890.0145/3–249: Airgram

The Secretary of State to the Legation in Saudi Arabia 1


A–23. Deptel to Jidda 33, Jan 28. Fol summarizes recent discussions with ARAMCO relative to SA offshore oil and gives Dept reaction to the several proposals which ARAMCO intends to make to SAG. The final paras constitute Dept’s instr to you on the way in which you should reply to long standing request for advice on manner in which SAG’s claim to offshore oil rights should be asserted.

In initial mtg with ARAMCO officials they revealed that Ahmed Bey Taufiq had propounded four questions on Dec 6, 1948. The questions and the replies which ARAMCO (as advised by Manley Hudson and Richard Young of Harvard Law School who were especially [Page 112]retained to work on this problem) proposed to make are summarized below:—

Question One

“Should HMG issue a proclamation along the lines of President Truman’s proclamation of Sept 28, 1945”.


ARAMCO quotes certain pertinent portions of the Truman Proclamation; reviews litigation between USG and State of Texas, in which USG contends for domestic purposes that it has complete ownership, jurisdiction and control over subsoil and sea bed of the continental shelf within boundary of State of Texas; points out that nr of Latin American States have followed President Truman’s Proclamation with similar proclamations and states that on basis this history ARAMCO feels that SAG would be fully justified in issuing declaration along the lines of Truman’s Proclamation adapted to suit conditions in Persian Gulf.

Reply suggests that SAG give careful consideration to the geographic and economic features of offshore area in which water boundaries have not been drawn and where they can be drawn definitely only in agreement with neighboring states. Particularly, it is pointed out that there is no true continental shelf in the Gulf but rather a continental depression and that a proclamation referring to a continental shelf would have no clear meaning. The risk of controversy with SA’s neighbors is balanced against advantage gained by an early pronouncement.

ARAMCO then concludes that it would be desirable for SAG to have an integrated program to cover all aspects of territorial waters, islands, subsoil and sea bed resources. Such a program would deal with the fol points:—

the estab of SA’s sovereignty over certain islands in the Gulf;
the delimitation of SA’s inland waters (within bays and shoals, and between the mainland and offlying islands); and the fixing of the extent of SA’s coastal sea outside the inland waters;
the extension of SA’s jurisdiction and control over contiguous submarine areas; and
the establishment of water or sea bed boundaries by agreements with the neighboring states.

Question Two

“If so, when is the best time to publish such a proclamation”.


According to ARAMCO a declaration might be made as soon as His Majesty’s Government is prepared to act upon the program as a whole.

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Question Three

“If such a proclamation is issued, is a ‘confirming proclamation’ from the American State Department necessary to protect American interests”.


In ARAMCO’s opinion a declaration by His Majesty’s Government would have the effect of clarifying SA’s legal position and would require no confirmation by any other Government. It seems probable, however, that the Government of SA would wish to have previous consultation with the Government of the US before issuing such a declaration.

Question Four

“If a ‘confirming proclamation’ is necessary can it be obtained”.


On this pt the ARAMCO lawyers feel that because the reply to the third question indicates that no ‘confirming proclamation’ is necessary this question does not arise.

In its proposed reply ARAMCO further suggests that if a program of this sort should prove to be acceptable to the Government of SA it may wish to give consideration to three annexes which cover problems 1, 2, and 3 outlined above.

Annex One: This is a memorandum listing 13 islands which to ARAMCO seem quite clearly to be under the sovereignty of SA and referring to other islands which His Majesty may wish to place in this category. It suggests that SAG may wish to proceed immed with the erection of suitable markers on the islands over which it claims sovereignty for the purpose of giving “notoriety” to its claims.

Annex Two: This is a draft of a Decree concerning the territorial waters of SA covering both inland waters and the coastal sea. It was prepared with reference to the laws of various other countries and the suggestion of six miles as the width of the coastal sea follows action taken in the Persian Gulf by the Ottoman Empire in 1914 and by Iran in 1934. It takes the position that there is no general agreement on the proper width of coastal seas.

