Friday, May 26, 2006

The United States reached out to hostile Arabs three decades ago with an offer to work toward making Israel a “small friendly country” of no threat to its neighbors and with an assurance to Iraq that the U.S. had stopped backing Kurdish rebels in the north.

“We can’t negotiate about the existence of Israel,” then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told his Iraqi counterpart in a rare high-level meeting, “but we can reduce its size to historical proportions.”

A December 1975 memo detailing Mr. Kissinger’s probing conversation with Foreign Affairs Minister Saadoun Hammadi eight years after Iraq severed diplomatic relations with Washington is included in some 28,000 pages of Kissinger-era foreign policy papers published in an online collection yesterday.

George Washington University’s National Security Archive released the collection, drawn from papers available at the government’s National Archives and obtained through the group’s Freedom of Information requests.

In it, Mr. Kissinger tells Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in June 1972 that the United States, mired in Vietnam, probably could live with a communist government in South Vietnam as long as that evolved peacefully. “If we can live with a communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina,” he said.

He also hints that the United States, newly courting China, would consider a nuclear response if the Soviets were to overrun Asia with conventional forces.

At the time, Chinese-Soviet tensions were sharp and the United States was playing one communist state against the other as best it could while seeking detente with its main rival, Moscow.

The transcript of Mr. Kissinger’s meeting with Mr. Hammadi in Paris sheds light on a little-known maneuver that spoke to America’s broader effort to win friends in the Arab world even as it was giving military support to the Jewish state.

The meeting was frank and open — diplomats’ preferred description of any such meeting but in this case, true. And Mr. Hammadi, a friend of the Soviets, was a tough sell.

“We are on the other side of the fence,” Mr. Hammadi asserted. “What the United States is doing is not to create peace but to create a situation dominated by Israel.”

Mr. Kissinger pressed: “Our attitude is not unsympathetic to Iraq. Don’t believe; watch it.”

He said U.S. public opinion was turning more pro-Palestinian and U.S. aid to Israel could not be sustained for much longer at its massive levels. He predicted that in 10 or 15 years, “Israel will be like Lebanon — struggling for existence, with no influence in the Arab world.”

Mindful of Israel’s nuclear capability, a skeptical Mr. Hammadi peppered Mr. Kissinger with questions, including whether Washington would recognize Palestinian identity and even a Palestinian state. “Is it in your power to create such a thing?”

Mr. Kissinger said he could not make recognition of Palestinian identity happen right away but, “No solution is possible without it.”

“After a settlement, Israel will be a small friendly country,” he said.

Mr. Kissinger said U.S. officials had believed Iraq was a Soviet satellite state but had come to a “more sophisticated understanding now. We think you are a friend of the Soviet Union but you act on your own principles.”

Saddam Hussein was then vice president, in control of internal security and oil.

When Mr. Hammadi persisted with complaints about U.S. support for the Kurds, Mr. Kissinger brushed them off by saying, “One can do nothing about the past.”

“Not always,” Mr. Hammadi countered as the meeting closed and he escorted Mr. Kissinger to the door.

Washington and Baghdad renewed relations after the start of the Iran-Iraq war; Mr. Hammadi became prime minister in the Saddam era.

The collection, also available in microfiche, consists of some 2,100 memorandums of Mr. Kissinger’s secret conversations with senior officials abroad and at home from 1969 to 1977, serving under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

William Burr, senior analyst for the research group, said the papers are the most extensive published record of Mr. Kissinger’s work, in many instances offering insight into matters that the diplomat ignored or merely touched on in his prolific memoirs.

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