Ken Stein Interviews with Ambassador Michael Sterner, Washington, DC

(13 May 1992 and 17 June 1993)

(Permission to publish the interviews granted by Michael Sterner, May 1992)

Michael Sterner had numerous US State Department postings pertaining to the Middle East during a career that spanned the late 1950s through 1979. He served as US Ambassador to the UAE from 1974-1976 so he obtained a sense of Arab state views of evolving American foreign policy toward negotiations under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Sterner was posted to the 1973 Middle East Peace Conference held in Geneva and his recollections of how Kissinger kept the Soviets out of the negotiations is valuable because he also saw in October 1977 how the Carter administration intended to invite  Moscow back into the negotiations!  Sterner’s last position was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Near Eastern branch of the State Department, a position which he held from 1976 to 1979; this gave him a close up view of the evolving changes and nuances in American foreign policy toward the Arab world and Israel in the midst of unfolding Egyptian-Israeli negotiations. Sterner did not attend the Camp David talks in September 1978, but did attend the MENA House talks in December 1977 and the most important Leeds Castle talks in July 1978.   Significantly, Sterner served as the State Department’s Desk Officer from 1970-1974 where he spent considerable time in getting to know and engaging President Sadat both before and the October 1973 War. 

This interview provides significant insights into Sadat’s thinking prior to the 1973 War and specific recollections of his exchanges with Sadat.  Sadat according to Sterner, saw any Israeli withdrawals from Sinai as taking place in stages. Sadat said, “Look, this can be a first stage. What we’re talking about here, Israeli withdrawal from the canal, or reopening the canal, pull back, and so forth, is, has to be a first stage in an overall settlement that, that provides for total Israeli withdrawal. And I’m really very flexible.” And he told us — I mean, when I went out to see him in April of 1971, he told us at that time, “Look, the details aren’t terribly important. The Israelis want to only withdraw 25 kilometers or they want to 75 kilometers or they want this or that, that doesn’t matter to me. The only thing that’s important is that I have the ultimate commitment now, before any actions take place, that there is going be a final withdrawal.” And basically, the Israelis were going prepare to accept that politically. And I think the difference between the White House and the State Department in those days, was that the state department would have been prepared to press the Israelis harder to try to make some kind of linkage there that Sadat was, would have accepted, although we knew it had to be a much weaker linkage than he wanted. Whereas Kissinger, I think, saw it as being something that we ought to press, we ought to keep working on Sadat and eventually he would cave on this issue and do the deal. Because reopening of the canal, partial withdrawal, was sufficient game for it—it ought to stand on its own. And of course, that’s very much what Golda Meir wanted.” With this information, we learn that it was Sadat who encouraged Kissinger to engage in step-by-step diplomacy after the October 1973 War. 

Sterner takes us through his view of the issuance of the October 1977 US-Soviet Declaration that was done behind Israel’s back, and though he understood the motivation of his superiors to secure Soviet engagement, he noted, “But looking back on it, I think it would have been dumb [to invite in the Soviets] really, now [and] that the Israelis were right to be upset.”

Notably, Sterner takes the strong view that Sadat was pleased to have Carter negotiate the details for him with the Israelis. He believes that without someone holding fast to a strong position against Sadat’s creeping objective to secure a bilateral arrangement with Israel and abandon Palestinian rights, such as his former Foreign Minister, Ismail Fahmy, it was easier for Sadat to accept and sign what was a bilateral agreement with Israel that reached a treaty between them. Fahmy had resigned his Foreign Minister position in protest, just prior to Sadat’s surprise November 1977 visit to Jerusalem. Here Sterner seems to have forgotten that Sadat was not going to let his Jerusalem initiative fall short of success: Sinai’s return. Sadat was not the committed pan-Arabist that Nasser had been in the 1950s and 1960s.

Sterner held his view strongly. He was most emphatic about Sadat making the mistake not to link progress on Palestinian self-determination to progress in Egyptian-Israeli treaty talks, He said, “Sadat, I think Sadat made a terrible mistake by not saying with the greatest respect and kindness to Carter, “We’ve done a wonderful job here, we’ve got seven-eighths of it or three-quarters of it done, but unfortunately, just these issues we should have made the important ones, particularly linkage with what happened with the Palestinian problems, it should have been [inaudible] and maybe, you know, something on Jerusalem could have gone public, in public opinion, could have gotten most of those things, in my opinion because the Israelis had the hook in their mouth on this bilateral, it had gone so far in the bilateral agreement, I don’t think the Israelis, you know, Begin and Dayan were already tasting victory on this. It was a terrible strategic, [mistake on Carter’s part].” Sterner’s view was held by other State Department officials at the time who dearly wanted significant progress toward fulfillment of Palestinian political rights, and felt that Carter did not push the Israelis sufficiently at and after the Camp David talks.


Ken Stein, April 21, 2022

Ken Stein Interviews with Ambassador Michael Sterner. Washington, D.C.

(13 May 1992 and 17 June 1993)

KWS: Interview with Ambassador Michael Sterner, May 13, 1992, Washington D.C.

KWS: What position did you hold just prior to the ’73 War in [inaudible].

MS: I was director of Egyptian affairs.

KWS: Appointed when? 

MS: Appointed in about June or July of 1970, so I’d been on the job for about two and a half years.

KWS: June or July of 1970, so you were there when [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat expelled the Soviets?

MS: You’re right. That is correct.

KWS: That was July of ’72.

MS: Actually, I checked on to the desk at that job about three months before the death of Nasser, and accession of power of Sadat. So, I, I was director of Egyptian affairs all during the early part of Sadat’s presidency.

KWS: Corrective Revolution, [unintelligible] and all that stuff.

MS: That’s right, exactly. Suppressing the attempted coup by Nasserites, um, kicking the Soviets out in ’72, opening diplomatic channels to us, and so forth.

KWS: How were those diplomatic channels opened? Were you knowledgeable about the Hafez Ismail Kissinger meetings in Armonk?

MS: Um, the answer is we were knowledgeable that something was going on in the state — you know, in the early period, in the 1970 period, when Sadat first came in, the state department was conducting most of the business and Henry and the White House was still, a little bit, holding themselves back. As time went on, however, Kissinger played more and more of a prominent role and Rogers’ position was slipping, along with it — all of [Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph] Sisco and the other professionals tried to do something out there. And we lost control of the talks after it proved in 1971, you may remember, there was this sequence of shuttles out there with [Secretary of State William] Rogers going out to try to get something done. And in fact, what Sadat was talking about was a disengagement and partial withdrawal along the Sinai — along the Suez.

KWS: February 1971.

MS: That’s right. It started in February ’71 and went on through ’71. As those talks went into the ground, Kissinger sort of took the thing over using back channels by opening secret talks with Hafez Ismail.

KWS: Even when Rogers was still secretary of state?

MS: Even while Rogers was still secretary.

KWS: Did Rogers know about the back channel?

MS: You know, Ken, I I think he must have been informed. I think it would have been unconscionable for Kissinger not to keep him informed. But I think his instructions to Rogers was that, while this was going on and while these meetings were happening, that the people within, on, his staff in the state department who knew ought to be limited. I think Joe knew, but I think that the instruction was to cut it off there. So, I don’t think anybody with the deputy level or the director level in the state department knew about it.

KWS: When did —   

MS: I found out about it, but I found out surreptitiously, maybe some time —

KWS: You found out about the Hafez-Ismail —

MS: Yeah, I knew, I found out after the fact then that they had happened. I found, I knew who was involved in it. But it was extremely closely held. Not that many people did know…

KWS: Did you find out about the content insofar as it had an impact upon American foreign policy, that Sadat was presenting to Henry this notion that, uh, I want to break the stalemate, I want you guys to, to help us do that. How much did you know —

MS: Well —

KWS: — that was different from what Hafez Ismail was communicating to Henry?

MS: Well, I mean, that was very much Sadat’s message to Rogers and Sisco and all of us earlier. So the message hadn’t changed but the channel had changed. And Sadat, you know, is a very adventurous character and if someone came to him on his staff and said, “Look, the real power is, the real power is not Bill Rogers and those guys — they’re nice guys — but the real power is this man Henry, and he’s Jewish, but that doesn’t matter,” and so forth and so on, you know, “That’s where the power is.” Sadat would have instantly abandoned all of the professionals and start dealing with this guy. It’s the way he ran his own government, you know. He wanted to, he wanted to create a one-on-one direct relationship with el Presidente, the one with supreme power in another country. And he was easily talked into the idea that you went out of channels to do that. And so this, he just seized this advice and I think Kissinger did his best to promote it, although in the end I don’t think Kissinger had any reason, those talks failed along with the earlier ones was that there was an incompatibility between — a very fundamental incompatibility — between what Sadat was trying to sell and what we were prepared to accept and above all, what the Israelis were prepared to accept.

KWS: How would you define incompatibility?

MS: Well, the basic problem was, uh, that Sadat was not willing to detach a limited agreement on the canal from what happened, what had to happen afterwards, or what everybody hoped to happen afterwards. In other words, detach it from the overall peace process. What Sadat was saying until the end — unless there’s something about the Hafez-Ismail talks that I don’t know, and that’s always possible — but what Sadat was saying until the end was, “Look, this can be a first stage. What we’re talking about here, Israeli withdrawal from the canal, or reopening the canal, pull back, and so forth, is, has to be a first stage in an overall settlement that, that provides for total Israeli withdrawal. And I’m really very flexible.” And he told us — I mean, when I went out to see him in April of 1971, he told us at that time, “Look, the details aren’t terribly important. The Israelis want to only withdraw 25 kilometers or they want to 75 kilometers or they want this or that, that doesn’t matter to me. The only thing that’s important is that I have the ultimate commitment now, before any actions take place, that there is going be a final withdrawal.” And basically, the Israelis were going prepare to accept that politically. And I think the difference between the White House and the state department in those days, was that the state department would have been prepared to press the Israelis harder to try to make some kind of linkage there that Sadat was, would have accepted, although we knew it had to be a much weaker linkage than he wanted. Whereas Kissinger, I think, saw it as being something that we ought to press, we ought to keep working on Sadat and eventually he would cave on this issue and do the deal. Because reopening of the canal, partial withdrawal, was sufficient game for it—it ought to stand on its own. And of course, that’s very much what Golda Meir wanted. 

KWS: What you’re saying is that before the ’73 War, Henry was trying to persuade Sadat that a partial or phased withdrawal would be sufficient to begin with, without making some sort of long-term commitment about — that it would be total withdrawal on all fronts.

MS: That’s right. There was a linkage — it was a linkage problem. And I don’t even recall the, all Sadat was insisting a whole lot about all fronts at that time. But he was talking about his own territory. That this had to be linked to a commitment to a total withdrawal.

KWS: Total withdrawal from territory which was —

MS: — certainly his own territory —

KWS: Right. 

MS: — and probably, if we’d ever come down to brass tacks about this, Ken, you know it would have involved other— he couldn’t have left the other Arabs in the lurch at that point. He was prepared to do that in 1979, but in 1971, I don’t think he was. Or ’72. Or ’73.

KWS: This is April of ’71. This is before the Corrective Revolution, he was saying this to you. That’s interesting. 

MS: Yeah, the sequence was that — if you’re interested in this much background, I —

KWS: Well, it’s interesting to me that this was a month before Musa Sabri  and company were sort of put on the shelf.

MS: Yes, it was. That’s right. Sadat — we really didn’t know what Sadat was capable of, or whether he had any real power as long as these Nasserites — and the rumors at that time — Cairo was full of rumors that Sadat was a temporary figure. And that the [Nasserites] Sami Sharaf, [Sha’arawi] Guma, Ali Sabri and those guys, these old holdovers, were gonna make a move. And were really [unintelligible], so you ought to just bide your time and wait for the real power to emerge. I went out there in April and, just as it happened, on a desk officer-type visit, and Sadat received me because oddly enough I had been his escort officer to take him around the country, and I didn’t expect anything more than a courtesy call. But in fact, [senior U.S. diplomat in Egypt] Don Bergus and I sat with him for two and a half hours, and he had launched into this big army topographic map brought out of the Sinai. He drew lines on the map. He really wanted to talk turkey. It was a bombshell to me because — although we had gotten little rumors about this, people had come to Don Bergus, Don had even seen Sadat a couple of times and he sketched out some of these ideas and they were interesting — I came back to the department after this, really convinced that this guy wanted to do business. It still remained a question of how much he could do business, but that he was a totally different kettle of fish from Nasser. And a month later, these guys attempted to pull off a coup, Sadat jumped the gun on them instead — and that increased the whole interest. And Rogers, in the meantime, performed a sweep of his trip, I can’t remember whether it happened in April or May, and whether it came just before or just after the attempted coup, but I went along on that trip with him, maybe late April. And Sadat really had a lot of very interesting and enticing things to say. Unfortunately, on the other side, in Israel, Golda was interested. But the more she heard from Sadat, the more she said, you know, “This is real interesting. What more does he have?” The more, you know, he gave, the more she seemed to be saying, “Maybe this guy is going to be totally different and is willing to make total peace so, you know, let’s not make a quick deal here. How far will he come?” And at the same time, she was saying, “But on the other hand, is this guy flashing his hand in terms of the power of business?” I mean, the response was very frustrating for the American officials dealing with her at the time. And you felt like saying, “What the hell does the man have to do in order to prove himself here?” Well then, I was sent out a second time to see, because Sadat thought right after the failed coup to move against the Nasserites, he concluded a U.S.-, I mean, an Egyptian-Soviet friendship, which looked like — I knew what it was. It was compensation for having moved against the Nasserites, which worried the Soviets. And they didn’t want to break with the Soviets at that time. But, the upper decks of the state department and the White House were not — were happy about this because it seemed to reverse what Sadat had been saying to us; he wanted closer relations with the U.S. and so forth. So, I went out there with a set of questions.

KWS: This would be when? 

MS: This was July of 1971. And then — and I got reassurances from Sadat. He answered all of my questions, “Does this alter in any way what you told us earlier? What’s the significance of this?’” He downplayed the whole thing. He said it’s virtually pro forma, it doesn’t mean anything. He said, “I’m actually easing the Soviets out of here” — which he was. And he had the intelligence to confirm that. And so, so that, that was, you know, eased things. Then Sisco went out in August and we worked away at this idea, gave him even further ideas. We got nowhere, as usual, in Israel. Sisco went to the president and said, “Can I use arms that were being requested by the Israelis as leverage?” Nixon pondered that, I remember, and he went out to San Clemente [unintelligible], anyway, his summer place in California, and I didn’t go along. But Sisco, I remember, went out there to plead with him, that he needed some leverage, he needed to get tough with the Israelis on this one. Otherwise, they were just going to pocket everything and wait for Sadat [unintelligible]. Nixon, at this point, was looking — it began to be apparent that Nixon was beginning to get worried about the ’72 elections, and — to think about them at any rate and decided he did not want a confrontation with the Israelis, at least not on this issue. And Sisco came back and he handed — and I remember he was in a terrible mood for about ten days, that’s right, you know, sort of kicking all the sub-bureaucrats around him. Joe is a little bit like that because he was — he knew this was the end of the road. You know, we weren’t gonna get anywhere and I don’t think he wanted to say it. But Sadat had gone further and further, but we were beginning to sense that he wasn’t gonna be getting any further, not only wasn’t getting any further, but he was beginning to withdraw some of the offers that he had made earlier. Well, with this frustration, someone goes to Sadat and says “You know, part of the problem is that you’re dealing with the wrong guy back there in Washington. This guy Rogers is nowhere. Henry Kissinger is the power [unintelligible]. And then it switched and the back channels [unintelligible]. Henry decided, you know, maybe this meant terrible [unintelligible], partly because Mohammed Riad was foreign minister, who was hardlining, unimaginative, intelligent but unimaginative, deeply distrustful man, of what Anwar Sadat was going to do. And was not a loyal foreign minister.

KWS: Dyed-in-the-wool Nasserite?

MS: Yeah, pretty much. Actually [unintelligible] something. You know, I think that’s a really a fair characterization. So, anyway, he, in a sense, you know, Henry, I think, had a point in saying “Let’s try a different channel. Let’s get rid of Riad, let’s get rid of the state department and let’s just sit down with the two immediate advisors to the — Ismail sort of had the NSC type job. [unintelligible]. And let’s sit down and see what we can develop, in close huddling with our leaders.” And, uh, you know, it didn’t go any further because of the incompatibility of the objectives. The state department talks did. And then, after the second — after Sisco meeting, Sadat, decided, “I gotta go to war, to get their attention. I gotta do something long term.” So he began.

KWS: What did you make of Sadat’s ejection of the Soviets in ’72? Were you surprised?

MS: No, I wasn’t. I mean I sound like I was some sort of impressing character, but in fact, having seen Sadat for a full year now, or nine months — no, wait — no, it was more than a year in office, I knew what he wanted to do. I didn’t know necessarily that he’d throw the Soviets out, but he wanted really to break Egypt’s strategic relations, exclusive strategic relationship with the Soviets, and use the United States. We did not know at that time how far he was gonna be prepared to go in that sense, to try to make us the strategic asset. It was a very hardheaded evaluation of power reality. He saw the Soviets as the declining power and the United States as the real power in Middle Eastern affairs. He was dead right about it and one thing about Sadat was he wasn’t prepared to let the old Nasserist ideology, you know of the 1950s, interfere with that. Nasser would never have made that decision. Even if he had felt entitled, he couldn’t have gotten rid of his old values that [unintelligible]. So, I wasn’t surprised, no.

