, about, you know, was the US now going to get actively engaged. And, in other words, the purpose of the war was to light a fire under the United States; it was a political war.
KWS: Did Henry understand that?
PR: I think as soon as he started seeing, you know, the quality of the communications, and what Sadat had a political objective, and it was a political. . .you know, it was deliberately to start an international crisis in the hope of lighting a fire under the United States. It was almost a pro-American move.
KWS: Well, almost a pro-Kissinger move because. . .
PR: Well. . .
KWS: …Because Kissinger was a person who liked to combine the use of power with diplomacy.
PR: Well, it was Nixon and the United States. The United States was at the peak of its prestige. Excuse me again. Well, let me. . .We were talking about Sadat’s motives. I mean, the United States was at the peak of its prestige at that point, and Nixon and Kissinger were at the peak of their prestige. I mean, the Vietnam agreement was considered an achievement because, in defiance of unbelievable shit in the United States and a lot of international pressure we had, you know, beaten the North Vietnamese back, and gotten an agreement which had far better terms than anybody expected. And then, but this is after 1972, a year in which we had gotten the Chinese and Soviets to sort of dance to our tune, and then Nixon’s stunning re-election. The White House. . . the power. . .It was a very centralized government, and it was the United States, and it was these two people. It wasn’t just Henry. I mean, I’m the first to give him credit, but the political clout, and the political coherence, and the coherence of policy, the discipline the United States government seems to have, all this is rather striking at the time. So yes, the Egyptians had great confidence in the United States at that point if they could get Nixon and Kissinger involved. And I think that was the purpose of the war, was . . .They had no expectation of gaining territory. And no plans for anything beyond, you know, our deal. You know, hanging on to their positions on the other side of the canal.
KWS: Did Kissinger…When did Kissinger realize that the war could be used to nudge the Soviets further from the Middle East?
PR: Well, all along. From three years earlier…I mean, the. . .our whole policy was to demonstrate the impotence of the Soviets. The fact that the Soviets could not deliver a centimeter of territory…the Soviets could deliver weapons but couldn’t deliver anything else. And, you know, the Jordan Crisis, you know, showed that we and Israel… you know that we had the military power on the ground to blunt Soviet clients who people. . .radical Arabs who relied on the Soviets got nothing. Got nowhere. I mean, we were able to, you know, maintain a blocking position to frustrate the PLO, to back our allies and, in other words, the weakness of the Soviet position was apparent to us all along. And Sadat figured this out, particularly in May ‘72, the Nixon-Brezhnev summit. I mean, you read his memoirs, one of the reasons he kicked the Russians out was that the Nixon-Brezhnev summit communiqué just totally dismissed the Middle East. And Sadat had been saying, you know, 1971 is the year of decision, ‘72 is the year of decision, and…
KWS: I remember I was living in Israel at the time.
PR: He was expecting the Soviets to be his champions. In fact, the Russians did try over several days in Moscow to get us to agree to fairly striking language on the Middle East and to express some sense of urgency and we just beat them back. And, the Soviets tried to get us engaged in some agreement with them on some points for a diplomatic settlement and Kissinger evaded in other words. And in the end the Soviets had to back down. They had a big stake in the summit. I mean, they had gone ahead with the summit even in the face of our bombing of Hanoi, and they weren’t going to have the summit break down over the Middle East language in a communique. Therefore, in the end, the Soviets caved in to the blandest clichéd text in the communique, which just drove Sadat up the wall. And he considered this a total betrayal by the Soviets, and, again, it showed who was holding all the cards here. You know, either you had the United States on your side, or you got nowhere, and so the message had gotten through to him. And the same lesson… I mean, the same calculation, I think, formed his policy in ‘73. Now, you know, we didn’t expect a war. We didn’t want a war, and some break down in this brilliant strategy of ours, in fact, produced a war. And I think a lot of that was Sadat’s impatience that we had dragged this out. You know, year after he kicked the Soviets out, he didn’t get a whole lot of action from us, but, as I said, there were reasons for that having to do with the Vietnam negotiations, and, secondly, the Egyptians, as I said, were not yet ready to grasp the bullet themselves in terms of diplomatic shift towards some kind of interim.
KWS: When did that happen?
PR: Well, it happened after the war when we could disguise it as disengagement. Disengagement was the excuse. The Arabs could all call it a separation of forces and a kind of safeguarding of the cease-fire. But what it in fact was, was the old interim agreement, The Suez Canal Agreement, the Israelis pull back from the Suez Canal. And you sign an agreement, you know, and then have a ceasefire, and with no assurance about getting the ‘67 borders or anything, but a certain amount of good luck in the way the war ended and the troop dispositions because of the intermingling of the forces cried out for some kind of separation of forces agreement, but, the Arabs could disguise it as a military agreement and pretend, at least, in the first instance, that it wasn’t a political deal. Where the interim agreement, you know, out of the blue, had a political content, this could be described as something less than that, but in fact we all knew was the first step toward. . . first step on a process of Israeli withdrawal.
KWS: And Sadat knew it.
PR: Well, Henry explained it to him. And I think what happened was. . .
KWS: You remember when?
PR: Well Henry’s first meeting with Sadat. . .
KWS: November 7.
PR: November 5, or something.
KWS: 7th. 7th and 8th.
PR: Ok. The 7th. And they . . .it was one-on-one and there were no note takers. None of us were there. We waited out in the garden for three or five hours or something, but we got debriefed later, but this was again Kissinger’s. . . What totally convinced him that this guy was for real, Sadat told him he wanted to take Egypt out of the war, but he didn’t know how to do it. I mean, he wanted out. By that, I . . . whether it was this meeting, or some later meeting, the idea was Sadat wanted to get Egypt out of this confrontation with Israel. It was just a loser, but he didn’t know how to do it. He didn’t know how to get from here to there and he was throwing himself into the arms of the United States to tell him how to do it.
KWS: Did he ever tell you why he wanted to do it?
