Henry Kissinger instructed the CIA to continue diplomatic contacts with Yassir Arafat's PLO representatives before the 1973 Yom Kippur War, even after Arafat ordered the kidnapping and murder of the American ambassador and his deputy in Khartoum, Sudan.
The diplomatic contacts, described only as related to security issues which had been revealed previously but not their contents - were exposed in the papers of former CIA chief Richard Helms that were made available to the public last week.
The documents mainly relate to the period Helms was the U.S. ambassador in Iran, 1973-1976, after he completed six years as the head of the CIA.
The newly-released material contains, among other things, information on the Egyptian effort in the spring of 1973 to plead with the U.S., through Iranian channels, to reach a peace arrangement with Israel "on the basis of the Rogers plan," a withdrawal from the occupied territories captured in 1967 and placing them under international supervision.
The Shah of Iran recommended to then-Egyptian foreign minister Muhammad Hassan al-Zayyat that Egypt make do with an artillery barrage against Israeli positions on the Suez Canal instead of an attack crossing the canal.
In a telegram Helms sent Kissinger - then Richard Nixon's National Security Advisor - on July 5, 1973, Helms reported that King Hussein of Jordan told him that Jordanian intelligence had learned of a Syrian attack to recapture the Golan Heights originally planned for June, that had been delayed but could take place at any time soon. One of the Jordanian intelligence sources was the commander of a Syrian armored brigade, and the Jordanians had obtained a copy of the battle plans, which had been coordinated with Egypt and Iraq.
The most sensational revelation in the documents was the contents of the diplomatic negotiations held between Robert Ames of the CIA and the head of the Fatah's security apparatus, Ali Hassan Salameh, who was also the commander of the Fatah's Black September organization. Salameh was killed in Beirut in 1979 in an operation conducted by the Mossad and naval commandos.
Ames, who headed the CIA's Middle Eastern department, was killed in an Iranian-ordered attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983.
Since the contacts between the CIA and the Fatah were revealed, their purpose has been described as obtaining intelligence information to warn of terrorist attacks against Americans; but the Helms' documents reveal that Arafat sent Salameh to the talks without hiding his responsibility for killing American diplomats in Khartoum in March 1973. Ames also agreed to Salameh's requests and asked Washington about various diplomatic issues, such as the Nixon administration's intentions relating to Palestinian interests.
Salameh told Ames that the PLO was working to topple King Hussein and establish a Palestinian state in Jordan. The response from Washington was: If the Palestinians want to negotiate a settlement, the U.S. would be happy to hear their proposals, but the toppling of existing governments through the use of force did not seem to be the most promising way.
Arafat, for his part, was unmoved: He threatened, via Ames, that he would burn Beirut if the Lebanese government acted against the PLO.