KWS: You think — were you surprised that he threw them out without asking something from the United States in return? Wouldn’t it have made sense to have come to us in June and say “Look, this is what I want to do?”

MS: Yeah, yeah, that’s, that’s true. That’s true. And, and in many cases in Sadat’s history where he didn’t seem to get as much as he might have, you know — same thing can be true on Camp David. He really abandoned the field on Jerusalem. I mean, if I had been in his shoes, I would have insisted on something in Jerusalem. He could have gotten it, I’m sure. 

KWS: This is only conjecture, but how did you suppose a Nixon administration that didn’t want to pressure Israel would have in July of 1972? What would their reaction have been to Kissin —, to Sadat’s statement saying, “Hey listen, I want to get the Soviets out now.”? How would Nixon have, how would the administration have replied to that?

MS: You know, Ken, I —

KWS: You’re desk officer, what would you have counseled?

MS: Yeah, I would have counseled them to make, to make a deal of some kind. I mean, we’re talking about U.S. aid, lots of instrumentalities, or probably sit down and say, “What do you want? Let’s sit down and find out what you want.” And if he had said, “Well what I want is [unintelligible] some more, better response from the Israelis,” we could have gone to the Israelis and said, “Listen this guy’s gonna offer to throw everybody out of there, this is one of our joint, you know, exactly, objectives. [Unintelligible], it’s worth something [unintelligible].” But he didn’t do it and I think it was the Sadat style. You know, that’s how — he didn’t, he made these bold, strategic moves. He didn’t bargain about them, and it created new realities, and he got the benefits from these new realities. This is the way to handle it. Look at the trip to Jerusalem. He might have, you know, he might have bargained for that instead of [being] prepared to come. And Golda went up to him, you know, when it was, he came through the reception line and said, you know, “Mr. President, I wish you’d done this while I was around. I mean, we really could have done damage.” But it was heartfelt, I’m sure. You know, “Why give this boon to this terrible man, Begin?” [Laughs.]

KWS: Um, was the strategy of interim steps developed then before the ’73 War? We know, we know it hardened and evolved —

MS: Yes.

KWS: — during and immediately after the ’73 War. But you could credibly argue that even in Sadat’s mind, there was this notion of phased, or stages, as long as it was linked to something larger.

MS: Absolutely. It was born, I think, in the cease-fire standstill in ’69, and the failure of [UN Special Envoy Gunnar] Jarring which was going on at the same time, to achieve something on a large scale. And, um, at least the success of a partial deal in the Suez Canal area, you know, gave everybody the idea, including Dayan — you remember, Dayan was the guy that came up with the first idea of — an idea that, I think it was in February of 1971, and it may even have planted — he gave a speech in which he said we ought to be talking, thinking about partial withdrawal, you know, partial commitments to peace. I’ve forgotten now really what he said, but I think I’ve got the time right, if I remember. And then Sadat said something about it in public. He commented that this was a good idea, or something. Maybe he didn’t refer to Dayan’s comment.

KWS: He gave a speech on February 4th of ’71, in which he essentially said, “You know, just give me a little portion back of Sinai.” In fact, I think Joe Sisco ended up going to Jerusalem. You know [Gideon] Rafael was director general of the foreign ministry, you know, I remember Joe coming.

MS: Yeah, yeah. And, and, but I think I’m right in saying that Dayan had said something earlier.

KWS: That’s right. And in fact, Gideon says that is in fact why Sadat couldn’t get up.

MS: Yeah, yeah, well, he may be right about that, although I think Sadat would have come to it anyway, you know. Because that was — Sadat was interested in the art of the possible here, you know, becoming a parent with a baby. The big deal, the whole shmear, was not possible. So, it definitely was born to prior to ’73, absolutely.

KWS: Was it crystallized during the ’73 War? Or immediately after?

MS: It certainly was crystallized during the war. One of the things that Kissinger responded very quickly to was the idea that you did not emulate 1967 in which you ratified conquests, and you did not, on the other hand, emulate 1956 where he insisted on withdrawal, but you call for a cease-fire in place because there was lots of doubt about how you claim that. And, um, I think that tended to help, and it worked from there — and that that was the best seabed for post-war diplomacy — a very, very accurate call, which I think all of us were talking about — the fact, that the idea in general generated in the state department [unintelligible]. I mean, he responded in a very [unintelligible]. But up to that point people were talking, people in the UN were talking about the state department minds. He thought the fact that there were Egyptians in Sinai and Israelis on the beach, that this was going to force them to sit down and negotiate together with the enemy. It was after [unintelligible]. And the war sort of started the process of negotiations which I think was later, further from the substantive stages. 

KWS: How did Kissinger view Sadat?

MS: Until he began to deal with him post-war, I think he viewed him very uncertainly. He was not convinced by the state department’s, um, and so — this was the guy who’s destined for great things. I think he was suspicious of the staying power. His modus operandi, Ken, were very peculiar. He was constantly hiring foreign ministers and firing them. Um, he wasn’t a steady guy like Nasser, you know. Once Nasser set a course, then [unintelligible]. This guy was all over the map with one idea after another, some of them were crazy, and some of them were quite brilliant. You know, I think Kissinger really sort of had the same skepticism that Jerusalem did all during this period [unintelligible]. They were both kind of stunned by the creativity. At the time and at the same time distrustful that he — that this thing was going to be thrown out later. You know, that it wouldn’t last, or that he wouldn’t withdraw at all, or that he was gonna, you know, wake up on Wednesday and [unintelligible]. Some of it he did, I mean, he could continue to operate that way, go out there and [unintelligible]. And even during the Camp David period [unintelligible]. He would get one idea at one session, then never hear about it again. And the next session come in and talk about something else. It was frustrating, but I think, like everybody else, he didn’t like the Israelis, fine. But as Kissinger, certainly the state department, we were all stunned by the ’73 War. No one saw this coming. And Sadat did a brilliant job disguising it with constant maneuvers along the canal. The Israelis were taken by surprise. We certainly were. And, uh, you know, out of this, Kissinger, I think, got the idea, this guy is a capable man and he was incensed. After all these Arab-Israel wars, he’s the only guy that’s at least come out slightly ahead, you know, in the military conflict. And he’s used military conflict to political ends, which is quite clearly, he never thought he could compete in this—

KWS: And Henry understood that?

MS: And Henry understood that, and responded to it, and it gave him immediate interest in the man, and an immediate bond.

KWS: Where was the spark within Henry, and what was it about it, because this was bold, this was strategic as well as tactical at the same time, a trip with Henry’s own intellectual mindset that he could deal with someone who’s dealing with great things? I’m also getting to the question of the Soviet Union.

MS: I think so. You know, I think Kissinger suddenly thought, “My God, maybe this man is the man that will be one of the Arab nations and the most important Arab nation to allow peace with Israel. Maybe this was actually going to happen.” Before the ’73 War, I think he would have been totally skeptical about that opposition. And Kissinger was smart enough to realize that Golda and, you know, and Dayan and everybody else had really been given a very bad fright in the ’73 War. And, and they, you know, I think those partial agreements were a large part of what came out of that.

KWS: Where did you first come across this notion of a conference?

MS: Well, it was really born in the — in Henry’s — I don’t know. It probably had earlier origins, but my recollection is, it kind of got this major boost from Kissinger’s negotiations with the Soviets over a cease-fire agreement. 

KWS: Yep, yep.

MS: So, you had to have the Soviets on board the cease-fire agreement. And it seems to me that it was part of the deal, we got the Soviets in the party playing ball, bringing the war to an end, you know, a launching pad for peace negotiations. And I think Kissinger probably wanted that, but he also wanted, I don’t think that was necessarily forced down his throat, but on the other hand, at the very beginning, Kissinger went in there, and —

KWS: When? The meeting in Moscow?

MS: Well, yea, and into a conference, place for preparation for it, with the concept that it was really going to be the United States that brokered this thing and that this was pro forma, and this was going to be a pro forma performance and the objective was to get the Soviets out of the woodwork as soon as possible. And I think that, you know, that wasn’t any kind of change in concept thing, that was imperative from the very beginning. He wanted to do it for himself, the Israelis wanted to do it, and what really interested him was that Sadat wanted to do it. Sadat didn’t particularly want the Soviets [unintelligible]. So, those things came together very, very well and it was only the Soviets that resented being eased out, but there wasn’t much they could do about it.

KWS: Policy planning, the Egypt Desk, you guys talking about mechanisms, you guys had in mind direct negotiations between Arabs and Israelis or Egyptians and Israelis, with the United States acting as some sort of a mediator. That’s what you were working on when you were at the desk office. Because Sadat raised the issue of a conference in his parliamentary speech on 16th of October. He listed a bunch of points, he said an international conference could be a way. It’s clear that that speech was written before the war.

MS: That’s right. That’s right.

KWS: It seems quite evident.

MS: Yeah.

KWS: So what I need to find out, I need to find out who slipped that idea in. I need to find out —

MS: Ken, I can’t help you there.

KWS: Okay.

MS: I just don’t know.

KWS: But it certainly wasn’t part of American method, negotiating methods, that we were considering at the time. Joe says no, for sure.

MS: No, I don’t —

KWS: Hal [Saunders, diplomat] says no, for sure.

MS: Yeah, I think that is absolutely right. And of course, I mean the precedent had been at various times, we had Soviet cooperation at least to some extent. I mean, we had the ’69 Soviet, you know, talks down here, we had the [1969] Rogers Plan which placed partially on Soviet-U.S. dialogue, and of course, their cooperation on [UN] Resolution 242 and 338, born with Soviet approval.

KWS: Did, did the albatross of the surrounded [Egypt’s] Third Army cause a time pressure to be forced on Sadat to reach a conclusion sooner than he had wanted? We, we know he was headed in this direction. It seems to me that once he realized that there were these twelve or fifteen thousand people out there and they needed blankets and blood and the Israelis were saber rattling, that this gave Henry, sort of, extra in his quiver, another — if he could save the Third Army, he was doing Anwar a favor.

MS: I think that’s right, and he leaned. You know, the Israelis wanted to complete the job and the U.S. really dug in under Kissinger, dug in and said, “You must not do this.” I can’t remember how he played it with Sadat and what the impact was, but I’m sure that’s right. That’s a logical assumption.

KWS: Was there ever any intention to address political issues at this conference? Do you remember?

MS: I don’t think so, Ken. I, I, I really think that from the very beginning it was designed to conclude after a couple of days. This was the concept from the very beginning. It was designed to conclude after a couple of days and then break up into these working groups where you hoped something would be done. But those were creatures of the Geneva Conference design. Now, privately, it was apparent to me because I was left with [U.S. Ambassador at Large] Ellsworth Bunker in Geneva. I remember getting telegrams from Kissinger which sort of revealed the way he was thinking but he wanted to get those talks going but there was always an element of saying to himself, “A bunch of Israelis and Egyptians sitting down are not going to get anywhere unless I start negotiating between the leaders.” You know, these are military guys who supported [unintelligible]. In fact, it wasn’t as bad as that. I mean, you know, [unintelligible]. It was, of course, for the Syrians. I mean, Syrians were barely [unintelligible]. But the Egyptians? In the end, they sort of began to get used to each other and began to be able to talk, but he, I think, saw it as a mechanism either with the working groups that had spilled out of the plenary there as being something that probably wouldn’t work and that it was behind the scenes that the U.S. diplomacy and military would have to do the job.

KWS: But he understood that before he even went to Geneva. He didn’t, he wasn’t going to relinquish the tiller on his boat to anyone else.

MS: I think that’s true.

KWS: I mean, you knew that. You knew that when you were sitting next to Ellsworth Bunker.

MS: Yea, that’s right. That’s right. And God knows if I thought of straying from the path, I’d got a rocket from [unintelligible] Israeli [unintelligible]. My Soviet counterpart, [unintelligible], was constantly trying to shoehorn his way in and — 

KWS: In what way?

MS: He would literally know the Israelis and Egyptians were meeting and try to figure out where to go from there [unintelligible] —

KWS: You mean at the end of Geneva, like the 26th or 27th?

MS: Yeah, they left their delegations there and the Egyptian Prime Minister was there, and Epi Evron was with the Israelis, and [Soviet Ambassador to Egypt Vladimir] Vinogradov was the guy that [Soviet Premier Alexei] Kosygin had planted against [unintelligible]. Vinogradov was a big player, I mean, this guy was unreal [unintelligible]. At one point, he said, “Well, this is disturbing. And you’re telling me that it would be advisable if I — Suppose I just come? I mean, what’s Secretary Kissinger going to do? Is he going to fly out and get rid of me” or something like that, “I’d like to see him try.” You know, I mean, this is the kind of stuff that was being sent out. So, I sent those telegrams back to Washington and said this guy is going to crash our next party here. And Henry would send me something saying, “Get in there and tell him that — .” Meanwhile, I was being this ping pong ball being shot back and forth. Well, anyway, that was my job. And Ellsworth then abandoned me, he wanted to go home and be with his family and spend Christmas and New Year’s, he had his farm in Vermont, and [unintelligible]. Now so I was all by myself there. But that didn’t bother him, because his whole approach was to freeze everything in this terrible place, Geneva, you know. And we will get started elsewhere. And uh, [unintelligible]. But I found that he had forgotten me [unintelligible], cheerful up to this point. It was getting into February, you know, there was nothing happening. Everybody else had gone home, even Vinogradov had gone home.

KWS: And you were the only — 

MS: I was still there sending these telegrams saying [laughs], “Bring me back,” you know, “I want to be part of the action.” And finally, you know, [Ambassador Roy] Atherton was so funny. He said to his secretary he got these four guys stranded, “Oh, yeah, I remember ’em.” [Laughs.] Geez.

KWS: How aware were the Egyptians about the status of the Third Army? I mean, the general population.

MS: Oh, you mean, I don’t — 

KWS: We know what [Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdel Ghani el-]Gamasy knew, and we know Fahmy knew and —

MS: Yeah, well, exactly, the leaders [unintelligible] but the public probably, probably didn’t know [unintelligible] because the thing is, that, um [unintelligible].

KWS: Was Sadat aware of what would have happened if the Israelis would have let these guys go with five thousand units as Dayan wanted to? Dayan wanted to let these guys go in order to make — [Mordechai] Gazit told me this. He said Dayan’s plan was to let them go over a span of one week in, in five thousand doses, three thousand doses, so that every day you could see these people just sort of marching to Cairo barefoot.

MS: Sort of strangle them.

KWS: Because Dayan was still feeling this hurt for the war.

MS: Yeah.

KWS: And really wanted to do something that…

MS: Yea, send it to [unintelligible]. I can’t remember when that came in. I knew though that there was a very dense amount of negotiations that was still going on while I was in transport. We spent three or four days and nothing but [unintelligible].

KWS: This is still from, like, let’s say from [UN Resolution] 338 ’til the beginning of Kilometer 101 [talks], like the 23rd of October until about the 28th or 29th? Real concern about —?

MS: Yeah, wasn’t there a kind of, there was this, there was cease-fire which was supposed to go into effect —

KWS: The 22nd.

MS: — on the 22nd, and the Israelis kept passing —

KWS: There was 338 and then there was 339 [UN Security Council passed these resolutions on October 22 and 23, 1973, respectively].

MS: That’s right.

KWS: And then there was DEFCON 3 [October 24, 1973], and that ended about the 26th.

MS: Yeah.

KWS: Kilometer 101 talks began the evening of the 28th, early morning of the 29th. And all during this time there was a discussion about who would provide what supplies, who would provide the blood, who would get lists, return of the bodies of the dead.

MS: That’s right.

KWS: This chronology was provided me by [General Aharon] Yariv.

MS: Yeah. It sounds right. And, uh, um, there was so much going on at that time, that it’s hard to remember the exact sequence.

KWS: Did you know about the Kilometer 101 talks? When did you learn about them, how much did you know about them?

MS: Um, oh yeah, that — you mean, that they were going on. I mean, I can’t, just can’t remember when the genesis precisely of it was, but I mean, they were, they were the pure military talks, and they hadn’t put the cease-fire into effect yet [unintelligible]. I can’t remember the plan for them, whether we did a lot, Egyptians and Israelis —

KWS: Actually, it was pretty much under the U.N. umbrella.

MS: Yea, I guess so.

KWS: [UN Emergency Force commander, Major General Ensio] Siilasvuo was in the tent.

MS: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s, exactly.

KWS: Do you think Henry at all got a little bit upset that these talks were going on and he wasn’t there?

MS: I don’t think so. I mean, my impression is that that could only go so far, that the bigger game was the conference and the coming, you know, conflict. And not just bringing this one to a conclusion and that that was the game that was sort of accepted in the diplomacy flowing out of the cease-fire. I mean, I don’t remember any resentment in any case. I thought he would [unintelligible], then he launched [unintelligible].

KWS: Do you remember any discussion at all about how this conference would be run, you know, these terms of reference, how it would be set up?

MS: Oh, yeah. Well —

KWS: Procedures?

