Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Henderson) to the Secretary of State

top secret


The text of a proposed treaty between the British Government and the Government of Saudi Arabia has been sent to the Department by the American Embassy in London, where it had been received from the British Foreign Office. This treaty is almost identical with the treaty signed last week at Portsmouth, England, between the United Kingdom and Iraq, a treaty whose terms have stirred up such resentment in Iraq that it may not be ratified.

From the American point of view, the most important clauses in this proposed treaty (a copy of which is attached)1 are to be found in the Annexure, Article 1. This reads in part: “His Majesty the King of Saudi Arabia and His Britannic Majesty will each appoint expert delegates, who will meet together … to agree upon the essential strategic installations whose construction and maintenance are necessary to enable His Britannic Majesty to discharge his obligations . . . . His Britannic Majesty will meet the cost of construction of these essential strategic installations and, in order to maintain them at all times, whether of peace or of war, in the necessary state of operational efficiency, His Britannic Majesty will provide the necessary technical staff and equipment, and … will meet the cost of such, maintenance.” The treaty sets up a Joint Defence Board which will determine “which are the essential strategic installations” to be constructed or maintained by the British.

As you are aware, the oil resources of Saudi Arabia are being developed by the Arabian American Oil Company, a wholly owned American corporation, which has brought four oilfields into production, erected a refinery, and built a town of 4,000 Americans along with a network of highways, powerlines and other public utilities. A deep water pier is being built on the Persian Gulf and a railroad pushed inland across the oil coast by this firm. The Airport at Dhahran, which [Page 218] was built by the US armed forces and completed in 1946, is now being operated by the Air Transport Command, in an Agreement with the Government of Saudi Arabia which lasts until March of 1949. Furthermore, there is a US Air Force Mission now at Dhahran training a selected group of Saudi Arabian students to operate this airport. The Saudi Arabian Airlines is American operated and American firms are carrying on an extensive development program throughout Saudi Arabia. In contrast to this, British interests in that country are of minor importance.

King Ibn Saud has repeatedly asked for closer military and economic ties with the US. Only a month ago he requested American mechanized equipment and airplanes, and an American training mission to enable him to adequately protect the American pipeline to the Mediterranean and the oilfields on the Persian Gulf.2 While the US armed services apparently desire to retain a preeminent position in Saudi Arabia, they have thus far been unwilling to meet the King’s requests. It is now obvious that something concrete in the way of a training mission or materiel, or both, will have to be provided Saudi Arabia if our position there is to be maintained in the face of this British offer of an alliance plus technical personnel. Because of its implication to the American position in the area, we have asked the British to defer negotiations on this treaty with the Government of Saudi Arabia until the views of the US Armed Services can be obtained.3


It is recommended, therefore, that you discuss this matter with the Secretary, of National Defence ascertaining his views as to whether he proposes to furnish concrete assistance to the Government of Saudi Arabia which would meet the security needs of that country, thus making this large-scale British entry into this predominantly American area unnecessary.

  1. Not found attached to file copy.
  2. This request was conveyed to the Department in telegram 568, December 16, 1947, from Jidda, not printed, but see footnote 8, p. 209.
  3. The request was made in telegram 242, January 24, to London (741.90F/1–2448).