890F.7962/3a: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Minister in Egypt (Kirk)15

326. Department’s 258, March 26, 10 p.m.16 Following summarizes the Department’s communication of March 23 to the War Department:

Begin summary. On learning of the War Department’s interest in establishing one or more airfields in Saudi Arabia, this Department, [Page 568]to ensure the most favorable possible reception of a request for air facilities, took certain steps and made certain plans, i. e. visit of Minister to present credentials and President’s letter to King Ibn Saud,17 organization and despatch of Agricultural Mission,18 and opening of Legation at Jidda.19 It is now necessary to telegraph instructions for the Minister’s guidance in forthcoming conversations with the King regarding air facilities desired. According to Americans having intimate knowledge of Saudi Arabia, permission to establish airfields will be denied unless a definite offer is made when matter is first broached. While War Department may naturally desire to make offer contingent upon extent of facilities ultimately decided upon, from the King’s viewpoint neutral status of his country and liability to involvement in the war would be seriously affected regardless of magnitude of facilities granted. His anticipated initial repugnance to the idea must be overcome. Thus offer to be effective should be adequate, concrete, and made when matter is initiated. While Saudi Arabia has severed relations with Italy, it more recently declined to agree to British suggestion to declare war on the Axis. To assist in formulation of offer, copy of Legation’s despatch of February 28 enclosed.20 Advisability of making Saudi Arabia available for Lend-Lease aid now being considered by this Department which would welcome War Department’s views in this regard. End of summary.

War Department’s reply of April 11 states in summary that if it is possible to establish route across Saudi Arabia, ferrying distance for short-range aircraft between Khartoum and Karachi will be materially reduced, also Arabian route more secure than present one via Cairo. Moreover areas near Jidda and Fort Duwadamie seem more suitable with respect to terrain and communications than areas further south. However, final selection of airfield sites is subject to spot investigation by qualified officer in Cairo assigned to your staff. It is felt that any agreement with Saudi Arabian Government, for installation, defense, and operation of airfields should be negotiated by United Kingdom, since Saudi Arabia lies within area of British military responsibility. Therefore it is proposed to request British Chiefs of Staff to take necessary action if establishment of airfields in Saudi Arabia is found practicable. War Department does not favor Lend-Lease assistance to Saudi Arabia in the form of war material, but has no objection to such financial aid as State Department considers necessary or desirable.

In view of the foregoing, the Department considers that you should proceed to Saudi Arabia as soon as possible in order to present your credentials and the President’s letter, accompanied by Moose,21 the Agricultural Mission, the Army officer assigned, and such other personnel [Page 569]as you consider necessary or desirable for the purposes of the journey.

It would appear that for the time being, the War Department desires only to determine whether the establishment of airfields in Saudi Arabia is practicable. It is presumed that the Army officer in question will be able to conduct his investigation whether or not the Saudi Arabian Government is informed thereof, and the Department leaves to your discretion whether the subject of airfields should be mentioned to the King or to others in Saudi Arabia, at this stage. As the matter is a delicate one, you may wish to consult Mr. Twitchell22 and others with long experience of the country and its personalities.

If the appropriate United States Army authorities decide that airfield sites in Saudi Arabia should be obtained, the question naturally will then arise as to the best means of acquiring them. Please consider this question with great care in cooperation with the United States Army authorities concerned and, in your discretion, with other qualified persons, with a view to the preparation and transmittal of agreed recommendations by you and the Army authorities. The utilization of the British Chiefs of Staff for negotiations and arrangements with the Saudi Arab Government seems broadly logical in view of the division of the war effort into general spheres of responsibility. However, the United States Army has been making its own supply arrangements for the Middle Eastern theater for some time, and in view of the important political factors which would undoubtedly occur to the Saudi Arabs in connection with a proposed British military establishment in their country, the question arises whether, if the plan for obtaining airfields is to have a reasonable chance of success, it should not be put forward and worked out purely and simply as a United States project.

With reference to your 342, February 28, 5 p.m.,23 final paragraph, the Department is unable to state what financial and economic assistance can be rendered to Saudi Arabia in the absence of investigations on the spot and recommendations from its own representatives. Please look into this matter and communicate your views. Presumably these will be formulated in connection with compensation for airfields, if it is concluded that the latter is a matter which should be handled by this Government. After you depart from Saudi Arabia, the Department will of course rely mainly upon the Chargé d’Affaires ad interim for information and recommendations concerning the foregoing as well as other matters relating to Saudi Arabia.

The Department sincerely hopes that you and your party are in a position to proceed promptly.

  1. Also accredited as Minister to Saudi Arabia.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See draft of message from President Roosevelt to the King of Saudi Arabia, p. 563.
  4. See pp. 561 ff.
  5. See pp. 559 ff.
  6. Not printed.
  7. James S. Moose, Jr., Second Secretary and Consul at Jidda.
  8. K. S. Twitchell, Chief of the American Agricultural Mission to Saudi Arabia.
  9. Not printed.