MS: I just remember there were, you know, endless exchanges about the agenda, about the membership, are the Syrians coming with us, or [unintelligible] all this stuff. And it was all, you know, we got to agreement on some points, but by the time everybody collected at Geneva in December, some of these things were still being argued about right up to the end. And the question I remember also was where everybody sat, that was literally as we were all filing our way in to the conference room, Henry was making last minute deals with the [unintelligible].

KWS: Seating arrangements?

MS: Yeah, he was identifying who was going to sit where and I have forgotten exactly how it came out, but [unintelligible].

KWS: [Unintelligible] sitting next to the Soviets [unintelligible].

MS: [Unintelligible] Syrians.



KWS: …held discussion about the terms of reference of procedure by comparison that proceeded to drift. I mean, we are talking about discussions which took place from maybe December 15th until the 21st, whereas Madrid we are talking about things that took place from March through October.

MS: That’s right, that’s right.

KWS: I mean, that’s six days as compared to seven months.

MS: That’s right. And the whole thing was much more hastily done in Geneva. I mean, there was less expectation for it on everybody’s part. The Israelis wanted, I think, to end as soon as possible. I think they knew they weren’t going to get anywhere in this forum. I think that the Madrid thing was much more careful in preparing the planning — 

KWS: What was the discussion about, what was Egyptian attitudes toward the Palestinians? Palestinian representation, did it matter, would a conference go on if the PLO was not there?

MS: The Egyptians — I think Sadat’s — I can’t give you anything specific on this, Ken, because I don’t remember the problem, Ken. Supposedly, the Palestinians were being represented by Amman Jordanian delegation, but of course, the PLO couldn’t come on its own, there were no other Palestinian instrumentalities at that time. And the Israelis didn’t fuss about that, providing they were subsumed in the Jordan delegation, it was just a sign saying Jordan. There were certainly Palestinians on the Jordanian delegation, you know, we were talking to some people who identified themselves as Palestinians.

KWS: Who were they, do you remember?

MS: I can’t remember, because I don’t think it was Adnan Abu Odeh, but I would like to see a list of the members if there is one, there must be one somewhere. But I don’t recall that Israelis fussed about it or that it was mentioned, you know.

KWS: What did King Hussein know, I mean, why were the Jordanians there?

MS: [Pause.] I think they, I don’t know, I think they were invited, but I really can’t remember why the answer, but…

KWS: Henry says in his Years of Upheaval, his autobiography, Hussein wanted to be inheritor of any Israeli West Bank withdrawal.

MS: Well, exactly. 

KWS: And he wanted to speak on behalf of the Palestinians because the [Arab League’s November 28,1973] Algiers Summit had just met and had said that the PLO was the legitimate representative. And [at the Arab League’s October 28, 1974 summit in] Rabat, the next year, would say the sole legitimate representative.

MS: The sole legitimate representative.

KWS: And this was his battle with the PLO.

MS: That’s—I think that’s absolutely accurate, Ken. At least it’s a major part of the story and he just wanted to, you know, he was still hurting from his bad decision in ’67 and wanted to show the world that he could get some territory back through a diplomatic deal and he wanted to be part of the game. If something was possible on Sinai — he knew they had talked about it in ’70-’73 period — why couldn’t something be done with Jordan? And as you remember, in ’74, he came because of the pleading with him to try to get a partial withdrawal —

KWS: When in ’74? Early ’74? Before the [May 31, 1974] signing of the Syrian-Israeli agreement?

MS: I can’t remember.

KWS: Before May?

MS: My impression is that during that time period, yeah.

KWS: The New York Times reports in January, in late January of ’74, that there were secret Israeli-Jordanian talks in which there were Israeli participants and the whole effort was to try and get a disengagement accord with the Jordanians as well.

MS: That’s right. And the appeal to the United States — I don’t know whether it was contemporaneous with that or it was because those talks had failed — they wanted to engage them. We may have been involved and known about it from the beginning. But I do recall that at some point the king said, you know, you’ve got to be working on this with the Syrians and Egyptians, you’ve got to give something to me. And the Israelis just, you know, were totally unenthusiastic —

KWS: Particularly after the signing of the Syrian-Israeli agreement where [Yitzhak] Rabin took over and he said, “Don’t press me on the West Bank now, give me a chance to get my feet on the ground.”

MS: That’s right.

KWS: That’s how Epi and Gazit tell the story.

MS: Yea. I think that’s, uh, um…

KWS: And Hal believes that had we not listened to Rabin, we probably could have gotten the Jordanian-Israeli agreement. He said it was probably —

MS: I don’t know about that, Ken, because what the King really, well—

KWS: At least, Hal says we should’ve tried.

MS: Well, that’s — I think that’s right. I mean, because it left a very sour taste in Hussein’s mind from that point on about anything spawned out of the peace conference and then later about the Camp David Accord, because he got the feeling that he was going to be left in the lurch and Epi’s real intention was to get bilateral agreements and leave the Israelis in possession of the occupied territory. I think that was the intention, and, and I think Hal’s right about this. As to whether it would have been peaceful, I just wonder about that because what the king was looking for really conflicted not only with, you know, what future goodness, or sort of hard-route-to-hard-right wing, but it really conflicted with the Arab Republic [of Egypt]  and it would have taken a lot of [unintelligible] for a Labor government to move on that. The West Bank just was different. 

KWS: Even then?

MS: Even then.

KWS: As desk officer, were you aware of Sadat’s concerns about Hussein? And I want you to compare and contrast it to Sadat’s concerns about Assad.

MS: Uh, I don’t think Sadat was very concerned about Hussein. And he was only concerned about Assad because Assad had agreed to join in this military venture in ’73. And they made a quick deal together. And he had to honor that, you know. And not that he felt like honoring, you know, after all the Syrians fought in Israel, whereas Hussein had not participated in the war. So, I think he was focused first on Egypt of what the possibilities were and then maybe on Syria, very little on Jordan.

KWS: Do you have any inkling as to why Assad didn’t go to Geneva? What would have gone through his mind at the time, from your view of trying to view from the Egyptian —?

MS: Well, at that early stage, I really just can’t remember the nature of the replies that we got from —

KWS: I must tell you, I’ve asked Sisco, and I’ve asked Saunders, and I haven’t gotten an answer yet. And I’m about to ask Atherton next month. And no one can give me an answer.

MS: Maybe Roy will pull a rabbit out of the hat.

KWS: I mean it’s a simple question. 

MS: Yeah, yeah.

KWS: But it’s a very — it, it, it says a lot —

MS: I think we typically — I think we all know, but it typically isn’t documented yet, and I suppose the documentation would have come in a form of diplomatic traffic between Washington and our Embassy in Damascus, and our people end up seeing it and getting some kind of response — but my answer obviously is that Assad at that early stage did not want to expose himself publicly to consorting with the Israelis, that he and his other official Arabs who were prepared to make a deal with the Israelis —

KWS: Let alone the Americans.

MS: — let alone the Americans, before the Israelis had made a commitment to withdraw totally from that area to resolve the Palestinian problem. I mean that, the Syrians are still up to it, I mean they’re not attending a conference on water resources, and, uh, Madrid —

KWS: What do you recollect about actually getting to Geneva, the conference, the atmosphere, the tone, the room, the lodging, meetings off to the side?

MS: It was very chaotic and I was a small cog.

KWS: You flew from here.

MS: Yeah, we all went over on Air Force One, or whatever the vehicle was, you know, at the time, Air Force Two, maybe or something, but I was on the plane with Henry, Ellsworth Bunker, Sisco, and —

KWS: Peter Rodman?

MS: Peter Rodman. [Lawrence] Eagleburger was there, I remember sitting next to him.

KWS: Picture of Eagleburger in Kissinger’s book is like this little school boy and he’s got this shock of hair.

MS: That’s right.

KWS: And he kept it uncombed.

MS: I can’t remember why Larry was — I mean, maybe he was executive secretary or something.

KWS: But Peter was there, Rodman.

MS: Well, Peter was logical because he was always Henry’s, um, Henry’s assistant.

KWS: Taking notes at all these people’s [unintelligible] house of [unintelligible].

MS: Yeah, that’s right. You should, as a matter of fact. That’s a good idea because Peter would have a good, uh, maybe a good memory [unintelligible].

KWS: So, you got to Geneva.

MS: Very chaotic, lots of sitting up all night by the end, you know, it was all fiddle faddle, trying to get the Egyptians to agree to this and the Israelis to agree to that and you know, accommodations were on the ground as part of a large bunch of people and the problem was in remembering anything about it specific — you were doing one thing for ten minutes and you were doing something else for the next ten minutes. You know, I mean, I felt that somebody, Sisco, must have had us so that his head up above all this welter of detail and remembered some of the basic points about it. But the one very vivid thing was, that I remember, that we were all milling around having coffee at 10 a.m. or something like that in the morning of the conference and we had this seating problem that had still not been resolved. And the thing was supposed begin right then and there was a real mood of, I mean, there was a lot of — and all these clusters of delegates not talking to each other because the ice hadn’t been broken, you know, off by themselves, having coffee by themselves in this big room in Geneva outside of the conference room in some kind of reception area. And, uh, you know, Henry, and who was that from the UN?

KWS: [Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs] Brian Urquhart.

MS: And Brian Urquhart —

KWS: Maybe James [unintelligible] I’m not sure.

MS: Possibly. And they were all, you know, desperately trying to figure out — and the Soviets were also doing their bit to try to jolly everybody into position. It finally worked and people stood by until they could go into their speeches. 

KWS: Were you surprised by the tone of anyone speaking, of the content?

MS: No, I remember being pretty impressed by [Abba] Eban. He usually gave a good performance and I think he did on that occasion. You know, everybody behaved [unintelligible] pretty well, even [unintelligible]; he would have gotten some real electricity from the Syrians.

KWS: And out of Geneva came these two committees, political committee and a military committee, is that correct?

MS: That’s correct.

KWS: Have I termed them appropriately?

MS: I think that’s absolutely what they were termed. You’re absolutely right.

KWS: And what was, what was their purview? What was their — for the record?

MS: Oh God, oh God, oh God, I, I — Yeah, it must be in a file somewhere, if not — Somebody — Hal, I think — was increasingly [unintelligible], I remember, in getting these things through. I was sort of shuttled off. For one thing, I was in Geneva, you know, I was in Geneva with all of these other, with all this planning going on and, uh, I think Hal would be the best person to talk to on these, and — have you already seen Hal?

KWS: Yeah.

MS: Yeah, yeah. But well since, if he, was he enlightening on these events? Yeah, because, yeah, because I remember—

KWS: I’m particularly interested in the period from the end of Geneva up until January 18th when the agreement was signed and what happened at Geneva. I mean, what happened during this period of three weeks when you were there? Epi Evron tells the story that he thought there was almost a rebellion amongst the Americans who wanted to get home for Christmas.

MS: Well, he just left. I mean, I don’t recall any substantive work. The forty days I spent in Geneva, I do not recall any substance whatsoever while we were in Geneva. When did the political and military committees begin to meet because—

KWS: Well, the military committee met on the 26th of December.

MS: Yeah, but then it adjourned, it adjourned. 

KWS: And then it shifted back to 101.

MS: That’s right.

KWS: But it only shifted back to 101 to sign the agreement with Henry who went to Aswan. And in Aswan —

MS: Yeah.

KWS: — in early January —

MS: Yeah.

KWS: — along with —

MS: [Unintelligible.]

KWS: — because Ellsworth was at Aswan and Hal was at Aswan and Peter Rodman was at Aswan —

MS: Yeah, that’s right. 

KWS: See, and, and you were still in Geneva.

MS: And I was still in Geneva. And, uh, [unintelligible] when I was there. And the whole purpose of being in Geneva was to keep the Soviets out of the [unintelligible]. Vinogradov hung on and was trying to get talks going among before and I was constantly—

KWS: Between you and —

MS: Between us and, I mean, he knew that we couldn’t be negotiators but he wanted people to come back to Geneva. I mean, that was the idea. Or he wanted the Soviets to be included in the talks that were going on, you know, the shuttle that was going on. And they would do so and the Soviets were upset but they finally had to—

KWS: And Henry —

MS: Vinogradov was upset —

KWS: And Henry’s instructions to you were simply, “Stonewall.”

MS: Hold this guy off, yeah. Don’t keep asking questions about why or, you know, I was getting these instructions just to do what I was supposed to do. And that’s what he wanted us, I think, we were foot soldiers to —

KWS: This was a railroad. This was a diplomatic railroad shunt. 

MS: Absolutely, I mean, I recall that Epi, I kept seeing him.

KWS: Epi, by the way, has wonderful, nice things to say about you, he thinks you’re such a mensch, such a wonderful human being.

MS: Well, he’s a wonderful guy himself, you know, [unintelligible] in ’67 and some of the papers [unintelligible], shuttling in to see Johnson in the middle of the night [unintelligible]. Incidentally, Bill Quandt’s article — well, Parker’s article is good too, but the one that really gets to the heart of it is the one by Bill Quandt. I was supposed to go and appear on the Middle East Journal [unintelligible]. But uh, yeah, no — I just, you know, I talked to Gur [unintelligible]. He’s another guy there named Mordechai. 

KWS: Mordechai, Mordechai Gur?

MS: Mordechai Gur, yeah.

KWS: If Rabin wins, he conceivably will be defense minister.

MS: Yeah, I hope so. He’s a wonderful man. I got to like him. We [unintelligible] didn’t [unintelligible] except to have good lunches together in Geneva, but it was fun.

KWS: You stayed until about early February?

MS: Yea, I did. My impression is I stayed there about 40 days.

KWS: That would be about the second week in February.

MS: Could be.

KWS: And then what happened? You came back here and then went out to UAE?

MS: I came back and, uh, that’s right. There’s was a lot of — there was a great deal of work to do on bilateral U.S.-Egyptian affairs and I was less involved in them. For one thing, I was overdue for an overseas assignment and so, round about February or March, I remember being designated to this, and my attention got to be my new post. No. wait, I’m confusing — wait, we’re still in — no, that’s right.

KWS: Early ’74.

MS: ’74, we’re in early ’74. I got out of Abu Dhabi in June ’77 [unintelligible] would not have been my [unintelligible]. But there was also a lot of work, being very busy, just on U.S.-Egyptian bilateral stuff. 

KWS: What was, what was different about it?

MS: Well, we were reestablishing diplomatic relations and getting Hermann Eilts out there, but the big problem was resolving debts, poverty, questions and stuff, and a lot of it was done by the staff, but you know — I was responsible for the work, but we had long talks, often unsuccessful, in getting to reschedule the Egyptian debt and toward resumption of diplomatic relations for so long, property questions out there, getting some aid people going [unintelligible] and a central intelligence presence. Anyway, yes —

KWS: And cranking up an embassy was —

MS: [Unintelligible.]

KWS: — consumed your time.

MS: [Unintelligible.]

KWS: When did April [Glaspie] get there? And Beth [A. Elizabeth Jones]?

MS: Gosh, I don’t —

KWS: I mean, they were there before the ’73 War, they were represent — they were representing us in what, the Swiss Embassy?

MS: Spanish.

KWS: Spanish, Spanish.

MS: I think that’s right. I can’t remember when Beth went on, but April certainly stayed on until — Was she there before the ’73 War?

KWS: Yeah, she was there when, when Hermann arrived.

MS: Uh-huh, okay, well then. I remember when she first —

KWS: Hermann got there on about November 3rd, November 4th.

MS: Yeah, yeah.

KWS: And I guess diplomatic relations were established about the end of February.

MS: I think that’s right, and she would have been on that [unintelligible] staff [unintelligible].

KWS: Because Hal — both Hal and Joe both say that Beth and April should have excellent memories because they ran the logistics of Henry’s visits. 

MS: [Unintelligible.]

KWS: And Beth, according to Bill this morning, said there isn’t perhaps a more capable person from the State Department. Bill says she’s —

MS: I heartily agree. She’s very high on the list.

KWS: Says she’s just uh, he suggested —

MS: What is she doing now?

KWS: She’s moving. I think she comes back from Pakistan this summer and goes out to VCM in Germany because Kenneth wants her.

MS: Terrific.

KWS: And Bill is going to try and find out when she’s going to be back in Washington during those three or four weeks and see if I can come and spend two hours with her.

MS: Yeah, I —

KWS: She is that one person who will be able to connect all these other things, and she will remember it too.

MS: Yeah, yeah. I’m sure that’s right, I’m sure that she would be able to fill in a couple of the holes. Now they were exciting, exciting days, everybody was busy, people working on the peace process, or rebuilding relations [unintelligible].

KWS: Let me ask you two more questions. Um, what role did the oil embargo play with Henry, either before or after Geneva? And can you make a distinction before and after?

MS: Well, I think it was one of Henry’s, you know, I think that whole period before was not Henry’s best chapter, to put it mildly, because he didn’t take, take any of its warnings seriously based on calculus on several occasions, and so the Syrians were working on [unintelligible] intentions [unintelligible].

KWS: You say, help Sadat. In what fashion?

MS: Um, I don’t think [Saudi Arabia’s King] Faisal was ever all that specific, but he — Sadat kept complaining to him that we were unresponsive and I remember, Faisal was particularly angered by our lack of response that he sought to the Soviet eviction in ’72, and my suspicion always was that, that, that he [was] very bitter, that he probably might have very well been the person that suggested this [unintelligible] and then he terminated his support.