PR: I think, you know, while we’re waiting around, we were talking to all the other people who were around. You know, Sadat’s officials and his entourage and a lot of them, I think, were affected by the ‘67 war. I mean, they thought Nasser was a disaster, and it was a cliché, an article of faith among Sadat’s entourage that Nasser had been the biggest disaster that ever happened. The ‘67 war was a disaster. Relying on the Soviets was a horrible mistake. I mean…Ismail Fahmy who was Foreign Minister, one of the first things he wanted to talk about with Americans was how his son could get into Harvard Business School. I mean, you had a political elite that I think, was just. . .They realized they had been through twenty years of lunacy, like with Chinese cultural revolution on a lesser scale and they. . .you know, it was a cry for help, as the cliché goes. They wanted the United States to come in and help them. They were ready to . . .
KWS: If Henry would provide the help . . .
PR: Well they did not have a clue of how to get from here to there, and…In addition, what emerged fairly soon… I do not know who had the great inspiration, or maybe Henry knew it all along. I think the Geneva. . .well, the Geneva conference came later. The idea of disengagement was the great key to unlock it all and to get us on this process of step-by-step. The Arabs needed convincing because it’s painful for them. You know, do they take political heat, or pay the political price for a small deal with Israel without any guarantee of the outcome, I think is the political risk. You know very well.
PR: But this is the bane of Arab diplomacy, and it’s the Palestinians problem until Madrid when they. . . because all during the interim approach on the West Bank was exactly the same model and I happen to be personally an advocate of another interim step on the Golan Heights because I don’t think the Syrian-Israeli dialogue on final status is going to get anywhere. So, this was the American intellectual contribution, which is to say to them this is something, the only approach that has a chance of working that if you carve it into bite size steps, the Israeli political process can absorb it; and secondly, this will pay off in the end because this is the way to affect Israeli attitudes. And it’s not a sell-out, it’s just the opposite. It’s the way to get. . .you know, change the Israeli mentality and get them thinking differently about peace and withdrawal and so on.
KWS: Peter, the next day, on the 8th, Kissinger, in his memoirs, and different people said this, sat with Fahmy and talked a couple hours about the procedures. Were you at that meeting? Do you remember that?
PR: I don’t remember. . .
KWS: But do you remember about the discussion about the procedures for Geneva?
PR: No, I sort of. . .I was involved variously. I was sort of tuned out about the Geneva procedure because Geneva turned into a farce. You know negotiating a letter of invitation turned out to be a process in itself. You know, the theology. . .you know. . .you know, you immediately plunged into theology with every phrase and it was almost. . .it cost us a couple months haggling over this crap, or a month, or several weeks…haggling over phrases that had, you know, once the meeting was over. . the invitation doesn’t mean much. But we all know that theology was crucial, so we got into this unexpected haggle over the invitation. The Arabs wanted, of course, a Geneva type meeting and there was a bout of comprehensiveness and so on. But, again, the inspiration was to make clear that the first item of negotiating business would be disengagement, and Sadat made it clear he wanted the United States to negotiate with. . .
KWS: Is that why. . .
KWS: Kissinger and Sadat weren’t pleased with the progress at Kilometer 101?
PR: Well they let Kilometer 101 go, and . . .but it. . .it’s sort of classical Kissinger back channel approach. Whether it’s Berlin, or SALT or something, you let the technicians explore the ground. As soon as deadlocks develop, then it gets escalated to a political level. Then the people at the political level have to bite the bullets, make the trade-offs and so on. No, nobody expected Kilometer 101 would settle this, but he sort of let the people. . .I mean, it had a symbolic value and you let the people define the issues just by getting bogged down in whatever the disputes are and then you. . . It’s a way of you know, instead of sharpening the issues. And then, the key issues are discovered and raised to a higher level.
KWS: Sadat wanted to disentangle the forces and wanted to return to the October 22 line, but according to some Israelis that I interviewed, and Americans who were involved, Kissinger then approached Sadat and, correct me if I’m wrong, sort of said, ‘look I can spend some time in disentangling, but we can do something. . .’
PR: Yeah, well this was the educational process. The Egyptians. . .
KWS; This happened on November 17.
PR: Well, I don’t know. . .I don’t remember which date it is. I mean you’re telling. . .You’re reminding me correctly that there was a big haggle over that and the Egyptians. . .you know, it was a point of pride here. And so… you know, I guess the process of educating the Egyptians took a little longer to get them to understand what was going on, but I think Kissinger. . .Well, I think you’d have to ask Hal Saunders or Sisco when this idea of disengagement really. . .
KWS: Hal puts it on November 17. . .
PR: Really. . .Well, I think. . .
KWS; That meeting, Hal said, was critical for impressing upon Sadat the notion of interim steps. It was part of something comprehensive. A little longer.
PR: Well. . . But, if the Egyptians were still fighting for the October 22 line, then it shows, you know, they hadn’t quite absorbed it. It’s just as you said, they could’ve. . .Kissinger could expend all his political capital for something like that, or for something that would, you know, have a lot more significance. But again, the Arabs had. . .always have a hard time accepting, you know, a limited step. Or, if there’s a point of pride in having some assurance of the ‘67 borders. The point of pride here is beating back the Israelis to the real ceasefire line. Moreover, the question is, can you cut through this and get directly to something that is really a political process; step-by-step process that gets you on the track of Israeli withdrawal and political accommodation.
KWS: With the idea of the conference in Geneva.
PR: I don’t know. The Arabs always wanted a conference.
KWS: Sadat had spoken about it in his address to the Egyptian Parliament on the 16 of October. Quandt says…
PR: Well it’s in 338. We, and the Soviets. . .it probably came out of our discussions with the Soviets. The Soviets needed to be pacified throughout this.
KWS: So, we took the term “appropriate auspices” and . . .
PR: Yeah, that was an explicit. . .There was an understanding with Gromyko. They initialed some little thing with the phrase “appropriate auspices” of the UN resolution meant US-Soviet or whatever. I think it’s in the Kissinger book. There’s a little side understanding that this meant US-Soviet auspices, and so we were stuck with that, and it was the price we paid for the ceasefire, but we wanted. . .
KWS: You said at the USIP meeting. You said it was signed after breakfast on a piece of paper.
PR: Well it was initialed. They initialed something.
KWS: Then you guys. . .
