For Zbig Brzezinski, Summit Life Meant Little Sleep, Stolen Bikes and a Roomie Named Ham
The diplomatic triumph at Camp David was made all the more dramatic by the virtual blackout of news while the negotiations were going on. Now, little by little, details of Jimmy Carter’s historic meeting with President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin are being revealed. No one was in a better position to observe than Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski. Last week, the day after the summit ended, he gave this account to Clare Crawford of PEOPLE:
What was a typical working day like?
It usually began with a morning meeting in the President’s cabin, which included me, Cy Vance and sometimes Vice-President Mondale and Ham Jordan. After that, we’d meet with the Egyptians or Israelis, rarely all three groups together. Then we’d hustle back and report to the President. Since the cabins were a little spread apart, Cy would drive around in a little golf cart, and I zoomed around on a bicycle. I had to protect my bike because they were in short supply. People were continuously stealing each other’s bikes. I finally devised a technique of hiding mine behind the cabin when I went to a meeting. If I parked it in front, it wouldn’t be there when I came out.
Was there much socializing among the three groups?
Occasionally some drinking, but nothing much. After all, the work was mostly an around-the-clock effort, literally day and night. But some evenings we’d sit around on the floor and watch movies—The Sting, An Unmarried Woman, The Spy Who Loved Me. One evening I had a remarkable conversation with Israeli Defense Minister Weizman and Butros Ghali, the Egyptian deputy foreign minister. We talked about war and peace between Arabs and Israelis and about their personal experiences. It was very moving.
You couldn’t have gotten much sleep.
Not very much, maybe four or five hours. One night the President phoned me at 4:15 a.m., and I went to his cabin. He’d been to bed, but he started thinking of something and wanted to discuss it. My cabin, named Witch Hazel, was next to his, Aspen, and I walked over.
What were your living arrangements there?
I roomed with Hamilton Jordan. I’m a rather neat person by nature, but after a while I adopted his filing system. All our things were on the floor in two or three big piles. We had a lot of papers covering the beds, so they couldn’t be made. It was rather disorganized. Our secure phone going out of Camp David was under a pile of his socks.
Did the President ever relax with you?
Yes, he played a lot of doubles with Vance, Ham Jordan, Mondale and me. I like to play against the President. I’m competitive, but I’d rather not be on his team, where he can blame me for losing. I’d rather have the satisfaction of beating him, whenever I do. But he wins more often than he loses.
What role did President Carter play in the talks?
He was the architect of success in every respect because he had the confidence of Sadat and Begin. They knew he wouldn’t say one thing to one of them and something quite different to the other. He knew the issues well, in and out. And he did a hell of a lot of the creative work himself. Once, when Cy Vance and I went to see him for the usual morning briefing after a late-night session, he had produced a full draft of the Sinai agreement, written out in longhand. As for Vance, he’s a skilled international lawyer who complemented Carter in a very powerful way.
Did you ever get the feeling that the summit might end in failure?
There were times when it looked like we might get nowhere. It wasn’t until the last day that we knew we had an agreement. We were all sitting around in the President’s lodge. Even then there were last-minute hitches, but we knew we basically had it.
Did you expect to get this much settled when you went in ?
Do you think the agreement will work?
It had better work.