KWS: [Laughs.]

MS: And Sadat may have signed, but I think Faisal justified his support and I don’t know that Faisal [unintelligible]. He got increasingly desperate and I remember telling Lawrence that thing, but Kissinger thought these guys didn’t have the guts to do something like this. But it was serious business and we all remember it. [Unintelligible] got the message and one of his first objectives was saying that we’re trying to get something done about the environment [inaudible] and Sadat went in in 1971 and got their attention. 

KWS: Did Faisal ever come to Kissinger and say if he could work something out with the Syrians or at least to show your intentions, I’ll lift the embargo?

MS: You know, I don’t think—

KWS: The embargo was listed in March.

MS: Yeah.

KWS: The Syrian negotiations ended in May.

MS: I don’t recall that Faisal was that interested in the Syrians but maybe he was, Ken. I didn’t think there was something to remember. What I recall is that Faisal hated Nasser [inaudible] the Saudis in general, should have a good reason to invite Nasser —

KWS: Yup, Yemen, that’s right —

MS: And when Sadat took over, they teamed with everybody else and told this guy to [inaudible] but then became increasingly nervous about what he was trying to do. And increasingly at a loss until they finally got angry with the fact that a lot of people were embracing this guy in a big away. I mean, Kissinger was always this magic, you know, with the, the — with those northern Arab leaders, I mean, including Assad, he got along with all of them, but the one place he never felt at home with the Saudis, you know, they were all comfortable down there, kept a way down, and briefed them about all that was going on. I don’t think he ever really felt that they were responsive to the Kissinger charm.

KWS: In January of ’77 when Carter took over, you were where?

MS: I was back in the department then, but I was — I got back from Abu Dhabi and I worked for a while on Gulf, on Gulf affairs, then I had to go over in which I was doing special study on or about this period for, like, long-term planning on, like, the history, and I was working [inaudible] in that, and I was earmarked to take over the Arab-Israel job by Roy Atherton, but Pete Day was still there for the time during the break. And I finally moved to into that spot.

KWS: Which was when?

MS: It was shortly before the, um, it was [inaudible].

KWS: So it was before the U.S.-Soviet declaration about that time [joint U.S.-Soviet statement of the Middle East was made on October 1, 1977].

MS: It was. I was up in New York at the time and — 

KWS: This was the [October 5, 1977] Dayan meeting with Carter at the UN. 

MS: I came on the job about three or four weeks before and went up there and went through that mini-crisis, I guess that’s the best way to describe it. Uh, Hussein never forgave us for consorting with the Soviets but it got overtaken by the quick [inaudible]. 

KWS: Do you think anyone understood in the department, the impact that the declaration would have upon the [inaudible] Was it fully understood? I get the feeling the same lack of understanding existed when the Reagan initiative was articulated, it was sort of like, well, “We’re going to do this and to hell with the [inaudible].”

MS: Yeah, I wish I, yeah — looking back on it, it was ill-considered, I don’t quite understand how it happened.

KWS: Carter said to me, I mean, “Why, if we can think about how could have acted to the Soviets, that it would have been okay with them.” I said, “You didn’t consult with them at all?” He said, “No.”

MS: I didn’t even know that [inaudible].

KWS: And that you ask Kirby about the Reagan initiative and he says, “What do mean, ask Begin? Are you kidding me, we never consulted with him.” I mean, here are two incidents in American foreign policy in which a position statement is articulated in which there is no consultation done with either our friends or our enemies.

MS: Yeah, well the Reagan’s speech — you’re talking about the September 1, 1982 speech?

KWS: That’s correct.

MS: That I have more understanding about, because it was, after all, there were no negotiations to [inaudible] and we knew damn well what the position of the parties were. I mean, we knew that Begin’s policies were that if we never tried to negotiate or get an advance notice of something and we said then that ultimately territory should go back to the Arabs in one form or another, uh, that he would raise all kinds of holy hell if we have a crisis. So we had rather get the speech out, you know, but I mean, here we were, we’d been trying to get to Geneva and this had to be seen in the light of a negotiating document that we had discussions in frame, we had to have the frame for six months by the time that thing came. And to spring a surprise on one of the parties that we were daily talking to, you know, about trying to get the [inaudible] in the Geneva Conference, in retrospect, frankly, in peculiar I think I felt I was so new on the ground that I trusted my superiors to have done the right thing. But looking back on it, I think it would have been dumb, really, now [and] that the Israelis were right to be upset.

KWS: From your —

MS: Although it didn’t, it didn’t have much in it, I don’t think, but, but could have been misconstrued as being —

KWS: Shocking?

MS: It was just the idea of the Soviets, yeah, the Soviets and the United States consorting behind their backs, I mean, you know —

KWS: I’ve asked this question of a lot of people, and it might be [inaudible] why did this guy believe in [inaudible]?

MS: Well, he was, he was thoroughly disillusioned with the period of diplomacy, uh, that had tried to get back to Geneva. And his irritation with all the problems about not well-known PLO members and all these little ties about [inaudible] PLO having representation there, one how you structure the bilateral with the plenary. You know, all these problems that would come back and haunt us in Madrid years later were really the same issues being faced. And uh, um, we were getting nowhere. I mean, the Israelis were tying themselves in knots and King Hussein was impossible during this period. The Jordanians were just awful. The Syrians weren’t being very helpful. But oddly enough, I remember that the Jordanians being, you know, unhelpful [inaudible] And Sadat just blew the whistle on all of this, you know. He said that this was just kind of [inaudible] with the 1973 War which [inaudible] diplomatic channels and I’ve got to do something big, and, yeah —

KWS: And by then he had established thbe same sort of rapport with Carter and he had problems with him.

MS: Yeah, absolutely. 

KWS: It was this, “I can trust this guy.” And again, he left with Carter what he had left with Henry: the detail.

MS: Absolutely.

KWS: I mean, the analogy is so apparent and so strong that when I’ve sat with the president over the years I’ve asked him, you know, “What about Sadat?” He said, “Sadat trusted me too much, he trusted me to work all the details and he knew I loved to do the details. He knew I was in tune. He knew I absolutely ate this up.”

MS: Yeah.

KWS: And he didn’t, he knew that, “Sadat knew that I was not going to do anything less for Egypt than he would have done for Egypt,” because he knew — Sadat [knew], Carter said, “because Sadat knew very well that Carter couldn’t abandon Sadat because that’s all Carter had.”

MS: Absolutely right.

KWS: And as a consequence, “I represented Egypt and Israel.” He had all the negotiations that went on. “I was Egypt’s ambassador to Israel,” Carter said.

MS: That’s being a little bit, Carter, I mean that’s my impression of the thing but that Carter himself. But not surprising because he’s an intelligent, perceptive, and sensitive man.

KWS: I asked him. I said, “Did you know that at the time?” He said, “It wasn’t that clear to me at the time.”

MS: Yeah.

KWS: He said, “I understood that he had given me a lot of prerogative, particularly in the Camp David Accords.”

MS: Absolutely. Camp David — he, I think, you know — Sadat, I think Sadat made a terrible mistake by not saying with the greatest respect and kindness to Carter, “We’ve done a wonderful job here, we’ve got seven-eighths of it or three-quarters of it done, but unfortunately, just these issues we should have made the important ones, particularly linkage with what happened with the Palestinian problems, it should have been [inaudible] and maybe, you know, something on Jerusalem could have gone public, in public opinion, could have gotten most of those things, in my opinion because the Israelis had the hook in their mouth on this bilateral, it had gone so far in the bilateral agreement, I don’t think the Israelis, you know, Begin and Dayan were already tasting victory on this. It was a terrible strategic, terrible — and it was compounded then with Begin in a staring contest with himself and Carter refused to — I remember this [inaudible], because in this case the man tried to simply, simply to suspend our cooperation in peace treaty negotiations, and he sorted this out, and Jimmy sent it back without having seen [inaudible] I don’t want to derail it, but [unintelligible] decisions [unintelligible].

KWS: Why did we take this interlude in ’77 to try and go back to a comprehensive — why did we try and build another bilateral arrangement between — I mean, after all—

MS: We were trying to get back to Geneva.

KWS: Yeah.

MS: But we were. I don’t think anybody, until Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem — and even then, no one had the full implication of it — but I don’t think anybody thought of it in terms of bilateral agreement. You know, it’s kept — the extent to which Sadat was willing to go that far, became a success of surprises to the United States.

KWS: No, we were shocked.

MS: And I remember right after the trip to Jerusalem, I was asked to do a paper by a stunned White House, an [unintelligible] paper about the implications of a bilateral peace. I mean, you know, no one had really thought of it in sufficient possibility to have done a study on the implications of it. And even then, we weren’t certain that Sadat could ever go that far.

KWS: Can I tell you something? When Sadat visited Carter in April of ’77 at Camp David —

MS: Yeah.

KWS: He said that  — these are Carter’s words, quoting Sadat], “I’m prepared to sign the bilateral arrangements.”

MS: Yeah.

KWS: In April of ’77.

MS: Is that right?

KWS: That’s right. And I don’t think anyone else understands. I don’t think Quandt, [U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski, I don’t think [Secretary of State Cyrus] Vance.

MS: [Inaudible.]

KWS: I think Carter kept that one.

MS: Yea, he must have, ’cause I think I never heard that. [Pause.] See, so that’s one — that, that’s fascinating because it explains a little bit why the President was willing to take the risk at Camp David and it not being taken away from him, but still —

KWS: They had established an incredible rapport.

MS: But still it explains a little bit, that he thought, you know, there was just a slightly better chance that [inaudible].

KWS: One more point of information. Did we in 1972 provide Egypt with C-130 aircraft? Did we give them military materials before the ’73 war? Something tells me that we provided them with a small amount of C-130s, like six or eight or 10 of them. I’m going to go back and check it. 

MS: Ken, I don’t — Now, that’s something — As Director of Middle East Affairs, I certainly would have known about, and it could have happened, because it was a great deal of, you know, [inaudible] factor. No, I’ve learned, I think, I think I would have remembered — even with very limited military equipment deals. I don’t, so I can’t tell you that.

KWS: Okay, I’ll check.

MS: But I can’t be sure that it didn’t. This would have been in ’72?

KWS: Middle of ’71. 

MS: As a gesture or in reward to the Soviet [inaudible].

KWS: Why was Ellsworth Bunker chosen? Any particular reason?

MS: No. Sort of a patrician , he married [inaudible], guy, smart guy, you know, Secretary of State. He clawed his way into the pie—

KWS: I mean, how did it work? This was, we appointed an ambassador to the Geneva Conference? I mean, was that his title? I mean, it sounds so incongruous. I mean after all—

MS: Well, he —

KWS: His position was never abolished, you know. He died in office [in 1984].

MS: He died in office as the ambassador to the Geneva Conference. [Laughs.] That’s wonderful.

KWS: That’s right.

MS: Well, I, I think Henry genuinely liked him, but he represented sort of the kind of David [unintelligible] in the right conditions. And I think Henry was very smart when he needed a little bit of that image to, you know, endorse the side. And then the [inaudible] Easterns, simple, the best that quote unquote in global American diplomacy toward the Arabic world, Asia, maybe, and then back to the farm. And I don’t know, maybe Henry thought that Ellsworth would have an insight that he wouldn’t have, but I don’t think so. Because Henry was smarter than any of his folks at the time, and Ellsworth, really, I never, I mean, I spent — you know, after they all went home and Ellsworth and I were left there, we had, for about five days as I recall, and he needed to go home and couldn’t. Well, maybe it wasn’t five days [laughs], my impression was he did go home. We had several meals together, and I ended up feeling that Ellsworth was [unintelligible]. 

KWS: No, no, I understand.

MS: And I don’t want to insult the guy’s memory and I never — he was a fine man of his day, but he was after 80 years old, I should be in as good shape when I’m that age.

KWS: Were you aware of Watergate in any of your dealings? The focus was on Egypt, the war, Geneva. 

MS: God, no, no. Not until it hit the press. I mean, that something was going on, God no, no.

KWS: I mean, Joe says, “It never entered my mind.” Hal says, “It never was on our screen.” Even Gazit and Evron say, “We didn’t think anything of Watergate affecting Nixon, Kissinger, ability to make foreign policy. It never entered our minds, never thought about it.”

MS: The one time I remember when everybody — I was in Abu Dhabi of course by this time long since, but when Nixon made his trip to Egypt, he was notably muted. It was obvious to everybody [inaudible]. It was on the Egyptian minds, [inaudible] I don’t think it was [inaudible] but in the earlier stages — gosh, I don’t think it [inaudible] at all. And you know, the Arabs still are scratching their heads and saying, “What the hell was that all about? I mean, why should we think less of this marvelous man who did these great things in foreign policy? Because why?”

KWS: Why? Because he lied. 

MS: Because they have fueled a concept of what — [laughs].

KWS: Because they have such a tradition of honor and absence of graft in Egyptian politics, that you know, why throw stones?

MS: {Laughs.] That’s right, why throw stones? Anyway, no one could understand. I remember having a terrible time explaining it to my Bedouin friends of Abu Dhabi. They thought it was totally nuts. “They brought this man down on his knees and forced his resignation because of tapes, because of tapes. You know, I do that all the time. I’m tapping it over with [unintelligible].” Don’t repeat this either because if he’s still around [inaudible] but I gotta know what these, this East German with somebody in [inaudible] getting telephone taps. We have a ruling. But I remember that came of it, the Watergate, you know, conversation we had about Watergate, “Please explain, Ambassador, what this is all about.” 

KWS: [Laughs.]

MS: Oh, Lord.

KWS: Michael, thank you.

MS: Ken, it’s nice to see you. Sounds like a fun project.

KWS: Um, what I normally do is I transcribe them, I have a student who transcribes them, would you like a copy of the transcription? 

MS: I’d like to and please, you know, don’t let anybody use this. This is strictly confidential.

KWS: No, no, I’ll just —


KWS: Second Interview with Ambassador Michael Sterner, June 17, 1993, Washington, D.C.

KWS: Alright, the last time you and I talked, we talked primarily about — 

MS: The ’73 conference.

KWS: Yeah, and you talked about your visit to Egypt in the early ’70s and your discussions with Sadat and we did — we focused primarily on ’73, ’74. Something like that. What I would like to do today is jump to the ’77-’79 period, if I could, and try and pull some thoughts out of you or recollections. Your position at the state department in 1977 was what?

MS: In ’77, I was the deputy, I mean in October, late September, October, I was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Near East and South Asian Affairs for the, in the position that sort of looked after the peace settlement area. And tried to promote negotiations. Pete Dave was the guy I replaced. Pete had had the job.

KWS: And who was — There were four Deputy Assistants?

MS: There were four, I think, although the number kept changing, but I think that is right. There were four — There was the guy from South Asia, there was someone for the sort of Gulf area, there was Morris Draper who had the Levant and Arab Israel, and then there was me, who focused exclusively — I had no geographic responsibilities, I just had responsibility to work on the peace negotiations.

KWS: And you reported to Roy [Atherton]?

MS: I did and then when Hal Saunders took over, I mean, I mainly worked for Hal Saunders. He took over, I can’t remember when it was. But it was very soon.

KWS: Early ’78 I think.

MS: I briefly served as — just temporarily — as a Deputy on the Gulf side, because I had been in Abu Dhabi. So, I came back, in fact, to take that position, but a fellow named Sid Silber was supposed to move on to another job and didn’t get that assignment. So, he stayed on.

KWS: And you started in October of ’77?

MS: I think it was, Ken, but it might have been late September, I just can’t remember.

KWS: So, the October communique was a baptismal.

MS: The October communique was my baptismal, because within days of my checking in, I went up to New York with the Middle East team.

KWS: You did go. You were at the UN with that — with [Moshe] Dayan and [Meir] Rosenne —

MS: That is right —

KWS: Those characters.

MS: — when this thing came up.

KWS: Meir Rosenne tells me that the meeting with Carter, the Dayan meeting with Carter, was one of the most brutal meetings that he’s ever seen between two friendly countries. Umm, and Bill [Quandt], in his book, says that the Israelis really used the communique to their advantage domestically and against Carter.

MS: Well, they certainly did. I, you know, I was there in the room scribbling away on these things, and wasn’t present at the meeting. So, I can’t tell you precisely what happens. And we at the time, didn’t know how — I mean, building up to it, I had no way of judging that this was going to be the shocker it was. And I was a bit of a new boy. I mean I just assumed that we had sufficiently explored with the Israelis, that this wasn’t going to come as a bomb of some sort. But it came as a bomb, I mean, you know. And we knew about it almost instantly, afterwards, I mean, as all hell broke loose in Jerusalem, and Dayan was very upset.

KWS: Did anyone ever explain to you why the communique, the Soviet/U.S. communique was necessary?

