The Minister in Egypt (Kirk) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 21—5:51 p.m.]
812. Department’s 326, April 15. In view of fact that ostensible purpose of my visit to Saudi Arabia was formal one of presenting letter of credence and as no detailed instructions were received from War Department outlining specific proposals for air routes over and airfields on that territory I avoided raising those particular questions in my talks with the King during my visit.
Just before leaving Cairo, however, I learned British Minister to Jidda had approached the S[audi] A[rabian] Finance [Minister]24 on subject of air routes and airfields on that territory and I also heard that Casoc25 had addressed a letter to the King requesting a permit on behalf of Panair for an “experimental” flight over S A territory. From foregoing and indirect hints dropped in talks during my visit at Riad it was clear Saudi Arabs were assuming that United States Government was considering these air problems and that I must be aware of what had transpired to date. In the interest, therefore, of a system of straightforwardness which I consider essential in our dealings with the Saud’s Government I took occasion during a conversation with Finance Minister to so direct our talk that without actually stating problem of air routes et cetera, I made certain he would take the occasion to mention the matter itself or to show his disinclination to do so by deliberately ignoring the lead. After a lengthy preamble the Minister to my surprise volunteered the statement that there was no objection to flight of United States planes over S. A. or even to establishment of airports on the coast provided certain zones were respected and in this connection he specifically mentioned El Birkeh in the south and Dhaba in the north, the former being on a fairly direct line from Khartoum to Bahrein and the latter offering a curtailment of the routes to Iraq, Iran and India.
As I was not in a position to enter into any discussion of details of this matter I merely thanked the Minister for this information in the interest of the speedy ferrying of aircraft to points from which they could best be used to strike against Axis forces and stated that any forthcoming observations on the matter would be communicated to him.
Upon my return to Cairo I talked with Stonehewer Bird, British Minister to Jidda, who stated that the remarks of Saudi Arabia Finance Minister went beyond any statements made to him by that Minister and that they might be regarded as marking an advance [Page 571]which the Minister felt justified in making following conferences with the King on the basis of Bird’s previous approaches on this general subject. He agreed with me that principal step now was to ascertain the precise views of air services of our respective Governments on this particular phase of air routes in order to determine whether matter should be carried further and negotiations be initiated with a view to ascertaining the definite attitude of the Saudi Arabia Government in the premises and to effecting the Iran agreement or some provisional understanding with that Government. To that end I ask that War Department furnish me through Department or direct to air section of Maxwell Mission to which I understand General Fitzgerald is being attached as air officer a definite statement of its views and desiderata in relation to foregoing.
In general I wish to state that I believe any further approach to Finance Minister on this matter should be made by your Chargé in Jidda [apparent omission] what other influences there are which it may be deemed advisable to mobilize during negotiations and that as a matter of principle we should apprise the interested British authorities of our intentions irrespective of whether as a matter of procedure we join with the British in our negotiations or decide to present and negotiate this matter solely as an American project.
I suggest pending a complete clarification of the question instructions be sent to me rather than direct to Chargé at Jidda.