University of Maryland, College Park
May 4, 2000
Mrs. Sadat, President Mote, distinguished guests, and members of the faculty and students of the University of Maryland. It is a great privilege for me to deliver the Anwar Sadat Lecture. I met today with a European leader and he asked me who I thought the greatest man was that I met in my diplomatic period. And I said it was Anwar Sadat. And if I were to name the single most thrilling moment of my public career, it would be when I sat in a study in Aswan with President Sadat and we were talking about the shuttle diplomacy that was then going on.
And an aide brought in a note and he read it and he had tears in his eyes. He came over to me, kissed me on both cheeks, and said "they have just signed the disengagement agreement in Kilometer 101." The first direct negotiations between Israel and Egypt in 20 plus years had taken place. And he said, "I will now take off my uniform and I will never again wear it except on ceremonial occasions."
And of course, it was on one of those ceremonial occasions that he was assassinated. I am quite frank to say that I did not understand Anwar Sadat when he first became president. Our intelligence reports described him as a weak man who had been put into that position because he could represent no conceivable threat to the president. And everyone expected two or three other leaders of Egypt to overthrow him at any moment.
And Anwar Sadat made many threats, many statements, none of which, to my shame I must say, I took very seriously. Because it was absolutely axiomatic with us that there was no conceivable way that Egypt would dare to start a war. And in 1972, really it was 1973, I forget what the correct date is, President Sadat sent an emissary to America, General Ismail, who was a national security advisor at the time.
I met secretly with him in New York – and I have to be very careful what I say here, because several of my former staff members in the State Department are here. If you see people around you moving their lips, they are people who are used to having me say the things they wrote for me. So I met with General Ismail and he read me a message from President Sadat that ended with "if this discussion succeeds or shows progress, the president will invite you to Cairo."
I wrote a note to one of my associates sitting next to me--"do you think it would be offensive if I asked him what the second prize is?" I cleared the story with Mrs. Sadat. I had no expectation of anything happening with President Sadat except, frankly, the usual rhetoric that we’d been hearing for many years. And it took quite a while before--once I met him, I knew what I was dealing with.
Before I met him, there were intervening events. But before I go back to these, I’d like to explain what I mean when I say that somebody is a great statesman. I’ve been a professor and I’ve been in public life. And there is a huge difference between being a statesman and being an observer. As an observer, you can pick your subject. You can work on it for as long as you want. You are responsible, primarily, to your conscience in formulating your ideas. And you have the privilege of changing your mind.
A statesman does not have the same luxury. A statesman is always, in a way, at the mercy of events that he cannot fully control. His problems are imposed on him, and he's got to deal with many of them simultaneously. And he cannot change his mind. He is, above all, responsible for the consequences of his actions.
A statesman has to take his society from where it is to where it has never been. And that is a lonely task. I mention all of these qualities because I met no other leader--and I've known almost all the top leaders of the last 50 years--who exemplified them better than Anwar Sadat. And the Middle East is a region of extraordinary passions.
It is not an accident that three of the great religions and all of the monotheistic religions emerged from this barren territory of monochromatic colors. Especially since the greatest things that exist are all man-made. There is no natural creation that would give man the same sense of perspective as do the slabs of those triangles placed against each other to evoke that mystical quality one can sit and stare at for hours--the pyramids. And they always look a little different.
President Sadat used to have a little house overlooking the pyramids in Giza. One could sit there with him for hours and he wouldn't say very much. There, one sort of became at one with that sense of eternity that the combination of light, majesty and simplicity imposes. Now in the Middle East, it is also the case that totally different approaches and historical experiences were in conflict with each other.
On the one hand, there is a country like Egypt, with an almost eternal rhythm of its own. A vast territory, the population of Cairo is larger than all of Israel. Therefore, the rhythm of Egypt is inevitably different from the rhythm of Israel--and also from the rhythm of countries like Syria, that are more artificial creations.
When I encountered the Middle East, it was, in its acute form, the Middle East of the end of 1973. And for those of you who believe that our intelligence service is all-encompassing and so dangerous to mankind because it knows everything, please keep in mind that we were totally surprised by what happened next.