Annex Three: This is a draft of a Decree concerning the policy of the Kingdom of SA with respect to the subsoil and sea bed of areas in the Persian Gulf contiguous to the Saudi Arabian coasts. The language of this draft is borrowed for the most part from President Truman’s Proclamation of 1945 but it also takes account of developments since that date both in the US and in other countries.

The text of the proposed proclamation is as follows:—

Aware of the need for the greater utilization of the world’s natural resources, and of the desirability of giving encouragement to efforts to discover and make available such resources,

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Recognizing that valuable resources may underlie parts of the Persian Gulf off the coasts of Saudi Arabia, and that modern technology makes it increasingly practicable to utilize these resources,

Appreciating that recognized jurisdiction over such resources is required in the interest of their conservation and prudent utilization when and as development is undertaken;

Deeming that the exercise of jurisdiction over such resources by the contiguous nation is reasonable and just, since the effectiveness of measures to utilize or conserve these resources would be contingent upon cooperation and protection from the shore and since self-protection compels the coastal nation to keep close watch over activities off its shores which are of a nature necessary for the utilization of these resources; and

Considering that various other nations now exercise jurisdiction over the subsoil and sea bed of areas contiguous to their coasts,

Declares the fol policy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with respect to the subsoil and sea bed of areas of the Persian Gulf contiguous to the coasts of Saudi Arabia:

The subsoil and sea bed of those areas of the Persian Gulf seaward from the coastal sea of Saudi Arabia but contiguous to its coasts are declared to appertain to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to be subject to its jurisdiction and control. The boundaries of such areas will be determined in accordance with equitable principles by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in agreements with other States having jurisdiction and control over adjoining submerged areas. The character as high seas of the waters of such areas, the right to the free and unimpeded navigation of such waters and the air space above those waters, fishing rights in such waters, and the traditional freedom of pearling by the peoples of the Gulf are in no way affected.

This Decree shall be published in Umm al Qura. English and French translations will be published simultaneously”.

The Dept and ARAMCO have engaged in lengthy discussions on the subject. ARAMCO has made a number of modifications in its presentation in response to the informal suggestions of a working group within the Dept. The Dept’s official position with regard to the various points raised above is as follows:—

Reply to the four questions: Having been requested by SAG to furnish answers to the questions, and having obtained the advice of competent international lawyers, it would seem proper that ARAMCO submit replies to SAG. The Dept feels that it is not in a position to interpose objections to ARAMCO making replies to SAG.

With regard to the Annexes the Dept’s position is as follows:—

Annex 1: This represents a new subject on which the Dept has not been requested to give advice by the SAG. Originally ARAMCO had prepared this Annex in the form of a draft decree, but in response to the Dept’s informal suggestions has changed it to a memorandum supporting the erection of markers on islands to which SAG has an absolute claim. The Dept had positive objection to a public proclamation, mainly on the ground that the ceremonial drama of royal proclamation (as opposed to quietly erecting a derrick or a marker) would [Page 115]probably evoke a rash of counterclaims by other Persian Gulf States. It does not feel that it can interpose positive objections to submission of this memorandum by ARAMCO, but if its advice is requested by SAG it will feel obliged to state its reservations.

Annex 2: This again is a matter in which the advice of USG has not been requested by SAG and to which USG therefore does not feel it can properly interpose positive objection. Some of the principles contained therein are not those recognized by the USG. If SAG should ask advice of USG it would be forced to state its reservations, and if such a proclamation is issued it would probably be necessary for USG to make known its own position.

Annex 3: The proposed proclamation is based essentially upon the Truman Proclamation as modified to apply to the Persian Gulf and closely conforms to Dept’s position on subject.