MS: I remember sitting in with [U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus] Vance and Bill and Roy, I guess, I am not sure that Hal, I guess, Hal might have been there, but I am not sure. Anyway, there were four or five of us sort of sitting around staffing, staffing, messing with the wording of the communique. And I remember that Vance, for some reason — and I had to assume that this came out of his discussions with the Soviets — was very eager to get this done. Not only very eager, but talked about it as if it were really quite essential in order to get the Soviets on board and in order to get the Arabs fully on board the thing. He really, he was not prepared to be talked out of it. To tell you the truth, I mean, I can’t remember any of the details of people uh, saying, “Gee, you know, the Israelis are going to object to this and object to that.” But that must have been taking place while this was going on. Because I remember it was, you know, quite a struggle to get the wording as we thought it was appropriate and Vance was constantly going back to [Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei] Gromyko and uh, negotiating an acceptable text. To what extent he was — [To someone else] That’s fine, thanks [unintelligible] Thanks. — The uh, you know, took three or four days or so, I remember, to get it done. But you’d have to show me the text. I have feeling that if I saw the text —. Right now, off the top of my head, I can’t remember. What was it? You must remember what really upset…

KWS: Well, Hal, Hal, Hal reports to me that Vance first explored the possibility of a Soviet/Washington text back in May, back in May. The original draft was a Soviet draft. And according to Bill and to Joe [Sisco] and to Hal, umm, it wasn’t all, quote, it wasn’t all that bad. It said all the right things, and it toned down a lot of the things that the Soviets, we thought — that we thought the Soviets would want to have. And Carter tells me that he monitored the communique wording through its various drafts. And he said that it was, umm, reasonable. Everyone has given me different reasons as to why the communique was issued. So, I would like to ask you that question. Uh, but it’s quite clear that no one expected the uproar from the American Jewish community or from the Israelis. It was not anticipated. There was no forethought for it. And the explanation given is, just as you have just emphasized, that Vance was not going to be deterred from this, because Carter wasn’t going to be deterred from going to Geneva and having the Soviets as the co-chairs was essential — 

MS: Was essential.

KWS: — and this was an essential ingredient in order to get to Geneva and this was what you had to do. And therefore, regardless of what anyone said, this was going to be done.

MS: Yeah, I think that’s very correct in interpretation. And I think, you know, the Israelis had gotten a bit spoiled by the [Henry] Kissinger approach which was to exclude the Soviets, which is, of course, what happened in the beginning of 1973 [unintelligible]. We all convened in Geneva and then the first thing Kissinger did was to create a format in which the Soviets were not there and continue not to be there throughout the succeeding agreements. But there was, I remember, a particular language — So I think that’s right — it was a thing in itself more than anything else that came as a shock and a great disappointment to the Israelis. They just didn’t want the Soviets involved. And uh, this was the new approach.

KWS: At any level.

MS: I think in any way.

KWS: That’s correct.

MS: Because they hadn’t been involved. Okay. [Very lengthy pause, apparently for Sterner to read the text of the October 1977 communique]. Yeah, well I can see language that the Israelis would’ve hated at the time. I really, I wish I could remember how and why some of it got in there, but — I guess one has to assume it was because the Soviets were insisting on it. But all this language about the Palestinians of course, was not in Resolution 242 and therefore the Israelis would’ve bridled at it and seen it as carved into the ground without participation, including ensuring legitimate rights to the Palestinian people. That was later accepted, of course, but at the Camp David process. But at the time of this it was not, it was very new kind of language — resolution to the Palestinian question including assuring legitimate rights to the Palestinians. You know, I’m sure that is one of the many things they got upset about. [Pause.] I wouldn’t think that the following paragraph would have caused that much difference, but it is a little difficult to put myself back in the frame of mind they had then at the time.

KWS: Um, how did you — how did the Egyptians respond? 

MS: It seems to me — I can’t remember anything specific, but I don’t think we heard anything adverse from the Egyptians, so I assume they must have, they must have been agreeable. But Sadat, as you know, was not a great enthusiast of the Geneva business as it developed. I think had it been done fast, he would’ve fallen in with it very quickly.

KWS: Wasn’t an enthusiast?

MS: He was not, he was never enthusiastic about Geneva because he — By this time he had gotten used to the format of the Sinai disengagement withdrawal.

KWS: If it were a pre-cooked agreement that he would sign he wouldn’t mind.

MS: Oh, that’s right. And he always envisioned that a peace settlement had to be wrapped up at the Geneva context and the United Nations. But, he felt later on — this emerged later on when Roy and I went out and tried to get something started after the ’77 trip. He, he got increasingly impatient with Geneva and it became apparent that he just didn’t like the idea of bringing all these extraneous people back into the process and giving them a hold on — that is great.

KWS: Do you want a cup for hot coffee?

MS: No, I think I will switch. I’ll have — 

KWS: This one is cream.

MS: Oh, that is cream? I have a lot of coffee here. Great.

KWS: Do you have any Sweet ’n’ Low? Thanks. 

MS: Great, great. Shall I pour some of this?

KWS: Sure. Can you bring another full glass of ice? Thank you. That is wonderful, I haven’t had great iced coffee in a long time.

MS: Well, coffee is not bad here when it is hot, but I don’t know, when it is diluted in this fashion…

KWS: Leave some room for cream.

MS: Alright, so you would like some of this? This is cream, I understand. Shall I pour some in?

KWS: Sure, please. Umm, did you have any inkling, even just as a deputy assistant newly arrived, at the moment, of course, you learned about it later that the Egyptians and the Israelis were feeling each other out, quietly. I mean, the environment which you describe is an environment in which the U.S. administration was committed to a comprehensive peace by going to Geneva. It was focused on the procedure of getting there. It wasn’t — They didn’t have any kind of agreement on the substance at the moment. 

MS: [Stirring.] Maybe a spoon, so we don’t have to…? Sorry to keep —

KWS: And the sense I got — the sense I get — is that Vance knew of the [Hassan] Tuhami-Dayan meeting, but it didn’t have any impact upon this dogged deterministic approach and focus of “We’re going to Geneva.” It just, it didn’t — it was just a very small blip on a very large screen.

MS: I think that is right Ken, and I think the background of this is — Well, first of all, I don’t know how much credit was put — I mean, Tuhami was regarded by everybody as such a strange character, that no one knew how much faith to —

KWS: About being — you are being real polite.

MS: That’s right. I mean —

KWS: I mean he has been described as — [Egyptian National Security Affairs Advisor Mohammed] Hafez Ismail, [Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S.] Ashraf Gorbal, [Egyptian spokesman] Tahsin Bashir have described him as a cuckoo, as a weirdo —

MS: That’s right.

KWS: And Ashraf tells a story that he was at Camp David —

MS: He said he made his heart beat, he could make his heart stop —

KWS: He told Begin’s doctor [KWS is laughing] — the doctor says, so how —

MS: [laughing]

KWS: — how are you going to start it again? It’s one of the [laughing] —

MS: [laughing]

KWS: It’s in the footnotes, it’s in the footnotes. It is such a good story, I couldn’t leave it out.

MS: I know. Umm.

KWS: [laughing]

MS: Well, you know, that’s possible. That’s [unintelligible], not a lot of credit was attached to it. But I think also the background of this — because I remember it coming up — was that when the Carter-Vance team came in, earlier in 1977, and kind of looked at this whole business of how do you move beyond what Kissinger had achieved, they made a firm conclusion after a lot of papers were read in internal analysis and the rest of it. They kind of came to a fundamental conclusion that step-by-step, phase-by-phase, you know, a bit-of-peace-for-a-bit-of-land process had gone as far as it could. And I may be wrong, but I think even Kissinger before he left office said something along those lines to that effect and that it had been carried, that that process had been carried, as far as it could. So, there really was general agreement that you had to go — that it was time to try to get a full-scale agreement and go back to the peace table. You see? And then I think, once deciding that — and I am sure there were discussions you know, before I came on board with the Soviets about how you do this and what have you — damned if anybody wanted not to do it, you know, to be derailed from that, from that thought. And umm, so everybody for a period of time kind of fell in with that. And the communique was seen as a part of. But, you know, Ken, have you talked to Pete Dave? Because he might be —

KWS: No, I am going to.

MS: Yeah, I’d talk to Pete because he was in the job during that period.

KWS: I am going to see. I am going to be up in New York at the end of July and I will be seeing him and ]legal advisor in Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs] Nabil el-Arabi. I am seeing Meir Rosenne again.

MS: Isn’t Pete down here at this? I think he is living down here now. 

KWS: Well, maybe.

MS: Because I saw him at a — some kind of meeting once. And I said, “How long are you down here for?” and he said, “Oh, I am living here now.”

KWS: Umm, the Israeli-U.S. response. The thing Dayan cobbled off with, with Carter. Umm, what impact did that have on Sadat?

MS: On Sadat? [Pause.] I can’t remember it, but it must have basically given him some confidence that Carter and Dayan were tough guys who were prepared to lean on. I mean, I can’t imagine that Sadat thought this particular piece of paper was all that important from what it said. But, it would have been an indication that as he came to various crunches in the negotiations at Geneva [unintelligible] that these guys were men, who could really kind of tangle with the Israelis and make things stick. That’s my — I can’t remember being impressed by it, I am just extrapolating knowing Sadat’s personality. But —

KWS: What did you do after this communique was issued? I mean, what was the — What happened at all?

MS: Well, it was overtaken so fast by, uh —

KWS: Well, you still had the month of October and half of November. You had until the tenth of November. You had about six weeks. 

MS: Of course, it is pretty difficult to remember twenty years back. I can’t remember so much what went — You know, but there was that long two-years process of trying to get to Geneva and uh, negotiating the argument over the Palestinian — the membership of the Palestinians and Palestinian representation. And secondly, the agenda — or not the agenda but the format — for the negotiations with Jordan, oddly enough, on this occasion, proving to be the most difficult, if I remember accurately, in not wanting to, or not agreeing to, a very quick, you know, full conference, plenary conference. And then immediately as, of course, the Israelis wanted immediately, breaking up into bilateral groups.

KWS: So the Jordanians and the Israelis were pretty compatible on that?

MS: No, they were not. The Jordanians, as I recall — and you want to check this with Hal — and because this was again before my time, but I remember reading into it, you know, as to what had happened. When I got there, this thing was completely impacted and we were having a terrible time moving it off dead center. But the Jordanians — the Syrians turned out, if I remember accurately, the Syrians were slightly more flexible about all of this business than the Jordanians were. The Jordanians were sort of the odd man out; Sadat was amenable to anything, you know. But the Israelis were very tough about on both the representation question and on the format question. And they were prepared to go to Geneva, but they wanted literally one day and then for whatever it was, and then it would be broken up. And on the Palestinian representation question, I really can’t remember the details, but that was the other, you know — I mean, was it a question of whether they would be a joint membership or whether there was, you know, an argument over the names, specific names, I just can’t quite remember it. But those, I remember those were the two issues. And we — the more Sadat got impatient with this, the more — the less interested he — the longer it took and in negotiation, negotiating over this “fiddle-faddle,” I think, the more disillusioned he got about the whole process of going to, and he just lost interest and that’s why —

KWS: Do you remember anything about the agenda that was — I mean, the contents of the agenda that set people off? I mean, obviously I would imagine that the Americans wanted to talk about Judea and Samaria or the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis only wanted to talk about Sinai.

MS: I don’t think it got to that point, Ken. I don’t recall that it. I think that it got hung up on this question of not only how quickly and in what manner the plenary dissolved into bilateral negotiating tracks, but what the then relationship of the bilateral negotiating tracks had to the plenary, which in theory continued to exist, and did they refer back? Yeah. I mean, believe it or not, in 1977, these absolutely insane arguments that took place prior to going to Madrid.

KWS: To ’91.

MS: Sure, that was exactly….

KWS: It is ongoing, or is it not ongoing?

MS: Yeah. It had gotten to where the Israeli position had to change; fundamentally, the Arabs had to change. You know, except it was called an international conference instead of Geneva Peace Conference. 

KWS: Peace —

MS: Yeah, yeah. 

KWS: When did you get your first inkling that Sadat was going go to Jerusalem?

MS: [Unintelligible.] I don’t recall that anybody had an inkling this was happening. I think I was totally taken by surprise by this.

KWS: Michael, you are the only person — 

MS: Well, Sadat —

KWS: Michael, you are the only person —

MS: Yeah.

KWS: — in that entire group who had spent a lot of time with him other than maybe the guys who had been on the shuttle. You had gone out and seen him in ’72.

MS: ’71.

KWS: ’71.

MS: Yeah, well and ’70.

KWS: And you came back with some very interesting analyses of what the guy wanted. And if you had to compare what the man wanted in ’77 and ’78 with what he said to you in ’71 and ’72, it didn’t really change very much, had it? He still wanted Sinai back and he wanted it back as soon as possible.

MS: [Pause.] No, I guess that’s right, but by the time — well, I guess Sadat himself was swept up into the Kissinger logic that the, you know, that the negotiations of the 1970s, that whole style —  skirting the Soviets, focusing simply on Egyptian bilateral, Egyptian-Israeli bilateral relationship, feeding the Syrian-Israeli relations on a totally separate track — that whole style of negotiations had run out of gas, it had gone as far as it could. And therefore, something different had to be, had to be done. I mean, I think he was not — you know, I never read anywhere that he argued a lot against that idea, so he must have, as everybody else, you know, suddenly enlarged his horizons to include the Palestinian problem, and then what happened on the other fronts is joint with the other parties — Jordan and Syria — and begun thinking about what a full scale peace settlement would look like, which he’d never had to previously, had never been —

KWS: Is it possible he enlarged it because the U.S. administration enlarged it? You know, he was a man, look, he stepped back in your perspective, Hermann tells me he loved America, he loved our democracy, when he was speaker, he came here and saw our Congressional system.

MS: Yeah.

KWS: He admired us. He’d already thrown all of his weight with us, all of our marbles with us. He couldn’t go back, crawl back to the Soviets.

MS: Correct.

KWS: Maybe he was smart enough to understand that if this president needed to try a comprehensive, he had to give him his leash to do so.

MS: There was much of that, I have no doubt.

KWS: And that Sadat was just, you know, “Okay, I’ll give the guy six months. If he doesn’t produce in six months, then I’ll do it myself.”

MS: Yeah. Sadat, of course, was continually beset by political changes in the United States. I mean, he had already, went through Nixon and Ford and gotten very attached to Henry Kissinger, he really knew how to deal with him. I mean, this kind of stiff lawyer, and…

KWS: And attached!

MS: ….and with very little personal charm, you know, turns up the form of Cy Vance, who he eventually gets to like a lot, and admire and respect, and of course he does with Jody [Powell, White House press secretary under Carter]. And then they’re kicked out of office. You know, and he has someone totally weird to deal with.

KWS: You mean, an actor.

MS: Like [Secretary of State] Al Haig. And Reagan doesn’t know what to do. And then suddenly, they come up with a pretty good speech September 1, 1982, but I mean, you know, that was after Sadat was assassinated.

KWS: Yeah, I mean, he had been dead almost 11 months.

MS: Yeah, that’s right. But it must have been kind of confusing, different signals emanating from Washington.

KWS: See, my — my personal sense is that if Carter could have gotten a separate Egyptian-Israeli agreement early on in ’77, that Rabin was prepared for it.

MS: No doubt that Rabin was, whether Sadat would have, I mean, the Egyptians…

KWS: [Israeli political scientist] Shlomo Avineri says there was a communication between Sadat and Rabin suggesting it. No different than his, no different than his February ’71 talk. Back in February ’71, when he floated the idea of, you know, “Give me 600 policeman, please.” And Golda said, “What, are you kidding me?”

MS: Yeah, yeah.

KWS: I mean, the guy was consistent in his methods…

MS: Yeah.

KWS: …in his style…

MS: Yeah.

KWS: …he was consistently impatient, he threw his eggs into the American basket.

MS: I don’t know, Ken, because — All right, maybe if there had been enough momentum after Sinai I, it could have swept him up into that kind of frame of mind, but remember that Sinai II was agony to get. And I think his thinking was already beginning to retreat somewhat into feeling that he needed some coverage in the world and the coverage turned out to be — as we talked about in the ’77-’78 period — a declaration of principles on the Palestinian issue, the other Arabs he would leave to themselves. But I think that Sadat would not have moved to a full-scale bilateral peace agreement had he not made that effort on the Palestinians, had he not constructed a forum in which the Palestinians were invited and did not show up and, you know — 

KWS: Mena House.

MS: — at the Mena House, and insisted that the empty chairs be left there and you know, Palestine delegation, whatever it was, it was on the card. Photographers brought in, you know, photographs being made of it. The Syrians didn’t come of course either, but I think he needed — gradually, he built up to his own mind and to his own people, a sufficient statement in effect saying, “I have done everything I can for these characters and they still don’t want to have any part in the process.”

KWS: And you believe that he was sincere.

MS: Well, you know, I think he would have much preferred it if he could have gotten such a declaration of principles. And if the peace had been comprehensive. ’Cause after all, then he would have gone down as hero for Egypt and a hero for the world, which he led. 

KWS: Why did Washington react so slowly to the visit?

MS: Umm, taken by surprise. I don’t think anybody thought he would be that bold, you know, and I remember we, we kind of — You know, there is a strong disposition not to allow this event to go take the Geneva process off the tracks.

KWS: Even after his visit?

MS: Even after the visit. There was a kind of mind-set in Washington about this had to be comprehensive settlement. I mean, we’ve invested so much time and energy [unintelligible]. But I remember, very hard to adjust thinking and it was only after several days that people began to think and say, shouldn’t we at least take into account the possibility, generated memoranda and papers of what this event meant. That it might mean that Sadat is prepared to go — that he is impatient with the whole international aspect, the regional aspect of the thing — and he might be prepared to go in a bilateral matter.