I had become Secretary of State two weeks before. I didn't know that the State Department had an intelligence branch. I came in on a Sunday and read the intelligence reports, just to see what we had. And there were two reports. One, from a week before the war broke out, that there were Egyptian concentrations near the Suez Canal. And the other that there were Syrian concentrations on the Golan Heights.
Being an amateur and not yet a professional, I thought this was rather strange. So I asked the various services what it meant--since it means nothing that maneuvers are going on here. I said "I want a report every two days." And I also asked the Israelis, about whom I didn't know then what I know now--that they were taking in each other's reports. I didn't have to ask them both, because they were both reporting the same thing.
The Israelis were worried that, if a real crisis got started, we would start a peace initiative, which they were very eager to see since all previous peace initiatives had failed. Anyway, the Israelis reported the same thing. And every two days I was told that these were just maneuvers.
Until finally, on Saturday morning, the secretary for political affairs Joe Cisco--or maybe he was assistant secretary in those days--woke me up (I was in New York at the UN) and said "there's a little trouble along the Suez Canal, and if you get on the phone right away you're going to be able to get it quickly under control."
Well I got on the phone right away, but I couldn't get it under control. Next there was a meeting in Washington and the question was "who started this?" Everyone was convinced that the Israelis had started it, because they were still of the mind-set that the Arabs could not start a conflict.
Then I finally said "listen. I'm of Jewish origin. The Israelis do not start wars on Yom Kippur when half of their army is in synagogue." It took us until the end of the day to put it all together and out of all of this emerged the conflict. I received a message very early in the conflict from President Sadat saying that he wanted to negotiate eventually. And I sent him a message which said, in effect, you can make war with Soviet arms, but you have to make peace with American diplomacy.
Thus we exchanged messages during the war, even while the American airlift was replenishing Israeli supplies. Yet Sadat never led a public assault on the United States. Quite the contrary. On the day the war ended, he invited me to Egypt. I spoke before about the rhythm of Egypt.
One also has to understand the rhythm of Israel. Here is a people that was marked for extermination and has had a millennium of holocaust and persecution. That is on the one side. On the other side is an Arab point of view, expressed once by an Arab leader as "why should we pay for crimes that were committed in a different continent on behalf of a religion that we do not profess?"
And it is extremely difficult to bridge this gap. The Israelis established a state between the Jordan River and the sea. That whole territory, no matter how big it looks on the map, is only 50 miles wide. And in that territory there lived two different people--the Palestinians and the Israelis.
How to bring about peace and co-existence in such a confined area is an enormous challenge. For the Israelis, moreover, every centimeter of territory has symbolic significance. And they live with the fear of imminent catastrophe. For the Arab side, its set-back may have been humiliating, but it can recover from it. For the Israelis, a wrong judgement may mean catastrophe.
For the Arab side, it is possible to make concessions that deal mostly with behavior and definitions of peaceful relations. For the Israelis, any territory given up is irrevocably gone. They cannot reclaim it, except by war. This creates a psychological imbalance.
I mention this only because, when I met President Sadat, it was only two weeks after a war in which we had been arming his enemy, and the Egyptian third army was still trapped as a result of post-armistice Israeli moves. Almost the first thing he said to me was "this is a psychological problem; this is not a political problem. And you have to help me to bring about a change in psychology."
Now I have often asked myself--though I've never asked Jehan, maybe she'll tell me--what President Sadat thought precisely. I know what he said. He was surely trying to end the image of the pistol-brandishing Arab wearing local dress, threatening everybody. He wanted to make Arab leaders acceptable to western public opinion. Now did he, right at the beginning, mean to use the weakened Egyptian army and Israeli psychological advantage as a tactic? Or did he mean to augur a fundamental change?
You couldn't be sure at the beginning. By the time Sadat died, however he had started out, there was no question that he had ushered a real transformation. And that started from the very beginning. With an Egyptian army trapped, the issue was whether one could open a supply line to it by getting the Israelis to withdraw across the only access route? Or should one leave matters there and negotiate a more fundamental arrangement?
