The Minister in Egypt ( Kirk )35 to the Secretary of State
[Received 9:40 p.m.]
723. For the Secretary and Under Secretary. The greater part of my conversation with Ibn Saud and his advisors during my visit at his desert camp midway between Ryadh and Dhahran was confined to [Page 769] supply and Lend-Lease matters36 and to an exchange of cordialities which this time were especially marked on the part of the Saudi Arabians. On the day of my departure, however, the King sent for me and in a private audience said there was a matter which he desired to discuss with me personally and in strictest confidence and which he would request that I bring to attention of President. He referred, he said, to the Arab question and particularly to certain aspects thereof in respect of Palestine and Syria.
Turning first to Palestine he said situation there was of more concern to him than to any other Arab leader because Jews had been hostile to Arabs from time of Prophet Mohammed to present and he, Ibn Saud, as the leading Arab and Moslem, therefore, had a special interest in developments in Palestine where, because of vast wealth at their disposal and their influence in Britain and the United States Jews were steadily encroaching on Arabs. If this trend was allowed to continue it could only be expected that Jewish-Arab conflict would become more acute, which would be deplorable from Arab standpoint and would also cut across Allied war effort.
Recently he had heard of representations in respect of Palestine made to American Government by Egyptians and certain Arabs had urged him to do likewise, but he had hitherto refused for following two reasons:
- He had made his views on subject known to President on a previous occasion and had received President’s reply.37
- He did not want to do anything at present time which would cause difficulty to United States at a time when it needed to devote its undivided attention to prosecution of war. Thus should he write the President and receive a reply favorable to Arabs, Jewish antagonisms would develop and, should reply be favorable to Jews or no reply at all made, Arabs’ dissatisfaction would be aroused. Were it not for these considerations arising out [of] war he would feel obligated to act, but under existing circumstances his sympathy for the United Nations’ cause and his friendship for the United States had led him to conclude that it would be preferable to remain silent.
Although Palestine received the chief emphasis the King also referred to question of Syria and said Syrians were his friends and independence of country was of great personal concern to him. He had noted in this connection the announced intention of the Allies to give Syria complete independence and he felt he must believe in their sense of justice and fidelity to their given word. In this case, like [Page 770] that of Palestine, he had desired, therefore, to maintain silence in order to avoid causing embarrassment to Allies.
In adopting this policy of silence, however, he said that it was obvious that he, as the leading Arab and Moslem, would be placed in a difficult position if the American Government should respond favorably to the overtures of others since it might be made to appear that his silence had been motivated by lack of interest on his part, whereas the contrary was the case. He, therefore, wished to be advised whether President concurred in his views regarding the maintenance of silence for the time being. Should such not be the case, he had certain plans for action clearly in mind. On the other hand, should President agree, he would appreciate being so advised and at same time receiving an assurance that he would be informed in advance of any affirmative steps which American Government might contemplate taking in response to overtures by other Arab persons or agencies in order that he might consider possible adjustments in his policy. Since his own decision in matter had been taken in deference to our vital interests he hoped he could count on our being equally understanding of his position.
Turning from specific question of Syria and Palestine, King said he had heard indirectly of recent proposal to call Arab conference but that he had not been approached by sponsors of idea who had apparently been guided by knowledge of his policy of not desiring to do anything to make trouble for Allies. Whether he was or was not invited in this particular instance was a matter of relative indifference to him because he knew full well that no bona fide Arab conference could achieve any important results without his participation. He was, however, concerned by the fact that much of this present Pan Arab agitation emanated from Iraq and had as its ultimate purpose the extension of Hashemite38 power. Ibn Saud emphasized that he had no personal territorial ambitions outside his own country but merely wished to see Syria and Palestine attain individual independence and take their place alongside Saudi Arabia and Iraq in a balanced comity of Arab states; in other words Syria for the Syrians, Palestine for the Palestinians, et cetera. There was, however, strong indication (mentioning Nuri, Abdullah [Abdul Ilah?] and Abdullah by name)39 that an effort was being made to use Pan Arabism as [Page 771] a means for formation of Iraq, Palestine and Syria into a Hashemite bloc. Such a development he could only view with gravest apprehension in view of traditional hostility of Hashemites to House of Saud and King trusted Allies would not countenance materialization of such a serious threat to Saudi Arabia.
In conclusion King stressed confidential nature of his observations and asked that they be revealed to no one not even the British although latter were cognizant of his general views. He also requested that any reply of President to question regarding his present policy of silence in respect of Palestine and Syria should be transmitted only to Prince Faisal40 or Shaikh Youssef Yassine.41 King referred on several occasions in course of his remarks to friendly private and official relations which had so happily developed between Saudi Arabia and United States and suggested that American interests in Saudi Arabia were such as to justify its occupying a special place in the formulation of American policy in Near East.
In transmitting this message from Ibn Saud for the President, it is difficult if not impossible without incurring the criticisms of hyperbole or even emotionalisms, adequately to reflect the sincerity of the King and his profound conviction in the virtue of his own judgment. He is simple, honest and decisive and these qualities transcend the limited formula of his special experience. He believes that we are his friends and to him friendship bespeaks complete confidence. Compromise is inadmissible. He truly feels that his problems are ours and ours are his and in giving this message for the President, he confirmed throughout an absolute faith in the justice of the democracies and a conviction that the order which is to follow their victory will justify that faith.
- At this time Minister Kirk was also accredited to Saudi Arabia.↩
- For correspondence regarding Lend-Lease assistance to Saudi Arabia, see pp. 854 ff.↩
- For King Ibn Saud’s letter of November 29, 1938, see Foreign Relations, 1938, vol. ii, p. 994; for President Roosevelt’s reply of about January 9, 1939, see ibid., 1939, vol. iv, p. 696.↩
- The family of Hussein, Sherif of Mecca and guardian of the Moslem holy places in the Hejaz, who, in alliance with the British, led the Arab Revolt during World War I which resulted in the detachment of the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire from Turkish sovereignty. Although Hussein’s claim to be “King of the Arabs” was never recognized by Great Britain and France, and the kingdoms of “Syria” and the Hejaz were lost to the family by 1920 and 1925, respectively, Hashemite dynasties were successfully established by sons of Hussein in Iraq and Trans Jordan.↩
- Perhaps Nuri as-Said, Prime Minister of Iraq; Amir Abdul Ilah, Regent of Iraq; and Abdullah, Amir of Trans Jordan.↩
- Amir Faisal, eldest son of the King, was Foreign Minister.↩
- Amir Faisal’s representative at Jidda, seat of the diplomatic missions accredited to Saudi Arabia.↩