PR: Then we had lunch in Tel Aviv. But what we got in 338 was an agreement to negotiations which we thought was. . . was valuable, and it didn’t say direct. It didn’t say indirect. It didn’t say couldn’t be direct negotiations. So, the whole thing was open, but auspices, yes. We were committed to do this jointly with the Soviets in some way, but that was before we had talked to Sadat. And I think the . . .you know, we were struck how much the Egyptians did not want the Soviets involved. I mean, Sadat had risked his life kicking out communism. . .you know, jailing communists and kicking the Soviets out, and, he had no interest in joint auspices. I mean, we discovered that, I think, somewhat to our pleasant surprise that, they wanted us and they. . .so you know, we and they and the Israelis were all conspiring thence forward to do it among ourselves and to give the Soviets a sort of minimal sense of participation. You couldn’t have done this without the Arabs. You know, obviously we can fantasize about expelling the Soviets from the Middle East. What made this possible was the Arabs came to us, because the Arabs figured we had what they wanted. We could give them something, and they wanted us, and they had no interest in the Soviets. They didn’t trust the Soviets at all. And . . .
KWS: Would you say the same thing about Syria now…
PR: Well, there’s the famous story about the dinner Assad served us. It was supposed to be Gromyko’s dinner.
KWS; That was later in…
PR: Well, that was in the ‘74. . .yeah, during the ‘74 shuttle, toward the end of it, which I think shows their contempt for the Soviets. The fact that they used the Soviets, but if we have something they need, they’ll come to us. And we had. . .you know, the Nixon-Kissinger strategy had been to precisely get that message across over several years. That, you know, anybody, any Arab that stuck with the Soviets would get nothing from us. And you know, if you came to us then you had a claim on our goodwill, and you had a claim on our effort. You know with the Israelis…you know, Sadat, by putting himself. . .throwing himself in their arms had a claim on us. Not to sell out our Israeli allies, but, at least, we had a stake in proving to the world that a country that did that got something for it.
KWS: Did you demonstrate…
PR: We want it strategically. We want to show that kicking out the Soviets and coming to Washington pays off. I mean, we had to have. . .you know, it was an honor just to show that you got some results. And, of course, the trick is to come up with a result that is fair. You know, and the United States is not going to sell out its ally on this basis. But we had. . .suddenly you had a strategic interest in finding some accommodation between the Egyptians and the Israelis.
KWS: How did you communicate that to Golda? I mean, after this country has just gone to…
PR: I’m sure he said. . .Well, you know, it was painful. It was emotional. It was very emotional because Golda’s view was. . . First, the Israelis had ideas of mutual disengagement. You know, the Egyptians had to pull back from the canal, like that was the opening position. Which was ridiculous.
KWS: Go back to Africa. We’ll go back to Europe.
PR: Yeah. You know, they said how come they start a war and they get rewarded. I mean Golda kept saying this over and over again. This is not fair. They start a war and we withdraw from their territory. And, you know, they had just gone through. . .you know, hell, and a very terrifying experience.
KWS: Is that the environment you had when you got the tip from Moscow?
PR: Well, when we got the tip from Moscow it was worse that because the whole procedure of the ceasefire had been screwed up with a communications breakdown. There had been garbled communications between Moscow and Washington. They got very little advance notice of the ceasefire resolution which was going to be submitted in New York at 6:00 or something, and this was being worked out in the morning in Moscow. And, the Israelis didn’t. . .weren’t really told about this. I mean, by the time the message got through coherently, it looked more like a. . . It was just very crude and rude and demeaning. Secondly, it turned out that the ceasefire also interrupted this great offensive they had going, much to our surprise. And much to their surprise. When we left Washington, I mean, Kissinger kept every time he saw Dinitz he would say, you know, tell us, what’s going on. What are your plans? I mean, Dinitz would give him a little briefing, and I think Kissinger certainly would have protected them if he knew they had a plan to do such and such, and…You know, it would have figured in his calculations. In fact, even as it was, he went to Moscow trying to stall. He wanted. . .He didn’t want to sign a ceasefire, and Nixon undercut him by sending this message while we were airborne saying Kissinger has full authority. Kissinger wanted to have the option, at least, of saying to Brezhnev, ‘well I have to go back to Washington and consult with Nixon before we decide.’ But Nixon, I think, deliberately either deliberately or stupidly, and I’m inclined to think deliberately, denied Kissinger that option.
KWS: Do you have any explanation for this?
PR: I think a little bit of suspicion that Kissinger might protect the Israelis too much, and Nixon was getting a little nervous, or it might have been Bravado. I mean I don’t exclude that Nixon ,right after the Saturday Night Massacre, was not at his most acute. . .You know, stupid is not the right word for Richard Nixon, but it may be he was trying to assert his authority by making this sort of presidential edict on sending my man and he has my authority. So, it might have been inadvertent. I can’t. . . In fact it denied Kissinger the option of stalling, but when we left, all we knew about the Israeli military plan was that they were sort of. . . they had crossed the canal and they were moving forward and moving north and moving south. We didn’t know. . . in fact I don’t think the Israelis knew that the breakthrough south. I mean, they were going to have this incredible breakthrough to the south. In fact, our impression from Dinitz was that they were thinking more about going north. I think what they did was probe north and south after this crossing and then it turned out that the soft. . .you know the softest was in the south and they just plunged ahead. But all this happened while we were airborne or in Moscow and nobody told us about this. The Israelis did not tell us that they had this great offensive to the south and they wanted time to consolidate this or whatever. So, we were. . .you know, Kissinger was not aware of any particular strategic gain that the Israelis might want to protect.
KWS: You landed you’re a… on a brick wall.
PR: So, we were flying blind and I think it was still Kissinger’s instinct to try and stall the Soviets, but he didn’t have a lot of freedom, nor did he see some overwhelming reason why he couldn’t have a ceasefire at that point. So, we flew to Israel and this very emotional. . .They thought they’d really had been shafted by us, and, I remember, I got this earful from Yitzhak Rabin. And Rabin was not in the government then, so he was seated at the low end of the table with the peons like me. And, I . . .you know, we knew each other, and he was sitting next to me, and he was in a very grumpy mood. Saying why did. . . You know, why did you have the cease-fire, and, you know, you cut us off in the middle of our offensive, etc. I said, look, you know, we did not know this. Anyway, they were. . .