I told President Sadat that it would be impossible to bring about two consecutive Israeli withdrawals in a short period of time; and that his choice would be to leave his army there and to negotiate a disengagement agreement. To get immediate relief, one couldn't make the bigger move. At that point, Sadat didn't know anything about me. For all he knew, I was tricking him or, odd as it is for me to admit, that maybe I was incompetent and didn't know what I was doing. He certainly couldn't have known.
Finally he said "let's leave the third army there and negotiate the disengagement agreement." If I was wrong, he would be losing an army. That was the enormous strength of character and faith Sadat had. If I may mention another instance--at one point, the question was, how many tanks could the Egyptians put across the Suez Canal after the Israelis withdrew 30 miles from the canal? How many tanks could the Egyptians put into this zone?
You must remember that, at that time, no Arab was talking to the Israelis. I was the one carrying the messages. And of course, that meant that both sides thought that, had they presented their own case, they would have done a lot better than I. So Golda Meir, who was then Israeli prime minister, said "30 tanks." My attitude was that I would deliver any message once; and that I would not comment on it.
So I delivered that much. And Jehan remembers, no doubt, General Gamasy, who was chief of the armed forces, and Foreign Minister Fahmy. When I delivered that message Gamasy burst into tears of rage. He said to Sadat--"Mr. President, the Egyptian army will never accept this. If you want to sign something like this, you go ahead, but the Egyptian army will never go along with this."
With Fahmy carrying on in a similar spirit, Sadat turned to me and said "let's go in the other room." We went to the other room. Sadat said to me "does she mean it?"--meaning Golda. I said "no, she doesn't mean it. What you have to decide is how long you want to hang in there and how much it is worth to you to keep getting more tanks. And if you hang in there, my judgement is that you can probably get 300 in a few weeks."
Sadat said "let's go back to the others." He told Gamasy--"I have accepted 30. Henry will get me more and you will sign the agreement." I don't want to go through all the details, but I got more and when we had about 100, Sadat said "that's enough." And then he said something very important. "Now you go back to Golda and tell her this:
If I want to attack, I'm going to put 2,000 tanks across the Suez Canal in one night. But I don't want to attack. And therefore, I'll put no tanks across the Suez Canal. You'll tell her I won't use that number. But she has to understand how sensitive it is. And if we can make progress in understanding each other on this level, we will make more and more and bigger and bigger agreements." And that was his great contribution.
The temptation of negotiators is always to slicing salami tactics--to start with an extreme position and then to keep slicing the salami and make a little concession at a time. The great specialist in this is President Assad of Syria--master salami slicer. The trouble with it is that you don't know when you are finished and both sides hang in there until they have totally exhausted themselves. The other way is the Sadat way. To state a great objective and not haggle over every detail. And to keep in mind that what you're trying to achieve is not to look good to your subordinates but to look good to history. In this manner, President Sadat changed the whole pattern of thinking about peace in the Middle East.
He was violently attacked by Arab nationalists, but he did more for Arab nationalists by changing the image of Arab leaders in America than they could possibly have done for themselves. I had the privilege of negotiating the first two agreements with him, and from there he went on to his historic trip to Israel.
Today, everyone takes that for granted. But I don't know any expert who, 48 hours before Sadat announced that trip, would have believed that any Arab leader would simply and unilaterally announce himself on a visit to Israel, lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, address the Israeli Parliament, and make a breakthrough towards universal peace in the area.
This was a move of extraordinary strength and almost prophetic vision. That is why I call him the greatest man that I have met. Anwar Sadat was not a pacifist. He proved that he could fight for his convictions. He was anything but soft. He could be very, very tough.
He was also very eloquent but, if Jehan will forgive me, he was not necessarily a great conversationalist--except, I must say, with my wife who was very infatuated with him. But with me, I might well sit there for extended periods of brooding while he puffed on his pipe and went on reflecting.