KWS: We acted — Herman Eilts and Sam Lewis tell me that we acted sort of as a postman between Begin and Sadat in that week or nine days between his announcement in the Egyptian parliament and when he actually got there. Um — and that, then at the end of November he announces he is going to have a conference in Cairo — Mena House. Did you go to Mena House? Tell me what you remember about it.

MS: Well, it was very path breaking because the — in one sense, I mean, the Israelis turned up in Cairo and there is a lot of interest in the fact that Israeli officials were wandering around in the bazaar down there, having a good time, and the Egyptians were friendly. So it was major sort of PR uhh, hubbub about it. Talks themselves were terribly unproductive. I mean, uh, they never got off the ground. Ben-Elissar was terrible. Uh, the Egyptians, I thought, won the round just in terms of Ben Elissar — I mean, he just wasn’t the right man to send there. But I think Begin probably knew that and didn’t want to send anybody who would engage in real negotiations. He wasn’t — he wasn’t ready for it yet.

KWS: Did you think it strange that the U.N. was issuing these invitations and that all these people that might have otherwise come to a Geneva conference were now being invited to Cairo? Was there some sort of anxiety that you were losing control over something you —

MS: No, I mean, the Mena House, its official title as I remember, was the Preparatory Meeting for the Conference — to lead to the conference in Geneva. The whole idea was that this was — Sadat had an advantage, but what he thought should be done, at least theoretically — formally, I guess I should say, formally, he was still on the Geneva track and at least following the Carter-Vance format, but I mean, privately already beginning to say, “You know, we are never going to get anywhere with the Jordanians and the Palestinians, so this is going to have to take bilateral form.”

KWS: Remember [National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski suggesting to Carter to send emissaries to the region. He sent [Vice President Walter] Mondale, Vance and himself to confer upon Sadat the idea that the conference was a good idea, but also want to reintroduce American choreography. It was turned down, Brzezinski’s idea about sending emissaries out didn’t happen. But Vance went out himself on December 3rd. Umm, it was his third time he had been out there.

MS: The emissary idea.

KWS: It was his third time he had been out during the year. Umm, everyone reports that Begin accepted the idea of Mena House because he wanted to be in Washington at the same time and he wanted to enjoy the notion that it was an Israeli delegation. And he wanted to show this to Carter, you see this is what discussions — this is what we can gain from them. What seems to be quite evident is that most of the American officials who are there and with whom I’ve spoken had very little knowledge of the depth, of the magnitude, of the contacts that had developed already between Egyptians and Israelis — 

MS: That is probably true.

KWS: — Knew very little about the substance that had been discussed.

MS: I am not even aware of when I became aware of the Tuhami-Dayan talks, for example. I mean I might have been even after these events. And there probably, I mean, there were a lot of other contacts, no doubt, as well.

KWS: Why was Ben-Elissar to your estimate not the right person?

MS: He is very stiff, very ideological, very lecturing. Uh, the chemistry was very bad with all of us, not just [unintelligible] Esmat Abdul Magid. Abdul Magid was, by contrast, I thought, extremely good in keeping the thing going, in spite of Ben-Elissar. I had a feeling at the time that Ben-Elissar was more dogmatic and sort of ideological in his approach than Menachem Begin, although that seems incredible.

KWS: Meir Rosenne, Abrasha Tamir, Dan Pattir. The Egyptians were Usamah [el-Baz], Abdel Magid, Amir Musr, Nabil Arabi, Abdel-Raouf El-Reedy. And the Americans included you, and Roy, and I don’t know who else was there.

MS: That is about it. We had a very small delegation.

KWS: And [Lieutenant General Ensio] Siilasvuo was the U.N. observer.

MS: And Siilasvuo was there, yeah.

KWS: Do you remember anything about Ben-Elissar making a threat to pack it up and go? He didn’t come down to the conference room on the morning of the 15th and the reason he didn’t come down is he said, there were too many chairs in the room and some quote “unknown material in from of the chairs. Ben-Elissar told his colleagues and the delegation to start packing but no one did because a message went to the Egyptians that the Israelis might need their plane to return. Suddenly all the flags were removed, including the PLO flag from the conference room. But the truth was,” and this is from Elissar, “‘I did not know and no one knew what the flag of the PLO looked like.’” [Laughs.] 

MS: It’s funny. 

KWS: [Continuing to read] “So, the Israeli delegation contacted the office in Jerusalem” — Listen to this, 

MS: [Laughs.] I do remember this.

KWS: Listen. — “contacted the office in Jerusalem and ascertained that indeed it was the PLO flag and it was in the conference room. It also hung outside of Mena House where the lunch was taking place where the delegates were eating. During lunch, Ben-Elissar phoned the head of the Egyptian protocol that he was not happy with Mena House hospitality and wanted to change hotels. Inquiries made by the Egyptians about Ben-Elissar’s discomforture and the second PLO flag was removed from the premises. In hindsight, according to Epi Evron and Roy Atherton, Israel could not have avoided showing at Mena House even if the PLO had done so. But Israel, when it received the invitation to Mena House talks, had no intention of going to a meeting with the PLO present.”

MS: Sounds all very accurate to me. Yeah, I do remember the flag. I couldn’t remember what it was about. You know, first they said their bags were packed and they were going to have to go home and the rest of it.

KWS: Ben-Elissar, by the way, is quite proud of his behavior and his — he went on an hour with me about this.

MS: The talks went nowhere. I mean we couldn’t get —

KWS: Well, what were the talks about?

MS: Oh Ken, I don’t — I mean, I’d have to dust off the record. There had been so many preliminary exchanges leading, leading up to some real business, but I suppose it was how you, you know, he must have dug in with the whole business of what do you, what you try for. I think, he vaguely had some ideas of about what eventually emerged as a declaration of principles on Palestinian issues, and in the meantime they could talk about some, some Egyptian-Israeli stuff. But tell the truth Ken, it was so bizarre, it was so unproductive. So much time was spent over offenses. And ,pre thought whether everybody was being treated right or not. But uh, I really can’t remember much substance. What did Roy say?

KWS: Uh [reading]. “The conference marked time was all forum because the conference proceedings did not narrow any differences held by members of Israeli and Egyptian delegations, but they did reach agreement on the content of the dispatch of two telegrams. One to [U.S. envoy] Phil Habib wishing him a speedy recovery from a heart attack— ”

MS: [Laughs.]

KWS: “— and the other to President Sadat congratulating him” on his 25th — “on his birthday on December 25.”

MS: [Laughs.]

KWS: “Those are the two things that they agreed on. No progress was made because both Egypt tried to tackle the more sensitive issue of all, mainly the degree of Israeli withdrawal, a point which Israel would not debate. And any attempt of discussion of the meaning inherent in either 242 or 338 was certain to reach an impasse. Sam Lewis recalls, ‘Washington wanted to get involved and wanted to stage manage it, but they didn’t quite know how. They were afraid that Sadat was going to give away the Palestinian cause and Carter was personally, had this sense of responsibility, personally for the Palestinians. They all had a sense that Sadat was Sadat and they didn’t really care much for our thought. And they had lip service for the Palestinian cause and the comprehensive cause was probably just that, and the fear that Begin could buy him off of Sinai.’”

MS: Yeah, I think that’s about right. Undoubtedly, the Egyptians pushed the withdrawal business too hard. But I can’t even remember much of that. All I remember was sort of pricking myself harder. How difficult it was. And it was quite accurate, whoever said it, Sam, whoever, said that we wanted to stage manage it and we didn’t really know what the hell to do because the gap between Ben-Elissar and Abdel Magid was so great and we were constantly getting — Egyptians were coming up to us. And Israelis were coming up to us the next minute and saying, “This is the last straw. We are going to have to leave.” You know, and whatever, you know, whatever the —

KWS: Whatever the straw was.

MS: We’d take — yeah, that’s right. We back off and we say, “Oh, please don’t leave,” rushing from room to room. Mollified in one form or another. It was a terribly funny meeting. I mean, it just — but, uh — It was, you know, a dim precursor, I guess. Things have to start that way, I suppose. Tough negotiations you know. But the idea that those two sides could ever come to a peace agreement — peace treaty was uh, we would have thought it to have been inconceivable.

KWS: I mean, Ben-Elissar said there was no agenda set. “We just sat down.” In fact, Meir Rosenne said, “We just sat down and Abdul Magid gaveled it to order.”

MS: Yeah. Well, everybody had a preliminary statement, that is what I remember. They all arrived with opening statements and uh, they all sounded pretty good. I mean, the Israelis said they wanted peace and the Egyptians said they want peace, and we said wanted to be helpful and that kind of thing at some length [laughs]. But then we never could come to grips with it, because uh, we had not brought any drafts and we knew that, uh — 


MS: The two sides talking past each other.

KWS: Did we learn anything about negotiations, that both the Egyptians and the Israelis wouldn’t agree on an agenda? Did we realize that we had to play a more influential and instrumental central role because they couldn’t do it without us? What did we learn about negotiations from that experience? Anything?

MS: I think I became aware that this was a side show. That everybody was treating it as some kind of side show. In other words, Sadat wanted it to establish a record that the Palestinians would not come to negotiations and maybe, to go further than that, to say that Geneva, the whole Geneva conference idea, is not viable. The Israelis really, it was quite evident, had no confidence. And maybe, didn’t want anything, to make sure that nothing would come from it at this point. Meanwhile, of course, Begin and Sadat were meeting in Ismailia summit, and if there was going to be any action it wasn’t going to be in the Mena House. And I think they were, you know, they were — both sides were disillusioned, really did not want Geneva to happen at this point, but did not know exactly what would take its place in any form. Umm, it was — but you know, they were having the first direct discussions about the problems of peace as opposed to just stages of withdrawal. Uh, and it was happening in Cairo, in the middle of Cairo. Sort of groundbreaking in psychological terms, but no one really thought that it was more than some kind of symbolic event and that became pretty clear. And we kept packing our bags and unpacking — thinking it was all over and somehow it dragged on for a couple of more days — 

KWS: [Laughs.]

MS: — and we go down to the main room and sit there and hope that it wasn’t going to be more than an hour and a half.

KWS: Sterner, I’ve got to say something about you. Now here is a guy who sat with me in a grotto in Geneva. [Laughs.]

MS: That’s right.

KWS: [Laughs.] This is the same character now who is at Mena House with his hands in the air, “Wow, I am a foreign service officer, what am I doing here?” [Laughs.]

MS: I know, it was very strange for me. Well, we all wanted to be helpful, but we were under wraps.

KWS: Just do me a favor. Just write an article about thirty days in Geneva and a couple of days in Cairo.

MS: Oh, the Geneva thing was funny.

KWS: I mean, Epi [Evron] and Vino [Soviet diplomat Vladimir Vinogradov] —

MS: Well, the Geneva thing is, you know — 

KWS: I mean, I went back and listened to that tape last night and I laughed. 

MS: Yeah.

KWS: No offense intended, but I roared.

MS: It was funny, because with Henry telling me, telling me not to get involved and Vinogradov sort of sensing that, uh — and getting me into his clutches and saying, “I thought I would just turn — Oh, I tell you what, Mr. Sterner, why don’t I just turn up at the next meeting?” God, you know my blood pressure went up about fifteen — I mean this was absolutely — Kissinger had left and said, “Don’t let the fucking Russians anywhere near them.” You know, that kind of thing. And here I was, you know the guy on the — the soldier on the spot that is supposed to stick this bird with a bayonet, but not knowing quite how to do that. 

KWS: [Laughs.]

MS: Vinogradov, Vinogradov enjoyed it hugely, because he sensed how uncomfortable I was. So I finally resorted to — I said. “I really wouldn’t do that.”

KWS: You mean, showing up at the next meeting?

MS: Yeah. And finally. I went around to Hafez Ismail, and said, “You’ve got to call the Russians off, because it’s your negotiation.” That worked. And uh, of course, [unintelligible] said, “Vladimir —” or whatever the hell Vinogradov’s name was, “I think you better not turn up at the meeting.”  [Unintelligible] heard about it. But that was such a funny episode, even, even — what’s his name, our patrician, elderly patrician?

KWS: Bunker. Ellsworth.

MS: Ellsworth Bunker.

KWS: Going to Vermont to his farm.

MS: That is right for his Christmas eve dinner. Nothing was gonna — he had done that for 86 years straight and nothing was going to stop him from getting back there. He left me basically all alone there. The only thing I can really remember about the episode is that, I mean, the only really pleasant thing was that they had a very attractive secretary assigned to me and we even went skiing one Sunday together. And I am sure that if they’d left me there for another month, I [both laugh] would’ve been having an affair with her. [Laughs] I was so miserable. You know, really — but fortunately, I kept calling up Roy and saying, “Nothing is happening here.” Meanwhile Epi had gone home. Ismail Fahmy gone home. Vinigradov — Even Vinigradov had gone home. And, you know, I couldn’t get instructions from Kissinger to leave Geneva because he wanted the symbol that we were still fond of the Geneva conference and we still had a stake in it. And God knows, I wasn’t a very visible someone. So I was on the phone every third day saying, “Please, go upstairs and talk to the secretary and get me out of here. How long am I going stay?” “Well, Mike, I talked to him the other day and he thinks maybe, maybe we ought to have a continuous presence.” “What is going to happen to my family, Roy?” I mean — I  had one bag, two sets of underdrawers over there and he is talking about a permanent presence. And so I said, “Can I at least come back and pack some clothes or something?” “No, he doesn’t want you to leave.” What an impossible man really. He was.

KWS: Who, Henry?

MS: Henry, yeah. I mean, he really — except it was funny in light of things, but he sure was a difficult character to work for.

KWS: Did you, did you go to either the political committee or the military committee talks, the ones in Jerusalem?

MS: Uh, yes. I went to the, uh, I went to the political committee talks, which as I remember were in the Hilton hotel. Held in the Hilton — with Vance. And uh, gosh, what the hell happened there, Ken? You better tell me, I mean, my memory is —

KWS: Well, this was the Begin dinner when he —

MS: Oh, that’s right, and what’s his name, the Egyptian prime minister — 

KWS: Muhamad Ibn Kamel.

MS: Muhamad Ibn Kamel took such terrible offense. Well, it was not terribly tactful on the part of Begin. On the other hand, Begin was not famous for his tact anywhere, and Muhamad Ibrahim Kamel should have been — should have been prepared. It was ridiculous, actually. But he was such an unqualified person, really, Kamel, totally unqualified to be… He didn’t believe in anything that Sadat was trying to do. Total unreconstructed Nasserist.

KWS: Really?

MS: Oh absolutely, absolutely. I mean, read his book, you ought to.

KWS: I did.

MS: Well —

KWS: I mean, it is quite evident that he was — I mean, I didn’t know he was an unconstructed Nasserist, but it was quite clear that he had great difficulty in representing Sadat. One of the difficulties I have after reading that book is trying to understand why someone like Fahmy and Kamel could work for someone like Sadat who advocating things that they were just not in tune with.

MS: Well, I think Fahmy much more so than — I mean, Fahmy’s demise was, at least I think, a real blow to the Egyptians, because, uh, [unintelligible] — At least Fahmy knew how to, you know — I think Hal put it once. He said, Fahmy knew how to be the link between Sadat as a big strategic thinker and the mechanism down below that had to try to —

KWS: Get it done.

MS: Get it done.

KWS: Right.

MS: That some of these strategic thoughts translate them into operable, you know, actions.

KWS: Even Ashraf Ghorbal who was his number one enemy in the foreign ministry said that. He said, the one thing you could say about Fahmy, he could write a memorandum and he could get something done —

MS: Mm-hmm.

KWS: — so fast.

MS: I think that everybody sensed that about him and when he went it was just the opposite with Kamel. Kamel did nothing, although some ways a more agreeable character to sit next to, you know, at dinner time or something like that, because Fahmy could be very prickly and abrasive. But all he did was fight the problem. I mean, as soon as Sadat went off on his own and said, “We don’t want this comprehensive peace settlement involving all the other Arabs,” uh, Kamel instantly, instinctively and irredeemably opposed, on very deep emotional grounds, anything that suggested the Egyptians going off on their own. And that was increasingly emerging as what Sadat wanted to do. Uh, so it was a difficult year, I think. I think, really, for Sadat almost more than anybody else, [unintelligible] he resigned.

KWS: You think the fact that Sadat didn’t have someone like Fahmy made it easier for Sadat to make the compromises at Camp David that he did? Because he didn’t have to worry about someone who, first of all, had the longevity with him as Fahmy had, and second, wasn’t a man who the respect of even the foreign ministry. I mean. I think — I think he appointed Muhamad Ibrahim Kamel purposely because he wanted someone who was very, very weak as foreign minister.

MS: I think that is right. Uh, probably Fahmy —I mean, yeah, Fahmy, left because he’d argued with Sadat.

KWS: Always.

MS: Yeah, and Sadat just didn’t like that. And uh, Kamel argued with him but he didn’t have the credentials that Fahmy did and he wasn’t as good as Fahmy and therefore, Sadat was in a position to sort of ignore him, which he did. And uh, that is even plain in Kamel’s own account. as I remember it. Uhh, but I think there is something to that, yeah. I think Sadat was already his own foreign minister and at least on this issue, intended to remain as such.