KWS: like Syria did…
PR: …Increased his… I don’t know. Rabin is. . .he’s always grumpy. I think also, but also the way the ceasefire. The fact that they got about two hours advance notice that the ceasefire was coming was…The resolution was going to be introduced was very insulting to them and they had a point. I mean, this was not our intention. You know, Kissinger writes about. . .we had for years on all these secretive used the communications of our aircrafts to send messages back directly to the White House and we never had this problem. Suddenly, the thing was garbled and they retransmitted it and interference on the radio frequency, and there are people in the White House communications organizations who think there was some jamming going on. On the other hand, the problem is Kissinger was now Secretary of State, but he, it was time for him to realize that the US embassy was our friend and not our enemy and that he could have used embassy communications which are ground lines, which would not have been subject to any interference and . . . you know, just as good a way. . .In fact in this case a better way to get a message to Washington would have been just to send something to the embassy. In fact, the airport was far out. You know, the couriers would drive back and forth. It would be a lot quicker, but, you know, we had never encountered this kind of interference before, so that was another lesson. And then after a while, Kissinger, you know, used State Department channels. Not always. Not always, and if you wanted to communicate with the White House, he would use the back channel. He never got over the fact that when you send a cable to the States it distributed about a hundred copies all over the seventh floor. Even the most. . .You know, it says NO DIS. No distribution-the most sensitive cable. They usually fifty cop… I do not know how many. But, you know, SS gets it and everybody and his brother gets copies of these things. So, but anyway that was that. You know, we have to take responsibility for a lot of this screw up, but so do the Israelis to some degree in not keeping us informed, and I do not think they knew. And, I think this opportunity… Military opportunity developed very quickly, and they went for it. And, you know, I think that accounts for the fact that Kissinger, when he talked to Golda privately, after lunch, he did kind of wink at them and they sort of said they wanted to improve their position. And he, green light may be too strong a word but I think, you know, there were two days in a row when the ceasefire broke down and the Israelis sort of, by coincidence ended up closer to completing their encirclement. The United States didn’t make a big fuss about it. I think this was Kissinger sort of atoning a little bit for all that. Now the second day, with the Soviets, it almost started World War Three. You had to say to the Israelis enough is enough. When the alert crisis, I mean it was just, it was more than the traffic could bear. But I think certainly the first day, he was sort of saying. . . I mean I don’t know how explicit it was. I don’t remember. But he understood what was going on.
KWS: By going to Defcon 3 did he overreact?
PR: No, I think. . .well, in the sense that it was our strategy to deliberately overreact. I mean, I think their attitude towards facing down the Russians was tit-for-tat is the worst. I mean if you want to scare somebody off, you have to scare them off. And you. . . Deliberate overreaction was something they often did. Otherwise, you’re in this sort of tit-for-tat process.
KWS: Were you familiar with any of the cable traffic that day that came into the White House that day in which. . .
PR: From which. . .
KWS: On the day in which Brezhnev sending these communiques to the White House and as three or four of them come in during the day and they all seem to ratchet up each one?
PR. Yeah. Well also their aircraft. . .their transport aircraft was standing down.
KWS: Quandt says. .. Quandt says you get three or four of these through the day and all of the sudden you get one in the afternoon that uses the word “unilateral” and you go “uh-oh.”
PR: Yeah. No. And they. . . but also, their military movement we were tracking. They had put transport aircraft in readiness and so this was not a joke. I mean, I don’t think. . .I think we were several days away from a Soviet intervention. I mean, it’s not like the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was. . .We nipped it in the bud in the end, but they were. . .they were getting ready to implement this threat and we were ready. We were right to slap them down hard and escalate two steps just to face them down, but simultaneously, we were making the point to the Israelis that enough was enough and I think that was. . .
KWS: Peter. Peter. Why the 24th? Were you delayed in the supply and the Israelis knew it?
PR: Which supply?
KWS: The supply of armaments.
PR: To Israel?
KWS: Yeah. Whoever was responsible let’s not. . .
PR: Well the war was over by then.
KWS: I know, but by the 24th there are two items now on Israel’s agenda in which they’re not sure about Henry and his goodwill. One, in the ceasefire, and two, in the resupply. And if it’s not Henry, it’s the United States.
PR: Well, you’re talking about resupply during the war or after?
KWS: Yeah. What I’m trying to say what persuaded Golda to say to Henry ok, I’ll try this conference idea. I mean what was it that Henry told Golda?
PR: Well Golda and Henry they go back a few years. They had met frequently in Washington. She knew he was a friend of Israel. I mean. . .and the Arabs were correct in their calculations, I mean, too. That he was in the better position to, you know, produce a fair outcome. So, I mean, I’m not saying this in a way that is, you know, prejudices his ability. On the contrary, the fact that the Israelis trusted him was his asset and you know he spent some of his capital, sure, including in that war. But I think interim agreement was something we had discussed with the Israeli before. It wasn’t shocking.
KWS: No, it wasn’t.
PR: The whole point of it is that some of the Israeli political process can absorb and it took a while. It took a while to get the Israelis in the frame of mind that this. . .You know, the world wasn’t ganging up on them again. And, I think they were shaken by the war itself, but drew the proper conclusion that military. . .There was no solely military answer to their problems. You know, they were shaken by it. They thought they had this impregnable line and it wasn’t impregnable. You know, secondly, I think Kissinger did pass on to them what Sadat was saying which was that Sadat seemed to be fed up with the whole conflict and was groping for some way to change the situation. Now they didn’t believe him until after the first disengagement. I mean, I remember in ‘74, Dayan saying he was very impressed that Sadat was repopulating the cities along the canal. ***end of side 1*** before they were, but they came, you know, gradually they, too, began to think that Sadat was not Nasser and there was something interesting here and… but Henry would just, was constantly passing on his impressions that this was a guy who wanted, you know. . . who was trying. He had a political strategy. He had kicked the Russians out which had made a big impression on the Israelis too. The Israelis could see the thing we could see. Psychologically, it was very hard for them, having been shaken by this war, to sort of suddenly start making more concessions.