He had extraordinary psychological understanding of the various American leaders he met--and he met four presidents in six years. All totally different from each other, he handled each of them with extraordinary psychological skill.
But I want to go back to the original point. Sadat had the wisdom to understand that a fundamental change was necessary. He also represented a country with a deep intuition for eternity through a long history surpassing that of Arab states created after the Treaty of Versailles.
I never believed, for example, that when President Assad met President Clinton that any agreement could possibly occur at one meeting. Because where President Sadat felt that he could speak for all of Egypt, President Assad has to balance conflicting constituencies and has to bring them along step by step.
When I negotiated with President Assad, every time I came from Israel to Syria, I had to report at three different levels. First to the president, then a slightly truncated version for the generals, finally a more truncated version for the civilians. And he had to meld all of this together.
Where Sadat would usually settle in two or three days or not settle at all, Assad dragged my colleagues and me through 35 days of harrowing negotiations that ended only after we had broken them up--which is one reason I'm more optimistic about the present status of negotiations between Syria and Israel.
Though the spirit Sadat introduced is no longer there, the impetus he gave is still one of the major factors in the negotiations. The last time I saw President Sadat was on his last visit to the United States. He had just met his fourth American president in six years and my impression was that he was a little exhausted by the different personalities he kept meeting. But very optimistic.
He did me the honor of inviting me to fly with him to New York from Washington--we had concluded his trip. And he said to me, "you know, next March the Sinai is coming back to us. It's going to be a big celebration. And since you and I started this, you should come to Egypt and celebrate with us."
Then he thought for a moment and he said "no, you're Jewish. It is very painful for the Israelis to give up this territory. And if they see you in Cairo celebrating with us, they'll be very hurt and we mustn't do this to them. I have a better idea," he said. "Let the territory come back. And then, a month later, you and I alone will take a trip through the Sinai and we'll go to the top of Mt. Sinai where I intend to build a synagogue, a mosque, and a church. And this will be a more meaningful celebration of the peace process than if you come to Cairo."
Two weeks later, Sadat was assassinated. Now I have told you these stories about my friend because, with many ups and downs, with many hesitations, there are now peace agreements between Jordan and Israel, Egypt and Israel. And I believe negotiations with Syria still have a chance of succeeding, and with the Palestinians.
Of course, we have to understand what we mean by success. I don't think the negotiations that are now likely to conclude will reflect exactly the spirit that I've been describing to you. It will be more practical, more based on balance of power considerations.
But if they can bring 10 or 20 years of quiet, they can also create the conditions in which people in the region can learn to live together better and to see things in a different perspective. However this comes about, it would never have been possible without the huge contribution of President Sadat.
Every great achievement in history was somebody's dream before it became a reality. And one of the extraordinary things is that my dear friend Yitzhak Rabin, who started out as a soldier believing in victory rather than in peace, became imbued as the process continued on his side, with what I've described as the Sadat spirit.
About two weeks before Rabin was assassinated, the foreign minister in New York told me that he had just talked to Rabin and had tried to convince him that he really should make some sort of concession. Then he said to Rabin "but why am I talking to you? I'm preaching to the converted." And Rabin said "no, not to the converted. To the committed."
Which meant that he might have preferred a different outcome but that he had learned that peace and co-existence were the only hope for the region. On the one hand, it's a tragedy that the two great leaders who understood this best should have been assassinated by those so committed to the passions of the region that they could not raise their sights.
On the other hand, their sacrifice, however reluctant the other parties may be, has created the conditions in which there's really no road back. And it's therefore that I always think of both of these men with enormous affection. Statesmanship is a rough business, and one does not form many human ties. Most of the time, the attachments that are formed are really related to the positions.
But here were two men whom I'd be proud to call my friends and whose deaths for me were like deaths in the family. This is why I want to thank the University for permitting me to speak here in tribute to one of my friends. And to be introduced by Jehan who, together with her husband, were part of our family, as ours was a part of their family. So it is a great honor for me to have been permitted to speak to you tonight and to pay tribute to a great man. Thank you very much.