The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Winant )
8598. A covert contest which begins to assume unpleasant proportions is prevailing over airfields in the Middle East. As you are aware, the United States constructed an airfield at Abadan, which is an important link in our airways to India and the Far East. Part of the land on which this field was constructed was owned by British oil interests; recently these British oil interests purchased the rest of the land on which this was situated, under circumstances which convinced the Department that in due time the British proposed to retake the field.
Chiefly in view of the need of the United States Air Corps for a better field than the one at Bahrein and because the proposed oil developments in Saudi Arabia will call for a very considerable number of Americans to work at Dhahran, in Saudi Arabia, across the Gulf, King Ibn Saud was approached to grant us the right to build an airfield there. He declined.
We now have reliable, but highly confidential information indicating that the British directed Ibn Saud to refuse; however, the King has not at any time suggested that we consult with the British regarding the matter. Early in October two British officers from Bahrein, as civilians, paid a visit to Dhahran announcing it to be their purpose to find a site for an RAF airfield to supplement the one at Bahrein. These two officers, however, appeared only to be technicians acting under instructions and unaware of political obstacles and the neutral status of Saudi Arabia.
You might take a convenient occasion to suggest to Mr. Eden22 that this has made an extremely painful impression here; and it is [Page 667] being connected with such matters as the Argentine meat contract, and other similar incidents, as evidencing the real trend of British policy. Needless to say, it does complicate the problem of the forthcoming air conference23 in view of the wholly different basis on which matters have been discussed thus far. The essence of our approach in aviation matters heretofore has been non-exclusivity, coupled with a generally cooperative live-and-let-live attitude in respect of British and American aviation, along with the development of institutions which might lead to closer cooperation as rapidly as facts might warrant. This last incident is, of course, a reversion to a dog-eat-dog policy which, if continued, has possibilities we are not presently able to appraise.