PR: It took a few months for them to sort of realize that this was ok.
KWS: Did they ever focus at all on Syria?
PR: Not in the first. . .no. Well, I just don’t remember offhand. I think, you know, Kissinger had his little dialogue with Assad that started what. . .in late November, and Assad had his own. . . Assad was interested in disengagement. You know, he had his weird map. . .His first map which had the Israelis going back to, you know, Haifa, but. . .
KWS: At least he was serious.
PR: You know, this was intriguing because. . .Look, you have the Arabs all coming to us. You know, and this was an extraordinary moment. The outcome of the war was, again. You were seen in the Arab world as another American triumph. Now the Israelis were grumbling about the, you know, supplies being sort of dangled and whatever. We had made the Israelis. . .We didn’t want the Israelis to be too overconfident during the war. And that’s the way to put it. We never withheld anything they needed, but we wanted them to be reminded that they, you know. . .
KWS: Had a dependency.
PR: You know, they would get what they needed to win. We didn’t deny them anything that affected the bet. We’re not going . . . if they had won the war, Kissinger would have been delighted, but I think that option. . .I mean. . . they . . .how to sum that up. I think we did not deny them what they needed not only to survive, but even to do as well as they were going to do. And . . . but I think we did not want them to forget that they needed us. The Arabs were pissed at the Soviets because the Soviets sent more by sea. By sea, you actually can deliver more, but it was slower. The airlift was impressive. The airlift, you know, was newsworthy. You know, the airlift, which we made, drove the Arabs crazy, which is what counts for the Arab oil embargo and whatever. That is actually not quite correct, but the Arabs again thought here the American-Israeli alliance is just too formidable for us. So, part of the Arab rationalization for what they would do and subsequently was that we can’t defeat the Americans. Israel, maybe we could defeat, but we can’t defeat the Americans. And here, again, the Americans have just shown, you know, they’re not going to let us defeat the Israelis. So, I mean, we thought, you know. . .The strategic outcome of that war was, again, tremendous, for the United States, which is a reassurance to Israel. I mean, Israel was reassured by the fact that it was going to be under American auspices and not Soviet auspices, and the fact that we had again, humiliated the Soviets was an important factor in the Israeli calculations. You know, what is it that they’re buying into. Well, if they were buying into some UN negotiating process, then the hell with it, but they were buying. . .We were asking them to buy into something that was dominated by their best ally. With Kissinger there, whom I think they did trust because here’s a guy whose sympathy. . .You know, whose affection for Israel, whose, you know, loyalty’s not the word. . .Whose sympathy for Israel, whose commitment. . .
KWS: His identity with Israel was not a question
PR: Was a not question. Moreover, for all of the controversies that emerged over the years, the people who worked with him over the years, the people that worked with him did not doubt that. The government people who were in hours and hours and hours of conversation with him knew what his strategy was. He sold it to him when he gave him the reasons for why it was the best thing for them to do and the need for the peace process. They had to contribute something. They had to be willing to pay some price. . .pay something into the pot in order to keep the United States in the dominant position in the Middle East, to keep the Soviets out, to keep the radicals off balance. I mean, the whole strategic speech he used to give a hundred times. You know, you look at the issue in terms of the quid-pro-quo with Egypt, which is one thing, but the big. . . The strategic issue was always . . . You have to keep this thing going. You have a peace process it gives you your best protection against pressure. Your peace process… it allows the United States to shield you from pressure, and international, Soviet, radical, everything. It keeps us in the driver seat. It strengthens the moderates. You know, with Sadat… he was saying this is a chance here for something important. He never made the same argument about Syria. He never said Syria’s a moderate. He said Syria’s coming along because there are options that will close, and . . . Egypt. There’s a chance for some interesting new relationships. Syria, no. But the Syrians, the fact the Syrians are playing this game is because, you know the process is going our way and they feel they don’t have a lot of choice which vindicates the whole peace process. You’re putting the moderates in the driver’s seat in the Arab world and the radicals are forced to come along because they’re off balance. So, Egypt would make the strategic argument over and over again, and…
KWS: I guess Dayan and Rabin would understand it.
PR: Well, they all, of course. . .they understood, and their problem was a domestic. . .you know, a horrendous domestic situation.
KWS: Yeah, they had elections coming up.
PR: Well, they had a Likud in opposition, and a lot of the process going on really was the United States and the Israeli leadership . . . The Israeli government leadership trying to work out a strategy that would. . .That they could sell at home. That they could survive at home, in the face of a vicious domestic opposition. And, it was basic. . .Well, I don’t want to use words that get him in trouble, but the Labor Party leadership understood the strategic arguments, and they and we were on a similar wavelength. And the problem was, what could they handle. What could they survive? What could they sell at home…what would work at home, and we would coordinate with them. . .I mean another thing the Israelis got out of it was that if they’re willing to play the game and contribute something and come up with their own suggestions for withdrawal, we would sell that to the Arabs. I mean, we would coordinate with them first, and what could they do, and we sort of forced them to come up with something. Then we’d go to the Arabs and say look, this we think we can get. You know, you want X, Y, Z. You want the ‘67 borders. You can’t get it. This is something I think I can deliver. He would always say, oh I think we’re the great. . . He said I’m not sure, with great effort and you know, maybe I can get this for you. Having worked out with the Israelis roughly the concept of something that he thought he could get.
KWS: Understated no ?
PR: Yeah, but it was. . . You had to sort of strategic coordination with the Israelis in the whole negotiation. This is something that we obviously lost with Likud because Likud does not share our basic premises on a lot of the peace process. Certainly, on the West Bank issue. But you know. . .
KWS: Here, Let me. Let me shift…
PR: But that. . . so what Israel was getting was, you know, a chance to shape the process, a trusted ally being in charge of it, and, basically, a game that would keep their enemies off balance. They had to pay something for it. They had to dig in deep into their pockets and give us something they could give up, and…but in return they got, I think, our protection and our protection from pressure.