The fol course of action has been decided upon by the Dept; and unless you perceive serious objections you shld follow procedure outlined below:—

In response to SAG’s long standing request for USG advice you shld present SAG with copy Truman Proclamation (Depcirin Oct 17, 19452). You shld also present the fol set of principles drawn from the Truman Proclamation which in Dept’s view apply to Persian Gulf. You shld then emphasize Dept does not feel it could properly present to SAG the draft of a proposed proclamation but that it has seen the draft which ARAMCO proposes to present to SAG and feels that this generally conforms to principles set forth below:—
It is desirable to give encouragement to any efforts which will bring about a greater utilization of the world’s natural resources.
Valuable resources may underlie parts of the Persian Gulf off the coasts of SA and it is becoming increasingly practicable to utilize such submerged resources.
It is necessary that the littoral state exercise jurisdiction over these resources in order to conserve and control the utilization of such resources.
The practice of other nations in exercising jurisdiction over the subsoil and sea bed of areas contiguous to their coasts might be taken as precedent for SA in asserting that the subsoil and sea bed of those areas of the Persian Gulf contiguous to its coast appertain to the Kingdom of SA and are subject to its jurisdiction and control.
Whenever it might become necessary to define more precisely the boundaries of such submerged areas, they should be determined in accordance with equitable principles by the Kingdom of SA in agreements with other states having jurisdiction and control over adjoining submerged areas.
Assertion of jurisdiction over submerged areas beyond the coastal sea should not affect freedom of navigation of the waters of such areas, or the air above such waters, or fishing and traditional pearling rights in the Persian Gulf.

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The fol timing of presentation has been decided by ARAMCO:—

Spurlock or substitute will shortly, proceed to Jidda with full documentation of ARAMCO reply. Upon his arrival he has been instr to confer with you in light of these instructions, in order that you may be fully acquainted with ARAMCO proposals. You shld then present copy of Truman Proclamation and set of principles to SAG, making clear that Dept’s advice is limited solely to offshore submerged area questions upon which SAG had requested advice USG and make clear Dept’s position as stated in (1) Reply to four questions Annex 2 above. Fol your presentation Spurlock will be free to present ARAMCO reply to Ahmed Bey Taufiq’s questions.

At the time of presentation Dept’s views you shld make available to Brit copy of principles submitted to SAG. As matters presented in Annexes 1 and 2 concern questions which have been raised solely between SAG and ARAMCO, Dept does not feel it would be proper for you to advise Brit in advance regarding these proposals. However, after Spurlock has made presentation Dept perceives no objection to your informing Brit Amb that it is your understanding that ARAMCO has been asked for and given advice on matters other than offshore features.

It is quite possible that fol ARAMCO presentation SAG will request USG advice on proposals contained in Annexes 1 and 2. You may then state that this is a new and complicated subject on which SAG has not previously requested advice, and that you will have to request further instr on these subjects.

Dept hopes that SAG will not give undue publicity to their claim to islands or submerged areas as this might well provoke undesirable counterclaims and disputes from other Persian Gulf states.

Dept fully appreciates that procedure outlined above is not ideal, but feels that in view of complicated relationships vis-à-vis USG, ARAMCO and Brit Govt that course suggested will best avoid difficulties inherent to the whole problem.

Copies of memoranda covering recent conversations with ARAMCO are going forward by air-mail pouch. The contents of these and other memoranda which have been furnished ur off during recent months may be used discreetly as background info in explaining the difficulties and delays which have occurred in preparation of a reply to the SA Govt.

Jidda is requested acknowledge receipt this airgram by telegraph.3

  1. This airgram was drafted on February 8. Department spokesmen discussed the proposed advice to the Saudi Arabian Government with officers of the Departments of the Navy, Justice, and the Interior, beginning on February 18. These officers, at the conclusion of the discussions, concurred or made no objection to the proposed advice (Mr. Furman’s memorandum of February 21 to Mr. Hare, 890.0145/2–2149; Mr. Eakens’ memorandum of February 23 to Mr. Hare, 891.6363/2–2349; and Mr. Eakens’ memorandum of February 23 to Paul H. Nitze, 890F.6363/2–2349). Mr. Nitze was Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs.
  2. Not printed.
  3. This airgram was repeated to Baghdad, Cairo, London, and Tehran. Jidda advised, on March 14, that airgram 23 had been received (telegram 188, 890.0145/3–1449). Two days later, Ambassador Childs reported an interview with several ARAMCO officials, who anticipated making the company’s views known to the Saudi Arabian Government after various documents were translated. He then communicated the content of airgram 23 to the Minister of Finance who “expressed great thanks SAG” (telegram 201, 890.0145/3–1649).