Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Richard H. Sanger of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs


Subject: Problems Arising from ARAMCO Activities in Disputed Border Areas between Saudi Arabia, the Qatar Peinsula, and the Sheikhdoms of the Trucial Coast.

Participants: Mr. T. E. Bromley—First Secretary, British
Embassy Mr. E. E. Jones—Petroleum Attaché, British Embassy
Mr. Jernegan—NEA (Acting Deputy Director)
Mr. Moline—PED
Mr. Sanger—NE

Mr. Bromley said that London was worried by reports which it had received during the last few weeks that ARAMCO surveying parties were operating in the south west corner of the Qatar Peninsula, in the area between Salwa and Jebel Nakhsh. Word had reached London that engineers for ARAMCO had erected cairns along the road joining these points and as far north as the 25th parallel. Apparently the intention of the ARAMCO engineers was to core drill along this road.

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Disturbing reports have also reached London regarding ARAMCO’s actions along the border between Saudi Arabia and the Trucial Coast. Company engineers were reported to have put up a beacon on the promontory of Ras al Hazra and on Ghara island on the Gulf. Mirfaha (Mirfa) and Jebel Dhanni had also been visited and six ARAMCO vehicles were reported to have advanced into the Trucial Coast as far as Jebel Ali. This represented an advance beyond the previous Saudi Arabian claims in this area.

Mr. Jones sketched in the history of British-American talks on these frontiers, which he said went back to informal discussions which were held in London in November of 1946, in which Dr. Loftus and Mr. Levy took part.1 The upshot of these talks was that the British and American Governments agreed to consult their respective nationals who had oil interests in the disputed area between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Saudi Arabia and the Trucial Coast. It was the opinion of those taking part in these talks that a “no man’s land” should be set up temporarily along these boundaries pending settlement of the problem. Following these talks Dr. Loftus discussed the matter with ARAMCO. The views of the oil company on the dispute, as set forth in February of 1947, was that ARAMCO must look to Saudi Arabia for the delimitation of territory in which it drills. While ARAMCO intended to keep the Department of State informed on its plans and actions in this area, such action was not to be construed as a request for clearance.

The Foreign Office decided not to take action in regard to this ARAMCO position, particularly in view of the fact that in 1937 the Government of Saudi Arabia had told the British Government that there was no reason to fear that drilling would be started in these disputed areas.

Mr. Sanger with the aid of a CIA map of the Arabian Peninsula (No. 10738, October 1947), and a map from the Department of State Map Division (No. 10659, April 1947), entitled “Qatar and Bahrein Territorial Problems”, explained something of the background of these boundary disputes. He mentioned the line drawn in the Anglo-Turkish Agreement of 1913–1914, which comes out on the Persian Gulf in the Khor Zakh Nuniya, just east of Ain Abwab, and the line proposed by the British in 1937, as the south eastern boundary of Saudi Arabia which starts at the bottom of the Bahr Salwa and goes from there to 52°E–23°N to 55°E–22°N thence down to 55°E–20°N. Also the boundary proposed by the Saudi Arabian Government in 1937 [Page 124]which cuts across the base of the Qatar Peninsula from the middle of Jebel Nakhsh to a point on the Persian Gulf a little north of the Khor al Odaid and then follows the coast line to the bottom of the Khor ed Dhuwaihin whence it goes in a direct line to a point in the Sabkhat Mutti near the Suf uk Wells and thence to 56°E–22°N.

On being asked by Mr. Jernegan if the Foreign Office requested action from the Department of State in regard to the moves being made by ARAMCO in these disputed areas, Mr. Bromley replied in the affirmative. He said the Foreign Office does not at present want to raise the question of these boundaries with the Government of Saudi Arabia but inquired if the Department of State would be prepared to ask ARAMCO to restrict its activities in these areas. The Foreign Office would meantime speak to PDQ (Petroleum Development Qatar) and suggest that that company try to work out a gentlemen’s agreement with ARAMCO to leave the disputed areas alone for the present without prejudice to either party.

Mr. Sanger said that about three weeks ago ARAMCO had told him that it was sending some survey parties into this general region and that in doing so it was adhering to the position which it expressed in 1947, to the effect that it was Ibn Sand’s agent in such matters and drilled in whatever areas he said came within his boundaries.

Mr. Jernegan said that he thought the basic question involved the exact instructions which King Ibn Saud had given to the oil company as to where it should drill. If the instructions given to ARAMCO by the Saudi Arabian Government were general then ARAMCO would be in a position to withdraw its crews. If, however, the instructions given were specific as to the exact location the King wished surveyed then ARAMCO would not be in a position to withdraw and the approach would have to be made to the Saudi Arabian Government.

A–445 of April 16,2 from Cairo was then discussed and it was felt that this action on the part of ARAMCO might be connected with Tewfik Bey’s idea of drilling in controversial areas in order to bring boundary problems to the active attention of all concerned.

In conclusion Mr. Jernegan said that the Department would inquire informally of ARAMCO regarding the nature of the instructions on which it was working along the boundaries of Qatar and the Trucial Coast. He suggested that perhaps ARAMCO’s actions might have been caused by moves to the southward on the part of PDQ, and he said that he did not feel we would be justified in taking further steps vis-à-vis the company or the Saudi Government until the exact nature of ARAMCO’s instructions had been ascertained.

  1. For the “Record of Informal Anglo-American Oil Talks, November 1946”, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. vii, p. 44. At the time, John A. Loftus was Chief of the Petroleum Division and Walter J. Levy was Petroleum Specialist in the Division of International and Functional Intelligence.
  2. Not printed.