KWS: Well, he was going to keep the Washington portfolio, he wasn’t going to give that to anybody.

MS: That’s right. And Usamah was the one, kind of, wily, smart character could land any which way, you know, and it was — he could survive.

KWS: Was Usamah smarter than Fahmy?

MS: Both pretty smart. I knew Usamah much better than Fahmy because I saw more of him later on after Fahmy had left and Major Usamah is second to no one in terms of IQ and it’s more than that. I mean I think he has great smarts and thinking of the angles and how to do things, how to get things done. He is very good, you know he wrote the uh, Sadat’s speech in Jerusalem. Um, it was a pretty good speech. That was all Usamah’s work. Talented man —

KWS: Would you call him —

MS: — and also a very, very opportunistic man.

KWS: Would you call him devious or shrewd?

MS: Ha. Probably both. On a day when he was doing things you would like to see him do, he was shrewd. And days when he is working against you, he is devious. 

KWS: But in any case, he is wily?

MS: But he’s very smart tactician. Gosh, you know, he stole the show at the Leeds conference. Dayan was — even Dayan was sort of eating out of his hand at one time. Poor old Kamel could only get up and have a constrained expression on his face and kept saying, kept saying, “You know, with all of his interventions, why don’t the Israelis understand us? And why don’t they treat us better?” That kind of thing. You know, terribly — he’s a very emotional man. He couldn’t be unemotional and Usamah finally got up and said, “Mr. Foreign Minister, let me take over.” Whereupon, you know, Muhamad Kamel sort of lapsed into silence, as I remember it. And Usamah got up and hit the Israelis between the eyes, and then he kind of picked them up and dusted them off. He said, “We want peace, but it has got to be peace,” you know, and suddenly, all the Israelis were just dazzled by him, by his performance, as I recall. I mean, he is an impressive character. He’s a bit, I mean — he has slight qualities of a famous snake that hypnotizes you. He has some of those qualities. Have you ever met him? You’ve met him, haven’t you? You know, kind of a strange and interesting looking guy.

KWS: I mean, he is only about 5 foot 6. The only person in the Middle East he could beat in basketball would be King Hussein.

MS: That’s right [laughs].

KWS: Or maybe Yitzhak Shamir. 

MS: That’s right, he is pretty short. And he has this very unusual — I don’t know if it is a Pharonic or maybe, obviously some Turkish blood.

KWS: Well, sometimes, he looks at you, his eyes sort of tilt up. Sort of gives you like —

MS: Yeah.

KWS: And he just boars in on you. I’ve spent hours with him. Carter has, Carter has enormous admiration for him.

MS: Oh yes, oh yes. Well, once he got the, uh, once he got his marching orders, he was terrific at getting things done. He’s a very good diplomat. I mean, he would make trips to Tunis to see [PLO Chairman Yasser] Arafat at various times and go off to see King Hussein. I mean, he could deal with absolutely anybody who knew how to flatter him. He’s probably been — especially considering that he has gone through the whole Sadat period and the Mubarak period — he has been a very influential guy in total.

KWS: Oh, well, he ended up writing everyone’s speeches. I mean he’s a very good wordsmith.

MS: Yeah, yeah.

KWS: Tell me um, tell me about the Atherton trips between Mena House and Leeds. Roy came out trying to stitch this, keep this thing going, while the United States and Washington were sort of trying to figure out what to do.

MS: Yeah, we somehow —and I can’t remember the precise genesis of this — but we began to have two tracks. And the one track then consisted of the Egyptians dealing directly with the Israelis about their own matters, and Roy and I concentrated on what became known as the declaration of principles. I mean, when I say that I don’t quite remember the genesis of the two tracks, I know these were the two elements that were always there, but how, how it started. I think it was because — didn’t Ezer Weizmann turn up very soon in Cairo and sort of establish that? He says, “Look well, while we are talking about this, through Atherton —”

KWS: Ezer’s great remark was, he said, my greatest success was creating a phone link after Ismailia. And once we established a phone link and Sadat and I began to establish a relationship with one another, uhh, Abrasha ended up sitting in Cairo for a long time, Abrasha Tamir. And he and [Taha El-]Magdoub had a couple months of pretty hard core straightforward kinds of talks. And they pretty well knocked out the pace of Israeli withdrawal from Sinai before Camp David. I mean Abrasha and General Magdoub pretty well did that. It was in the can before Camp David.

MS: Mm-hmm, I think that’s right.

KWS: And that is what Weitzmann feels pretty proud about. He said, you know, military committee talks continued even though the political committee talks went down the tubes.

MS: Yeah, yeah. Well, we, we struggled with this declaration. And we had, we developed very quickly a draft. The declaration was supposed to be the format for the, uh, for the larger negotiations. Meanwhile, the Egyptians and Israelis cook up their own bilateral agreement, but this would be the basis for continuing on the comprehensive peace settlement.

KWS: But did you — in that declaration of principles you’re really focusing on the West Bank and Gaza, really focusing on the Palestinians, the transitional period. The nine points, I think they were called. Right?

MS: That’s right.

KWS: The nine points, is that right?

MS: Yeah.

KWS: And those were the nine points that became sort of the building block that Carter took to Camp David.

MS: That’s right, that’s right. It was the dim beginnings of that. And we continued to — and then when — everybody went to Leeds and we continued to sort of work at that. But Leeds was — uh, became interesting from a, you know, it became much larger than that. A great deal was talked about it at Leeds. Umm, and then finally in August, Roy and I called on Sadat, I remember. He was in a state of — I remember the puffing on his pipe — I could tell he was in a state of exasperation and uh, I felt that all of the psychological impact of this trip to Jerusalem had just been wasted — 

KWS: By August.

MS: That’s right, by all these useless diplomats. He was mad and, quite mad at — 

KWS: This was the trip that Vance took in early August?

MS: No, it was a preliminary to the Vance trip and he said, “I want some action and I’m gonna do this,” sort of, you know and various…I have to dig out my telegram, I wrote a long telegram I remember about that. And uh, Roy and I sat down and thought, you know, in a separate message that we ought to really recommend what the secretary ought to do. So, we suggested he come out and he did. And while he was out here, Brzezinski and uh, the president cooked up the idea of Camp David. I think it really sort of germinated and gelled very quickly, while Vance was actually travelling around. He undoubtedly had some conversations about it.

KWS: Well, Vance actually brought the letter with him on the trip. Two letters, one to Begin — 

MS: Oh, that’s right. Yeah, you’re quite right. So, it had been done before that. 

KWS: Were you privy at all to what Brzezinski and Quandt were up to prior to Sadat’s visit here in February of ’78? The political committee talks had just finished, or just come to a screeching halt. Sadat just recalled the delegation. The military talks continued. The period at the end of January, um, immediately at the end of January, Carter invites Sadat to come to Camp David. And um, at Camp David, Quandt at least tells us in his book, that there was an effort made to concoct an Egyptian-American set of ideas which would be what Sadat could accept, but there would be enough in it that Begin could use and which the Americans had taken from what Begin had brought here on the autonomy question in December. The whole idea was to present an American proposal that Begin would chew on. In other words, to prevent any backsliding from what Begin had already brought. In other words, to build from that and move forward.

MS: And this was when, in Feb —

KWS: February, February of ’78.

MS: ’78.

KWS: And Quandt says, that out of this came the general rubric of the nine points, which you and Roy then refined on your trips to the Middle East and — but no one has explained to me how Leeds fit, fit into that. I mean, Leeds was supposed to be a foreign ministers meeting.

MS: Hmm [pause]. Well, the only th — I am not sure it did fit into it. At the moment, I can’t without refreshing my memory with Bill’s book or something, I can’t quite remember who proposed it or how it got proposed, but uh, I remember all that Spring, you know, kind of beginning in February or at least March and up through, when was Leeds, June or something? June or July?

KWS: July.

MS: July. That period, Roy and I must have made, you know, five or six trips to the area, constantly going out there with these damn points. And again, we were beginning to get nowhere. That is to say that we got somewhere at the very beginning, but we reached an absolute impasse on certain things. The Egyptians’ number one thing, I remember one thing we struggled over was the Egyptian insistence that we phrase from the preface of Security Council Resolution 242 about the inadmissibility of the acquisition.

KWS: Territory by war.

MS: — By war had to be in this, in this thing. We argued endlessly about whether, at Begin’s insistence — I remember Dayan saying at one point, he says, “I don’t care this much about this point, but I am under orders from the boss to insist that if Israel is to withdraw fully from Sinai and not withdraw one inch from the West Bank, then it would nevertheless be in full compliance with the meaning of the withdrawal formula in Resolution 242.” And you know, Roy and I were instructed to insist that we could not buy that proposition. And, you know, it just got, it got involved in terrible theology. And I think at least, that, you know, people began to recognize, whether it was Washington or Cairo that kind of blew the whistle on that process, that it wasn’t getting anywhere and that we couldn’t move it beyond a certain point and let’s have the top people look at it, maybe, or make a new departure or leap beyond it or some damn thing. Um — 

KWS: What was — what was the Israeli thinking about Carter after Sadat’s visit and after the failure of the political committee talks? He tried to push the Brookings report down their throat. He tried to tell them who they had to negotiate with. Essentially, he tried to take a lot of prerogative away from the Israelis. That’s what really stung the Israelis about Jimmy Carter. 

MS: Yeah, I think that’s right.

KWS: How did that change or did it change in ’78?

MS: I think this was the damaging thing about the U.S.-Soviet communique was that it planted this seed of very deep distrust because we kept running into it and it kept being referred to later and later on among the Israelis — Carter and Vance — Oh, I think they remembered it for a long time.

KWS: Really?

MS: I think they thought back on it. They didn’t like the idea that it was done behind their back, they didn’t like what was in it, they didn’t like the concept and uh, I think at last, I mean eventually of course, it was overshadowed by Carter in Camp David and you know, what he did. But leading up to that,  I think it was — you know, there was an element of mistrust about it. Meantime, Kissinger, who would have had any of those Israelis eating out of his hand on the basis of personal charm, you know. Poor Cy, you know, was so wooden with everybody. You know, “Now, Mr. Prime Minister, with regard to paragraph 14,” you know. I mean, Begin was saying to himself, “Wait a minute, this is my act,” you know. “What’s this guy coming from Washington?” with this precise lawyerly performance all, you know, necktie, and everything like that. It was just—it was not a good kind of cultural mix. Cy, in fact, you know, had perfectly good feelings about the Israelis and totally unprejudiced man in this thing, but he just didn’t mix well with Israelis until they got to know him much better and to respect him for what he had done —

KWS: Well, now tell me — oh, go ahead.

MS: But to begin with it was very difficult and I don’t think they mixed very well with Jimmy, either. You know, some of those early meetings about uh —

KWS: Well, the Rabin-Carter meeting was a disaster.

MS: That was a disaster. And I remember Dayan having — when the hell did those meetings, when we — ?

KWS: Dayan had a meeting with Carter on September 19, ’77. He had a meeting first at the State Department with Vance and then he went over — 

MS: That is right. Those didn’t go well.

KWS: Oh, I mean, he just — he and Carter went at it. And then, I think, I think what he and Carter went at on the September 19th, what happened on October 4th was just a continuation of that meeting. 

MS: Yeah, yeah. 

KWS: I think that rancor was in the air and I think they, they looked at each, and I think they just spat bullets at one another.

MS: Yeah, yeah. Well, maybe that is right. I don’t know. You know, you’d have to go back to the election maybe and see what, uh — I don’t — My impression is that Carter and company didn’t, certainly didn’t do anything to offend American Jews, but I don’t think they particularly reached out, as I remember. Maybe I’m wrong about this.

KWS: You are right. [Senator Henry] “Scoop” Jackson was their man.

MS: That’s right, yeah. And uh — 

KWS: Carter himself told me that. He said Scoop Jackson was the man of the American Jewish community. “And I didn’t feel akin to them like Mondale did. I wasn’t part of this labor movement, I wasn’t part of these liberal causes.”

MS: Sure.

KWS: “I wasn’t being — I hadn’t been exposed to the lobbying group of Israelis in Washington. All these guys had and they responded, and I didn’t have that experience.”

MS: Yeah, yeah. I think that — 

KWS: Carter’s very candid about that.

MS: Yeah. So, you know, you didn’t have these ties that Lyndon Johnson did, you know, with Epi coming in the back door of the White House. None of that —

KWS: I think every president except Jimmy Carter had a formative experience with either recent Jewish history or the American Jewish community.

MS: Yeah, I think that’s right.

KWS: Kennedy and Nixon and Ford. You know, Nixon and Ford as congressmen had to deal with people in their constituencies. Johnson for sure.

MS: Yeah.

KWS: But not Carter. Carter is the only president — and I asked Hal Saunders about it and Hal said, “You’re right.” Hal thought about it. He talked to me for about twenty minutes about it and he said, “You’re right.” He said, even John Kennedy, Hal reminded me, had gone to Palestine as a junior at Harvard. And was very impressed with Jewish experiment, as he called it when he wrote home to his father. Four-page letter about, “I am very impressed with the Jewish experiment.”

MS: Hmmm. I didn’t know that.

KWS: Um — but if they had some — if Vance was wooden and Carter wasn’t totally trustworthy, how’d they feel about Brzezinski?

MS: Well, he couldn’t have helped being a Pole.

KWS: [Laughs.] I will not use that in the book.

MS: No?

KWS: I promise you.

MS: All right. Oddly enough, it only kind of added to the, to the process. But I don’t remember [unintelligible] — 

KWS: Well, Epi Evron says that by the end of April of ‘77, he said, “This was a disaster dump for us.” He said, “We were so scared of this administration.”

MS: Yeah.

KWS: He said Begin read the notes of the Rabin-Carter meeting three times before he came to Washington. He said, “You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife in terms of the level of fear that existed in the Israeli delegation that came here in July.” He said Begin was just apoplectic about what he was gonna — and as it turned out, Sam Lewis was the guy who made that visit not as anxiety ridden as it could have been. That choreography of that visit which Sam helped generate and persuade the guys in Washington to follow was very similar, very, very similar to the way Sam handled the Rabin visit this last month. And anyone — and having followed how Sam influenced that Begin visit and watching in Atlanta what happened here in Washington, I called up Sam about two weeks later, and I said, “You did it a second time.” He knew exactly what I was talking about. It was just so evident.

MS: Yeah, yeah. Well, I was still out in Abu Dhabi in that formative period. But your description of it, looking back on it, rings all sorts of bells that, that sound right to me and when I finally came in looking back on it, I think that’s absolutely on target. And the old, all of the old, you know, tendency of the Israelis to see the Democrats as their kind of party as opposed to the Republicans had totally broken down with Nixon, uh, and Ford, who established, you know, new levels of bilateral support for the Israelis. And I think the Israelis — and again, you know Kissinger had been pretty good guy to deal with, knew how to handle the Israelis. And uh, had gotten two agreements with him on the Egyptian front, three including Syria, you know. And it was in their best interest — It just came as a shock to have something quite different, quite uh, unconnected in the usual political channels. The Israelis, they were worried. And uh, you know, I can understand Epi’s comments.

KWS: Well, they say that Vance’s trip to Israel in February of ’77 was just abysmal. 

MS: Was it?

KWS: Yeah, because he came on that visit and said, “You guys can’t sell your fighters to Ecuador and we’ve decided not to sell you cluster bombs.” And Rabin says, “Wait a minute, this was promised by the Ford administration. How are you going to go back — how can you renege on this?” And Vance said, “The president has told me to tell you that we are not going to give these to you.”

MS: Really? I had forgotten that.

KWS: And I mean, this — so by the time that Rabin got here in March, these bells were going off. And you had the homeland remark and then Brzezinski was quoted in Washington on one of the Sunday news programs as saying Israel had to go back to the ’67 borders. Rabin was getting his doctorate, he was getting an honorary doctorate at American University, and Hanan Bar-On goes up to him in the front row, “You can’t believe it. Carter just had a press conference and said publicly that we have to negotiate with the PLO.” Rabin turned to Bar-On and said, “You’re fantasizing, aren’t you?” And Bar-On said no. He said, “I don’t believe it.” So, Vance met Rabin at the airport on his way out and said, “Oh yeah, Carter believes that you have to negotiate with the PLO and he is going to say it again publicly, so be prepared for it.” And this was all the early part of ’77. I mean, the weightiness of anxiety from Jerusalem’s view of what Washington was, they were scared. They were thoroughly scared about this guy and the guys around him. And they had the Brookings report they were shoving down their throat. They talk about a Palestinian home — I mean, all of these things, you know, and the Israelis count. I mean, they’re numbers — they’re bean counters. I mean, each one of these, for us, for us, against us, for us, for us, against us. By the time you got to July of ’77, by the time Begin got here, Ben-Elissar said, “We were scared.” 

MS: It was terrible, yeah, that’s interesting to be reminded of that, of how bad it was — 

KWS: You think about that atmosphere, and you say to yourself, well, no wonder Begin wanted to think about dealing with Sadat directly.

MS: Sure.

