[Tête-à-Tête] When Henry Met Sadun | Harper's Magazine
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March 2007 Issue [Readings]

When Henry Met Sadun


From a December 17, 1975, memorandum of conversation recording a meeting in Paris between U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Sadun Hammadi. The meeting is believed to have been the first high-level diplomatic contact between the two nations since Iraq severed ties with Washington over the Six-Day War in 1967, one year before the Baath Party took power in a coup d’etat. The document is part of a 28,000-page collection of Kissinger’s memoranda of conversations released last May by the National Security Archive.

henry a. kissinger: Our two countries have not had much contact with each other in recent years, and I wanted to take this opportunity to establish contact. I know we won’t solve all our problems in one meeting. It will take at least two. [Laughter]
sadun hammadi: I am glad to see you, Your Excellency.
kissinger: Our attitude is that we do not think there is a basic clash of national interests between Iraq and the United States. Maybe you have a different view.
hammadi: We of course have different views, and I will tell you why. We believe the United States has been the major factor in building up Israel to what it is today.
kissinger: True.
hammadi: Israel is now a direct threat to Iraq’s national security.
kissinger: How to Iraq?
hammadi: Whatever happens in the Arab world is interpreted as a threat to Israel.
kissinger: With all respect, what Israel does is less important than what the United States does.
hammadi: Even a change of government in Iraq would be interpreted as a threat to Israel.
kissinger: My impression is if you change your government in Iraq, they won’t object. [Laughter]
hammadi: This is my painting of the picture now. You say the United States is using all its weight to bring about a settlement. But this is a settlement, not peace. A new wave of clashes will start.
kissinger: I understand what you are saying. When I say we are willing to improve relations with Iraq, we can live without it. And we don’t need Israel for influence in the Arab world. On the contrary, Israel does us more harm than good in the Arab world. I don’t agree Israel is a permanent threat. How can a nation of 3 million be a permanent threat? If the issue is the existence of Israel, we can’t cooperate. But if the issue is more normal borders, we can cooperate. We have moved toward normalization with the other Arab countries—except Libya.
hammadi: We are on the other side of the fence. We have the right to ask many questions.
kissinger: Please.
hammadi: Given the record, what can make us believe the United States won’t continue the policy of the last twenty years of giving unlimited support?
kissinger: I think the balance in America is shifting, as long as the Arabs—if I can be frank—don’t do anything stupid.
hammadi: What are the Israelis thinking?
kissinger: First, they want to get rid of me. Also, they hope the Arabs will again adopt an anti-American line so they can say they are the only American friend in the Middle East. What they want is what you predict—that they be the only friend. We want other friends.
hammadi: Do you think a Palestinian state is possible?
kissinger: You can’t do it now. I have told friends that peace isn’t a final end. Wars begin elsewhere between countries that are at peace. Only in the Middle East do wars begin between countries that are at war. But we support the existence of Israel. We draw the line at the destruction of Israel.
hammadi: Your Excellency, your and our points of view are different. You are for the existence of Israel; we are not. So on this point I don’t think we can agree. Maybe we can talk of other aspects. For example, we read in the newspapers that the United States was providing weapons to the Kurdish movement in the north of Iraq.
kissinger: That goes too far. We were not the principal country involved there.
hammadi: But the United States contributed arms, in a way.
kissinger: In a way.
hammadi: And the Kurds wanted to cut Iraq to pieces.
kissinger: There is no purpose discussing the past. I can only tell you our intentions. I understand your suspicions.
hammadi: Our concern is any time any country exercises its sovereign right, the United States gets involved in an activity that goes to the heart of its integrity.
kissinger: All right. When you come to New York, we can meet. You will see. Our attitude is not unsympathetic to Iraq. Don’t believe; watch it.
hammadi: We are a small state. We have to be more careful.
kissinger: Things will evolve. We can stay in touch through Washington or New York.
hammadi: Finally, I would like to say this Kurdish problem is of vital importance to us.
kissinger: I can assure you. There will be no concern. One can do nothing about the past.
hammadi: Not always.