KWS: Let me, time’s running and what I really need from you is an account, as you recall it, of what the Geneva conference was like. I mean physically when you’re there. What was it like when you got there? What did you anticipate? What happened? What did you see? How did the delegations react and interact with one another? It’s very difficult for me to get people to recollect exactly what happened during those two days in Geneva, and I really need you to see if you can remember.
PR: Well, it was. . .In those days, it was as unprecedented as Madrid was, and the fact that you had these people. . .well, let’s say hadn’t not since Rhodes have you had anything. In fact, you haven’t had anything quite this public in years. I mean, you know.
KWS: You hadn’t.
PR: You may know whether there was someone else earlier, but. . . So, in a minor way it was. . . There was a certain emotion that here you’re getting people in the same room that are at a pivotal moment and people making a commitment to a negotiating process and at a certain emotional pause. You get everybody there, and maybe it will be. . .you know the beginning of. . .It did seem like a milestone and getting them in the same room was new, and it was a little bit exciting. Now, realistically, you weren’t going to get a whole lot. I mean Fahmy, the Egyptians were scared out of their wits to be seen with the Israelis, and you had this demeaning outcome in the seating arrangements where, you know, the empty chairs. . .The Soviets was on one side and an empty seat on the other because nobody wanted to sit next to them. So, I mean, it was drained of a lot of its emotional impact by the basic timidity of the Arabs. The speeches were mild. I guess they were moderate, and, just like in Madrid, you want the process to contribute to this conciliatory atmosphere, not inflame the atmosphere. So, we thought, you know, moderate speeches, and everybody just expounded their position. So, it was not a dramatic. . .I said it was drained a lot of . . . drained of a lot of its positive psychological impact. And I think a number of us knew it was a charade because we had already had these extensive discussions with the Egyptians and, to some degree, with the Syrians on disengagement. The Syrians, just like the Egyptians, wanted us to be handling it, no doubt about it. You did not hear the Syrians say we insist that the Soviets be doing this. They, like everybody else, knew that American engagement was crucial here. So, that was the Arabs incentive to behave themselves in Geneva and not to pursue the comprehensiveness in any of its other guises. The Jordanians are very bitter ever since because they weren’t part of this little deal, and I’ve had bitter arguments myself with Ziad Rafai, who thinks it was all a plot against Jordan. Our intention was to do Jordan after Syria. To go Egypt, Jordan. . .Egypt, Syria, and then something with Jordan. You know, Jordan was not belligerent in this war, so arguably you don’t deal with them right away. Secondly, we were all disguising this as disengagement of forces, separation of forces, strengthening the ceasefire. So, again, Jordan wasn’t a player in the first instance, but our intention was to get to that in sequence, which is a whole other story. So, it was not a plot against Jordan, but obviously there was no pre-cooking with Jordan for this conference, but there was with Egypt, and to some degree, with Syria. And disengagement was discussed at Geneva as the first item of business. And the Soviets. . . I think the Soviets were. . . I don’t think they knew from nothing. I mean Gromyko was not a great genius on the. . . The ineptitude of Soviet diplomacy has been in layers and I don’t think the Soviet foreign ministry understood, you know, what it all meant, but we sold them disengagement, they didn’t know. They did not have a clue how to deal with the Israelis either, so Kissinger was in a position to persuade them that this is the best strategy. What they were assuming was jointness of procedure and…
KWS: But they had to take pretty much what we gave them, huh?
PR: Well, we, you know. Henry tried to stroke them and he met with Gromyko frequently and we kept them informed sporadically and we set up this process, which, of course, never materialized. It was with Elsworth Bunker and with Vinogradov that turned out to be. . . Well, we didn’t want any reconvening of Geneva, but in theory was the Geneva Conference might reconvene and you know. But the reality was…
KWS: Elsworth’s appointment before the conference, Kissinger understood, that he was still going to keep this for himself?
PR: Well yeah. Well Bunker was a great guy. Bunker was loyal, smart. So, I mean. . .
KWS: And he knew it too.
KWS: Sure, he knew it.
PR: Well, I think. . .we would try. We didn’t know how. . .we weren’t . . . I think we were pleasantly surprised at various stages of how well it was going.
KWS: Michael Sterner says it was a wonderful forty days in Geneva
PR: Well, Michael, yeah… but I mean the key was the Syrians who always have this ability to disrupt the process and, even to this day in fact. I was worried last year as the Syrians would throw a monkey wrench into this, and I’m struck now by the weakness of the Syrians. And I was wrong about my concerns before about Madrid, but, back then, there was something in it for the Syrians too. Which is all we. . .You know, that’s the answer.
KWS: You said something at the USIP meeting, and I’m paraphrasing. You said the sheer ferocity of their political will to flaunt gave them a blocking power . . .we didn’t understand then.
PR: Well, I think we thought they were formidable. That mixes a couple different things. The reason it all worked out was that I think early on the Israelis must have told us that yes, they’re willing to do a disengagement on the Golan. So, we were able to say this to the Syrians. And the Syrians knew they could get something. Whoa, the Israelis were in the suburbs of Damascus. So, we had tremendous leverage over the Syrians, probably more than we realized, but my point then was, at the USIP thing was the Syrians had this amazing ability to create leverage out of pure will. I mean, here are the Israelis sitting in the suburbs of Damascus and the Syrians were shelling. . .you know, there was a lot of shelling going on. Now, who has the… who is in the stronger bargaining position? Who needs this agreement more? Well, the more you think about it in retrospect, the Syrians needed this damn agreement. But, you know, the shelling was kind of demoralizing for the Israelis. They didn’t really want this . . . they decide that maybe the war was still festering or something, you know. So, the Israelis wanted a ceasefire. So, the Syrians created bargaining power out of the fact that they sort of had this threat to keep the whole thing going implicitly. They created the impression that they didn’t care whether they had an agreement or not. I mean, this is the most effective bargaining power you can have is when you make the other side think you don’t really care. You don’t care if this negotiation breaks down. And, but, you know, there are a number of small countries it’s like De Gaulle himself. France was basically weak, but he created by this force of will.
KWS: Used this same analogy. . .