KWS: But yet, they couldn’t afford not to include the Americans. The United States had to be there in some manner or another, but the Americans couldn’t be the choreographer. They had to be the supporter of what went on. But they couldn’t be the head conductor. And Golda once said to me in an interview I did with her before she passed away — it was one of the great stories which I included in the manuscripts — she said — I said, “Do you think these two gentlemen truly deserve a Nobel Prize?” She said, “Yes they do, but in all due respect, they probably also deserve the Oscar.”

MS: [Laughs.] That is a wonderful comment.

KWS: [Laughs.]

MS: That’s great.

KWS: This was an interview I did in December of ’77 about a year before she passed away. Um, what did you do in, around the Camp David time period, were you there? 

MS: Uh, at Camp David, I was the home-base character and, uh, kept feeding material up to the boys at Camp David. Uh, you know, I mean as every problem came up, Jerusalem or what have you and they didn’t have the right formulation, or could I clear something or other that required informing the White House, or anyway, that is what I was doing all through that period. And boy, it was a non-stop job, I remember being exhausted during that week trying to field all these requests.

KWS: So, you acted sort of like a reference librarian?

MS: I was a reference librarian and a channel of communications to people who wanted to know what the fuck was going on. And to only a portion of which I found out because of, you know, telephone conversations with Roy and Hal. But uh, it was a very interesting period. And I remember in particular the last flap over Jerusalem. We kept struggling to come up with language, digging up what people like [U.S. delegate] Charles Yost had said in the United Nations, you know about Jerusalem and, my God…

KWS: What do you remember about the flaps over settlements? I mean, what do you recall having been said and not having been said. I have asked everyone the same question, so I am going to have — I did 80 interviews, I am going to have 80 responses.

MS: Sure. Well, I was not up at Camp David, so I just have to take it — I remember having a meeting with Vance and I guess, it was Hal, whoever, just after they came back down. And uh, we had this proposition that no new settlements, we thought, would be built for as long as negotiations were underway for the bilateral peace treaty. And Begin had in the meanwhile returned to Jerusalem, immediately in the Knesset, somewhere, got up and said, “I didn’t promise that.” You know, it was just for the month or something. What did he say?

KWS: Three months.

MS: Three months, yeah. And uh, the question came up as to whether — and Vance said, “Well, that’s not what he said.” And Vance was very certain that he had heard. And Barak himself — although he did not, I guess he never said so publicly — but essentially confirmed that Begin had committed himself in the manner that Carter had heard. And that what he had done — was that when he got back from Jerusalem he ran into a lot of heat, and just backed off. Well, then the question came up — the only thing I was involved in, was the question of what we do about it and uh, we all sat around and I remember being asked to do a memorandum about it which would go over to the White House to get Carter’s approval to take some action. What I recommended was that we suspend the negotiations until we clarified this. And I remember arguing in the memorandum that this was a crucial point and that really it would blow a hole in the bottom of any kind of attempt to get a second track on the West Bank and Gaza knowing the Palestinian issue. And that we had to resolve it before — we shouldn’t — we should resolve it, definitively, before we proceeded with our role in the — sort of use that as leverage to try to get Begin to come aboard again. Vance signed off on it and the memorandum went over, but it was not approved by the president. And I remember seeing a copy of his — of the returned memo with this marginalia in it, saying in essence, you know, Cy, I don’t think we — I think we have got some good momentum. Or, I think what he said was, I don’t think we ought to allow this issue to impede the positive momentum that Camp David has given the whole peace process. That, in essence, was his position. It was understandable. I thought it was wrong. I think, um, so did Hal, although you have to ask him. But, I remember thinking in my bones, that this was a mistake at the time. And uh, I, you know, I think it did — all of our worst fears came to pass, it undermined any further — I think it seriously undermined Sadat’s credibility and the role that the United States would play, and generally, set a very bad precedent for the autonomy talks, which may not have gone anywhere anyway, because Begin fundamentally — Begin was determined that they shouldn’t go anywhere and they didn’t. So, probably they wouldn’t have gone anywhere anyway, but — uh, it was — I thought the president made a mistake there, uh —

KWS: Were you surprised as a foreign service officer how eager and interested this president was in the Middle East?

MS: Very, very.

KWS: What kind of impression did it leave on you after spending so many years in the foreign service that now there was a president who said, you know, I’m gonna get my fingers dirty and maybe even chopped off.

MS: Well, I think he tremendously admired it [unintelligible]. We were also confused Ken, what happened at Camp David, because I think, we — those of us who weren’t there anyway, but I think also Bill, for example, who wasn’t in on the big tete-a-tetes that took place, was sort of sitting in the cabin waiting while they happened. But all of us felt surprised at Sadat’s tactics at the place. Uh, we could hardly blame Jimmy Carter for not leaning on Sadat to give as much —


MS: — And what happened on the Palestinian front.

KWS: Alright, let me just recapitulate. Sadat made a mistake —

MS: Sadat made a mistake. I think, looking back on it, in not getting a firmer linkage between the bilateral negotiations of the Egyptian-Israeli peace, and what happened on the Palestinian front. Secondly, I think he could’ve gotten more than he did, something on Jerusalem.

KWS: So, you’re thinking that — 

MS: That would’ve been helpful. And I think that had he said instead, agreeing, you know, and feeling that he had to have an agreement, that instead of the last day, was, you know, “Mr. Prime Minister, we have made a lot of progress here, but unfortunately, we have a couple of additional points that need to be redressed. I’m going home now, you go home. Let’s think about and I’m prepared to meet with you any time again.”

KWS: But that wasn’t Carter’s way!

MS: It should have been Carter’s way.

KWS: No, Carter’s way is — there is a shoelace that’s untied, you’ve got to tie it. You don’t leave it untied.

MS: Well, I am not blaming Carter.

KWS: — You know working for Carter for ten years —

MS: — If I’d been in Carter’s shoes —

KWS: — there is no grass underneath him.

MS: I would have said, “Anwar don’t go him and leave me without an agreement here.” You know, naturally, Jimmy thought that way. But I think, as I said, I didn’t say that Carter made a mistake, I said that Sadat made a mistake. But, we at the time, we didn’t know to what extent this was just Sadat or whether the president had put such pressure on him that he felt that he had to give on these points. So, just to come back to your original question, which was how did we all feel about Carter, we felt that he was admirable for his interest, but we didn’t know whether he hadn’t been responsible for putting Sadat in a hole which he would later pay for. Well, I don’t think in fact, Carter, from what, from what we know in retrospect, I don’t think Carter did particularly, particularly, did put him in a hole. Sadat put himself in his own hole. But it hurt him because I think he could’ve gotten more if he’d been more patient.

KWS: But in ’77, you are still ambassador in Abu Dhabi, you’re coming back to Washington. You know that this guy has talked about a Palestinian homeland. There are Palestinians in Abu Dhabi.

MS: Yeah.

KWS: You know that he’s pushing the Israelis. For foreign service officers, what does it mean to hear words — and I don’t want to put words in your mouth — but to hear a philosophy that many of you have been hearing from your Arab colleagues for decades and now it’s coming out of the mouth of an American president. What does it do to the foreign service officers who for so long have been running up against the Jewish lobby, running up so much up against aid to Israel, running up always against, “Well, we can’t do it because it’s an election year.”

MS: Well, it was very encouraging when we began to see his style and his determination. And as you say, these initial comments about the Palestinian homeland and the rest of it. We all believed in that, we believed that was appropriate. Uh, on the other hand, Ken, we were all conditioned to believing that as far as the Middle East was concerned, you tended to make less progress, maybe no progress at all, when you had a Democratic administration in power, uh, compared to a Republican. Uh, I spent the better part of the year during Lyndon Johnson’s administration trying to get the president to agree to lean on [unintelligible] the Israelis to sign onto the NPT, for example, and give up their nuclear bomb. Lyndon Johnson just didn’t want to do that. It was an incomprehensible position, in my opinion. Um, I’m not quite sure what the factors were that went into that, but he — it was fine for the secretary to send letters about this thing, but as far as attaching any kind of conditions, conditionality on American assistance to Israel, because we all knew that they were building a bomb — Um, and the president, that president, Lyndon Johnson, never leveled with anybody in the State Department about what his reasons for not wanting to use presidential clout to try to achieve that.

KWS: What year?

MS: Inspection of Dimona, signing on the NPT, and opening Dimona up to international inspection should have been —

KWS: What year was this?

MS: -It should have been something we insisted on. It might have been insisted on by Rick — by, by Nixon or by Eisenhower, but quite clearly it wasn’t. So after — I am not saying, I am not trying to zealify Lyndon Johnson —

KWS: No, but what you are saying is an institutional —

MS: — but everything seemed to happen behind closed doors. You know, Epi came in the back door, uh, you know, and said, “Mr. President,” or so the rumor was, “Mr. President, don’t pay any attention to those nefarious State Department Arabists,” except Epi would have been more skilled at how —

KWS: But he got his message — Epi also got the message —

MS: But he would have gotten his message across.

KWS: You bet he would.

MS: “And you and I can do all our business together, don’t worry about it. That Dean Rusk doesn’t feel so good about us either,” you know, that kind of thing. Anyway, we were undoubtedly paranoid, but as Henry Kissinger said about paranoia, is you know, “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out there trying to get you.” So, I — you know, we didn’t, we didn’t quite know what, what Carter amounted to until we were further down the pike. So, all those initial statements in 1977 were very hopeful, but we had been through the fire.

KWS: But you guys were cynics.

MS: And we were cynics. Yeah, but not actually cynics; we were extreme skeptics [laughs]. Really. Yeah. And the other thing was that there was the pattern, which I know you are aware about, that people started out really good and uh — I mean, after all, Nixon did the same thing, sends ol’ [William] Scranton out there and talks about the end of this and what have you. Remember? And then two years later, when Joe Sisco — I talk to Joe about this sometime — goes out there and tries to use our willingness, to use, you know the Phantom sale of the moment [to Israel] to try to get something done out there and Nixon cuts the ground out from under his feet, you know. So that it was very good the first year, and he had those wonderful meetings with Doug Green, and we had the four power talks up there in New York, and it looked just smashing, and then it all turned to mush — is one way of looking at it. The Israelis are of course saying that it turned out sensible — I mean, we learned all about the Middle East.

KWS: So it is not unfair to say that there was an institutional skepticism?

MS: Not unfair at all.

KWS: But there was also, as you used the word, an admiration for this guy. First of all he was a Democrat. Second of all, he was doing it publicly, and was doing it repeatedly. And it appeared like he was going to take them on. Do you think there was any regret institutionally — and here I’m asking for you to make a very broad generalization, but it is just an impression which I am trying to convey to myself — That there was a regret that Sadat didn’t hold out for more. Not just that Jimmy didn’t push him, but an institutional regret —

MS: Oh yeah.

KWS: You guys would’ve liked to have seen after all these years of pushing for something for the Palestinians that something actually be produced for them?

MS: Absolutely. I remember feeling that way myself.

KWS: I mean, [foreign service officer] Dick Murphy wouldn’t disagree, [former Ambassador] Talcott Seelye wouldn’t disagree — 

MS: I don’t know how those guys —

KWS: — No, I mean, but you know them.

MS: Well, but I can’t — I don’t want to put words in their mouth.

KWS: No, I am just talking in general terms.

MS: — because we all had personal reactions. But personally, I was concerned about the result at Camp David. I had a premonition that Sadat had given up too much, not by any objective standards and not by something we desired, but I had given up too much, too fast, for his own good. And that it was going to mean that we weren’t going to get anywhere on the Palestinian talks. Um, you know, we felt that Begin had been a very tough negotiator, but that, uh, Sadat had put a pretty good hook into the Israelis, in terms of interest in a bilateral agreement. And that the Israelis were not going to let that go away because he was tough in negotiations. And he wasn’t very tough. Now there were reasons for that. If Sadat was sitting right here, Sadat would say — and I am certain of it, “Look, I was looking for bigger game than you guys were in the State Department. I am not worried about this little agreement. First of all, I wanted to cement the Egyptian-American alliance, strategic alliance. Secondly, I wanted to leapfrog this business and get some — and I wanted Jimmy Carter to look good and I wanted to consolidate that, that presidency. He’d taken major risks for me to get something done. I want to return that.” That’s what he would say. Uh, and I think that’s, that was one way to look at it. But I think it turned out to be a mistake and I think it would’ve been better.

KWS: What turned out to be a mistake?

MS: What he did at Camp David.

KWS: I see.

MS: I think it would’ve been better for him, because I think we still would’ve had a Camp David Accord or whatever it was called after the second go-around, and maybe a third. Um, and then it would’ve been a better agreement. It would’ve created a better foundation for getting something done on the Palestinian issue. Which after all, here we are 13 years later or whatever it is [unintelligible].

KWS: Talking about transitional periods — 

MS: And we are still talking about the Palestinians and doing something? You know, how many Israelis have been killed, and how many Arabs had been killed in the meantime?

KWS: Right.

MS: Well, I mean, that could be a wrong judgement, I don’t know.

KWS: Did you participate in the Blair House talks? Anything in particular about them? 

MS: They went astonishingly well. I keep talking to my Palestinian friends about uh, how I might have been a skeptic before Blair House and the advocacy and the negotiations, but uh, we could see attitudes being changed by the process of negotiations, both Egyptian and Israeli attitudes.

KWS: What kind of attitudes changing?

MS: Oh, all sorts of things, I mean. Out of those negotiations came an Israeli willingness to withdraw completely. You know, even Dayan who was very prominent, in the negotiations had said he’d rather have Sharm al-Sheikh than peace. Uh, willingness to swap oil, work out something with oil, purchase oil — the Egyptians were adamantly opposed to anything of that nature. No commercial, it has got to be a clean break.

KWS: And it wasn’t.

MS: And it wasn’t. Uh, you know, arrangements and Sinai.

KWS: Did [James] “Jock” Covey work for you?

MS: Who?

KWS: Jock. Jock Covey?

MS: Jock? Jock was — uh, I was on the subcommittee or whatever it was called at the time that did the, that did annex three, was it? The agreement. Jock was on working for [military advisor] Dick [Lawrence] mainly, he was our chief delegate on the annex one, which was the military, military — But we all milled around together and Jock and I did stuff together. And I did, I worked on the confidence building, the so-called confidence building, measures which were supposed to take place on the West Bank, which never took place, but was actually a side letter of the very — signed at the last hour.

KWS: Are you surprised that Carter did a shuttle in March of ’79?

MS: Um, no, I mean — I think things had come to that. And unless he’d done it, it wouldn’t have gotten done. It would’ve drifted off. It very goddamn near didn’t get done, so —

KWS: So in a certain sense, your slight criticism of him for maybe not pushing Sadat hard enough to stay on and get something for the Palestinians —

MS: Well, I don’t really criticize him for that.

KWS: But the point of it is, he wanted to tie something up then and he wanted to tie something up in March. And this was vintage Jimmy Carter.

MS: Well, in March, I think — I mean, once having done Camp David, you can’t go back on it, so there is no point in worrying about the regrets you might have had at that point.

KWS: I see.

MS: But since you had a negotiation that had been going on for six months and trying to get somewhere on this, on this agreement, Carter had to do what he did, it seems to me. And did it very effectively and to go on that track and get it wrapped up. It would have been worse, much worse had it been bogged down. But on the other hand, then Carter had to face a failure in the autonomy talks. And he had to face Anwar Sadat’s assassination. I mean, all of those things are not unrelated to what happened in the peace process. Or more important, what didn’t happen in the peace process.

KWS: How did you feel? Did you attend the signing?

MS: I did.

KWS: How’d you feel?

MS: Oh, I was so excited. I mean it was a marvelous occasion, marvelous occasion. And the dinner in the tent was just incredible. 

KWS: Do you have any feelings —

MS: — I mean, I had never been involved in — perhaps people who had been involved in other things like that, Panama Canal things, would be a little jaded about it. But I’d never gone through anything like that in my life and never have since. It was a wonderful occasion.

KWS: Ever any regret that this wasn’t more comprehensive? 

MS: Oh sure, I mean, I, but I don’t know how you could have gotten more. If the personality of Anwar Sadat had not existed, you might have had everybody still talking about a comprehensive peace but you wouldn’t have gotten anything accomplished on the ground. And I think, even though it’s not — Sadat could’ve done better, I think the fact that one Arab state — not only one Arab state, but the most important Arab state — and Israel concluded an agreement, proved that, proved that negotiations could work, that agreements could be implemented, and above all, proved that over an extended period of time, political changes could take place in those societies — both societies in a sense — and still adhere to that peace agreement. I think that will constitute a very important precedent for further negotiations. And it’ll eventually take hold. And maybe that’s the way it had to go. Maybe the whole idea of a comprehensive peace settlement, maybe even today the idea of a comprehensive peace settlement is some kind of chimera that is never going to come to pass. And it has to go the bilateral route, you know. Maybe the next step will be the Syrians and the Israelis doing something. And again, leave the Palestinians in the lurch. And the Palestinians are going to have to face up to it some time.

KWS: Very effectively said. That’s a very nice conclusion.

MS: So, the more historic — I mean your views change with historical perspective. And who knows, in light of all the history, who’s right and who’s wrong about that? Ken, I’ve got to head off to, uh, a 4 o’clock, and I know you —

KWS: I would love to…I’d sit for hours…