PR: You know, he made France count because suddenly you had to take account of its view and the implacability of it and its willingness to defy, you know, American importuning’s. I mean Syria has always been objectively weak–doesn’t have oil but has the ability to get weapons and get money from the other Arabs partly because it intimidates and… Basically, its ability to intimidate the other Arabs has given it the wherewithal for a very formidable military posture over the years. I think what’s happened now in 1991-92, is Syria’s kind of run out of its . . .You know, it used to have the Soviets. . .They’ve run out of some of these tricks. Their bag of tricks is a little emptier, but certainly back then they were terror incognito. Certainly, Kissinger never met anybody like Assad. We thought they were very pro-Soviet and, but again. . .
KWS: You were at the December 15 meeting. The six-hour meeting?
PR: I guess. We used to rotate. I was. . .
KWS: This is the invitation meeting where until they get down to the very last . . .
PR: I was in some of it. I mean, there were lots of meetings…probably. I didn’t remember.
KWS: Joe’s got a great memory of that meeting.
PR: Yeah where he said . . . he said he wasn’t going to go. He’s happy with the invitation, but…
KWS: He thinks. . .Everything’s fine, except Syria’s not going.
PR: But, you know, the point is that the important thing is that the Syrians didn’t have any objection to the procedures. I mean, the fact that they didn’t show up is beside the point. The important fact is that they didn’t block the process. They didn’t care if Egypt. . . I mean, they didn’t. . . they were basically signing on to this disengagement idea. This idea of an Egyptian negotiation and a Syrian negotiation.
KWS: Did Assad know?
PR: The disengagement. . .Well they had what they wanted. They wanted a commitment from us to do a disengagement negotiation. They didn’t care about Geneva.
KWS: Assad realized that after an Israeli-Egyptian (agreement), that Sadat needed a Syrian-Israeli (one).
PR: That Sadat needed it? I’m sure he understood. . .Yeah, he under. . .I’m sure he understood that with Sadat going first it. . .he had a choice. He could either sit it out…you know, he could either boycott this process or come in, but Assad. . .
KWS: He knew he had to come back to it.
PR: Well he needed it. Well we attended to it. It was no . . . we were not trying to exclude Syria. On the contrary. What was interesting was the Syrian willingness to play along with the process. They wanted our disengagement. And they wanted the Americans to do it and it was. . .This was a plus for us.
KWS: But Assad decided not to go couldn’t block the conference.
PR: Yeah. No. The fact that he didn’t go was beside. . .was amusing, but not. . . he didn’t sabotage it. The fact that he didn’t object to the letter, he didn’t. . .More importantly, he didn’t object to the Egyptians going ahead with it. He didn’t declare war on the whole thing which is what we were afraid of.
KWS: Herman Eilts told me. . .
PR: Which is I was afraid of around. . . before Madrid that he could veto, he could block other Arabs from making their moves with us.
KWS: Herman Eilts told me that there were two Syrian officers who joined the Egyptian delegation as civilians and sat at the conference with the Egyptian task force, but they were Syrian. Do you know anything?
PR: Yeah. I don’t remember. I heard that. I don’t know.
KWS: Anyway, Herman’s recollection of what was, by the way, is extraordinary.
PR: He was in a lot of the meetings and he was well briefed.
KWS: He talks quite frequently to me. probably because. . .quite pointedly about how Fahmy wanted much, much more for Geneva.
PR: Well Fahmy is… I think the westernized elite could not afford to be seen compromising too much, so they were the most radical…not radical, but they were the most intransigent.
PR: And they. . .which was a disservice to Sadat because it’s put on his shoulders all the compromises. I mean, Sadat would have to be persuaded by us you know, you couldn’t get the moon, you had to settle for this. But all Sadat’s advisers were saying, and I’m sure letting it be known that they were saying, you know, holding out for more, and Sadat was a lonely man because he had the people in his own government were scared out of their wits, scared for their lives probably, and you would not get creative ideas out of Egyptian bureaucracy about compromise. And Sadat had to make the compromises himself-overruling his advisors.
KWS: Did Sadat ever raise the Palestinian issue with you guys? Or, was it more Fahmy?
PR: It came up. Yeah, he would. . .well, I’m sure they both did. I mean, they would make a pitch for Arafat and… maybe I’m melding various time periods in my mind. The Egyptians, again, probably to cover their little butts always had to show they were the champions of the PLO and would. . . This was in the Schulz period, they would want the record to show that they had tried. I mean, I think that this is just to cover their flank, or they tried to. And I think back in those days, I don’t . . . There was probably a little of that and we had a little channel going with Arafat for a while through a CIA channels…communications, but they were not impressive.
KWS: Were you aware of the Algiers summit of November of ‘73? In which Jordan and the PLO were going to go at each on about who was going to represent what.
PR: I forget all of that.
KWS: Yeah. Saunders and Sisco and Quandt, everyone who was involved in this say, listen our focus was on Egypt. Our focus was on Sadat. What went on in the Algiers summit barely came…
PR: Right, foreshadowed Rabat a year later.
KWS: Right, but it barely came into our skin.
PR: Well that’s a whole other story about Rabat and I’ll get to that. . . We don’t have the time to do that now, but. . . no, Jordan was going to be third in line. That was our strategy.
KWS: But Rifai doesn’t have any claim that you guys were out to get him?
PR: Well he is convinced; I mean, I was at a meeting where I ran into him a few years ago, and I mentioned this, but you talk about Geneva why. . . I was arguing why international conferences aren’t usually a good idea because they work only when they’re pre-cooked. This got him upset because he said, you know, we weren’t part of this cooking and which confirmed his worst suspicions of what we were up to, but I mean, it’s misunderstanding.
PR: We all knew it was going to be hardest for the Israelis.
KWS: If Jordan received the West Bank. . .
PR: The West Bank, of course it was. But… and then, you know…We talk about the Rabat Arab Summit and whose fault it is. That was screwed up. One of the dumbest things the Arabs had done in the last fifty years was the Arab Summit. I mean, it cost the Palestinians 18 years. They’re still paying the price. I mean, it took 18 years to undo the stupidity of the Rabat Summit.
KWS: Peter, why did Syria not go to the conference?
PR: I think it was a little too soon for them to be sitting down next. . . near Israelis. I mean, whatever. You know while I was before disparaging about how important it was to have all these people together, it was a certain symbolism that to us it was an achievement of something positive. The Syrians weren’t ready for that . . . They were several years behind the Egyptians in terms of the sort of public stamp.
KWS: What role did the oil embargo play upon the pace of what you were doing?
PR: Well it did add some urgency, and we didn’t want to show it. I mean, we didn’t want to admit it, but it was hard to, you know, pretend otherwise. And, you know, Kissinger would be very abrupt with the Arabs saying you can’t do this. You know, we don’t react under blackmail. He had tried to imply that he would not proceed unless there was some assurance that this thing would end, but it just wasn’t realistic. We had the impression the Saudis were trapped. The Saudis were very embarrassed being in this position. Maybe they were conning us, but Saudi Arabia had stayed out of the Arab-Israeli issue for years, you know, just for its own protection. It didn’t want to be in the middle of this, you know, madness. And now, suddenly they were thrust into the forefront of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the diplomacy, and they were subject to pressures from us, which I think did scare them, and pressures from the radicals if they did anything else. So, we did have the sense that they were genuinely uncomfortable. But we also had a sense that they were scared out of their wits to do us any favors, so we were sort of stuck with this thing. But I think even if that hadn’t happened, we would have been doing this anyway. So I mean, Kissinger could justify to himself that we proceeded with these negotiations and wanted to get it started and what he did, you know, he got the Arabs to make commitments I guess at each step. By the time the Syrian thing was done, I think, isn’t that, I forget when it was lifted.
KWS: March ‘74.
PR: March. So even before the Syrian…
KWS: According to everyone that I’ve met . . .
PR: I think he may have convinced the Arabs that we wouldn’t go ahead with the Syrian negotiations if they didn’t lift it, so he was sort of dealing from weakness here. Well, I don’t know. It was a balance.
KWS: I think he convinced the Saudis that, for any movement to further go with Egypt, he first had to get one with Syria and I think, according to Quandt, and Saunders anyway their view to me was, that the Saudis actually told Kissinger look, if you make a commitment toward going towards a Syrian-Israeli agreement we can lift the embargo.
PR: Yeah. Well. . .
KWS: No. Not lift the embargo but increase production and then ultimately lift the embargo.
PR: Well, that’s actually… That’s right, the production thing was more important. No, we had to sort of somehow turn it to our advantage, but the fact is we had our own reasons for wanting a Syrian negotiation. In order to cover Sadat’s rear end.
PR: So . . .
KWS: A combination of both.
PR: Yeah, but we got the Arabs. . .We sort of said we’re doing this for you guys so, you know, come on. And he did make that point over and over to the Saudis, that, you know, here we are exerting ourselves, producing results and this is offensive to us. So, I mean, it got lifted into the normal course.
KWS: Alright, the last question: At any point did Sadat fear that Kissinger was losing his power or ability because of the weakening condition of Nixon? Did it ever have an impact upon Golda or Sadat?
PR: Well, it contributed to the breakdown of the negotiations in March ‘75. No. I’m thinking of something else. The fall of Vietnam contributed to the breakdown. No, but they would worry about American steadiness.
KWS: But Kissinger had the authority to make the decisions. . .
PR: Well, he did. I think they were all nervous about it. Nobody really understood it. I mean, I don’t think we understood exactly how deep it went. I mean, how weakening. . .
KWS: I talked with Evron; I talked to Eban; I talked with Dinitz; and all three of them said we (the Israelis) were aware of Watergate, but it had no impact upon us, in our willingness to deal with Henry, or to allow the United States. . .
PR: Well, it shows Kissinger’s. . .Kissinger had seen. In the Spring of ‘73, the possibility arose that he might be Secretary of State. I argued with him. I said, you know, why do you want to be Secretary of State. You can’t travel secretly, you know, blah, blah, blah. You have this whole bureaucracy to run. And he said, Peter, you don’t understand anything. He knew that the White House as an institutional base would be fatal. All his authority with a bureaucracy, let alone with anybody else came from presidential authority, which was fine. There was a brilliant. . .a magnificent platform up until the surprising of ‘73. So, once he became Secretary of State, he had his own control of the levers of the US Government and the personal prestige and he… without that institutional base, he would not have been able to do it. So, the shift from the White House to the State was what enabled him. . . you know, gave him the ability to keep this thing going and his personal prestige, which is a very extraordinary thing in addition.
KWS: He carried that with him.
PR: He carried that with him because there was popular support, there was congressional. . .In this country, you know, he tended to his own base of power, particularly on the Middle East. And there was plenty of congressional support for what he was doing, and he made a point of cultivating people. . .
KWS: He consciously did that?
PR: Consciously. Especially, on the Middle East which is very tricky domestically as one notices occasionally, and, you know, the Jewish community and he constantly meeting with the presidents conference and explaining what he was doing and why and what the dilemmas were and, you know, so, he was, I think behaving normally, that accounts for his ability to pull this off and to take on himself the political authority of the United States even as Nixon was draining away. And it’s an extraordinary thing in itself. You know, the American political history, and so the foreigners did not notice, I mean, as I said, they did not notice any effect of it.
KWS: That’s right.
PR: So, in the war. . . In the October War… was a little bit hairy because of some of the bureaucratic disarray and certain insubordination in the Defense Department. I mean, some of this may have reflected Nixon’s weakness. It factored in there, but in the diplomacy it didn’t. And, people. . .Foreigners have a hard time gauging what this all means. I mean, when they see all the turbulence. People sort of deal with the people who deal with them. Nixon had out foxed a lot of people before and they couldn’t count him out, and they couldn’t count out the United States, which, by every objective measure was in a brilliant strategic position in the Middle East.
KWS: The October War really helped them.
PR: The October War added to the impression that Kissinger and Nixon had been trying to create that we are. . . We are the pivotal factor, and nothing happens without us, and we can block anybody else’s maneuvers. And, you know, we are the one with…holding the cards, and we still were holding the cards. Anyway, I’ve got to run.